Pumpkin, of course!

I feel like I have been slacking on the blog lately, since I have been sewing, sewing, sewing! But I’ll take a break from the needle to share a little festive recipe this morning. Whether you’re celebrating Halloween or Reformation day, or just glad it’s fall, this is a wonderful, comfort food kind of breakfast- Pumpkin Waffles! I’m trying to think of a funny cooking anecdote to go along with this recipe, but for now, here are your ingredients (just ignore the baking soda- there isn’t really any in this recipe.)

I am doubling the original recipe here, because I like to make a lot and freeze the leftovers for future breakfasts. But I’ll give you the regular measurements as I go. Start with your wet ingredients. In a large bowl, combine

1 cup of pumpkin puree, either canned or fresh
I cup of buttermilk (regular milk works fine)
1/2 a stick of butter melted
A splash of vanilla (not pictured)


Now I like to separate my eggs for waffles. This is not absolutely necessary, but if you beat your egg whites, it makes for a nice light and crispy waffle. So either crack two eggs into the bowl, or just the yolks, and set the whites aside.


Now for the dry ingredients. In another bowl, stir together
2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup of sugar
Your favorite pumpkin spices to taste- here I used about 1/2 tsp nutmeg and a hefty dose of cinnamon


Add the dry to the wet and stir until barely combined.

If you separated your eggs, now is the time to get out your mixer and beat them until they are stiff.


Aren’t eggs amazing?
Just gently fold the whites into your batter. It should be fairly thick when combined.


Now get your waffle iron, (or irons as the case may be) warmed up.


Ooh, wait, I just remembered a funny waffle anecdote! Humor me, would ya?
Back when we were young, carefree and child free, (is that redundant?) my sister and brother in law came for a visit. I decided to make these waffles for breakfast. All went well- no baking powder mis-measurements or burnt waffles. But we were in a hurry to get out the door for something, and instead of pulling the last waffle out, I just unplugged the iron, so it would stop cooking, and off we went. When we got home hours later, I grabbed the iron and stuck it back in the cabinet, never thinking to check if there was still a waffle in it.

Had it been a regular waffle, it probably would have simply dried into a crispy waffle cracker, no harm done. But because of the moist, sugary pumpkin content, it grew into something black, hairy and terrifying. The next time we had waffles, say about three weeks later, I of course didn’t check the iron to see if there was an old growth of waffle inside, but plugged it in to warm it up. The resulting smell was truly the stuff of Halloween horror stories. When I finally discovered the source, I could hardly open the thing. Not only was I afraid, but it was pretty well glued together by three week old pumpkin muck. I was brave enough to try to clean it, but all the non stick covering came peeling off with the old waffle, so it ended up in the trash. Let that be a lesson to us all. Don’t leave these waffles in your waffle iron!

So as I have been rambling on, you should have made a decent stack of waffles by now. These are great with maple syrup of course, but since it’s a holiday, I decided to make a fabulous little sauce that we only have on very special occasions, since it really is positively sinful. Toffee sauce!
And here you were, thinking I was gonna post a recipe without whipping cream. Trick or treat!
In a saucepan, if you dare, combine

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick of butter
1 cup of heavy cream

Told you it was sinful. Now let it come to a simmer until it is nicely combined and a wonderful toffee color.

This sauce goes well with tons of things- over cakes, on ice cream, and you wouldn’t believe what it does to a cinnamon roll. But today, pour it liberally over your crispy, spicy, delicious waffles, and don’t think about tomorrow. It is bulky sweater season after all!

Happy Fall!



Well this was a fun little project- a little more time consuming than usual, but fun nonetheless. Someone finally wanted to buy my little blue paisley tunic/ dress- the dress that got this whole thing started.
Actually, she wasn’t the first one interested. The whole international side of etsy has been an adventure. I had one lady trying to purchase the blue dress, but English was obviously not her first language. We went emailing back and forth, trying to figure out just exactly what she wanted. I couldn’t figure out what size her baby was, and asked her as many ways as I could think, until she finally made it clear that she wanted me to make it in an adult size for her! I thought about doing it, since I hate turning down an order, but decided it would be too complicated and time consuming at this juncture.
So when someone else asked me for the dress (in a baby size) and to make a matching one for a doll, I thought I might be able to handle that a little better. She even ordered two, so I did one in nice plummy purple as well.




I also wanted to thank all of you who have supported me in this little enterprise, either by purchasing something, sharing me on facebook or telling your friends. We are well on our way to getting our Christmas tickets and I think we will make the rest easily, so thank you! I am going to keep taking Christmas orders ’til the end of November unless it gets too crazy before then. I’ll let you know.
God bless!

The innocents abroad


I had so much fun remembering the night my hubby proposed, that I thought I would share the story of how we met. But then I thought I would have to go back a little further and a then little further until I decided I might as well just start at the beginning of that year of adventures. It’ll be good blog fodder for those moments when I can’t think of anything to post except pictures of dolls.

I always laugh at the fact that I ever ended up studying in France for a year. I laugh about how sheltered I was, how inexperienced, how I didn’t know a lick of French and wasn’t actually interested in traveling or French at all. I went because my pastor’s daughter and another friend needed a third traveling companion and my pastor is a very persuasive man. In fact, the first my parents ever heard of the plan was when he approached them after church one Sunday with a big smile on his face and said, “I am so glad you are allowing Nicky to accompany my daughter to France this year!”
After much initial confusion, there were a few weeks of questions and discussion that left my head spinning. Then a friend offered to donate a plane ticket and it was suddenly a done deal. I was eighteen years old and bound for foreign ports.
It was actually a well thought out plan. We had missionary friends in the south of France who worked at a seminary in the little town of Aix-en-Provence, close to Marseilles. We could live very economically in the dormitory rooms of the seminary and walk the twenty minutes to our language institute, all the while practicing our fledgling French with other seminary students living in the dorms. It sounded straightforward enough.

I wasn’t sure how to pack for such an adventure. It was hard to know what to fit into two suitcases that would be enough for a whole year away from home. And figuring out a new wardrobe to take to France was downright intimidating. My closet at that time consisted of baggy jeans and old flannels, vestiges of the “grunge” movement that had dominated my high school years. I can’t remember exactly what I ended up buying except a vibrantly red fluffy coat that stood out alarmingly every morning on our walk to school amidst the chic black and grey pea coats of every other french person on the streets. I always felt, as I saw their sideways glances, that they were thinking how noisy Americans were, even in their clothing. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I distinctly remember that last morning at home, the drive to the airport with all of my sisters, while one of them played “There’s no place like home,” morosely on her harmonica. Thankfully my mother and my pastor’s wife were coming with us for a few weeks, so I wasn’t as terrified as I otherwise would have been. We boarded our plane with little difficulty, and settled in for the nine hour flight. Our first taste of European life came with the in flight movie. It was a movie I am afraid I will never forget, calledCousin Bette. Within the first five minutes, our mothers were gasping and trying to cover our eyes with their hands. It was 90 minutes of uncensored nudity, sex and more nudity. To a girl raised on a steady film diet of The Sound of Music and Polyanna, this was a little upsetting. We tried not to watch the screen directly in front of us, but it was a tough job. When it finally ended, our mothers sighed in relief and apologized to us as if it were their fault. An hour later, they played it again.
After a few failed attempts at sleeping, we landed in Amsterdam, our layover city. Here was another shock. This was no friendly American airport. It was dark and crowded and overrun by men in uniform, carrying semi-automatic weapons in their hands. We stayed close together, trying to find our next gate. When we finally found it, the next adventure began.
The lady taking our tickets informed us that my ticket was not for the 12 noon flight, but the midnight flight, 12 hours later. My ticket had been purchased separately from everyone else’s, and there had been a mix up with the AM and PM. My mother began to panic. She couldn’t leave me all alone in that frightening airport for 12 hours while they went ahead. She did everything she could to get me on their flight, but due to security reasons, they simply wouldn’t consider it. I watched them all board the plane without me, my mother in tears, and faced 12 very long hours alone.
I was exhausted and longed to find a corner to curl up and sleep in, but the lady at the ticket desk had told me to pay close attention as they would probably change my gate several times. I was also afraid someone would steal my things if I slept, so I wove my arms through the straps of my bags and dozed fitfully, waking with a start every time they made an announcement.
Midnight of that endless day finally came. They had indeed changed my gate a dozen times, but I managed to find the right number as they were boarding. When I saw the line of people preparing to board the plane, I felt like turning and running. Nearly every other person on the plane was a soldier in German uniform. They were evidently soldiers on leave or something, because they had a lot of steam to blow off. Smoking was allowed on the flight, and unlimited alcohol. That flight was an exhausted nightmare of hazy smoke, raucous, drunken laughter accompanied by loud German singing and countless offers from inebriated soldiers to buy me drinks.
Thankfully the flight was only a few hours long, and I was the first person lined up to leave when they opened the plane door, leaving the soldiers, who were still partying and wolf-whistling, behind me.
The first person I saw, anxious and white faced behind the gate, was my mother, standing next to our missionary friend. I don’t remember how I finally got myself and my luggage loaded up and into their car, and I only vaguely recall long avenues of dark trees lining the road as we wound through the countryside of my new home. I remember stumbling into a bed made up on the floor of someone’s bedroom and drifted off to sleep vaguely wondering what I had gotten myself into.
The next thing I saw was someone opening a pair of bright green shutters, welcoming a glorious morning in the south of France. A new year had begun.

Christmas is coming….

I am just realizing that we are more than half way through October, and I am still a long way from my “6 plane tickets for Christmas” goal. So I spent some time this week designing some christmas themed dresses, just to remind myself to keep on working, and maybe just remind you folks that the holidays really are just around the corner ; ). I thought to myself, “How do I like to decorate my house for Christmas?” The first thing that came to mind was of course a Christmas tree, so I designed a christmas tree dress.

It’s pretty simple, but if I have time, I’d like to add some beads or sequins or something to make it a little more festive.

Here’s a view from the back if you’re interested.


My next favorite holiday decoration is probably holly, so I went for a very simple skirt and blouse so the sprig of holly could stand out.

I thought it would go well with my red wool horse, but I already sold that one, so I’ll have to make another.


And last, but not least, even though we hardly ever have white Christmases around here, you’ve gotta have snowflakes.

Embroidering these little snowflakes made me think that she might need something to keep her warm, so I added a little cape and beret, ’cause I’m a sucker for capes and berets.

So there we are, all ready for the holidays! What are your favorite Christmas decorations?



I wrote a while back about my sister, about her long road of struggle and grief, her indecision about her future, and then her sudden and unexpected romance. That romance has blossomed quickly and took a giant leap forward this week when they announced their engagement. I am so excited for them and am praising God for such a surprising happiness. I have loved hearing their tale, and if it were mine to tell, I would record it here. But all of this has caused me to take another walk down memory lane to the night of my own engagement, and I thought I would put it down here for posterity, so my boys can know what a romantic their father was.(and is)

The hubby and I met the last week I was in France (another story worth telling). We hit it off pretty quickly. I can’t quite say it was love at first sight, but it was pretty darn close. It was helpful that we were both enrolled at the same college the following fall, or we may never have gotten further than that last crazy week in France. We corresponded that summer, and then met back up at college, and were seriously dating from day one. We talked big about graduating and finding careers before we got married, but after two years of staying up way too late talking in stairwells and getting very little studying done, something needed to give. We started talking about bumping that marriage thing up a bit.
It was getting near to Christmas, my sophomore year. We were preparing hard for the annual Madrigal Dinner concert series that the music department put on every year. But amidst all the singing and holiday busyness, I started noticing my roommates acting suspiciously, whispering together, or ceasing their conversations abruptly when I walked in the room. Then my favorite ring went missing. I knew I had left it above the sink, and was worried that it had fallen down the drain. My roommates wouldn’t give me a straight answer about whether or not they had seen it. But a couple of days later it magically reappeared. I was curious.

The Madrigal Dinners ran for three night in a row, and what with finishing up classes and finals and packing to go home for the holidays, I forgot my suspicions. The first night of singing went well. Then came the friday night performance. Steve took my sister as a date that year, since I was up on stage, but I noticed he kept leaving the hall. In fact, he missed most of the dinner, and I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. My two roommates had decided not to go to the dinners that year, and asked, since they said they were feeling left out of the festivities, if we could go downtown after Friday night’s performance for coffee and dessert. I was feeling pretty exhausted, but told them we could go, and afterwards, tried to persuade Steve to go as well. He was reticent since it was so late, but a big group of people decided to go, so he joined in. We all piled into two vans and started towards down town.

About five minutes down the road, we saw flashing lights. There was a bad accident, with a flipped car blocking both lanes. We stopped, and I suggested that maybe we should wait and go the next night instead. Steve spoke up against this plan in a surprisingly vehement manner. He told my roommate to turn around and we would find some back roads. I was surprised at his determination since he hadn’t really wanted to come in the first place, but asked no questions.

We got there eventually and sought out our favorite coffee shop. It was a cold night, and I wanted to sit inside, but everyone else in the group insisted we should sit outside and enjoy all the holiday lights. I was so tired I didn’t argue, but sat talking at a separate table with Steve, sipping my coffee, and wondering about the frantic search that was quietly going on in the group. I noticed my roommate feverishly digging through her purse, and others surreptitiously crawling under tables, hunting for who knows what. But I asked no questions.
I was beginning to relax and enjoy myself as I watched the festive horse drawn carriages pass by, when one suddenly pulled up right in front of us. The driver asked politely if anyone would be interested in a carriage ride. With surprising eagerness, my roommates, sister, and everyone else in the group jumped right up and crowded in behind the driver. Then they started hollering at Steve and me to join them. I just laughed since the carriage was already ridiculously overcrowded. I said we would be fine, staying put, and Steve agreed. They all seemed really disappointed, but I kept waving them on until just then, another carriage pulled up right behind the first. Again we were offered a ride. My friends continued to urge, we continued to decline. I mean, I didn’t even know how much a carriage ride would cost, and Steve said he was pretty sure he didn’t have enough. I was a little annoyed when my friends kept hounding us to take it, and then a little worried when Steve finally gave in and helped me in to the carriage.

Off we went, clipping along the beautifully lit streets, and there I was, all the while hissing in his ear about how we were going to pay for it. He kept telling me we would figure it out, so I tried to relax. Occasionally we saw the group in the other carriage in a side street, or crossing the intersection in front of us. Every time we saw them, they were hanging eagerly out the sides, waving and watching us intently. I was still completely clueless. I can’t even remember the conversation we were having, when suddenly he got down on his knee. I thought he was joking and told him to get up, but he persisted in kneeling. And there he was, proposing, and I, like an idiot, was wondering how on earth he had a ring in his pocket when he didn’t even want to come downtown in the first place.
In all the confusion, I finally realized that this was the real thing and I managed to stammer a happy yes. As I said it, there was an audible sigh of relief from the driver! He turned around grinning and apologized, explaining that the last time he had a proposal in his carriage, the girl had said “no” and the rest of the drive had been a silent and awkward misery.
The ride came to an end as we neared the coffee shop again, and there was the other group, waiting on the curb. Steve gave a thumbs up, and they all burst out cheering. In my dimwittedness, it was only then that I realized the whole thing had been a set up- my roommates wanting to go to coffee, the ‘random’ group of people who joined us so as to fill up that first carriage, and the perfect timing of the second carriage. When we got back to campus, I discovered that just about every student and teacher there was aware of what was happening that night, but me. I’m still not sure how I missed all the clues.
Later, as I kissed my fiancé good night, something heavy fell out of his pocket. He sighed as I bent to pick it up. It was an exquisite little black wooden box, lined with velvet and containing a beautiful piece of quartz, with a slit in the center just big enough to hold a ring. The bottom of the box had fallen apart, and I looked at him, puzzled. He then explained to me why he had missed most of the dinner that night. He had been sneaking out to the carpenter’s shop to put the finishing details on the little ebony ring box he had been working on. But the wood had proved too hard for nails, and gluing hadn’t worked much better. He finally managed to get it to hold together, and entrusted it to my roommate’s purse for the drive downtown, but it came apart along the journey. Thus the frantic search at the coffee shop for a missing ring, and a broken box in his pocket.
I still have the quartz and the pieces of that lovely little box, even though it never got to serve it’s intended purpose. I take it out occasionally, just to remember the crazy, wonderful hilarity of that night and all the crazy, wonderful years that have followed, riding side by side together.

Hares ‘n Horses

I like a little alliteration in my post titles, have you noticed? I’m not sure what the difference is between a rabbit and a hare, or a bunny for that matter. It doesn’t really matter with stuffed animals, right? I mean, it’s not like they are anatomically correct or anything. But I digress.

Here is my latest set of creations, up-cycled from the giant chest in my bedroom, filled with clothing from a previous era. You know, back in Nicky BC (before children). I am finally coming to grips with the fact that I will never be fitting into those clothes again, and I feel better about it, because they are being put to good use elsewhere. Like here-

These were once the most wonderfully soft beige pants, and now they are a wonderfully soft beige rabbit, for someone’s new granddaughter. Don’t you love the pink ears?

And I wondered how a little horse would look if I made him out of my brown wool tweed slacks from yesteryear.

I think he turned out pretty nice.

So then I thought I’d go really bold with a skinny waisted, red wool skirt that would’ve taken a miracle for me to zip up.

I’m a sucker for anything bright red, and am so glad I didn’t get rid of that skirt, ’cause I love it as a horse!

Here they are sizing each other up, comparing cuteness.

Which one wins? You be the judge.

A family fave

We’ve had a lot of babies born in our church lately, so last week, it was time to make another ‘new baby’ meal. I am just now getting around to posting the recipe. I decided to make chicken enchiladas. Now I am no expert on Mexican food, and am not sure how authentic these enchiladas are, but it does involve tortillas baked in a pan with meat and sauce, so that counts, right?

This recipe is an old family favorite that we got out of a church cook book. (Credit for the recipe goes to our friend Kim S.) Church cook books are really marvelous resources, don’t you agree? The original recipe is super simple- so easy, in fact, that it was one that my sisters and I often used when we were learning to cook. And since my recipes aren’t complete without a funny or embarrassing story to accompany them, and since I got my sister’s permission to share this, so long as I didn’t reveal her name, here is the tale.

My sister, as aforementioned, was attempting to learn cookery, and decided on this recipe. The filling for the original recipe is simply chopped chicken, sautéed and smothered in salsa. Well, she chopped up the half frozen chicken breasts, threw them in the pan, smothered them with salsa and finished the recipe as instructed. The house soon smelled wonderful, and the whole family sat down to enjoy the meal in eager anticipation.
I think I got about three bites into my enchilada before I was brought up short by a piece of chicken that simply wouldn’t be chewed. I worked at it a little longer before realizing that others at the table were experiencing similar difficulties in mastication. One sister discretely removed an unchewable morsel from her mouth and laid it on her plate. It was one of those awkward moments, where no one wanted to say anything, but no one wanted to keep eating. I think my mother finally broke the ice and started an investigation. We all thankfully removed the alien chicken from our mouths and tried to solve the mystery.
We asked my sister at length how she had prepared the meal, but she claimed she had followed the recipe to the letter. Poking at the foreign substance a little more revealed it to be some form of plastic. But how on earth could so much plastic be chopped up in one meal? An odd question indeed. My mother again broke the silence when she realized that my sister had inadvertently forgotten to remove the plastic sponge from the styrofoam chicken packaging. You know, that thing they put in the bottom to absorb all the excess raw chicken juices?
We had all laid our forks down by that point, and am afraid to say, didn’t pick them up again that meal. And I’m afraid we might never let my poor sister forget it. But the recipe is so good, that I wouldn’t let that one unfortunate episode ruin it forever. And now I will share it! Here’s what you need.

Now don’t roll your eyes if I say that the secret ingredient in this recipe is cream, because it is. However, I just read an article on facebook saying that skim milk actually makes you fatter, so I’m feeling pretty good about myself.
I mentioned the original recipe calls for a filling of chicken mixed with salsa, which is great when you’re in a hurry, but sometimes I like to doctor mine up a bit. So I started by chopping a couple of onions, two or three peppers and some garlic. This is a really big batch because I am doubling it- one for us, and one for the new baby. Might as well kill two birds with one stone, right?

Sauté it up until the veggies are nice and soft. Then, to make the filling stretch, I like to add a couple cans of beans- either black or pinto, or a mix of both.

Now I cheated a bit here by having my chicken precooked and ready to go. This is about six chopped boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which I prefer since they don’t get as dry as chicken breast. Whatever cut you choose, you’ll need to cook it up before you add it. But for pity’s sake, remove the little plastic spongy thing! (Sorry sis, couldn’t resist)

Stir this all together with a bit of salt and pepper, and then I like to add a little heat by means of a chipotle pepper in adobe sauce. Or if you look in your fridge and realize you are clean out of chipotle peppers in adobe, you can use a teaspoon of chipotle powder. Or just salt and pepper if you don’t like heat. I just love the smokiness of chipotle.

So that’s your filling. Then you start your assembly line. You’ll see I have two pans here, one of them for us and one that is disposable so the new baby doesn’t have to wash and return it. Just plop a good amount of filling in the middle of your tortilla and roll it up tight.

Keep going until the pan is full or you run out of filling, whichever happens first.

And now for the sauce.

The original recipe says to simply pour a pint of cream over the whole thing, but my big sister told me that if you want to cut the calories a bit, you could use half a pint of cream and mix in a can of enchilada sauce. I find this adds to the flavor quite a bit and perhaps makes them more authentic enchiladas! Either way, mix the two up for a fabulously simple sauce.

Then just pour on the goodness

Sprinkle with a good amount of cheese,

And bake in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until the cheese is nicely browned and bubbly.

Serve it with your favorite Mexican sides. Here we just had sour cream, avocado and tomato, but rice is great too. And you can hold the beans in the filling and serve it with refrieds. The possibilities are endless!


Dolly’s closet

Several of you have asked if I sell extra dresses for my dolls, so as to provide a change of clothing. I just posted several doll dresses on my shop. Most of them are dresses you have already seen, but here are a few new ones. I am trying to branch out a bit, you know, away from dresses and into something totally different, like skirts and blouses…


Or sweet little pink, school girl jumpers.

I just posted this little lady on my shop as well. I think she’s pretty cute.




So there we are. Again, feel free to request any style of dress in a different color. I’m hoping to start in on hats and jackets for the upcoming winter.



We had a visiting pastor at church today to help our church celebrate a big anniversary. It just so happens that it was my hometown pastor and it just so happens that he reiterated many of the truths from his sermon that I posted on here a while back, about remembering God’s faithfulness as a spiritual duty. How we ought to raise our Ebenezer, our stone of remembrance, in those important places. I was thinking today about how God helps us sometimes to see those important moments, by sending us a friend.
I’ve mentioned before that I spent a year studying abroad in France. It was right after I graduated from high school. I was the mature age of 18, and it was my first real experience away from home. You might now think this is going to be a tale of how I went off to sow some wild oats in a foreign country. That after a childhood spent in a conservative Presbyterian atmosphere, I would distance myself as far as possible from such a “repressive” upbringing. But as the French say- au contraire mon frere. I loved the way I was raised- it suited me just fine. By nature a homebody, and afraid of the big wide world, I was content to imagine a life of staying right where I was, serving the church, and maybe someday doing something really crazy, like opening a bakery. It’s hard to explain what my high school experience was like, but for all intents and purposes of this story, all you need to know is that my nickname was “The Nun.”

How I ended up agreeing to go to France was the real wonder. In hindsight of course, I can see God’s hand, but suddenly, and without exactly knowing how, I was living in a seminary dorm room with two friends from my church, in the South of France for two semesters. The intent was to learn the language and broaden my horizons a bit. I’m not sure I was ready.

You see, it’s hard to broaden your horizons when you’re determined to maintain a life as close as possible to the one you left behind. And when you want to show your parents that you can be a responsible adult, even when they aren’t around. It was hard to shake the rigid self discipline I had imposed on myself all through high school. Don’t get me wrong- self discipline is a good thing, but there is such a thing as too much of it, especially when it comes to money.

I had been given a monthly allowance from my parents to cover my expenses- rent, groceries, etc. Every month my friends and I would go to the atm in the centre ville and withdraw what we needed. Rent was split between the three of us, but I decided early on that I would control the food. I picked an amount for groceries that I thought was reasonable, and I made sure that we maintained, or even stayed under that budget. I did most of the shopping and most of the cooking. I’m not sure why that control was so important to me, but it was.

So there we were in the culinary capital of the world, and instead of taking advantage of it, I bypassed the corner boulangeries and bought cheap, dry super market bread. And did we explore the wonderful world of French cheese? Nope- the most inexpensive camembert if you please- and don’t throw the rind away, it’s wasteful. I remember one of the girls asking if we could buy fresh milk instead of the strange tasting boxed milk you could keep indefinitely on the pantry shelf. I refused to spend the few francs more, and don’t even think about asking for ice cream.

I’m not sure why the girls put up with my penny pinching regime for so long. I’m pretty sure one of them kept a secret stash of goodies she could nibble on when I wasn’t looking. I do know that they were increasingly annoyed with me. When someone gave us a box of chocolates at Christmastime, I looked at the box and suggested that instead of eating them, we should save them for later. The girls looked at each other, and then tackled me to the floor, pried open my mouth and shoved a few chocolates in.

Who knows how long I would have continued imposing my miserly system on everyone around me if my friend’s sister hadn’t come to spend the second semester with us. I haven’t asked if I can use her name here, so I’ll call her “Jane.” I distinctly remember one of the first few nights “Jane” was with us. She suggested getting a couple of beers to go with dinner. I quickly let her know that beer, or anything like it, was not in the budget. She looked a little surprised, but said nothing more. The next night however, she bought herself a beer for dinner. I was annoyed.

Not long after that, we were discussing plans for a trip to Italy during one of our school breaks. I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the money, but the girls finally talked me around.
I would have enjoyed the trip far more if I hadn’t been so worried about the money we were spending on hostels and train tickets. I remember mortifying the girls at a restaurant by stuffing the last piece of our dinner pizza in my pocket so I wouldn’t have to buy lunch the next day.

Things came to a bit of a crisis when we were in Naples. The girls wanted to visit the island of Capri, so I grudgingly called my mom to see if I had enough money on my card to buy a ferry ticket. I know, I know, what the heck was wrong with me? She said she would try to get to the bank and put a little extra in. The next morning, I went to the atm. The machine was acting up and spit my card out a few times before finally eating it. And it wouldn’t give it back. So there I was in the middle of Italy, without any way of getting money, and having a minor panic attack. I went back to the hostel, and the others tried to reassure me that I could borrow money from them until I got a new card, but this was no comfort to me. That feeling of control I had been so carefully hoarding was suddenly gone.

When we got back to France, I felt I needed to redouble my efforts to make up for lost ground, but I couldn’t get much worse without starving us to death. One evening, I was on my bed, literally counting coins and sighing with worry when “Jane” walked in, took one look at me and decided it was time to give me the talking to I needed.

I don’t remember all of the things she said to me that night as we talked about my Scrooge-like tendencies. But amidst all her kind and compassionate admonition, what struck me the most was that without fear, she called my bluff. I’m not sure anyone had ever done that before. I was “The Nun” you remember. All goody-goodiness and self discipline. She tore down all the high sounding arguments I had built up about my ‘good stewardship’ and ‘responsibility’, and revealed them for what they were- a deep selfishness towards others and a lack of faith in the providence of God. It was reproof so gently given, but it felt like a sharp slap in the face, and I’ve never been so grateful. It was the act of a true friend, a friend who was brave enough to help pull me out of that hole and set me on a better path.

I can’t say that I was a completely changed woman overnight, but it was a start. Oh, and I did go out and buy her a beer.

Chocolate Strawberry Upside-Down Cake

Sometimes people ask me how, or where I learned to bake. Did I take classes? Did I learn cherished and secret family recipes at my mother’s knee? Or was I simply born with a flour covered thumb? (Sorry, couldn’t come up with the baking equivalent to a green thumb). Much as I would like to say it was one of these things, none of them quite describe my haphazard, self taught methods of baking. My mother did teach me some things, I watched my dad when he would come home from the restaurant with some new recipe, but I have never been one to ask for help. Mine was the experience of trial and error- and lots of those.
The key to some success I am sure, was that I started very young, and I persevered through the errors; through my first under-baked apple pie with the unpeeled apples inside, through the Christmas day I spent with my hands wrapped in ice after spilling boiled milk on them, through the heavy bricks of attempted homemade bread. I once put 1/4 cup of baking soda in my muffins instead of 1/4 tsp. Talk about bitter.
And then there was the mixer incident.
I stumbled upon a picture while sorting out some childhood memorabilia the other day. I felt I had to share it, just to encourage anyone out there who might be despairing over failed baking attempts. It is a photo from the time where I was experimenting in cake making. I think I was ten or eleven, judging from the cherished homemade paisley vest that I wore throughout fifth grade. I have always been a careless person, and the day this photo was taken was no exception. I was new to using a hand mixer, and the concept of tying my hair back while cooking had probably been mentioned by my mother at least a dozen times without making the least impression on me. Well, you know what they say- experience is the best teacher.
I was happily mixing my batter and reached over the bowl to grab an egg. My long blond hair slid over my shoulder and voila-

And lest you think the expressions on my families faces are expressions of concern after rushing to the kitchen and finding me with a mixer glued to the side of my face and winding my hair tighter and tighter every second while I hollered at the top of my voice, think again. The overall experience for them was one of absolute hilarity. My dad was the one holding the camera, and I am surprised that the picture turned out at all, he was laughing so hard. In fact, grabbing the camera was the first thing he thought to do. No doubt he wished we had a video camera so we could send it in and get some money. My mother was merciful enough to pull the plug and she and my sister painstakingly unwound my tangled tresses whilst cake batter oozed all over my precious paisley vest. I wouldn’t use a mixer for many years after that, but I did share in the laughter at myself.

After that lengthy prelude, I would like to share a fabulous cake recipe with you. I must warn you that this cake will win no beauty contests. More often than not, it comes out lopsided and a little lumpy looking, but it makes up for that in yumminess. So here we go.

These are the ingredients for the cake


And these are for the frosting.

Well, technically, it’s a ganache, but let’s start there.

In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup each of chocolate chips, heavy cream and strawberry jam. The original recipe calls for seedless raspberry jam, which is also wonderful.

Melt over medium heat and stir until smooth. Then pour this wonderful concoction into a 9×2 inch round cake pan.

20131002-220445.jpg That’s it for the frosting.

Now on to the cake. You’ll need two medium size bowls. In the first bowl, whisk together
1/2 cup boiling water
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup of your jam of choice
1/4 cup of buttermilk. (It’s fine to use regular milk here, but I always use buttermilk in baking when I can. )

In the other bowl combine –
1 stick of butter and
1/3 cup each of brown and white sugar

Now normally I would mix this in my stand mixer, but just to show that I have overcome my fears and triumphed over my past, I am using my hand mixer. My hair is short now anyway.

Cream it up until it’s nice and fluffy, adding two eggs along the way.

To this bowl, mix in 1 cup of flour and 1/4 teaspoon, I repeat, teaspoon of baking soda.


Then add your chocolate mixture, half of it at a time and scraping down the bowl as you go.


Now just pour the cake batter right on top of the ganache in the pan. This may seem weird, but trust me. Can you see the darker ganache creeping up the outer edges of the pan?


Bake it at 350 for 25-30 minutes, until the center is set. It tends to puff up quite a bit and then sink back when done. Pull it out and let it cool just for a minute.


Run a knife around the edge, and carefully, using hot pads and a plate that is larger than the pan and so has room to catch the pooling ganache, flip the cake over.


Pull the pan off, and your cake should be bathed in wonderful rich chocolate frosting. Scrape any remaining ganache from the pan and smooth out the top as best you can. If it still looks sloppy, add some strawberries or raspberries on top.

That, I will tell you, is the easiest way to look like a pro in baking. Everything looks more impressive with fresh fruit on it. So enjoy, and go on to conquer your baking fears!