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Tuesday
Jun242014

Friday I'm In Love...With Cake For Lunch

Cake for lunch!

When was the last time you consciously and lovingly treated yourself to a cake date? 

I did last Friday at lunchtime, like I do every Friday. It's one of my favorite moments of the week: I call it Cake For Lunch Day. I used to refer to it as my "naughty lunch day", but a beautiful reader comment on my facebook page reminded me that no dessert should really be considered naughty. Well, to be completely honest, I don't mind a little naughty in my life--it keeps things interesting. But I can understand how it might be playing into an unhealthy trend to classify dessert as "naughty", so to make it an accessible day for anyone, Cake For Lunch Day it is.

Important note: Friday is not the only day I eat cake or sweets. It's just the official day I have designated for this ritual. I eat something sweet every day!

Cake for lunch is a political act

Frequently, dessert is strongly associated with guilt. All too often, the presentation of a beautiful cake or pie is greeted with a chorus of responses:

"I couldn't", "I shouldn't", "I wouldn't want to spoil my diet!"

So when do we deserve cake? When we reach our "goal" weight? When it's our birthday? When we get the new  job?

Why do we have to wait for "someday"? While it's true that we shouldn't be eating cake all day every day, there is a part of these responses that smacks of sad exclusion: I can't eat cake because I don't deserve it. 

Having suffered from a potpourri of eating disorders in the past, I used to be scared of cake. I still am, sometimes. But this fantastic ritual has given me something sweet that I would like to share. It is a pleasure to eat cake for lunch. But it is also a statement: I deserve pleasure.

The unofficial rules of Cake For Lunch Day

Cake for lunch!

On Friday morning, I eat breakfast as usual. Whatevs. Then I go about my duties for the day.

And then when it's lunch time, I go out on a spying mission for cake. It can be any type of cake I feel like; the only real "rule" is that it has to be made by someone else. Not because I can't bake, but because it's a real treat of a whole different level when someone else makes it. I generally like it to be a nice, fat slice of cake. 

I then come home with my cake, pour a glass of milk, and eat it for lunch. Sometimes I will eat the whole slice, sometimes half and then eat the rest after dinner. Sometmes I will eat 3/4 of it, take a short break, then finish it off with another mini-glass of milk. Usually, I will accompany my cake for lunch with either a beach-type novel or a fresh issue of In Touch Weekly. Is it still a guilty pleasure if I am proudly announcing it?

The positive effects of Cake For Lunch

Cake for lunch!

Some people might be tempted to start in with the naysaying, with statements like "eating cake for lunch isn't healthy!" or "you should really watch carbs during midday" or "is the cake at least gluten-free?". Probably, I am making some nutritionist somewhere scrunch up their nose. Heck, even my formerly anorexic-leaning self wants to start calculating how many calories were in that slice of cake and how little I can eat for the next week to "make up for it".

But I resist all of these voices. Because here's the thing: when the cake is gone, I always have a feeling of supreme happiness. Look at this wonderful thing I just did for myself! Even though the cake is eaten in less than 20 minutes, the experience has ripple effects of happiness that last all day long. These happy ripples make the following happen:

  • I am nicer to people and even to my pug.
  • I don't feel like it's a hassle to hold a door open for someone or let someone into my lane of traffic.
  • I feel calmer, which makes me feel better if I encounter a long line at the post office or see someone pull out a checkbook in the grocery store line.
  • I have just enough of a sugar high that makes me want to turn the radio up and do a little dance.

You can't tell me that these things don't contribute to making the world just a little nicer. 

The best thing about Cake For Lunch Day (aside from the cake)

The best part of Cake For Lunch Day isn't the cake itself. It is the fact that I took the time and energy to be sweet to myself. To give myself something that is in the scheme of things unnecessary, and a thing that sometimes society can deem downright devilish. 

But I am not anorexic or bulimic anymore. I don't have to just dream about cake, or deprive myself then binge on it in such a dissociated way that I don't even stop to taste or enjoy.

Breaking free of an eating disorder means that I am free to treat myself to, eat, and enjoy cake. On the one hand that might seem a a gift I've always had the ability to give myself...but now, I'm willing to receive and enjoy it. Maybe you could, too.

Make your own Cake For Lunch Day

Cake for lunch!

I urge you to make room for a dessert date in your life. If you want, it can be Cake For Lunch Day on Friday, just like me--it's a day good enough to share, and I like the thought of virtually being a lady who lunches with you.

It doesn't have to be a slice of cake--it can be a brownie, or a cookie sandwich, or even a slice of pie. What it does have to be, however, is something that gives you pleasure.

So go ahead, I dare you--no, I invite you--make a date with yourself to enjoy cake. Because we all deserve to enjoy something sweet.

How do you treat yourself (cake-related or otherwise)?

Monday
Jun232014

How to Draw Unicorns

So you want to learn how to draw unicorns. Well, you've come to the right place. I have been a professional illustrator of unicorns since 2007, and have been an appreciator and collector of these magnificent beasts since long before that. What I'm saying is this: I'm pretty much the best person to teach you how to draw them.

I'm not going to twinkle-toe around it, because I want to get straight to the good stuff. And by that, I mean creating magic with pen and paper. So here we go:

How to draw unicorns

No superior work of art ever resulted from a lackluster state of mind. So before you get started, you have to get inspired. There are a few sure-fire ways: surround yourself with unicorns you love, read this post about hipster unicorns, watch Planet Unicorn on youtube, or rent The Last Unicorn

 How to draw unicorns

Now that you're fired up, grab some supplies. I am demonstrating simply using a sharpie with pink construction paper, but you can feel free to use whatever medium makes you happy. I have yet to discover how a tiny naked baby can assist in the unicorn-drawing process, but I am a believer, so I am sure that one day I will learn.

How to draw unicorns

Oooh, ooh, ooh. Now that we're suited up and insprired, it's time to get drawing!

How to draw unicorns

You'll start with the horn. It's easy, really: a thin, tall triangle with stripes for the ridges of the horn.How to draw unicorns

Now, add little ears on the sides of the horn. You want your unicorn to be able to hear the clatter of cupcake tins that means you're getting ready to bake, don't you?

How to draw unicorns

Now, extend the face, adding two little "knobs" on the side for nostrils. You want your unicorn to be able to smell it when you bake cookies, don't you? How to draw unicorns

Now for the biggest and possibly scariest step. Draw a long line which starts at the ear and cascades all the way down in a wave, forming the unicorn's back and the back of its hind leg. Whew! How to draw unicorns

Now, starting at the bottom of the middle of the unicorn's face, draw another line--this is the front leg. How to draw unicorns

In the space between, draw a total of 4 legs. Be sure to add hooves at the bottom, otherwise your unicorn's feet will be too sensitive to prance about. How to draw unicorns

Oh, goody! We've reached what I personally consider the funnest part of drawing a unicorn. How to draw unicorns

Add a mane, both as a little puff of hair in front of the horn and between the ears, and a nice cascade of hair down the back of the neck.

How to draw unicorns

Add a swingy tail, too!

How to draw unicorns

Add two assertive dots for eyes. Finally, your unicorn can see your pretty smile! Now, add two lighter dots below, for the nostrils.

How to draw unicorns

Be sure to add a heart near the unicorn's butt. This is a spot from which it draws power and magical love energy.

How to draw unicorns

Hooray! Now you have a unicorn to be your friend and companion. What will you name it? What kind of adventures will you share?

How to draw unicorns

Enjoy the magic of unicorn art!

Sunday
Jun222014

Chocolate Chip Cookie Milk Shooters

Forget Algebra. THIS is a skill which will serve you well for the rest of your life: how to transform chocolate chip cookies into little cups that you can fill with milk. Here's a tutorial and recipe.

Sunday
Jun222014

Tips for Creating Beautiful Painted Illustrations

When it comes to illustration painting techniques, the sky is the limit. In fact, there are so many ways to tell your story in painted images that it can just about make your head spin. But we can help you manage the creative madness. Get ready to prep, sketch and paint: Here are the must-know techniques for amazing painted illustrations! Check out the full post here.

Friday
Jun202014

Baker's Dozen: A Batch of Sweet Links!

Inspired by Jameson FinkLattice entertain you: how to make an easy yet impressive lattice crust.

AMAZING: cinnamon rolls stuffed with chocolate chip cookie dough.

FYI: you don't need an ice cream maker to make ice cream at home.

Who says these limes are only for pie? Key lime white chocolate cookies.

Baltimore versus the Big Apple: look to the cookie(s).

Definitely love this: apple pie tacos.

Ever heard of "Trench Cake"? An old timey wartime treat.

Why drink one color of tea when you can have several in one cup? Thai iced tea. 

Seriously love: German chocolate banana bread

Pop-rocks cookies. Perfect for your upcoming 4th of July celebration!

What are cake stamps and impression molds, and how do you make cake decorating magic with them?

Interesting read: what it's like to be the chief baking officer at Magnolia Bakery.

For those who love drawing as well as sweets: Tips for making your pen and ink illustrations super sweet.

Book of the week: The Harvey House Cookbook: Memories of Dining Along the Santa Fe Railroad. Have you ever heard of Harvey Houses? This book details the fascinating story of self-starter Fred Harvey, who literally changed the way the West ate. Many of the recipes from his establishments have remained favorites. This book beautifully melds history with food, which in my opinion is a very winning combination. I can't put it down!

Thursday
Jun192014

Cool DIY Project: How to Make Permanent Marker Mugs

Permanent marker mug

You probably shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet, but usually I do.

So when I came across a tutorial that told me that I could draw on a plain ceramic mug with permanent marker, pop it in the oven for a spell, and when it came out the ink would be baked in, I believed it enough to grab the closest sharpie. My friend, a unicorn named Creampuff, was eager to jump in and help.

Permanent marker mug

By the way, as an aside, if you're wondering how Creampuff got her name, it had to do with this incident:

But I digress. Back to the mugs. Before, this one was plain and boring. Permanent marker mug

So together we drew all over the mug, then popped it in the oven for a while.

When it came out, it was too hot to touch, but after a half hour or so it had cooled. Lo and behold, that ink wasn't going anywhere! (For best results, hand wash). So I'm comfortable passing on this sweet trick I learned from the internet, to you, dear readers!

Permanent marker mug

How to DIY Mugs Using a Sharpie and Not Much Else

Supplies

  • Plain ceramic mugs (colored or white is fine)
  • A baking tray (we used a pie plate)
  • Sharpies

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. While the oven preheats, get artistic. I had help from a unicorn, who whispered clever sayings in my ear, but you do the best you can if you don't have a unicorn around. Try not to smear anything--it's somewhat tough on the curved surface!
  3. Permanent marker mug
  4. Place the mug in the center of a baking sheet or pie plate and put in the preheated oven.
  5. Permanent marker mug
  6. "Bake" for 30 minutes. Remove the tray gently. Even though this looks like a mug that you want to touch, DO NOT. It is very hot. I know this sounds dumb but you just wait. You will be tempted to touch it.
  7. Once its' cooled, use as you normally would.Permanent marker mugSo far, mine has proven dishwasher and sink-washing safe. 

UPDATE: After four washings in the dish washer, the pen started to fade off. So for best results, hand wash.

As for the easter paper behind the mug in the pictures? What can I say, the unicorn chose it. They think it should always be jelly bean season. 

Thursday
Jun192014

Desserts That You Should Try During Your Sharm El Sheikh Vacation

Desserts That You Should Try During Your Sharm El Sheikh Vacation

If you're looking for a vacation where you can relax in perfect weather, while indulging your taste for good food, one place stands out. Sharm El Sheikh holidays are perfect if you like to soak up the sun, relax in a beach setting, enjoy sumptuous meals and delectable desserts, and basically enjoy your summer break. It has everything you could want.


 
Egyptian food includes influences from several countries such as Syria, Turkey, the Lebanon, Greece and France. Some desserts have a lot in common with similar dishes in the Levant, but the Egyptian ones have developed a little differently. They use natural ingredients, but have a high sugar content - but, then, you're on holiday, so why not?


 
Egyptian Sweet Couscous Dessert
 
You're probably familiar with couscous, even if you've never travelled to the Middle East or North Africa, but have you tried it in a dessert? Use this opportunity to get acquainted with the sweet variety. Expect to taste almonds and pistachios, rose water and fruit juice, butter, cinnamon, and of course, sugar. It will come to you garnished with fruit, candy-coated almonds (kufeta) and pomegranate seeds. Drink it with a glass of cold milk, or a small cup of Arabic coffee.
 
Ataif (Arab Filled Pancakes)
 
If you have a fondness for pancakes, try these! Stuffed with sweetened chopped walnuts, flavoured with cinnamon, and soaked in a sweet syrup of rose water and lemon juice, they are delicious hot or cold.
 
Ancient Egyptian Date Candy
 
Don't worry, this isn't a dish that's past its sell-by date, but one that dates from a time when dates, figs,pomegranates and grapes were all that could be grown in the heat - that would have been around 1600 BC. The current recipe was found on an ostraca, or piece of pottery. The sweets are formed from a mixture of dates, cinnamon, kardemon seeds, and ground walnuts. Each one is covered with warm honey and ground almonds.
 
Umm Ali (Egyptian Bread and Butter Pudding)
 
Also spelt as Omm Ali, which means Mother of Ali, this is nothing like the traditional Western version. A concoction of crumbled pastry, cream-enriched custard, chopped nuts, raisins and egg, it's served with more cream, and sprinkled with cinnamon.
 
Egyptian desserts will definitely tickle your taste buds and stimulate your sweet tooth, for this reason you shouldn’t forget to visit the top-notch cafes and restaurants when your Sharm El Sheikh pushes through. This is one of the best things that you can do!

Thursday
Jun192014

How to Make Ice Cream Without an Ice Cream Maker

You heard that right. You don't need an ice cream maker to make ice cream at all! It comes out creamy and delicious. Here's how to make ice cream at home without an ice cream maker!

Wednesday
Jun182014

Tips for Making Your Pen and Ink Illustrations Sparkle

Now, most of you know me through my writing about sweets. But as it turns out, I have valuable thoughts on illustration and art methodology as well! Check out this post with 7 stellar tips for making your pen and ink work sparkle.

Sunday
Jun152014

How to Make Any Chocolate Chip Cookie Better

Choco-belly chocolate chip cookies

When is the last time you thought about the bottom of your chocolate chip cookie?

People have debated for years, decades, close to a century about how to make already-good chocolate chip cookies even better. Toast the nuts. Don't toast the nuts. Forgo the nuts entirely. Rest the dough. Add more brown sugar.

While well-intentioned, I humbly have to submit that this is the easiest, least controversial, and most taste-pleasing to make your cookies better: coat the bottoms of the cookies with chocolate.

Choco-belly chocolate chip cookies

Say what?

I know. But it is truly the gateway to chocolate delight. 

Choco-belly chocolate chip cookies

You see, the brilliance behind this method is that from the top, it looks like just an everyday chocolate chip cookie, but then when you bite into it, you're greeted with a delightful taste surprise. If you ask me, it tastes even better because there is the aspect of joy of discovery: you bite into a cookie expecting, you know, awesome chocolate chip cookie, and then--OMIGOD! It is so chocolatey that your head may be tempted to spin. 

Choco-belly chocolate chip cookies

It's an easy method to employ in your baking, and between you and me, it could be used for cookies other than chocolate chip. Some cookies such as chocolate dipped macaroons or sugar cookies are thinking along similar lines, but they lack the ninja-like stealth of the choco-bottom in terms of delightful taste surprise. 

I've elected to call these cookies "Choco-belly chocolate chip cookies" because indeed, this method of preparing cookies does take the oft-overlooked underbelly of the cookie and raise it to a thing of celebrated beauty.

So how do you do it?

I could be totally snarky and tell you "simply melt chocolate and brush or spread it on the bottom of your cookies", but I won't do that, because I want to share the cookie recipe, which is quite good, too. It makes a nice cookie: crispy on the edges, chewy on the inside. I liked 'em. DO listen to the chilling part of the recipe, because if you don't your cookies will spread considerably.

So here goes. Prepare your taste buds for a deliciously wild ride. 

Choco-belly chocolate chip cookies

Choco-belly chocolate chip cookies

adapted from a chocolate chip cookies recipe on Craftsy

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, some coarsely and some quite finely chopped
  • 2 cups chocolate morsels, divided

Step 1:

Cream the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in both the brown and white sugar and mix to combine. Stir in the egg and egg yolk, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Stir in the vanilla.

Step 3:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking soda and pecans. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet until just combined. Fold in 1 cup of the chocolate chips.

Choco-belly chocolate chip cookies

Step 5:

Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.

Step 6:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove dough from the fridge and scoop onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes and remove from the oven. Cookies will look slightly underdone, but will continue baking on the hot cookie sheet. Once cooled, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Choco-belly chocolate chip cookies

Step 7:

Once cooled, melt the remaining chocolate in the top of a double boiler.

Step 8:

Brush or spread a layer of chocolate (fairly thin, but enough to be opaque) on the bottoms of the cookies. Place them back on the wire rack, bottoms up. Let them cool until the chocolate has set. 

Choco-belly chocolate chip cookies

Enjoy. Like you needed to be told.

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