Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Strawberry Cake

David and I went to church on Sunday, like usual.  Unlike usual, we stayed and participated in a potluck.  Our church does this about once a month and we've only participated together once before, but we changed our mind for this past Sunday. 

I made a strawberry cake and some cookies that I will reveal later this week...nothing special, just an old favorite that David requested. 

In the meantime, I wanted to share the recipe I used for the strawberry cake...which, received RAVE reviews.  It's just a simple recipe, probably one that a lot of people have tucked away in their recipe books.  However, the icing appears to be what made this cake.  Check it out...

Strawberry Cake

1 box (18.25 oz.) white cake mix
4 whole eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 package (3 oz.) strawberry Jell-O
1 cup fresh mashed strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all ingredients together well.  Yum, doesn't the batter look good?  You're kidding yourself if you think I managed to make this batter without taste-testing it...

Spray with cooking spray either two 9-inch round pans or one 9x12 pan.

Pour batter into pan(s) and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 35 minutes.  An inserted toothpick should come out clean and the cake will be slightly browned on top.

Let cake cool completely before frosting.  In fact, it is best to bake the cake the day before and keep it in the fridge, then frost the day you're going to serve it.  I did this and it worked perfectly.

3-8 ounces (depending on your mood) frozen, sliced strawberries
1/4 stick butter, softened (not melted)
1 teaspoon vanilla
powdered sugar

Combine the icing ingredients together, adding just enough powdered sugar to reach the desired consistency.  *Make sure the powdered sugar disolves completely before you ice the cake.  You don't want clumpy sugar lumps in your icing (I had a few of those on Sunday).

Ice the cooled cake.

Like a ding dong, I went off and served this cake at church and didn't take a picture of the finished product.  Sorry.  I will say that this cake only lasted approximately 5 hours from being completed...and I only had two pieces (David had none because he doesn't like strawberries).  If you're looking for a sweet, tasty cake to serve at a big gathering, I highly recommend this recipe!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Help

Oh my gosh.  You know how every once in a while you find a book that you love from beginning to end?  This book was like that for me.  Donna, my mother-in-law, recommended this book to me and like all the books that she recommends I ran out and bought it within a week.  It sat on my nightstand for a couple weeks...I even took it to Hawaii, but never got the chance to start it there.  Go figure, I was too busy doing other things that involved site-seeing.

I don't want to give away any parts of this book because I want everyone to enjoy it as much as I did, but I will give you the gist. 

Aibileen and Minny are the proverbial "help" in this novel.  They're black maids in Mississippi right before and during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.  These women are the best of friends despite their age differences, personalities and family situations.  You'll grow to love both characters.

Eugenia Phelan, referred to as "Skeeter" throughout the book, is a young white woman and a recent college graduate with dreams of becoming a writer.  In fact, the main plot-line for this book is her idea.  Skeeter wants to publish a story that's new and different...an idea no one has thought of...perhaps a book about what it's like to be a black maid in the south?

This story has parts that will make you laugh and parts that will make you want to cry and other parts that will make you drop your teeth (one specific part actually).  I don't want to give away any details, but there is an excerpt where Minny is helping her employer with a very difficult situation...it's heart-wrenching and sad.

If you are looking for a fabulous read that you can't put down, I would definitely suggest this book.  In fact, it's probably going to be added to my list of all-time favorite books.  If you want to know what those favorites are, click here.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Road

Do you ever have that book or movie that just upsets you to where you can't erase the visions in your head?  I read The Road a while back, before I started this blog.  The only reason I picked it up was because it won The Pulitzer Prize for fiction back in 2007.  I tend to do this...pick up books that I've never heard of if they've won a prize or been a best-seller. 

The story is an epic journey that a man and his young son take trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.  There are a lot of redeeming qualities that you see between both the man and boy.  I really think this book is supposed to make you think about the quality of person you'd be if placed in this same situation because there are a lot of awful things the two see.  Cannibalism is the main threat.  And the details are horrific.  Be prepared if you intend to read this book.

The reason I'm bringing this up is that the book was converted into a movie last year.  I just noticed it recently on video and after some hesitation decided to order it through Netflix. 

And I watched it this weekend.

And I was just as upset after watching the movie as I was after I finished the book. 

There are certain aspects that are brought to life on the silver screen that are just...I don't even know how to describe it.  Other than the fact that it's upsetting.  There were a couple scenes that stayed with me for a day or two that I couldn't shake.

I've thought before that I wouldn't recommend this book.  But, in all actuality, it is probably a book some people should read if to just consider what kind of person you want to be in the face of impending danger and death.  It really does make you sit down and think about it and hope and pray that you would make the right decision(s) in a situation like that. 

So, on that note...I would say you might want to read this or see the movie if you've mentally prepared for it and want to know what I'm talking about.  Otherwise, it might not be such a good idea.  I can definitely say, this is not a book/movie that I will reread/rewatch.  It was too emotionally disturbing to me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Some of My Favs...Honeymoon Edition

I haven't fully gotten all of our wedding pictures back from the photographer.  In the meantime, I thought I'd treat you with some of my favorite pictures from our Hawaiian honeymoon.  We did a lot of super fun things liiiiiike...

Take a helicopter ride.

Here's a snip-it of what we saw, lava!!

We also saw some beautiful beaches, here's one of the many with black sand.

Of course, we took the road to Hana in Maui.  Yes, that little crevice on the left side is the road outline.

One of my favorite things was ziplining, here I am messing around with David before our next zip.

It was so beautiful.  Here's a pic that I took while we were zipping.

We also went to see Haleakala Crater...it was 10,000+ feet up and felt like we were on top of the world.  Can you see why?

The view of the crater was amazing.  That's Kilauea and Mauna Loa in the background.

Of course, there was also relaxing and enjoying the simple things in life, like the sunset.

Overall, we had an excellent time and I would highly recommend going if you ever get the chance!  I'll close with one of my favorite pics from our last day...a pic of me and a manta ray at the aquarium!

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Lace Reader

I finished reading The Lace Reader last week.

Towner Whitney has come back to Salem from a self-imposed exile to California, planning to sort out the estate details from her great-aunt Eva's mysterious drowning.  The Whitney women have always played an...interesting...role in Salem society...being lace readers and all.  None of this has changed since Towner's left and she's thrown head-first back into the same situations and murmurings about town.  But, Towner wants nothing to do with any of this; she simply wants to settle Eva's estate and head back out of town.  There's too many memories bombarding Towner...everything from her dead twin sister to her shattered and dysfunctional childhood.  What Towner doesn't know is that sometimes you have to come home and face your past before you can move on...and then, sometimes you might not want to run.
This book has just about everything...a love story, mental disorders, murder, plenty of dysfunction, mystery and violence.  And I loved every minute.  There's even a twist in the end I didn't see coming AT ALL.  I highly recommend this book, especially if you're looking for a little something different.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lasagna Crystal's Way

Guess who's baaaaack!  Well, technically I've been back for a week, but it has been one whirlwind of a week.  Between trying to get settled back into our house and catching up at work it's been just sliiiightly crazy.  I have yet had a chance to do more than upload and glance at the honeymoon pics.  I promise to share a few of those, plus wedding pics, when I get the chance.  In the meantime, I'm going to share with you a recipe that I fully intended to share before the whole wedding/honeymoon situation occurred. 

Recently, I prepared this recipe for a friend of mine who's husband was in a freak accident.  This was my friendly casserole that I delivered to her door when she didn't have enough time to cook because he was in the hospital.  Luckily, he came home the morning after I made my delivery, woo hoo!  At the same time I made a 1/2 recipe for David and myself...you'll see both casserole dishes being prepared in the pics below.  I LOVE making this dish and it always procures happy tummies.  My friend, Kelly, and her husband both ended up devouring this lasagna within a couple days.  He even ate it cold from what I hear!  Anyway, if you're looking for a pasta dish that's a crowd pleaser...look no further!

Lasagna Crystal's Way

1 pound ground beef (80% lean)
1 jar (26-32 oz.) jarred spaghetti sauce (I always use Prego)
1 can (14.5-16 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 carton (15 oz.) ricotta cheese OR cottage cheese (I've done both and they're both tasty)
1 egg, well beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
6-8 whole wheat lasagna noodles, UNCOOKED
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
ground red pepper
1/2 cup sliced or shredded carrots
1 red bell pepper, chopped

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook ground beef in preheated large frying pan over medium heat 4-6 minutes or until no longer pink.  Break up ground beef pieces until they are the size of small peas.  Pour off drippings.  Add spaghetti sauce and tomatoes with liquid to pan, stirring to combine; set aside.

Meanwhile, combine ricotta/cottage cheese, egg, Parmesan cheese and basil. 

Spread 2 cups of beef sauce mixture over bottom of 11 3/4 x 7 1/2 inch baking dish. Arrange 3-4 lasagna noodles in single layer, pressing into beef mixture.

Spoon ricotta/cottage cheese mixture on top of noodles.


Layer carrots and peppers on top of cheese mixture.

Sprinkle with 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and top with two cups of beef sauce mixture. Arrange remaining noodles in single layer, pressing lightly into beef sauce mixture.

Top with remaining meat mixture; spreading evenly to cover noodles.  *It is important your noodles be submerged so they cook fully.

Bake in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or until noodles are fork tender.  Sprinkle remaining mozzarella cheese on top; tent lightly with aluminum foil.  Let stand for about 15 minutes before serving.


P.S. This is usually even better the second day because all the flavors have melded and combined to create a wonderful flavor combination.


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