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.