7 Days, 7 Photos Challenge, Day 3

“Seven days. Seven black and white photos of your life. No people. No explanation. Challenge someone new each day”.

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Today I would like to tag SunnydaysinSeattle to take up the challenge!

7 Days, 7 Photos Challenge, day 2

“Seven days. Seven black and white photos of your life. No people. No explanation. Challenge someone new each day”. 

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Today I would like to invite Foodzesty to participate in this challenge!

7 Days, 7 Photos Challenge

“Seven days. Seven black and white photos of your life. No people. No explanation. Challenge someone new each day”. 

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I would like to challenge Plants and Beyond to take up the challenge!

Roda’s “Critter Connection” Challenge, Day 13

I have gone back to a trip we took to the San Juan Islands and our stay at Friday Harbor to find some critters! I did take these photos while we were there in July, when it was warm and sunny. The only activity in my yard right now is of the slug variety. It really poured yesterday! I did find this one flower blooming near the back of the yard.

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I tried to channel my inner Roda and “Be Still” however the rain started up again and I  never did see anything stirring around this pretty bloom. I will try to keep an eye out (in between football games and the rain) to see if a humming bird might buzz by. In the meantime, please enjoy this bee that was hanging out near the lavender which is all over the San Juan Islands!

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Roda’s “Critter Connection” Challenge, Day 7

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It has been raining in Washington all day and I was really worried about finding a critter to keep this challenge alive. Nothing has been stirring and I was afraid I would have to resort to a shot of my napping cat just to have something to post. So, I went about my day and went rock climbing and baked cupcakes for this month’s baking challenge (post to come soon on that) and I went outside to photograph my cupcakes just to find some light for the pictures. As I was looking around the garden I spotted some bees working over the only flowers left blooming in the yard. I decided to challenge my inner Roda and try to capture the bees at work.

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It was still lightly raining, and there was not a lot of light left, but I took aim anyway!

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In the end I am not Roda! But I did fulfill the challenge for one more day! Hopefully you won’t have to see my cat tomorrow and I will find something moving around out there!

Roda’s “Critter Connection” Challenge

The amazing and efferveiscent Roda has issued a challenge! Check out her inspiring blog and this post: https://growingself.blog/2017/09/19/critter-connection-challenge/   if you want to play along at home!

I was not sure that I was following the spirit of the challenge as it is to capture critters through photography, while they are interacting with nature. But I checked with Roda first to approve my photo for the day, and she said to go for it! This black, male Arizona Desert Tarantula decided to pop through an impossibly small drainage hole near our pool. This was just the second night in our new home here in Tucson and we had no idea that these even existed! I am by no means a squeamish girly, girl but I will confess to hopping on top of the nearest bench when this started toward me!

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I guess you could say this arachnid was interacting with nature, if you count my husband as the organic life form since he was the one to use the broom handle to coax this little beast back into the hole.

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We quickly jumped on the computer, once our heart rates slowed down, and found out that these are really quite docile and not prone to attacking unless aggressively provoked. It was true that this guy just turned around and lumbered back down the hole with very little persuasion. We figured we had dodged that bullet until the next morning!

My hubby told me that he had a “surprise” in the other room and I should look under the cup in the middle of the floor. Fearing a scorpion (that post is tomorrow!) I did not take the bait. This is what he had trapped early in the morning.

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This little lady, we know it is female due to the color, decided to get into the house! She was smaller but, UGH! Not what I wanted to see first thing in the morning! She calmly walked into the waste basket and was released outside to continue (hopefully) feasting on the scorpions! This was not the only “interesting” and potentially harmful creature we have encountered in the desert, but those pictures will have to wait for the next Critter Connection installment!

Have a wonderful and tarantula free day everyone!

Gardening Update, 3 Months Later!

A few nights ago we hosted a party at our house. This was a reunion for our yoga retreat friends. You may remember that my husband and I went to Santiago, Mexico back in January to attend a yoga retreat lead by my hubby’s favorite yoga instructor. We had an amazing time snorkeling, sight seeing, eating and, of course, doing lots of yoga! I created several posts which you can see here, here and here. 

In fact we had such a great time that we have already signed up to go again in January of 2018! Our hosts who are americans living in Mexico, Bill and Susan, were visiting in Seattle this month and we couldn’t resist the urge to get “the band” back together again. We offered our home for the 20 or so folks who attended either the first retreat week with us or were part of the second week group. Since I was responsible for the desserts you might expect that this is a food related blog post. I did post an Instagram picture of my little sugary creations.

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top left: Lemon meringue flower tarts, top right: Berry white chocolate mousse cookie cups, bottom left: Peanut butter chocolate fudge, bottom right: Salt caramel cheesecake bites. I also made some appetizers and potato herb dinner rolls.

But this post is not about the food! Everyone who came to our house that night had never been here before. We saw our home through new eyes which is always a delight. It is so easy to take what you have for granted when you view it day in and day out. But our guests were so complementary about our home and, in particular, our garden and backyard that I began to take notice myself. I realized it has been awhile since my last garden post in which I shared the status of the new spring plantings and planter boxes that I hung along the fence line. So, here we go WARNING: lots of pictures!

We have three of these large pots, one on the deck and two on the patio below. I chose coleus plants and sweet potato vines, in varying colors for each pot.

This is one of the two on the patio. The hummingbirds love this red plant (don’t remember what it’s called!)

The hydrangeas are doing particularly well this year. They line the stairway down the side of our home and lead into the patio.

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Do you remember what the planter boxes looked like back in April? Ya, me neither! Here they are.

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And now….

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What a difference in just three months! I also put two other planters (which I did not build but purchased and painted) on the adjacent side of the fence line. They also filled in nicely.

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In fact, the entire garden has filled in!

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This is a pathway (that leads nowhere really) from the side of our patio.

 

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Same pathway as viewed from above

These plantings fall under the category of “trying to attract more hummingbirds”. It does seem to be working as we now have two fighting over territory of the yard.

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Other plants were chosen for their color or uniqueness.

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love this purple color

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This is a banana leaf plant and will be huge in August

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Others were selected to help with weed control, to serve as ground cover, but I still wanted variety and color.

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The garden really has come a long way. I am happy with the overall look, but will still be tweaking things here and there. After the third growing season I can see that some plants need to be thinned, or removed all together. Of course there is the constant weeding! I am going to try to remember to take a step back and enjoy the surrounding and attempt to avoid the tunnel vision I often acquire when I work in the yard. After all, the point is to enjoy the fruits of our labors and not just look for more flaws, right!

We also recieved a lovely bouquet of flowers from one of our guests, so I would like to leave you with some pretty images of lilies and dahlias.

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Thanks for reading this far! Enjoy the summer while it lasts and I wish you all good fortune!

Sally’s Baking Addiction, July Challenge: Cherry Pie, from scratch

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I have never made a cherry pie before, in fact, I have made very few pies in total. When I was in culinary school we made hundreds around the holidays. So, apple and pumpkin were the extent of my pie repertoire. I love fruit desserts and make many crisps, tarts and galettes, just not pies. The reason is that my family just doesn’t like pie. I think it has to do with the crust component which usually are soggy or too buttery for our liking. So when Sally’s Baking Addiction had a cherry pie as the July challenge I was not sure I would make one. Not because I was worried about the difficulty of making one but I did not have anyone to eat it! But I really wanted to take the challenge seriously and stretch myself as a baker so I forged ahead, and am so glad I did.

As usual, Sally provided wonderful directions as well as tasty recipes for both the crust and the filling. I began by making her pie crust recipe which is much like others I have seen and used as she mixes shortening and butter for the fats and stresses the importance of keeping all the components very cold for a flaky crust.

The flour and salt are combined, then the cold butter and shortening are cut in with a pastry cutter until the fats are the size of small marbles or peas.

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The cold water is added, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together into a ball.

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The dough is separated into two portions, discs are formed and wrapped in plastic. The dough is placed in the refrigerator for, at least, two hours.

While the dough rested the filling was prepared. No cans of pre made cherry pie filling allowed. I used my cherry pitter to remove the pits from 12 oz. of Bing and 12 oz. of Rainier Cherries.

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This yielded approximately 4 1/2 cups of halved, pitted cherries. I followed Sally’s recipe with the exception of using vanilla sugar instead of regular, granulated and I added the zest of the lemon used for juicing, just couldn’t help myself! The addition of the almond extract was really delicious! The cherries, flavorings, corn starch and sugar rested in the refrigerator while the oven preheated and I rolled out the pie dough.

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I made sure to roll the bottom crust thin since we don’t really like a thick crust and then filled the shell with the cherry mixture. Sally’s directions specified that the extra liquid from the cherries should not be added to the pie to prevent a soggy crust, but don’t throw the liquid away! It is delicious as a topping for ice cream or as a simple syrup for drinks!

The second disc of dough was rolled out and cut into strips which were woven together to form the lattice crust. The pie went into a 400°F for 20 minutes, then the temperature was reduced to 375°F and baked for an additional 30 minutes.

It came out smelling wonderful and looked pretty good too.

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Sally recommended waiting 3 hours before cutting, to let the pie set up.

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My husband and I were pleasantly surprised at how much we liked it! The fruit to crust ratio was perfect for us! I think I will try other fruit pies in the future and will be sure to keep Sally’s crust recipe on hand for next time! Another great result from Sally’s Baking Addiction!

Oh, and it was yummy with ice cream!

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Sally’s Baking Addiction, June Challenge: The Classic Icebox Cake

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I have to confess, I have never made an icebox cake. I know that they are the quintessential summer dessert, and I understand why. They are extremely easy to make and the basic steps are: assemble, freeze and eat. So why have I been so resistant? It’s the whipped cream component that is off-putting for my family. Please don’t hate me! We just don’t like whipped cream, all four of us! I think it is a textural problem. We do, however, all love ice cream. So when I saw that Sally’s challenge for June was a blueberry lemon icebox cake, I decided it was time to confront this issue once and for all. After all, is that not the point of challenging oneself?

My first thought was that I needed to figure out how to make lemon ice cream. I did a lot of searching for ideas and decided I would create a limoncello- honey ice cream recipe.

 

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I really love the depth of flavor created by adding limoncello, lemon juice and lemon zest, and I wanted to sweeten the ice cream with a combination of honey and sugar.

This ice cream recipe is like many others in that it begins with the cooking of a custard, which must be cooled before adding to the ice cream machine. I combined heavy cream, milk and honey in a large sauce pan and brought it slowly to a simmer. While the dairy components were heating, I combined egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in a medium bowl.

Once the honey had dissolved in the simmering milk, I tempered the egg mixture by slowly adding a portion of the warm liquid to the eggs and whisked continuously. The trick here is to add the hot liquid SLOWLY and to keep whisking so the eggs do not scramble. If you do this correctly you then can add the  tempered eggs back into the milk mixture without getting clumps (which are effectively scrambled eggs). Don’t worry, if you do have some cooked egg you can simply strain it out at the end of the cooking process. Continue to cook the custard until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Then strain if necessary and put into a container to cool. I always put my ice cream base in a measuring cup so it is easier to pour directly into the ice cream machine. This base needs at least an hour to cool completly.

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You may be thinking, “wait you forgot the limoncello”! I like to add liqueurs at the end of the cooling process. Flavors change when a mixture is hot or cold. If I add the limoncello now, the flavor will be less intense after cooling. So, I will add 1 Tablespoon/cup and check the flavor before it goes into the machine.

While the base cools, you can make the blueberry sauce, which also needs to spend some time in the refrigerator before assembling the final dessert.

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Begin by combining cornstarch, lemon juice and warm water. Mix thoroughly and set aside this will be your thickening agent.

 

 

Next combine the blueberries, sugar and lemon zest. Put over medium heat and cook until the juices begin to release. Add the cornstarch slurry and continue to cook until thick. Place the sauce in a container and chill.

It’s seriously that easy! I went rock climbing for a couple hours while everything cooled off. When I returned it was time to fire up the ice cream machine.

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I let this churn for 30 minutes because I wanted a soft consistency for spreading into the pan. While the machine did all the hard work, I prepared the 9 X 5 loaf pan which would be the mold. The key for getting the cake out of the pan is to line it with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic hangs over the sides as they will be the handles for lifting the frozen cake out the next day.

As I was working on this it occurred to me that the bottom would be the top, after the cake was inverted onto a serving dish. I thought it might be fun to attempt to have some sort of decoration on the top of the cake. But how to pull that off? I settled on placing a piece of parchment on the bottom of the pan.

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Then I took some thinly sliced lemon rounds and halved blueberries and “glued” them to the parchment with honey. I wanted the design to stay put when I spread the ice cream over them.

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After fixing the garnish to the paper, I put the pan into the freezer for 10-15 minutes

This was a huge gamble! I was not convinced it would work at all.

Now it is time to assemble the dessert! I gathered all the components: limoncello-honey ice cream, blueberry sauce, graham crackers and the prepared pan.

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Working with efficiency, so the ice cream doesn’t melt, begin the layering.

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Start by adding a thin layer of ice cream to the bottom of the pan. This will help the graham crackers adhere. Then a thicker layer of ice cream (or whip cream if using).

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Next add  half the blueberry sauce mixture and spread without mixing the two layers too much. You want layers, not a marbling affect in the end. Next is another layer of cream, then a layer of graham crackers. Then repeat: cream, the other half of the blueberry sauce, more cream.

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My final layer was composed of graham crackers, but you could add another layer of cream if you so desired.

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This was covered with foil and put into the freezer overnight.

 

 

The next day, it was time for the big reveal. Would this work with ice cream? Would the design I “glued” to the parchment paper be there? Would the limoncello ice cream be tasty?

Well, the design is (sort of) there. Perhaps if I had made the slices a little thicker? And, one of the blueberries moved, but overall I am happy with this first try! I will try this idea again! But how does is it taste? I am going in!

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Yes! delicious – love the lemon flavor in the ice cream and the blueberry sauce.

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This is also a really pretty dessert! It is quick, even faster if you just make it with the lemon whipped cream!

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Each of these individual components are quite tasty on their own. The ice cream would be great on a hot summer evening. And, the blueberry sauce would be wonderful over some vanilla ice cream, or as part of a dessert that requires a thick fruit compote. Since they are great as stand alone dishes, I have included the individual recipes as well as the formula for the icebox cake layering technique. I would encourage you to try any one of these, if you are not interested in the icebox cake itself.

Another great idea from Sally’s Baking Addiction! Give this one a try!

 

Limoncello-Honey Ice Cream

  • Servings: about 4 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Limoncello liqueur adds a depth of flavor to this lemony-citrus ice cream

Credit: Invisible-no-more

Ingredients

-1 1/2 cups milk

-1 cup heavy cream

-1/4 cup honey

-1/4 cup granulated sugar

-2 Tablespoons lemon zest

-1 Tablespoon lemon juice

-5 egg yolks

-3 Tablespoons limoncello liqueur, or to taste

Directions

  1. Add milk, cream and honey to a medium sauce pan and heat on low-medium until simmering. Small  bubbles will appear around the edge of the pan. Heat until the honey is completely dissolved.
  2. In a medium bowl combine the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and egg yolks. Whisk to incorporate. Slowly add some of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolks while whisking constantly. This is tempering the egg mixture. Combine the tempered egg mixture with the warm milk by adding the egg yolks back into pot of warm milk and continue to cook an additional 8-10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture continuously until it coats the back of the spoon.
  3. Remove from the heat, cover and chill in the refrigerator until cool (about 1 hour).
  4. Once the custard base is cool, add the limoncello liqueur. Transfer to an ice cream maker and follow the manufactures instructions. Process for 30 minutes for soft serve or freeze for an additional 2 hours for a firmer consistency.

 

Blueberry Sauce

  • Servings: about 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This lemony blueberry sauce is great for serving over ice cream or as a component to any baked item that requires a thickened fruit filling

Credit: Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients

-2 teaspoons cornstarch

-2 teaspoon lemon juice

-1 Tablespoon warm water

-2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

-2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

-1 teaspoon lemon zest

Directions

  1. Whisk the cornstarch, lemon juice, and warm water together in a small bowl until the cornstarch has dissolved. Set aside.
  2. Warm the blueberries and sugar together in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously for 3 minutes until the blueberry juices begin to release. Add the cornstarch mixture and continue to stir for another 2-3 minutes, smashing some blueberries as you go. The mixture will start to thicken.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest. Place in the refrigerator until completely cooled ~ 1 hour.

Limoncello Ice(cream)box Cake

  • Servings: 10 slices
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A twist on the icebox cake that uses limoncello-honey ice cream in place of the traditional whipped cream

Credit: Invisible-no-more

Ingredients

-Limoncello-Honey ice cream, recipe above

-Blueberry sauce, recipe above

-8-10 graham cracker, about 1 sleeve

Directions

  1. Prepare a 9 inch X 5 inch loaf pan by lining the entire inside with plastic wrap. Make sure there is enough plastic that will hang over the sides of the pan. This will be the “handles” that you will use to lift the frozen cake from the form.
  2. If desired, add a cut piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Secure a garnish of your choosing, with honey as the “glue”. Place in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to secure the garnish.
  3. Spread a thin layer of ice cream over the bottom of the pan (and garnish, if using) to help the graham cracker layer to adhere. Place the first layer of graham crackers in the bottom, add a layer of ice cream, then half the blueberry sauce, another layer of ice cream and then repeat: Crackers, ice cream, the other half of the blueberry sauce, ice cream. The final layer maybe the graham cracker layer or another layer of ice cream, if you have enough at that point.
  4. Cover with foil and place in the freezer for, at least 4 hours, or overnight.
  5. Allow the cake to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes then unwrap and invert onto a serving dish. Slice with a sharp knife that has been run under hot water, and quickly dried, to make clean slices. Garnish with lemon slices, lemon zest and/or blueberries.

 

Sally’s Baking Addiction, May Challenge: The Roll Cake!

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I have not made a roll cake since culinary school, and I really need more practice with them! Every roll cake I have ever made had some sort of crack in it, and this one was no exception. I am not sure why it cracks, I roll it warm right out of the oven, just like every recipe states but, inevitably it happens! So, when Sally’s monthly baking challenge came out this month I decided I would use it as an opportunity to work on two culinary issues that I struggle with constantly. One, fixing the cracking problem and two, practicing making buttercream roses to hide the crack!

I decided to divide this project into different phases and spread out the work over a couple days. I wanted the cake to be ready early on Mother’s Day, so working backwards meant that Friday was buttercream rose day. I used Sally’s Vanilla buttercream recipe from last months challenge because I knew it would pipe easily and tastes amazing!

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This was the consistency I was going for, thick enough to hold shape but still able to flow through the #104 tip

I used clear vanilla to keep some frosting white and colored other portions red, pink and green for some leaves. I did try to stripe some white icing for two toned roses but had technical difficulties with that piping bag (meaning it blew up all over me!)

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I stored the green icing in the fridge for later and set about piping roses. I watched a few youtube videos to refresh my memory but ultimately I had to dive in and just start trying. My goal was to pipe as many as I had icing for knowing full well that only a few would be useable! It might take 100 bad ones to get 3 or 4, such is my skill in this area!

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I tried to get a variety of sizes and I really had no idea how many I would need to cover the cake. So they all went into the fridge to firm up and I would have to see what I would have to work with after the cake was baked.

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Saturday was sponge cake time! My goal was to mix, bake and roll the cake which would then sit in the fridge until the following morning. I set about mixing the batter as per Sally’s instructions.

I sifted the dry ingredients together and set the them aside. The important part in making a sponge cake is to separate the eggs and beat the egg whites into stiff peaks, this will provide much of the leavening agent to the cake.

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The rest of the ingredients make up the base of the batter. The egg yolks, butter, additional sugar, vanilla and buttermilk are combined, then the beaten egg whites are folded in carefully. The dry ingredients are then folded into the final mixture. The batter is put into a 10 X 15 jelly roll pan that has been greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake the cake at 350°F for about 15 minutes. The critical part is next! Use a cup or so of powdered sugar and dust a clean, thin tea towel.

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When the cake is done it is immediately inverted onto the sugared towel.

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Peel off the parchment and roll the towel and cake into a tight spiral.

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The cake needs to cool in this form so that you can fill it later and re roll it. If you allow the cake to cool first, then attempt to roll it, you will have beautiful cake crumbs- I guess you could make cake pops!

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The cake went into the fridge to sit overnight

Since we had a long drive planned on Sunday morning, I also wanted to prepare the filling on Saturday.  Sally’s recipe calls for a strawberry cream cheese filling but my mother-in-law and daughter do not eat any cheese! So I opted for Sally’s Strawberry Buttercream instead. I am so glad I did! This was the star flavor of the cake. If you like strawberry this is your new go to recipe! Unlike most strawberry flavored icings it does not have jello or pudding mixes for flavor. Sally uses freeze dried strawberries and grinds them into a powder to flavor her buttercream-yum! I found some at Trader Joes but I am told there are other outlets that carry dried strawberries.

With the strawberry filling made and sitting next to the cake and roses in the fridge, all I had to do Sunday morning was fill and decorate the cake.

The cake and icing need a couple hours to come to room temperature. I unrolled the cake, and spread on the filling.

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Rolled it back up and put it seem side down on my serving tray. Everything was looking pretty good, until…

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The big crack! Every time, at least my record remains intact!

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So I pulled out my roses and started covering the cake. I had to use some warm water on the bottom of the flowers to get them to stick to the powdered sugar cake and then I used the green icing and a leaf tip to fill in the holes.

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IMG_1613It wasn’t perfect, but it was delicious! My husband who dislikes frosting in general loved the strawberry filling. I was not sure the roses would make it the hour and half drive in the car to my in laws home, but to my delight not one fell off!

This was a tough challenge for me but I am glad I gave it a go and look forward to Sally’s next task in June.