Monday, July 29, 2019

A Donut Cake and a Book Update

Our little boy turned three years old. This is the first year that he really understood what birthdays are all about and he was duly excited about it. His primary wish was to have "fire on my cake", as in, candles to blow out. And he got to do that not once but twice.

On his actual birthday, I made a small raspberry cheesecake in the (wait for it) Instant Pot, using the recipe that came with the appliance booklet. It was delightfully easy to make, with no need for a water bath. The crust is crushed Oreo cookies and the cheesecake has some raspberry jam in it. The recipe called for a ganache topping- I thought that was over the top and skipped it in favor of some sprinkles. (Pro tip: Wait for the top to dry out before adding the sprinkles.)

After an overnight chilling, the cheesecake was rich and creamy but not too sweet. The recipe specified 8 servings but we got a good 12 servings out of it.

On the weekend we invited some of the birthday boy's little toddler friends and their families to a picnic brunch at the local splash park. Water play is the ideal entertainment for a July birthday. The "cake" this time was a trio of caterpillars (inspiration here and here).

My sister saw this picture and asked me if I made the donuts at home. Girl, no, Krispy Kreme made the donuts. Some things (especially ones involving vats of boiling oil) are best left to the experts. Also, donut cake is short for "You donut have to bake a cake".

Here's how you make one of these in 5 minutes flat. Take one dozen donuts- 6 plain glazed and 6 assorted (but not ones with fillings). Cut each in half. Push a skinny pretzel stick on either side of a halved donut- those are the legs. Arrange the donut halves as in the pic, alternating plain donuts and assorted ones for some interest. Add a couple of antennae on each head.

Mix a tablespoon of powdered sugar with a few drops of water to make a glue. Use a dab of this to stick candy googly eyes (found this in the baking aisle of the supermarket) to the first donut half. Done and done.

The picnic brunch menu was-

Idlis with peanut-onion chutney (the grown ups loved this)
Quinoa black bean salad
Bagels, mini croissants and cream cheese
Hummus and baby carrots
Corn puffs (this crunchy snack was the kids' favorite)
Lemonade (recipe in the last birthday post)


One of my favorite recent reads is The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories about Defying the Impossible by Catherine Burns (Editor). The Moth is a non-profit that sends people before live audiences to tell their own stories, based on a theme. Earlier, around Valentine's Day, we had an event here in my town similar to The Moth; a handful of people came on stage to tell their stories based on the theme "Swipe Left", ie, stories of romances that went wrong somehow. I went with a friend and we loved it- the story tellers were charming and the stories were diverse, hilarious and touching.

This book takes some of the moth stories and puts them down in text format. Reading them was like reaching into a box of bon-bons. The stories made me laugh, cry, panic, sigh, think- each was a slice of a person's life and reminded me that all of us have interesting stories to tell.

On my bedside right now is this short story collection by Stephen King. So far my favorite one is “The Road Virus Heads North”, a gruesome story about a yard sale find. “Autopsy Room Four” is about a person mistaken for dead and builds up tension nicely, and “The Man in the Black Suit” is about a terrifying chance childhood encounter.

Two other interesting books of the last couple of months-

How to be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute by K.J. Dell'Antonia. My brief notes are here.

The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body's Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You by Sylvia Tara. My notes on this book are here.

The Read Harder challenge is a big part of my reading life and it usually rewards me with excellent reads that I may not have picked up otherwise. Here is a mid-year update on the 24 reading tasks- I have finished a third, have planned another third and have yet to plan the final third. I'm excited to get them all done by the time 2020 rolls around.

Tasks that I have finished (8/24)

Task #1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters: Daddy-Long-Legs. I enjoyed this gentle, heart-warming book very much. Other books that I can recommend for this task are these two.

Task #2. An alternate history novel: The Man in the High Castle. This book has a very intriguing concept (an alternate history where the US lost WWII and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan) but the plot lines were frustrating. I would recommend 11/22/63 by Stephen King for this task.

Task #3. A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. This book was raw and thought-provoking and worth reading. Roxane Gay has a way with words. It won the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction.

Task #4. A humor book: Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York; this was pure fun. I am a Roz Chast fangirl. This task is an easy and rewarding one- anything by PG Wodehouse would fit in there, or something like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which I remember decades later as being a very funny book.

Task #14. A cozy mystery: I read The Nature of the Beast for this task. This was a satisfying read, cozy but quite intense. This is another easy task with so many good mysteries out there. This series has a special place in my heart and would be my top recommedndation.

Task #19. A book of nonviolent true crime: I read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup and found it engrossing. The nonviolent true crime in this book is corporate fraud.

Task #21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I highly recommend this graphic memoir of the author's relationship with her distant father. A reminder of how we cannot escape our childhood experiences.

Task #22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009: Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. A beautiful book. The diversity award is the Schneider Family book award in 2016, The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

Tasks that I have books in mind for (8/24) (but still taking suggestions)

Task #8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania: The Happiest Refugee: A Memoir 

Task #11. A book of manga: The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story by Marie Kondo. Read 2019. Quick and fun and a good way to do this task without reading proper manga ;)

Task #12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Task #15. A book of mythology or folklore: Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata

Task #17. A business book: Influence: Thinking, Fast and Slow

Task #18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author: George

Task #23. A self-published book: The Martian by Andy Weir. Read Aug 2019. From Wikipedia: "Weir decided to put the book online in serial format one chapter at a time for free at his website." Then he self-published it as a 99 cent Kindle download. After it became a success, he sold the print rights to a publisher. This is a smart, science-y, engrossing survival saga. Realistic sci-fi and a highly recommended read with the caveat that you should enjoy reading about technical details.

Task #24. A collection of poetry published since 2014: American Journal: Fifty Poems for our Time

Tasks waiting to be planned (8/24)

Task #5. A book by a journalist or about journalism: Leigh Sales - Any Ordinary Day

Task #6. A book by an AOC set in or about space

Task #7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America: The Wild Book
by Juan Villoro

Task #9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads

Task #10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman: Convenience store woman

Task #13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse

Task #16. An historical romance by an AOC

Task #20. A book written in prison

Tell me what you're cooking and reading this week!


  1. Love your donut cakes - they are so cool - sylvia went to a doughnut party recently that was lots of fun!

    And your reading challenge seems really interesting. I have been reading lots lately - really love Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton - really original writing with lots of heart and great plot about a boy growing up in Brisbane (Australia). I also recently finished The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer which is great writing and fascinating look at identity and cycles of history. The only gap I could fill in your list is #5 a book by a journalist for about journalism - Leigh Sales - Any Ordinary Day: Blindsides, resilience and what happens after the worst day of your life). It is by an Australian journalist who writes about how you can be blindsided by tragedy and how it changes you - she speaks to people to get a bigger picture view than journalism provides but she also reflects on how journalism treats people in the spotlight because something bad happens to them. It is an amazing book and I highly recommend it.

    1. Thanks for the great book suggestions, dear Johanna. I've put them all on my reading list. The Leigh Sales book is so intriguing and I will look for it in the library.

  2. Haha all your donut puns made me laugh.
    That is such a cute idea for a donut cake. Will try this for sure.

    Happy Birthday to N! 3 is such a fun age.

    A big thank you for the book update and recommendations.
    I will get to work on my next reads for the challenge.
    I read Mrs.Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to my kids earlier this year and it was a fun one to read along. Happy to see one task is taken care of.

    My mom is here and she has been spoiling us with her cooking, she is an amazing cook. Nothing like maa ke haath ka khana. She's making mango pickle today, brought her homemade masala from Mumbai.

    I have been reading a ton lately, recent reads were Normal People by Sally Rooney (liked it a lot), Fleishman is in Trouble (didn't like it) and What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (liked it).
    I'm 1/3 done with my Read Harder Challenge, going to pause my other reading for a bit and get back on the Challenge books now.

    Happy reading to you and hope you all have a great rest of the summer.


    1. Thanks Anu! Three is a fun age for sure, charming and exhausting in equal measures. I am glad to see you recommend Mrs. Frisby. How nice that your mother is visiting and feeding you! Nothing like good old mango pickle.

      I enjoyed What Alice Forgot a few years ago. Happy reading and happy August to you :)

  3. The donut cake is adorable. My son's favorite book is the very hungry caterpillar (even though he is almost 6 now, he still loves to read it) and I think I will be making (or assembling) the donut cake for his september birthday. Work life is super busy at the moment so the only thing I am cooking is weekend Sourdough bread and weekly batch of granola. These 2 are pretty much staples at our house, so when sourdough and granola is in stock, our kitchen looks well stocked lol. I am reading a lot of articles and few books on zero budget natural farming by subhash palekar.
    I need to check the happier parenting book - I like the title.

    1. Thanks Neha! The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a favorite at our house too. Eric Carle in general is a beloved author over here. This "cake" is dead easy and fun to make and eat. I haven't made bread in ages, although yes, granola is a staple at my house too. The farming books sound very interesting!

  4. My suggestions for books:Task #5. A book by a journalist or about journalism: strongly recommend 'Babies and Bylines'

    Task #6. A book by an AOC set in or about space- strongly recommend scott kelly's book 'Endurance: a year in space'

    Task #7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America- loved 'the wild book' :)

    Task #9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads: may i suggest :)

    Task #10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman: homefire by kamila shamsie or a place for us by fatima farheen mirza.

    Task #13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse- strongly recommend the rosie project series (3 books) for this

    1. Thanks very much for the recos! Babies and Bylines sounds like an interesting read. Scott Kelly's book is on my reading list already but won't fit this task because he is not an AOC (author of color). The Wild Book will be perfect for the task- thanks!! I can't find "Let's talk trash" in my libary system. Task #10- neither of those books are translated (they were written in English) so they don't fit the task but I'd like to read them anyway. I read the first Rosie project book and didn't like it at the time but maybe I need to give this series another chance!

  5. Nupur, a very happy birthday to Niam. I have said it before, but cannot say it enough, tuze khoop kautuk vatate! How you manage excellent parenting, cooking, reading, working, maintaining not just the blog but finding the time and care to respond to your readers and much, much more is beyond me! Keep it up. No exciting cooking these days, just finished reading Dr Gundry's The Longevity Paradox.
    All my blessings to all of you.

    1. Thank you for the sweet wishes and the kind words, dear Shubha! Trust me, the parenting and all other things are just about staying afloat :D keeping those balls in the air!

  6. oops, sorry, i think 'convenience store woman' might fit # 10 - i read several books from japan last year and loved them! else do check out 'lullaby' by leila slimani. for #13, i absolutely loved 'standard deviation' and it mght fit the brief :)

    1. Thanks for the recos- I think "convenience store woman" would be perfect for #10! I'll have to look for "standard deviation" too.

  7. For a book by a journalist on journalism, may I recommend Vinod Mehta's Lucknow Boy? I found it be a 'unputdownable' and one of the best memoirs I have read.

    1. Sajitha- I hadn't come across Lucknow Boy- I will definitely look for it. Thanks!

  8. Hi Nupur, Thanks to you, I got initiated to the read harder challenge and am really enjoying going out of my usual reading habits to explore other genres. I liked City of clowns - a graphic novel by Daniel Alarcon for task #5, task#11 - Black Jack by Osamu Tezuka , task #12 My name is red - Orhan Pamuk. Task #10 Either beauty is a wound by Eka Kurniawan (this is a love or hate kinda book because of the explicit content) or Celestial bodies - Jokha Alharti . I've gotten a lot of suggestions for my remaining tasks, so thank you ! :-)

    1. I'm so glad you are enjoying this challenge! I have discovered many great books that I would never think to pick up. Your list is great and all the books are new to me, so thanks for that!

  9. Hi Nupur, belated happy birthday to Niam! I am also planning my son's first bday end of the month so will borrow some party food ideas from you blog!

  10. Happy birthday to the little one! I am also enjoying the Read Harder challenge. A recommendation for #6 book set in space by AOC would be 'A Spark of White Fire' by Sangu Madanna. It is inspired by the Mahabharata and is an enjoyable read.


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