What to Do When Your Cake Falls — Make Trifle! (With Lemon Curd Recipe)

Last year, for my daughter’s fifteenth birthday party, she wanted a lemon layer cake — with four fluffy layers, a lemon curd filling, and a lemony seven minute frosting.

I baked her cake layers the evening before, and for the first time in my life, my cake fell. Now, I grew up with the high altitude cooking, and know how to adjust, so I don’t think that was the problem. I have a very old oven in the home that I rent, and the oven is full of hot spots and the temperature varies like crazy — if I set it at 350°, it might decide that means 250° one minute and 500° a few minutes later.  Sturdier cakes, like yellow cakes or snacking cakes, can survive my oven, but a white cake is just too delicate.

Nonetheless, the morning of her party, I tried again. And it fell again.

With only two hours until her party, to try a third time, I would have to run to the store for more ingredients. I had already made the lemon curd, so I decided that she’d have a birthday trifle instead of a birthday cake.

I cut the cakes up into chunks, and layered them in my trifle dish with the lemon curd and heated raspberry preserves. I whipped some cream to top the trifle with, and just stuck those candles in the top.

It really looked pretty — and it tasted absolutely wonderful.

It tasted so good, I ended up making this trifle again for a potluck I attended a couple of months later.

I won’t post a recipe for the white layer cake, since I haven’t made it successfully, but here’s a recipe for the lemon curd:

Lemon Curd

(For a cake filling or a trifle layer – or just on toast. Yum!)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
6 lemons
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs + 6 large egg yolks

A few hours before you start to make the curd, cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and put it in the freezer.  When it’s frozen, juice the lemons. Put 1 tablespoon lemon juice into a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside.

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the rest of the lemon juice, the sugar, and the salt for about a minute, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot, but don’t boil it.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolks together. Slowly whisk in the hot lemon mixture, and then return it to the saucepan and and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, or until it’s thick enough to run a spatula across the bottom and leave a trail. Remove from heat.

Stir the gelatin and lemon juice mixture until the gelatin dissolves. Stir in the frozen butter until it’s melted and smooth. Strain the curd through a mesh strainer into another bowl. Cover it with cling wrap that’s pressed onto the surface and refrigerate until firm.

Makes 3 cups.

Low-Calorie Cinnamon Streusel Muffins Recipe

My entry today is later in the day because the muffins I made last night only rated a 7, 9, and 6, according to my kids. So today, I re-worked the recipe and got a 9.5, 10, and 9. Here’s the improved recipe:

2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp butter
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon  nutmeg
pinch of ancho chili powder (optional)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup nonfat milk
1/2 cup water
1/4  cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream

Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray a 12-muffin tin with nonstick spray.

Mix together the butter, 2 tablespoons sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and 2 tablespoons flour until the mixture resembles crumbs. Set aside.

Mix the remaining flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, mix remaining sugar, egg, milk, applesauce, sour cream, and water. Stir the dry mixture into the wet mixture just until moistened.

Spoon  half of the batter into the twelve cups in a muffin pan. Top with half of the cinnamon mixture, and then the rest of the batter, and then finish with the rest of the cinnamon mixture.

Bake for 12-18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool.

Servings: 12

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition according to Living Cookbook (per serving): 135 calories, 20 calories from fat, 2.3g total fat, 22.5mg cholesterol, 236.4mg sodium, 107.7mg potassium, 25.7g carbohydrates, 2.3g fiber, 7.5g sugar, 4g protein

Menu Plan for March 28 – April 3 and Roasted Potatoes Recipe

Menu Plan


Sunday: Roast chicken with oven roasted potatoes (see below)
Monday: Spaghetti with Italian sausage
Tuesday: Tuscan soup with breadsticks (recipe to come)
Wednesday: Chicken and dumplings
Thursday: FFY
Friday: Kids at their dad’s; I’ll have some fish and asparagus
Saturday: Kids at their dad’s; I’ll have something from the freezer

Lunches: Quesadillas, sandwiches, beans and weinies, Madras lentils and rice, smoothies

Breakfasts: Cinnamon streusel crumb-top muffins, oatmeal and fruit, smoothies, cold cereal

Oven-roasted Rosemary Potatoes

By mixing this in a plastic bag instead of a bowl, you can get every surface of the potatoes covered with oil and seasonings without having to use very much oil. This is more frugal (olive oil is pricey), and lighter.

2 potatoes
1  teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
2 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Scrub potatoes and cut them into one inch chunks. (If your potatoes are a little green, you can go ahead and peel them, like I had to do with last night’s potatoes.)  Put them in a plastic bag and add the other ingredients. Mush it around until all of the ingredients are well dispersed, and all the potatoes are covered with the other ingredients.

3. Spread the potato chunks out in one layer on a cookie sheet. Put in oven and roast for 30 minutes or until a fork inserts easily and the edges are golden brown.

Servings: 4

Nutrition Facts
Nutrition (per serving): 130 calories, 46 calories from fat, 5.2g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 476.9mg sodium, 457.7mg potassium, 19.3g carbohydrates, 2.4g fiber, <1g sugar, 2.3g protein.

Sweet Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips Recipe

We had beef and bean burritos the other night, and for dessert, we had a fantastic fruit salsa with cinnamon chips. We really loved this, and it’s something we’ll have again and again.

5 large frozen strawberries
1/4 cup orange juice
2 kiwi, peeled and chopped
1 small mango – peeled and diced
1 peach, peeled and diced
1 banana, peeled and diced
3 whole wheat tortillas
butter flavor non-stick cooking spray
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. In a food processor or blender, process the strawberries with the orange juice to make a sauce.  Combine the kiwi, mango, banana, and peach. Stir in the strawberry mixture. Cover and refrigerate.

3. Coat one side of each tortilla with cooking spray, and then cut into 10 triangles with a pizza cutter or knife. Arrange on a cookie sheet with the sprayed side down. When all the tortilla triangles are on the sheet, spray them again with non-stick spray. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the tortillas.   Bake  until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Cool and serve with the fruit salsa.

4. You can make the fruit salsa up to a day ahead, and the chips earlier in the day.

Servings: 6

Nutrition (per serving): 160 calories, 18 calories from fat, 2.3g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 247.4mg sodium, 299mg potassium, 34.9g carbohydrates, 7.6g fiber, 20.9g sugar, 5.2g protein.

It tastes like a really decadent dessert, but that salsa is all fruit! It’s a very healthy (lots of fruit, lots of fiber, low calories) treat. I used the Santa Fe whole wheat tortillas from Costco, and they were only 100 calories each.

Not only is this healthy, it’s also frugal — you can use up the last bits of all kinds of fruit (pears or apples would be really good in this, and so would cantaloupe).

I think this salsa would also make an amazing ice cream topping, or if made with bigger chunks of fruit, a great fruit salad. And it’s gorgeous enough to serve for company or to take to a potluck or party.

This is definitely one of my favorite new recipes!

Constructed Languages – A different way to learn about OUR language

My thirteen year-old son knows more about grammar than I do, and I’ve been called a Grammar Nazi (I prefer “Grammar Advocate”, thankyouverymuch).  He’s really taught himself the majority of what he knows. In addition to a great understanding of English grammar, he’s also got a fantastic grasp of how our language works.

How? Through “Conlanging” – constructing languages.

He started out by learning Esperanto, probably the most well-known constructed language — although that honor might be shared with Klingon and Tolkein’s elven languages. Now he spends his spare time constructing his own languages.

Awhile ago, I had him write an essay about constructing languages. Here are a few paragraphs out of that essay:

When making a language, you must start with the phonology, which is the set of sounds in the language. A phonology is divided into two parts: consonants and vowels. Consonants are defined in English by three separate features: place, manner, and voicing. Place is where in the mouth the sound is made: options include labial (such as b or f), dental (such as th or a Romance t) and velar (such as k or German ch). Manner is how the sound is made: options include stop (such as t or g) or fricative (such as s or v). Voicing has only two options, voiced and unvoiced, and is whether or not the vocal cords are vibrating when the sound is made. Some languages have more or less distinguishing features in consonants: for example, the Slavic languages have palatalization.
Vowels have three distinguishing features as well: height, place, and roundedness. Height is how open your mouth is: options include open (i, u), open-mid (o), and close (a). Place is where your tongue is: options include front (i, e) and back (o, u). Roundedness is how rounded your mouth is: options include rounded (o, u) and unrounded (i, e, a). Many languages also distinguish length, which is how long the vowel is pronounced. Some have more than two length categories, and some have more than two roundednesses.


After the morphology comes the grammar. A grammar can be fusional, agglutinative, or isolating. With a fusional grammar, one affix has a variety of meanings; for example, when the English -s is added to a verb, it means present tense, singular, and third person. With an agglutinative grammar, one affix has one meaning; for example, the English verbal -s would be composed of three separate affixes: one for present tenst, one for singular, and one for third person. With an isolating grammar, there are no affixes; the English verbal -s would use helper verbs, like English “will” for future tense. Once you’ve decided on a grammar type, you can start coining affixes and/or helper words, but remember that they have to fit your morphology. You also have to pick a syntax; first decide your order of subject, object, and verb (for example, English is SVO, and Latin is SOV; Yoda-speak is OSV), and then your order of modifier and head (English is modifier-head; Romance languages are head-modifier). Once you’re finished with the grammar, you create your vocabulary. Simply create words and define their meanings; make sure they fit your morphology.

Okay, I’ll quit showing off now. I’m a proud Mommy.

I asked my son for some links for beginners to Conlanging, and he enthusiastically shared these three:

The Language Construction Kit

Geoff’s Homepage (which includes “Creating an Earthlike Planet” and “The Climate Cookbook”, too)

How to Create a Language

I’m very impressed with the way my son’s knowledge of language has grown through his hobby of constructing languages

Freezing Banana Slices

I use bananas in a lot of recipes — banana muffins, smoothies, banana bread, empanadas, more muffins, fruit salsa, and more. It can be a problem having bananas of the right ripeness around, though. It seems like there are a whole bunch of almost-ripe bananas, and then, as if by magic, there are one or two overripe bananas. The minute they get ripe, the boys want to eat them, but the second they start to turn brown (which is when they start gettingreally good, in my opinion), none of the kids want them anymore. And one or two bananas isn’t enough for a lot of recipes.

For years, I’ve thrown them in the freezer when they get too brown for the kids to eat them.  I’ve found, though, that it can be very difficult to peel a frozen banana. I’ve tried thawing them and then peeling them, but the banana is so mushy after freezing that it’s also really hard to peel (although the mushy texture is perfect for banana bread).

So for awhile, I’ve peeled the bananas before freezing them, and that works pretty well, but sometimes I just needed half a banana for a smoothie or one of the other snacks I like to make with bananas.

Finally, I figured out to cut the bananas into coins and lay them out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and freeze them for a couple hours. Then I throw them into a zip-top bag, and I can get as much or as little banana as I want.

I can even just grab one little banana “coin” for a snack when I’m hankering for something sweet and cool.

Grocery Shopping

This is an article I wrote back in 2000. It’s kind of interesting to read it and see what has changed, but most hasn’t.  We were a family of six in 2000, with my youngest son being less than a year old. Now there are only four of us, and he’s 10½!  Smaller changes are the we don’t eat the same thing for breakfast or lunch every day anymore, and I avoid buying pre-made anything (if I can’t pronounce an ingredient, I don’t want to serve it to my family).

A lot of it still holds true, though, so I thought I’d post it.

Grocery shopping on a budget

Mar 08 ’00

I can usually buy two weeks of groceries for my family for $80-90 a week. A friend asked me how I do it.

Making a Menu Plan
First off, I sit down and make a list. I start with a menu for the next two weeks. It’s very key to me to try to go shopping as infrequently as possible, since I’m very susceptible to impulse buying. So I do two weeks at a time (shop once per payday). I make my menu plan by thinking about what sounds good, asking the kids what they want to eat (Doodle *always* says “Chicken nuggets!”), and looking over a list I keep of simple/quick/cheap meals. I also look at the store sale flyer if I have one, so I can take advantage of store specials. I could buy stuff to make everything from scratch and in theory save more money, but I’ll end up not cooking and buying fast food, which with a family of 6 is NOT cheap at all. I usually only do this for dinners, as we have basically the same thing for breakfast and lunch each day (cereal and milk for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit and chips for lunch).

Making a Grocery List
After making a menu plan, I make my grocery list. I group everything according to location in the store. I go through the menu and list everything I need to make the meals. I do this relatively quickly and not too neatly, as it’s really a rough draft of my grocery list. Then I go through the cupboards and cross out anything on my grocery list that I already have, and add staples that I need, as well as breakfast and lunch items. Once I’ve done this, I make my “final copy” grocery list. I again keep things grouped according to store location, and include a copy of the menu on the list, so that if the store is out of an item I can remove all the associated foods from my cart, too.

I make sure I don’t go to the store hungry, and I make sure I’m not rushed. I don’t bring the kids. I do bring my list and a pen of a different color to mark off items as I put them in my cart. I have to do this, because if I forget, say, tomato sauce, when I go back later in the week to buy tomato sauce, I’ll also buy a magazine, a bag of cookies, a baby toy and a hair brush. I said I was susceptible to impulse buying! <g>

While at the store, if I see a great buy on something I use a lot, I’ll stock up if the money’s there. Part of this is being aware what really is and what isn’t a good deal. I have an extra fridge on my enclosed porch, so now I can stock up on cold and frozen food, too, which helps a lot.

I used to estimate each item’s cost and get a total estimate before leaving for the store. I still do this sometimes when I’m really on a tight budget. Then while shopping, I’ll keep two boxes on the list, one for “less than estimated” and one for “more than estimated” – so I can keep track of how close to estimated I am. If I get way over, I’ll cut back further. If I’m way under, I can allow myself a treat or buy a little more of some staple.

Buying Generic
I do buy store brand for some items, but not for others. You just basically have to experiment and see what works for you. I hate generic dish detergent, but I buy a store brand laundry detergent that is $2.50 for a big bottle, and it gets our clothes clean with no fragrances (which is very important to me – laundry fragrances make me ill). I buy store brand medicines a lot, after comparing ingredients. I won’t buy store brand toilet paper. I’ll buy store brand canned veggies for a casserole, and use name brand for serving as a side dish.

Shopping Around
I’ll stop at Walmart and Sam’s Club to see what they’ve got before going to the grocery store. A lot of times Walmart’s little food area has a lot of the canned food I want for about half the price of what they have at the grocery store. The bulk sizes at Sam’s Club are fine for my family, so I don’t have a problem buying there, but if your family is smaller, you might end up wasting more than you use. Walmart usually has much better prices on non-food items such as dish soap, toilet paper, etc. than the grocery stores.

I have friends who shop at several different grocery stores to hit all the sales, and that seems to work for them, but for me it doesn’t pay for my time. When I’ve tried that, I’ve usually spent an extra couple of hours to save a couple of bucks.

If I’m careful and don’t impulse-buy, I can grocery shop for my family of 6 for $80-90 a paycheck (2 weeks). We eat well, and don’t feel deprived, and I’d rather spend the money I save on other fun stuff.

Black Bean Burritos Recipe

Black bean burritos are a favorite standby here. The kids like them, and I love them because they are made with stuff I always have around – so if I forget to take something out of the freezer,  I’ve still got dinner.

They are also great for those times when I’m really trying to stretch the grocery budget.

Black Bean Burritos

Black Bean Burritos

8 flour tortillas

2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup water or broth

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shredded cheese

Put all ingredients except tortillas and cheese in a sauce pan and heat until it just starts to boil. Turn down the heat to simmer and simmer the beans until most of the liquid is gone (5-10 minutes).

Heat two tortillas at a time in the microwave for 15 seconds, or heat them individually in a hot, ungreased frying pan, flipping once.

Put 1/4 cup beans down the center of a tortilla. Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of cheese on top of the beans. Fold the ends in and then fold the bottom up to cover the filling, and roll into a burrito. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

These are amazing with sour cream, and/or with shredded lettuce and tomato.

Linked to:

Frugal Fridays

Foodie Friday

Food on Fridays

Grocery Cart Challenge

Split Pea Soup Recipe

A couple weeks ago, spiral hams were on a ridiculous sale, so I bought one and we had a lovely, decadent dinner, with ham and mashed potatoes and rolls and applesauce. We also had enough ham left over for a second dinner, plus meat for lots of sandwiches, and a ham bone to freeze for soup. I made our favorite, split pea soup.

1 pound of split peas
2 quarts water
Ham bone
1 onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, smashed
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme

Rinse peas and pick through and remove any stones.

Put all ingredients in a large stock pot or dutch oven. Simmer for 2 hours, adding water if necessary.

Remove the ham bone and allow to cool enough to  handle. Pick the meat off and return the meat to the soup. Discard the bone.

Add salt and pepper to taste, but be sure to actually taste it – the ham can add a lot of salt.

And THAT made such a large pot of soup, that I still have some in the freezer for yet another meal or two.  And the moral of this story is: Never pass up a fantastic sale on ham.

Free College Lectures Online

I came across this site recently: Academic Earth. Now, I’m guessing that most homeschooling moms are autodidacts, but these are useful for the kids, too. For example, my 12 year-old son is very interested in science, and while I can find lots of interesting books for him about advanced science, being able to point him to college level lectures from top colleges is pretty exciting. (And I’m spending my spare time listening to lectures, too!)

Another site I recently found is The Teaching Company. They aren’t free, but their courses are outstanding. They’re available in audio CD, DVD and audio download.  They are pretty pricey – too pricey for me at their regular prices – but they always have many courses on sale, and if you have one in mind, check back every month and eventually, it’ll be on sale, too.