Special Dinner Invite

Yesterday’s anniversary dinner update: It turned out so wonderfully, that I’d love to invite you to your own special dinner. It’s so worth the effort to go all out with candlelight, “fancy” (beyond your usual routine) details, and a dressy tablecloth. Do it! Make a night of it. And don’t forget the music. Make a playlist, formerly known as a mix tape, of songs that mean something to the people you’re cooking for. Maybe you already do this sort of thing but haven’t in a while? If so, it’s time to do it again!

Above photo is of my plate with the gyro meat (my masterpiece!) made with ground lamb mixed with ground chicken, spices/seasoning (onion powder, oregano, basil, salt, black pepper, and heavy on the garlic), then pressed onto a skillet in one giant patty that fills the entire surface of the skillet. Browned until firm, then cut with a silicon spatula into strips, flip the strips over and brown on the other side. Husband made the pita bread and it turned out perfectly.

Natalie and husband, anniversary dinner at home February 2022
The kids were making us laugh
Anniversary Cake

I didn’t bake this cake- it was a spontaneous purchase from the bakery, but I thought it was perfect! It reminds me of an infinity loop. It had cream cheese frosting, chocolate cake, and little accents of chocolate as a topping. MMMM!

It doesn’t have to be an anniversary to plan a special dinner. It was amazing how much fun we had just by dressing up our from-home eating experience to be an event worthy of a fine restaurant. Dining out has not been pleasant in years and we’ve stopped doing it. We cook and eat at home routinely, but this felt very different. We genuinely had a wonderful time, and I encourage you to do this, even if it feels silly at first. It’s worth it.

Well, our special weekend is over and finally I should be back on track with new paintings and my show. Quick update: Last week’s inspection popped up without much notice and our schedule was derailed by it. I also had some other things come up, and a delay with the green screen (needed a second piece to fill the space). All of this is behind me now. Playtime over, let the work week begin. Happy Sunday, everyone. Let us have a good week ahead.


The Day After

My “Yule Log” cake!

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired from all of the Christmas festivity. I stepped things up this year by trying new baking projects. In this cake I made on Christmas Eve, I used a yule log mold to make a modified gingerbread cake using Lebkuchen spices with Anise and Star Anise. I added a white chocolate frosting and shaped it to look like snow. I hand-painted food coloring using cake decorating paint brushes. So, I’m now painting on cakes as well! What a delicious canvas! As long as I don’t start thinking of my oil paints as something I’m tempted to lick off my brushes, I think there’s more cake painting in my future.

The yule log was moist, just the right amount of spice vs sweet, and quickly disappeared!
My Christmas Day doughnuts!

On Christmas morning I made special doughnuts. I learned how to bake using vanilla beans. My first attempt was to grate the bean, but I realized that I must be doing something wrong and I stopped. I looked it up and sure enough, this would have been a disaster. I was scraping the outside pod! 😀 So then I did it the right way, using a small sharp knife to cut the pod open and then scrape the soft black insides into my doughnut batter. That’s what makes the black vanilla specks. I rolled the finished doughnuts in powdered sugar and topped them with edible star-shaped gold glitter.

Edible star-shaped gold glitter
My husband and I enjoyed a Christmas breakfast doughnut before the kids woke up

This was one of the best doughnuts I’ve ever eaten!

Christmas morning doughnuts ready for the day to start! (they fit so nicely in my display stand after my husband and I ate a couple of them, and then our son came down and ate one)
Southern biscuits and sausage gravy

I also made a full Christmas breakfast buffet, that was kept warm with a glass warming tray. This way, the family could eat whenever they wanted to, and continue to graze throughout the brunch hour and beyond. The Southern biscuits (made with special White Lily flour, soft winter wheat: a Southern tradition since 1883) and gravy were DIVINE, but the family devoured all of these foods equally. They ate almost an entire bag of potatoes in a single day, which was quite an astonishing achievement for five people to consume!

Eggs, sausage gravy, fried red potatoes, Black Forest ham
Eggs and potatoes with sausage gravy

This Christmas breakfast buffet was versatile. The family could use the sausage gravy over biscuits, or over the other foods. The biscuits also worked well for egg and/or ham sandwiches. So, breakfast could turn into lunch without stopping our fun to cook something new. Maybe this idea could help those of you who are looking for ways to make something special without cooking during the big event? I was able to do all of this before the family got too antsy, and then I was off duty for cooking. It was very nice, and everyone enjoyed the buffet!

My plate after devouring my Christmas morning doughnut and leaving behind glitter stars!

I hope that you enjoyed a very happy Christmas. I have more stories to share, but I thought I’d start with the food, as it is something that we humans have in common- we love to eat! The Secret Santa chef game we played in the week before Christmas is a tradition we plan to continue. This is the first year we started a Christmas breakfast buffet and the family wants to make it a new tradition, including the doughnuts- but I’ll made a different kind of Christmas doughnuts each year, to be a surprise to see what I come up with!


Catching up

See oil painting “Breakfast with Friends” come alive in 2 minutes (time lapse)

I think of this painting whenever I feel a connection with you, the friends I make when I share my life online. This art was inspired by my habit of eating breakfast at the computer, waking up in the morning as I catch up with what everyone’s talking about. What did I miss? The world never sleeps.

That’s my old coffee cup in that painting. I haven’t used that one in a while. That’s also my old phone and a small dish I stopped using for my egg. I cook eggs in a large batch for the whole family now, as everyone’s eating more eggs these days. I don’t know where that blue pen is anymore. Interesting how ordinary, trivial things change over time. When our habits change, it’s a small reflection of how our lives are changing in a more profound way, ways that are much more significant than coffee cups and how we prepare our eggs.

Yesterday, in my blog post called “Season of Advent” I said that I had a lot of thoughts about Advent on my heart to share later, and I also wanted to tell you the story of the special cake I made. Since today was another very long day, I’ll just catch up with one of these: the cake. Advent will have to wait for another time, although the cake is related in a way.

This is the cake I made, using a wreath mold and decorating by sculpting items out of fondant.

The cake is chocolate with all kinds of things thrown into it. The topping is a white chocolate peppermint glaze (the pinkish red you see is finely crushed candy canes added on top of the glaze, in addition to what’s already in the glaze). Sorry for the sloppy presentation, as it is sitting on a cookie sheet that is cluttered with glaze. Hopefully you can figure out the shape of the cake. It really did look very pretty.

The red and gold ornaments are sculpted out of fondant. The bow is fondant shaped over the molded wreath. As I said yesterday, it went well “for the most part”. I loved the glaze, which ended up being my own take on it because I substituted a couple of things. But I did not like the cake. I found it revolting! It had a custard or bread pudding type texture, kind of spongy and wet. It was gross in my opinion. The guys liked it and are apparently going to end up eating the whole thing (most of it anyway), which is quite a feat, given that the other issue I had is that the cake ended up much larger than I expected. It did not fit in my fancy dessert display stand! That’s why it’s sitting on the messy cookie sheet in my pictures. After decorating it I had nowhere to move it to!

So, it was a hit and a miss. The “hit” parts involve the mold being awesome and easy to make snazzy with decorations. We also really liked the new peppermint glaze that I made with white chocolate chip morsels (8 oz), 1/4 cup candy canes crushed into a fine powder (so fine, it’s like dust, using a mortar and pestle), peppermint extract (1/2 teaspoon) and 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream. I had seen a similar recipe but didn’t follow it exactly and I really liked how this came out, so I’ll make my version again in the future. I think it would be delicious on chocolate cupcakes and I’ll try that next- with my own chocolate cake batter this time though!

The good news is that I’ve been looking for new things to add to our family traditions and the wreath mold will definitely make a return next year. I also think the peppermint glaze will see a number of returns. In the balance, I consider the special cake to be a big success even if the girls and I didn’t care for the cake itself (the guys are not displeased that they have the entire rest of the cake to themselves!). Mixed reviews, but overall, it was worth doing and I’m happy with the experience.

I’ve been pushing myself to work harder and try new things. BE more by doing more. It’s amazing how much more joyful life is when we put more of our energy into living. A cake isn’t “just” a cake. Nothing is too small to make bigger. Everything matters when we believe that it does.

God bless you and keep you, may His face shine upon you and give you peace, joy, (and peppermint glaze from me)!


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Holiday Break

Watch “Pumpkin Latte” come alive in 1 minute (time lapse)

Our house is already changing from pumpkin spices to gingerbread. Today we decorated the Christmas tree and made cookies. Yesterday for Thanksgiving we had a glorious feast! I was proud to use fresh garden rosemary, parsley, and basil to stuff and season the turkey. I went outside early in the morning while it was not quite light out, but I could see my breath in the chilly November air. I was like Santa choosing only the best reindeer for the mission- only the greenest and prettiest herbs made the cut for our Thanksgiving turkey.

Aren’t those fresh greens pretty? Their shapes are perfect!
Before roasting: turkey stuffed with an apple, orange, lemon, onion, parsley, rosemary, and basil. I also made herb butter with garlic and greens to spread under the skin and over the skin of the turkey. This is what makes it moist, tender, and in no need of basting.
It turned out VERY moist and tender, didn’t need a knife. It pulled apart with just large forks and tongs and the family could cut it easily with a fork! This is good because my husband has banned me from ever using an electric knife again after a certain incident from a few years ago… (The knife fell from the counter and I instinctively reached out and grabbed it to catch it from falling. I was very, very lucky that I caught it by the handle and not by the blade! Whew, that was close to a nasty accident. It was my painting hand too, so it could have possibly been quite tragic for me.)
My dinner plate, crammed full of food! I didn’t want the yams or cranberry sauce.
And here’s the cake I made last weekend. I took a chocolate cake recipe of my mom’s and made a few creative substitutions. Instead of milk I used eggnog, whiskey and espresso! Other than that, it was just chocolate cake! 🙂 The frosting was AMAZING. I modified a buttercream recipe.
The house even has a chimney on it. This bundt cake mold is made in the USA by Nordic Ware. The unfortunate crack you see is because I ran out of batter and had to quickly make more, so it’s two different cakes (one had the whiskey and espresso in it, the other had eggnog; both were chocolate cakes other than those substitutions for the milk). Anyway, I will make a double batch of batter before I begin next time. I’m going to make three of these tomorrow for my kids to decorate. The wreath is fondant and the snow is frosting. The trees are painted with a green food coloring pen. I didn’t add any other decorations, but my kids want to do more with theirs.

I have more stories to share, but this blog post is getting rather long! So, I’ll just leave this at the food highlights for now. I hope all of you have been enjoying your Thanksgiving break, and if you don’t celebrate this holiday, may you have a joyful weekend anyway!

More Coffee

See oil painting “Breakfast with Friends” come alive in 2 minutes (time lapse)

I last shared this one with you in my June 1 blog post “Are you my Friend?“. Today, I’m sharing it for a different reason: the warm coffee and breakfast. Now, this is a good breakfast (egg and bacon), but I look forward to tomorrow morning’s treat, the coffee cake I made today. It’s a from-scratch recipe that I used to make throughout my young married days, and while the kids were little. I hadn’t made that cake in a long time, it’s been years. 

I never had a bundt pan, except for a brief frustrating experience with a cheap one that made my cakes stick to the bottom (or actually the top in the case of a bundt pan). I’d make the cake in a regular pan, which was a bit disappointing because the streusel didn’t turn out looking fancy. I finally bought a nice bundt pan and I was excited to make my old coffee cake in it. It turned out beautifully! And it looks fancy too! Well, it did before I cut it all up and my family devoured most of it.

When I wake up tomorrow morning, I’ll stir resentfully until I remember my coffee cake. Then my eyes will fly open and I’ll spring out of bed, anticipating how wonderful it will taste with a cup of coffee. Or tea. I drink more tea than coffee these days. 

The cake tastes the same as I remembered, but having been baked in the special pan feels symbolic of progress. Funny how we can go through most of our lives without having the right tool for the job, and when we finally try the same task again with the right tool, suddenly it call comes together with the finishing touch, like the experienced professional that we have become. My fondness for metaphors brings me to this: the act of living is like baking my coffee cake. 

We begin with a desire for something good, something to share with others, something that makes us happy. And we bake a delicious cake that everyone loves, and we think it’s the best that life can be. But we haven’t seen the best of us yet. The best is yet to come.

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