Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Greetings from the Big Apple

Hey Friends! I definitely had a post all ready for tonight, just to realize it didn't - okay probably I didn't - save the final copy but I wanted to check in with all I am doing.

I have been in NYC since Sunday for a Gilder-Lehrman / NEH summer program for teachers. I am learning about the rise of the Empire City and all of the changes between it's creation all the way through September 11, 2012.

I am fortunate to have met two amazing women who are as adventure-minded as I am, so when we finish our sessions for the day we have been getting out and about - exploring the city in ways I never have.

I'll have more photos and information to share later, but for now enjoy these :)

And because it's a session for teachers, I have to ask you to describe what you see in the pictures. Can you pick out people? Places? What reasons do you think I might have had for these pictures?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

*Spoiler* You Don't Love Red Velvet Cake

*Spoiler Alert* If you want to continue loving Red Velvet Cake (RVC) you might not want to keep reading.

I hate to break it to you, but most of you do not love RVC as you claim. Many people have told me it's their "absolute favorite" or "it's so much better than other cakes - especially regular yellow or chocolate cakes." Do you know what RVC is? It's chocolate cake - with A TON of red food dye. Now, I don't mean 'a ton' as in the actual weight measurement because that's way too much. No, I mean a ton figuratively. It's a lot though. Most RVCs call for 1-2 ounces of red food dye. Does that not sound like a lot? Go ahead and look at your bottle of vanilla - chances are it's a 1-ounce bottle. Or think about this: 8 oz in a cup (now, this is only true of AMERICAN measurements. To learn more, look here.) so 2 oz is a quarter of a cup! Chocolate cake with a 1/4c of red food dye. That's what your precious RVC is made of.

To me, that's gross. I'm not one who avoids food coloring. I love me some gushers and I know my sports drinks are colored. BUT not my cake. It just seemed silly to me to eat RVC when you could just have chocolate cake. There are so many harmful effects from red food dye that I just can't pour TWO BOTTLES of it into a cake mix. My cakes are precious, after all.

Why do we make red velvet cake?

I've been doing a lot of research on this, and it seems like way back when, cocoa was processed much differently than it is now. The red tint of the cake came from an imbalanced pH - when the cocoa would react with acidic ingredients, the chemical reaction would have a rusty outcome. Devils food was much the same way and so, I assume, also used to have a reddish tint.

When we began processing our cocoa differently, called Dutch Processing (and no, I haven't figured out what that is yet) this reaction problem corrected itself. As we love our traditions we didn't want to give up that red tint, so we started adding artificial coloring to the cake.

My quest for natural red velvet cake.

As I said Monday, I was requested to make a RVC for a friend's wedding cake. See the results of that cake here.)  I had thought about making RVC before but never had a good reason to experiment. What I did find, while perusing the lovely interconnected web we have before us, is that many people have used BEETS to dye their RVCs. I can't say I've ever eaten beats before, but I am willing to give it a try!

I made 3 attempts at this. The first one was way sour, the second one a little less so, and the third one seems to have hit it just right. I don't think it tasted like beets, but it definitely has a slight flavor. I had a bunch of people at work try it and they really liked it. In fact, they called the flavor fruity - someone had thought I put cherries in it. So clearly, whatever the flavor is, it's a good thing.

Here's how the sample cake turned out. Maybe not yet as red as I would like it to be, but if you compared it to a chocolate cake you would see a clear difference.

I based my recipe off of (and got a lot of research from) Amy at BakeCakery and mixed it with some information from this SophistiMom.

So far, it seems like this recipe could work. The recipe follows, but please know these are some tricky little cakes. I'm not 100% sure this will be my go-to RVC recipe and I look forward to experimenting more in the future. For now, though, this one gets a --
Okay I just got stuck on a grammar issue. We say "a thumbs up" but doesn't 'a' imply just one thumb? It sounds strange to say this gets thumbs up. I could say "gets two thumbs up" but I only want to give it one. Just my right hand. Any ideas? See, OCD strikes at the oddest moments.

Natural Red Velvet Cake 

*This note is so important I am putting it as a head-note instead of a footnote. Do not use Dutch Processed cocoa. I don't know what brands to suggest, other than to say that fortunately Hershey's regular cocoa is perfect to use and found in every (I assume) grocery store (at least in America). Make sure you don't get Hershey's Special Dark, just the regular stuff.
Also, I used slightly less than 1 cup - but just make it to taste. I ran out of experimenting time but next time I will try it with 1/2 a cup instead.

2 large beets, 2 lemons, 1t balsamic vinegar.

3/2c of unbleached all-purpose flour, around 1c cocoa*, 2t baking powder and 1/2t salt.

2c sugar, 1c vegetable oil, 4 eggs, 2T vanilla, 2t yogurt.

1/2 c milk.

Grease your pans and set your oven. You should know this by now.

Cut whole beats into pieces small enough to fit in your food processor or blender. Add the juice from two lemons (should be about 1/2 a cup, maybe less). Puree until very, very smooth. More chunks will be tasted in your cake and I have red it will give it less red color. Mix in the vinegar. Measure out 3/2 cups for the cake mix and set it aside.

Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.

"Cream" sugar with oil. It's in quotes because it doesn't cream the way it would with butter, but mix it for a while so the sugar starts to break apart and everything is really well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until completely blended. Add vanilla and yogurt.

Alternate adding your dry ingredients with the milk. Once everything is nicely mixed, fold in the beets.

Baking time depends on what pans you are using, so just watch them in the oven. Two 8" rounds should take around 50-60 minutes.

I linked up at

 The Stuff of Success

Monday, June 18, 2012

My First Award!

I would like to thank Priscilla from Thrifty Crafty Girl for nominating me for this award. Is it really a nomination? I feel more like I won - so really she CHOSE me! So awesome :)

Okay so really she gave this to me something like a week ago - but I've been busy being versatile. Did you know that red velvet cake is really difficult to make? I need to make one for a wedding cake Wednesday and have made two failed attempts. Hopefully this next attempt will be "the one" because I am getting really close. The problem is, I'm trying to make it naturally using beets and not a quarter cup of red food dye. Anyway - here are
Okay so 7 random things about myself:
     ~ I may or may not be allergic to coconut. I still don't know.  Twice I have had some strange allergic reaction to things made with coconut, but there are a handful of times I have had coconut with no reaction. Is it bad that I keep tempting fate?
     ~ I have strange OCD that kicks in every now and then. I hate when things are uneven - so if I hit my right arm on something sometimes I'll hit my left arm too just to make it even. There's a funny story about how that developed but that's for another time.
     ~ I have all sorts of joint problems even though I'm young. I've been tested for all sorts of arthritis and other diseases but nobody can figure out what's wrong with me. Other than apparently I tested positive for Lyme's Disease once and the doctors never told me - so I get tested again and it's gone. I am a medical mystery.
     ~ I am literally a foot and a half shorter than L. I am 5'1" and he is 6'7". I'll do the math - it's 18 inches. That really is a foot and a half.
     ~ You're lucky I did the math because, although I'm a math teacher, I often refuse to do math when not teaching. I don't know why. Clearly I could easily calculate things in my head but I don't want to. In fact, I was recently starting a project and told myself I needed 5 feet of fabric per seat. Then I went into the store and bought 10 yards of fabric because when I walked in I started thinking in terms of yards and just knew I needed 5 for each side. It worked out in my favor though. You'll see why later.
     ~ I have a lot of international friends from a Girl Scout camp I worked at for years so sometimes I think in terms of Brit speak. Anytime someone says "khaki pants" I want to tell them what it means to the other half of English speakers in this world. Whenever people talk about a torch I immediately think flashlight and not something involving fire.
     ~ I have a tendency to take on the voice of whatever I'm reading. This isn't limited to people I know. If I'm reading a book, any thoughts I have that day will be thought just the way the writer writes. If I write a post directly after reading someone else's, I feel like I write in their voice. Maybe I should look into ghostwriting?

Well there you have it - 7 things you probably didn't know about me before. Now on to my nominations.

First, to Clair @ Finding Clairity
Second, Cullen, Oliver and Topher @ AndTopherToo
Nicole @ Baking Bites
Dorothy @ Crazy for Crust

How many is that? I didn't do the math....

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fat and Happy

L and I have this saying when we've been completely satiated with a delicious meal. Fat and Happy. Fat and Happy. We are fat and we are happy. Deliciously so.

So I need to confess - I gained 10 POUNDS during vacation. You know what that means? It was a great vacation!

The thing is, I'm not worried because I know I can drop this in a matter of a week if I wanted, 2 without much trying.

Please don't hate me.

Here's what I've found on my healthcapade: I'm only trying to please myself, noone else. If I have more energy, more confidence, and fewer blemishes when I'm being good to myself, then those are exact reasons I should continue. If I'm on vacation and it feels better to take a week and enjoy local foods, desserts and drinks (because c'mon, we were in Curacao- a totally Caribbean island. How could you not drink?) then that's what I should do. It's about making myself feel good.

If I had told myself a year ago I would be fine with gaining 10 pounds in a week, I'd have scoffed "Not this girl. She's not someone who can be okay with that." But now I am. Because I'm in a healthier place, it's easy for me to get back to my healthy place. I'm back at the gym, back on my runs, back to work, which means no more sitting around snacking all day.  Is it ironic that I bought my first ever bikini  for this trip and now am saying it doesn't phase me that I've gained the weight. I always struggle with my body image but I am really trying to just do what makes me feel good and not care about what others think. I love myself and my body has a lot going for it.

I can't find it now, but I came across a woman who gave up caring about what others thought, bought a bikini and did her own photo shoot. I also searched "fat girls in bikinis" and realized that most of those girls, being so harshly judged, actually looked really good. Really good. If they could do it, so could I.

So from this "fat" girl, who bought a bikini and then gained 10 lbs during vacation, I will revert back to the mantra I came up with so long ago: I am living well.

Be fat when you want, be happy always.

*and if you want to see more photos of Curacao and our vacation, you can find them here*

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bake Even

I recently bought Bake Even Cake Strips at the advisement of one of my Wilton's instructors. I took her word for it, not because she worked for Wilton and wanted to sell their products, but because there were a lot of other "suggested" products that she told us we could skip because they weren't so great. In my opinion, she seemed reliable.

I started using the baking strips and noticed the first time that my cakes were a lot more even (they didn't dome in the middle). I was also using a new recipe at the same time, so I was wondering if that didn't have something to do with it. I decided to do an experiment.

You saw in my last post that I had to create the top tier for a group effort stacked cake. The top tier was a double layer 6-inch vanilla pound cake. Because I had to make two layers, I decided to put the bake even strips to the test. This is the result.

The cake on the left was made in just the 6-inch pan while the cake on the right was made in the same pan but had the Bake Even strips. You can see the Bake Even strips let the cake rise evenly, didn't put a "crust" around the sides, and kept the top in tact. The cake without the strips was crustier and split on the top because of the amount of dome.  (This is a pound cake recipe so the browning on top is common. This doesn't happen on all cakes.)

I'm not saying it's a must-have, and it definitely depends on what you are doing with your cake, but I definitely recommend picking up a pair of Bake Even strips.

For more tips and tricks, check out my post on Novice Baking Rules

**Updated: The Reason Why

I recently found out why these strips work. When your cake is baking, the sides of your cake bake quicker than the middle. As they set, the cake expands and pushes the uncooked batter into the center. More batter in the center means it will rise. With the wet strips around the outside, the oven has to dry them before cooking the sides of the cake. That means while the strips are drying, the rest of your cake is baking. It's like it gives a head start to the middle of the cake, which is always slower.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Wilton's Course 4

Does it matter that I posted twice on the same day? If it does, I just don't care. I couldn't wait any longer to show you these pictures!

This cake is from the final class of Wilton's Course 4: Advanced Gum Paste Flowers

I am creating a stargazer tutorial- that's coming soon. For now a teaser. Look at these great photos!

                                                                         Side Views


                                                                      Front views

                                       Stargazers, sweet peas, briar roses, ivy leaves and more.

It was a group effort. Each person in the class made a different tier. It was leaning but I can fix that next time when I do my own :) We then put our own flowers together and used spikes to set them into the cake.


 I'm sad these classes are over - but excited to keep practicing!

I linked up!


Have is Your Resolve?

5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 


Remember that? It was 6 months ago. (Okay, actually this photo was from a few years ago...Shhh) And what did we do that first day of this new year? We came up with a list of resolutions that we promised ourselves would be accomplished this year. "No, really, I'm going to stick with it this time." We resolved (the root word of resolution) that we would make changes in our lives for the better. So I am going to test you and try to keep you accountable - how has your resolve been?

I am pleasantly surprised at how well I have done this year. With half a year down, I've accomplished half of my goals. To be honest, I forgot about the other two :/ I guess I am keeping myself accountable here, too. I know being half done doesn't seem like much, but now I can start to concentrate on the other two.

Goal one: Run a 5K.  Accomplished.
In fact, I've run in 3 so far and have a 4th planned for July.

February: 5K and Polar Plunge for Special Olympics in Virginia Beach.
April: 3.2 for 32 Run in Remembrance at Virginia Tech. I was luckily 2 miles away in my apartment  when the shootings happened, but boy was my life changed that awful day 5 years ago.
May: FCMS Half-Day 5K! Our last day of school was May 24th, and it was a half day. They planned on showing a movie in the morning so teachers could get things done, but I wanted an option for students to get outside. I decided to start the first annual Half-Day 5K at FCMS and had 35 8th grade students come out and participate. Most of them walked. I was okay with that because this was the first time we've done this. Next year it will be advertised as a race, there will be prizes and official time keepers. It will also be a fundraiser.
July: I am all set to run in The Color Run in Philadelphia! So excited for this one!

Goal two: Increase my cake skills. Accomplished.

 I say accomplished because my cake skills have definitely improved. However, this is a constant and ongoing process.
First, cakes I did for school: a double 50th birthday cake and a cake for our 8th grade semi-formal dance.
Then cakes for my various Wilton's cake classes, posts of which can be found under the Cake Page tab.

Goal three: Plan first, Grade second. In-progress.
I have definitely been working on this one. The end of the year went a lot smoother than last year. There is still work to be done but I feel confidant in my progress towards this goal. I did a lot more planning first this year; putting lesson plans ahead of most other things. It's all on the journey of becoming a better teacher. Given that it's only my second year, I'd say I'm doing pretty well.

Goal four: finish reading "Is God a Mathematician?" Requires Improvement.
I have not touched this. I've been side-tracked by  Hunger Games, Eat, Pray, Love, and some other books throughout the year. I will give in another go this summer. First, however, I have a lot of reading to do for a summer program in New York the last week of June. It's okay, I might not finish IGAM but I know I will get farther in it than I am now. It's interesting, it's just hard to get through.

How are you doing on your goals??