Monday, September 25, 2017

White Wine Cake

White Wine Cake

"What's in a name? ...a rose by any other name will smell as sweet." Even Shakespeare thought about the importance of names. I am not a fan of "crack" recipes—crack pie, crack chicken, crack cookies, crack burritos, Christmas crack, etc. Really I'm not a fan of the recipe names. And, yes, I'm probably the only one with this hangup. Call me old fashioned. Yes. I am a bit of a prude. I'll even claim the stick-in-the-mud label. Using the "crack" label is supposed to mean the food is so good that it's addictive. But it bothers me when a recipe is named–even as a joke–after an illegal drug that has caused families much heartbreak. Thankfully, recipes can be easily renamed.

Having said that, and getting down off my soap box now, here is a recipe that I saw on Facebook a few weeks ago called "The Best Crack Cake." (That means there are other crack cakes out there?) I was intrigued with the recipe. I had all the ingredients on hand, so I baked the cake, thinking I'd call it something else. And then the very next day, totally by accident, I stumbled across a nearly identical recipe called White Wine Cake. It's a more accurate, for sure, so I'm going with that name.

I love homemade cake best, but there are days when a cake mix is in order. A day when I want quick and easy. This was one of those days. We were staying inside hiding from the storm that one of the hurricanes brought. And we needed a rainy afternoon treat. Daddy-O made the mid-afternoon coffee to go with a warm slice of cake, wonderfully moist and flavored with cinnamon and brown sugar. You can taste only the faintest hint of wine, but it makes for an incredibly moist cake.

Now, it's confession time. I really did read the recipe carefully. Really I did. And I knew the sauce poured over the top called for one cup of sugar. But by the time I got to that part of the process, I just grabbed the same little measuring cup I had used for the sugar added to the cake batter.

So my sauce was made with a teensy one-fourth cup of sugar. And it was perfectly yummy. I might use the full cup next time I make this (and I will make it again) but know that you can surely use less. Good to know if you find you are running out of sugar after the cake is in the oven. Or, maybe you can talk yourself into thinking it's a healthier cake if you cut back on the sugar. It is entirely possible that after I make it with more sugar, I'll decide I like it with much less. I've written this recipe with the lesser sugar amount. You can add more if you want it sweeter.


1 box yellow cake mix (I used Duncan Hines)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 small box instant vanilla pudding mix
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 eggs
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup oil
1/2 cup white wine (I used pinot grigio)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Pour into a well-greased Bundt pan. (I used a baking spray.)

Bake for 55-60 minutes, until golden brown and top springs back when lightly pressed. Take cake out of oven and immediately pour sauce over the hot cake. Let cool in pan until just warm. Turn out onto serving plate.

Butter Sauce for Cake
    1 stick butter
    1/4 cup sugar (or, up to 1 cup–to taste) 
    1/4 cup white wine

Melt butter and stir in sugar and wine. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Pour over hot cake. It will soak in as the cake cools.


I used a little bottle of pinot grigio, the kind that come in a carton of four. These are good to have on hand for recipes. 

The cake is perfectly moist and delicious just as it is. If you want to dress it up for serving, a little powdered sugar sifted over the top would be all you need. 

I'm taking the rest of the week off to have a little beach time with the granddaughters while they are on fall break. I froze half of this white wine cake when I made it. Before I leave today, I'll set it out to thaw so that Daddy-O will have a treat while I'l away for a few days. See you back here soon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Knitting In Technicolor

Pattern: Ojo De Dios Shawl
Yarn:  Queensland Collection Sunshine Coast
Needles:  size 8

In general, I choose calm colors when I knit.  Lots of earthy colors–grays, browns, tans. I love solid colors (purples and reds are favorites,) choosing to make stripes when I feel a little wild. But with this shawl I broke all my own rules for what I make.

For reasons I cannot explain when I chose yarn for this shawl, I went for the brightest rainbow colors of the possible choices. People at the retreat looked at my knitting....looked at me...and said, "Ummm....That's not the yarn I thought you would have used." Me, either. This much color is way out of my comfort zone. I could have made this shawl in grays or browns. But this time I took a leap into a rainbow!

If I'm honest, this is not a pattern that I would have chosen to make. But the shawl was a retreat project, which just means that all of us who attended the lake retreat in August started the same pattern with the same yarn–but in the color of our choice. The pattern is called Ojo De Dios, which translates as "eye of God."
The triangle design is based on the Ojo de Dio, the eye of God, an ancient symbol. The art is made of bright yarn that is woven around two crossed sticks. It dates back to the Huichol Indians of Mexico.
In Mexico, the central eye is made when a child was born. Each year after for five year more yarn is wraped around the sticks. It was a symbol of things not seen and the power to see those things hidden from the naked eye.
In Bolivia, “God’s Eyes” were made to be placed on an altar so that the gods could watch over the praying people and protect them.
Did you ever make a God's eye at camp? Cross two sticks, then wind yarn around them, changing colors so that there is a center "eye." Here's how to make a God's eye. It's a great craft for school age kids.

All of these little curled up triangles didn't look like much when they were done. But through the miracle of blocking (soaking in water, pinning out flat, letting dry) they turned into lovely, flat, smooth pieces of knitting that fit together perfectly when I stitched them up. I will say that knitting them was like eating potato chips...I kept wanting to do one more to see how the colors worked out. That's one reason I finished my shawl within two weeks.

At the retreat, we learned a few tips for making the 17 triangles that make up the border of the shawl. It was fun to see how each triangle was different. Yes. All the color changes are because the yarn is multicolored. The yarn does all the work creating these colorful triangles.

Retreat projects are always interesting. The first time I went to a retreat with a designated project, I was very skeptical about what we were making. I really didn't care for the shawl pattern. And on top of that it turned out to be a very challenging knit. But when that shawl was finished–a year later–I loved it. It's one I wear often. So I have learned to relax into the experience, regardless of my first thoughts about the pattern.

I know I'll learn something new. I know I'll have fun. And if it turns out that I really don't love the project, I am guaranteed that I will have had fun with the other knitters. This retreat was a total success, though. A fun weekend with knitting friends and a fun shawl that I'll enjoy wearing. Can't ask for more.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Grandmother TV Tips

Back at home.

There are no photos to share of our babysitting weekend. We were too busy to make any. Thankfully, Daddy-O was there for much of the time. I truly cannot imagine that would I survived without him. Well, maybe I would have survived, but I wouldn't have done well. Three girls. Three ages. Three schools. Three schedules. Two ballet classes at two different dance schools. One high school football game. (Chauffeuring only for this one.) One first grade birthday party. Keeping up with the schedule is hard enough. Carrying out the schedule is a major accomplishment.

Thankfully, they have a mommy who limits TV time. But when Mimi is in the house, I'll fully confess that I let them watch more than usual. No. It is not a free for all, but it does give me a way to get things done. Or, it gives me a minute's break. Keeping up with kiddos is not my daily routine anymore. And I'm much older than when we had our own limited TV rule.

Disney and Nick Jr. are kings of kid shows, but there are some, especially the ones aimed at tweens, that have have characters with attitudes that we'd rather not hear mimicked by our little ones. They are going to hear them other places but there's no need to reinforce them at home. Baby Girl calls them "appitudes" in, "he is nice, but sometimes he has appitude." Even at age three, she knows exactly what that means. Makes me long for the days of Gumby and Howdy Doody. Update: just discovered that Gumby–from the 1950s–is free with Amazon Prime!

If you are a tired grandmama and need a moment to catch your breath, or you find yourself in charge of small children–grandchildren, neighbor's kids, random cousins dropped off at your house–here are a few programs to keep in your back pocket. Google any of them to find more videos. There are other good ones out there (check out PBS), but these are some that you might not know about.

Peep And The Big Wide World (free with your Amazon Prime membership)

Most episodes are just under 10 minutes. Sometimes that's all you need. This Canadian production features a bird and chicken and a duck. It's clever. It's funnier than it sounds. (I love the colors and simple drawings.) And there is some (preschool) science and math thrown in for good measure. Joan Cusack narrates.

Pingu (free with your Amazon Prime membership)

These are mostly five minute segments. It's a British-Swiss clay animation about a penguin family at the South Pole. Don't worry if you find a version with foreign title pages on YouTube. The penguins all speak "Penguinese, consisting of babbling, muttering, and his characteristic sporadic loud honking noise..." (It sounds a little like Italian,) This non-language makes perfect sense when you watch. The mother knits—kind of fun for me. Be aware...there is some preschool potty humor in a few of these. 

Pingu is a little boy penguin, who like all little boys is playful, gets into trouble, and loves his family. Baby Girl particularly likes these. I think it's because she identifies with many of Pingu's problems. 

Little Bear

Another Canadian production, based on a series of children's books illustrated by Maurice Sendak. These gentle stories are about a little bear and his animal friends. These friends are kind to each other. The show has a calm, quiet feel that makes it a good choice before bedtime.

Both of our little ones like these. Each show is about 25 minutes and contains two stories. We can still watch these reruns on Nick Jr. Little Sister finds some shows too baby for her, but she still likes this one.

Tec The Tractor

A cute farm show from BabyFirstTV, it features a little tractor who helps out all around the farm. This is not an animated show. It's filled with real farm chores and baby animals. Each episode is around 15 minutes.

If it's a rainy day, or a sick day, or a waiting day, or a very busy day, maybe a little extra TV time is in order. Here are a few hints if you are not a video savvy grandmother:

  • All of these can be found on YouTube, so you don't need cable or satellite TV.  But you do have to get through the ads that pop up first. Yes. They are annoying, but that's why the videos are free.
  • If you are an AmazonPrime member, check out their free offerings. It's part of your member benefits. 

  • Watching on Amazon Prime or iTunes should make it harder for little ones to drift into another video, maybe an unapproved one. 
  • Videos can be bought and downloaded from Amazon and iTunes. 

  • YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and iTunes can all be viewed on a smart phone or iPad if you've added the apps. And of course, they are all accessible on your computer.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Some Days Call For Comfort Food

Cabbage Casserole

On Monday we got the very edge of Hurricane Irma. Howling winds. Sideways rain. Lots of limbs and twigs down. But no real damage like other parts of the southeast. There were many places around us that lost power but we only had our lights flicker a few times.

So while the storm raged outside, I stayed inside. I made soup for lunch, then I made cabbage casserole for dinner. It is the ultimate comfort food. The name "cabbage casserole" doesn't do it justice. Just know it's delicious. It's easy. It makes plenty for leftovers the next day. At least for us, it does.

I tend to make this recipe the same week as I make the "not quite free" soup. This time I made them the same day. Soup for lunch and casserole for dinner. Both recipes call for a half head of cabbage and it works perfectly to use it all up. This time I made the soup first. Then while the cabbage was out for the soup prep, I chopped the second half of the cabbage and the onion for this recipe and put it in ziplock baggies. I had even browned the ground beef the night before because it needed to be cooked sooner rather than later. So at dinner time, putting this together was a breeze. Remember it take an hour and a half in the oven. Make sure you start it in time.


1/2 head of cabbage (medium-size), finely chopped
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1/2 cup diced onion
1 lb. lean ground beef, browned
salt & pepper
1-1/2 cups tomato juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread half of cabbage in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with salt. (Don't be too skimpy.) Add rice, onion and ground beef in layers over cabbage. Spread remaining cabbage over top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour tomato juice over all. 
Cover dish with foil. Bake for 1-1/2 hours, or until done. Let stand, covered, a few minutes after you remove it from the oven. 


I just looked to see when I posted this recipe last. It was just over six months ago. Daddy-O went back for thirds at supper time on Monday, so that makes it worthy of a quick repost. In my notes, I said I doubt I would serve it to company.

Well, this past weekend Jessica and her fiancé were here. I decided he's "almost family" and I could get away with making this recipe. But I guess I don't know him well enough yet. I didn't know he does not care for cabbage. I'm sure he would have been polite about having this for dinner. But in the interest of not running him off before the wedding, we changed plans and went out for dinner instead. 

I think it's entirely possible that he would have loved it if I had served it. But we had a wonderful time having a progressive dinner in our tiny little town at three new establishments that have opened in recent months. (Wine bar, barbecue restaurant, ice cream shop.)

I think this recipe could really use a name makeover. Any suggestions for what to call this dish besides "cabbage casserole?"

Monday, September 11, 2017

At The Edge Of The Storm

Caramel Cake

What a weekend! Engagement photos here at the farm had been scheduled for weeks. Who would have thought about an approaching hurricane affecting us? We are about three hours inland from the coast, but the original weather forecast predicted tropical storm winds for the upstate. Our biggest threat  was that of large power outages.

Jessica and Todd only needed one hour of decent weather to have a good outdoor shoot. And glory be, that's about what they got. The rain wasn't due until today, but yesterday was extremely windy. Except for that one hour just before dusk. I can't wait to see all the pictures. The one above was just a "get the camera settings right" shot. There were many others made in different locations around the farm. I'm not sure I would have thought about our pasture as a good location for a photo shoot, but watching this creative photographer work and seeing it through her eyes reminded me that we do live in a beautiful place.

Conversation meandered this weekend, as conversations do, and somewhere along the way, caramel cake was mentioned. "You know how to make caramel cake?" Well, that's about all it took for me to prove that I could indeed bake one.

This recipe has been posted here several times before, but I never worry about posting it again. The cake is the easiest one I know how to make. And it's always good. I usually bake it in a 9x13-inch pan, but caramel cake called for layers. This does not make a huge amount of batter, so use your 8-inch cake pans, not your larger ones. Sometimes I frost it with fudge frosting. Or, we'll have it with strawberries and whipped cream.

This time my frosting didn't seem quite as stiff as usual. So after icing the first layer I nearly poured frosting over the cake. It was only a minute until it started to harden so that I could frost the sides. Pouring the frosting made the top so pretty. I hope I can do it that way the next time!


2 cups self-rising flour 
1-1/2 cups sugar 

1 cup oil
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla 

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat until well mixed.  This can be baked in layers or 13x9x2 pan. (Greased and floured, of course; or use baking spray.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown and top springs back when lightly touched.


2/3 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
1/3 cup milk
3 cups powdered sugar (sifted)

In a saucepan over low heat add butter--melt. Add brown sugar--stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add milk--stir and cook while you bring it to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and let it cool for 10 minutes. Slowly add powdered sugar while stirring--keep stirring until thick enough to use as frosting.

(I used a wire whisk to add in the powdered sugar until it got thick and then I switched to a heavy spoon.  This frosting hardens, so ice your cake quickly.) 

Best quote of the weekend came from Little Sister. Mommy showed her an Instagram picture of this cake. She quickly asked, "So Mimi knows how to make my Daddy's special caramel cake?" Guess where he got the recipe.


After a weekend of snacking as we watched storm updates and having more than one slice of caramel cake, I woke up this morning wanting vegetables. Checked the recipe index on the blog here and compared recipes to what's in my pantry. This easy soup was the winner. I'll toss all ingredients into the pot in a bit and we will have soup for lunch. Soup is never Daddy-O's favorite, but this one keeps for several days, so I can have it again later this week.

Not Quite "Free" Soup

We dodged the storm, but today is still unseasonably cool. We will have rain and wind but hopefully nothing like the first prediction. But soup will still be a good cool day lunch.

The "not quite free" name of this soup refers to the old Weight Watchers soup recipe that was made with mostly cabbage and tomatoes. It had no points because you didn't have to count non-starchy vegetables, hence it was "free" if you were tracking your food. (Some considered it free of taste as well—this version is tastier.) There are potatoes and corn in the frozen soup vegetables, but not many so this one is "almost free."


1 16- oz bag frozen vegetables for soup
1/2 head cabbage, finely chopped
1 onion, diced (I only had a 1/2 onion)
1 15-oz can cut green beans 
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 pkg dry Ranch Dressing mix*
5-6 cups water
freshly ground black pepper, to taste 

Put all ingredients into a 5-quart pot. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes or longer, until vegetables are as tender as you like them.

As with most soup recipes, there is ample room for adjustments. Make it your own.  *Having made this several times now, I figured out that we like it best with only 1/2 packet of Ranch Dressing mix, although the original recipe calls for using the whole packet.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Treasure The Moments

Sometimes I find these blog posts hard to write when the news has been full of sad, tragic events. There is something uncomfortable about telling about our lovely Labor Day weekend at our favorite spot when folks in Texas no longer have a spot at all. Homes are completely gone for so many. Or, seriously damaged for many, many others.

But I posted an Instagram photo from this weekend and a friend commented about my "capturing these moments as treasures." And it dawned on me...that is what we should all do. Help the flood victims by making a donation to the most appropriate relief agency and then treasure your own moments and store them up in your heart.

And we indeed had a family weekend filled with memory making times—kayaking on the lake, skiing, riding the "bumpity bump," the large float that is pulled behind the boat, fishing and swimming. Baby Girl had her own water time in the shade. She was just as happy in her pool as the others were in the lake. There was also the great shoe hunt. A dog had carried off a sandal that was left outside overnight. And miracle of miracles, Daddy-O found it in a neighbor's yard. And bigger miracle—it wasn't chewed up.

Thanks to an app and an iPad, Daddy-O got to enjoy watching his team play on Saturday. Our lake house is as simple as can be, which usually is just fine. No WiFi. No satellite TV. But there are times when a little high tech stuff is in order. The opening game of the season was such a moment. And his team won. Even better.

All meals for the weekend were served on the porch. There is more space there than inside. And we had perfect weather the entire time the family spent at the lake. Baby Girl asked at breakfast the first morning, "Is this the same lake I came to last time I was at the lake?" I love three year old questions. Hopefully one day she will have eaten enough meals on this porch to know this is her lake and have deep memories of good times here. She'll know this is the same lake where her Daddy-O played when he was a little boy. The same lake where her mommy and Aunt Jecca slept in those same beds.

Nights at the lake meant s'mores on the "pavilion" (that's what we call our picnic shelter.") And one night after dinner, we put life jackets on over the little girls' pajamas and we took them a moonlight cruise around our cove. 

The lake is still and quiet at night. The lights looked magical as the boat glided slowly on the water. It was obviously a holiday weekend with nearly all houses lit up around the cove.

And when we pulled back up to the dock, Little Sister led us up the hill to the lake house, lighting the way with her flashlight. I had forgotten how much fun a kid and a flashlight can have outside at night.

When the weekend was over, there were cheeks pink from the sun, blisters from the kayak paddles, a few bug bites and scrapes. All signs of weekend adventures. And we had only one near disaster when Baby Girl took a flying leap off the bed after giving her sister a hug at bedtime. A flying leap, but she didn't fly. She landed hard with a loud thud, followed by louder wailing. I picked her up and asked her what she hit. I was asking about her head, her arm or her knees. But she told me between sobs, "I hit the rug and through the rug, I hit the floor." Thankfully, there was no serious injury to her.

I'm usually in charge of keeping people fed at the lake. And I don't want to spend too much time in our tiny kitchen while everyone else is out on the porch. This easy meal is one we grilled at the lake a couple of weeks ago. It was delicious. So good, in fact, that I put the recipe on the side of the refrigerator where I keep a few favorites. I love having these handy for our lake cooking.

This is my version of a recipe from Skinny Taste. I'm sharing how I made it. You can certainly change things up a little to suit your family or to use what's in your refrigerator. Big Sister's words were, "Oh, I'd eat this again anytime." High praise from a teenager. The marinade gives the chicken flavor without being overwhelming. Keep in mind that chicken cutlets cook quickly. Be careful not to overcook.


8 chicken cutlets (that was 2 packages at my store)
6 tablespoons pesto (I used Buitoni with basil)
2 cloves mince garlic
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
juice from 1 lime
2 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 red bell peppers, sliced in strips
2 medium zucchinis, sliced 1/4-inch thick
olive oil, salt and pepper, for veggies

Mix pesto, garlic, red pepper flakes and lime juice in a gallon ziplock bag. Put chicken cutlets into bag and squish everything around to coat chicken. Let chicken marinate for 1 hour to overnight.

Mix olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey and salt in a cup and set aside.

Put red pepper slices and zucchini in a bowl and drizzle with a tablespoon or two or oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix to coat all vegetables.

Using a grill pan or basket (designed for use on a grill,) cook vegetables on your grill about 6 to 8 minutes, turning frequently, until edges get slightly browned. Don't crowd vegetables, using two pans if needed. Remove to platter when done.

Cook chicken on grill, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until done, being careful not to overcook. (Make sure your grill grates are clean and well oiled.) Put grilled chicken on platter with the vegetables and drizzle the honey balsamic dressing over everything,


Don't let the long list of ingredients scare you off.  Get the chicken in the marinade early. You can also slice the vegetables in the afternoon. Mix the dressing. And at dinner time, there is only the grilling to do. And at our house, Daddy-O is in charge of that part.

You can use the vegetables you like best for this recipe. I only had red peppers and zucchini in the lake refrigerator. An onion or some asparagus would have been nice in the mix, if I'd had any.

I cooked a packet of yellow rice to go with the chicken and veggies. Such an easy meal for lake cooking. I'm sure we'll make it again at home, too.

Goodbye, summer.