Sally in the Zen

Confessions of a Befuddled Zen Buddhist

Food, Fun, Family and CAKE

When I visited my brother and sister-in-law last week in New Jersey, I came during a night they were in the middle of baking a vanilla cake. 

A three-layer vanilla cake.

This one, actually.  I witnessed the two-person tag team that made up of David and Evelyn.  David is the baker, while Evelyn is the decorator and designer of the cake. 

I was there to watch David whip up the batches of cake.  I wasn’t there on the day that Evelyn took over and put it together.  I would have loved to watch that part. 

David and Evelyn, if you guys need a taste taster, I’ll do it. 

It’s gotta be done.

It’s a tough job, but I’m willing to do it.

Their portfolio of cakes are many, and quite cute!  Like the one of Evelyn’s niece.

Or the David cake. 

It’s somewhat disturbing to see David cutting into his David Cake.

Or is it just me?

But the “cake” that made me do a double-take is Evelyn’s R2D2 cake.

It’s actually styrofoam underneath the fondant, not an actually cake cake.  This is Evelyn’s prototype, just to see if she could do it.

And yes she did!

Food, fun, family and CAKE!

What a lovely combination.

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New and Untried

Going to new places and trying new things, especially food, is always a plus in my book.  I’m not above chain restaurants, most especially when I’ve never tasted their fares.

Try most things once, I always say.

So, continuing on my exciting adventure into the new and untried, while at Weehawken, NJ, I dined out with a couple of companions at Houlihan’s

I’ve had stuffed mushrooms and I’ve had stuffed mushrooms, but the ‘Shrooms


Description from their menu:  

Jumbo mushroom caps stuffed with herb and garlic cream cheese, coated in distinctly crunch panko bread crumbs and crisp-fried.  Served with creamy horseradish sauce.

My verdict:  O.  M.  G.

Seconds and thirds and fourths, please!

And the Fried Calamari?

CRUNCHY and quite tasty!

 My companions ordered tasty looking meals.  Like Scallops and Risotto.

Steak and Shrimp with Fries.

And for myself, the Grilled Rosemary Chicken.  Quite tasty!

The overall dining experience was really enjoyable.  Although the weather outside was freezing, inside the restaurant I was warm, munching good food and laughing with new companions.

What a lovely night.

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The Pages in my Hands

What do I normally do in between my reading recipes and food stories?

Why, read mysteries, of course!  Isn’t that obvious?

I just finished The Aurora Teagarden Mystery series by Charlaine Harris

I first stumbled across Charlaine when I discovered the Sookie Stackhouse series in the library.  Then I followed the True Blood series on television.

I love all her stories.

Out of her Lily Bard series, I have Shakespeare’s Counselor left to read. 

Whenever I come across good reads, whether food blogs or hard copy books, I tend to become a loyal reader. 

But books…sometimes I just need to feel the pages in my hands.

I love books.

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Third Times the Charm

Loyal readers are aware that I am still looking for the recipe for a tasty lemon cake, determined to finally fulfill Zen Mum’s one birthday wish that she had this year

It certainly wasn’t due to my lack of trying.

I’m in the middle of reading the archives for the Amateur Gourmet, and I came across his one post for the Barefoot Contessa.  He’s a fun read and in his post, he raves about her recipes.  Lo and behold, there’s one for a lemon cake.

So I rushed out to the library and checked out three of her cookbooks:  Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, Ina Garten Barefoot Contessa Parties! and this one.

Between these three cookbooks, I chose the Lemon Yogurt Cake from Barefoot Contessa at Home

The recipe called for 2 tablespoons of lemon zest and 1/3 cup of lemon juice, both of which coming from 2 whole lemons. 

Let me just say that zesting lemons has the same appeal to me as doing abs exercises. 


If it isn’t for the fact that both are absolutely essential in the final outcome, say, my hot looking abs, or in this case, a tasty lip-smacking cake, I wouldn’t even waste my time.

And yes, that little dark spot in my lemon syrup is a lemon seed. 

Which then is poured over this finished and cooled cake.  Yes, that little hole in the middle of the cake is where I used a chopstick to poke for doneness.

Finally, when the lemon syrup is absorbed into the cake, this lemon glaze is next.

By this time, the zesting and juicing of the lemons are a distant memory. 

Is my quest for a tasty, moist lemon cake over?  Have I finally, finally found something that Zen Mum will drool over and inhale?  Will her birthday wish finally be satisfied?!

Zen Master takes a bite and shakes his bald head.  “Mmm, this is better than the last one.”  He says, before turning beet red when the lemon flavor smacks him in the face.  He puckers like he really just sucked a lemon.

Zen Mum nibbles and munches on her piece.  “Yup, this is good.”  And she sits back in her chair and glows happily.


Yummy!  Third times the charm!  Finally!

Yea me!

Because I’m kinda lemon-caked-out right about now.

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Better Late than Never

So after I finished preaching to Zen Master and Zen Mum on the values of healthier eating and portion controls, I decided to put my money where my mouth was, and practice what I preached.

And made guacamole

Avocados are good for the heart, of course. 

Did you know that the Aztecs made and enjoyed guacamole as early as the 16th century?  

Yup, I knew that.

And I’ve been making guacamole since…um…now.

Better late than never, I always say.

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If you haven’t been following this week’s postings, here’s a synopsis:

Made lemon cake.  Trashed it.

Made another lemon cake.  Turned out okay.

Also made our favorite banana bread.  Which I didn’t talk about this week because I’ve already posted about it earlier.

Actual conversation that happened the very next day after these beauties were made.

Zen Mum:  Did you bring some for your friend?

Me:  Of course I did.

Zen Mum:  I’m just asking because Zen Master and I know how you’re a cheapskate and don’t like to share.


Zen Mum:  Actually I didn’t say that.  Zen Master did.  But it’s true, you know.  You are a cheapskate.

Of all people, Zen Master and Zen Mum should know better than anyone!

Don’t they know that it is so not IN THE ZEN to call me a cheapskate?

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Operator Error – Part 2

When I first started thinking about doing a blog, I Googled and discovered that there are many different types of bloggers. 

Of course there are food bloggers, blogging about food.  I kinda consider myself a food blogger, definitely a wannabe, but at the very least, I’m a life blogger.  I blog about family and life.

But did you know that there is a life logger blogger?

This type of blogger blogs about all the things that happened throughout the day.  In very minute detail. 


8:00 AM:  Got out of bed.

8:05 AM:  Turned over on my right side.

8:06 AM:  Yawned.

9:45 AM:  I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth.

Anyway, my point is that while on my quest for a tasty lemon cake recipe, I came across one from a life logger.  Unfortunately I didn’t write down her blog name.  And strangely enough, I tried Googling her and her recipe, and I still can’t find her.  It was something about ordinary life or everyday living.  And she’s from England and is definitely my first life logger that I’ve come across.

But I don’t remember the name of her blog!  And it wasn’t on her recipe.

Her recipe is called Luscious Lemon Cake

And using it, here is my second attempt at making a lemon cake for Zen Mum.

Verdict?  Zen Master said “Not good, not bad.”  Zen Mum just shrugged.

It’s tasty, but dry.  At least it didn’t stick to the roof of my mouth, like the other lemon cake recipe we tried.

This recipe said to bake for 40-45 minutes until firm.  I stuck it in the oven for 45 minutes but I think it’s over-baked anyway.  But I found that on the next day, it became a bit moist and more lemony-tasting.  It wasn’t that bad.

Because I like the flavor, this recipe is good for a second chance.  Next time.

But it’s back to square one.

My quest for the ultimate lemon cake recipe continues.

Note:  if and when I finally find that author and her blog, I will put her information here because it’s her recipe and she deserves the credit.

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Food Blogger Wannabe

I love food; hence, I surf food blogs.  I’m a food blogger wannabe.

Whenever I come across a new food blog, the first thing I usually do is read a couple of posts.  And if my interest is piqued, then I would go to the About section to “meet” the blogger(s). 

And then I begin reading the blog from its inception.  I hate reading stories backwards.  It’s kinda like reading the ending of an interesting book first, which is a complete spoiler to me. 

So I go to the Archives and read away.

I just finished A Cozy Kitchen.  I love Caroline and Adrianna, and their recipes.  Just this past weekend, I was inspired to try my hand in making my very first pizza, using their pizza dough recipe to make my very first pizza margherita.

But let me first admit that…yeast scares me.  There, I said it. 

Hi, my name is Sally and I’m afraid of yeast.

When I was younger, I tried making homemade bread and it didn’t rise. 

That poor bread was hard as a rock.  And it scarred me for life. 

But I made up my mind to get back on that horse.  Yeast will not defeat me!  My bread will rise!

So what did I get when I mixed the yeasty wet stuff with the dry stuff?

My first pizza dough!  WOO HOO!

Zen Mum couldn’t wrap her head around the recipe asking for only tomatoes scattered on the pizza.  We didn’t use the canned tomato that was called for.  Instead we used fresh ones, blanching it to remove the skin.  Because it was still in chunky pieces, Zen Mum went and threw garlic and parsley into the mix.  At the last moment, I threw the entire mess into the food processor to smooth it out just for the heck of it.

After some time, the pizza dough did rise!  I was so excited that I started throwing everything together.  And I neglected to take a picture of the risen dough! 

Yeast, you are so not the boss of me!  You’re FIRED!

The original recipe called for just tomatoes, basil, olive oil and mozzarella cheese.  We took it a step further and made it a fully loaded pizza.  We tossed in Italian sausage, black olives, basil, green peppers, baby bella mushrooms and lots of mozzarella cheese. 

Verdict?  Not too bad.  I needed to eat three pieces just to be sure.

Zen Mum and Zen Master were impressed with my first attempt at making pizza.  But we all agreed that I needed more practice; homemade pizza is really an art that needs repetition.  Lots and lots of it.

And roasted tomatoes.

Next assignment:  I’ve started reading the archives of The Amateur Gourmet.  Let’s see what other tasty treats come my way to try.

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