Sunday, June 29, 2014

What A Lovely Zebra Cake

Photo and recipe created by Cookies, Cakes and Carbs. Video here.
My family celebrates a lot of summer birthdays. We either buy torte cakes from a good European bakery, or make cakes, using real vanilla, dark chocolate and nuts. We try to eat cakes worth their calories. This year I'm making a zebra cake. Doesn't it look devine? 

For your benefit, I will type the recipe below, as well as, link it to its original source. Tweaks: To my cake batter, I will add ¼ cup of very finely ground, toasted walnuts ... and to the black batter ONLY ... a little ground dark chocolate and instant coffee. Reportedly, you can't substitute butter for vegetable oil in the cake batter, or you won't get the zebra design. So don't do it! Butter makes the batter too thick for the design to take effect.

Zebra Cake

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar (I use ½ cup less.)
¾ cups vegetable oil (I use a light olive oil.)
1 teaspoon vanilla (I use more.)
2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 cup milk
white, pink, and black gel food coloring
vanilla butter cream frosting (see below)
black fondant
pink butter cream
Wilton tip 1A

Optional: dark chocolate and instant coffee 

Directions: 

(Preheat the oven to 350F.)
1. In a mixing bow, combine the flour, sugar and baking powder.  

2. One at a time, add the eggs, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla.  Beat for 2 minutes, or until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed. [Here's where I add ¼ cup of nuts.]

3. Divide the batter into three separate bowls, with one bowl having half of the batter and the other two having a quarter each.

4. Color the large bowl with white color gel, and the two smaller bowls with black and pink color gels, respectively.  Mix the coloring thoroughly until no light streaks remain.  [I add dark chocolate and instant coffee to the black batter.]

5. Grease two 8 inch pans.  

6. Place four tablespoons of white batter into the center of each pan.  Then, directly into the middle of the white batter, place two tablespoons of black batter.  Directly into the center of the black batter, place two tablespoons of pink batter.  Repeat white/black/pink batter additions until all the batter is used up, or the pans are ⅔ full.  

7. Place the cake pans into the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  

8. Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, remove from the pan, and cool completely on a wire wrack.

9. Once the cake is cool, level, stack and cover in white butter cream.

10. To cut the fondant pieces, roll fondant out very thinly and using a rolling cutter (pizza or pastry) slice long, narrow stripes and arrange on the white cake as desired.  

11. To finish the cake off, using the pink butter cream with Wilton 1A tip, pipe a small beaded border along the bottom of the cake.

Personally, I will make butter cream frosting, myself (easy), but buy the fondant for the zebra stripes (too time consuming!). Sometimes I make whipped cream frosting. It's not as sweet. Lastly, a few strategically placed fresh stawberries are a lovely garnish. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Shea Moisture Beauty For Everybody

In 1912 Sofi Tucker began selling her homemade skin and hair preparations at the village market in Sierre Leone, West Africa to support her family. Although her lotions, shave cream, shampoos and conditioners are marketed for people of color, one glance at the certified organic ingredients, which include raw shea butter, chamomile, neem oil and silk protein (see the complete list here) suggests they are good for all of us. I am eager to try the skin care line, which is formulated to soothe dry, sensitive skin. I've never had a problem using products created for sensitive skin or dry hair even though I don't have either. "Gentle" and "natural" are good!

The products contain no harmful paragons, phthalates, paraffin, formaldehyde, propylene glycol, mineral oil, petrolatum, artificial color or DEA.

Certainly, Shea Moisture has stood the test of time. For the most part, skin is skin and hair is hair. Why wouldn't the cleansers and healing moisturizers be beneficial for everybody? I plan to find out. The body lotions, shampoos and conditioners smell terrific! Top-notch ingredients sold at reasonable prices. It pays to think outside of the box. Available online, as well as, at Target and Walgreens. These products are the corner drugstore's best kept secret ... until now.

Update - October 17, 2014: I can recommend as ultra moisterizing: the Olive & Green Tea Shea Butter Soap, the Olive & Green Tea Bath, Body & Massage Oil and the Raw Shea Butter Hand Cream (with Frankincense & Myrrh) -- Truthfully, I am not wild about the musky scent of the hand cream; however frankincense & myrrh have anti-aging properties. To be sure, I'll try the other choices also.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Get Your Ear Jackets On, Sister

If the title didn't give it away, would you know what these items were? Ultra trendy jewelry, that's what. 

Nowadays they are prominently featured on red carpets and high fashion runways. They are also popular with hipters on Madison Avenue and Main Street. Called ear jackets (or cuffs), they come in many styles and price points. It's like an extented earring ... metal and stones that often spike and contour the full length of an ear.







Fun, right? Saves you the trouble (and pain!) of mulitple ear piercings. (As you go up the length of an ear, piercings get increasingly painful.) Classy, wild or playful, the choice of sparkle is yours. Which ear jacket are you?
Here are some bejeweled styles to browse. 

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sam Smith - "Stay With Me" LIVE


For a myriad of reasons, I fell asleep last night while watching late night television. This is the voice that woke me up. WOW!!! At first I thought I was dreaming. Oh WOW!!! The rich, bluesy voice belongs to Sam Smith, a London singer-songwriter. I LOVE this guy! Only 22 years old, surely, he will be the next big thing.

There is such a wealth of young talent today. The future of music looks good!

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Happy Father's Day ... Hmm

Photo by Visualizeus
It's become my habit to share a few random thoughts about my Father on Father's Day. When he died, I suddenly became aware that you do not love someone who was dear in the past tense. Clearly, you move on. In time, the loss is not the first thing you think about each morning, but it's not really accurate to say, "I loved my Father." It's more correct to say, "I love my Dad," although he is not alive to give, or receive it anymore. But your affections never really shut down.

Have you noticed? Everything in our world has an opposite. Light has dark. Good has evil. Happiness has sadness. Life has death. If you live long enough you experience it all. That's how the world works. And ... so much of the world is temporary. So appreciate what you have.
Jim Jordan Photography

Not only was I fond of my Dad, our family dog adored him. It is my observation that while dogs love everybody, they often form special bonds with men. "Man's best friend." I don't know why. Is it the testosterone ... or the style of play ... or what it is? As much as I hate to admit it, dogs do seem to prefer men.

My Dad could pick our dog up, for example, if he were injured, when no one else in the family could. You know, when I think about that dog ... I miss him too!

So let me share a funny story about my Father and the family dog.

One day my Dad decided our dog should have a comfortable bed of his own. So he bought a handsome wicker dog bed. Dad wanted to make the bed as cozy as possible. An uncle (Mom's brother) gave us a thick deer skin hide, which for years hung on a hook in a shed because we never knew what to do with it. So Dad thought that perhaps the deer skin -- one side had fur, and the other was leather -- would make the perfect padding for the dog to rest on.

Dad spend half an hour measuring and cutting it just right to cover the bottom of the dog bed. It made the bed soft, snug and homey. We showed our dog his lovely new wicker bed and left him alone to lay in it.

Several hours later, we noticed our dog had chewed the entire back off his new bed ... as a matter of fact, there wasn't much left of it, just bits and pieces of wicker strewn all over the floor! But that's not all ... the dog was having a field day playing with his perfectly-cut oval padding, by gripping it in his teeth, then shaking-and-flinging it across the room whenever he felt like it. So much for a welcoming bed of his own. Sometimes a dog has other ideas. Dad took this lack of appreciation in stride as I recall.


Some final thoughts about fatherhood come from President Barack Obama, whom I admire for being a fabulous father. 

Here's a snippet of what the President said in a recent interview:

"The one thing the girls know about me is I love 'em to death ... Younger parents ... ask me why it is that Malia and Sasha turned out so well. I say, first of all, you know -- marry somebody who's going to be a great mom,' which I did. But second of all, unconditional love sure makes a difference."

Plainly, unconditional love was true of my Father ... for his daughter and the beast.

Happy Father's Day to all you wonderful, well-intented FATHERS who read the blog. We love you for everything you do! And ... I will always love you, Daddy ... where ever you are.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Penny Dreadful: A Review

Photo by Jonathan Hession - Showtime
Recently I binge watched the first four episodes of Penny Dreadful, a horror suspense television series, created and written by John Logan and co-executive produced by Sam Mendes for Showtime. 

I give the show a B+. I don't always understand what makes a character tick. Parts of the storytelling are engaging, and it should get better. Penny Dreadful has a handsome cast. Excellent acting by the entire ensemble. Hopefully after the back stories are told and the characters gel, the plot and action will snap, crackle and pop up to an A.

The edgy drama takes place in Victorian England and features famous 19th century British and Irish fictional characters, including Mary Shelly's Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray and Mina Murray from Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Other principals are veteran actor, Timothy Dalton, who plays Sir Malcolm Murray, a seasoned African explorer, on a mission to rescue his kidnapped daughter, Mina from evil supernatural beings before it's too late. He teams up with Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), who is in touch with the occult and was close to Mina before a trust between them was broken. Sir Malcolm is aware of the history (and perhaps in the thick of it), but this arc is still unfolding for the audience.

Eva Green has beautiful, expressive eyes, though in my opinion, she should tone down the eye widening for television. She is a gifted stage actress, but for television, her expressions need to be a bit more restrained. That surely will happen as she grows more confident with her character. A notch less would turn very good acting into superb acting. She has the chops.

Rory Kinnear portrays a very interesting misunderstood Frankenstein's monster. Caliban, the creature, is bitter that he came into the world in agony; was quickly abandoned; and is the polar opposite of handsome. So he hunts Victor Frankenstein down, subdues Frankenstein's much improved 2nd creature (which is sad!) and threatens to kill anyone Dr. Frankenstein holds dear unless the doctor makes an immortal mate for the resentful, anger-festering monster. It turns out Caliban longs for love and acceptance, which he is denied by most in society. Something bad is brewing ... perhaps at the theatre where Caliban works and finds a measure of acceptance and contentment. [Sweeney Todd is playing at the theatre!]

We discover that Dr. Frankenstein ... as a boy ... was wounded by seeing too much death. His purpose in life is to unlock the key to immortality. 

Josh Hartnett is American Ethan Chandler, a man of action. The actor is super watchable and easy on the eyes! A former gunslinger, brave and capable, his easy charm hides a more complicated nature. Ethan gets involved with Irish immigrant, Brona Craft, who is battling tuberculous. Brona and Ethan become friends with benefits. He wants to help her get treatment. So to earn the money, Ethan joins Sir Malcolm and Vanessa to find Mina. Without a doubt, Ethan is honorable, but we have yet to find out what kind of man he is. Is he in the habit of falling for lost causes ... or is he capable of life long commitments? We'll have to stay tuned.

The only certainties are ... it will take time, a mystic and the ability to outwit, out-fight and out-kill many terrifying demons before finding Mina Murray; and whatever Ethan Chandler is getting paid, it isn't enough.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Guide To Makeup Brushes

A line of makeup brushes sold at Bath Body and Beyond

Makeup brushes help us apply makeup with ease. The application goes on lighter, resulting in a more natural appearance and less product waste. With the right tools, you can look more polished and beautiful!

There are many types of brushes to consider. So using the above image, here is the cheat sheet of what each bush does. Let's go from left to right:

1. Smudge brush - Use to achieve a smoky eye: Allows you to blend away harsh lines for a softer look.

2. Foundation brush - Lets you start with a small amount of liquid foundation and layer it until you get the proper coverage. Makeup artists say, begin with the center of your face and blend out.

3. Contour blush brush - Professionals apply blush to the fullest part of the cheeks, sweeping color towards the temples.

4. Highlighter brush - Creates a dewy glow by sweeping shimmery highlighting powder in circular motions on the tops of the cheekbones (according to several sources, including Gissel at Henri Bendel).

5. Eyeshadow brush - Use for base colors on eyelids; complementary colors on the creases of the eye; and to blend colors.

6. Powder brush - Apply face powder using circular motions -- tight circles for fuller coverage and wide circles for lighter coverage.

7. Angle eyeliner brush - Also helps create a smoky eye. Use dry eyeshadow for a natural look, and wet the eyeshadow for a dramatic look.

Examples of kabuki brushes


8. Kabuki brush - Use to dip into loose mineral powder. Apply using small circles to look airbrushed.

I also recommend Alicia Silverstones' Ecotools brushes.

Expect to pay $10 to $18 per brush. Personally, I skip buying a travel brush set. Full size brushes get the job done, without taking up much room in a suitcase, so why buy a smaller set? I will also confess to only using two brushes, powder and blush. That's because I usually don't wear eyeshadow. I didn't discuss a lip brush, which I do like for applying lipstick. I own, but rarely use a lip brush since it's nasty to clean.

Periodically, wash makeup brushes with mild soap and water and lay flat to air dry. (this I do!). Clean brushes will last for years, as well as, give you the best results.

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