Vintage Cakes: Cassata Cake


According to Vintage Cakes, this cake was brought to America at the turn of the 20th century from Sicily and has flourished in Ohio. This version is a vanilla cream cake with ricotta-cream frosting, orange zest, chocolate shavings, and blueberries. The blueberries were supposed to be strawberries, but it must have been very cold in California this spring, because strawberries were not to be found.

I didn’t love this particular flavor combination, but I knew that going in.  It was a good cake, otherwise.

Hot tip: use your double timer to your advantage

One of the annoying factors of baking cookies is having to turn the cookies halfway through the baking time. If I’m using the oven timer I have to remember to reset the timer. It’s not unusual for me to forget this, usually on the last round of cookies.

However!  I now have this timer that can have three different times running on it, and it occurred to me that I could set the top timer for half time and the second timer for the full time and then start them both at the same time. Then, as I’m rotating the cookies, that second timer just keeps counting down. Brilliant!

Spiraling is fun

I won a drawing and the prize was a $50 Visa gift card. I spent it on a spiralizer and my goodness, but that is a fun, superfluous kitchen item.

I’ve made pasta from scratch before, and it’s a so-so endeavor. The pasta wants to break a lot as you are rolling it out, and my memories of it are that it doesn’t taste as good as dried pasta.

But vegetables?  They don’t break!  If the surface being spiralized is big enough, the strands just keep getting longer. It’s very satisfying.

Enchilada Bubble Up Casserole

I got very excited at the thought of a bubble up casserole, wherein the stuff below bubbles up between the bits of dough and it all cooks together into one delicious mass. So I made one. This is from Budget Bytes (and thank you, Jan, for the recommendation. It’s a great site.)

Sadly, I had too many biscuit drops and they all grew together before the enchilada sauce could bubble up. Only around the outsides did the bubbling up happen like I thought it would.

It was still very good. Also, I didn’t follow the directions fully and I accidentally put the cheese on before I put the biscuit pieces on. I think it looks better that way, anyway.

Mom’s Birthday cake 2018


Mom requested chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting for her birthday. And that’s what she got. This was a delicious chocolate cake (following the directions, I made a “pudding” first) and the cream cheese frosting nicely set it off.

The cats were also interested in the cream cheese frosting, and knocked the leftover cake off the counter in an attempt to get to it. They were thwarted by the Tupperware container.

What the fridge looks like at the end of the month


My every-two-weeks shopping trip, combined with the fact that a month isn’t four weeks, but instead four weeks and a few days, meant that I ate leftovers for this week.  Tomorrow, I go grocery shopping.  Today?  All that is left are things in the dairy family (cheese, buttermilk, milk), two servings of soup, some lentils and a drawer full of onions. Thank goodness February has only four weeks.

Recipe and phone number

I’ve got a three-ring binder of recipes. Sometimes it needs to be culled.
This recipe was hand copied from a cookbook my roommate had. It was back when I had to walk to the library, or use the copier in the grocery store, to reproduce something. Digital cameras were just getting started so most of the time it was easier to hand copy. I don’t think I’ve made Michael’s Peanut Butter Cookies since I left Massachusetts, so it’s time to let this recipe go.

I did want to capture some other things that used to happen. Jotting my roommate Jill’s work number on this piece of paper shows a few things. One was calling people at their place of employment used to be a thing you had to do if you wanted to talk to them during work. When I worked for Whole Foods in the late 90’s the woman who answered phones hated how many personal calls she had to transfer. Though some people had cell phones, not enough of us did that they could make a blanket “no personal phone calls” policy. There was strong encouragement to only have friends and family call in case of an emergency. But we had to make our plans for our life outside of work, so calling people at work happened. The other thing is writing phone numbers down. While I still do tend to copy phone numbers to paper in a pinch, the only reason to do that now is so I’m closer to my end goal of getting them into my contacts, an electric file stored in the GoogleLand and available on my phone.

Also back in the day, if you had a phone number and didn’t know what it was for, you could go to the library and use a reverse directory to find its owner. I never did that, but it got brought up a lot in the era when caller-ID was first rolling out. Now, you google. This phone number seems to belong to something called TC Systems. I’m pretty sure that’s not where Jill was working in 2000.

One more observation: incomplete doodle around the phone number. If I was talking with Jill, our call must have ended before I finished shading my wavy line.

Vintage Cakes: Honey Bee Cake and Jam Cake with Chocolate Caramel Ganache

I made two cakes for the September/October birthday celebrations this year. Usually we have two celebrations. Chris and my Aunt Carol come first, and then mine.  This year, Chris and Aunt Carol opted out of a celebration, so we kind of celebrated all three birthdays at once.

Because Chris doesn’t like chocolate I made this Honey Bee Cake. It’s a buttermilk cake with a honey glaze.  Baking it, I was reminded that I’m not the greatest fan of honey’s super-sticky properties.  The cake itself was quite good.

This was the chocolate choice of the night. It’s a Jam Cake with Caramel Chocolate Ganache.  I didn’t quite get the caramel right, so the taste was very faint.  Other than that, this was a moist, lightly spiced cake. I’ve made a lot of the cakes in the Vintage Cakes cookbook.  We’re down to the ones that either have an ingredient I can’t justify purchasing, (The Harvey Wallbanger, which calls for 2 tablespoons of Galliano) or the ones that don’t appeal to me (Bananna Cake with Coffee Walnut Buttercream.)  Looking over the table of contents, there are a few more I want to bake, but this project is tapering off.

Challenge. Me, the food I eat, and the USDA Thrifty Food Plan

In looking for ways to send more of my money toward the payoff of my student loan, I’m going to focus on reducing my food costs in the last three months of 2017

There are many different ways to look at food costs.  Some people lump their grocery and eating out budgets into one line.  Some people look at the amount for the entire month, while others look at their food budget weekly. Some people even will break down each meal into a cost.

I have a couple of complicating factors in tracking my grocery bill.  One has to do with the calendar.  There are 30 days in some months, 31 in others.  Some months have four weekends, some have five.  Also, I make and sell meals to Matt.  This came about because I needed a side job, and one of my skills is cooking. He has no desire to develop that skill in himself (thus far) and needed to reduce food costs.   This has been great for both of us.  For me, it’s easier to make recipes that feed more than one person.  Plus, I get a little extra cash on the side.  Matt gets a variety of nutritious food for less than he would pay eating out.  I charge him $4.10 per meal.

A few years ago, I was searching the internet to find out what is a reasonable amount to spend on groceries.  I discovered the USDA’s Food Plans.  In a delightful bit of government minutia, food costs are tracked monthly and published on the USDA website. In one handy PDF document, you get food costs broken down by age, gender and family. Plus you can see the average cost under four USDA plans broken down weekly or monthly.

Example: For August 2017, a female between the ages of 19 and 50 would find the weekly/monthly Thrifty Food Plan costs to be $37.90/$164.20; the Low-Cost Plan to be $47.90/$207.50; the Moderate-Cost Plan to be $59.00/$255.80; and the Liberal Plan to be $75.40/$326.70.  Note that these plans assume all meals and snacks for the week/month are prepared at home.

This is super cool and gives me a goal.  Except, I also have to somehow reflect the fact that 4-6 meals worth of food per week go to a male between the ages of 19-50 years old (Thrifty food cost for that category is $42.80/$185.40).  What to do, what to do?

I went back and crunched my grocery numbers from YNAB. There’s a whole spreadsheet, but I won’t make you read that. I’ll just sum up what I found.

First of all, I decided that the grocery shopping week begins on Saturday.  I do my shopping on Saturday or Sunday.  Thus, months that have five weekends, the total monthly food cost gets divided by 5. (Of course, October is the rare unicorn and begins on a Sunday, making things complex. I gave September 5 weekends, and October 4)

From April through September my average weekly food costs were $64.97 which puts me above the Moderate and below the Liberal Plan. Drat!  Although August & September took a deep dive with $56.50 and $54.04 weekly totals.

But! Some of those food costs went to meals for the 19-50 year-old male.  I don’t have data prior to August, but in August I sold Matt 21 meals and in September there were 17. (Vacation happened.)

I took the average number of Matt’s meals per week and added them to the total number of meals per week for me (7 days times 3 meals per day gives me 21 per week) giving me a total of 26.25 meals per week in August.

After that, I figured out what the weekly percentage was for my meals.  In August  that was 80%.  Using that percentage, I could then calculate my actual average weekly meal costs.  My total:  $45.20 which puts me below the $47.90 Low-cost plan but not reaching the threshold of $37.90 Thrifty food plan.

I’ve realized there is a slight flaw in my data in that I don’t actually know how many meals I ate in the month.  As mentioned before, vacation happened and the food budget for vacation happens outside of this grocery budget.  I also don’t know how much I ate out in August, or September. Though my $40 eating out budget remained untouched all month (good job, me)a friend did buy me lunch for helping her with her resume.  Plus work bought at least two lunches.

I have added lines to my spreadsheet so I can more accurately reflect the number of days I ate meals that I prepared.

My goal for October, November, December is to meet the Thrifty Plan Food costs while still eating a variety of delicious food with a lot of fruits and vegetables.  I still plan to buy my red meat and poultry at New Seasons, which costs more, but I hope to offset that by doing the bulk of my shopping once per month at Winco (I have rediscovered the amazing deals) and cooking more with low-cost ingredients as well as using meat and cheese as flavor enhancers and not the main event.  I will also figure out a way to better ascertain if Imperfect Produce is a good enough deal to keep going with.

Right now, I’m pleased that my grocery costs are in the Low-Cost range.  But the monthly difference between the Low-Cost and Thrifty plans is $43.30.  Over one year that is $519.60 that would be better off being paid toward my student loans.