This GF cake is not a lie

Confession time!

I am not much of a desserts person. Particularly a cake person.

Sweets and sour candies I am all over, but cake? Eh, that’s not much of a temptation. Sure, I can admire the artistry of a wonderfully decorated cake, and Cake Wrecks.com is part of my daily internet routine, but actually eating it?

Let’s just say GLaDOS‘s offer would fall on deaf ears.

I recall shortly after the first Portal came out and the ‘The cake is a lie’ meme was still on its first tour of the internet, my friends and I were discussing how we’d manage if the game was actually real and we were trapped in it. Conclusion: one friend would be hopelessly drawn in (she has never met a cake she didn’t love), a couple other friends would do okay, but my result? No temptation, therefore no problem.

Unless, of course, said offer was of yellow cake. Pillsbury yellow cake with creamy chocolate frosting.

Because, dangit, THAT CHANGES THINGS.

Along with donuts, yellow cake is one of the first and most-mourned edibles on my thou-shalt-not list. Devil’s food cannot tempt me, angel food doesn’t fare any better, confetti has nothing to celebrate, and white is just kinda meh. However, this last weekend, I had a craving. An absolute must-have-NOW craving that demanded obedience.

(Don’t laugh. I’ve had cravings that resulted in chocolate chip cookies at midnight. On a school night. When I taught class at 8am the next morning.)

(No, I am not pregnant. Just female, and kinda weird in the head.)

(Second thought, go ahead and laugh.)

So…Betty Crocker to the rescue!

Betty Crocker's Rich Yellow Cake

This recipe comes from my facsimile edition of the 1950 Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, a book that has been a staple of my grandmother’s kitchen, my mother’s kitchen, and now my kitchen. We’ve yet to encounter a recipe in here that we did not like.

Now, this is the original BC recipe, with the regular flour swapped out 1:1 for the Simply Savory GF mix. If you have another GF flour mix, it should work just fine, so long as you have a 1:1 ratio or can compensate for it. And, if you don’t need to be GF and want to make the regular cake, no prob there!

Note: If your GF baking mix or flour does not have xantham gum already included in it, you will need to add some. Rule of thumb seems to be 1/2 tsp xantham gum for every cup of GF flour, so for the larger recipe below, you’d need about 1 tsp and a pinch of xantham. (Yes, I did say ‘pinch.’ I was raised old school.)

Ingredients:

For a 9″x13″ pan, or 2 9″ layer pans:

  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups GF baking mix
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla

For a 9″ square pan, or 2 8″ layer pans:

  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/8 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups GF baking mix
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions:

  1. Grease and flour the pan(s). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream shortening, butter, and sugar together until thoroughly mixed. It should look ‘fluffy’.
  3. Beat in the eggs with a hand mixer.
  4. Sift the dry ingredients (baking mix, baking powder and salt) together in a separate bowl, then slowly add to the wet mixture. Keep the hand mixer on the lowest setting unless you want your kitchen to look like a blizzard.
  5. Slowly add the milk and vanilla. Mix thoroughly.
  6. Pour batter into pans.
  7. Bake layer pans 25-30 minutes; square or rectangular pan 30-40 minutes. Cake is done when you insert a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean.

This cake does not cook up the same as a normal out-of-the-box yellow cake. Firstly, normal cakes raise in the middle; this one will deflate a little. Secondly, this cake tastes NOTHING like the out-of-the-box versions – it’s very moist, not as fluffy (because it doesn’t raise), and is a whole lot sweeter.

Still not my Pillsbury mix cake, but I am so not complaining.


Rebecca’s Ham and Potato Soup

If your family is anything like mine, news of an old-fashioned BLIZZARD means you stock up on food about two days early (because everyone else will do their shopping last minute), prep up a bunch of single-serving easy-to-reheat munchies, and sit back as the snow flies.

Also, if your family is anything like mine, that means you’ll be living on leftovers for a very nice while. Because you need to make room in the fridge before you can fit anything else in it. 🙂

So in that spirit – and because I bought too many potatoes for last week’s knoephla soup – I decided that I’d try a recipe that my mother picked up from one of her coworkers and politely pushed off on me to attempt. The end result is one of the easiest soups I have put together to date, and one of the most delicious. You know those boxes of instant mashed potatoes, the ones that come in flavors like Garlic & Herb, or Four Cheese, or whatnot? This soup tastes like what those WANT to be. It’s thick, it’s creamy, and very nummy!

Mashed potatoes, in soup form!

If you have a kid who absolutely loves mashed potatoes and hates veggies, or just have a bunch of fixins left over from your Easter/Christmas/Holiday/family get-together, this recipe is PERFECT.

Oh, and like all of my recipes, it’s very GF-friendly.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cups of water or chicken broth (maybe more)
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 1 lb ham, shredded or cut into strips
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • Mrs Dash, original spice blend
  • 1/2 cup milk (I use lactose-free)
  • 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1 cup – 2 cups shredded cheddar, or 1 lb Velveeta

Directions:

  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, combine potatoes, veggies, ham, spices, and chicken broth. You might need to add more liquid until potatoes are nearly covered.
  2. Bring to a boil and simmer until meat is cooked and veggies are tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. In another bowl, gradually add milk to cornstarch and stir until well blended. Add to soup and cook until soup thickens.
  4. Turn off burner and add cheese to taste. (1 cup = slightly cheesy, 1 1/2 cup = cheesy, 2 cup = very cheesy!)
  5. Stir until cheese is melted.

Makes approximately 10 1-cup servings.


Writing Wednesdays : The importance of a murder board

Roughly 50% of any Castle episode.

A wall of mugshots and evidence photos, scrawled timelines of events, arrows or bits of string connecting the dots. If it’s limited to a small area, like a whiteboard or two, and nicely organized, then it’s a cop using the wheels of justice. If it’s expansive and scattered and in the hands of an average citizen, it’s an invitation to the Crazy House.

Wall-o-crazy in Leverage

Hardison's conspiracy theorist impression - pretty good, actually

If there’s a fine line between genius and insanity, there’s an even thinner line between a murder board and a wall of crazy.

In television and cinema, I see these all the time, usually because it’s a dang effective visual tool. In a single shot, you can see the progress of a criminal investigation, or a person’s current state of mind, and recap all the important bits without the bog of exposition. But there’s undoubtedly another reason that these crop up so often – because it works. Especially for this writer.

When I was working on my first novel during senior year of college, I never needed something so expansive or visual. My plot was plenty twisty and backstabbing, but not so much that I couldn’t keep track of it. Also, that story wasn’t so much a whodunit as a howdunit – a journey-is-more-important-than-the-destination kinda thing. So much that I was told point-blank that the ending was obvious by the third chapter, but the internal transformation of the protagonist had enough momentum to push things forward. Until I tossed in couple red herrings and the blind-sidingly violent death of a major character. 😀

However, that was about five years ago, and now that I’m starting a whole series, simple plots just don’t keep my interest. I like lots of toys on my playground, even if I’m not going to use the toys for a while. As a result, my plots get complicated. Damnably complicated. And why I’ve found a ‘murder board’ to be an absolute necessity.

Even if it tends to devolve into wall-o-crazy.

For example, for the last week or so, I’ve felt like slamming my head against the desk because I know that I need to start shifting from Plot A to Plot B, but had no idea how to do that without jerking the book’s momentum around like a noob driving a stick shift for the first time. So I looked up to the huge corkboard hung over my desk for guidance, and realized that it wasn’t my book that was off – it was my murder board. So much random stuff had been tacked up there that the plot threads weren’t visible anymore, or they’d gotten tangled up in random plot turns. Worse, I hadn’t taken the time to figure out my main villain yet. Other than, ‘he does X and Y and Z because he wants to mess up my hero,’ I didn’t know my villain at all. Why was he doing X? Why Y? Why all these schemes? And what connection/relationship does he have with the Pawn Villain of Plot A? And if my villain got loose the year prior to the book, what had he done in the interim that he hadn’t been noticed by the heroes yet?

Also, I realized that I still had old plot threads from the first book in the series that hadn’t been resolved or even unraveled.

Old plot threads that could help explain the villain’s current actions.

The lightbulb went on. A lightbulb that wouldn’t have been found if I hadn’t taken the time to fix my board.

I ❤ my board, even if makes me look a little crazy.

What are some other ideas for plotting out books and finding plot holes?


Gluten-free knoephla soup

As the offspring of a fourth-gen German-Russian farmer and a Norwegian mutt, I’ve grown up with an odd ethnic history. My dad’s family comes from south-central North Dakota, where the accents are thick, the kuchen is plenty, and Lawrence Welk is a hometown hero. My mom hails from a clan of Norwegian-Dutch-German-whatevers in Minnesota, and are used to solving problems by looking at them sideways. [Case in point: My grandfather once wanted to put in a culvert for his field, but the town council wouldn’t let him. So he got a license to buy dynamite, and a license to use dynamite, and let the council figure out what he’d do with them. Said culvert was promptly installed. 🙂 ]

So when I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance last December, and had to deal with crossing off most of my favorite foods from my menu, I decided to figure out a way around that pesky little issue. Partially because I hate to deprive my tastebuds, partially out of sheer rebellion, and partially because I need to eat, dangit, and I ain’t no rabbit!

Necessity is the mother of invention. Survival is a pretty big necessity.

As a result, I’ve become pretty good at whipping up soups, mostly because soup is easy to make and hard to screw up. And packs pretty easily in a lunchbox for work. So here’s my take on an old German staple – knoephla soup.

Old-fashioned comfort food.

Ingredients:

  • 44 ounces of chicken broth (more or less)
  • 4 medium red potatoes, peeled and cut into spoon-size cubes
  • Optional: 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • Optional: 1 1/2-2 cups chopped carrots
  • Optional: diced onion (to taste)
  • Optional: 3 chicken breasts, cubed
  • Sprinkle of Mrs. Dash, original spice blend (or your own mix)
  • 3 cups GF flour or baking mix*
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 pint half-and-half

Directions:

  1. In a Dutch oven or large stockpot, bring chicken broth to a boil.
  2. Add potatoes, chicken meat, veggies, and spices. Continue boiling.
  3. Mix the flour and eggs with just enough water to make a very thick sticky paste. This should be about the consistency of Play-Doh. [Note: You might need to get your hands dirty and knead this.]
  4. Pinch of bits of dough (no larger than 1/4 tsp) and drop into boiling stew. The dumplings will swell as they cook.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer until veggies are tender and meat is cooked.
  6. Turn off heat and add half-and-half. Pepper to taste.
  7. If broth isn’t thick enough to your liking, dissolve some cornstarch in milk and add. Stir ’til thickened.

Makes approximately 15 1-cup servings.

Note: For most of my soups and my cooking in general, I use a baking mix that is specially blended and packaged by a local bakery, Simply Savory. This mix has several different flours, and some xantham gum and sugar included. I haven’t tried this recipe with other GF flours (without the xantham), so you might need to experiment a bit to get the right flavor for your knoephla. If you do, let me know and I’ll add it to the recipe!


I’m not a grammarian, but…

funny pictures of cats with captions

I have always been passionate about language. As a kid, I memorized big fancy words not to make myself seem smarter, but to actually use them in my daily vocabulary. My parents went from correcting my fiction to being corrected on everything they wrote. (I am the sole reason my mother stopped writing the family Christmas letter.) In high school, I dreamed of taking foreign languages simply so I could learn more about English and its linguistic roots.  And then in grad school, I taught first-year English – half for the tuition breaks, and half to wage my own little war on freshman ignorance.

Yes, I am that much of a nerd.

Good news is, those three years of teaching successfully beat my grammar-nazi tendencies into submission, and I learned to pick my battles. The average person might not care of the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom,’ but so long as he/she doesn’t commit any egregious crimes against linguistic humanity, can use the correct form of ‘your,’ and can make the message heard without causing too much trauma, I can bite my tongue. Language evolves, and those who use it have to let it evolve, lest it die entirely.

And then I read this article: Proper Spelling? Its Tyme to Let Luce!

And I had a mental aneurysm.

What starts out as a writer’s rant against autocorrect quickly devolves into a hissy fit over grammatical rules and the apparently haphazard nature of English construction. (Note: I mean the construction of the English language, not a slam against British-built buildings.) So let’s take this ‘argument’ apart a bit…

“Consistent spelling was a great way to ensure clarity in the print era. But with new technologies, the way that we write and read (and search and data-mine) is changing, and so much spelling.”

Pardon me, but when did we move out of the print era? Just because we are moving away from the ink-on-paper tech and into the digital realm does not mean that print is passé, or that clarity in written language is no longer necessary. If anything, it’s even more crucial now than before, because unless you’re using nothing but audio and podcasts on the internet, everything is written. Everything.

Also, what does the writer propose that we allow English to ‘evolve’ into? LOLcat speak? There is a reason that icanhascheezburger.com is an entertainment site, and not a place where you publish a medical case study, an academic paper, or even where you attempt to carry on intelligent discourse (trolls, there are many). It is fluff, it is fluffery, it is not serious. LOLcat is a non-language!

(Sorry, been watching Monty Python lately. Couldn’t resist.)

“The notion that words can and should be spelled only one way is a fairly recent invention…”

Here the author does have a point, but there is a reason that standardization was developed – it makes reading easier. Try taking a look at Chaucer in the original Middle English, and try reading through that mess of extraneous letters and inconsistent spellings. I first read Chaucer as a college junior, and though I was not a stupid student by any stretch, I had to read that thing out loud to myself, carefully pronouncing each word until I’d acquired a mongrel Scottish accent and drove my roommate screaming from the room. Hamlet took me less time and I remembered more.

(I remember farts. There was something about farts. And Reeve Tuesti. But I was also playing FFVII at the time so things might’ve gotten jumbled…)

Anyways, the entire point of a standardized system of spellings is to make reading faster and easier, so that the reader can spend more brainpower on the meaning of the message instead of deciphering it. And at this point in time, so many generations have been trained in the use of that standardized system that it’s practically ingrained in us. As a society, we search for a specific structure in our written documentation, and if it’s not there, or if it’s off by a noticeable amount, we automatically look down upon the writer.

There’s a reason there’s a couple Facebook groups named, “I judge you when you use poor grammar.”

“Standardized spelling enables readers to understand writing, to aid communication and ensure clarity. Period. There is no additional reason, other than snobbery, for spelling rules.”

Oh yes, because we only use communication for trivial things like posting on teh internets. Not for emailing your boss, or constructing a resume, or writing laws, or protesting said laws, or overthrowing governments, or…You get the drift.

“We need a new set of tools that recognize more variations instead of rigidly enforcing outdated dogma. Let’s make our own rules. It’s not like the English language has many good ones anyway.”

Tell me this doesn’t sound like a child stamping his/her foot, then grabbing the toy from the sandbox and going home because Timmy and Sally wouldn’t play the game he/she wanted to play. Because that’s what it sounds like to me.

Here’s the kicker: This article came from an English professor. Who should know better than to rant like this. Unless, of course, the entire article was satire, in which case it fell short of the point it was trying to make. (Which would have been…?)

I’m sorry, but when I encounter that kind of attitude, be it from a student or another professional-type individual, my answer is the same: Laziness is not an excuse for ignoring the rules, or for throwing a hissy fit about them.

And If you don’t like the autocorrect for your tweets, then here’s an idea: TURN IT OFF.

What do you think – satire or legit grievance? What is your response to poor grammar and spelling? Is this the future of the English language?


Hello world!

Yay, another blog! On teh internets!

But this isn’t just any blog, it’s mine.

And by ‘mine’ I mean the slightly-coherent-musings-of-my-grey-matter-that-will-be-updated-in-a-more-timely-manner-than-my-wangsty-livejournal. I’ve had a personal livejournal that by now has dwindled to random hey-friends-list-I’m-still-alive! posts, but I figured it’s about time to stop hermitting myself behind shiny avatars and sporadic postings.

So, what does this mean for you?

Once a week, I shall offer up the finest of my fictional finery – be it a short story, a poem (GASP!), book/movie/media reviews, random musings, or a bunch of shiny baubles, or heck, even a recipe.

No, I am no Emeril. My cooking equipment is more likely to go Bam! than I am. With smoke. Lots of smoke…

Anyways, blogging. Riiiiight…This page will always be updated at least once a week, so every Monday there will be a bright shiny new post to kick off your work week (or wake you up after you get home). If other posts crop up during the week, consider them happy little presents from me to you.

Just don’t drown them in water. I promise, the packages won’t be ticking.


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