Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Guest Blogging Today

What fabulous treasure did I find buried in my basement this weekend? Stop by The Lady Scribes blog to find out!

Click Here

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The (Teal) Warrior Spirit

UPDATE: I'm walking again this year - I'd love if you could support our team in this worthy cause! Click HERE to learn more!

This past Saturday, my husband kissed me goodbye sometime around 0-dark-thirty in the morning to head to work, and I snuggled deep into my mountain of blankets and sheets, relishing the cool air wafting in from the open windows in the bedroom and savoring the patter of rain. Blissful in the knowledge that I had hours yet to sleep, I quickly drifted off.
Five seconds later, my alarm pierced through the haze of perfect sleep, its annoying little tune chirping happily in my ear. I cracked an eye as I batted around for my phone, smacking the snooze button. It was seven thirty, but it felt more like five in the morning. The day was cold, grey, and wet—official ‘sleeping in’ weather. The night before, getting up early and driving the hour into Raleigh to join my Heart of Carolina fellow romance writers for the Ovarian Cancer awareness walk seemed like a good idea. The brisk, drizzly weather, however, was doing its best to convince me otherwise.
Another alarm, another snooze. And another. And another.
Until, somehow, I pryed open my eyes and peered at my clock . . . eight-thirty! I groaned and rolled over. All I wanted to do was sleep. I mean really, would anyone miss me if I didn’t show up? I hadn’t even told anyone I was coming, so the answer was a resounding no. The warm cocoon of my covers beckoned, but with a sigh, I tossed everything off and got to my feet. The cause was important to me, and I couldn’t miss it on account of a little cold rain and dark clouds.
In less then twenty minutes, I was dressed, the dogs were taken care of, and I was out the door. It was slow going navigating the Saturday morning traffic in the relentless rain, and I took the time to stop to buy a poncho before finally making it to the high school that was hosting the event.
As if by magic, the rain slackened as I got out of my car and headed around the back of the building toward the registration area. All around me, people dressed in varying degrees of tealness—teal shirts, hats, bracelets, wigs, and even retro sneakers—streamed toward the event. I laughed, despite the crappy drive and the icky weather, when a teal-outfitted basset hound trotted past me, followed by an ovarian cancer awareness t-shirt wearing golden retriever.
The crowd thickened as I approached the line to check in. There were kids running past giggling, babies cradled by teal-wearing parents, teenagers clumped together in groups, families laughing and friends chatting. There were white-haired ladies, teal-haired kids, and several bald-headed participants of all ages. At the registration desk, the lady behind me handed back the white event t-shirt with a grin. “Sorry,” she said, holding up another shirt, “I didn’t realize there was a differed one for survivors.”
She was beautiful, with short silver hair and a ready grin, but there was no mistaking the steel in her eyes. “Wow,” I said, offering her a smile, “it’s an honor to meet a true warrior.”
Her grin widened. “Why thank you!”
After getting my own shirt, I headed off in search of the HCRW booth, where I knew I would find my friends and fellow romance writer. It wasn’t long before I spotted them, damp, bedraggled, but in high spirits. We were all members of Heather’s OC Warriors, and rallied around our friend and one-week-free-of-cancer survivor Heather McCollum. Her teal wig, teal knitted cap, and brilliant smile­—not to mention her tall, kilt-wearing Scottish husband—made her hard to miss. The dreariness of the morning, the difficulty getting up, the crappy hour-long drive in the rain—all of it melted away and my spirit rejoiced at being in the company of such amazing people all united for a wonderful cause. The other members of our team included Sabrina Jeffries, Deb Marlowe, Katharine Ashe, Virginia Kantra, Marcia Colette, Mari Freeman, and Jennifer Harrington. Many others who couldn’t be there also contributed, be it with book donations or money.
Katharine Ashe, Me. Heather McCollum, Deb Marlowe, Sabrina Jeffries, Marcia Colette
Soon, the PA system crackled to life and the walk began. As we followed the crowd down the residential streets, covered by over-eager crepe myrtles and interlocking branches of oak trees on either side of the blacktop, we laughed and chatted together, inspired by the palpable feeling of community to be involved in such a great cause.
The walk was Heather’s first since being subjected to the rigors of chemo and radiation. She was amazing! Like the warrior she is, she powered through, accepting our helping hands when needed, and keeping a strong, steady pace throughout the whole of the 2K walk. All around us, we could feel the love and support of all the participates—children, mothers, grandparents, friends, husbands, and, most inspiring of all, survivors. All of these people, joined together in their fight against ovarian cancer, taking a stand against the near silent disease. SHOUTING against the whisper, as Heather would say.
(Yes, I know it's a dreadful picture of me, but its the only one I have on the walk itself!)
At the end of the walk, we toasted each other with Chick-fil-a sandwiches and cold bottles of water. We cheered when Heather’s OC Warriors came in 5th place for money raised, and gasped with delight when the total amount raised by the walk was announced: over $300,000!
It’s absolutely amazing what we can do when we join together. Strangers, friends, and family members alike, coming together for one special day, throwing their collective support behind the cause. It was inspiring, heart-warming . . . and way better than sleeping in on a rainy September morning could have ever been ;)
Have you ever joined in a walk/run for a cause? What are the causes/charities that are important to you?

Today’s recipe is more than just a list of ingredients; it’s a recipe for a long and happy life. Below are the list of symptoms to be aware of the whisper-quiet symptoms of ovarian cancer. Together, we can SHOUT against the whisper!
Symptoms can be subtle, and confused with those of other diseases or conditions. And in our busy lives, they are easily overlooked. This makes ovarian cancer hard to diagnose. Know your body and watch for the following symptoms:
· Bloating that is persistent
· Eating less and feeling fuller
· Abdominal pain
· Trouble with your bladder
See your gynecologist if you have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks. Experts suggest a combination pelvis / rectal exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, and a CA-125 blood test.
Additional symptoms may include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation, and menstrual irregularities, although these symptoms are found equally in women without the disease.
From the symptoms consensus statement endorsed by the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.
Please visit the OCNA for more information: http://www.ovariancancer.org/

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Apple Symphony

There are few things better in life than the tickle of creative energy that skitters down ones spine in a moment of genius. And I should know, because I TOTALLY had one :) Moment of genius, that is. And that, dear Cake Readers, is why today’s blog doesn’t just end with a recipe; today’s blog is a recipe.

It all started with that innocent trip to the mountains. After bringing home that glorious box of honeycrisp apples, my mind boggled with all of the things I could make. Apples. Apple pie. Applesauce. Apple fritters. Apple pancakes. Apple . . . cupcakes?

Well, why not?

The idea instantly took hold, and I spent the next few days brainstorming the idea. What would make the best apple cupcake? Cinnamon and apples, most likely. Maybe caramel? A healthy dose of vanilla? I even considered peanut butter (who doesn’t love apple slices with peanut butter?) I googled some recipes, but nothing fit the bill of the interesting yet totally delicious creation I could feel brewing within me.

As I churned out yet another apple pie last Friday, the answer hit me. Apple Pie Cupcakes! I was drooling already, and I hadn’t a clue what the cake would actually consist of. There were a few things I knew that I didn’t want: a spice-like cake, cream cheese frosting was out, as was anything too cloying. I wanted the flavors to be fresh, creamy even with a hint of its namesake as opposed to something too heavy handed.

As I turned the possibilities over in my head, I was forcibly reminded of when I was a kid of about eight or nine. I wanted so badly to be a good piano player. I could hear the beautiful music that I wanted to play in my head as I stood with my hands poised above the keys, ready to bring life to the composition. When at last I boldly struck out, the discordant mash of clashing notes never failed to surprise me. Why couldn’t I make the notes in my head come to life on the piano? Why must it always defeat me?

With the hopes and dreams of a perfect recipe floating through the ether, I was determined to bring the goodness to life. Most of the time, I am a recipe manipulator, tweaking tried and true recipes to hopefully improve some small part of them. This time, however, it was all me. Because of that, I knew it was possible that the resulting physical manifestation of the recipe in my head could be all wrong, jarringly out of tune as the notes of the piano had been so long ago.

By Saturday morning, my time was up: I had promised cupcakes to my fellow Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, and cupcakes I would deliver. Rolling up my sleeves, I pulled out all the normal ingredients for baking: Sugar, flour, vanilla and butter. Eggs, salt, baking powder, and a measuring cup filled with milk.

And finally, inspiration struck. What was apple pie without the crust? Pulling out the leftover crust dough from the fridge, I set to work rolling it out. I unearthed my biscuit cutter and cut round after round of crust disks. After filling my cupcake pans with liners, I dropped a disk of dough in the bottom of each, and tossed in the oven. Next, I whipped up the apple pie filling recipe, and popped that in the oven as well.

As the scent of pie filled the kitchen, I began to prepare my favorite vanilla cake recipe. For a bit of mischief and fun, I substituted applesauce for the sour cream, and tossed in a dash of cinnamon. The timer beeped, and I pulled out the pie crusts and apple filling. Excitement danced within me, and I grinned as I spooned the filling over the crust, then topped with the cake batter. It looked divine!

Into the oven the baby cupcakes went, and I set aside my expectations as I dove into the frosting. Even through the cake itself received a nice dose of cinnamon, I decided to go with a cinnamon vanilla buttercream frosting. It was a gamble, but I hoped that if I used a light hand, the flavors would please instead of overwhelm.

An hour later, the cupcakes were cooled, frosted, and awaiting the ultimate test. After a whole morning of preparation, would my recipe clash like the echoing roar of unskilled hands banging on a piano? Would it be like the Nutella incident of ’09, when I discovered sometimes even the most promising ideas could end in utter—and disgusting—failure? With hope and trepidation warring within me, I took my first bite. . . and nearly cried.

They were, my friends, near-tears of triumph. I may not be able to bring an instrument to life, but in this one moment, I made a handful of simple ingredients sing. The crunchy, flaking crust, the luscious, rich apple filling, the heavenly cinnamon apple cake and the light as air frosting melded like Mozart’s finest symphony, bringing joy to my heart and rapture to my taste buds.

I’ll never be a musician, never understand the language of music as played out over tiny black and white keys. But that day, I found that I did have the power to create beauty, just as musicians and composers have all through history. My medium was simply of a more culinary variety.

I hope that you try this recipe, my dear Cake Readers, despite the fact I know it is more labor intensive than usual. It is one of my finest creations, and I hope to share it with you, even if I can’t bake for you all in person.

On a side note, I must say that I find it ironic that the musical inclination gene may have passed me by, but it did indeed seed itself within my family—in my own brother, in fact, who once upon a time hated my hapless piano attempts most of all. He is now a continuous source of inspiration for me, pulling from the air the most beautiful of notes and setting them together in a way I could have only dreamed of as a child. For a ‘taste’ of my brother’s original creation, click here. For a taste of mine, scroll down :)

Apple Pie Cupcakes – a truly original creation by yours truly. This recipe makes 24 cupcakes

Crust: (and yes, you can just use the premade kind from the store) 1 full recipe will make enough for the crust bottom as well as the optional crust garnish

- 2 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour

- 1 tsp salt

- 2 tsp sugar

- 1 cup shortening

- 1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar, mix. Add shortening, and cut into flour using a pastry knife or two regular knives until mixture resembles coarse, pea-sized crumbs. Add water a little at a time, stirring with a fork until mixture clings together. Taking care not to over mix, divide the dough evenly and shape into 1 inch thick disks, wrap with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.


- 2 apples - honeycrisp are my very favorite - Very thinly sliced and cut into small wedges (I use the apple peeler/slicer/corer that I got for $19 at the festival, but which they sell in novelty kitchen supply stores or online)

- 1/3 cup sugar

- 1 Tbsp cornstarch

- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

- 1/8 tsp. (a pinch) nutmeg

- 1 tsp lemon

Combine in bowl, tossing well. Place on a foil lined cookie sheet and put into preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes

Roll out pie crust. Cut out 24 small circles and place in the bottom of cupcake liners. Place into 400 degree oven for 10 min or until lightly browned.

Set apples and crusts aside to cool, lower the oven temp to 350, and make cake batter


- 1 stick butter – softened

- 1 cup sugar

- 2 eggs – room temperature

- 1.5 cups self rising flour (or 1.5 cups cake flour, 2/3 tsp baking powder, and a pinch of salt)

- 1/2 cup milk – room temperature

- 1 heaping Tbsp apple sauce

- 1 tsp cinnamon

- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream butter and sugar for 3 minutes on medium speed. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.

Add 1/2 cup flour, then ½ of the milk and apple sauce, then 1/2 cup flour, the rest of the milk and apple sauce, then the final cup of flour.

Add the cinnamon and vanilla, mix.

Add a spoonful of the apple mixture to the top of each of the crusts inside the cupcake liners. Fill the rest of each cup with batter – about 2/3 to 3/4 full. For easy control and optimal neatness, place the batter in a gallon-sized Ziplock bag and snip one corner with a small hole.

Bake for about 14-16 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the middle of the cupcake. Cool on rack for 5 minutes before removing from pan.


- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1 pound (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2-3 Tbsp whole milk

Cream together butter and shortening. Add powdered sugar one cup at a time, moistening with milk 1 Tbsp at a time as needed. Add cinnamon, vanilla, and additional milk as needed for desired consistency.

Top cooled cupcakes with frosting and leaves formed from the leftover crust dough, brushed with egg and food coloring, and baked at 400 degrees until golden brown.

Is it a lot of work? Well, yeah. Is it worth it? Heck yeah!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Apples to Apples

This weekend, Kirk and I made our annual trek to the mountains to partake in the Hendersonville Apple Festival in western North Carolina. It has become something of a tradition to attend the festival with our friends Jacob and Sara (remember them?), and though the day felt like nothing so much as summer, we indulged our fancy, pretending that the air held the promise of crispness, and cooler temps were just around the corner.

As we perused the offerings of the many tables, sampled the delicious apples, and indulged in once-a-year treats, my grandfather came to mind. We recently marked the four year anniversary of his passing, and as we passed booths promising fresh apple slushies, apple turnover, homemade apple ice cream, and hand-dipped caramel apples, I smiled at the distant memory that floated to the surface.

Nana and Papa’s small, rectangular house squatted on their postage stamp-sized property, with a concrete driveway lining the right side of the lot, and a detached one car garage tucked in the back. Within the confines of the fenced backyard, the grass was immaculately maintained, the roses along the house flourished, and the small vegetable garden along the side of the garage offered its bounty.

Come late summer, the lone tree that was centered in the yard exploded with a harvest of tiny green apples. These apples were an enigma to me. Perfectly formed miniature versions of the apples I ate at snack time, they taunted me from their unreachable heights, surely at least 6 feet above the ground. Of course, there were always plenty of ugly, browning apples littering the ground beneath the canopy, but if the tree had thrown them away, I sure wasn’t going to eat them. Besides, the five-second rule had clearly been broken as I had never actually seen one fall. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I tried valiantly to shake one of the forbidden fruits to the ground, but the sturdy trunk refused to sway even a little. Not only could I not move it, I couldn’t even climb it due to its skinny diameter and high up limbs.

After plotting unsuccessfully to pick one on my own, I begged and begged Papa to get one for me. Again and again he shook his head, until at long last he finally reached up and plucked one for me, handing it to me with merriment in those rich blue eyes and an innocent smile on his thin, flesh-colored lips. Almost the moment it was in my hand, I eagerly sank my teeth into the surprisingly hard flesh.

Immediately, the starchy, sour flavor flooded my mouth, causing my lips to involuntarily pucker and my eyes to squint. Blinded by the tears that sprang unbidden to my eyes, I was aware of the sound of laughter from the exact location where Papa had stood moments before. Was he laughing at me?!

I spit out the offending bite and wiped at my tears with the back of my sleeve. I was tempted to wipe my tongue as well, but settled on spitting a few more times. When I was recovered enough to look up, I focused on my Papa, who was trying hard to control his laughter. My eyebrows came together huffily and my hands went to my hips. “Why did you let me eat that Papa?” The hurt and accusation were clear in my whining tone.

Smiling gently, Papa put his huge hands around my thin shoulders and squeezed lightly. “Because you asked, Little Bit, and Papa can’t deny you nothing.”

That’s how I will always remember him: as tall as a giant, chuckling merrily with that raspy, throaty quality that accentuated his many decades on this earth. Piercing blue eyes focused right one me, as if I had something important to say, even at the age of five. And always, always indulging his grand kids. It makes me smile just thinking of him, and the twinkle in his eye as he handed me that apple. I'm so glad that we were able to make it to the festival this year, which brought about this special memory in the first place. Who knows, maybe next year's festival will shake another great memory loose for me, too :)

Do you have traditions that help you to ring in fall? Apple orchards, or football games, or one last s’more around the campfire? Does food ever trigger memories for you like it did for me?

This is actually the very first recipe I ever posted on the blog, but it is so yummy, I decided to share it again so my newer Cake Readers had a chance to try their hand at total awesomeness in the form of apple pie :) The recipe is based on the Perfect Apple Pie recipe at KraftFoods.com – I simply lowered the amount of sugar in the filling, added a pinch to the crust, and used Honeycrisp apples because they are the best EVER (and available by the bushel at the festival, lol)

Glorious Apple Pie

Crust: (and yes, you can just use the premade kind from the store)

2 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

1 cup shortening

1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water

Combine the flour, salt, and sugar, mix. Add shortening, and cut into flour using a pastry knife or two regular knives until mixture resembles coarse, pea-sized crumbs. Add water a little at a time, stirring with a fork until mixture clings together. Taking care not to over mix, divide the dough evenly and shape into 1 inch thick disks, wrap with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.


4 large or 5 medium apples - honeycrisp are my very favorite - Very thinly sliced and cut into small wedges (I use the apple peeler/slicer/corer that I got for $19 at the festival, but which they sell in novelty kitchen supply stores or online)

1/2 cup sugar

1 and 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Combine in bowl, tossing well, set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Pull dough from fridge, sandwich between either 2 large pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and using a rolling pin work until large enough to cover the bottom of a 9 to 9.5 inch pie pan. Peel away to top piece, then invert dough into pan and peel away remaining piece of wrap/paper. Adjust to fit pan without stretching, making sure no air bubbles are trapped at the bottom.

Add apple filling

Work the top piece of dough the same as the bottom piece. Place over filling, crimp bottom and top pieces of dough together, and cut steam vents into the top. For a shiny crust, beat an egg and brush it over the dough, sprinkling with sugar if desired.

Place on a cookie sheet to catch overflow, and place in oven. Bake 45 to 50 minutes

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Still Alive

Hi All

Just a quick note to assure you that yes, I am still alive :) Thanks to Irene, we were without power for three LONG days, and without internet, cable, or phone for almost a week. And no, I'm not sure how we survived, either ;) We headed to the mountains the day after we got internet back, and wouldn't you know it - no internet at the house we stayed.

We returned last night, only to have the power go out AGAIN. Sigh. Luckily, it came back on as we were getting into bed. So, all this is to let you know that I have an more than a few technical difficulties, but that everything is okay. My plan is to have a blog up by Thursday morning. Sorry for the delay - I promise that, with the recipe I have in mind, it will be well worth the wait :) (I did mention that I was at an apple festival, right?)