Sunday, December 26, 2010

Back in the Kitchen!

I checked out this cookbook from my county library a few weeks ago, and was intrigued by more than one recipe in it. There was one, however, that I kept turning back to, reading over, pondering... The Sweet and Salty Cake. An "indulgent but sophisticated adult sweet," the cookbook said. And Christmas was coming... bingo!

December 23, after filling up a grocery cart with things we don't normally keep (like a full pound of chocolate, another full pound of butter, plus heavy cream and dark brown sugar), I propped open the cookbook and tied my apron. It felt good to be making magic in the kitchen again. Dark cocoa powder, dark brown sugar, sour cream, shortening, butter, eggs... and a gloriously dark batter emerged. Baked in three 8-inch pans, the cakes came out almost black.

The cakes cooled overnight, Andrew arrived from medical school, and we listened eagerly to news predictions of a white Christmas in the southeast. Could it be?

Christmas Eve we breakfasted at Cracker Barrell with my Dad's family, finished up our shopping, and came home. I had a cake to finish. Step one: Make caramel. On the stove.  Armed with a new candy thermometer, I tentatively assembled the water, sugar, corn syrup, sea salt, and cream. Cautious stirring, careful temperature watching, fascinated observing, and science came through. Voila! Caramel!

Another batch for the ganache frosting, and then pour it over a pound of chopped chocolate, the best we could find. The caramel and the chocolate combined to form a rich, sweet, decadent flavor. To this, I added an inordinate amount of butter...

... and whipped the whole kit'n'caboodle into glorious, fluffy submission. Caramel chocolate ganache!

Each cake layer was poured over with the salted caramel, which took too long to soak (I had to poke some holes in the cake), and then covered with a layer of ganache, and a sprinkling of fleur de sel (sea salt).

Whew! Safely in the Tupperware cake holder to await Christmas afternoon. I was so worried; would it be as good as I think? I'd been talking about this cake for a while, and it took up so much time that I wondered if it would be worth it. We planned a simpler Christmas lunch (roast beef, mashed potatoes, salad), so that we could enjoy the cake more. Would it be worth it? Oh, gee.

Yup. It was. I'm not a professional food photographer, so I can't show you how lovely this cake is... here's a better picture from the Baked bakery in New York.

It's so moist; it's very hard to cut that prettily. But it's absolutely delicious. Want a bite? Come on over!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

The Merriest of Christmases to you!

Let us rejoice in the memory of a birth, of the Creator suffering the physical body of a man, of a lifetime of the limitations of mortality, of friends who misunderstand and bicker, of an unjust accusation, a facade of a trial, the Passover spent hanging on a cross, and then ... death. Let us remember that God died so that He could rise again, defeat death, free us from the slavery of sin and death, call us His own people.

Christmas is about redemption, salvation, freedom...

Praise the Lord! Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Au Revoir, Oscar and Emmy

I live in a tiny southern town. Charming, yes. Historic, yes. Boring, yes.

Apparently, The Travel Channel agrees with all but the boring bit.

Yesterday, as I got ready to go to work, I decided, as I often do, that since a) It was an obscenely gross and rainy Saturday and b) I'm going to a job which I leave smelling of grease, that it would be a make-up-free day. Cozy sweater, messy bun, off to work.

Mop in hand, I contentedly cleaned last night's dirt from the floor. I rather enjoy mopping; it's a mindless task, yet absolutely satisfying. Instantly gratifying. At one point, I looked up to see a young man dash through the bitterly cold rain to knock on our door. I unlocked it to explain that we were not open yet.

This nice young man is part of a film crew who is staying in town this weekend, making a documentary.Can they come film us today?

Oh, gee.

Cameras and cameras and microphones and a dozen people in our small little restaurant...

I've never felt more awkward in my entire life.

Hollywood, I will not be seeing you anytime soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


On my life's to-do list:

Make homemade marshmallows. Eat them.

And buy this necklace from Etsy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Books, Movies, and Munchies

About two months ago, I checked out The Hunchback of Notre-Dame at my local library. The book sat on my shelf for the entire time; I never even picked it up again. I looked at it frequently, but never made a move. A month later, I repeated the exact same charade. Last week, I checked the poor book out yet again, and then today, picked it up, and began to read. Wish me luck, perserverance, and understanding.

I braved the bitter cold to go see "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" last night with my dear friend Princess Sarah. Disappointing! It was all I could do not to laugh at the outrageous plot the writers fabricated, as though C.S. Lewis's was not good enough. I felt as thought I was watching a bad sci-fi flick more than once during the movie. The best scene in the movie came at the end, when Aslan tells Lucy and Edmond that he is in their world, where he has another name, "and you must learn to call me by that name. It was for that very purpose that you were brought here to Narnia..." Sadly, however, this scene felt so out-of-place in the context of the movie that if I wasn't a life-long fan of the books, I would have wondered what the heck Aslan was talking about. Disappointing.

Something that is not disappointing, however, is this recipe! I have an aversion to cheese balls, as I generally feel nauseated at the smell of peppers and onions (much less the taste), but the first time my mom made this one, she literally had to tell me to stop eating it. Simple, and completely addictive. It literally melts in your mouth. But, in the infamous words of LeVar Burton... You don't have to take my word for it!

It looks just like this, except is coated with pecans. (I stole this picture from Google...)

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter (no substitues), softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cp confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
graham crackers

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until fluffy. Gradually add sugars; beat just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Place cream cheese mixture on a large piece of plastic wrap; shape into a ball. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Just before serving, roll cheese ball in pecans. Serve with graham crackers.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Engagement pictures and puff pastry

I am currently whipping up three separate things in the kitchen, all for our women's Christmas party at church this evening. A chocolate chip cheese ball (to die for, I promise you), something with puff pastry (my mom's idea) and scones. I adore scones.

I also thought I would give you a peak at my engagement pictures! We took them down at Watson Mill, where we got engaged. Photo credit goes to my talented mother. (They're a little fuzzy on here because she took them on film and these are off the photo CD. Poop. They look awesome in print.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


These lines of a favorite hymn have described the innumerable blessings God has made known to me lately:

Hast thou not seen how all they longings have been granted in what He ordaineth?

I have truly seen. To name a few:

1. My Andrew. It was so good to have him at our home for Thanksgiving, and he'll be here again for Christmas day, then we're hitting up his family's get-together the week after. We had a blast catching up, taking our engagment pictures at Watson Mill (where we got engaged), going on a date (we don't get to often), and looking at the stars. I learned a new constellation: Casseopeia. I found it on my own tonight, so I guess that means I really learned it. We also started our registry... slightly a nightmare. We're both too definite in our opinions sometimes. But that frustration led to a good conversation. I do love that boy.

2. My new sister! My older brother proposed to his girlfriend the week before Thanksgiving. Such joy!

3. Sweet friends. Lindsay and I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving together. I drove down to visit her Thursday; we made jewelry, went shopping, and (of course) hit up the new Harry Potter movie the day it came out. We then drove up to our beloved Chattanooga to attend the wedding of two dear friends. We got to visit with even more dear friends before and after, so all in all ... a sweet weekend. And Linja's coming to see me this weekend, too!

4. Winter. I'm so thankful that it's finally sweatpants and sweater season. I've reached a point in my life where I don't enjoy bumming around the house in jeans: it's either sweatpants or gym shorts. And there's nothing cozier than curling up on our cushy sofa in sweats, a book in one hand and a snack in the other. That's what I did most of the day today.

5. Christmas! Mom and Dad put up our tree this evening while I was at work, so the lights were twinkling at me when I pulled in the driveway. Now I must shop...

6. Discipline. I'm trying to memorize 2 Peter. I made it through the first four or five verses this morning and have been saying them to myself all day. I hope my energy doesn't give out before I'm done. I'm absolutely notorious for losing energy for a project right before it's done, and then I finish it months later, if at all.

7. Hot showers. Chicken strip salads. Family pictures. Coffee. Cardigans. Fleece blankets. Red Mountain Music. Cookies in the oven. Potted plants. Snail mail. Comfortable silences. The gospel.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Very Happy November!

Can November get any better?

I'm a published poet! And my mentor, Beth Impson, is published in the same edition! Check out The Christendom Review for my poems and her essay.

Too cool.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall Break and Diamond Rings

I am getting married!

It does not feel at all like I expected. Of course, I'm completely and utterly pleased/excited/thrilled, but I'm also suddenly sure about what I do and don't care about. When I would indulge myself in thinking about my wedding, I would scrutinize flower arrangements, centerpieces, and all the other trivial wedding trappings and fluff. Friday evening, when I was telling Lindsay my thoughts, I realized I did not really care at all about what centerpieces go on the tables. I don't even care what the attendants wear. I will make those decisions eventually, and I'll have fun seeing it come together, but those things don't matter in the slightest. When people ask me what I want from my wedding, I will say, I want God to be glorified, and our friends to enjoy celebrating with us. And I want to get married! In the words of my mother, "I want God and our friends to be glad they're there." That's all.

This may be a long story. Bear with me, if you will. I have pictures!

Andrew and I have been dating since our sophomore year of college, but we became friends our freshman year because Lindsay was friends with both of us. I worked at Ridge Haven the summer after my freshman year, and he wrote me letters that whole summer -- and for all of the past three years. I have an entire drawer full of letters. He still writes me letters from med school.

His fall break began Friday, October 29, so I went up to his house in Chattanooga the day before. I had a delightful time hanging out with his mom, talking and running errands, and when Andrew arrived Friday afternoon, we spent a relaxed evening at his house. He and I had to get up early the next morning.

Saturday, Andrew and I headed to Nashville for our fourth Avett Brothers concert! We both love this band, although, the first time I had him listen to them, he hated them. But he's completely converted now. So, we drove over to Nashville, and spent most of the morning hanging out at Cheekwood Gardens.

Andrew taking a picture.

Something like the picture Andrew took.


After Cheekwood, we hit up the Old Spaghetti Factory for supper and walked around downtown Nashville until time for the concert (and we both decided we don't like Nashville very much at all, especially compared to Chattanooga). We saw the Charlie Daniels museum, a pedalling tavern, and a Mennonite gospel group singing on a corner and hanging out CDs. Oh, and lots of people in crazy Halloween costumes. Then, the Avetts!

They were all dressed as mummies!

We got home around 3 in the morning, and crashed until time to get up for church Sunday morning. I was somewhat discouraged Sunday morning, because I had (completely unfairly) placed expectations on Saturday. So, I braced myself for a ring-less week, and was frustrated with myself for being frustrated. Not cool. We enjoyed ourselves Sunday, and helped his mom with the Trunk or Treat at his church. We made oodles of cake balls.

Chocolate cake balls with white coating. Yum!
 We made about 200, and they were all devoured (or dropped by young children).
We were dressed up as farmers, with hay in the back of Andrew's truck, so I'm not entirely sure that our elegant snacks matched our rustic get-up, but people didn't question us. They just ate our treats and were happy. Andrew and I had a blast talking to everyone, and joking with all the kids who came by. A ton of people came from the community, too, which was good. 

The rest of the week passed fairly well. I struggled pretty deeply with being content. Most of my disappointment was not directly related to not being given a ring, but with my continued state of being in-between. The period of being at home has been difficult for me in the sense of not having any definite plans, but also not being able to make any definite plans, because of waiting on Andrew. And I felt like the waiting was being stretched out more painfully. I struggled with covering up my discouragement, because I very much did not want Andrew to feel manipulated, to feel as though I wanted him to change his plans, that I didn't trust him; I didn't want him to feel guilty. I felt very surely that this was my fault, my problem.

We did some more fun things, like go to see the models of the Nina and the Pinta in Chattanooga, and carved jack-o-lanterns (my first time ever).

Andrew being a pirate on the tiny Nina.

Andrew's anatomically correct heart and my dinosaur.

Then, Wednesday, we were playing our second or third game of Stratego (again, a first for me), and somehow I just started telling Andrew what a hard time I was having, and why it was hard to wait, to be in-between. It was incredibly relieving to be honest with him, and for him to hear me and hurt for me, and to also promise that he was seeking to do what was best for us. We both sobbed, and it was so good. 

We headed to my house Thursday morning, armed with a picnic lunch for along the way. About a month ago, I had asked him if we could go on a movie-style picnic, with a nice basket, real plates and forks, etcetera. We stopped for fried chicken, and then headed to Watson Mill State Park in Comer, GA. We went there early in our first year of dating, and it's only about an hour out from my house. There is a beautiful old covered bridge over a river that goes from being glassy-calm to pouring over a spillway and down over rocks on the other side of the bridge.

We sat right under the bridge for our picnic, on a flat area just wide enough to lean against the stonework and stretch out your legs to the edge of the water. This was a place we had stood and talked the last time we came there. Andrew brought Coke in glass bottles, carrots, grapes, and chocolate chip cookies. We devoured our chicken, and then sat and watched the water go by. I was so relaxed, being free of the anxiety I had felt all week; our conversation had somehow put my heart at peace with waiting. I was ready and willing to wait more, so we just sat quietly against the rock wall.

Then, Andrew began telling me how he appreciated my honesty the evening before, in telling him how I was struggling. He told me he thought that honesty was one of the strongest things in our relationship, and something he treasures deeply. "So", he said, "I made you something!"  He asked me to stand up, and pulls out of the picnic basket

this box.

I exclaim, "It's beautiful!" Reader, it is a lovely box. It is so smooth it feels like glass.

He then pulls a key out of his pocket, the skeleton key he has worn around his neck for years. He tells me,  "this is the only key that opens it." That was when I began to tear up; my world became slightly foggy. I opened the box to see

another handmade box.

I looked up to see him go down on one knee.

He asked me to walk with him, to be his best friend, his confidant, his support, his companion on the adventure the Lord gives us -- to marry him.

I was completely teared up, but I managed an enthusiastic yes!

The smaller box opened to reveal a glorious ring.

He picked it out completely independently from me.


Why Watson Mill? I asked the same thing. We agreed early in our relationship that to help us maintain purity, we would wait to kiss until we were engaged. He told me that this spot, under the bridge, was the first place he had ever wanted to kiss me. And I think he decided then, years ago, that it would be the place.

We're getting married! I couldn't be more pleased.  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Tasty Read and Reminisce

I finished reading Molly Wizenburg's A Homemade Life this morning. She is the creator of the famous blog Orangette, where she incorporates the recipes that shaped her life and her memories with the stories that made them so special. Her book is a collection of essays that tell her story; each can be read separately, but together they make a delightful whole. At the end of each essay is, appropriately, a recipe. Not just any recipe, but a creation that has a specific connection to that character or chapter in her life. Her father's potato salad, the cake she made for this or that person, the meal she cooked this particular important day ... it's a charming, moving, and delicious account.

Her book naturally made me ponder my own journey, and what it is that has defined important moments in my short life. The initial (and completely not serious) answer would be hair cuts. I can tell exactly what grade I was in/how old I was in any given picture by my hair. However, there are definitely certain foods and tastes that I associate with certain moments, with important memories and events. The scones I made for my poetry reading, the white chicken chili that reminds me of Andrew every time I cook or eat it, my grandmother's cranberry-and-apple casserole, the apple cake at summer camp that I spent every exhausting week looking forward to ... and my mom's biscuits.

She invented her own recipe -- a little of this, a little of that throughout her early married years, combining her mother's and my dad's mother's biscuits in a delightful combination that resulted in the happiest of Saturday mornings for me as a child. As soon as they came from the oven, my dad would stand over the hot pan, knife in hand, braving the heat to slice and fill them with too much butter. They're best that way: with too much butter. I never put anything else on them as a child (and I still don't sometimes), no jelly or honey. I ate them just like that -- just soft, crumbly biscuit and dripping butter. We ate them all week. They're the perfect base for strawberry shortcake. Cake is no comparison. The next breakfast or two, mom would re-butter them, separate tops from bottoms, lay them out on a baking sheet in the oven, and toast them for breakfast. We called it "biscuit toast" and it was my favorite way to eat them. They are soft and barely crispy when first baked, but as they are toasted a day or two later, they become delightfully thin and so crispy as to crunch satisfyingly when you bite them, and then melt in a mass of sweet bread and warm butter in your mouth. No other breakfast was as anticipated in my mind as the mornings my mother would make biscuits.

Now, as a young adult, I have made them myself. Only half a dozen times, however, and the chief flaw in this recipe is, due to it being a homemade recipe, it has never been measured precisely or written down. I learned these biscuits at my mother's side, and even now, when I make them on my own, I am constantly double-checking against her knowledge, barraging her with a stream of is this right? As a result, I cannot give you the recipe. I could give you the skeleton of a recipe, but it would not satisfy. I beg your forgiveness for building such an appealing picture up and then withholding the treat. But don't despair. I will figure out how to share the biscuits. And then you'll see what I mean.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Odds and Ends

The North Carolina mountains have been my favorite place to visit every summer since I was seven years old. I've attended Ridge Haven, the PCA's camp and conference center for summer camp for years, and I have worked there as a counselor three out of my four college summers (excepting my thesis summer). Needless to say, Ridge Haven holds a deeply precious place in my heart. And I'm sure it could be expected that when, at work on Monday, a boy came in wearing this summer's RH camp shirt, I was thrilled. I asked him when he went, who his counselor was, told him I worked there ... was so looking for a connection, a laugh, a good conversation ... except he did not share my enthusiasm about having been at the same place at the same time. He just wanted his ice cream.


My cousin's wife has an Etsy account where she sells, of all things, bow ties! They're really nice. You should check them out here.


Laura and I took a day trip on Tuesday down to Athens, GA. We both had the day off, so we decided to go somewhere we didn't know very well, and Athens has a great downtown. The weather was perfect, so after finding a parking spot (right in front of the Georgia Theatre. So sad. I first saw the Avett Brothers at the Georgia Theatre two or three years ago, before it burned down.), we spent a delightful afternoon meandering around the various shops. There are several very weird ones, and lots of upscale boutiques. We discovered a salad shop, where we had great lunch and great conversation, and then we each made one under-$20 purchase. I bought an olive green scarf from a place called Private Gallery, which apparently isn't just a local place. You can check them out here.


Leave it to me for my favorite part of Anthropologie to be their books, but look at these:

The second two are Penguin books; they have about fourteen titles, and all bound so beautifully. The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook... I think that speaks for itself. I have a thing for beautiful books, especially beautiful cookbooks, lately. And I love planning and decorating. Basically, I love beautiful things. (Who doesn't?)


Mom went grocery shopping yesterday, and I'm so excited about the contents of our refrigerator! We not only have the typical broccoli-carrot-lettuce trio, but she also brought home asparagus and yellow squash! Colorful veggies and a warm entree (I think it will be macaroni-and-cheese-and-ham in the Crock Pot) make me feel cozy. I just need it to be cool enough to start wearing my cute fall hats ...


A week and a day until Andrew!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Not a Typical Sunday

Today was not a typical Sunday at the Jones house. It was, in fact, a highly unusual Sunday in a somewhat unusual weekend.

Andrew came to visit, so that was a welcome difference. I still had to work, but as he is in med school and had to study, the arrangement worked out very well. He studied while I worked, and we hung out when I was home. We walked around town, saw the new meat market, were given free ice cream from my boss, made a delicious dessert, and threw the frisbee (we were both woefully out of practice). A delightfully low-key Saturday.

This morning, as we were getting ready for Sunday School and church, our day took a decidedly different turn. My dad, who had to work this weekend, and who has ridden a motorcycle to work every day for longer than I've been alive, hit a deer on his drive to work this morning. On his motorcycle. He called my mom from the ER, told her he was fine and not to come until she needed to come and get him. In his words, "I'm just sitting and waiting." (My dad is an extremely gentle and low-key man.) So, instead of going to church, my mother, Andrew and I drove to fetch Dad from the hospital (he works at the hospital, and it's about a 35-minute drive from our house). Turns out, he actually hit the deer about five minutes from our house, and when he realized he wasn't really damaged, picked up his bike and drove it to work! When he got closer to the hospital that he realized he needed to get checked out. The bike is still at the hospital, much skint up on the right side and missing its right-side mirror (which we picked up from the median on our way home).

Dad is fine; he has his left hand in a splint (maybe a hairline fracture) and his right arm in a sling (potentially torn ACL on his shoulder. He has a huge lump and will call the orthopedist tomorrow). He's mostly bored of the sling and split already, and in his words, "annoyed at being sidelined." He's very independent, and doesn't like people to make a fuss over him. We're all very thankful for his Kevlar riding suit, which took the brunt of his slide down the highway (exactly like it's supposed to). Protective gear! Wear it!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Choosing Truth

The gospel really does change everything. To someone who's grown up in the church, as I have, and never really known a day without being in a Christian community--whether my family, at college, or at Ridge Haven--this truth should have sunk in much sooner. Yet, somehow, I never realized until this past summer at Ridge Haven that if I truly believe the gospel, nothing about my life should be the same as it was before I encountered it. My response to all things, to every situation, every sin, every hurt, every joy, should be shot through with gospel light.

I am currently struggling with being content living at home and waitressing; each time someone asks me what I'm doing or why I'm home, etcetera, I immediately feel the burning shame of pride and judgement ignite inside me. I make some excuse, trying to make my current situation sound at least wise, if not incredibly enviable; I at least don't want them to scoff at me. If my former classmates/teachers/friend's parents judge me, think I'm doing poorly, I'll ... I'll ... what will I do? I'll keep working where I am, because I have no where else to go right now. Because this is where I am, and obviously, God has a reason for me here. He does nothing without purpose, and no other application, resume, or interview has yielded a single sprig of hope for me. So, I wait tables in my small town. And often, I'm ashamed.

Yet, why should I be ashamed? If God has brought me here, there can be no shame in trusting Him! He, Yahweh, the One who created all things, who sustains all things, who wept bitter tears when man chose himself over his God, who had immediately a rescue plan in motion for the salvation of His children, who became a man, suffered the pain of merely living in a broken and sin-wrecked world, who was condemned to death by His own creation and died. My God died. He died to rip my name out of the log-book of hell and write it in His own book, to call me His child and so change me to be like one of His family. He died to destroy death, and then He rose; now and forever more He lives. And now, I live trusting His wisdom, knowing He has promised all things for my good and His glory, and that ultimately, my true life will be in a new earth, a life free of even the thought of sin. So, with this gospel in my heart, why should I be ashamed of a menial job? A businessman is not more godly than a janitor; it is the character of my heart that matters, and not the depth of my wallet, or the size of my ego (or shine of my resume).

If I truly believe that I am the beloved daughter of my Heavenly Father, a new creation, then I can rest in this joy, this identity. The judgements (whether imagined or actual) of my acquaintances will pass away, as will this phase of life. My strengthened trust in the Lord will remain. May I always choose to trust. May I preach the gospel to myself daily.

Help my unbelief!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

a few quiet moments

I never did discover how to cut and eat my flower basket cake. Mom took it to school with her to share with the other teachers, but sold it to one of them before it ever saw the teacher's lounge! I was both pleased and flattered, and I hope Mrs. Crawford's granddaughter loves her birthday cake! Andrew suggested that I continue to make a cake a week to send with Mom to school so I can practice (and maybe get some business?). That would be nice. I was sent home from work with a bunch of overripe bananas yesterday to make some banana bread.

I'm catching a few moments of peace in between my two shifts at work today; it's a busy weekend in town, so I was asked to work a double shift. Good for my savings account, but kind of depressing on a sunny October Saturday. It's good to know, though, that weekends like this are huge supports for our community's economy. My family has selected our 3/50 businesses. You picked yours yet?

A lady came into the restaurant today wearing Chacos! It made me so happy that I told her so. No one in my town wears Chacos except my family, so hers made me smile.

Important count-downs in my life:

- three weeks until I see Andrew again
- six weeks until my Linja-and-Harry-Potter weekend
- a month and a half until I'm a published poet
- twelve minutes before I head back to work

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Final Exam!

Last night, I attended my last cake class. The final exam? We learned the basket-weave technique and then applied it to a cake, along with multitudes of buttercream flowers we brought with us, resulting in a flower basket cake!

Our instructor showed us the sacred Wilton way of creating a basketweave, and then her own method. I like them both, but I chose her method for this cake. They both look great, and you create them the same way; you just use a different tip for a different look. The Wilton technique is flatter, looking more like an Easter basket. This one, as you can see, is more textured, and looks more like a country basket.

I brought about forty flowers, and could've used a few more, but my Tennessee trip cut into my flower-making time this weekend. Overall, I was pleased.

I have no idea how to cut this cake to eat it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Seven Good Things

1. Friends! I was so blessed to be able to attend Homecoming at my Alma Mater--Bryan College--with my best friend Lindsay this weekend. We had a whole weekend of heart-to-hearts and catching up with one another, and deep belly laughs. There was much quoting of A Very Potter Musical, many late night conversations, and contagious all-around joy at being with friends. And I got to see my boyfriend, and we went on our first date since July! (He's in medical school.) I also spent a very sweet hour with my mentor Friday afternoon.

2. Bargains! Lindsay and I stopped at an outlet mall, where I scored this bag for $8.01 (it's much cuter in real life than in the picture).

3. The 3/50 Project. Look it up. (

4. Poetry! A friend from my summer camp job texted me today, asking if I'd heard of Steve Turner. I've spent the last forty minutes reading some of his poetry, and it is challenging and thought-provoking. A good find, indeed. For example:

The Cast of Christmas Reassembles For Easter

Take the wise men to the Emperor's palace.
Wash their hands in water.
Get them to say something about truth.
Does anyone know any good Jewish jokes?
The one about a carpenter
who thought he was a King?
The one about the Saviour
who couldn't save himself?
The shepherds should stand with the chorus.
They have a big production number -
'Barabbas, We Love You Baby'.
Mary? She can move to the front.
We have a special section reserved
for family and close friends.
Tell her that we had to cut the manger up.
We needed the wood for something else.
The star I'm afraid I can't use.
There are no stars in this show.
The sky turns black with sorrow.
The earth shakes with terror.
Hold on to the frankincense.
We'll need that for the garden scene.
Angels? He could do with some angels.
Avenging angels.
Merciful angels.
He could really do with some angels.
Baby Jesus.
Step this way please.
My! How you've grown!

Most of his stuff just hits you in the gut like that. At least, of what I read today.

5. Sleep! Taken for granted until entering college, then forever considered a precious commodity. I look forward to more than eight hours tonight. I must be old: I need more than one night's sleep to recover from my weekend away.

6. Neighbors! I was reminded an hour ago that I'm supposed to have cake for my class tomorrow night; the cake needs at least 24 hours to cool. Upon a startling remembrance that cake had to be baked, I then immediately realized that there were zero eggs in the house. Drive to town? Call the neighbors? Most of my neighbors are family, so that's not a huge deal. I called my aunt across the road, and in fifteen minutes or so, my sweet cousin came over with four eggs for me. He will get some cake when it is done. I also should have spent time today making more buttercream flowers, but I'm just going to use the 35 or so that I have. Tomorrow night is my last night of class; is the progress measurable at all? I hope so.

7. Home.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Flipping Pages

I'm a huge Kate DeCamillo fan, and I recently discovered yet another of her charming children's books: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. One of reviews calls it an "achingly beautiful story," and I must agree. Like Despereaux, it is beautiful in the way that it makes you want to cry.

Next on my reading list: Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winters. Recommended to me by Laura, as one of her RUF reading list books. They read so many good books during that internship! One thing I miss about college is reading good books and discussing them with people.

No work for me today, so I'm torn between a number of projects for my free time. Start my new book? Hit up the coffee shop to write some poetry? Work on my bag? (I'm sewing a bag, and fighting through figuring out the I-know-how-to-sew code that is the instructions.) Bake cookies? Perhaps all of the above. Perhaps none. I think at least some poetry.

In talking to my dear friend Lindsay the other day, a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins came to mind; it is one of his "terrible sonnets," and the one that comes to my mind most often. Perhaps because I struggle with its subject most often. I am too easily led to despair, to discouragement; I too easily choose not to believe the truth about myself in Christ. I'd rather feed on that Carrion Comfort. But --

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruised bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer.
Cheer whom though? The hero whose heaven-handling flung me, foot trod
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mint Chocolate Done!

As previously explained, my sweetheart of a boss asked me to make a cake for a friend's birthday today. No problem! I'd love to! My first cake for people! I found a good recipe and baked a chocolate sheet cake.

The next step is, naturally, icing. I have a recipe for mint chocolate chip buttercream icing that I was itching to try, and this was the perfect opportunity. Loaded up with peppermint extract and pounds of powdered sugar, I mixed up my first batch. Not quite enough. So I mixed up a second batch. I chopped up lots of chocolate.

I mixed the chocolate in with the minty icing and I was feeling really good about the process. The kitchen, by this time, smelled amazing. The leftover chocolate cake vapors and the new peppermint smells were very pleasant.

What comes next? Color! What color is mint supposed to be? Mint green! Just for a refresher, this is mint green. The color of leaves, of baby booties, and most importantly, of mint chocolate chip ice cream. If you aren't familiar with the usual way to color icing, let me explain. If you are familiar, pardon the review. Color concentrates are bought in little jars, which you transfer into the icing via a toothpick or two. Unless you want an extremely dark or strong color, you don't need much coloring. With this in mind, I put two toothpicks of color into my icing and blended. The icing did not change colors at all. Okay. More color. Still no change. What is stronger and darker? Food coloring! Two drops of green food coloring. (My mom was home by this point.) "Does it look any different to you?" "Mmm... no. Not really." Five drops and stir. Six drops and stir.

Then the mixer died. This is the second mixer I've killed while making icing.

The icing became something like the color of an alligator. Certainly not mint, certainly not even a nice leaf green, which was what I would expect from too much color. Nope. The color of a reptile, with a certain hint of brown under the green. Stirring by hand at this point, I added some yellow. No change. A little more yellow. Slight improvement. More yellow. My arm was exhausted.

                                                        (see how hard I was stirring?)

Somewhere around this time, I began to concede that perhaps, I was losing the battle. Also around this time, the icing was decidedly olive green. Like, the color of a dinosaur. Like, this color. Absolutely not mint.

You can't tell the color as strongly in this picture, but trust me. It's sitting in the fridge at this moment, very much this color.  Now what?

Start all over. To Wal-Mart! (I live in the middle of nowhere, so going to Wal-Mart, or even the grocery store, feels like a hassle.) My mom, who was brilliant this whole time, and kept me laughing instead of getting frustrated, proposed a Wal-Mart and supper trip. Off we went and bought more peppermint extract and a brand-new mixer. We ate a delicious dinner at our favorite restaurant, indulged in a couple ice cream cones, hit up the grocery story on our way home for butter, and then walked in the door, ready to start over. It was about 9:15 at this point. Except guess what we forgot to buy much more of? Guess what is the main ingredient in buttercream icing? Powdered sugar. I needed three pounds and we had about two cups. Grumble, grumble. After debating whether or not to go back to town, I decided it would be better to just wait and go in the morning. We were both exhaused; I could feel my body and brain shutting down, and I'm sure trying further would have only been digging the grave deeper.

This morning, I got up, went to the store, made lots of icing, and iced my cake! I decided to leave the green alone. Some extracts react strangly with color (for example, lemon icing won't dye a true red), and I wondered about the peppermint. I thought it better to not gamble with colors this morning. I decided on decorating with brown, so I made some chocolate buttercream, and got to work. I finished it just in time to drive it to my boss at 11:20 this morning, just before lunch. Whew!

                                the chocolate chips in the icing are what make it look so speckled

 I piped swirls all around the cake, and made a shell border on the bottom and rossettes on the top.

I was glad with how it turned out. I didn't think it was spectacular--I'm a total perfectionist--but I'm also glad it is finished. And my boss was very pleased, and that's what matters most.

I have an hour until I go to work, so now I'm curling up with some Harry Potter in preparation for November 19!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It must be a full moon tonight

My sweetheart of a boss commissioned me last night to make a birthday cake for her (to give to someone else.) Hooray! I'm somewhat of a professional baker now, right? What I have to go on: mint chocolate chip. And the lady is diabetic. Wednesday night, I found a diabetic-friendly recipe that sounded delicous (and Splenda-free), and plotted my cake. It's for only a few people, so I'm making a 9 by 13 sheet cake, and I'll cut it in half and make a small, squarish layer cake. Chocolate cake, mint chocolate chip buttercream icing. Splendid, right?

Not so splendid. The cake turned out magnificently. The icing ... well. Let's just say I started working on the icing around 5 this afternoon. It is now after 10, and tomorrow morning I have to go to the store (again) and then make three more batches. This will be my fourth and fifth batch. The cake sits uniced, waiting catastrophe to find another house to linger over. I'm going to bed. More later. There will be pictures, don't worry.

(and it really is a full moon tonight.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Future Jitters

Confession. I go to my first "real" interview this Wednesday morning at 9 am (except I have to leave the house at at least 7), and I am terrified. I've had my share of phone interviews, but I think my last real actual wear-a-suit interview was for the Presidential scholarship at Bryan College in 2006. Isn't that pathetic?

The company: 10 Best. The positon: editor. My degree: English Literature, writing minor. It would seem a perfect fit. Dragon to slay: my all-too easily intimidated self. And my affinaty for disaster when driving to a place I've never been before. (Case in point, I was half an hour late to a wedding this summer. The GPS took me to a dirt road instead of a lovely old house. I was distraught.)

Yet, God is good. And, what's the worst that can happen? I get lost and never find the place, so I have to email the lady back and tell her that I'm a bumbling idiot who can't follow a GPS and therefore would make a horrible employee. I still have my part-time job here at home. Ta-da! I win, right? And God is good, no matter what. He will be good if I get lost, if I get rejected for the job, if I totally botch the interview, or if I am offered a great job. He will be glorified, because He is God, and He is wise. I am not.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cake-skirted Cindy

She just looks like a Cindy. Laura and I stopped at the Dollar Tree before class, not wanting to shell out $6.95 for a doll pick we'd never use again. After skepticism of the choices, pondering the other options, and finally caving in to our cheapness, we both came away with little fairy dolls (the other options were mermaids). I paid the $1.07 in change.

Before I tell you about my doll, I should tell you about my cake. After doing lots of research in the hope of finding a doll cake that wasn't scary, I also found lots of information about the cake itself. Apparently, even the Wilton doll cake pan is too short for a doll, so many people bake an extra 8 or 9-inch round cake and use it to boost the height. As I baked my skirt in a bowl (a perfectly acceptable method, don't scoff), I was sure I'd need this extra lift. Using my grandmother's delicious hot milk cake recipe, I baked these beautiful cakes.

I then proceeded to ice them together, into something resembling a giant hamburger.

Armed with this, and my Cheap Cindy Fairy doll, I only lacked one thing as I entered class: a vision. I had no idea how I wanted to decorate my cake. I realize now I should've looked at pictures of ball gowns instead of doll cakes. If there is a next time (please, no!), I'll know better. I did feel better about this assignment as our teacher explained that the point of this exercise was not idle humiliation, but practice with pressure and control while icing, to prepare us for flowers next week. Ah. Now I understand. She wanted us to use the 104 tip for ruffles (also to be used for roses next week) and the 16 or 32 tip for stars. I dreaded the star tip, because, as I'm sure you will agree, using this tip on a ball gown makes the gown look as though grandma crocheted it. But, like the good student I am, I resigned myself to crocheting and ruffling a ball gown for (now naked) Cheap Cindy.

I might also add, that taking Cheap Cindy's fairy outfit off was quite the ordeal. The neck strap was smaller than her head, so I (of course?) thought to just pop her head off. I then immediately realized that her head might not go back on. It didn't. There I sat, while our teacher warned us about the dangers of using some types of fresh flowers on cakes, with a naked, headless doll in one hand, and her head in the other, trying desperately to reunite them under the table. Laura and I were also trying just as desperately not to laugh. On the verge of collapsing in laughter at the thought of a crocheted and headless doll cake, I handed the doll to Laura, who somehow wrangled her little head back on.

Resolving that if I must make a doll cake, I may as well make it super girly, I decided that Cheap Fairy Cindy's dress would be pink. (Her fairy wings are a shocking shade of lime green, so that ruled out most other colors anyway.) My teacher helped me scootch Cindy's legs into my cake until she stood, nude and creepily sticking halfway out of my cake. I should've taken a picture of that. I ruffled and starred away, until at last, Cindy stood, in all her pink, crocheted, slightly-misshapen glory.

I thought it best to let her hold her fairy wand, since she looked a little bored just sitting there. Or maybe it's a giant bubble wand. What do Dollar Tree Fairies do, anyway?

I must admit, though, that as much as I detest the idea of a doll cake, I have that fondness for poor trapped Cindy as anyone does for something mediocre: just because I made it. And I thought I did an okay job on the icing part (and that's the important part, right?). See my ruffles? You can also tell where I switched from the 16 tip (the small stars) to the 32 (the bigger stars).

I don't know if you can tell, but Cindy does have a little flower detail on her crocheted bodice.

Overall, I'm glad this assignment is over. I'm also glad that this cake will be put to good use. Laura knows a little girl who will be turning 6 this Thursday, and Cheap Cindy will be Happy Birthday to her. And I know for a fact that the cake will, if nothing else, taste good.