Monday, June 29, 2015

A Classic 3 Layer Carrot Cake

Photo: theheritagecook - 8'' carrot cake
My usual carrot cake is this recipe. But today I'm turning carrot cake into a birthday cake by making a rich, but not altogether unhealthy recipe from Southern Living. A birthday cake must have layers, right? Yes, it must!

Carrot Cake - turned up a notch:


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (Sometimes I use part whole wheat flour.)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (= 1 stick)
1/2 cup olive oil (or vegetable oil)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup flaked coconut
1 1/2 cup toasted pecans
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
3 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup peeled and grated apple


Take out two mixing bowls - one for dry and one for wet ingredients --
1) Wisk together the first seven (dry) ingredients, uniformly.
2) Stir together the next five (wet) ingredients, one at a time, beating with an electric mixer if you wish.
3) Combine the wet and dry agredients together. Incorporate, but don't over beat.
4) Fold in the grated carrots, grated apple, flaked coconut and toasted pecans.
5) Pour the batter into, choose one: (a) 3-greased 8 inch; or (b) 2-greased 9 inch cake pans.
6) Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a tester (I use a metal potato nail; you can use a fork) comes out clean.
7) Remove the cakes from the oven, and let cool 10-15 minutes. Next remove from the pans and cool completely before frosting.



8oz cream cheese
1/3 cup milk
1 box powder sugar
2 teaspoons real vanilla (I use more.)


1) Mix all the ingredients together. Start with the cream cheese and milk. Add as much of the powder sugar as needed to get the right rich, yet creamy consistency. 
2) If you use 9 inch cake pans, you can carefully slice the center of each baked cake after cooled to get 4 layers, if you wish. (So depending on how ambitious you are, you will need to frost 2, 3 or 4 layers of cake.) As usual, frost the top, layers and sides of the cake. Extra tip: Professional bakers frost a cake 2-3 times to make it look beautiful. Refigerate the cake to let the icing set before repeating.
3) Finish by sprinkling the top with additional toasted pecans.

Judging by the crumbs and a lick of the frosting, this is a delicious cake. Can't wait for everyone to taste it! 

Lots of candles to add. Yikes, we are getting soo old!Birthday cake
9 '' carrot cake

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

The first time I was exposed to a novel was when Mr. Frittier read one out loud to our seventh grade class as we followed along. Occasionally, he had us read pages in silence. Reading literature together as a group was a rich experience I thoroughly enjoyed in grade school. At age 12, it introduced us to mature and weighty themes, I would not have understood otherwise.

The novel was To Kill A Mockingbird. It is my favorite prose of all time. I don't know if this is because it was my first adult book, or because it is an American classic. Likewise, I love the 1962 film.

If you get the idea that we were mature beyond our years, think again.

Once while the class quietly read a passage, Mr. Frittier had to step outside the room. During his absence, Ronnie Mattingly, a class clown, began to goof off. When Mr. Frittier returned to see that nearly everyone had stopped reading text to watch Ronnie act up, he roared, "MR. MATTINGLY, SIT DOWN!" 

It caused our most obedient classmate, Norma Oliver, the only student in the room still absorbed in the book, to jump sky high in alarm and me, who happened to be looking in the direction of  both Ronnie Mattingly and Norma Oliver, to burst out laughing, then get the giggles while the rest of the class grew as still as a rock. Mr. Frittier must have seen Norma too because to his credit, he let me slide for giggling. He just resumed teaching, putting into context what we should have read.

On July 14, 2015 a followup novel by Harper Lee, which she says was written in the 1950s, before she wrote The Kill A Mockingbird, will be published. Called Go Set A Watchman, it features an adult Scout Finch, who returns home to Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father, Atticus and reflect on the events of her childhood.
The announcement of this second novel shocked the publishing world, and the book is sure to be a bestseller. Critics fear it won't live up to Mockingbird, but really, how does anyone follow a masterpiece? Certain sectors have accused the 89 year old author's handlers of tricking her into agreeing to the new book's release. 

The heck with naysayers, IMO. The novel exists; we're lucky it wasn't lost; and I'm happy it's coming out. Ms. Lee's first great narrative stands alone. Booksellers ... here I come!

Will you read Go Set A Watchman?

Update: Reader of the blog, Barry, found this article about the book's publication. Thanks Barry! Also, here is a Wall Strueet Journal article about Harper Lee's father, who is the inspiration for Atticus Finch.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Homemade Chicago Style Pizza

Have you ever had ingredients in your refrigerator you didn't fancy eating, and therefore, didn't know what to do with them? Me too!

I had some lean deli ham, fresh mozzarella, shredded cheddar, red bell peppers, a small amount of jalapeño pepper, yellow onion, as well as, a can of chuncky tomato sauce.  Sometimes, "the whole is other then the sum of its parts."  In this case, hot pizza was more appealing then a ham sandwich with raw crunches.

In my freezer was something I don't often buy, a can of Grands biscuits. Now I remember why I don't buy them. It's a lot of bread for breakfast. Mostly, I like making buttermilk biscuits from scratch, because you can make only what you will eat.  Once you open a can of biscuits, you have to eat all of them. So they became my pizza crust. (I usually use homemade bread dough for a homemade pizza, but it was a nice break, not to have to prepare ahead.)

I added spices: dried garlic powder, onion powder, green Italian seasoning, extra oregano, a tiny amount of crushed red pepper, a little bit of salt and black pepper too. The idea was to give the pizza a little kick without setting your month on fire.

Sounds like a little of work, doesn't it? But, it wasn't. It involves 10 minutes of preparation and 20 minutes of baking in a very hot oven. Trying to mimic brick oven pizza, I set my oven for 400 degree F.

My iphone 4 doesn't do the finished pizza justice. (That's why this is a writing, not a photography blog.)  Poor lighting aside, the pizza was delicious: Good crust, hot, stringy cheese, seared meat, some veggies!

Try it sometime, using ingredients you like. Fresh basil and pepperoni make scrumptious ingredients also, but I didn't let what I didn't have on hand stop me!

Use a 10 inch cast iron skillet for Chicago style pizza, or a cookie sheet to spread the dough out for a thinner crust. Tasty with ice tea, or craft beer.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

About Dad (And Mom) On Father's Day

Photo by Sara Speert
If you watch Games of Thrones, you may be upset with Stannis Baratheon for burning alive his young daughter, Shireen, at the urging of Melisandre, the red priestess, in order to overcome adversity, claim a kingdom and fulfill what he saw as his destiny.

Shireen was a fan favorite, and it was evil to see him betray the innocent, but precocious daughter he clearly loved. Costing him everything, it is a testament to the complexity of the show that we feel a tinge of sympathy for the man later.

Fortunately, my father was not a Stannis, but a Jon Snow with a good heart. Rather then approve, then watch the horror, my father would have run into the flames to save me. Every child deserves that kind of father. One who watches your back, not your death out of a misguided hope for favor.

On the other hand, I can't picture my mother running into a fire. Too hot! Too risky!! Too crazy!!! (Really, I can't see her singeing her hair.) But. In the end, I would have lived, with her taking charge also. She has a finger on reality, so after the first spark, she would have made a big fuss: ordering all of the king's men to jump in to save me! And guess what? They would have obeyed.

Moreover, my parents wouldn't substitute a Pope's judgment for their own, much less that of a religious fanatic who burns people for the Lord of Light; so as a child, I had nothing to worry about. There was no banning of shorts or TV or independent thinking in our house. Many of us are lucky to have the parents who raised us. 

For Father's Day, I'll share a story that involves both of my parents. I was 27 years old, already living in Manhattan, but on vacation for a week visiting family.

I went down to City Hall to replace a social security card, taking my birth certificate as proof. It was years before 9/11 made such things more complicated. But on this day, surely, I must have appeared before the most bureaucratic, nit picky, procedure following clerk in the Western Hemisphere. She would not accept my birth certificate as proof that I was using my own name, was born on the date listed; and indeed, was a citizen of the USA. She asked for 2 additional pieces of I.D.
So returning home, I sat in the living room, relating the events to my father, telling him I would go back down to City Hall on another day with more forms of identify to get my social security card.

Surprise number 1: Dad got so angry that he began to plan OUR return trip back down to City Hall, so WE could prove that I had been born ... and was who I said I was ... and entitled to my social security card. 

Surprise number 2: Just then my mother passed through the room on her way to the kitchen ... overheard the details and suddenly she was hopping mad too. She piped in that SHE would accompany me back down to City Hall ALSO!

Then I heard my father say, "You'll have your mother AND your father. We'll BOTH go with you to confirm to the clerk that you were born!"

Well, this was snowballing! But how could I not be touched? At 27 years old, I was still somebody's baby. And, they were going to make sure I got what was rightfully mine. 

An hour later, mom and dad had calmed down. Thank goodness for the poor unsuspecting, yet very thorough clerk.😊

Before I left town, I returned to City Hall ... with a friend, not my parents; and on my second trip, picked up my social security card quickly and efficiently, not needing the extra I.D. on that day. All's well that ends well. 

Happy Father's Day all you dear fathers!

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Best Oils For Skin, Hair And Nails

At one time I used baby oil after showering to protect my skin from dryness. Right after bathing is the best time to seal in moisture. What's more, one of the changes I made over the last year was to replace baby oil with nature's organic oils. 

But nature's organic oils are more costly per ounce, and if you shower every day as lots of us do, the expense can really add up! Plus in comparing the various types of organic oils, some are 2-5 times more expensive then others. Are they worth it? And, is one type better for your skin and another for your hair? 

I do think switching to an organic oil is worth the extra money for a product you slather on your skin everyday, but you don't have to use the most expensive, or the rarer, harder-to-produce ones to benefit.

A dub of the more common types of organic oil does the trick of moisturizing your skin, hair and nails. In general, I use a richer coconut oil in winter and argon oil or olive oil in the summer. But I don't sweat the difference too much and stick to lower price choices from reputable manufactures, since we need a lot of product over a year's time. 

Here are 10 fabulous organic oils to consider:

Argon Oil - Comes from the fruit of Moroccan argon trees. It has high levels of vitamin E, omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Reportedly, it reduces
inflammation also (which keeps skin looking young). Great for skin, hair and nails.

Coconut Oil - Has Vitamin E, protein and lots of fatty acids. One of the heavier oils, making it perfect for winter's brutal cold. Good for skin, hair and nails.

Grapeseed oil - High in antioxidants, vitamin E, and omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids. It has anti-inflammatory properties and helps to moisturize, tighten and tone the skin. Not as rare (and thus lower in cost) than some of the others, but just as powerful for beautiful skin.

Jojoba Oil - Contains vitamins B and E, as well as, minerals like zinc and copper. It absorbs easily into the skin. Yes, I love it, but it's one of the more expensive natural oils, so I don't buy it as often as I'd like. Great for skin or hair especially if you have oily skin or scalp.

Marula Oil - is known as Africa's beauty secret. Naturally soothing and healing, it is light and absorbs well into the skin. Rich in vitamins C (4 times the potency than in an orange), vitamin E, omega 3, omega 6 and linoletic acid. Protects the skin against free radical damage and promotes the production of collagen and elastin. Boosts skin firmness and density. Great for skin, hair or nails.

Olive Oil - An affordable all around fantastic moisturizing oil for skin, hair and nails. Has vitamin E, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and seems to be a barrier from the sun's harmful ultra-violet rays. As a teenager, I borrowed the extra virgin olive oil from my mother's kitchen to use as an after-bath-skin-oil, a practice that didn't last long. She didn't approve and hid the bottle from me. So you see, Mom, I was ahead of my time!

Rose Hip Seed Oil - Has Vitamins A and C, omega fatty acids and linoletic acid. Excellent for uneven skin tone, acne and aging skin. For the skin, it speeds up cell turnover and the production of collagen. One of the more expensive oils, but if you need it, pay the piper.

Sweet Almond Oil - Almond oil comes in 2 varieties: sweet and bitter. While bitter, has a few benefits, it's the oil from sweet edible almonds that are the most popular. Sweet almond oil is rich in vitamin A, B, E. It soothes and treats dryness and inflammation. Almond oil removes impurities and dead skin cells. Improves circulation and helps firm dull, aging skin. Almond oil adds lustre to hair and moisturizes nails also.

Add drops of the next two oils to coconut oil, rosehip seed oil, or olive oil (in lieu of using them alone) to promote healthy skin and hair growth:

Clary Sage Oil - Reduces inflammation of the skin; controls oily skin and acne; stimulates hair growth and gets rid of dandruff.

Geranium Oil - Improves circulation and reduces inflammation, which slows down aging and promotes a healthy scalp and younger looking skin; speeds up the healing of wounds.

You can click the links below for previous posts pointing you to retailers (I personally use) who offer affordable prices for top-notch pure organic oils. I order from Puritan's Pride and use Sonoma Naturals.

Here's a super DIY recipe for an all purpose moisturizing cream from Popsugar Beauty. I need to buy glycerin to make it!

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sydney Evans Jewelry

14k rose gold ruby lips ring
Working with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and gold, Rosanne Karnes is the designer and creative force behind Sidney Evans, a fine jewelry line. She uses cultural symbols, spirituality and humor as her inspiration. The expertly crafted rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces have a hip, modern aesthetic.
Blue ring: 18K gold, diamonds and turquoise
I have two jewelry quirks. They are quirks because there is no right or wrong when it comes to buying jewelry, only personal preferences. My quirks are: 1) I only what fine jewelry (platinum, gold or silver); and 2) I never pay big bucks for costume jewelry and usually don't want it.

So I can appreciate a jeweler who uses real 14k-18k gold and precious gems to create her line. Major department stores like Macy's, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom carry her. That's a plus because sometimes department stores run jewelry sales.
Resurrecting this ring from my Halloween blog
Another revelation ... if I were a millionaire, I'd buy lots of Sydney Evans bling, starting with the rings featured in this post. Since buying fine jewelry requires budgeting, I tend to stick with a few classic, timeless pieces. But hey if I had a huge budget, I could venture out a little more. You know what I mean?
Gold and diamond single stud earring
I love the designer's earrings also, but too often they sell as a single stud ... and I have two ears! I think for the price customers should get two earrings. I'm too cheap to make two purchases, one for each ear!

Oh well, the designer and I can agree to disagree on what you should get for the money. I still love her work -- beauty; spirituality; and a touch of whimsy!

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Party Perfect Coconut Pecan Cake

Let's declare June the start of cake season! We have summer birthdays in my family, so that's what it becomes. Not to mention the need to bring desserts to gatherings and cookouts.

Here is a recipe that won a best in show prize for Virginia Price at the Laramie County Fair in Wyoming. The cake was featured on The Chew, as well as, A Taste Of Home. The sugary topping along with the pecans remind me of Southern desserts. It has a duo texture that is moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside. For all of its deliciousness, the cake is surprisingly easy to make:

Cake ingredients:

4 eggs
2 cups sugar (Too sweet for me! I use 1 cup sugar)
1 cup butter (I lighten it up a bit by reducing the butter to 1/2 cup and adding 1/2 cup applesauce.)
2 teaspoons coconut extract
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

Directions for the cake:

1) In a large bowl, mix the first eight ingredients in order until moist, but don't over mix.
2) Stir in the coconut and pecans.
3) Spoon into a well greased brundt pan and bake at 350 degree F for 60-70 minutes, or until done in the center.
4) Let cool for about 10 minutes, and remove from the bundt pan. Transfer to a serving plate.

Ingredients for the syrup topping

1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract

Confectionery sugar for dusting.

Directions for the Topping

1. In a sauce pan on the stove top combine the water, butter and sugar.
2. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes while stirring occasionally.
3. Turn off the heat and add 1 teaspoon of coconut extract to the syrup.
4. Next pour the hot syrup over the warm cake.
5. Let cool and soak for 4 hours. It will form a crust. 

If you like, dust the cake with confectionery sugar, a little shredded coconut and ground pecans before serving.

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Tarte Cosmetics: New Summer Eye, Cheek And Lip Colors

Photo: @hm_artistrybymaria
Wow ... what pretty summer lip tints from Tarte Cosmetics! While these are the new summer colors, the company always offers a line of flattering earth tonesSold as a high performance formula, the latest natural lip tints are available at Sephora, Amazon and other retailers.

Tarte's power pigments are hydrating, yet provide full coverage that last all day. The new summer shades include beige, peach, rose and pink.

Treating myself to a splash of moisturizing lip color is a must! I have never tried wearing pink or coral (Tarte's peach), so perhaps the time is now.

Photo: Tarte
And for the summer, Tarte also has a new Poppy Picnic Palette. This limited edition palette consists of matte eye and cheek colors. The makeup is infused with clay from the bank of the Amazon River. 

The cheek color is a golden-peachy-pink blush, while the eye shadows include: cream, tan, chocolate, nude and brown. 

Frankly, I don't recommend a makeup palette for everyday use at home ... because it's too expensive. Full sizes of makeup are often cheaper per ounce. But, an all-inclusive palette makes traveling a breeze. Everything you need is organized in one slender case. So palettes are perfect for slipping into a bag when you're on the go.

Consider adding a few new colors this sunny season. Game on! Get ready ... it's going to be a fabulous summer!

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Do You Repurpose Your Things?
Are you a shopper who buys things with a single purpose? If so, you may own rarely used appliances, pricey storage containers, or new stuff when the old stuff still sufficed.

When I was just starting out, I bought more than I do now, probably due to my lack of experience. What cured me was after replacing a set of bath towels I thought were showing signs of wear, I noticed that the new towels looked no better then the old set after a few washings.

Now don't get me wrong, you want to replace articles if they wear out, and sometimes you really do need to buy a specific item if it does an important job properly. Obviously, you wouldn't wear a lamp shade for a hat to shield yourself from the sun, nor use a magnifying glass to read when you need a pair of eyeglasses. When something is essential; it makes your life better, safer or happier, buy it.

But nowadays, I'm more mindful about buying new things. I try to separate my wants from my needs; and I consider the cost to the environment with a desire to lessen my carbon footprint. Furthermore, I learned not to buy toys, tools, or kitchen gadgets that aren't very practical. How often will you use a bread maker, or a tomato slicer? I mean, you can make bread in a mixing bowl and your oven. It takes two seconds to slice a tomato using a sharp knife.

I also try to repurpose things when it makes sense. Here are four ideas that might let you use an old standby in a new way, resulting in savings:

1) Mason jars (above) - Canning jars are sturdy, transparent and come in all sizes. You can repurpose them in so many ways! I store everything from dried spices, flour, sugar, refrigerated leftover food, loose buttons and small office supplies in them. 

I will probably never again buy another candle holder. Mason jars make beautiful glass candle holders, and the price is right.
2) Cake pans - A Lazy Susan will set you back $10 to $25. But you can easily make your own Lazy Susan by using extra cake pans of the same size; or go to a dollar store to buy two 9-inch round pans and a package of marbles for a couple of bucks. (Better yet, repurpose table salt so you don't have to buy marbles. Salt works!) Pour the salt (try what you have at home first) into the bottom pan. Stack the pans, one inside the other. Voila: a turning Lazy Susan for your spices.
Photo: iPhone
3) Plastic pillow casings - I repurpose the protective plastic casings that come with new pillows. They are usually heavy duty plastic, plus have a handy zipper. I use them to store other items that need protecting like my Everly Brothers paraphernalia, or blankets that get put away until next winter.
Photo: instructables
4) A shoe organizer as a vertical herb garden - This last idea is one I must try as a space saver in my apartment. Clever, right? My research says an indoor (or outdoor) vertical garden is easy to grow. Remember to test the caddy for leakage as you will be watering it, and hang it in a sunny area. Very efficient, indeed!

Shoe organizers come in both cloth and plastic. You can repurpose one to organize all kinds of things to hang in your bathroom; on one side of a door; or inside a closet. Vertical storage saves horizontal feet! There is no reason to restrict a shoe organizer to just shoes.

Have you repurposed something you'd like to share? Your ideas may be even better than mine!

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