Monday, October 01, 2018

Back After a Summer Break

Happy October, friends! My summer blogging lull led to an unplanned blogging break for a couple of months. September kept our family life humming as my parents were visiting over the month. I left you with a post about birthday traditions and birthday cake and theme of cake (and summer heat, incidentally) continued in September as we celebrated more birthdays.

For my mother's birthday, I went with a Southern US favorite, pineapple upside down cake, using this recipe, because it says the "best" right there in the title and also, it is made from scratch and not from a mix.

My modifications:

1. Use a 10 inch cast iron pan instead of a baking tin. A cast iron pan is traditionally used for this cake and results in a beautiful bake. The other advantage of using a cast iron pan is that you don't need to melt the butter separately in a bowl. Just put it in the cast iron pan and pop the pan into the oven for a few minutes while the oven is preheating.

2. I used 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) and 1/3 cup brown sugar instead of the generous amounts specified in the recipe. This was more than enough to make a beautiful syrupy glaze. If you don't keep brown sugar in the pantry (I don't), it is very easy to make by adding some molasses to regular white sugar. I also reduced the sugar in the cake batter to 1/2 cup.

The cake came together beautifully. I would highly recommend this recipe if you're looking for a small (8 servings or so) cake that tastes great, is not fussy to make and looks festive. We served the cake with some butter pecan ice cream on the side, because my mother loves ice cream. The birthday dinner also consisted of spinach lasagna (another of my mom's favorite meals) and garlic bread.

* A Birthday Tea Party *

Mid-September was a big day as our little girl turned 7 years old. It was a special one since her grandparents were here to celebrate with her. My parents always threw really fun parties for my sister and I, growing up, and they added some of their special magic into this party for sure.

Lila wanted a tea party for a few friends with a castle cake. I searched online for something doable and cute, and the inspiration for this castle cake came from this blog, written in French but with lots of detailed pictures which make the process very easy to follow. I thought this castle was cleverly designed and beautifully finished.

For the cake flavor, we went with a marbled cake for a nice mix of vanilla and chocolate flavors. If I had more time and energy I would have made a third pink color to marble into the cakes, just for princessy fun, but the basic two-color cakes worked fine.

I used this recipe and made two round cakes. We weren't sure how many parents would stay for the party so to have enough servings, I baked an additional marbled loaf cake using this recipe. I always reduce the sugar in cake recipes and it seems to work just fine. The cakes were baked the evening before the party and stored covered at room temperature.

The frosting was a whipped chocolate frosting- I used this recipe which makes a lovely frosting that is a delight to eat. It is a combination of butter, melted chocolate and a chocolate pudding all whipped up into a light and thick frosting. If you hate the greasy taste of conventional frosting then this is one to try.

A couple of hours before the party, my dad (an adept cake decorator) and I put together the castle. The two round cakes were layered with a thin filling of raspberry jam and the cake was iced with a generous layer of the whipped chocolate frosting.

Castle turrets: We made 4 small niches in the cake and stacked Oreo cookies to make the castle turrets. The roof of the turret is made of ice cream cones. We used some waffle cones but it wasn't exactly easy to trim and flatten their edges; I should have looked for flat bottomed sugar cones. The tops of the cones were lopped off just a little bit to allow candles to be stuck in.

Lila wanted to play a part in the cake decoration so she made a castle door with a fruit strip, and the facade with some cocoa batons and put some candies on the top. All in all, we ended up with a very homely but sweet castle that looked like this! I didn't get a really good picture but you get the idea.


Decades ago, for one of my childhood birthdays, my parents made paper butterflies and hid them in the yard for a scavenger hunt. We decided to do a reenactment. In the week before the birthday, my mom made a few dozen elaborate, hand-painted paper butterflies using paperboard from the recycling bin (cereal boxes and such). We hid them all over the yard and the party guests had a great time hunting for butterflies.


For the tea party, we set the table with an embroidered tablecloth, some paper doilies and pretty china plates that I found in a yard sale. Along with the cake, we served pink lemonade, a rainbow fruit tray (painstakingly made by my mom) and crustless cucumber sandwiches. 



I promise we eat things other than cake around here! 
Indian Chinese as made by my mother!
Veggie manchurian, noodles and sweet and
sour sauce.


A snacky dinner for watching the US Open Finals- I used my general formula here for putting an appetizer tray together:
(a) Nuts
(b) Fruit
(c) Crackers and cheese
(d) Chips and dip- in this case sweet potato tortilla chips with guacamole.

* * * 
As for the books I've been reading over summer...

Task #19 of the Read Harder 2018 challenge was A book of genre fiction in translation. I realize I don't seek out any translated books so I went with the mystery genre (my go-to genre for casual reading) and read The Snack Thief (the third in the series of Commissario Montalbano mysteries) by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli. This series is set in the fictional seaside town of Vigata in Sicily. Inspector Montalbano is a salty Sicilian, irascible by nature but with a good heart and keen perception. He is a food lover and what truly makes him emotional are beautiful meals, usually consisting of perfectly cooked pasta and seafood. In this book, Montalbano ties together three seemingly unrelated cases- the gunning of a fishing trawler's immigrant crewman in international waters, the stabbing of an elderly man in his apartment building's elevator and the case of a five year old boy who is stealing other kids' lunches. Sicily reminds me of Bombay in a way, with its quirky personalities and messy politics and corruption.

For Task #12: A celebrity memoir, I picked up Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography. I've been a fan of Neil Patrick Harris right from his Doogie Howser, MD days to his role of Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother. This memoir was tremendously fun to read. It is written in a gimmicky "choose your own adventure" way, but what can I say? The gimmick works. It was fascinating to read about this phenomenally talented theater kid from a loving home who got a break working in TV at a young age, working on set in LA while still in high school in New Mexico. This is a charming and entertaining read, just as you would expect.

Found in a library book sale!
For Task #9, A book of colonial or postcolonial literature, I read The Financial Expert by R.K. Narayan. This tragi-comic tale is set, as with R. K. Narayan's celebrated stories, in the fictional town of Malgudi in Southern India, during the colonial era, in the 1930s and 40s. It traces the life of an ordinary man, Margayya ("he who shows the way"), a self-proclaimed financial expert (more like a loan shark) who goes from rags to riches to rags. This novel is a social commentary on money dealings in small towns in the British colonial era and possibly also in this era nearly a hundred years later. I would love to pass along my copy of this book (99% of the books I read are from the public library but I own this one), so email me if you're in the US and would like to read this book. Book has been claimed :)

Image: Goodreads
Front Desk by Kelly Yang is a newly published middle grade novel. I came across a  glowing and beautifully written book review for this book on Niranjana's blog and immediately went looking for a copy. Front Desk is a moving and heart-warming story (based on the author's own childhood) about a 10 year old girl, the daughter of recent Chinese immigrants, who runs the front desk of the motel that her parents are living in/ cleaning/ managing. My own kids are too young for this book but I know I will read it with them when they're older. If you are looking for a short and meaningful read, I highly recommend this book.

And finally, just for the sake of nostalgia and in need of some comfort reading, I read The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse. And it was as entertaining as ever.

How was your summer? Catch me up on your life!

30 comments:

  1. Good to see a post from you. Just wanted to let you know that the link to whipped chocolate frosting is pointing to the pineapple upside down cake. My daughter's 8th birthday is coming up in a few days so I am looking for a good chocolate frosting recipe. Thanks.

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    1. Nikita- thanks for pointing that out. Fixed it!

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  2. Delightful as always. And Lila - 7 seven years old?!? How time does fly! Clearly she has her mother's and grandmother's creativity and is one lucky girl to grow up in a home brimming with so much artistry, talent and imaginativeness. Thanks too for the book record, the Montalbano sounds great and I never, ever tire of Wodehouse!!

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    1. Dear Kamini- yes, time does fly and here we are in elementary school. She does love her arts and crafts like some others in our family! Wodehouse is a product of its times (unfortunately I caught a racial slur in there) but yes, hilarious and spot-on with its depictions of British aristocracy.

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  3. The butterflies are absolutely stunning. Each one unique and distinct.

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    1. Thanks Sonal! Lots of hard work went into them :)

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  4. Nupur, those butterflies are absolutely beautiful. Can you please post more pictures?

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    1. Vina- I don't think I have any more pictures! Glad you like them :)

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  5. Such adorable butterflies!! your mom is indeed a very lucky lady :-) and so is Lila. Such cool celebrations.
    We celebrated our 5 year old's birthday couple of weeks back with a thomas train cake (store bought!) This was his first year of getting a birthday party, so he had a total ball. It was utterly chaotic, messy and noisy my ears were ringing the whole day! We kept it simple with just home made paneer and PBnJ sandwiches and cake.
    I just got back from a week long solo backpacking trip to Himalayas (so fun!) and started reading Sapiens while on the trip. Such a cool read. Highly recommended if you have not yet read it.
    Happy birthday to darling Lila and your mom.

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    1. Thanks Neha! I really enjoyed hearing about your son's birthday party. Yes, even the best planned parties are barely controlled chaos ;) It sounds like a good time was had.

      OMG You did a solo backpacking trip for a week?! To the Himalayas?! Much respect to you. This is the sort of thing I can only dream of. Will you write about your experience sometime?

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    2. thank you :-) I have shared some snippets of my journey on instagram if you are interested:
      https://www.instagram.com/neha.pol/

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  6. Lovely to hear a catch up on your summer - I am particularly in awe of the butterfly hunt - your mum seems very creative. I realise I have now done 3 castle birthday cakes and I like the simplicity of yours and that Lila got to help. You would think that putting cones on a cake is simple but I know they have given me grief getting them to sit straight in the past.

    I am fascinated by your reading challenges - not sure it is the year for me to do it but I like the idea as you are reading some interesting books. Strangely enough I only just heard of montalbano a few weeks ago. I discovered a great fictional detective based in Canada called Chief Inspector Gamache by Louise Penny and would like to read more books in this series. For kids books, I highly recommend Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend - a bit old for your kids but brilliant - the second of the series is out at the end of the month and we can't wait (Sylvia had to read it with me and then again with E because it was so good)

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    1. Johanna- I always enjoy looking at the cakes on your blog. Your creations are always really fun and more elaborate than what I would undertake :D I think the flat bottom sugar cones would have been SO much easier than these waffle cones. I had the waffle cones on hand, was too tired/lazy to make another trip to the store etc. etc.

      I am really enjoying this reading challenge. It has "forced" me to read so many awesome books that I would have otherwise overlooked. I have read many of the Inspector Gamache books and yes, they are good. I will look for Nevermoor! Thanks for the reco.

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  7. Happy birthday to Lila! I inherited my mom's non-existent craft genes, so this post with its cakes and butterflies is making me super envious ;) .
    Thanks for linking to Front Desk! It's on the keeper shelf for me--so glad you liked it.

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    1. Hey Niranjana- LOL so much cake and frosting and glue and paper for sometime the kids demolished in 30 minutes ;) Its all good. Come over and we'll throw you a party! Front Desk really was a great read; looking forward to your next review.

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  8. Happy (belated) Birthday, Lila and Kaku!!
    What a wonderful party! Your dad has mad skills! That cake looks awesome. And you mom is so artistic, those butterflies are beautiful.
    Birthdays with grandparents are the best. My son celebrated is 10th birthday in India with both sets of grandparents, we were so happy!

    Reading: I found these books, a continuation of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St. Clare’s. I had to read them. Not bad! I enjoyed them 😉!

    I’m heading to the library tomorrow to get some more books ( grown up books).

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    1. Thanks Manasi! Your son turned 10?! How fantastic to be in double digits now, and even better to celebrate with all the grands. Enid Blyton is always a good comfort read.

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    2. Time sure flies! He now comes a bit over my shoulder, but I still love to sit him in my lap.
      I’m reading ‘front desk’ and loving it.

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  9. Nupur, birthday wishes to the 2 most important ladies in your life! Kiti kautuk karayche tumche! Love reading your posts.

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    1. Thank you dear Shubha- you are too kind!

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  10. hello Nupur,
    Wishing both your mom and Lila years of good health, peace and happiness on their birthdays. What a blessing to have them visit you :-) precious times..
    As the saying goes, Apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I can clearly see where your quilting/sewing/cooking talent comes from and so is Lila's creativity. Your mom's butterflies rock; absolutely cute, colorful and fun. Just a thought arose while reading your post- you can make a collage of the butterflies with Lila's birthday photo with her grand parents centered and frame it as a keepsake for your family for generations.:-)
    Loved your pineapple upside down cake; looks perfect. We've tried it before with small glitches when we turn it upside down. Will def. give this a try and loved your mom's indo-chinese items too. Yummy; wish I could have a plate :-) The rainbow fruit tray is a nice creative play of fruits. healthy and smart idea :-) My heart warmed up with tears in my eyes to see your dad and Lila spending time together on cake decoration; which reminded me of my son spending time with my parents in the kitchen when they were alive. My boy says those times are most precious in his life....

    God bless you, your parents and your family.
    Meena

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    1. Dear Meena- thanks so much for all the sweet wishes! My mom helped all the kids make little hanging decorations with the butterflies so those will be a nice keepsake. (To be very honest with you I'm terrible about keeping keepsakes. Can't stand clutter.)

      The pineapple cake has copious amounts of butter and sugar- those made a glistening syrup that helped the cake slide out perfectly ;) I hope these birthday crafts and things will make happy lifelong memories for my kids too. One can only hope!



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  11. those butterflies! are those pistachio shells? great idear.. And lila's all growed up wow! Good times

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    1. Janani- yes, pistachio shells left over from snacking :)

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  12. Happy Birthday to Lila!

    What a sweet party to celebrate her. The butterflies are just so beautiful! Love the cake and the plate of Chinese food looks delish!

    We are trucking along, school is in full swing. My younger one started kinder and he's just now starting to enjoy school, first few weeks were a bit of an adjustment for him. They are excited for Halloween now. They had been begging us the past few years to do some decorations in the front yard for it. I'm not a fan of the ghosts, ghouls and skeletons. But, got a cute inflatable black cat holding a pumpkin. They have been so happy about this, wish we'd done it sooner. My daughter is going to be Hermione and my son is going to be a ninja. Have Lila and Niam decided what they want to be?

    -Anu

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    1. Thanks Anu! School is in full swing here too and I'm glad to be in a routine again. Your decorations sound very cute. Lila has also been asking for Halloween yard decorations but I honestly don't have the bandwidth for it now and asked her to be patient for a couple more years ;) Lila wants to be a mermaid (I am researching costumes to sew!) and the little guy will be a puppy dog- we already found a costume for him. Enjoy Halloween!

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  13. It's so lovely to read about more cake and parties. I had actually searched your posts for birthday cakes all last month! Finally we just made plain chocolate and vanilla cakes. And those butterflies are pretty. We had a treasure hunt too, but with just coloured craft sticks.

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    1. Hi Fatima, you can't go wrong with chocolate and vanilla cake :) and treasure hunts are so much fun, no matter what little things you hide.

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  14. simply beautiful! no wonder you are what you are with talented parents in your genes! What wonderful celebrations of birthdays with creative hands around!.Wish all of you well.
    Pineapple upside down I have never made in a cast iron pan.Do the oven temperatures vary then and for how long?Please let me know

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    1. Leila- Thanks for the kind words! The cast iron pan doesn't change the baking temp or time of the cake. But I do start checking on cakes early- because it is so easy to overcook and dry out cakes.

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