Friday, December 20, 2013

Random Things From My Dad - and when did my parents get old?

This will be short... I think... Haven't posted anything in a while, and I have been crazy busy.  This holiday season has been the most stressful I can recall in a number of years.  I'm stretched just as thin as I think I possibly can be... physically, financially, and even spiritually.  I am worn and tired... It is December 20th and I have not purchased a single Christmas gift... Bills are piling up and my energy and determination are waning... I did manage to get a few bucks to put in the bank so tomorrow bills will be paid... still have to work out Christmas gifts for the kids though.

On top of all of this, my parents have been driving me crazy about Christmas... when are we coming over?... when are we going to do "our" Christmas?... my mom has called me countless times pushing the issue and just about driving me to my breaking point.  All I can think about is what I absolutely HAVE to do... TODAY!  I can't possibly wrap my head around tomorrow, much less next week.  Why on earth does she keep calling and pushing for the details of a Christmas I've done basically nothing, thus far, to prepare for?

The requests and demands have been overwhelming and I feel like I'm going to explode... or implode... something has got to give.  My dad even asked me if I could sign a Christmas card for him with sign language... he literally wanted me to draw  the hand signs for sign language for the signature on his card.  I did not even know how to respond... he's asked about it more than one.  I don't know how to make it more clear that I do not possess the artistic skills it would take to accurately, and intricately, draw tiny pictures of hands in various and contorted positions.  And, once again, I feel like I've let him down.

To add to the crazy request of drawing sign language, and my mom's incessant inquiries about "our" Christmas, she even had the nerve to suggest that we have "our" Christmas on Monday... that's two days early and I haven't purchased or wrapped a single gift!  What on earth is going through her mind.  She calls frequently and chatters about this and that while  I'm trying my best to trudge through the absolute, "must do" items on my never ending "to do list".

Then she said something odd... she said "I know I've added to your stress about Christmas and I'm sorry.  I will make you this promise... I promise I won't do it next year".....

I left those words sink in... "I promise I won't do it next year"........

My parents are 79 and 80 years old... it dawned on me, rather suddenly, that there is the real possibility one or both of them could not be here for Christmas next year.  So many of my friends on Facebook have posted lately about missing their parents this holiday season... their parents who have either  recently, or not so recently, passed away.

I don't know when, exactly, my parents got old.  But they did... they shuffle slowly from room to room... repeat things (again and again)... argue about the mundane, unnecessary things.  They call me, often, with conversations that begin with "I know you're really busy, but....."  I am asked to come over at the drop of a hat to fix their DVR, change a light bulb or battery, or move the refrigerator away from the wall so they can unplug it (don't ask)....

I get frustrated and annoyed... but today, it occurred to me that while I'm just now catching on to the fact that they are in their twilight years, they've been aware of it for some time...  Is it lonely or scary to be at that point in your life?  I don't know.  I don't know what they reflect on, what they regret, or what they wouldn't change for anything.  I do know that they are reaching out... in the ways they know how... for contact... for interaction with me and with my kids...

I'm still stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted.  That hasn't changed.  But I sincerely hope and pray that I will find the patience and understanding to be there for them with a joyful heart and gratitude simply for them... they are here today.  That is all we are guaranteed.  Tomorrow is anybody's guess.

So while I'm weary, sleep deprived, and emotionally bare... I am going to bed.  I am going to sleep now.  I hope, and I pray that I wake tomorrow with a new found appreciation and abundant gratitude for my mom and dad.    I don't know if we will have Christmas with them next year, so I am going to do all that I can to enjoy this Christmas with them...

I would encourage you all to reflect on the things you may be taking for granted... even the things that are currently driving you mad....

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Random Things From My Dad - HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY DADDY!

This post is a little late in coming, but then again, so are most things in my life right now.  I haven't written anything in a while, as I find myself slowing rising from a self-induced hibernation of sorts.  It's hard to articulate exactly, but I think I'll refer to it as "PTDD" - Post Traumatic Divorce Disorder.  That's probably a separate blog in itself, so I will just leave it as... "I'm Back!!!!!"

So what better way to celebrate my return to blogging than a new "Random" post about my dad.  Although this one isn't so much about what he's done for us (which is a lot).  Instead, it's about something we did for him.

 August 31st was my dad's 80th birthday.  That's a pretty big milestone and it made me ponder and reflect a little more deeply about the imperfect, flawed and yet tender relationship I have with my dad.  He yells... a lot... but he's also generous to a fault.  He really would do anything for his kids and family that he is capable of doing...

I find myself thinking about my grandfather a lot - my father's father.  He died when he was 81... I was 24 and my dad was 56.  He passed away Christmas morning of 1989.  It was by far the most bittersweet Christmas ever... even now.

So now my dad is 80 and I'm 47.  How much time do we really have left together?  No one knows, but our time is definitely limited.  He is still active and goes somewhere almost everyday.  He shops a lot (as evidenced by these posts!).... and he tinkers in his garden and with the yard.  But the years are showing... he stands a little less tall than he did last year, as his shoulders being their downward slope... his steps are more like shuffles as he makes his way from room to room.  He fell a few months ago in a neighbor's yard because he just lost his footing.  Just a few scrapes and bruises, but an ominous reminder none-the-less that he's not getting any younger.

So as I pondered all of these things as his 80th birthday drew near, I felt like we needed to do something special.  Only I had no idea what that might be.  We don't have a lot of money to buy anything extravagant.  Truth be told, however, even if we did have a lot of money I don't think there's anything we could have gotten him that he would have really wanted.  I thought, and thought, and thought... and then we came up with something special... something from me and the kids.

We put together a stack of note cards that listed 80 things we loved about "Papa".... Coming up with 80 things was pretty challenging, and some of them were a little silly, but we did it!  The kids decorated each card with markers and then we taped them all together to make a chain.  We put together a video and showed him the video as we presented the cards.  B E S T  B I R T H D A Y  G I F T  I D E A  E V E R.....  Here's the video:

I think my favorites are "most stylish" and "best stocked snack pantry".... but there are a lot of good ones in there...  It was fun to put together and a really good exercise for my kids to really thing about, and appreciate, everything that Papa does for us.  I have to remind them sometimes, that he loves us every bit as loud as he yells... and he truly does.

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

See the People

Okay... so here's another post that has nothing to do with cake, or cookies, or sugar, or anything edible for that matter.  It also has nothing to do with my dad.  It's just something that has been on my mind for some time and that is the issue of gun control... but really, it's not about gun control at all.

The Democrats vs. the Republicans.... Liberals vs. Conservatives... who's right?  In my opinion, Nobody has it right.  We are so focused on guns... who has them, who can get them, what kind they have, how many guns they have, how many rounds they will fire, etc.  Do I think we should do background checks on anyone purchasing a gun?  Absolutely... I think it's a good idea to know who owns what.  It seems logical.

Will background checks and further restrictions on guns affect random shootings and mass murders?  Would it have prevented the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook?  I seriously doubt it.

Everyone is so focused on the guns... the weapons... how easily they are purchased.  But what I don't understand is why no one talking about WHY these shootings are occurring?  I have a theory about that... but I'm not sure I have a solution.  At least not one that can be legislated.

Basically, I think our society is screwed up, backwards, and places emphasis and the spotlight on all the wrong things.  We put such a premium on celebrity, beauty, fame and fortune.  If you're beautiful and on television, you are revered and idolized in our society.  The same goes for professional athletes.

And all of these horrific acts of violence?  They get the attention of the media... the perpetrators are "glorified" on television and on the internet.  Everyone has an opinion and everyone talks about them.  They are famous.... they are celebrities.

In our society of beauty, perfection, notoriety, and celebrity, it seems that THAT is what everyone strives for and measures their own personal worth by.  Of course, everyone can't be famous, but do we all want to be perfectly beautiful? (which, by the way, I think most of us are... but not in the way the media and social networking defines it).

I think all any of us want is to be seen and heard.  To feel like we matter... like we make a difference in someone's life.  How many of these violent offenders were invisible to us?  To their classmates, co-workers, family and friends?  Did they go through everyday feeling like they didn't matter... like they were somehow flawed and not good enough for, I don't know... anything or anyone?

I don't know.  I'm certainly not trying to say that we should have empathy or sympathy for them after the selfish, destructive, and altogether horrific acts they committed.  But what about before that?  Did anyone see them?  Did anyone interact with them?  Did anyone look them in the eye and ask "how are you?" and really want to hear their answer?

We live in a fast paced, superficial and shallow world, for the most part.  Most of us are lucky enough to have family and friends who see us and acknowledge us.  Some, however, aren't so lucky.  How easy is it to feel completely invisible and insignificant in today's society?  I work from home... if I didn't have kids in school, I'm not sure how much interaction I would have with people on a regular basis.  I need that interaction... that acknowledgement... that realization that people know I am here... that I count... that I matter.  We all need that.

We try not to look at the people on the corner with their signs asking for help or food.  We tell ourselves they are lazy or just con-men.  That could never be us.  But could it?  If I didn't have family and friends, how easily could that be me?  I don't know... I don't want to know.  I'm grateful that it's not a fate that seems one stroke of bad luck away.

What about the kid in school who's awkward... who doesn't quite fit in?  Who doesn't have the social skill set to maintain friendships or maybe even conversations for that matter.  How do we perceive and treat them?  How we feel about ourselves largely depends on how we view others.  No one wants to be that person ignored, whispered about or made fun of.  I think those misfits and outcasts scare us... they scare us because we desperately fear being one of them.  Anything to feel superior and rationalize why that would never be us.

We are all born with infinite possibilities.  But genetic limitations and life situations slowly, one by one, take away options for success... options to thrive.  Without parents to encourage us... financial opportunity to take advantage of sports or the arts... without teachers invested in us as individuals.  Where we live, who the people are that surround us in life, opportunities, or lack thereof, all shape who we become.

Hurtful words, neglect or abuse of our physical body or, even worse, neglect or abuse of our soul and spirit, all shape who we become.  The kind of person we will ultimately grow into being.

Are we so concerned with ourselves that we fail to see those around us?  Those in need of acknowledgement, understanding and acceptance?  I think we all fail to recognize the power and value of kindness... be it in act or words... a little kindness goes a long way.  Unfortunately, I think a small amount of hurtful words or actions can go even farther.

So while you're out and about today... living your everyday, vanilla, "normal" life... take a look around you and "see" the people you encounter.  You have no idea who is struggling with what... how deep their pain or scars might run... you don't know if just a kind word or gesture from you might just turn their day around.... it might open a window into the possibility that they are not alone... that they matter... that they are seen.

I try to see the world, and people, through my daughter's beautiful eyes :)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Story Behind the Cake - Jimbo

Every cake has a story, really.  I mean, it was someone's birthday... they really, really like chocolate, or she loves anything pink and girly.... There's a reason... a story... about why a cake was made and why it looks and tastes the way it does.

But some cakes have a bigger story.... an amazing story... a story that needs to be shared much more  than the cake.  This is one of those stories.

Brenda and Jimbo... friends of mine for years from karaoke (yes... karaoke ;).... a table I always felt welcome to join anytime I ventured out into the world of karaoke at local venues here in Austin, TX.  There is a small group of people I know from this particular niche.  And each one of them is very special to me, and each for different reasons.

Brenda and Jimbo are that couple that is always smiling... always enjoying their surroundings, each other, and just life in general.  They are people that instantly bring a smile to your face when you run into them.  Always positive, kind, and kind of kooky fun. the story... Back in March of 2008, Jim went on a routine business trip to China.  The trip was supposed to last 7 days.  While there, he became ill.... gravely ill.  Apparently he had a blood clot in his legs that traveled to his lungs.  The situation went from bad to worse very quickly.  He was put into a drug induced coma and given less than a 50% chance of recovering enough to even make the  trip back home.  Originally, he was in Shanghai and was later transported by air to Hong Kong.  He was on a ventilator, had a tracheotomy, and was unconscious for most  of his ordeal.  His 7 day business trip turned into a 7 WEEK nightmare.

Can you Imagine Going Through This in a Foreign Country?

Prayers for Jimbo Were Being Lifted Up like Nobody's Business

Brenda would give us updates online as to his condition.  Many of his friends, myself included, added them to our prayer lists at church.  Each time Brenda posted, I was so afraid I was going to read "he's gone..."  I prayed really hard for them both and very honestly, often my prayer was just that he be able to travel home with her.  Recovery seemed like such a long shot.  I just wanted him to make it home and be allowed to pass here with family and friends.   I could not bear the thought of Brenda traveling back from China escorting a coffin.  And the outlook was so bleak, I was terrified this was going to be the case.

Initially, the reports and updates went from bad to worse to nearly impossible to imagine.  The odds of a recovery seemed about as possible as my becoming a prima ballerina... each time I saw an update about Jim, my breath would catch just a bit, wondering if this was the day.... the day the battle was over.

Amazingly... A M A Z I N G L Y, Jim slowly started to improve.  He was awake... he was off the ventilator... he was sitting up... he was eating... communicating... talking....

I was amazed at God's grace in this entire situation.  The strength of Jim and Brenda... the overwhelming support from family and friends... the incredible and wonderful prayers that lifted them both up everyday.   7 weeks and 2 days after their ordeal began, Jim was headed home... alive and definitely on the road to recovery.

Just a few short weeks later, Jim was to celebrate his 50th birthday.  Brenda asked me to make the cake.... I was thrilled to be tasked with such an honor.  The photo on the cake is Jim on a snow covered mountain top after a tremendous hike.  What a fitting image to celebrate the birthday and life of a man who had overcome mountains just to survive....

I am so blessed, to this day, to call Jim and Brenda my friends.  I am honored to have had the privilege of making this cake to celebrate Jim's life.... they are amazing and wonderful people, with beautiful souls and generous hearts.  Jim continues to deal with issues related to this event.  But both he and Brenda face it head on, with a positive attitude and gratitude for each day they are given.

Thank you, Jim and Brenda!  Thank you for your most inspiring story... thank you for your gift of friendship.... thank you for being you....


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Random Things From My Dad - #13

Lots of catch up on the "Random Things" posts!  While I've been busy with life and such, my dad has not slowed down in his random gift giving....

Last week I had the pleasure (?) of going on an overnight camping trip with 40 plus 5th graders (yikes!).  Picture a camp sight straight out of the 1950's and that's where we were.

I think we should call it "flashback camp".... how many memories does this conjure for you?

With the cinder block cabins, an activity center with ping pong and Foosball tables, a cafeteria and a lake (well... I think it was really a pond, but they called it a lake)... it was "camp" in all it's glorious mayhem.  The weather was not terribly cooperative either (below 50 and raining!), so the outdoor activities were wrought with mismatched layering of an odd assortment of clothes, rain ponchos and plenty of coffee (adults only, of course).  Anyhow, I digress.  This is not about the camping trip, but about my dad, right?

We left on Thursday morning and came back Friday afternoon.  Not only did I have to make arrangements for my 7 year old son for Thursday afternoon and evening, I had to do something with my dogs.  In steps my mom and dad.  Our dog Lucky is quite the escape artist, so we triple checked the yard this time and made sure to block any possible "exits".   The second dog, Coco, is much more manageable as she has learned that "home" is really the best place to be and she's not all that interested in venturing off.  Even if a gate is left open, she will remain in her yard.  She KNOWS who feeds her :)  But again, I digress.

Lucky is a Lhaso Apso and needs regular grooming.  I'm ashamed to admit that I let a bit too much time go by between groomings and he was sorely in need of one at the time of this camp out.  I tried to get him into our regular groomer, but they were booked into the next week.  I hated to bring this overgrown, shaggy dog to my parents' house, but I really didn't have a choice.

Okay... it's not the best photo, but who really wants to take a picture of their dog that desperately needs to be groomed?  Anyhow, this is Lucky... yes... that blond pile of hair on the bed is actually a dog.  The black nose gives him away.

A face only a mother could love?  I don't think so... even with all his glorious shagginess, how can you not love that face?  Kind of reminds me of Chewbacca from Star Wars!

So... our overnight camping trip came to an end (I know it was just one night, but I swear all the moms were packing their stuff up, lightening speed and loading those cars faster than anything I've seen in a while!  It may have been one night, but I swear time slowed to a crawl and it seemed like about 5 days).

We drove the hour and half or so back to school just in time for school to let out.  We picked up my son and headed home.  The kids were really anxious to see the dogs, so we went and picked up the dogs from my parents' first thing.  And what did we find when we got there?  A new dog??? No... but it sure seemed like it!

My dad actually found a place that could groom Lucky that same day and had him bathed, groomed, and looking quite handsome upon our return. 

Let me just add that my dogs aren't the greatest on a leash... we have a really large backyard, so actually "walking" them really isn't necessary.  I shudder to think of the chaos that ensued when my dad, first put the leash on Lucky (he gets so excited he's hard to contain), loaded him in the car.... drove with this hyper, crazy whining dog in the car to the dog groomers (which he had never been to and I'm sure he had to get very specific directions to)... got him out of the car and into the groomers.  And THEN he had to do it all over again on the return trip.  I never, ever, ever would have asked my dad to take my dog to the groomers.  It never occurred to me that he would take it upon himself to do it.

So there you have it... another unique, yet random, gift from my dad.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Random Things From My Dad - #12

My dad is definitely set in his ways... he has a short fuse and little patience when things don't go the way he thinks they should (which is often!).  My kids used to be scared of him, but now they're just like "oh, that's just Papa"... They accept him the way he is and seem to know just how much he loves them.  Posting about his "random" generosity really helps me to focus on the positive and truly understand that he has his own special way of showing how much he loves us... the things he buys.... the services he provides.... that's how he knows to show his support.  Writing about it reminds me everyday just how generous he is, and how important we all are to him.

Since my divorce (which was just last year) my dad has started sending his yard guys over to my house.  I never know when they're going to show up, but they do.... not only does he have them mow, he has them clean up the yard of sticks and leaves, edge the driveway and patios, and the last time they came?  He had them fertilize my front lawn AND spread the mulch which my dad also purchased and delivered to my house.

Just the other day, he showed up at my house with bug spray and mosquito repellent (mosquitoes are crazy bad in Austin!).  He left them outside my front door and let me know they were there.

Now, I don't know if these are politically correct/eco-friendly products or not, but I hope no one judges me (or him) too harshly if they're not.  He's taking care of me and my kids in every way he knows how and I couldn't possibly reject his offerings.

So these products sat, on my front porch, for a couple of days.  I knew they were there... and I knew I needed to  utilize them... it's the time of year that ants and such are getting pretty active and the mosquitoes are pretty crafty at finding their way into our house, so I KNOW they are rampant outside.  But still they sat, unused, because I just had not found the time to take care of it.

Then my dad comes by the house again, bringing more mulch (who knew the initial 10 bags wouldn't be enough?) to fill in the bare spots.  After I unloaded the bags of mulch (which, by the way, are still sitting in my yard, unopened, in front of the bare spots), my dad proceeded to spray the exterior of my house with the Ortho Home Defense... he came in and rested for a few minutes, sprinkled the mosquito pellets and was on his way.

My dad.... he will be 80 years old in August... yet he still remains active and finds ways he can be helpful around MY house....

I know that the time remaining with my dad is limited... I also realize that they day will most likely come that I'm taking care of him more than he's taking care of me.  I hope when that time comes that I am able to remember all he did for me and for my kids.  As much as he is temperamental, hard of hearing he has a heart of gold and generosity that knows no boundaries.  LOVE my dad :)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Random Things From my Dad - #11

So, so, so far behind on the "Random things from my dad" posts!  And believe me, it's not due to a lack of content.  My dad continues his generosity on almost a daily basis... from having my lawn mowed, to groceries, to clothes for my kids, to flowers....

Which brings me to the theme for the content of this post... FLOWERS!  Not sure why, but my dad has been on a roll of buying flowers, flowers and more flowers!  I'm fairly certain I didn't manage to get photos of all of them, but here are most of them (I think)... some I have no idea what they are, but they are beautiful, nonetheless...

This is the most recent assortment of  fresh cut flowers... the oranges roses are absolutely stunning... can't wait to see how they open up.  Oh!  And let's not forget the Frapuccino, Sargentos shredded cheese, Jif Peanut Butter (the ONLY kind my son will eat), 4... yes FOUR pounds of Dunkin Donuts coffee, some medium red delicious apples (also the only kind my son will eat) and some tangelos!  Woo Hoo, that's quite a haul!  Did I just say "woo hoo"?  Why yes, I think I did...

More fresh cut flowers, Irises I think (not sure), plus more coffee and some red plum jelly (again... the only kind my son will eat)

Easter Lilies for Easter... I don't believe I've ever seen purple ones, but they are so pretty.  I've planted them just outside the front door... I hope they survive...

Some more flowers... purple and white...  again, have no idea what they are, but they are beautiful.

Daffodils, right?  At least I think I'm right.  These stayed fresh for so long and were so cheery.  Loved, loved, loved them...

Tulips?  Guessing again, but I'm feeling fairly confident if I'm willing to venture a guess...  I planted these too, but right now I'm not so sure they're going to make it.  Perhaps I won't know until next year...  And let's not overlook the wonderful assortment of baking goodies... Ghiradeli Chocolate Chips, Nestles Chocolate Chips, and a variety of vanilla flavoring.  How nice all of this pairs with two bottles of wine and some Gevalia coffee...

A Shamrock plant for St. Patrick's Day!  Planted it too... we shall see....

Okay... this one I have no idea... but the fragrance is out of this world.  It smells fabulous.  This is actually the second one he brought me... the first was all pink...  Love the assortment here... Again, I planted it.   I probably shouldn't be confessing to all the "planting" because, truth be told, I do not have the best of luck when it comes to plants and such.  

Finally, another stunning and colorful fresh cut assortment.  

It seems that my dad has developed a knack of purchasing new flowers just as the previous ones have lost their vibrancy... makes it so much easier to toss the old ones when there are beautiful new ones to replace them with.

So for all his faults, my dad has offered such support for me and my kids... especially over the last year or so.  

An American Version of Victorian Sponge Cake

Okay... not surprisingly  I follow a lot of blogs and FB pages specifically related to cake, cookies and cake decorating.  On the UK sites, there are numerous references to their "sponge" cake.  It became apparent to me that the there was a standard "sponge" recipe in the UK.  This standard is to weigh your eggs (in the shell) and use equal parts butter, sugar, self-raising flour (that's what they call it in the UK!), plus whatever flavoring you desire.  I found this quite fascinating as I prefer to bake by weight.  To have a recipe so simple.... so easy to increase or decrease, was crazy exciting to me.  So... off I began to try this sponge cake.

First attempt... kind of fail.  The recipe I found called for folding the sifted flour into the sugar, butter, egg mixture.  I found the texture very crumbly and not unlike cornbread.  The taste was marginally okay, but I thought it was most likely due to the off-putting texture.

Second attempt... still kind of a fail.  I beat the flour into the butter, sugar, egg mixture but the texture was still off and it seemed a bit too salty.  Plus, on both attempts the sides of the cakes rose quite a bit while the middle did not... ?????? could not figure that one out.

2nd attempt at Victorian Sponge... texture was still to course and crumbly for my liking.  

I scoured the web in search of how US ingredients might differ from UK ingredients.  I focused mainly on the flour as it seemed to be the most likely culprit to have more variation than, say, eggs, sugar or butter.

I never found a precise explanation of the difference between UK "self-raising" flour and the US "self rising" flour.  Some indicated the leavening agents could be different as in either baking soda or baking powder, not to mention the quantity of the leavening agent.  Some indicated no salt in the UK version vs. salt in the US version.  Since I think a bit of salt is imperative in baking, I really wasn't interested in leaving that out.

So, finally, my third attempt.  SUCCESS!  I measured my eggs... 4 to be exact, which weight 8.3 ounces in the shell.  So, in accordance with the traditional sponge recipe, I used 8.3 ounces of butter... 8.3 ounces of sugar...  for the flour, I did use 8.3 ounces. HOWEVER, I used half self rising flour (4.15 ounces) and half All Purpose Flour (4.15 ounces).

Okay... so obviously this "sandwich" is much smaller than the first one, but I got so carried away eating the cake, that I forgot to make the sandwich for a photo!  But can't you see the difference in the texture of  the cake?  

METHOD:  I creamed the butter and sugar... a LOT... I added the eggs (one at a time, of course) and then whipped the heck out of it to incorporate as much air as possible before adding the flour.  Finally, I dumped all of the flour into the mixture of sugar, butter and eggs.  After the flour was incorporated, I beat it on medium-high for about a minute or so.

I did make one variation in my third attempt... since I had an order coming up for a small lemon cake, I decided to go ahead and make this sponge cake lemon.  I mean, after all, if it turned out well then I had baked the cake for that order, right?  I also made enough batter to make 4 - six inch pans.  If it turned out well, I had three rounds for my cake order, plus one to taste.  To make it lemon, I added 4 TBSP of fresh squeezed lemon juice and about 1 tsp lemon extract.

This cake turned out oh so incredibly awesome!  Light, moist, perfect crumb, melt-in-your mouth delicious!

My only question/concern at this point is how much did the addition of 4 TBSP liquid alter the result?  I have to think it could not have been by much.  However, if the addition of liquid is necessary, I can equate that addition to "1-TBSP liquid per egg"... easy, peasy conversion, right?
Plus, another point of interest is that it seems that for every egg you use, you will have enough batter for a 6-inch round cake pan.  This will make a single layer... not a super high/thick layer but the perfect height for a single layer of cake (IMHO)....

So there you have it... my success with an American version of the traditional UK Victorian Sponge cake.  They traditionally layer this cakes with jam and either ice with whipping cream or dust with powdered sugar.  

DISCLAIMER!  To any of my readers who are from the UK... I, in no way, consider myself an expert on the Victorian Sponge!  It just came up so regularly that I was intrigued.... If I have misrepresented the recipe in any way, please feel free to comment and let me know.  I still have no idea how my version compares to that in the UK, but I am very pleased with my final result.  My hats off to you all for having a recipe so simple, yet so delicious, and oh so easy to increase or decrease!  BRAVO!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Flat Top Cupcake Decorating without Fondant

I see some of the cutest cupcakes ever that are decorated flat on top with fondant... My only problem with this is that I really don't like fondant on cupcakes.  Motivated to try and create the same effect with buttercream, I tried this technique out.... I think I could really do some fun things with this over time and with some more experimenting.  The other "plus" is that there is not an over-abundance of icing!  Cupcakes can be crazy cute with icing piled high, but I think more often than not, the majority of that icing gets discarded.

The photos are not the best, as they were taken with my i-phone and apparently my lens needs some cleaning ;/

First Step - holding your piping bag vertical, pipe a flat circle on the top of your cupcake.

Here are the circles... making sure they are in the center and as symmetrical as possible is key to a nice finish.

Turn the cupcakes over onto a baking sheet covered with wax paper (NOT parchment!)  Press down with even pressure.  You want the icing to distribute evenly, but not quite to the edge of the cupcake.
This is what they should look like :)  Put the tray into the freezer for 15-30 minutes... enough time to allow the icing to firm.

Remove from the freezer and turn over immediately.  You should have perfectly flat cupcake tops!
A perfect base to add your piping decorations to!

I had pink and green icing already in piping bags, so that's what I worked with.  A simple word on top I thought would be nice and clean...

Add a bead border (or whatever border you choose)

Aren't they cute?  I did these really quickly... with more time and care I think they could be crazy fabulous!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Turkish Delight - How is it made?

So in addition to my crazy life as a single mom and cake baker, I am also a real estate agent.   I have a client who is purchasing a new construction home and we've developed a fairly close and fun relationship with the on-site sales rep, Lauren.  My client travels to Turkey fairly often and Lauren used to live in Turkey.  This of course led to multiple conversations as well as Lauren's love of Turkish Delight - a Persian candy/confection that is apparently hard to find here in the U.S. Most people have heard of it from the movie "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe"... apparently someone tempts Edward with this seemingly irresistible confection.

Anyhow, my client had recently gone to Turkey and brought some Turkish Delight back for Lauren.  As luck would have it (for me!) he gave it to her at one of our meetings and I got to try it. It was quite possibly the strangest "sweet" I had ever tasted, and yet it was so intriguing!

First of all, it was so beautiful to look at.  It was a rectangular box filled with different colored cubes of these delectable delights.  Some were covered in powdered sugar, some were a greenish hue (I think covered with finely chopped pistachios) and the others appeared to be coated in beautifully dried  rose petals.  They really were quite stunning.

While they looked very different, they all seemed to taste fairly similar.  They were chewy, sort of, kind of like a gummy bear or gum drop, but it didn't stick to my teeth at all.  It was very sweet and these particular ones were flavored with rose water.  Yes... ROSE water... it was kind of like eating flowers... or potpourri.  Some of them had pistachios in them, and some did not (the ones with pistachios were my favorite). But as startling and odd as the flavor was, it was also very intriguing.

So now the "baker" wheels in my head are turning... How do you make this?  I wonder if I can find a recipe?  How hard would it be?  I really, really want to try to make this!

And that is where my Turkish Delight obsession began...  Now, I'm a baker/cake decorator.  I make cakes, cookies, cupcakes, etc.  I love making eclairs, cream puffs, creme brulee, homemade breads, pies and the like.  Candy making?  Not so much.  My candy making experience is somewhat limited.

Had someone asked me to make Turkish Delight?.... No... and most likely, they never will.  This, however, did not deter me from attempting this strange confection.  So off to the internet I went.  After reviewing a few recipes and reviews, I picked one that seemed to be the most in keeping with the traditional Turkish Delight.  Surprisingly, the list of ingredients is really short.

The next difficulty was finding rose water... I don't know about where you live, but my local grocery store does not stock rose water.  I am fortunate, however, because we have a Savory Spice Shop ( here in Austin and they carry rose water, in addition to a multitude of other spices, flavorings, extracts and emulsions... If you have one where you live, I highly recommend you check it out.

So... here we go...



  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 4 1/4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rosewater
  • raw pistachios, chopped (about 2/3 cup)
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • Vegetable oil or shortening


Grease the sides and bottom of a 9 inch baking pan with vegetable oil or shortening. Line with wax paper and grease the wax paper.  Take care with this step... it is very important... you will regret it later if that was paper doesn't completely cover the pan or if you don't use enough shortening!

In a saucepan, combine lemon juice, sugar and 1 1/2 cups water on medium heat. Stir constantly until sugar dissolves. Allow mixture to boil. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.  THIS TOOK F O R E V E R!  Don't get frustrated as it could take up to an hour for this mixture to reach 240 degrees.  I was convinced more than once that my candy thermometer was broken!  

Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine cream of tartar, 1 cup of the corn starch  and remaining water in saucepan over medium heat. Stir until all lumps are gone and the mixture begins to boil. This happens pretty quickly.

 Stop stirring when the mixture has a glue like consistency. 

Add the lemon juice, water and sugar mixture to the corn starch mixture. 

Stir constantly for about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, and allow to simmer for 1 hour, stirring frequently.  It will look like this at first, but don't panic... It all comes together.

The recipe said to cook for five minutes, reduce the heat to simmer and cook for one hour until the mixture has become a golden brown color.  Mine was golden brown fairly quickly so I didn't cook it for an hour.  I think I should have cooked it longer and this might have been the cause of how wet my candy was and how long it took before it stopped "weeping" (this is discussed further below).  

Next... add the rose water...

Add food coloring now if you choose.  I used just a dot of soft pink food coloring... I think the rose color is so pretty.

Here's the mixture after the color has been incorporated...  don't you think the steam from the hot mixture adds a certain ambiance to the photo?

At this time, add the pistachios if you've opted to add them...

 Next, pour the mixture into your prepared pan... Let it cool/set overnight.  DO NOT REFRIGERATE!  Of course, I have no idea what happens if you put it in the refrigerator, but my research repeatedly warned against refrigeration, so I'm passing that advice along to you.

The next day, carefully remove the gelatinous block from the pan.  This might just be one of the strangest textures you've encountered.... You want to slice it into approximate 1 inch cubes.  It definitely helps to use a really sharp, long bladed knife, and to oil the knife repeatedly during this process.

Once it has cooled overnight, sift together confectioners sugar and remaining cornstarch.

Turn over baking pan containing Turkish delight onto clean counter or table and cut with oiled knife into one inch pieces.

Coat with confectioners sugar mixture. Serve or store in airtight container in layers separated with wax or parchment paper.

I put mine onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper that had been generously dusted with a mixture of powdered sugar and cornstarch (for the powdered sugar mixture, use 1/4 cup corn starch for each cup of powdered sugar)

Sift the powdered sugar and 1/4 cup cornstarch together and generously dust the candy with the powdered sugar mixture.  Eventually, you will want to put these in a bowl with the powdered sugar mixture and toss to coat them thoroughly.  My candy was very wet and somewhat fragile at this point.  

 This is where I ran into some issues.  The candy was very "wet" and continued to "weep" through the powdered sugar.  After doing some research, this seemed to be a common problem.  The solution was to allow the candy to air dry for basically, as long as it takes until it no longer weeps.  Eventually, I put the candy in a bowl (after it had firmed up a bit) with the powdered sugar mixture and continued to toss it - recoating it - for several days until it was no longer weeping.


So here it is... my first attempt at Turkish Delight.  It's a strangely unique confection, and is most likely an acquired taste for most of us in the U.S.  It's kind of weird to eat candy that basically tastes like flowers!  Every time I eat a piece, my first reaction is "hmmm... unusual... not sure if I really like it"... but it never fails that I always go back for a second piece.

I think next time I make it (assuming there IS a next time) I'm going to try orange blossom water flavor.  I think it might be more palatable and familiar for the western palate.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Grown Ups -A Unique Perspective on Homosexuality in America

I posted this on Facebook last year.   The childhood memory kept creeping into my mind until I felt like I was "supposed" to write it down and put it out there.  For the most part, it was well received.  I think a  few people were offended by it, but that's okay as well.  We all have our life experiences that imprint on us and embed thoughts and feelings that sometimes we don't really understand.   It was not my intention to judge, or incite defensiveness or anger.  Only to convey my own, personal point of view on the subject.

Anyhow, given what's happening in our courts right now, it seemed appropriate to post this now.  I re-read it and really, really, really  thought about editing it and making it "better".  But I wrote it in one sitting inspired by what I was thinking and feeling at the time, so it feels appropriate to leave it in it's original form.    So here it is, untouched, imperfect, but my view on the prejudice against homosexuality in our culture today.  


With everything in the news lately about "gay" rights and "same sex" marriage, I find myself going back to a childhood memory time and time again. 

I grew up in a small town in Alabama. When I was about 10 years old, or maybe even younger, I remember a lot of talk among the kids at the bus stop about a black family that had bought a house in our neighborhood. Apparently, a lot of the "grown ups" were really angry and upset about this. There were meetings and discussions about how they might stop this family from buying the house. They were mad at the homeowners for selling their home to a black family. My parents weren't among the group of adults rallying against this black family, but I heard the talk none-the-less. I remember at the time feeling very scared because the grown ups were so upset. Without really articulating the emotion, I realize now that I was really thinking "Wow... there must be something really bad about black people. If the grown ups are this upset (and grown ups know everything, right?), then there must be something really dangerous and bad about black people."

I went to a private "Christian" school when I was in first grade. The school was located in a predominantly black neighborhood. The school teachers would yell at any passersby if they were black, and I guess walking too slowly. They would yell things like "you just get on outa here! Go on now! Get outa here!" And they used the "n" word. These were my teachers. Teachers are grown ups and grown ups know everything, right? So there must be something really scary and bad about black people. This, again, was my "take away". I came home from school one day and used that "n" word... my parents lit into me like nobody's business.

I was fortunate to have been raised by parents who didn't spew this hate, and admonished me when I repeated what I had heard others say... other grown ups. I was a child. My parents sent the clear message to me that this was wrong. But what about the children of those parents who didn't want that black family in our neighborhood? Their "take away", without a doubt, was that there must be something really scary and bad about black people. This is how bigotry and hate begins. We don't question it when we are children if we hear it from the grown ups... and unless we are guided otherwise, we won't question it when we are adults.

So now it begins again... some gay people want to get married. They want to have children. They want to live in "our neighborhoods" and have the things and rights that "we" have. We talk about "gay" rights and the equal right to marriage. But they are human rights. The right to love who we choose... to live and love openly... without fear of being persecuted, beaten or even murdered. They are not out to hurt anyone or "recruit" anyone. They just want to live their lives... have the same choices we have... and be happy.

There are children today hearing the fear and hatred spewing from their parents' mouths about gay people. They are hearing this from the grown ups.

I am a grown up. I have children. I don't want my children learning fear, hatred and bigotry from other grown ups. If you are a grown up... think of the children and the message you are sending. Is it one of acceptance and love? Or is it one of fear and loathing? If it is the latter, I would ask you to question why you care so much about what other people do that in no way, whatsoever, affects any aspect of the choices you make in your life or how you live your life? Try to imagine being that hated and persecuted person. Try to imagine when your fear began... was it because of something a grown up said when you were a child?

We all have the right to choose the kind of people we want to be.... we can change our minds... we are grown ups. Let's act like grown ups.