Monday, March 31, 2014

Speaking of Chocolate

I decided to surprise a friend with a cake for her 3/4 birthday this week (knowing I wouldn't be able to spend her actual birthday with her). Since her love of chocolate exceeds that of anyone I've ever witnessed, I used that as my inspiration in making this thing. 

Here's the recipe for the cake base: 

2 cups brown sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Combine all dry ingredients, add in the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla, mix until smooth. Add in boiling water and mix until completely combined. Pour into two greased and floured 9" rounds and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

I also added in some chocolate chips--because I was worried that they'd sink to the bottom (the batter is slightly runny), I let them bake for about 5 minutes before putting some chocolate chips on top of the cake so that they would remain on the top.

For the frosting: 

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup shortening
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup hot fudge topping
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream the butter and shortening, add in the cocoa and sugar, and mix until smooth, adding milk bit by bit to help with consistency (I probably only added a small splash of milk, not the whole 2 tablespoons). Add in vanilla and fudge topping last.

To top off the cake, I basically gathered every kind of chocolate possible and arranged it as garnish. I melted some dark chocolate and dripped it on wax paper to make the swirly looking thing sticking out in the middle, and dripped chocolate syrup down the side to make it just a little more excessive looking. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Life is a Box of Chocolates, and Other (More Practical) Wisdom

I wandered upon this glorious offer yesterday, and unless you're a part of the small population of people who don't like chocolate, this is for you. Sign up to get free truffle samples sent to you by Anna's Chocolates.

I also read this great blog post yesterday and thought it was worth sharing. Rather than ramble on about it, I'll just let it speak for itself.

Focusing on the Important Stuff in an Age of Distraction

In a world saturated with social media and unlimited interruptions, many of us struggle to focus on what’s in front of us. With so many voices vying for attention, it’s hard to know what’s worth our time.
We end up tuning it all out, the good with the bad.

The surprising solution to our distraction confronts us every day. At the shopping mall. In long lines of traffic. Even standing at the coffeepot.
Every time we wait is an opportunity to slow down and be present in an increasingly noisy world, to listen to the voices we sometimes lose in the static. And as we embrace the wait, we learn to appreciate the delays and postponements that teach us some things in life are worth waiting for.

Learning to slow down

Life was meant to be more than the daily humdrum. It was supposed to be enjoyable, full of purpose, not just stress and worry. So where has all our satisfaction gone? Where is the pleasure, the joy?
We search for it on road trips and weekend getaways, even extended vacations in the Caribbean, dreaming of the life we’ve always wanted.
We seek out meaning in our jobs and other success pursuits. We even reserve feelings of joy and satisfaction for major events like marriage and parenthood. But often we’re disappointed with what we find.
Sure, we may be happy, but we are far from complete. Even the best job, the best husband, and the best vacation have their flaws (I happen to know this for a fact). What we were hoping for, what we dreamed would be a larger-than-life experience, ends up looking a lot like morning breath and spreadsheets.
So we keep searching, and we wonder why it’s becoming harder to sit still and just be. All the while, what we’re searching for sits in front of us, hidden in normal, everyday inconveniences.
If we reserve our joy only for the experiences of a lifetime, we may miss the life in the experience.
Such experiences are everywhere, waiting for us to see them. But first we must learn to open our eyes and recognize the gift of waiting.

Choosing to be grateful, anyway

In the in-between, that place where we spend most our lives, we learn to recognize the temporal nature of life. Eventually, all waiting must end. And when it does, we are left with what we did with the time in between the beginning and the end.
Watching a tree grow will likely drive you crazy. It’s a boring process if you stand there, impatiently tapping your foot, waiting for it to do something. But if you step away and come back later, you’ll be surprised to see something beautiful emerge.
The fact is the plant is doing something; it’s growing. Just not as quickly as you might like.
Our culture has conditioned us to expect instant results and overnight success. But life doesn’t always work that way.
Our cultural impatience runs so rampant that we dress it up in terms like “productivity” and “efficiency.” But what’s really happening is we are conditioning ourselves to get what we want now, all the time. Such a mindset robs us of the lessons waiting can teach us, causing us to miss out on the slow but important stuff of life.

How we grow

Most growth happens this way: slowly over time. You don’t even notice it. In fact, sometimes the circumstances feel more like inconveniences than opportunities, but then one day you wake up, amazed at how far you’ve come.
When it comes to waiting — for anything, really — we have a choice:
  • we can try to bypass the delays to get immediate gratification,
  • or we can embrace the “long game” of life and invest those days, months, and years in the slow but intentional growth that leads to lasting change.
What would you rather do? Keep constantly searching for the next thrill or achievement to “complete” you? Or find a way to abide in where you are right now — this place that maybe, in its own little way, is perfect?

Three things that will make you happier now

If you struggle to focus, like I do, but want more out of life, try the following:
  1. Make a gratitude list. Write down three things you’re grateful for today (science shows that such lists lead to increased happiness).
  2. Stop competing. Instead of comparing yourself to someone you admire (or envy), consciously choose to celebrate their success. Jealousy leads to misery; make the effort to build others up, even when you don’t want to.
  3. Resist the urge of distraction. The next time you’re tempted to “check in” on social media, to lose focus on what’s right in front of you, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that this moment won’t last forever and you should make the most of it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Coconut Banana Mug Cake

Woke up this morning to this:

Seeing as it's March and I really just miss warm weather at this point, I decided to have a lazy morning, stay in sweats, and do some concocting in the kitchen. 

Emphasis on the lazy. We ran out of clean mugs, and I wanted to experiment with microwave mug cakes, so this happened. Meet the instant Pyrex cake. Desperate times call for desperate measures...right? Yes, that terrible pun was intended.

Yes, you can judge me. It really wouldn't have been that difficult to wash out a mug.

Regardless, it was delicious. And you should try it. I didn't measure out the ingredients, but here's my ballpark estimate for what I put into it. It should be about right, let me know if you try it and think it needs a bit of tweaking!

Coconut Banana Mug Cake:

1 egg
1.5 tablespoons wheat flour
1 tablespoon self-rising flour
1 tablespoon coconut
1.5 teaspoons flax seed
1 banana, mashed
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1.5 teaspoon brown sugar or honey
1/2 tablespoon butter, melted or softened
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
dash of nutmeg, cinnamon, and splash of rum extract

Just mix it all together and zap it in the microwave for 2 minutes!

This could be an incredible dangerous discovery. But hey, it's actually pretty healthy for a "cake"! And it's outright delicious. Enjoy!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow, Food, and Love

Happy Valentine's Day! Today has a reputation for being despised by many singles and couples alike. But rather than viewing it as a holiday of haves/have nots, I think we'd all be happier if we just saw it as a reminder to love everyone. So today, take the time to be thankful for the world around you. For the blessings that God surrounds you with, in the form of friends, family, neighbors, and those kind strangers that make your day. Give hugs. They're great. And don't just tell people you love them today--spend the other 354 days of the year demonstrating a loving heart through your thoughts and actions, because it'll make the world a better a place and make you a happier soul too.

Oh, and this.

Also, for those of you on the East Coast, can we address the crazy winter weather that just came through? I spent literally all day outside, with the exception of a few short breaks to dump everything in the dryer and refuel. A friend and I built this marvelous snow creation to start off the day:

I also saw a recipe online for snow ice cream, so if you want to take advantage of the fresh snow while there's still plenty of it, this might be the way to go. Just mix together a 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk, 8 cups of snow, and a teaspoon of vanilla. And then add on whatever toppings your heart desires. 

Photo by Marg (CaymanDesigns)

Have a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

It's been a long time since I've posted, and I apologize, I feel like I've an entire year in the span of three months this semester with everything that has been going on! Hope everyone has a blessed holiday, and I hope to be back in the new year to come.

In the meantime, I'll just share this handlettering I did in honor of the season. :)