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Category Archives: Food

Apple Strudel

Do you get extra busy this time of year? For us the arrival of Spring also brings soccer, school plays, choir performances, home improvement projects, lawn-tending, etc.  I’ve been very busy and have lots of things to tell along with the apple strudel recipe I promised weeks ago.

This recipe comes from a cookbook I found at the library called “Bread Machine Magic“.  I bought a used copy on Amazon and have been using it to make all kinds of things in my trusty bread machine.  These look more complicated than they really are and taste amazing fresh out of the oven (although they’re quite tasty heated-up the next day).  It’s a good way to use-up some over-the-hill apples and could easily be adapted to other fruits or fillings.

Apple Strudel

For the dough (follow your bread machine instructions regarding ingredient order – mine calls for wet items first with dry ingredients on top):
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup butter (1 and a 1/2 sticks), softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsps. active dry yeast

2 tbsp. melted butter
3 cups peeled, sliced apples
1 1/2 tbsp. all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 1/2 tsps. milk

Place dough ingredients in bread pan, select “dough” setting and press start.

While the dough is going, peel and slice the apples.  Add flour, brown sugar and cinnamon, mixing thoroughly. Divide into fourths in the bowl and set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.

When dough has risen long enough, the machine will beep.  Turn off bread machine, remove bread pan and turn out dough onto a heavily floured countertop or cutting board.  Divide dough into four pieces. Drape a towel over the other three pieces to keep the dough from drying out and, with a rolling pin, roll the remaining piece of dough into a  rectangle.  Spread the dough with melted butter and line with 1/4 of the apple mixture.  Starting from the long end, carefully roll up dough, pinch edges and ends to seal.  Plan the roll seem side down on prepared pan.  Shape roll into a crescent by curving ends slightly toward each other.  Repeat with the other three pieces of dough/apple mixture.  Cover and let rise in warm oven about 45 minutes or until doubled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for approx. 25-30 minutes until brown. Remove from oven and place on rack to cool.

Icing: In a small bowl, combine confectioner’s sugar and milk for the icing, adding enough milk to make the icing thin enough to drizzle on the strudel.  Once the strudel has cooled, drizzle icing on top and serve.

These are a huge hit with my family and relatively easy to make.
I know I’ve extolled the virtues of my bread machine before but I seriously love that thing! It’s been well worth the $3.00!  We love it so much we bought another one off Craigslist brand new, still in box, after Christmas for $30.00.  I have  been known to run both at the same time.  For instance, the night we had the apple strudel, we also had pizza.
I realize that’s not the most healthy dinner in the world but you can plainly see the veggies on the pizza which made up for it. We’re totally well-balanced around here.

So what have you been up to?  Are you busy with lots of spring activity or home improvement projects? I have lots to share with you!

How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck When it Comes to Kitchen Knives

Lately, J has been doing most of the cooking in our house. I have been swamped with work and not only has he had more time on his hands,  he has taken this opportunity to expand his culinary skills.  He has read, watched and learned an immense amount over the past six months and really stepped-up his game when it comes to cooking.  Consequently, we have been the lucky recipients of some amazing meals.  During our kitchen overhaul, J bought a few new knives and wants to share his findings with you.  Not only has he found an economic solution, it’s a superior one at that.

J here: I ❤ Chinese chef knives. No longer shall I daydream of owning an $800+ set of German Wüsthof knives when only two or three of these babies will perform just as well or better at a tiny fraction of the cost. I only paid $41 for these three knives including a sharpening stone (+ ~$15 for shipping) and I’ve barely touched my $275 set of Anolons in weeks. No, I’m not crazy. I have my reasons:

Control – Even though they appear large and unwieldy, a little time & practice with them will prove how nimble these are. Since they are a sizable weighty hunk of metal they will do most of the work if they’re sharp enough. No need to force downward pressure on the blade because they just glide through nearly everything with little effort. It’s important to place your index finger on the side of the blade rather than holding it with a full grip like a hatchet. Watch chef Martin Yan give a tutorial and show off his sublime skillz:

Safety – With a big rectangular cleaver I know where all of the knife is at all times. I’m never going to get caught by a stray tip because the knife turned. With a normal knife as I put my knuckle parallel I can’t lift the blade too high or I could cut myself but if I lift my finger too high it will be over the top of the spine. With the cleaver the sky is the limit as to how far I can lift. I raise my knuckle just above the food and I have ~4 inches of leeway before my knuckle is over or under the knife.

Value – When your knife only costs $10 it’s hard to worry too much about destroying it. Two of these knives are stainless steel which require very little maintenance. The one on the bottom is made of carbon steel which will practically rust in your kitchen when it’s raining outside (not really). Clean it immediately after using, then wipe it COMPLETELY dry. Wipe a few drops of cooking oil on it to inhibit rust. The advantage of carbon steel is how wickedly sharp it can be, while the stainless are a bit tougher to keep a super sharp edge on. if your carbon gets a little spotty just rub some Barkeeper’s Friend on it to take off the rust. Good as new. It’s very similar to cast iron cookware which is also an incredible value. If somehow I lost all my worldy possessions and had to start over, a couple Chinese chef knives and a cast iron skillet would be among the first purchases I’d make. Of course you can spend $40 or even $400 on a Chinese chef knife. If you got it flaunt it.

Bad-assedness – These things just look the business. Not only could I scare off any solicitors or Jehovah’s Witnesses answering the door with one of these in hand, but they just look so bad ass hanging in my kitchen on a magnetic strip. I also feel like I’m in a kung fu movie or something when I’m only chopping onions to feed the family.

The three knives have different functions. The thickest cleaver at the top is for heavy duty bone chopping. The middle one for cutting thicker items like pineapples and hard root vegetables. The carbon steel knife is for ultra thin slices of veggies or boneless meats.

Here’s where you can buy 2/3 of these knives and a sharpening stone.

• The thick meat cleaver I bought at a local Asian grocery store for $13 and there was only one left. You can buy a similar one here:

• The middle stainless knife is a Winco KC-101 I bought on Amazon for $10:

• The carbon steel veggie knife was purchased online from the Wok Shop in San Francisco:

Make sure you buy the large sharpening stone too:

Here’s a video on how to sharpen them. Make sure you soak your whetstone first:
So that’s J’s take on these knives. I want you to focus on that magnetic knife strip.  That’s where I come into the picture.  A couple of weeks ago I was shopping with one of my BFF’s and we hit the Kitchen Collection store in an outlet.  I had printed a 20% off one item coupon before I left because I knew I was going after a particular magnetic knife strip. It was marked at $13.99 online but when I got to the store, the tag was marked $11.99 and I ended-up getting it for $10.31 with the coupon and sales tax.  After that we headed to a new casino that had opened a few miles away where they were giving out $15.00 in “free play”.  Now, make no mistake, I am too cheap to be a real gambler but if they want to give me $15.00 to play with, I will.  I managed to make $12.41 real money on my “free play”, so it paid for my knife strip with a couple of bucks to spare.  As J mentioned above, all-in-all, this knife upgrade has cost us $41.00.  Along with our $9.99 IKEA cutting board, we have certainly enhanced our kitchen.
What about you?  How do you get the most bang for your buck in the kitchen? Any good tips to share?

Groundhog Day 2014

I know I’m a week late in sharing, but I made a special cake for my favorite holiday last Sunday. While everyone else was watching the Superbowl, I was watching a real classic.  Unfortunately, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, so six more weeks of winter for us!

Hello 2014!

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m more than happy to bid farewell to 2013.  It was definitely not one of our finer years.  I’m optimistic that 2014 will have us on a upswing and to start the year off right, J and I decided to do something we’ve wanted to do since we moved in 3 and half years ago –  remove the over-the-range microwave and add some open shelving to our kitchen.  Before we started we went through my inspiration file to help solidify a plan in our minds.  We’ve been creeping toward a certain kind of ‘look’ with our house but the kitchen was still in a sort of flux between modern and kitschy.  We have known for a while that we need to de-clutter and streamline things in there to better facilitate our meal preparation as well since we have a lot of counter space that was going unused due to random bits of ‘stuff’. After sifting through dozens of pictures, we decided we wanted something along these lines.
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All of these kitchens are warm, modern and fairly uncluttered while not feeling sterile. They also feel right with our 1956 modern ranch and are welcoming and user-friendly, something we definitely want.  After doing some research on vent hood installation, we took the plunge and bought a new range hood on Craigslist for $25.  I used some Christmas cash I received from my mother-in-law, so no out-of-pocket expense for us.
Working underneath this microwave has been downright claustrophobic.
Putting up the range hood has been one of the best DIY’s we’ve ever done.  Not only is it freeing for an enhanced cooking experience, it makes the whole kitchen feel a lot larger.
Unfortunately, the tile under the microwave had been removed so we had to install a backsplash.  I don’t know if this is a ‘forever’ solution but it works for now.  It’s also a lot easier to clean!

We’ve had this prep table from IKEA for years, ever since we lived in a house with zero counter space and J lovingly bought it for my birthday.  When we moved into this house, we didn’t need to use it as much since we had a lot more counter space and it slowly became covered with a bunch of hot sauce and other debris. (It was actually a lot worse from when this picture was taken.)
We knew that some open shelving would clear up a lot of the clutter and give us back our prep table for actual food preparation. I used a couple of Lowe’s gift cards to purchase the shelving and hardware and J did a fine job of installing them for me.
I can’t begin to tell you how much of a difference these two relatively minor changes have made.  The whole kitchen feels so open now and is a pleasure to spend time in.  Plus, we have tons of counter space now to work on.  We’ve even uncluttered the long countertop.
The next thing we plan to do is hang the cast iron skillets on the brick wall similar to what is demonstrated in the upper left corner of our inspiration picture. We also need a new garbage disposal, since the old one is leaking, and I’d love to get a new single bowl sink. Baby steps, baby steps…  We’re definitely closer to our inspiration, that’s for sure!

I’m also participating in the January Cure again over at Apartment Therapy.  I was looking at some of last year’s projects, like the landing strip I created in the kitchen, and it’s still as neat and tidy as ever.  If I can keep it up, in a few years my house may have some semblance of order!  This year’s Cure is aimed at the basement and I’m hoping to get something, anything, accomplished down there.

So what about you?  What have you accomplished so far in 2014?  Are you doing the January Cure? Are you happy to see 2013 go?  Share!

Getting Ready

There’s more snow in the forecast and I’ve made sure that there are plenty of carbs and wine, two essentials when you’re stuck inside.

The $3.00 Bread Machine that Changed my Life

We have a friend that has been baking his own bread for as long as we’ve known him.  We’ve always admired his baking skills and complimented him frequently on them.  One day, several months ago, he showed-up on our doorstep with a bread machine that he’d found at a thrift store for $3.00.  He makes all of his dough in the machine and finishes baking everything in the oven.  What a fantastic idea!  I went to the library and found a bread machine cookbook and we were off and running.
So far we’ve baked bread, made pizza dough, breadsticks, cinnamon rolls, calzones, croutons and a few other things.  Not only is it a revolutionary idea to me to never run out of bread again, but the fact that I’m controlling what goes into my bread is awesome.  No preservatives or chemicals and it tastes a lot better.
My son has been asking for these cinnamon rolls again and again.
These calzones were delicious.  J was solely responsible for these bad boys.DSC00096
I’ve been baking a standard white loaf of bread for school lunches and morning toast.  It also makes a mean grilled cheese.
One thing I noticed is that the lack of preservatives means a home-baked loaf of bread has a very short shelf-life.  I did some research and found a bread keeper that has adjustable humidity control for dry or humid climates.  Ohio has both depending on the season and I needed a way to keep my bread as optimally fresh as possible.  This Progressive International Adjustable Bread Keeper seems to be doing the trick and at $12.95, will quickly pay for itself.
So far, of all the bread machine cookbooks I’ve check-out at the library, The Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook by Jennie Shapter is my favorite.
There are a lot of fantastic recipes in this book and I think we may end-up buying  a copy when I finally have to return it to the library.  So far, we’ve really enjoyed our foray into all things bread related.   Obviously we can’t keep up this pace of bread consumption or we’ll become a bit doughy ourselves.  However, it’s still so much fun we just can’t seem to stop making more.  I’m sure it will wear-off a bit after the initial excitement of creating our own bread products wanes.

So what about you?  Do you bake your own bread?  Any good recipes you’d like to share?

Vintage Bundt Pan

We were driving home from the grocery store the other day and noticed a large garage sale going on in our neighborhood.  J and I quickly unloaded our groceries and walked straight over to the sale, because you have to jump on these things you know.  Most of the stuff was your usual garage sale fare and while I was looking at some pants, J was scoping out the items actually inside the garage.  He came over to me with a box in his hand and asked if I wanted it. The box contained a mint condition Nordic Ware bundt pan that was made sometime in the early seventies. I gleefully snatched it out of his hand and asked the lady how much she wanted for it since it didn’t have a price.  She said a dollar and it was sold!
It still has the original liner with recipes.
I, of course, had to come home and immediately bake a bundt cake.  I already had a decent bundt pan but it was dark-colored on the outside.  Because our oven is located in a brick wall, it tends to hold more heat than your average oven and darker pans tend to burn things.  I’ve had trouble baking bundt cakes that don’t burn or over-bake ever since we’ve lived here.  This vintage pan is shiny aluminum on the outside with a Teflon coating on the inside.  I know there are all kinds of warnings about Teflon but I don’t bake bundt cakes every day and, when I do, I’m careful not to scrape the coating so I’m not particularly worried about our Teflon intake because of this one particular pan.  Plus, I’ve never had a bundt cake turn-out so perfectly before!
I looked on ebay and there are quite a few of these vintage pans available ranging in price from $10-$30 dollars (with shipping), so I think my $1.00 pan is a very good deal.  Plus, this thing is so heavy it could be used as a home defense device if needed.
Screen shot 2013-09-10 at 9.41.41 AM
One thing I noticed on ebay is the wide variety of colors these bundt pans come in, especially the seventies ones in all the pretty harvest golds, greens and oranges.  I don’t think I would buy them to bake with because they might not do as well in my oven but I might buy them to start a whole bundt pan collection to display (or not, who knows).  I sure do like them, though, and they would look swell in my kitchen.
Screen shot 2013-09-10 at 10.07.25 AM
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Anyway, I’m thrilled with my $1.00 vintage bundt pan complete with box.  I have a couple of other garage sale scores I need to share with you soon, as well.  So what about you?  What great buys have you found lately?

A Tale of Two Lunch Boxes

Way back when my son was starting first grade and my daughter was starting fourth grade, I purchased two lunch boxes. With my son starting all-day school, I wanted something durable that would last a long time. We had those plastic ones with cute cartoon logos that didn’t hold much and always seemed to come unlatched. Plus, they seemed to have a short life-span and my daughter was already on her second one.  I pretty much always pack their lunches, unless there is something they really, really want in the cafeteria that day, which is pretty rare. I knew that I would be using these nearly every day and wanted to get the best product I could find in my budget.  I finally found the ideal lunch tote, which sadly appears to be no longer available.
Now my son is in sixth grade and my daughter is a freshman in high school and, as you can see, these lunch boxes are still going strong. My mother-in-law made the name tags and has updated them over the years as their tastes have changed. Those name tags have been great and they’ve never lost their lunch boxes. Even the school janitor knows to whom they belong when they’ve occasionally been found in some inexplicable place.  Another plus is that they are completely washable.  I just throw them in with a load of laundry and air dry them over night which comes in handy when someone forgets to screw their thermos lid on tight and brings you home a lunch box full of spaghetti-o sauce.  The fabric is made out of recycled water bottles which makes me feel good about them, although it was not a major factor in my purchase. I was just looking for something affordable and durable. The fact that they are recycled is an added bonus.
I bought these lunch boxes from and, even though this model is no longer available, it appears that there are a couple of other options made from the same durable material.  There is this medium-sized model which seems nice.
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There is also this slightly smaller-looking model.
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I don’t know how these newer models compare to our trusty lunch boxes but if the quality is even half as good, they should last quite a long time.  By my estimation, I’ve packed each child approximately 900 (20 school days a month for nine months each year) lunches over the last five years , and they are still going strong.  My son has six more years of school, so we’ll see if these lunch boxes can make it through a whole school career.  I’m rooting for them, that’s for sure.  It will be a bittersweet day when I pack the last lunch but, thankfully, I have some time to adjust to that idea, which might make me start to cry if I think about it for too long, so I won’t.

This is not a sponsored post.  I just wanted to share this product/brand in case anyone is looking for a durable lunch tote. It’s too bad the ones we have aren’t available any more because they are such a great size but the newer models look nice, too, and I would be willing to give them a shot should anything ever happen to our beloved lunch boxes.

Mom’s Mac and Cheese


I’ll just say right off the bat it’s not my mom’s recipe.  It’s some lady named Maria Costello from Monroe, North Carolina’s mother’s recipe and it’s delicious.  It is my new all time favorite go-to macaroni and cheese recipe.  I found it a couple of months ago and have made it several times since.  It’s sinful but delicious.  It is not diet food.  It is probably  bad for you but I don’t care about any of those things.  All I know is that it’s scrumptious and relatively easy and cheesy, which are my main criteria for mac and cheese.  I’ve made many recipes over the years and none of them have ever turned-out the way I wanted them to in my head.  That’s the thing about homemade macaroni and cheese.  When it’s good, it’s so, so good and when it’s bad, well, let’s just say stringy and oily come first to my mind.  There have been low periods in my life where I have turned to the boxed stuff because it was better than anything I was turning out of my kitchen.  I’m here to tell you that I’m never going to get that low again.  This recipe has changed my life and I’m never looking back.  I found it in my trusty Taste of Home cookbook and the recipe is available online as well.



    • Cook macaroni according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth. Gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Reduce heat. Add the cheeses, stirring until cheese is melted. Drain macaroni.
    • Transfer macaroni to a greased 1-1/2-qt. baking dish. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni; mix well. Melt the remaining butter; add the bread crumbs. Sprinkle over top. Bake, uncovered, at 375° for 30 minutes or until heated through and topping is golden brown. Yield: 6 servings.

Like I said, I’ve made this several times now and each time has been slightly different but equally delicious.  Some key things to note:

      • Any kind of hard cheese you like, or have on hand, can be used in place of the cheddar.  I would recommend using the 2 ounces of processed cheese, though, because it really gives it the right amount of creaminess you will otherwise be missing.
      • The mac and cheese will probably need a little more salt than the recipe calls for but I make the sauce first and then adjust it accordingly because different cheeses have different salt content.
      • Add other spices and let your imagination go wild.  I usually add a little dash of garlic powder, dried mustard and parsley but one night I grabbed the oregano by mistake and made something akin to Italian mac and cheese, so I used Italian breadcrumbs instead and it was delicious.  Since then I’ve been dreaming up a variety of combinations that might be tasty such as a middle eastern mac and cheese with the addition of a little Burani spice or something tex-mex with some cumin and chile powder.  The possibilities are endless.
      • Add a dash of worcestershire sauce to the cheese sauce, if you have it.  It gives the mac and cheese a nice depth of flavor.

I made this the other night when J and I were alone for the evening (for the first time in a long time).  He grilled some fish and sugar snap peas and I made a mac and cheese to die for.  I used a Vermont extra sharp white cheddar, added a little worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, parsley and powdered mustard.  The sauce had a deep, rich velvety flavor and I used bow tie pasta because it was all I had.  I think the different pasta threw off the ratios a little bit but the extra cheesiness of the dish was so decadent that we didn’t care.  It’s not something I would eat on a daily basis, or even a monthly basis, but for a date night at home with a bottle of wine?  Oh yeah, we ate it and we don’t regret a thing.  The other, not-so-sexy, secret about this dish is that it’s pretty economical. I buy 1 pound boxes of elbow macaroni for less than a dollar and a 2 pound box of processed cheese food (just like Velveeta) for a few bucks at Aldi and I almost always have some kind of hard cheese around.  If you try it, let me know how you make it and if you improvise.  I’m going to be on the lookout for some new ideas!

I hope to be back later this week with my latest, long-coveted, furniture item that I received for free!


15 and Counting!

This past weekend we celebrated our daughter’s 15th birthday.  Yes, 15!  It seems like only yesterday that she was turning 13 and now here we are two years later, just like that.  She is still an amazing girl and the light of my life.  I know the teen years can be tough, and I’ve witnessed first hand how hard it can truly be with some of my friends, but I couldn’t have asked for a better kid with which to navigate these treacherous waters.  Of course in true mama fashion, I asked her what kind of birthday cake she wanted this year.  She very tentatively asked for a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, which is her favorite.  I’ve had a bad run with white and yellow cakes recently.  I’ve always turned to my trusty Cake Mix Doctor book for birthday cakes because I think they turn-out nice and sturdy for the purpose.  However, since the cake mix manufacturers have started making cake mixes smaller, while telling us they bake-up just the same, which is a outright lie, my white and yellow cakes have been shrinking.  I’ve searched and searched for the cause because I never had the problem before but so far I’ve been unable to find a reason.  Last year K asked for a yellow cake and I ended-up having to re-make the whole thing the day of her party because the one I’d made shrank to a dense piece of rubber.  It was very frustrating to say the least.  This year I decided to forego the Cake Mix Doctor and make one from scratch.  I’ve made many, many cakes from scratch so it’s not a stretch for me (or anyone really because it’s not hard to bake a cake).  I think I kept using the Cake Mix Doctor recipe because I was determined to conquer the shrinkage problem but I’ve finally come to grips that the problem is not mine and I’m ready to move-on to another yellow cake.
I decided to try the Taste of Home test kitchen yellow cake recipe, which is a pretty straight-forward cake.  In fact it’s a little too straight-forward.  It came out slightly on the dry side and a little lacking in flavor. If I’d read the online reviews before I made it, I would have known these things but I went old-school and pulled it out of my big cookbook.  It was okay but not great.  At least it doesn’t shrink on you, which is a huge plus.  I’m sharing the recipe with you anyway because I think this cake has potential.  It just needs some more butter and maybe a dash of almond extract to give it greater depth of flavor, or something.


  • Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition.
  • Pour into two greased and floured 9-in. round baking pans. Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
  • Spread frosting between layers and over the top and sides of cake. Yield: 12 servings.

I used my favorite chocolate buttercream frosting recipe which comes out perfect and delicious every time.  In fact, the frosting is so good that the bland cake is a pretty good vehicle to deliver all that chocolate goodness.  I use a KitchenAid stand mixer but you can also use a hand mixer if you like.

Fluffy Chocolate Frosting

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature – DO NOT use margarine or shortening if you want it to taste good.
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

In a large bowl combine the softened butter and cocoa powder until smooth and well-blended.  Add the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla and salt.  Turn the mixer on low to combine (otherwise you’ll have clouds of powdered sugar everywhere).  Once the butter/sugar mixture is combined, turn-up the speed and let ‘er rip until you have something that looks like frosting.  It should be fluffy and smooth, not creamy and grainy.  If it’s still creamy and grainy, whip it some more until you have fluffy and smooth.  This makes enough to frost a two layer cake, the top and sides of a 9×13 sheet cake or 30 cupcakes provided you don’t eat half of it before you get to the cake.
Overall K was pleased with her cake or at least the effort of the cake.  One of these years Mama’s going to get it right, I promise!  Does anyone have a good yellow cake recipe they would like to share?  I’m still searching for ‘the one’.