It’s a piece of cake.

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birthday cake
This cake was a long story in the making.

My friend, Wendy, was turning 50! I’d made my reservations to visit for the big celebration. And then, she asked if I’d make her a cake when I came out.

Well, yes!

First question I asked was what kind of cake she wanted. The answer? Almond cake with vanilla buttercream icing.

As delicious as it sounds, I had never made that particular kind of cake before. So I started researching recipes. I learned about how to make icing really white. I searched and searched for a fun cake topper idea. And I started baking.

The first couple cakes were not successful. At all. And when I finally found the right recipe, somehow one layer cooked well and the other was grossly undercooked in the middle.

Sigh.

Still, I took the good parts and used them as vessels to test icing recipes.

Fortunately, I had a lot of tasting volunteers. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Did I mention I ordered special vanilla online? And that certain butters are lighter in color than others? Or that if you beat the buttercream faster and longer, it becomes whiter? All true. And the icing was really pretty and white. And we came upon the perfect recipe. Done and done.

And then, the pom pom toppers that I ordered came! I opened the box with glee. But sadly, they were not white. And upon further reading on the Etsy listing, they were ‘soft white’ which is another way to say beige. I was going to return them and order a whiter white set until I realized that the shipping cost to return them was half the price of a new set. So I wrote the seller to find out how to ensure I ordered the whitest white poms and how much this cake mattered. And you know what she did? She sent me a new set for just the cost of shipping. And I kept the beige set. They’ll look pretty on a chocolate cake.

But back to the cake itself. The heart of the cake. I didn’t have it right yet. But that last version? It was really tasty. Could I improve it? And then, I decided to make the layers thinner. It was a eureka moment. So I made the cake again. (Not to try to get your sympathy here, but it’s a lot of steps and a lot of dishes. And a lot of eggs!) So I made the batter and split it between 3 layers.

And you know what? It came out perfectly! So pretty. The layers released from the pan perfectly. They were golden and perfect and even and lovely. That’s when I decided to take this actual cake with me to Omaha. So when they were absolutely cool, I froze the layers.

Now, you might be asking yourself how I planned to get the cake to the midwest in reasonable condition. Great question! It just so happened that the perfect styrofoam cooler and a box it fit into exactly. I’d just take the layers in the cooler with icepacks and check it through as baggage. I’d also pack my special, favorite icing spatula with me and the vanilla – and of course the pom poms. This plan was foolproof! I’d have layers and could make the icing in Omaha and assemble a beautiful cake.

End of story.

Except, as you’ve obviously already figured out, this was not the end of the story. Because…

Southwest lost the box.

It was almost midnight when I stood in the baggage office nearly in tears explaining to the clerk about my concerns that it would defrost and get stale. She gave me a piece of paper and told me that they’d do their best (and by the way, please step away from the computer and get behind the line).

At this point, I decided that the fellow who checked my bags curbside at Dulles took my cake home to his family. Do I know this was irrational? Yes, I do. But the thing is, I was in a terrible rush when my boys dropped me at the airport. I was supposed to fly out of BWI but that plane was delayed and I’d never have made the connection, so they rerouted me. My guys drove me (and unfortunately got stuck in horrendous traffic making them late for their dinner date with their aunt which sucked).

I never do curbside check-in but, as I mentioned, I was late and more than a little stressed. The guy was so sweet and I was relieved to dump my big bag and the box. He asked me what was in the box. I told him it was a cake. And that is why, when it went missing, that I suspected that poor guy. While I was very sad, I did actually invent a story in my head that he needed that cake. Maybe it was his daughter’s birthday and he had to work and didn’t get a chance to buy a cake.

Yeah, I have a great imagination like that.

So, back to my story. There was no cake in Omaha. Once I caught my breath, I saw that my friend had 3 9″ cake pans. Check. She and I went to the store and bought ingredients. And we went to Sur la Table and bought an icing spatula.

I called Southwest again and again. No cake.

And then, at nearly midnight they called. They had the box! Should they refrigerate it? (How nice that they asked, right?) I said no. Wrote it off. It was clearly defrosted and I knew I was starting over. I’d pick up the box the next day because frankly, I love that spatula.

We were headed to the airport at 5pm the next day anyway to pick Molly up. And since the cake was clearly a train-wreck, why rush?

The box. I got the box! And when we got back to Wendy’s house, I opened it and found a Christmas miracle. The ice packs were still frozen. The cake was perfect.

Perfect.

And so, the next day I whipped the heck out of a white, vanilla buttercream and put the cake together. I put the pom poms in and cut a sprig of greens.

That cake? It tasted like love.

Ginger Snaps

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Ginger Snaps

adaptation from many, many recipes over the years.

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 – 2 teaspoons fresh ground ginger (not dried. I go heavy)
1 egg (lightly beaten)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I go light)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 (approximately) cup white sugar for decoration

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

In a large bowl, mix together the brown sugar, oil, molasses, fresh ground ginger and egg.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger; stir into the molasses mixture in thirds. It’s going to be stiff!

Roll dough into 1-1/4 inch balls. Roll each ball in white sugar before placing 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Smush the cookie balls before baking. I like to use a small spatula that leaves 3 line-marks on the cookies.

Bake for 11 minutes in preheated oven, or until center is firm. Cool on wire racks.
Makes 3 dozen.

Cooking with Kids

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You know I love Cabot, right? So, I was testing how the coding for this infographic works. So I put it here. As a test. But you know what? Andrew and I have had our kids in the kitchen – cooking and baking – since they could stand. It’s so important. So great for them to learn these skills. And selfishly, such a great way to spend time with them. Now my guys are so big – 16, 17, 19… and they all spend time with us creating delicious food.

A long way around to say that I’m sharing this here for those of you with younger children. Cooking gives kids such confidence and they’ll use these skills forever.

Cooking With Kids Infographic
Presented By Cabot Cheese

College Applications. See? I made you sweat.

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image credit freeimages/iprole

image credit freeimages/iprole

I remember all those years of back-to-school shopping buying those hard cover composition notebooks. And then, my oldest son graduated to the spirals. Wide rule.

The wide rules were harder to find; it seemed as if those college-ruled spiral notebooks were everywhere. I smiled to myself knowing it would be years and years before he was ready for these grown-up books. Heck, he still had fat pencils.

Time sped by faster than I could have ever imagined and even faster than the strangers at the grocery store told me it would.

Andrew and I strongly believe that college is a wonderful opportunity to grow up and find your passions. We always hoped our three sons would go and we started saving with a 529 state savings plan when they were very small. We’ve been consistent in letting them know that we hoped that’d be college-bound some day.

Some day crept up quickly and before we knew it, Davis took the PSAT exam at school. It was 10th grade and we were petrified to start thinking about what was coming next. He was a self-starter and assured us that he was doing the SAT Question of the Day – every day. He let us know that he intended to take the ACT exam, also.

We encouraged him early to find his passion and in 10th grade, he began taking studio art in addition to his challenging AP and GT coursework. He loved expressing himself visually. Encouraged by his teacher, he found a summer program at Maryland Institute College of Art. It was hard work. But it sealed the deal. By his junior year, on the AP Art track, it became clear to us all that he wanted to pursue an art degree. But what we learned was that the resources to navigate that path were a lot less available than a traditional academic path. And we had no idea where to begin.

Somehow – probably through our school’s attentive guidance department – we found out that there was an informational session in our county for students interested in pursing visual and performing art. We learned so much and talked to representatives from art colleges and liberal arts colleges with art programs. I think that was our biggest challenge – which to choose? Art school or a school with art? How to decide? What we learned – together – was that there are pros and cons and lots of good choices. We also learned to open our minds.

And then, the real work started. Davis started a list of schools to consider and began creating a cohesive (and fabulous) portfolio. At the same time, he took the SAT and, soon after, he took the ACT. He worked with an incredible coach to hone in on his school choices and on his essays.

Oh, the essays. I was so intimidated by the essays! Article after article (and maybe I should have stopped reading so much) told of the perils of a not-so-great essay and went on to describe what a good one actually was. His coach was amazing though and, after a couple re-starts, his essay brought me to tears and also made me smile.

My husband took him to visit schools to the north. I took him to one to the south of us and to Chicago. Divide and conquer. Of the 8 schools he’d decided to apply to, we visited 5. We just couldn’t swing the time or money to see the others.

Here’s the thing. I was overwhelmed by the process. I was freaked out that my baby was going to leave and that all these details needed to be managed and that there was so much to do. But, HE managed it. He studied. He wrote and re-wrote his essays. He worked his butt off to get his portfolio ready and he set up Skype and in-person portfolio reviews with his first choice schools for input. He filled in the applications and got teacher recommendations. HE applied for college.

I was over-the-moon proud knowing that he was ready for the responsibility of GOING to college. And I was proud of him for getting into the 8 schools he chose to apply to. I can’t resist telling you that a couple of them were extremely competitive.

His decision process once he had the acceptances was easy – well, easy to get to 2 schools. I asked him just the other day (he’s a sophomore now) if he thinks he made the right choice and he thinks that he did. I think that he did, too.

Our middle son is wrapping up his essays and will be applying to 6 schools within the next couple weeks. It was a lot less daunting the second time around, but it was completely different. Our third will be applying next year. I feel confident that that will be different, too.

All a long way around to say that the college application sounds really scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Letting your teens lead the conversation is a great start. Getting great advice from a coach, the school counselor, and other terrific resources is helpful.

Don’t Freak Out! Trust me, it does NOT make it easier.

You can do this.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.

So you know what stinks?

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social-media
I keep a list of things I want to blog about when I get some time (ha, time!) and this one has been percolating for a while.

But the rush to ello the last few days brought it to the surface.

Remember how fun and amazing it was to play multi-player games on GEnie? But it was so expensive; $12 per hour during the day (less at night) and it added up quickly. The people who were knew how to navigate this system? (There was no graphic user interface!) They were awesome. Cool. Ahead of their time. FINE, you want to say geeky? Say it! But I say, these people were pioneers.

This would be a good time to tell you that I hung out on USENet, The Well, and more. Whatever. Say what you will. Aliza will back me up.

Things really started to change when Myspace popped up. We made profiles and connected with our friends. It was fun…it wasn’t bulletin boards and geeks. It was for everyone. And it was pretty cool. Until it became overrun with kids and loud music that popped up when you clicked on anything.

We (the geeky crowd) were well positioned and waiting for a better, cooler option. And the options kept coming. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram. And a ton of options in between.

And each of these was pretty darn interesting until other people started joining. Right?

I’m exaggerating but you have to admit that a lot of people complain about the newbies and the inane conversation. Because before they joined? Total intellectual stimulation and creative banter. Now? Annoying banter, marketers and people who don’t get the etiquette.

All the cool kids have been poised and ready for the newest excitement and an excuse to move out of the mainstream online spaces. So ELLO!

Today, I watched my friends sign up in droves. I’ve been there for a bit now, but not active because actually? I don’t know exactly what to do there. The folks that beat me there were so cool and so creative and posted such gorgeous images that I was speechlessly in awe. But now, my friends are there. So, I’m talking.

If this doesn’t remind you of the playground, you’re not paying attention.

I can’t wait to see what happens, but if history is a good indicator, someone is going to get suspended, someone is going to get beat up, and someone (me) is going to trip and fall.

And the cycle continues.

A penny for your thoughts.

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photo courtesy of sxc.hu jweston

photo courtesy of sxc.hu jweston


My grandmother (we called her Nana) came to our house every Saturday at 11am. We’d order 1/2 lb. corned beef, 1/2 lb. turkey, 1/4 lb. brisket, loaf of rye bread, cole slaw and potato salad from Caplan’s Deli.

Every week.

Sometimes, it was annoying that I couldn’t make other plans and had to be there. But most of the time, I loved it.

Let me tell you about the pennies.

We’d save our pennies for Nana. After lunch, we’d give them to her and tell her how many we had. She’d buy them from us and round up. So if we gave her 13 pennies, we’d get a quarter. Not too shabby.

Every week, this happened. And every week, she brought us Jelly Krimpets.

Nana had set up savings accounts for my brother, sister, and me. She deposited the pennies into our accounts. And she padded it a little. Or more than a little.

Because when I turned 18, there was over $1,000 in that account.

Do you save your pennies?