Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Fresh Strawberry Cake for a Springtime Birthday Dinner

Our granddaughter (or "Grand angel" as Paul calls her) asked for a strawberry cake and filet mignon for her birthday. Oh boy! I got to set a pretty pink table and use my pretty "new" flea market dishes, along with my old family pieces!

The footed iced tea glasses, in the Mayfair pattern, are heirlooms: they belonged to Big Grandmother - my great-grandmother, Mema's mother. I inherited her pink depression glass, mostly in the Cherry Blossom pattern - the cake plate is one of those pieces.

The plates are a recent find, with hand-painted wild roses in pink with green leaves. They look very much like Franciscan's Desert Rose. They were made by Villeroy and Bach, a good brand, but they were quite dirty from having been packed in newspaper and so were priced very cheap. A good scrub with my glass cooktop cleaner (I use Ceramabrite - it's basically a polishing glass wax) took the stains right off.


My table is oval, and it is impossible to find tablecloths in that shape, so I end up using oblong ones. This vintage damask linen is one of the few oval table cloths I have. The pink is such a pretty shade.

Paul cooked a lovely meal: filet mignon, baked potato, our own asparagus with a saffron sauce. For starters, he made a hot chicken dip that she'd also requested - one of her mother's recipes. It was yummy, and I'll share the recipe for that another time.

Here's the recipe for the cake - it got raves all around and has a lovely fresh taste. Keeps so well in the refigerator. It is one I will make again: nice and cool for a summer barbeque, and it is best if made in advance. That's important for me: things I can make up the night before, to save time and fit my schedule.

Pretty & Pink Fresh Strawberry Cake


1 boxed yellow cake mix
3 tablespoons flour
1 small box strawberry gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
3 1/2 cups of strawberries (a one pound carton)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 8 ounce package cream cheese
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour three round cake pans.

Pour the water into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let it sit to dissolve.

Wash the berries. Pick out 5 or 6 pretty strawberries for garnish and set them aside. Hull the rest of them. Take another cup full of whole, hulled berries and set them aside - they will be sliced for the layers later.

Take one cup of strawberries and chop finely. Add them to the mixing bowl with gelatin, and beat on high for a couple of minutes, then add the remaining ingredients: cake mix, flour, eggs, oil. Beat at medium speed for 5 minutes.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in the pans 5 or 10 minutes, then turn out and complete cooling on wire racks.

Chop one cup of strawberries finely and sprinkle with sugar in a small bowl. Let them sit a few minutes to draw excess liquid out, then drain them.

Whip the cream and set aside. Cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar and the drained, chopped strawberries until light and fluffy then add the whipped cream. If necessary, add more powdered sugar until the frosting holds peaks. Refrigerate the frosting until you are ready to ice the cake.

Slice the rest of the strawberries (except the ones to be used for garnish - leave them aside for now) into very thin slices.

When layers are cool, place one on a cake plate. Spread frosting on top evenly to the edges. Arrange half of your thinly sliced strawberries all over the top of this layer, then put the next cake layer on top of that and repeat, using the rest of the thinly sliced berries on this layer.

Top with the 3rd layer and frost the top and sides thickly with the frosting.

Do not garnish until right before serving, as the juice from cut berries will drip down the sides of the cake. To avoid this, you could garnish with a single whole berry in the center.

When ready to serve, add the strawberries for garnish - in this photo, Paul showed me how to fan the center one by leaving the hull on, and slicing through from bottom to top, leaving the slices attached at the hull end, then twist slightly to fan it out. The other berries were simply cut in half and arranged around it.

Store this cake in the refrigerator and serve chilled. It keeps beautifully and is best made a day or two before.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Dinner In A Jar-O

Our Bunko group meets once a month, each of us taking turns hosting. We have a meal that has evolved from pot luck into whatever the hostess wishes to feed us. Our hostess for March served up Dinner-in-a-jar AND dessert-in-a-jar. Cute, cute, cute, cute, cute!!!!

She called this one a "Barbeque Sundae": layered beans, cole slaw, and pulled pork topped with barbeque sauce and a pickle spear, and served with corn chips and garlic toast. Oh and don't forget the red onion! Assembly-line construction and the pint sized Mason jars were all ready to pick up and carry to our table. It was sooooo good!!!!

When we stopped for dessert, she pulled Peach Cobbler In A Jar out of the oven. This was built and baked in half-pint jars and believe it or not, there were no leftovers! Not a soul plead their diet and passed it up. Imagine that? ;-)

Just use your favorite recipe, divide equally into your jars, and bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool down for 10 to 15 minutes before serving - with whipped cream or a melon-ball sized scoop of ice cream.

This is a great way to serve a large number of people without using disposables or having to acquire a bunch of dishes or store specialty buffet ware. Most of us have empty canning jars whilst we are between seasons and waiting for the pears or peppers to get ripe enough to put up. The possibilities are endless: Taco Salad in a jar, Frito Pie in a jar, Chicken Pot Pie in a jar.... yummmmmm!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Irish Soda Bread for St Patrick's Day

Feels like old times this week: all the grandchildren (all four are young teens or tweens) are here for Spring Break. They are having a great time doing all the old fashioned things that kids will do if given the opportunity: swinging in the porch swing, helping with yard work, finding lizards, skateboarding, walking up to the school to run (and meet their friends), playing scrabble after supper, staying up too late and being too loud and sleeping til noon.

So what if they have smart phones in hand on the porch - that doesn't stop them laughing with delight as they swing back and forth.  They took pictures with their iPod of the lizard they found, but they still moved all the firewood to a new platform first. They googled the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary and figured out words - but they still asked to play again the next night on our 30 year old "Deluxe" turntable board. Some things they do a little differently, but much has not changed at all. We do not need to worry about our upcoming generation: the kids are alright.

With them all here for St Patrick's Day, I thought it would be fun to have a "traditional Irish Breakfast", so we had a sweet Irish Soda Bread toasted and slathered with butter (they LOVED it), canadian bacon, fried eggs (3 of them wanted runny yolks!), tomatoes, "white sausage" (we used scrapple - not quite the same I know but all I could arrange for in a pinch, so close enough), and nice hot tea with cream and sugar. They also LOVED the tea - and wanted to know if we can have it again later today.  Sure - we'll have hot tea tonight with our St Paddy's Day Baked Potato Feast (all the toppings, including taco meat, bacon, cheese, crutons.... etc etc and everyone builds their own).

Here's the recipe for a moist, sweet version of Irish Soda Bread that has raisins and caraway seed in it. It is easy and quick to put together, but it has to bake for more than an hour, so take that into consideration.

Sweet Irish Soda Bread

4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
15 ounce box of raisins(about 2 1/2 cups)
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
8 ounce package of sour cream (about 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use shortening to generously grease a 9" round baking pan or cast iron skillet. I used Thelma's old biscuit pan - Paul said he remembers her using this his whole life. I hope every family has an heirloom biscuit pan, cornbread pan or comal that still can make us feel warm and happy when we use it just like our mom or grandmother did.

Plump the raisins by pouring one cup of boiling water over them and letting them set til cool, then drain.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and caraway seeds in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and sour cream. Stir the liquid mixture into flour mixture and add the raisins. Mix it just until all the flour is moistened. Do not over-work this dough - it should be soft and sticky.

Pour the dough in the prepared pan. It's going to be homely looking.  Dust with a bit of flour, then use a sharp knife to slash a cross into the top, about an inch or two deep.

Bake for one hour and 5 minutes - a little longer if you think it needs it. Turn out of the pan onto a wire rack to cool.  Serve warm, cold or toasted, with soft butter.

Not one kid thought the caraway was odd (although Paul did) - they all have eaten several pieces of it.  Definitely a keeper, and I am going to make another loaf to take to our Church's small group meeting tomorrow.

Update: Thanks to Pat @ SIGIS for the link! :-)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Heart Shaped Leaves of Spring

Spring is my favorite time of year. The whole world shows the promise of new life. It's a joy to walk outside each morning and see what has changed since the day before: the dawn breaks earlier, new birds sing, the peach tree blooms....

This vase is filled with heart-shaped wild flowers: Shepherd's Purse seed pods are heart shaped, and the budding leaves of the Redbud Tree are nature's valentines.

I know it is sappy, but everything really is beautiful, "robed in the blooming garb of Spring."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thirty Pieces of Silver

President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius have set the value of human life at $1.00, and in the process, they have set the value of the US Dollar at 30 pieces of silver.

Congress passed this horrible bill over the citizens' objections, but at least they insisted on clauses to require that abortion coverage NOT be paid for by anyone other than people who wanted abortions.

President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius have now declared that they will instead require merely a token $1 premium for these abortion policies. 

They have chosen to claim to obey the letter of the law while thumbing their noses at the spirit of it, and in disdain of all  people who believe - for scientific reasons as well as religious, moral or ethical reasons - that abortion is the deliberate taking of human life.

Read the rest at Political Junkie Mom's blog, and others.

I am a Christian, I am an American, I am a mother and a grandmother. I don't see how I can buy the insurance this law says we have to buy. I will pay the penalty - the Religion Tax - if necessary, but I cannot participate in this.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Today's "Verse of the Day" is worth remembering in this election year:

Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;” Deuteronomy 7:9 

We benefit from the faith of those who went before us.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranchette....

....Normal Life goes on for the authorette at Pecan Corner. 

Our tiny rural town has never had a sewer system - everyone used septic tanks. Until now, when we are all being connected to the new waste water treatment facility. YAY!!!  We had been told when we bought our house that we'd have sewer "by next summer". Although we weren't having any problems, the two septic tanks have been inconvenient in that there are things we wanted to do with our yard that had to wait for this municiple project to be completed first.

We are nearly there. Our house has been connected to the sewer system and soon they will return to remediate the old septic tanks. A wooden deck (that existed to protect the top of one septic tank) and a large unusable rock patio have been removed. Couple those with the loss of most of our lawn last summer to "Saint Augustine Decline (SAD)" disease, the loss of other plants to the drought, and we have an opportunity to remake our backyard landscape.

Our yard is already wildlife friendly, and we have a lot of native plants (the photo of the butterfly on a wild coreopsis is from 2009). Many birds of various species come here: cardinals nest here every year, and
woodpeckers, wrens, mockingbirds, dove, hummingbirds, swallows, jays, and others come to visit, get a drink, or have a bite to eat. Squirrels chase each other around, lizards and geckos dart here and there, butterflies and other beneficial insects do their thing.

We also have vegetable garden plots in our back yard, and these need to be maintained because the fencing keeps the deer from coming in and eating up all the Swiss Chard. Paul has gotten more excited about growing our own food, and made the wise recommendation that we put our limited space and energy into raising things that either are not available in the stores (like Swiss Chard or Delicata squash), or are too expensive to buy fresh when out of season (like bell peppers at a dollar apiece!).

Fresh flowers in the house are one of my joys in life, and I am eager to create a cutting garden as well as plant more things that bloom at various times of year. A four-season garden in Texas is not only possible, but, as we have seen in the difference between this lovely temperate winter and last winter's frigid cold, almost a necessity.

Texas has some great resources to help with planning urban and rural landscapes for the animals around us, and one such is the Texas Wildscapes Interactive Habitat Planning DVD. Produced by Texas Parks and Wildlife, the full title is actually "Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife, An Interactive Guide to Creating Vibrant and Beautiful Wildlife Habitat". It is well worth the $5.00 to order it (the $5.00 covers costs of copying and mailing) and you can share it or make copies freely so long as it's not sold. While it is designed mostly for people with acreage, there's a lot that is useful to homeowners in town.

For great native landscaping ideas, next time you are in Austin (isn't everyone in Austin once in a while?), by all means, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It's in South Austin, easy to get to, and a nice way to spend a free afternoon or a couple of hours between meetings (or have a walking meeting - what better way to get to know your coworkers?).  From micro habitats to birdseye views, from stately trees to bonsai, the grounds are beautiful, the sculpture is whimsical, and there's nearly always something blooming.

The center also hosts internet resources, such as the Native Plant Database. The How-To articles are full of good ideas, and step-by-step guides even include craft projects such as homemade paper and seed balls, as well as how to prune a tree and propagate cactus.

The National Wilflife Federation also has a certified habitat program that can provide lots of help and encouragement to enhance wildlife opportunities through food, water and shelter. Even a tiny yard or a balcony can become an oasis.

I don't know that we will want to "certify" our yard - this is our home. We will put our own happiness first, and local conditions in nature are never the same from one place to the next. If I want to let the little seedling  mimosa tree on the south side of the house continue to grow, I won't worry about whether it is native, naturalized or "invasive": it's here already, it came up by itself, mimosas are true to the history of my house, and it won't hurt anything.

New landscaping will be a lot of work, but we are excited to be starting on the project so that we can enjoy the outdoors more right outside our own door.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Will Someone Please Start A Courageous Conservative Companies List?

 Surely there are companies out there that make their decisions based on actual hard results, instead of caving to the lone nutter planting signs outside their door?

Surely there are companies out there that use actual customer acquisition and retention data to determine where to spend their advertising budgets, instead of trusting the skewed numbers claimed by their naive and progressive young marketing managers?

Surely there are companies out there that have the integrity to refuse to change their business model to acommodate imaginary bullies (and yes, all loud leftist twitter campaigns are imaginary) ?

Surely there are companies out there that understand what REAL statistics say about the conservative majority vs the obnoxious but numerically insignificant left?

Surely there are companies out there that understand the differences between genuine public relations issues and media tantrums - and how to take mature measures to diffuse both without abandoning their principles?

There are opportunities for companies with mature leadership that make rational and effective decisions.  A very large, well-funded, independent-thinking customer base is looking for products and services provided by companies that support traditional American values, the Constitution, Patriotism, Marriage, Private Property, Self-Reliance, LIFE, Freedom of Religion, and frankly, that make rational decisions instead of running scared every time a Stepford organization starts copying and pasting its talking points.

So, like it says in the title: Would someone please start a Courageous Conservative Companies list?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

To Those Companies That Bullied Rush Limbaugh

Dear Citrix Systems Inc., Carbonite, ProFlowers, Quicken Loans, Sleep Train, and Sleep Number, and any others who made calls against Rush Limbaugh's Freedom of Speech:

I appreciate the public relations issues that caused you to decide to pull your advertising from the Rush Limbaugh show in order to coerce an apology from him for stating his response to statements made by a 30 year old woman named Sandra Fluke, who spoke voluntarily about her sex life in front of the United States Congress, and thus invited all media personalities to weigh in and discuss those matters.

I can appreciate that you exercised your own freedom of choice to decide not to fund Rush Limbaugh's show in which he criticized a woman who wants to force you to pay for her preferred, expensive, non-essential, elective birth control method.

I can appreciate that your companies have the freedom to determine for yourselves where you will spend your advertising dollars, and I hope you will continue to have that freedom for as long as your companies exist.

I'm sure you will also appreciate my exercise of freedom of choice when I politely say it's nothing personal (and I don't even listen to or watch Rush), but I will never spend a single dime for any product your companies produce - not even years from now. The older I get, the better my long term memory will become and I will not relent, even when it's a moot point.

I'm sure your CEOs and other executives will also totally understand when I quietly stop buying from their next companies as well - I'll simply change brands with no fanfare or announcement, so they won't notice at all, I am sure. I'm sure that the people who, unlike me, still support the Susan G Komen Foundation  will make up the difference.

 It will be quite civilized, nice and polite. I'll still smile and say "hello" should we chance to meet in passing.

I'm sure your people will all understand that its simply "the right thing to do" in response to your deliberate failure and refusal to demand that same freedom for others.

3/5: Thanks to Pat @ SIGIS for the link in her Not-Quite-Full-Metal-Jacket post!

3/6: Thanks to Miss Quite Rightly for noting in the comments that Go To Meeting is another company that does not want our business.     Also, I see a report that AOL Inc and an artist we used to think of as Peter Gabriel have added their own names voluntarily to the pile.   Plus, don't miss the list with a call to action to "Rally for Rush" over at Doug Ross @ Journal.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"A rich child often sits in a poor mothers lap."

"The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn't been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him."  Pablo Casals

Are you pregnant? Thanks be to God! Congratulations! You are working with God to bring a miracle to our world: a new person, whose life will be a blessing to you and to all around him.

Don't believe anyone who tries to tell you that you cannot afford to let your baby be born, and live. YES, YOU CAN.

Don't believe anyone who tries to tell you that you aren't able to fulfill your own dreams and have a good life if you have your baby. YES, YOU ARE.

Don't believe anyone who tells you "you can't" when it comes to your baby. YES, YOU CAN.

Don't believe anyone who tells you "you can't be in" if you have a baby. YES YOU CAN. 

Abortion or "the morning after pill" or "a procedure" is not a choice you want to make. Don't allow your mother or aunt or grandmother or teacher or doctor to force you into it.  If you need someone to stand with you and give you courage, here are some good people who will help you:

Project Cuddle1-888-628-3353

Physicians For Life page of resources


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