Cake Challenge

I read a great article published by Food & Wine back in January about cake baking. The theory behind the article is that if you want to get really good at baking cake, you need to bake cakes on a regular basis. That way, you learn how cake baking really works and learn important lessons to help you improve your cake baking craft over time.

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Now, I don’t know about you, but when there is cake in the house, the cake goes into my mouth. So, while this is great in theory, it does pose some challenges for someone trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, I’ve been baking cakes when I have an occasion to attend, as most of our friend gatherings tend to be of the “bring something to share” variety.

For Superbowl Sunday, which was actually in February, I made the January cake, Citrusy Angel Food Cake. While I have baked cakes before, I had never attempted Angel Food. This one came out just a little more dense than I would have liked, but the important lesson I learned was to be careful about how long you beat your egg whites. I believe mine were just slightly overbeaten and that is what caused the cake to be slightly more dense. The other issue that may have given me some challenges is that I chose to use orange zest instead of lemon zest for this recipe. As I looked at the zest, it occurred to me that the orange zest was more wet than I typically see with lemon zest. Perhaps I should have modified my wet ingredients just slightly. Nonetheless, everyone raved about it, so it wasn’t a tragedy.

In February, I ended up skipping the cake of the month. My husband and I bought a blow torch and we tackled creme brûlée instead. He has made it again since our Valentine’s Day attempt, and we still feel like the consistency isn’t quite right. It tends to come out more like a pudding than a firm custard. So, it is still a work in progress. I, however, still want to come back to the February cake recipe, because who wouldn’t love a Molten Chocolate Cake as the conclusion to an intimate dinner party?

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I made my March cake for a gathering of the same group of friends who were together for the Superbowl party. There was a beer tasting party, so it seemed the perfect time to make a Porter Bundt Cake with Whiskey-Caramel Sauce. OMG, this cake was amazing, but definitely not kid-friendly! The Whiskey-Caramel Sauce packs a real punch. If I hadn’t been pregnant at the time you might have found me eating the sauce with a spoon instead of just drizzling it over the slice I ate. I had never baked a bundt cake before this attempt, and I was pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out. I will make this cake again around the holidays!

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April was a crazy month, I was miserably pregnant, so even though I had plans to make April’s Carrot Cake for a birthday party, I ended up skipping the party and sleeping instead. So, no cake. However, after the baby came, my sister decided to bring my nieces down to visit over Memorial Day weekend. My youngest niece adores carrot cake, so I decided it was time to break out the recipe. However, my older niece and my husband are not huge carrot cake fans so I needed a backup plan. Since the older niece loves chocolate, I settled on the chocolate cake recipe I grew up on. Now, in my family, we call this Grandma’s Chocolate Cake; truth be told, it is really the chocolate cake recipe from the back of the Hershey’s cocoa can. And, it is amazing. So, with a nearly 3 week old baby, I decided to tackle making two cakes in one day.

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I was kind of surprised that I managed to pull it off with only a little bit of support from my mom. She ended up having to take the chocolate cake layers out of the oven for me while I fed the baby. But, other than that, I did it! Important lesson learned from this cake baking day, however. My frosting for both cakes was so soft that I had trouble icing the cakes. It was a very warm day, and I had left the butter out for quite some time. While room temperature butter ensures a smooth icing, I may have let it get a little too soft. In the future, when I have an icing that feels soft after mixing, I will be sure to throw it in the refrigerator for a short rest before I put it on a cake!

Another important lesson I learned from this cake baking adventure is that the quality of your ingredients really matters! I grew up eating this chocolate cake made with Hershey’s cocoa. However, I had a good supply of Dutch process cocoa already in my kitchen cabinet so I decided to use that instead. Holy cow! It made the cake the regularly decadent cake truly unbelievable. I’ll never go back to using regular Hershey’s cocoa for baking again!

The cake on the calendar for May was Tres Leches. This is my mom’s favorite, so I’m looking forward to making it for her next visit. June is a white cake with chocolate ganache icing. I’m looking forward to finding an event for making that one.

I do feel like I am learning a lot from participating in a cake baking process on a more regular basis. And, now that I have a little one, I think it is safe to say that making cakes might become a regular thing even after these 12 months! As for the rest of this year, I’m looking forward to sharing my monthly cake adventures with all of you!

Have you ever set out to practice a skill that you wanted to improve by engaging in it on a regular basis? What do you think I should take on next?

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Big Changes

There are more than a few things that have changed in a major way in our household since I last blogged. Man, I have missed writing on a regular basis, but priorities shifted around for a while. While things continue to grow and change, it hit me that blogging is something I want to make a priority. So, my new goal is not to write (almost) every day as I was doing before, but to get in a couple of quality posts each week. I’ll continue to write about what is happening in my kitchen, in my fitness life, and around the house. But now, I get to add my new role to the mix as well (more about that later). So, what are these big changes?

  1. We bought a house. We started house shopping back in spring of 2014, finally found something in the fall, and closed in December. So, we’ve been here for nearly a year and a half at this point. We’ve made some cosmetic changes, but we’ve been taking it one room at a time. Look for some blog posts in the future about what kind of changes we’ve made and what constraints we’ve had as we have done most of the work ourselves!
  2. I went back to school. I’m working on a post masters’ certificate in school administration and I’ve been working a bit on some professional writing. While I will keep the majority of my professional writing on my consulting website, I’ll be sure to mention when new posts go up so if any of my readers out there are also educators, they can keep up with the other side of my life.
  3. And, for the biggest change of all. Last week, I became a mommy. Our little PJ has quickly become the center of our universe. While I will not even pretend to be any kind of expert on anything childcare related, be prepared for some new mommy reflections and stories about my journey back to running for the foreseeable future.

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Looking forward to sharing more with you soon!

WIAW: Snacks

My appetite is endless these days. On days when I’m out and about in schools or training teachers, I keep it pretty well in check. But on days when I’m at my desk all day, I just can’t seem to keep away from the snacks. Yesterday is good evidence of that…

2014-09-09Breakfast: Typical egg, turkey bacon, and half a grapefruit–I can’t ever seem to remember to snap a picture of this before my coffee.
Morning Snack 1: An oatmeal “cupcake” and a banana
Morning Snack 2: Unplanned handful of peanut butter pretzels
Lunch: Leftover grilled vegetables and some of the black lentils that I’ll use for tonight’s stir-fry. I made way too many of these, so I’ll be eating lentils like crazy for the next week.
Afternoon Snack 1: Almonds–I think I needed something else with lunch, because I was starving again by 1:30.
Afternoon Snack 2: Edamame hummus with carrots and some red grapes
Afternoon Snack 3: Baby Snickers and a handful of salted nuts–Seriously. It was after 4, I had been super productive, and this was offered to me by a great coworker. It actually worked quite well as a late day pick me up before I hit the gym.
Dinner/Dessert: A lovely Sweet Josie Brown, Blackened Chicken over Lime-Cilantro Quinoa (with avocado/Greek yogurt sauce) and one square of Theo Classic Dark Chocolate with Orange

What strategies do you use when you can’t seem to stay away from the snacks? Or, do you just go with the flow?

Check out more Wednesday grub over at Peas and Crayons What I Ate Wednesday link-up!

 

Eyeliner Wars

I like eyeliner. At any given time, I have a few different varieties in my bag. But, over the years, I’ve never been very adventurous when it came to eyeliner color; I stick with black or brown/black.

So, months ago, when I received the Mally Beauty Evercolor Starlight Waterproof Eyeliner in a shade they call Sailor, I wasn’t sure what to think. Let’s face it, navy blue eyeliner isn’t exactly adventurous, but it wasn’t a shade I had thought much about. However, I gave it a try and it quickly became my favorite “everyday” eyeliner. I used it so much that the pencil became shorter and shorter. But, at $17 to replace it, I decided I should use it until it was too short to use before I dropped the money for a new one. I know, $17 isn’t much, but I’m a teacher, so I have to make sure I  get every penny of my money out of something before I replace it.

Fast forward, and I head out of town for a weekend to meet up with my family in Western Maryland. The first thing my sister tells me after I get out of the car is that she has forgotten her makeup bag, so we need to go shopping. I tell her not to worry about it, she can use mine. I mean, what are sisters for? Right? So we go about our evening, head to bed, and the next morning, it hits me that even though I made sure I packed everything into my makeup bag for the trip, I never actually picked up the makeup bag and put it into the duffel we had packed for the trip.

So, off we went! We decided the mall would be the best place to start, even though it seemed they fell a little short in the department store market. Fortunately, there was a BonTon on the backside of the mall, and the girl at the Clinique counter got me hooked up with a BB cream sample and my sister with her regular foundation and concealer. She powdered us up and then we went off for less expensive eye products. We ended up settling on a low cost waterproof mascara that we knew would come in handy at the beach and I decided to try a lower cost version of navy blue eyeliner by purchasing Maybelline New York Define-A-Line Eyeliner. This is actually the brand of brown/black eyeliner I use, so I decided it would probably be the best way to go.

This eyeliner goes on great! It is super smooth and because you turn it out rather than having to sharpen it, it’s super low maintenance. Since I like this eyeliner, I decided to see how it would stand up in head-to-head (or eye-to-eye) matchup with the Mally eyeliner.

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I started out by applying one of the eyeliners to each eye as part of my regular makeup routine. Then I photographed myself as a baseline for how each eyeliner looked compared to the other. At this point, there is no real difference. The only thing I really notice when I look closely is that the Maybelline has a slightly brighter color than the Mally. Satisfied that I didn’t look too crazy wearing two different eyeliners, I went about my day.

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I really almost forgot that I was wearing two different eyeliners. That is, until I went into the bathroom to get changed before my run. And that’s when I noticed the difference. Look below. See that smudge under my Maybelline eye? I had noticed that once or twice before, but typically after I had been in a sweaty situation. I just assumed it was the eyeliner running from that. After all, it isn’t waterproof like the Mally eyeliner. But, since I had been in my office all day, and hadn’t exerted myself or gotten overly warm, I realized this was a problem. After all, nobody wants dark blue circles under their eyes, right?

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As a result of this little test, I decided that they Mally eyeliner really is worth every penny, so treated myself this week by ordering a new one. The best part was that I found out the price dropped and it is down to $12.95 on Amazon right nowI can’t wait to get it!

See how others are treating themselves this week by checking out Olives ‘n Wine!

 

Weekly Recap: Getting It Back

There isn’t much new this week. In fact, I kind of stuck with what I did last week. Kept my mileage low, ran easy, and stayed away from strength.

Monday: 3 miles + 3 hours of raking, mowing, and yard clean-up – I had the day off thanks to Labor Day. Since my husband had to work, I took advantage of the time to get in my run early in the day. I managed to run the first mile, walk a minute, and then ran again until I got to about 1.75 miles. I walked a good bit after that and then ran in the last half mile.
Tuesday: 30 minutes on the stationary bike
Wednesday: Rest. I planned to run, but I ended up having to work late and was wiped out by the time I made it home.
Thursday: 3 miles – Managed to run a mile, walk a minute, and then run another entire mile. After that, I was pretty wiped out. I tried to start running again after a longer break, but I had nothing left in the tank.
Friday: Scheduled Rest Day
Saturday: 6 miles – My asthma has been acting up pretty badly the last couple of weeks, so I have cut my intervals back to 5 minutes. Even that has been a struggle, but I’m managing to put the miles in, even if I’m walking even more than usual.
Sunday: Rest – Per my doctor, I’m supposed to be resting for 48 hours in between my runs. I thought about hitting the gym for some bike time, but they don’t open until 1:00. We watched football and had beer and pizza instead. 🙂

This week, I’m going to start working in the strength training for sure. We are switching our runs to early mornings for a while, so I can get a short strength workout in the evenings of those days. I’m focusing on core work and some lower body exercises that don’t require squats or lunges. I’ll be sure to fill you in more on that in the coming weeks!

You may also remember that we’ve been house-hunting for a while now. While we look, I’ve taken to choosing one purging project each weekend. This weekend, I took on shoes. I started by laying out an old sheet on the bed (to protect our bedding), then I laid all of my shoes on the bed. I left out my really good shoes that live on the top shelf of the closet in boxes.

Yes, 8 pairs of running shoes. I have issues.

Yes, 8 pairs of running shoes. I have issues.

I sorted through them, pair by pair. Some went in the trash while some went into a pile for Goodwill. Then, I put them back in the closet. After I had sorted through all of my own shoes, I put all of Nathan’s shoes out and let him go through the same process. All told, we ended up throwing out 8 pairs of shoes and put 12 in pile for Goodwill.

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It feels good to get rid of extra stuff!

Have you got a good idea for a purging project? Please share!

Weekly Meal Plan: Cooking With Gas

You know what stinks? Running out of propane in the middle of cooking dinner. That’s what happened to us in the middle of making our grilled vegetable salad last week. Fortunately, the veggies had already started cooking, so we decided to pinch hit. While Nathan pulled the veggies off the grill, I threw our two largest skillets on the stovetop and we finished them off by turning the heat to medium and covering the skillets. As one batch of veggies would finish, I threw them on a cookie sheet sitting in a 200º oven to stay warm as the rest cooked. It wasn’t our best veggie salad, but it was still tasty.

Now that we have a full tank of gas, we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Here is what we have in our plans for dinners this week:

I still have a good amount of edamame hummus and oatmeal “cupcakes” left, so I don’t have to make extra snacks this week. I also have 2 varieties of soup in the freezer, so I don’t feel pressed to cook soup this weekend.

Last week's batch of cabbage soup yielded several servings for the freezer!

Last week’s batch of cabbage soup yielded several servings for the freezer!

 

It’s a good thing there isn’t much extra prep to do this week. I have a ton of work I need to be doing this afternoon. Such is life…

Have a great week of eats and be sure to check out more weekly meal plans with Mommy Run Fast and Jill Conyers!

WIAW: Try Something!

You know, one of these days, I’m going to get back in the habit of taking Tuesday food pictures, but for now, (mostly) words will have to do. Does anyone else forget to take pictures throughout their day? Fortunately, today I have some pictures of the first iteration of many of the foods I ate since it was a leftovers heavy day. 🙂

Breakfast: No surprises here! Egg, turkey bacon, half a grapefruit

Morning Snack: Banana and one breakfast oatmeal “cupcake”

Lunch: A combination of leftover toppings from Sunday night’s pork tacos, everything grilled, pork tenderloin, pineapple, red bell pepper, and red onion. I had some red grapes on the side.

Grilled taco toppings! YUM!

Grilled taco toppings! YUM!

Afternoon Snack: This was supposed to be edamame hummus and carrots, but there was a going away party for a good work friend, so I had a few corn chips with sausage dip (I CANNOT say no to a good homemade sausage dip) and a peach schnapps cupcake from the bakery that made my wedding cake.

Easy Peasy cupcakes are perfection!

Easy Peasy cupcakes are perfection!

Dinner: Leftover tempeh and broccolini stir fry and 3 squares of our favorite kind of Chocolove. I felt pretty hungry again right before bed, so I grabbed a small handful of almonds to munch on before I turned in.

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Our version of tempeh and broccolini stir-fry!

Since it is, after all, What I Ate Wednesday, I thought what a great time to offer you all a chance to get a sample of a snack I tried a while back. You may remember my review of Hemp Hearts from about a month or so ago. I received a complimentary sample from Swaggable, and now they want to send you one as well. All you have to do is click on this link, and sign up to get your own sample!

Happy eating and be sure to check out more eats over at Peas & Crayons!