Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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And Cake! / Blog

Finished! And cake.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I finished the first rough draft of KERI yesterday. Right on time!

Woo hoo!

Of course, next comes revision: I have 25 little notes to myself about revisions I need to make. That’s before I send it to Caitlin and get her no-doubt-extensive comments back and do the next round of revision. Hopefully there will be little to do with it after that; always nice when your editor likes your ms. as-is.

My simplest note is: remember Tassel is tall.

My more complicated notes are, you know, complicated.

Anyway, just by chance, I had just made this cheesecake, so I had an appropriate celebratory food on hand. This is my very favorite no-bake summer cheesecake. In the summer, I make it without a crust and spoon the filling into little dessert dishes. Thus, no need to turn on the oven!

Chocolate Marshmallow Cheesecake

1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp) unflavored gelatin
1/4 C cold water
2 8-oz pkg cream cheese, softened
3/4 C sugar
1/3 C cocoa
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 C whipping cream, whipped
2 C mini marshmallows

Put the gelatin in a little pan and add the water. Heat on low to dissolve the gelatin.

Meanwhile, beat the softened cream cheese with the sugar and cocoa. Then beat in the gelatin mixture and vanilla. Then fold in the whipped cream. Then fold in the marshmallows. Poof, you’re done. Spoon into dessert dishes and chill before serving. You can sprinkle a few more marshmallows on top if you care about presentation (I didn’t this time).

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And Cake! / Blog

Raspberry truffle brownies

I was kind of going to do a low-carb thing over May, and then I thought maybe June, and now it is pretty clear that isn’t going to happen. Because I keep deciding I just have to have sugar, preferably with cream cheese somewhere in the recipe as well. And chocolate, of course. Besides, there was a potluck, so I had to make something! I made these, which are a big favorite for my mother as well as for me. I’ve seen this recipe in Taste of Home, but it’s a pretty common recipe so I don’t know where it came from originally. But good job, whoever made these brownies first!

Raspberry Truffle Brownies

1/2 C butter
1 1/4 C chocolate chips
2 eggs
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1 tsp instant coffee granules
2 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 C all-purpose flour

1 C chocolate chips
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 C powdered sugar
1/3 C seedless raspberry jam

Bar white chocolate, for garnish

Okay, melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave, stirring occasionally. Stir until smooth and set aside to cool slightly. Beat the eggs and brown sugar; dissolve the coffee granules in the water and add to the egg mixture. Beat in the melted chocolate. Whisk the baking powder into the flour and add to the egg mixture.

Pour batter into a greased 9″ square baking dish (line the pan with foil and grease foil for easiest cutting) and bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes, until a toothpick an inch from the center comes out clean. I overbake this recipe from time to time and if you do that, the brownies will be dry. So I’d suggest testing early and often. This is why I give such a large range of baking times.

Melt the chocolate chips with the cream cheese in the microwave. Stir until smooth. Beat in the powdered sugar and raspberry jam. Spread over mostly cool brownies and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before slicing.

To me, these brownies are tasty but plain-looking. You can spruce up the appearance easily by taking a white chocolate bar and a vegetable peeler. Just hold the chocolate bar over the brownies and peel off shavings and curls. You’ll get bigger, smoother curls on a hot day and little shavings on a cold day, but either way the white chocolate will greatly enhance the look of lots of chocolate desserts, including these brownies.

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And Cake!

A craving for cheesecake

I haven’t been baking a lot lately, but I suddenly developed this terrible NEED for cheesecake, you know how it is. So I made this:

White Chocolate – Coconut Cheesecake

1 crumb crust (I just combine 1 1/2 C or so of very fine vanilla wafer crumbs and enough butter to make it stick together, say about 5 Tbsp)
5 pkg cream cheese (the 8-oz size, of course)
1 C sugar
1 1/2 C white chocolate chips or white chocolate bars, broken up, melted, and cooled slightly. I used Ghirardelli bars, I think.
4 eggs
3/4 C coconut milk (shake the can hard before you open it.
2 tsp coconut extract
1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 C flaked coconut, toasted.

Make the crust, press into a 10-inch Springform pan, and bake at 350 for ten minutes. While the oven is hot, toast the coconut. It will only take about two or three minutes to toast the coconut. Plan to stir once in the middle.

Soften the cream cheese in the microwave. Add the sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the white chocolate. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the coconut milk and extracts. Stir in half the toasted coconut. Pour into prepared crust. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, turn the heat down to 300 degrees, rotate the cheesecake (assuming your oven does not heat quite evenly), and bake another 15-20 minutes, until it looks set but still jiggles slightly in the center when you gently shake the pan.

Cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife along the edge to loosen the cheesecake from the rim, but do not remove the rim. Cool, then place in the fridge over night (or for at least six hours; if you make the cheesecake early in the morning, it will certainly be ready by dinnertime.

Sprinkle with the rest of the coconut before serving.

Now, if I were making this again, I would be SO TEMPTED to remove a cup or more of the batter, stir in melted dark chocolate, and swirl it in to the white chocolate base. But I didn’t this time around. Next time, though. And if I did that, btw, I’d also make a chocolate crumb crust, which is just the same only you add 1/4 C of cocoa powder and 1/4 C of powdered sugar to the crumbs when making the crust.

Anyway, this was a good cheesecake, just as easy as any other cheesecake, so if you don’t have a springform pan, you should totally pick one up and start making your own cheesecakes. Wonderful for potlucks, too.

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And Cake!

Suddenly summer

And the garden is abruptly in full swing. You know how it is, if you’re lucky: those first tomatoes dropping warm and velvety into your hand, the prick as you forget about the spines on an eggplant, the taste of a green bean right out there in the garden. I always find myself moving toward vegetarian cooking at this time of year, just trying to keep up!

I’m trying to think of everything I’ve made in the past week or so. There was the potato-pea-carrot curry in coconut milk, that was good. You know how you can make potato pancakes? You can make veggie pancakes, too, with shredded potatoes, zucchini, carrots, green onions, and (if you’re me) a generous spoonful of hot chili paste with mustard seeds. Those were good. I have a lot of Thai chilies, so I need to find the recipe for that chili paste again.

Green beans are excellent just cooked crisp-tender and drizzled with sesame oil and sprinkled with sea salt. I only use sea salt for very plain preparations; in other words, not that often. But it makes a real difference for something like this.

Let’s see.

Jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese, wrapped with bacon, and baked. Those are great. I haven’t made them yet, but I have a lot of jalapenos I need to use, so maybe tomorrow. Cauliflower soup with artichokes and bacon. I didn’t grow the cauliflower, cauliflower is a pain. I got it from a guy at the farmer’s market, who was selling these beautiful heads. I didn’t grow the artichokes, either. Or, for that matter, the bacon.

On the other hand, I did grow the lovely pink eggplant I used to make eggplant with spicy tomato sauce. Also the tomatoes. This year I’m growing almost no kinds of tomatoes but Principe Borghese and Old Brooks. Those varieties are extraordinarily resistant to cracking and catfacing, which is a quality I put right behind flavor and way ahead of color or shape.

I have exactly one zucchini plant. It’s doing a little better than seems strictly required. The whole-wheat zucchini chocolate chip bread I made was good, but you know what turned out to be actually fabulous? The zucchini coconut muffins. These are, not to put too fine a point on it, the best zucchini quick bread I’ve ever made.

If you, too, love coconut, and if you either grow zucchini or expect a friend or neighbor to force zucchini upon you, then you might want to try this recipe.

Zucchini-Coconut Muffins

2 eggs
1/3 C honey
½ C vegetable oil
1/3 C brown sugar
½ tsp coconut extract
1 C all-purpose flour
1 C white whole wheat flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
8 oz grated zucchini (about one small-medium; if it takes a third of one zucchini, then you know you let the zucchini get way too big before you picked it). There is no need to squeeze the zucchini dry after grating it; you actually want the moisture in the batter.
4 oz shredded sweetened coconut

Combine the eggs, honey, oil, brown sugar and coconut extract in a large bowl. Beat or whisk to combine. Combine the flour, white whole wheat flour, ginger, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a smaller bowl. Add to the sugar mixture and stir until partly combined. Add the zucchini and coconut and stir until pretty well combined; the batter will be a bit lumpy, especially with the zucchini in it.

Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. Don’t worry if they are pretty full. The muffins rise some, but not so much that they will be a problem.

Bake at 350 degrees for 24-32 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean and the tops are a shade of golden-brown that pleases you. Cool the whole pan on a rack for eight minutes, then gently lift out the muffins. I only had one muffin rip in half out of 24, so they’re not too hard to handle.

Okay, as a bonus, and because these zucchini muffins are very good but not the very best quickbread I’ve made this year:

King Arthur’s Flour’s Broonie

This recipe is from the King Arthur’s Flour WHOLE GRAIN BAKING. I made it almost like the recipe says, and it is just wonderful. It is like an oatmeal muffin crossed with gingerbread, and I don’t know if that sounds good to you, but trust me, it is great.

1 ½ C old-fashioned rolled oats
1 C barley flour — which I have handy, but if you don’t, you could probably substitute white whole wheat flour or whatever you have.
1 C all-purpose flour
½ C brown sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda – which the recipe didn’t call for, but with buttermilk, it seemed like a good idea.
1 ½ tsp ground ginger – I used a generous 2 tsp
½ tsp salt
½ C butter
3 eggs
1 C buttermilk
¼ C molasses
½ C diced crystallized ginger

Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter, in pieces, and pulse to cut in. (The recipe suggests a pastry cutter, which is fine, and I have a very nice pastry cutter, but there’s no question that cutting butter into flour is much, much easier with a food processor.)

Whisk or beat together the eggs, buttermilk, and molasses. Pour in the flour-butter mixture and stir until evenly moistened. Stir in the crystallized ginger.

Pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool eight minutes on a rack. Turn out of pan and cool completely. King Arthur’s Flour recommends that you cool this bread, wrap it well, and slice it the next day. Good for you if you have enough self-control to wait! I promise you, it is excellent sliced while still slightly warm.

Enjoy!

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And Cake!

I’m sick and tired of this no-carb diet

And anyway, I had a potluck to attend. I wanted to make Maggie Stiefvater’s November Cakes, trying out my idea about using more orange extract, but I didn’t have any cream with which to make the caramel glaze, so instead I made these brownies.

Of course there is nothing unusual about cheesecake-layered brownies, but this particular recipe is very good and very reliable, and I invite you all to try them next time you have a party to attend.

Filling:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 C sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
4 Tbsp flour

Brownies:
2 1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 C. (1 stick) butter
3/4 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 C sugar

Beat together filling ingredients and set aside.

Melt chocolate and butter in microwave, stir until smooth, set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt.

Beat eggs, vanilla, and sugar until smooth. Beat in chocolate mixture. Beat in flour mixture, on low speed. Spread slightly less than half the batter in a greased 8 x 8 pan. Spread filling over bottom layer of brownies. Dollop rest of brownie batter over filling and spread out until it more or less covers the filling. You do not have to achieve perfect coverage when doing this.

Bake at 350 degrees (340 degrees for a glass pan) for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool the brownies in the pan. Cool completely before slicing, if you have sufficient self control. I have to say that slicing off a little taste before the brownies are completely cool doesn’t seem to have any negative effects on the brownies, but they are easiest to slice if chilled. Because of the cheesecake layer, they should be chilled to store, if they last that long.

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And Cake!

November cakes

Do you remember the November cakes from Maggie Stiefvater’s SCORPIO RACES?

Well, if you’re food-focused like me and really wanted to try a November cake, here is Maggie’s recipe, and here are a zillion pictures of the November cakes her readers made.

Think of them as cinnamon rolls, only made with a touch of orange rather than cinnamon. Me, I like the look of that recipe, but I think I will add 1/4 tsp orange extract to the glaze as well as the filling. and the icing. And maybe the dough, too. I mean, if you’re going to have a hint of orange, why not a very definite hint?

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And Cake! / Blog

Archon . . . plus a Cavalier party

It was quite a weekend! Ending up with my catching a virus or something, so sorry for the delay, but I was a bit out of it for a couple days.

Okay, so, First the Archon report.

I really enjoyed it! Well, that’s a given, of course. I do wonder if attendance was down this year, though. The halls and dealer’s room and art show seemed as crowded as ever, but the panels and readings were rather sparsely attended – all the panels and readings, as far as I could tell. Virtually no attendees came to the readings. I mean, *I* went to one set of readings, because Gilman (of “The Ice Owl” fame) was going to be there, and Brian Katcher (Almost Perfect, which I loved), and Mark Tiedemann, whom I know. And I was glad I went. Attendees who didn’t go missed out. All the readings were good and Brian Katcher’s, from a book that won’t be out till 2015, was really good and very funny. I hope he remembers to remind me when it’s out. I definitely want a copy.

At my own reading, I actually just read a brief selection from ISLANDS because nobody there had read it, so why not? But I was slightly disappointed, after preparing and timing a selection from BLACK DOG.

Now, on Friday, I was on a panel that discussed the importance of editing your work. I wasn’t supposed to be on that panel, but I walked in and Mark Tiedemann immediately invited me to join the panel, which was really nice since I’d almost always rather be on the panel than in the audience. So we talked about “big” editing and the importance of your agent / editor / beta reader when you get to the stage where you can’t tell whether your finished book is any good or not. I think we all agreed that you do indeed get to that stage! Writing groups came up and of course I said vehemently that I hate ‘em and would never join one, and Mark said how they can turn into round-robin ego support groups and how useless that is. But he did suggest that maybe beginning writers might benefit from joining a writer’s group for six months and then quitting while it was still helpful. He went to Clarion, and he found that helpful. And some of the other panelists did like writer’s groups – they must be more social than I am (not hard).

But we *all* agreed that line editing is important and can’t be too strict and that “all right” is TWO WORDS. TWO. WORDS.

So, anyway! I totally hadn’t realized that on Saturday I was scheduled for three back-to-back panels, from 11:00 AM straight through to 2:30 PM. Whoa. That was crazy. Next year I will be careful not to let that happen.

The first was the one on Alien Manners. One of the other panelists really stressed the biological underpinnings of behavior, and that was a great point, and I suggested looking at Octavia Butler’s Oankali series, which starts with DAWN, to see an alien species whose instincts are nonhuman. I’ve always wondered whether Butler actually realized that she’d set up a species whose primary difference from humans is that they, unlike humans, can’t override their instincts?

I love the topic of behavior and instinct, but the topic of manners isn’t exactly the same thing, right? I absolutely recommended Cherryh’s Foreigner series and warned the attendees that they should expect the entire first book to be an intro, because I know the slow start can turn off readers. And I suggested that when you’re creating an alien species, or a nonhuman fantasy species, that it needs to be exotic enough to seem nonhuman, yet familiar enough to modern American sensibilities to appeal to readers. Which is actually something my brother pointed out about Gillian Bradshaw’s historical novels, that Bradshaw captures the exotic feel of classical Greece and Rome, but tones down the brutality of those societies so that modern readers can be comfortable reading her books. And of course a historical novel can be just like a fantasy in that the society you’re working in has to be, or at least should be, different from modern American society.

And an attendee asked about creating a star-spanning civilization containing lots of species and how would you handle that? And one of my co-panelists started talking about how, realistically, fear and the necessity of self-preservation in the face of the alien would be such a constraint on that kind of society. And I said, Well, yes, but if you want to write book with that kind of setting, who cares whether it’s realistic? It just needs to be well-written. You just wave your hands and declare that you DO have that kind of civilization, and then you write the story you want to write. I said story telling is the goal and used Tanya Huff’s military SF Valor series as an example, because it’s just like that. It’s such a good series that nobody’s going to fret about how much sense it makes, or doesn’t make.

Then I ran to the other end of the convention center, not quite knocking anybody flying, and arrived, panting, for the panel on writing for YA readers. There was only one other panelist, and he turned out not to write SFF, and I’m afraid he wasn’t a very assertive panelist, and I did try not to totally take over the panel, but I’m afraid with rather limited success. Of course this is a common panel topic. We talked about pacing and the need for tight plotting and how the YA protagonists have to drive the story and how they need to be operating “under the radar” and evading adult control. And I said that agent Kristen Nelson’s (of Pub Rants) opinion is that in YA, the protagonist has to take the first irrevocable steps out of childhood and into adulthood, because I think that might be true and I know it’s one helpful thing to think about when writing YA. It was a good panel, I think, even if I did wind up dominating the panel maybe too much. Sorry, co-panelist! The audience was good. People asked a lot of good questions.

Then I rushed *back* to the other end of the convention center and did the writing workshop. I really wished I could tell the participants that I loved their novel fragments and thought that they were just this close to publication, but of course I couldn’t. We talked about beginning your novel and I explained, for example, how saying “the young man” or “the petite woman” as description had the effect of pushing the reader away from the protagonist, because the pov protagonist would never think of himself (or herself) in those terms, see? So you fall out of their point of view the minute you do that. So even a seemingly tiny phrase like that counts as “telling rather than showing” and is in fact a worse problem than all kinds of “telling” that might at first glance seem much more extreme. And I handed out all those novel beginnings I typed up earlier. I was really glad I’d taken plenty of time to think about the strengths and weaknesses of the fragments way in advance.

Then I staggered off on a quest to find lunch. At three. I never miss meals. I’m surprised I didn’t faint on the way.

Then, fortified, I went to the dealer’s room and bought – let’s see here – I have a list – right, here we go: Traitor’s Gate by Kate Elliot, Mad Ship and Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb (now I need the first book in that trilogy), Forest Mage by Robin Hobb (I see now it is the second book of a series), Labyrinth by Kate Moss, Heart of Light by Sarah A Hoyt, Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi, and Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynn Jones. I got most of those used because it turns out that Glen Cook may be closing up shop as a book dealer, so he had a lot of books available for half price or a dollar apiece or whatever. I think my TBR pile is back up in the region of seventy books or so again.

The last thing for me on Saturday was the dog panel, and it had been moved so that it was opposite the masquerade, unfortunately. So I and the other panelists chatted with the tiny number of attendees who came to the panel and told stories about our dogs and every now and then we gave a nod to the official topic, which was of course the role of dogs in SFF. We didn’t do more than make vague gestures toward that topic, though. I’ll just say here, though, that to me some of the best “real dogs” in SFF are Ash in Robin McKinley’s Deerskin; the Cardigan Welsh Corgi in Duranna Durgin’s A Feral Darkness; and the pekes in Barbara Hambly’s Bride of the Rat God, which is a great book, btw, and has that campy title for a very good reason, and you should all go find a copy. Pekingese are far from my favorite breed, but Hambly makes me love hers. Though, admittedly, they are actually just “mostly real dogs”, as in the course of the book, we find out that pekes were really bred to hunt demons.

And in the “humanized dog” category? My favorites are Sirius in Diana Wynne Jones’ Dogsbody, and the dogs in Dodie Smith’s novel 101 Dalmations (yes, really).

Then, on Sunday? Well, on Sunday, there was the very important Cavalier Halloween party, so you see why I couldn’t be at Archon on Sunday! Naturally, I had to go home Saturday night, get up early Sunday, bathe dogs, make my special entry for the Halloween-themed potluck, load all my dogs up (five at the moment), and drive back to St Louis in time to set up the obstacle course and help organize the entry forms for all the contests. Very important!

I set up a half-rally / half obstacle course. Tunnels and jumps and a figure eight around distractions and stuff. Lots of people entered in the novice category. I swear I hadn’t shown the obstacles to my girls ahead of time, but in fact my Giedre won the novice category. And Pippa won the pro category, which was just for dogs who already have performance titles. Somebody else won “best trick” – deservedly, I should add, she’d taught her dog all kinds of tricks. My friend Deb won “cutest puppy” – that’s mostly dependent on age, since the younger the puppy, the more likely it is to win. The costume contest was great, and there was a tie – both entries in owner-dog duo costumes were great. One woman dressed as Princess Leia and dressed her dog up as Yoda!

So, to wind all this up: Here’s my entry for best Halloween-themed potluck item – not sure whether to call it a cookie or a pie or a cake! It is a giant cake-type chocolate-chip cookie, spread with nutella and sprinkled with chopped twix candy bars, gummy worms, and candy corns. Then I arranged chocolate cookie mice around the rim. I expected to win this category, and I did, by a satisfying landslide.

In case you happen to want to try this, here is the recipe:

Giant Chocolate-Chip Cookie:

This makes a nice, cakey, soft chocolate-chip cookie, which is perfect for this recipe.

¼ C shortening
¼ C sugar
½ C brown sugar
1 egg
½ C evaporated milk
½ tsp vanilla
1 ¼ C plus 2 Tbsp Flour
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
3 oz (1/2 C) chocolate chips
½ C nutella
A dozen gummy worms
A small handful candy corns
About eight fun-sized twix candy bars, cut into thirds

Beat the shortening, sugar, and brown sugar. Beat in egg. Beat in evaporated milk and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and beat in on low. Spray a pizza pan with cooking spray and spread cookie batter onto pan. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30-35 minutes, until golden-brown and a toothpick in the center comes out clean (if you hit a chocolate chip, it won’t come out clean, so poke it again if you think it’s done; it probably is). Let rest on rack until mostly cool. Spread with nutella and sprinkle with other toppings, leaving space around the rim for the mice.

Chocolate mice

2/3 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 C coarsely chopped crumbs from crushed chocolate wafer cookies or chocolate animal crackers – I suggest a food processor for this job.
½ C very fine crumbs from those cookies, sifted out when you crush the cookies.
1/3 C sour cream
Candy sequins, for eyes – look in the baking aisle with the decorating supplies.
3 strips chocolate licorice, for tails – I can’t find string licorice, but you can cut normal licorice into very fine lengths for tails.
Sliced almonds, for ears

Melt chocolate. Stir in coarse crumbs. Stir in sour cream. Roll into a dozen or so rough balls. Then take each piece and roll into a smooth ball, then shape into a fat torpedo shape with a pointy end for the nose and a rounded end for the tail. Place the sequins in the right spots for eyes. Roll the mouse in the fine crumbs. Stick a toothpick in the round end to make a hole and insert the tails. Find a couple of matching almond slices and insert them for ears. Set the finished mice in place around the rim of the cookie. Prepare to enjoy your guests’ expressions when you bite a mouse in half – it’s not like they look *that* real, and yet they kind of do.

The mice are best a day or so after making them, so that the crumbs have time to soften and the whole thing melds into a fudgy whole. Because of the sour cream, it’s probably best to refrigerate the mice to store. They’re not only strangely cute, but quite tasty, so you might not have to worry about that for very long!

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And Cake! / Blog

And for Father’s Day —

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear I made a cake! Since my Dad has a sweet tooth, this was a no-brainer thing to do.

I was in a mood to experiment, so I made this possibly somewhat odd cake:

Chocolate Mayonnaise Layer Cake

I admit I also made this because I accidentally opened a jar of mayonnaise when I already had one open. They were both big jars and it takes me a loooong time to go through a jar of mayonnaise, so this cake was a way to speed up the process.

The cake wasn’t at all bad. Decent chocolately taste and a nice moist crumb. I present it here in case you also find yourself needing to find room for two open jars of mayonnaise in the fridge. Or, for that matter, out of butter, since that plus a couple eggs is what the mayonnaise is replacing.

2 oz semisweet chocolate
2/3 C cocoa
1 3/4 C boiling water
2 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 C dark brown sugar (or actually I used light brown, not like it makes any difference)
1 C sugar
1 1/3 C mayonnaise (I would not expect results to be as good using low-fat or fat-free; I used Helman’s regular mayonnaise)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Frosting of your choice — since this was my Dad, I used a chocolate peanut butter frosting that I figured he would like, and since it was Father’s Day, I dusted stars over the frosted cake with gold dust. But use whatever you like.

So, the cake:

Combine the chocolate and cocoa and pour over the boiling water; whisk until smooth.

Combine dry ingredients.

Beat together the sugars and mayonnaise — beat for 3 minutes. Then beat in the eggs one at a time. Then add the dry ingredients 1/4 at a time, alternately with thirds of the chocolate mixture.

Line three eight-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Or I used 2 nine-inch cake pans plus one giant cupcake dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-32 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let cakes cool ten minutes, turn out onto racks, and cool completely. Assemble, frost with whatever frosting you decided to use. In case you also like peanut butter, here is a good chocolate-peanut-butter frosting, good for a father with a sweet tooth:

8 oz semisweet chocolate
3/4 C peanut butter
1 C heavy cream
1 C powdered sugar

Heat the cream and pour over the chocolate and peanut butter; whisk until smooth. Whisk in the powdered sugar, more or less a cup or to taste. Frost cake; chill to set frosting; use your handy star decal to dust gold dust stars over cake, and serve to general acclaim.

Also! In case you’re keeping track of my progress in other realms, possibly more relevant to you as readers . . . I have now cut SIXTY SEVEN pages from my WIP, dropping its current length back to a mere 154 pages. Ouch!

But! A) I like the 154 pages I have now quite a lot better than I liked the 221 I had before , and B) Some of the cut pages are simply going to move to a new home in a later chapter, so that cut wasn’t as extreme as it seems.

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And Cake! / Blog

100 pages! Plus, cake.

So, yesterday? I reached the 100 page mark! As in, 100 pages written — the actual WIP was 53 pp when I picked it up on May 16th and reached 158 pp yesterday. Go, me!

Plus, the proportion of the plot that is still a mystery is shrinking. A few days ago I had about 2/3 of the plot, but now I would say it’s more like 9/10. Of course, the tenth that I don’t have? That is kind of the crucial “And then the good guys win after all by . . .”

The good guys are just reaching the part where things will start going totally wrong. They’re going to do something sensible, which will work but produce unexpected (and very bad) side effects, after which they will do something else sensible which won’t be sufficient (I know what that is), after which they will find out JUST how much trouble they are really in and do something to pull their chestnuts out of the fire (I have no idea about that).

Plus, this WIP is YA, so what’s really going on is that the adults in the story are doing sensible things that ought to work, but won’t. The kids will then save the day, but not because the adults are stupid or clueless. I hate stupid adults in YA.

I’m expecting to hit pretty close to 200 pp or the halfway mark by June 4th, which is when the summer session starts and I will suddenly lose four or five hours a day. Which I’m not complaining; part-time jobs are fabulous! I don’t know how anybody gets anything done when they also have a full-time job.

Anyway, at that point I’ll undoubtedly slow down, but I don’t want to stop. I want this book finished by the time school starts in the fall (late August). Then I’ll go through and cut — I always overshoot any reasonable page limit — and take a break and then look at it again to see if it seems to flow. And then cut again, I expect, and finally send it to my agent. So that’s the plan.

Meanwhile!

I got moderately stuck last night, and you know what I did? Well, I stopped of course, to let things work themselves out in the back of my head (they did, everything sorted itself out and I figured out the whole next chapter or maybe two chapters when I woke up this morning but before the alarm went off, which is my best thinking time. So that’s all good.

But what’s really important here is, last night I finally started watching the Battlestar Galactica DVDs I’ve had sitting on a shelf for, like, years and years. (How long ago did that come out?) I have the initial miniseries and the first couple of seasons after that and I figure a tv show will be less distracting than reading fiction. I hope.

Didn’t I read a warning on some blog way long ago that B G jumps the shark someplace in the middle? I wonder if I should be planning to get the other seasons? Anybody got an opinion on that one?

Anyway, I’m at the part where it looks like Apollo got blown up. I’m pretty sure he is actually still alive, but it was well past my normal bedtime and the dogs don’t let me oversleep, so I went to bed. So I don’t know how he and the new Madam President — I like her, btw, a great combo of hesitancy and decisiveness — are going to have survived what looks like a ground zero nuke.

And what’s with that human-woman-cylon? She sort of seems like a ghost, what’s with that? Is that idiot who hacked her into the defense net hallucinating or what? My guess is “or what”. Don’t tell me, btw. Those are rhetorical questions. I like the whole “God told me to do it” thing. What, the cylons are all into religion? Because what a neat idea, if so.

Okay! Also having time to cook, of course, because you can’t work on your laptop 24/7. At least, I can’t. And now that the upstairs (main floor) is all clean, I find it hard to bother with the downstairs. The spring cleaning is suffering from an out-of-sight-out-of-mind thing. Though I have almost another week to finish, so there’s a pretty good chance I will get to it. Or most of it.

But anyway, I like baking a lot more than dusting, and I had this extra 8 oz of sour cream that needed to get used up, so I made this cake:

Double-Ginger Bundt Cake

This recipe is from the April 2009 issue of Bon Appetit, in case you want to track down the original, which involves ginger-infused strawberries, which I didn’t make.

1/2 C raw (Demerara) sugar
2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
4 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda (my addition, the recipe didn’t call for it, but hello, we’re putting in sour cream? So of course baking soda is an expected ingredient and I don’t know why it wasn’t in there.)
1/2 tsp salt
1 C butter, room temp (I always microwave it for a few seconds because I never remember to take it out of the fridge beforehand. No, it is not okay to melt it, that will really change the texture of baked goods, so be sure you pay attention and just soften it.)
2 C sugar
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla (I used 1 tsp of double-strength vanilla, but that’s just me.)
1 C sour cream
1 C crystallized ginger, chopped (which if you don’t have a handy supply, I will tell you how to make.)
Ginger syrup (my addition, so it’s optional, but you automatically have it on hand if you make your own crystallized ginger, so why not?)

Butter or spray the Bundt pan. Put in the raw sugar and swish it around to generously coat the pan.

Whisk together the dry ingredients.

Beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat two to five minutes (longer is better if you’re using a handheld mixer.)

Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla.

Add a third of the flour, then half the sour cream, and repeat until you’ve added all the flour and sour cream.

The batter will be stiff. Spoon it into the pan, trying not to dislodge the sugar more than strictly necessary.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with a few small crumbs attached. Cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. Turn out onto a cake plate.

Now, when I made this cake, I didn’t put enough Demerara sugar in the pan, and the cake didn’t come out as glittery and pretty as the picture showed. So I brushed the cake with ginger syrup and then sprinkled more raw sugar over it, and that worked fine. So that’s an option to keep in mind.

This cake is really good, with a creamy crumb and a surprisingly crisp crust (from the raw sugar in the pan). I wasn’t sure how people who aren’t gingerophilic would feel about this cake, but the people I offered it to for a taste test (the staff at my vet clinic — believe me, we’re on a first-name basis) liked it a lot. So did I, but with all that ginger, that goes without saying.

Crystallized Ginger and Ginger Syrup

14 oz fresh ginger root
3 1/2 C water
3 1/2 C sugar, plus additional sugar
A candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer

Peel and slice the ginger into pieces that are . . . oh . . . about an eighth to as much as a fourth of an inch thick, and up to three inches long or so, which means you can slice the root lengthwise and make fewer but larger slices, which will make your life easier later.

Stir the sugar into the water. Add the ginger. Bring to a boil. Boil gently until the mixture reaches 220 degrees. This will take at least one and a quarter hours and actually for me it always seems to take nearly an hour and a half. I know this seems unbelievable, but I am not kidding. The temp rises fairly fast to begin with, but those last five degrees just take FOREVER. The ginger syrup will be thin but usable if you get it to a mere 216 degrees, but I want it thicker, so I sit there with a book for the last bit, checking the thermometer periodically.

If you do this without a thermometer, then plan to boil the ginger (fairly gently) for an hour and twenty-five minutes, and I expect that will work, but watch the syrup like a hawk for the last fifteen minutes and get it off the burner the instant you see it starting to show the least trace of color. If you caramelize the sugar, you’ll have made ginger brittle, which is perfectly edible but not the plan.

Let the ginger cool in the syrup just to make everything easier to handle. Strain the ginger slices out of the syrup. Store the syrup in a glass jar in the fridge. It’ll last for a good long time, possibly until the heat death of the universe, so don’t worry about it going bad if you shove it to the back and forget it for a while. However, it doesn’t last that long for me. It packs a powerful ginger kick and it’s really good on lots of things. I like it with yogurt and bananas. Or drizzled over ginger pancakes. Whatever.

Meanwhile, lay the ginger slices out in a single layer on a wire rack. (This is why it’s easier to make larger slices.) Let the slices air dry for a while. Toss them in sugar. Let them dry on the rack overnight. Store in an airtight container. I personally store crystallized ginger in the fridge because I once had a batch mold, which was really disappointing. It’ll get harder and drier with time, but there’s no great rush to use it up. Although making the above cake twice would probably do it if you were worried about that.

So . . . there you go.

Incidentally, I just realized that not only do I have ordinary powdered dried ginger and crystallized ginger and ginger syrup on hand, but also fresh ginger; frozen ginger; pickled ginger; and ginger peeled, sliced thin, and preserved in sake (by far my favorite way to preserve ginger, you use it identically to fresh (you can use sherry or vodka or whatever instead of sake (the alcohol does not seem to contribute anything to the taste of the ginger))).

But I honestly think you’ll love this cake even if you’re not the ginger fiend I am.

Okay! Back to REAL writing now.

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And Cake! / Blog

Puppy pics! And cake!

Puppy G made it up onto her feet this weekend! Woo hoo!

I was actually a bit concerned about this because the puppy was about a week late to start walking. One does expect a puppy to make it up EVENTUALLY unless she is a “swimmer”, which is a problem way different from (and much worse, and often confused with) just being too heavy. MY puppy was fine, only fat fat fat and lacking in hind-leg strength.

I did two things to help Puppy G get up:

1) Used a terry cloth surface to give her better traction than the smooth absorbent pads I usually use in the whelping box and placed rolled-up towels under the surface to give her hills and valleys to crawl over so she would build muscle strength in her hind legs, and

2) Every single time I noticed Kenya going into the box to nurse, I would let the puppy start nursing and then move her the full length of the whelping box and make her crawl back to her mom. My policy was: if you are not hungry enough to crawl back over there, you are not hungry. After all, getting a little less to eat would only be a plus for this puppy!

And it worked! She was up at three weeks and two days, just about exactly what I’ve seen before for heavy singleton puppies. If she hadn’t been up by Sunday, I was going to start swimming her in a tub of warm water to help her exercise those legs, but it wasn’t necessary, so I am happy.

This is Puppy G at one day! She weighed 4.25 oz.

This is Puppy G yesterday! She weighted 2 lbs 8.0 oz.

Quite a difference, huh? The limbs are so pink in the just-born picture because she was too premature to have a full coat. In fact, it’s amazing she had so much hair and such dark pigment. She doesn’t look like a full-term puppy, but closer than she had any right to.

And those stuffed animals she has in the box with her now are her “siblings”. She likes the lion toy best. She is active enough to spend ten minutes or so at a time playing, so I try to make the lion toy “play with her” several times a day. It even nips back, but only very gently. Soon Puppy G will be steady enough to really benefit from playing with Folly (four months old) and Dara (two years and my very best and gentlest babysitter).

I’m thinking of naming this puppy Anara Give Me A Break for her show name, btw, and the name I like the best for a call name? It’s Lithuanian — Giedre. Pronounced GYEH-dray. I think I could learn to say that (“Giedre! Come!” it sounds all right) and doesn’t the word look neat? Unusual and distinctive. Plus, the semi-famous Giedre right now is a Lithaunian model (I found out while goggling pronunciation). Naming a show dog after a model is perfectly reasonable.

I celebrated the puppy walking by baking a cake! (Seriously — I promised myself I would try out this keen new recipe the day the puppy got up on her feet).

This started as a Moss Rose Cake and I didn’t make very many changes. (You know, I always thought I followed recipes until I started posting some? And I was just wrong, because actually I almost never follow the recipe all the way through. It took me by surprise.)

Anyway, the cake!

(Mostly) Moss Rose Cake

This is a sponge cake, not a butter cake. If you do it right, you’ll get a light, airy cake that sort of seems like a cross between a normal cake and an angel food cake. The original Moss Rose cake uses almond extract, but since you’re using a coconut-orange filling? I thought it made sense to use coconut and orange extracts instead. Also! Please notice that you need to put the filling ingredients together ahead of time!

Filling:

3 C sweetened flaked coconut
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
4 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp sugar

Cake:

4 eggs
2 C sugar
1 C hot milk — I actually used almond milk because I had some that needed to get used up, and it worked just fine, but I wouldn’t actually suggest it or anything. Just FYI.
1/4 C vegetable oil
2 C cake flour
2 tsp baking powder — which not all sponge cakes use, but it does help guarantee lift
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp coconut extract — I would use 1/2 if I did it again
1/4 tsp orange extract — I would keep this at 1/4

Frosting:

1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C water
2 egg whites
1/4 tsp coconut extract
1/4 tsp orange extract

Combine the filling ingredients and chill overnight.

Now, beat the eggs until frothy. Beat in the sugar and beat until thick, like four minutes or so. Combine the milk and oil and have that ready. Combine the dry ingredients and have that ready. Beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture. Beat in half the milk mixture. Repeat, ending with the last third of the flour mixture. Beat in extracts. Pour into 3 8″ or 2 9″ cake pans (it’s best to line them with circles of parchment paper and spray the circles with baking spray). Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, a bit less if you’re using the larger cake pans. I took them out when a tester came out of the center with a few moist crumbs stuck to it, and that was perfect.

Let the cakes cool ten minutes and turn out onto racks. Peel off the parchment. Cool.

Make the frosting: Mom commented that this is like seven-minute frosting. What it reminded me of was making marshmallows. It’s VERY sweet, and obviously you won’t need it all if you’re making a two-layer cake, but I didn’t want to deal with cutting the amount down (how do you cut the recipe by a third when you’re using two eggs?), so I made the full amount. Anyway!

Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan to 240 degrees. While you wait, beat the egg whites just until frothy. When the syrup is hot enough, pour it into the egg whites in a thin stream while beating on medium speed. Then beat on high until quite stiff peaks form. I didn’t beat it quite long enough and the frosting showed a distinct tendency to ooze gently down the sides of the cake, so don’t get bored and quit early. I bet it’ll take at least eight to ten minutes to beat it till stiff. When you think you’ve beaten it enough, beat in the extracts.

Assemble the cake: Put the first layer on a platter and spread with frosting. Sprinkle with about a cup of the filling. Repeat, so there will be coconut-orange filling on the top of the cake. Frost the sides of the cake. I chilled the cake to help set the frosting and make it easier to slice the cake, but I don’t know that you’d need to. Like all cakes, it’s better eaten at room temp rather than cold.

The frosting is getting a little crackly crust in places after being stored overnight in the fridge, so I don’t know, you might want to make this when there’s enough people around to eat basically the whole thing the same day it was made. People with a serious sweet tooth could also help you take care of any extra frosting you might have! It’s a little over the top for me!

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