Who Wants a Bake-Off?

Mini bundt cakes

I read this in the morning paper:

“The Bundt cake, the one with the hole in it, is an American icon. And simple to create: remove from the oven, invert on a plate, dust with powdered sugar or drizzle with glaze and serve. If you’ve got magic in the batter and can bake a cake that’s representative of Arizona (or your state), enter the ‘Bundts Across America’ national bake-off contest.
To celebrate its 60th anniversary, Nordic Ware, creator of the Bundt pan, is hosting the contest for home bakers. For a better chance of winning you might want to look at the Bakery Classes in Delhi to ensure you bring your A game to the competition. Entries will be judged on originality, taste, texture, how closely the recipe reflects the baker’s home state and visual appearance.
Budnt pants are available in different fluted shapes, such as cathedral,a rose, a star, a sunflower and for the holidays, a wreath.
One winner will be chosen from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. From the first-round winners, 10 will be chosen as finalists for the national award. The prize? A party for 50 hosted by Nordic Ware, with Bundt cakes for the dessert and $1,000 in Nordic Ware products.
Enter recipes and an essay on why your cake best represents Arizona between May 1 to Sept. 1. Entry forms and guidelines can be viewed at www.nordicware.com.”

Bring it. I can bake off like the best of the domestic queens. Now, the real question is, what bundt cake best represents Arizona?
I’ll take all the advice you’re willing to give. And then of course share some recipes of my own. What would you bake for your state? Give me your most creative suggestions and one will be randomly selected for a fabuloso culinary prize. Entries close April 25th at 4 pm Arizona time.

To the kitchen!

Using What I Have

I’ve haven’t been shopping for art supplies in weeks. GAH! I’m participating in that “Use what you have” thing and it is driving me positively frugal. I finished up this scrap bag and felted it. It is still huge. Thankfully, it gives me plenty of room to fill it with clothing and toys for some friends. It is going to be a gift I’m hauling to Nicaragua mid-summer when visiting for work.

scrap bag, done

Don’t you love that handle and button hole? My ever so wonderful Mami finished this baby for me this weekend. In turn, I used my limited computer knowledge to reorganize her digital photo albums and mp3 files. We were both content with each other’s skills.

button hole scrap bag

Considering the handle fabric and button were hers, this project was 100% use what you/your mom has. Yippee!

Want to see what was on her sewing room floor when she was working on my bag? The Quilter Extraodinaire is at it again:

Painting with fabric

This is a new technique from a class she’s recently taken. It is called “painting with fabric,” or something like that. You can’t tell from my photos, but their is toile sewn over many of these fabrics, so the texture up close is incredible. My favorite is the sky:

My mom's latest quilt

I wish sewing skills were genetic. I’d be in the money.


p.s. Did you get your BackTack III partner today? I can’t wait!!

I think I Love You JJ Abrams

It’s not that he’s the writer of several of my favorite shows, but that he’s smart, cute and seems rather balanced. To learn more about JJ Abrams, see his profile in this week’s outstanding NY Times Magazine. (Love this issue. So many interesting things to learn about. Even the letters are amusing, as usual.)

Speaking of writing, do you ever fantasize about your future? Where you’ll be in 10 years? What you’ll be doing for a living? Where you’ll be living? I do. I know I’ll be writing, in one way or the other. I’d like to be living in northern California part time and Arizona part time. I was reading JJ’s profile and thinking, “What would I say if this were me being interviewed?”

brick wall portrait

Personal hero: Paul Farmer. A doctor who has revolutionized HIV/AIDS care, prevention and treatment in Haiti. He’s doing amazing work in other areas of the world too. He is the brains behind Partners in Health.

What’s always by her bed: My Nalgene bottle full of water, the remote, the latest issues of MSL, Shape and Real Simple and my knitting.

Her retreat: This used to be Young, Arizona. One of my best friends grew up in this tiny town and I’d escape a couple weekends a year to rest, relax and write on her parent’s porch. Today, I’d say my parent’s porch in San Antonio. I love being outside.

Her greatest hits: Uh, to date? I’m the editor of a couple of cool magazines. Otherwise, I’m an unpublished author of a nearly finished first novel. The editing continues.

Morning routine: I wake up at 4:30, am at the gym at 5 am, in the car on my way downtown by 7 am, sitting at the bagel shop eating breakfast until 7:51 am and at work by 8.

Greatest strength as a writer: My background in journalism.

Greatest weakness as writer: I am sensitive to criticism.

What’s always in the refrigerator: Skim milk, water, white wine, Yoplait yogurt, pickles, oranges, unsalted butter, eggs.

Favorite food: Right now? The potato curry pizza at Pita Jungle.

Collections: Books, art supplies, African masks.

Best thing about African masks: They are distinct to the culture. And each one I own comes with some sort of strange travel story.

Best travel memento: A cross from Israel I keep in my camera bag.

What she’s always asked at parties: Did you bake this? (Okay, I wish. I can’t think of anything consistent.)

Always with her: My lucky giraffe.

Favorite place in house: The bathtub.

Hobbies: Writing, photography, crafts, gardening, cooking with an emphasis on baking, swimming and running.

Obsession: Honestly? Trying to balance my cravings with good nutrition. I am prone to inhale tortilla chips and salsa and have eater’s regret 10 minutes later.

Best recent gift: New cookie cutters from the Slackman’s and new baking molds from Rebs.

Fitness routine: Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 1 hour run (5-6 miles) and 30 minutes of weights and abs. Tuesday, Thursday: 1 hour swim. (2 miles)

Talent she covets: I wish I were a better athlete. (I’ll keep his.)

Evening routine: Go home around 5 p.m., figure out what I’m going to eat for dinner, or meet friends for dinner. Unpack gym bag, repack gym bag. Pack lunch. Watch a bit of TV while knitting. Check email. Asleep by 9.

Greatest misconception about her life: That I don’t struggle with how to balance my lust for expensive American luxuries and my desire to help the world’s poor. It’s a pathetically honest answer. I love my designer jeans and new handbags and try not to feel terribly guilty about them when working abroad.

Movie she’s seen most: “Pretty Woman.” “I cried so much I almost pissed my pants! What did she say? She liked it almost as much as Pirates of Penzance.”

Book she’s read most: I’ll say authors instead: Gabrielle Garcia Marquez and Barbara Kingsolver. My two all-time faves.

Household chore he’s most fastidious about: No dirty dishes in the sink. Put them in the dishwasher already.

Obsolete item she won’t part with: My only TV — an 18″ color Emerson my parents gave me in 1993. It still works!

Travel routine: For international travel, I only pack items I’m willing to lose. My camera is the one exception. I like to give everything away and fill my bag with items from the local markets — especially fabric and masks.

Travel nightmare: Missing my flight to Phoenix when I was coming home from the Peace Corps. I had to spend an additional 4 hours in Chicago after already traveling two days. I ventured to the food court with a lunch voucher and nearly got sick by all the options. In true American spirit, I bought a Happy Meal. Welcome home.

Superstition: I read my horoscope. And that lucky giraffe.

Procrastination technique: Because I love doing so much stuff ‚Äî blogging, photography, crafting ‚Äî there’s always something I can do instead of work. Basically, I don’t write unless I’m on deadline.

Biggest self-indulgence/guilty pleasure: Luxury handbags.

Gadget she can’t live without: Pam Baking spray. Not really a gadget, but I’m not a gadget person.

Prized possession: I have three: My mother’s first quilt. She gave it to me in 1995 and I love it. A letter my dad gave me when I left for the PC. And my grandfather’s pocket watch.

What she drives: A Honda Civic. Love it. I’ve had it for ages and am keeping it for ages more.

Next big purchase: A road bike so I can start doing triathlons.

Historical figure she’d like to meet: Ruth, of the Book of Ruth.


“Bring Back the Fish”

Roller coasters, penguins, Shamu, Candu and Mamu and a whole lot of WOO HOO! We had a great time at Sea World today.

Hi there Flipper

I had forgotten how exhausting theme parks can be. We arrived when the park opened and had ridden all the roller coasters within the first two hours. By then, the stroller army had come out in force and wee ones in bathing suits were running and screaming in all directions. We headed toward the animal exhibits and I fell in love with the penguins. They are too sweet! Actually, they were so pretty and majestic up close I thought they were fake. They seemed a bit robotic because they were too perfect. In May I am traveling to San Francisco and am taking a vacation day. I plan on visiting the San Francisco Zoo just to see their well-praised penguin exhibit. Stunning! Although, sadly no photos to back up this statement. The photography ops were limited. But look who did pose for me:

Nothing says Sea World like the random donkey

What? You were expecting the clich√© Orca shot? Well, I’d hate to disappoint.


And then, of course, I found the African angle to a water park with killer whales in the middle of Texas.

Hi friends!

Yes, we can ship artic animals to the center of Texas (just think about the absurdity for a second. Please.), but pressing national issues, like um, healthcare, immigration and peace? Well, let’s leave those to D.C. The true brains are obviously in San Antonio. I can’t even imagine what type of flights these animals required.

Stepping away from my cynicism for a moment, any day I can ride roller coasters with my parents is an awesome day. Two quotes from my mom:
When watching Viva!, a show with a fair combination of dolphin and whales paired with excessive synchronized swimming, she shouts, “Bring back the fish!” The kids standing around us applauded.

And, when I wanted to see the penguins after riding the first roller coaster, my mother — notorious for her animal-loving ways — says, “They smell. Let’s hit the rides.” I think she was temporarily possessed.

Six hours later, we’d conquered the park, been thrown upside down, drenched on a log ride, and close enough to pet a dolphin. A nap was in order.

A fun day indeed,

Top 10 Things About Visiting Texas

1. You sit next to a cute boy on the airplane.
2. He asks for your number.
3. Your parents meet you at the airport with open arms and generous hugs.
4. They tell you they are taking you to Sea World tomorrow.
5. You giggle like you are five years old, and promply revert to such age, letting them shower you with desired parent-child attention.
6. Cable. (This “Big Love” show is seriously scandalous!)
7. BBQ
8. Boxed wine, iced with a dash of Sprite to make a “Karel Spritzer.” Oh, the sweet, dizzying wrongness of it all.
9. Pretty flowers, fresh air and friendly faces. If you are going to visit San Antonio this year, now’s the time. I’ve been here late summer (hot, sticky, ew) and in the winter (brown, chilly, ew). Texans are a strange bunch, but they are friendly. I’d forgotten how nice everyone is.
10. Dharms, the family dog, chasing her tail for 10 minutes in glee when she sees you. Man, I love that pooch.

So come on down, y’all! I’ll save you a spot on the couch and a plate of chicken grilled to perfection. Ooh, got to go. Bill Paxton’s smootching on the next wife…


Rock Star Buns: aka Catnip for Men

rock buns, cu

The first time I made Jane’s rock bun recipe, I got rave reviews. From my father. My very health conscious father who doesn’t rave about much, much less baked goods.
So I made them again.
And again.
And again.
They have now become one of his favorite desserts. While I’m not entirely sold that he loves them as much as he says he does, it’s worth the praise regardless of its sincerity.
I’ve changed Jane’s recipe slightly, adding toasted coconut, cherry flavored cranberries and orange zest. My brother received a few of these this weekend in his early Easter basket. He called me just to tell me how good they were. Not to ask for a favor, not to bug me about something trivial — to thank me for his new favorite treat. I know. Stop the presses. It made me beam.
Jane, you’re on to something here. We’ve coined her rock buns as Rock Star buns and the men in my family are officially in love.
A good medium between a cookie and a scone, they are fruity, sweet and addictive.

plate of rock buns

These may or may not be going with me to Texas tomorrow to celebrate Easter. I wouldn’t want to give away my final CAOK gift, but to know me is to know I can’t keep a secret. So, Papi, they are coming with me. Let’s just hope the airline people can keep their hungry little paws off of these babies.
CAOK is offically wrapped up, at least until I get home and have a chance to sit back down at my sewing machine. I’ve truly enjoyed surprising my friends here and there and sharing a bit of love. Karma has come back to me ten-fold. After swimming through a rough sea of not so smooth waters there for a couple of months, I’m now fanning myself on the beach ordering another margarita — so to speak. The old adage that the best way to get over your own petty grief is to focus on helping others actually works. Who knew?

Wishing you a happy and sweet Spring,

Fresh Orange Cake

Fresh orange cake stays moist and yummy for several days after baking, thanks to the additional eggs, oil and orange juice added to the cake mix. This is one of my favorite recipes from “The Cake Mix Doctor;” yet another cookbook staple at my house. I bake cakes about once a week, for my coworkers, friends at the gym, and even the guys who play poker at my bagel shop. Everyone knows I love to bake, including my friend Rebecca. She gave me a CAOK gift of my own last week — sweet new Kitchenaid baking molds in the shapes of flowers. One of the tricks of baking cakes for so many people is finding such molds; then you don’t have to fuss with plates and napkins and serving utensils. You just wrap up your little individual treats, or place them on a pretty serving platter, and away you go.
To continue the CAOK Week 5, FOOD! extravaganza, I give you fresh orange cake tulips and lemon cake daisies:

plate of flower cakes

These were an awkward shape and number to arrange on a round platter, but you get the idea.

Daisy close up

I glazed these with a mixture of confectioner’s sugar, fresh orange juice and orange zest.

neighbor's plate

This Easter dessert combo platter was a gift for my neighbors. We keep swapping treats. I don’t have the heart to tell them I’m not eating sweets right now, but my Girl Scout troop is thoroughly loving their generosity.

Do you have any special Passover/Easter/Spring traditions in your family? Is there anything special you’re cooking?


CAOK, Week 5: FOOD!

CAOK is winding up with Easter just around the corner. This last week of surprise sweets are literally sweet. Check your mailboxes because there may be a Easter basket or two headed your way!

Today, Easter Nests from Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess.”

Nigella nest
plate of nests
nest cu, better

This is an easy spring recipe, using melted chocolate, shredded wheat and a few Whopper egg toppers. I highly recommend this cookbook if you are looking for something a bit different. Nigella is the British Martha, but sexy and sweet.

Happy nibbling,

Picture Show

I treated myself to an afternoon movie yesterday at the foreign film house in Phoenix. (Yes, in a city of 3 million, we have just one theater that regularly shows foreign and independent films. Ay.)
I’d been wanting to see Tsosti for some time and was thrilled when it won the best foreign film Oscar this year. You may remember the director accepting the Oscar with a speech in several African languages, peppered with English. All things African intrigue me.
Tsotsi is the story of a young man growing up in what the viewer can only guess is Soweto. The million-plus township sits on the edge of Johannesburg. The cinematography captures the plight of the poor in these communities and their struggle with education, violence, and their roles in society. Tsotsi’s story is contrasted by that of a young baby from an affluent Black family who Tsotsi inadvertently kidnaps. I’m not giving anything away– this happens in the previews and the first five minutes of the film. Tsotsi — Swahili (I think?) for Thug — initially decides to keep the baby and raise him in his tiny metal shack in the township. Through the story, you learn more about a South Afrikaner‚Äôs perspective in surviving a parent who’s died of AIDS, in addition to a slew of other emotional twists that left me hurting for more. I fell in love in particular with the female lead who was so beautiful, caring and nurturing. I wanted to sit on her couch and have a cup of tea with her, learn more about her character, become her friend.
The movie is heartbreaking and excellent.
Five out of five bananas. Absoloodle.