Saturday, July 30, 2011

Baking Rainbow Cakes in a Jar

A friend posted this recipe on facebook on how to bake cakes in Mason Jars. I decided to give it a go and give them the full rainbow treatment that the recipe suggests.
As I knew the dying of the icing and the filling of the jars would be time consuming I opted to cut some corners by using box cake mix and ready made icing...I know this goes against everything I believe in, but sometimes you just gotta go for expediency over principles. I'm sure they would taste better if I had made my own cake batter, but the primary gimmick is the appearance here anyway.

The first challenge is working out how to split a large amount of cake batter into 6 equal portions.

Here's how I did it - a digital scale that you can zero will be your friend.
  1. Weigh your empty mixing bowl - mine was 1 lb 9oz
  2. Weigh your mixing bowl full of batter - 5 lb 15 oz
  3. Total weight of batter = 5lb 15oz minus 1 lb 9 oz = 4lbs 6oz
  4. Six equal portions of batter will be 4 lb 6 oz divided by 6 which is 11.6 oz
  5. Put your empty bowl on the scales and add 11.6 oz of batter...repeat until all 6 bowls are filled.

First lesson learned - The math would have been easier and more accurate if I had used Grams and Kilos rather than pounds and ounces. A gram is a smaller unit than an ounce so you get a more accurate reading...also, the smallest unit my scale would read is 1/8 oz. Working out what 11.6oz was (11 and 6 tenths) when you can only measure in 8ths was a challenge. I went with 11 and 5/8 to approximate.

Next I needed to color all 6 batters.

Gel food coloring is preferable to liquid as it won't change the consistency of your batter that much. I bought a pack of 4 colors - red, yellow, green and blue because I figured I could mix orange and purple to get the 6 colors I needed. As you can see from the picture this was only partially successful.

Orange was not difficult to mix, but I found getting the red an intense enough color took a lot of gel and I was concerned about having enough left to mix the purple. Little did I realize that mixing purple would be the bane of my existence!

Second Lesson Learned  - I bought the 4 color pack to save money. I could have bought each of the colors already mixed in gel form. My red would have probably been more intense if I'd done this and my purple might have actually looked purple. If you are not confident in your color mixing skills buy them ready mixed.The colors looked muted after baking (see pics below) so the more intense they are at this stage the better.

The next stage is filling the jars with the 6 layers. I was concerned about how I could split the batter. evenly among the 6 containers so I resorted to math again.

  1. I have 11.6 oz of each color cake batter
  2. 11.6 divided by 6 is approximately 1 and 7/8 oz in each jar.
I placed the empty jar on the scales and zeroed them. Then I drizzled in the first color from a spoon and when I reached the correct weight stopped. Then I zeroed the scales again and added the next layer. Continue adding and zeroing until all 6 colors are in the jar.

The recipe said to fill the jars 3/4 full. Mine were slightly fuller than that and I had a little batter left over. I knew from the recipe that they would rise to a domed top and I would have to cut some off the top before icing so I wasn't too worried.

After 40 minutes in the oven I was greeted by this.

Third Lesson Learned - 3/4 means 3/4. My division of the batter was even, but it was still too much for the size of the jar. The tray of water that the glasses stands in catches any mess, but I did have some dribble down the side of the glasses and some batter wasted. I think if I'd been a little less liberal with my filling I might have stretched the recipe to fill 7 jars rather than 6. It's not a huge deal as I have to cut off the tops anyway, but an extra jar might have been nice.

The trimming of the cakes once they had cooled was a relatively simple affair. It's helpful to have someone else with you so that you don't gorge on all the spare cake yourself.

Icing them is a simple task.

Now all I have to do is put the lids on, stick some circular labels in the lids and maybe tie a few ribbons for added fun.

Fourth Lesson Learned - The leftover cake that I cut off goes really well with the leftover icing :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

A 4 Chord Life?

We spoke about singing a New Song in the Contemplative Service yesterday. You can read what Jerry said at this link here. The whole post is worth a read, but here is one quote that caught my attention.

You don't have to find the pre-ordained notes to the score God has written. As God lives within you, inhabits you, energizes you, you are the score. Your moment-by-moment life is the pattern of notes, the harmony to the song you are given to sing and to be.

I hope you can sense, then, that your new song is not something to figure out, to wrestle with and struggle over as you try to come to whatever your song is. Usually we think about the "will of God" as something difficult to find, something that takes great effort to discern. Rather, in this view, your new song is something to live, something to be. It is your everyday, ordinary life lived with God for the good of the world.

Your very life is a new song, non-repeatable, creative, expansive and uniquely your own.

Don't try to sing someone else's song. Sing your song. Live your life

There are infinite ways to combine melody and harmony. The danger is that we get stuck in a rut. Always singing the same safe song that sounds just like every body elses. The Australian Comedy Trio Axis of Awesome demonstrate the occurrence of this with a medley of songs all using the same chord progression.

(If you are offended by some off color language then please don't watch)

I could spend my life singing and playing the same four chords. A life lived that way would be embraced with open arms by most people. It is controlled, non-threatening, middle of the road and very cookie-cutter. However if you strip away the words, all the songs start to sound the same.

That sounds like many people I know. Their lives are all slight variations of one another. They may all speak with their own voice, but everything that is said is the same. The fear of branching out into new harmonies keeps them locked in the same 4 chords cycling over and over again.

At the other extreme we have the fantastic work The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. Complex rhythmic Structures, creative use of harmonies and dissonance, unusual musical timbres all combine to make the composition of this piece one the seminal moments in music history. American composer Peter Schiekel said that ...The Rite of Spring had such a profound effect on composition that virtually all subsequent 20th century music could be said to be “The Rewrite of Spring”

Here is Michael Tilson Thomas discussing the work.

Michael Tilson Thomas talks about Stravinsky tapping into his unconscious in the creation of this piece. It is raw, passionate, violent, sensual and incredible.

In most works melodic phrases are quoted and developed, repeated and altered. Here, Stravinsky seems to continually throw out new phrases as if he is never afraid of becoming stale. There is rhythm and repetition, but just when you think you've grasped what is happening the who piece shifts once again.

4 chords stifle me...and Stravinsky scares me.

I want a life bursting with unique passion. A song that is mine and mine alone, but that means acknowledging the darkness as well as the light. It means confessing that there are times in my life where a curse word is a more honest truthful response than a Praise the Lord.

For me to sing my own unique song it means acknowledging that minor chords (sad chords as I was taught in Middle School) are necessary. Even the 4 chord progression quoted above contains one minor chord, but that chord always falls in the same place and is predictable.

My life isn't that predictable. Minor chords, dissonance and changes of tempo occur without warning. Sometimes it feels that multiple songs are all playing at the same time, conflicting melodies calling for my attention creating harmonic progressions that 4 chords could never cover.

It's scary, but I chose Stravinsky over Safety anytime.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pineapple Teriyaki Salmon

I'm not a big fish eater, but this was yummy!!!!

Make sure you have an oven proof, nonstick skillet though!

2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 (6 oz) can of pineapple juice
1/2 teaspoon of salt (divided)
2 teaspoons canola oil
4 (6 oz) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick) See Note*
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Grated Orange Rind (optional)

Combine the first 4 ingredients and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Set to one side.

Preheat oven to 400F

Heat oil in non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Sprinkle both sides of salmon with remaining salt and pepper. Add fish to pan and cook for 3 minutes.

Turn fish over and then place the pan in the oven and bake at 400F for 3 minutes.

Remove from oven, brush sauce over each salmon fillet. Return to oven and cook for 1 minute more or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Sprinkle with orange rind if desired.

I served it with Lemon Rice and Broccoli. Healthy and tasty :)

*I couldn't find salmon fillets so I just bought a piece about 1 1/2 lbs and cut it into pieces. I cooked them skin down first, then skin up.

To be honest 3 8oz servings looked a lot better than 4 6oz ones, but then again, I do eat alot :)

The monk who never judged anyone

This monk was lazy, careless, and lacking in his prayer life; but throughout all of his life, he did not judge anyone. While dying, he was happy. When the brethren asked him how is it that with so many sins, you die happy? He replied, “I now see angels who are showing me a letter with my numerous sins. I said to them, ‘Our Lord said: Judge not and you will not be judged (Lk. 6:37). I have never judged anyone, and I hope in the mercy of God that He will not judge me.’” And the angels tore up the paper. Upon hearing this, the monks were astonished and learned from it.

- St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Indulge Me?

Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life."
Matthew 19:27-29

(Random thoughts for the Contemplative Service)

However much I don't want it to be, I must confess that Peter's question is often my question. 'What's in it for me? What do I get?'  When I do something good I start looking to God for my reward and when something bad happens I start looking back through my life trying to work out what I did wrong to cause the event to happen.

I reduce my spiritual life to My Action and God's Response. I perform action A (or avoid performing it) and then I wait for God to respond with B.

Actions like:

I have had a quiet time every day.
I avoided _________________
I gave money to the poor
I took Disciple Bible Study
I taught Disciple Bible Study
I went on a mission trip
I went on a silent retreat
I visited auntie Ethel even though she drives me crazy
I went to church while on vacation
I gave up meat for Lent
I work full time for You
I moved to another country for You
I made a pilgrimage to _______

All the things I've listed are good - prayer, fasting, study, pilgrimage, teaching, self discipline etc, but the danger is I think that I can manipulate God into blessing me by the way I live. I keep my end of the bargain then God must keep his.

I am also aware that I promote books, studies, retreats, worship services etc to other people in a similar way. If you read this book then God will bless you. If you go on this retreat you will grow spiritually. If you fast for Lent then you will encounter God in a new way.

I saw a number of cathedrals in Spain recently. At one of them we saw incredible gold and silver items for use in worship services. I overheard someone saying that they could see where all the money from the church selling Indulgences ended up. Johann Tetzel, a Dominican Preacher in the Middle Ages is reputed to have said 'As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.' If you give to the church your deceased friends will get relief from Purgatory.

I don't like this comparison. I can sit in judgement of Tetzel whilst being guilty of the same thing.

My Action. God's Response.

I decide what I want God to do in my life and then try and figure out how to manipulate God into doing it. I judge whether I should perform an action by what I will get out of it. Even my selfless actions have a level of selfishness in them. It's easy for me to get caught up in a spiral of despair around this. I question my motives for everything and end up doing nothing.

I'm glad Thomas Merton is there to help. He wrote in his book Thoughts in Solitude:

I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

What do you want? What is your desire? How can you please God today?