NOT Gluten Free Friday: The Giant Guitar Cake

Being a pastor’s wife affords one many opportunities to develop skills in multiple trades. (Actually, being a mom does this too, so imagine the possibilities for my own personal development throughout the years!) Of course, cooking is at the top of that list, and I’ve had the privilege of planning and preparing countless menus and meals in my home and church over the last 18 or so years. And I love it. Some sing and play the piano, some work with children. I seem to cook. (And I do love to teach, but this is recipe Friday, so I’ll stick to cooking today!)
In December I attended a planning meeting of the 30th birthday bash for our amazingly talented worship leader, Cindy P. This was to be a semi-formal event (Cindy loves an opportunity to dress up!) with elegant food, beautiful decor, a talent show, and great music – including a special choreographed dance routine/Michael-Jackson-move-montage! Everyone at the meeting was taking on responsibilities, and when the topic of a birthday cake came up, I had a vision….
…. a guitar cake. A really big guitar cake. (Cindy plays guitar AND viola AND has one incredible voice as well!) One that would feed the large amount of guests we were expecting. (Cindy is everyone’s favorite friend!) I threw out the idea, the group went for it, the meeting was over, and I left for Texas a few days later with guitar cake making its way to the back of my mind. No worries. I’ve made so many “shaped” birthday cakes over the years – dinosaurs, firetrucks, teapots, flower gardens, dragons, spaceships, etc. How hard could it be? Another “shaped” cake – just larger – like about 10 times larger.
The party was February 6th, so on Feb 5th, after an early morning gym workout, Robert and I stopped into Target where we bought 12 yellow boxed cake mixes, 3 dozen eggs, a bottle of canola oil, and about 14 tubs of chocolate and vanilla frosting. Our checkout person was quite fascinated with our purchase and asked what we were up to. When we told her, she got even more excited and reminded us to be sure and take pictures! (I really should go back and try to show her some of these photos. I know she would love it!)
I came home and began baking. Intermittently, between helping the kids with school, and other things, I was able to bake 8 cakes (NOT gluten free) that Friday morning and afternoon. On Saturday, I knew the entire day would be devoted to the cake and then the party. I baked the remaining 4 that morning, and worked on a pattern while they were cooking and cooling. (I only had a rough idea in my mind about how to assemble all of these cakes and had searched for some images of guitar cakes online.) Thankfully, we have more than the average number of guitars per family floating around our house, so I traced one of their cases, and left one guitar out of its case to refer to as I decorated. I also drew and colored a picture of what it would look like with frosting colors and all, just to make sure the vision in my mind was really going to work.
Using the guitar pattern laid out on the pieced together cakes, I cut out the shape. The kids were my astounded audience all day long, throwing out their approval, encouragement, and ideas all throughout the process. Also, my friend Izckra stopped by for a while and “smoothed” the icing for me – quite a tedious job, but it made the cake look so much better! I used my handy Martha Stewart Cake/Cookie Decorating kit which has all kinds of special bags and tips to add some detail and flair. (I have never really learned proper cake-decorating technique – just lots of trial and error with my Martha Stewart kit and LOTS of kiddos birthday cakes!)
Robert took Kory back up to the gym later to lift weights and called on his way home to see if I needed anything. “Peanut butter cups and more icing,” I replied. Peanut butter cups were the only thing I could think of that would make nice tuning knobs (Robert says the technical term may be “machines.”), and Cooper, who is “in” to all things guitar insisted that we also use the cups for the “strap buttons” at the base and side of the guitar. So, I only used 8 peanut butter cups, but somehow the entire bag disappeared in the course of a few short minutes after it was confirmed that I was indeed finished with them. No one seemed to know their whereabouts…
I thought I had created a strong enough base for the cake out of a couple of layers of cardboard and lots of duct tape, but at about 4 1/2 feet long, it was too heavy to carry on its base without sagging in the middle. Robert grabbed a ladder from the garage and he and Kory carried the cake out on the ladder, gently placing it in the back of our van. (We had to fold down the rear seats.) I drove carefully to the church where I was met by Robert and others who helped carry it to the party room, which was already glowing with candlelight and looking so beautiful!

And here’s the beautiful birthday girl blowing out her 30 candles atop the giant guitar cake and labor of love! And that it truly was. Cindy is SUCH a special lady and friend, and I had so much fun creating something for her and her special evening.

Now I am privileged to add “giant guitar cake making” to my unique skill set and resume.

And my husband, the pastor, can add “ability to perform Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ dance to HIS resume. But that is another post all in itself!

(Not sure that makes him very marketable in the ministry department, but a true labor of love on his part, too.)

Happy Birthday, Cindy!

(P.S. Kayla and her friend Mary DID make a gluten free cake for the party and had TONS of fun using the decorating tips and icing.)

Trip to Texas Part 3: The Cousins!

Another highlight of our annual trip south is time with siblings and cousins. Robert and I each have sisters with three kids, so it is always a fun and entertaining time to be together. (I have other siblings with no kids, so we hope that even more cousins will be coming someday soon…hint…hint.)

We spent a wonderful evening with Robert’s sister and brother-in-law at their home in San Antonio. Kayla and Anna made gluten free chocolate chip cookies together for dessert. Anna is a beautiful and vibrant 6th grader. And she’s also managed to become an accomplished actress over the years, recently finishing a role as Morgan Le Fay.

We enjoyed a DELICIOUS steak dinner compliments of brother-in-law, Drew, complete with baked potatoes, crisp-tender broccoli :), brownies, and cookies. Kane is sitting next to Kory and is an all-around great student and athlete. He plays football and baseball, and wins everyone over with his sweet spirit and charming smile.
Leah is the middle child in the family; full of life and joy, dancing and singing. We all enjoyed listening to her practice her newly acquired skill…..READING! She read Kory the story of the Princess and the Frog, and I was privileged to hear an originally written and illustrated story of hers about a haunted house. Her ability to read is such a blessing and accomplishment. Who knows what this gal will be doing next?!
Madeline is my sister’s youngest. She is also an actress, choir member, and dedicated fashionista: “a person devoted to fashion clothing, particularly high or unique fashion.” I would say she tends toward “unique” and not necessarily “high.” I mean, anyone can do “high,” but it takes a real eye for “unique,” and Madeline has it. Never without a beret of some sort, we are all so drawn to her whimsy and……well, goofiness. But, no one is more drawn than Kayla, who plans her day around a 4pm phone date with her beloved cousin. Their main topic of discussion: “What did you eat for lunch today?” Deep stuff.
And as my sister like to say, these two guys are “brothers from another mother” except that their mothers are actually sisters, so then where does that leave them, except eerily similar! Guitar lovin’, long hair growin’, Lego buildin’, silly livin’…these two are quite the pair. You should hear their “British Band” accents. Oh. My. (Jonah also plays bass and saxaphone….watch out!)
And here Maisie gets in on the marshmallow-roasting-girl-cousin-fellowship. (The boys were glued to Grandad’s Playstation!) What would we do without Maisie? She is our conscientious student, first chair clarinet player, responsible, mature, giggly, thoughtful, gentle, dependable, lover of horses and ponytails…Maisie!

What a blessing to see ALL the cousins last month! We miss you guys!

Gluten Free Friday – Sesame Maple Chicken Wings

For the last few years, since my boys have become football fanatics, I have enjoyed indulging them in having friends over for the Superbowl and cooking up some “teenage/manly” snacks. I had even started thinking about giving Buffalo Wild Wings a call to see if they had any gluten free dishes or wings on their menu. It is literally a mile from my house on the same street and, oh, how my little football lovers would enjoy going there and watching a game on multiple big screens! Well, I haven’t made that call, but I did find a great recipe for chicken wings and gave it a try last Sunday evening for the big game. (I didn’t even know who was playing!) The wings were a huge hit with all who joined us, and the adults were definitely in the minority! So these are kid-approved, and I hope you will enjoy them, too.

Sesame Maple Chicken Wings

1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup GF soy sauce
3 Tbsp sesame oil (a bit expensive, but worth it!)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger root
1 Tbsp tandoori paste (this one had lots of ground garlic and chili peppers – in the Indian Food section)
3 garlic cloves
4 lbs chicken wings (we left the skin on)
2 Tbsp sesame seeds

Place first 6 ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Place chicken in a plastic zip-lock type bag (or a baking dish) and pour marinade over chicken pieces. Seal or cover and let marinate for 2 hours. Remove chicken from marinade and arrange in a baking dish or on a cookie/jellyroll sheet. Bake chicken for 25 minutes at 375 degrees. Bring remaining marinade to a boil for one minute. Brush chicken pieces with marinade and turn, cooking 10 more minutes. Turn and baste again, and cook another 10 minutes. Baste again and then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake 8-10 minutes more until sesame seeds are beginning to be a golden color.

Her Daddy is NOT Her Math Hero

Last Friday afternoon, in the middle of me getting ready to go to a Classical Conversations Informational meeting, Kayla came to me with her math book…

Kayla: “Mom, I finished all of my math problems, but I need your help on three of them.”

Me: “Oh, honey, I can’t help you right now. I have to leave in just a few minutes. Will you go and ask Dad to help you.”

Kayla: (grumpy voice) “Every time I ask Dad to help me with a math problem, I get it wrong.”

Me: “Kayla!!?? Go ask Dad. I’m pretty sure he can do fourth grade math.”

She heads downstairs and plops her heavy math book on her napping father’s chest.
(Fridays are his day off. He had already been to the gym, and had just finished helping Cooper with some math – which I have to say, is much more of a workout than Planet Fitness could ever offer!)

Kayla: (grumpy attitude, angry voice, furrowed brow) “Daddy, I need help with three math problems, but every time you help me, I get all the answers wrong.”

Robert: “Kayla, that is not nice. I just finished helping Cooper with his math. And now, why don’t you now say something kind to build Daddy up, since you just hurt him with your words.”

(This was sort of a joke, but we have been working on sibling harmony and reading through the book of James and other places that speak about the tongue, forgiving one another, reconciliation, and encouragement. The kids have been made to say a kind word about whichever sibling they insult lately.)

Kayla: “Ummmm……you’re good at helping Cooper with his math?”

Robert: (hysterical laughter) “Kayla! You are a pill.”

This morning Robert came in after an early morning breakfast appointment, and Kayla was sitting at the kitchen table working on her new Kay Arthur Bible study, Lord, Teach Me to Pray for Kids. Right as he walked in the door…..

Kayla: “Daddy, I need your help with one of the questions in my Bible study. Who did Elijah tell that it would not rain?”

Robert: “What? Help with a question on your Bible study?”

Kayla: “Yeah, and I figure since you’re a pastor, you can help me on this one.” (cheeky laughter)

Robert: “Kayla, you ARE a pill.”

(For the record, Robert was an excellent math student, and remains to be a great math teacher, but sometimes 4th grade math can be tricky, and he’s unaware of the groundwork the previous lessons have provided!
I’m just thankful that he tries and is sometimes available when I’m not!)

Trip to Texas Part 2: Fun with Granparents

Since our entire family is in Texas, we get to make the rounds and see almost everyone during our January trip south. Our immediate families all live within about an hour and a half of each other which makes those trips do-able.
At Grammie and Paw Paw’s house (Robert’s parents) the kids enjoyed lots of crossword puzzle solving with Paw Paw, lots of yummy gluten free food and treats from Grammie (notice the goodies on the table!), and some other fun activities!
Paw Paw took them golfing twice – once to hit some practice balls, and then back the next day for a full 18 holes of golf, complete with two golf carts! As you can imagine, the boys are just as interested in driving the cart as they are the balls! (Here, they had to “shush” Kayla because they were letting a REAL golfer tee-off in front of them.) Kayla and I stayed for the first nine holes and then took off to Dairy Queen for some of our own favorite past times = Blizzard eating and coffee drinking!

Robert’s parents are retired schoolteachers/administrators and now seem more busy then ever with church leadership as well as leadership in the Walk to Emmaus Ministry. They have seen so many lives changed and can’t seem to get enough of watching the Lord work in that way!

Grandad’s house (my dad) is sort of home base for us and central to all other locations we need to visit. Half of the time, he wasn’t even there, but off on business trips, so we had the whole house to ourselves. One evening after dinner, there was a knock on the door by someone from the electric company saying that the power would be out for a while on his cul-de-sac. Well, this made for much excitement! We had to get out candles and prepare for darkness. I was amazed at the amount of candles my father owns being a bachelor and all. We had about 2 going in every room by the time the lights went out, and we all thought it was so much fun. I thought it was the perfect time to make some tea. Nope – electric tea kettle and stove. How about a load of laundry? Well, no. Washers use electricity, too. Wow! Electricity is such a blessing. Little did I realize how much I take it for granted. Well, we were forced to live in this Little House on the Prairie existence for all of about 35 minutes which was beginning to feel like a huge sacrifice.

Would you believe that in 11 New England winters now, we have NEVER been without power? And would you believe that I’ve secretly wished we would be without power at times? How romantic to sit by the fire for warmth and read by candlelight…

Maybe not.

This scene brings with it so many memories – cowboy hats everywhere! My dad has been a sales rep for Resistol Hats for over 30 years now. For as long as I can remember, his house has often been filled with hat racks, hat boxes, hat steamers/shapers, and hat cleaners. Now the company has a line of shirts as well, so along with the hats, he also has racks of men’s, women’s, and kids western shirts. And though I’ve never been much of a cowgirl (much to his dismay), some of the shirts are pretty cute,and he is quick to indulge me in any leftover “samples.” And I do love the rodeo, (which we, of course, grew up attending each year) but just can’t really dress the part too well!

My boys (and cousin Jonah) helped him unpack the hats and shirts, place on racks for cataloging, and then carry boxes to the curb for pick up.

My dad has often been the company’s top salesperson.
Did you realize that you could make a nice career of selling cowboy hats?

Only in Texas.

(Well, not really just there, but it is ideal.)

Another treat was seeing my grandmother, Gigi. She and my uncle took my sister, her kids, my whole family, and my dad out for an amazing dinner at P.F. Chang’s which has a really great gluten free menu. She also indulged all the great-grandkids in the flourless chocolate cake – and one husband in the cheesecake! It was a fun evening of catching up and it was great to see her doing so well now in her mid-eighties.
And two nights before we returned home to MA, we attended church with some adopted grandparents – Jack and Kelly, and then were treated to dinner in their home. I emphasize the word home, because I was having a hard time picturing it before Kelly moved in. Married only one year ago, Kelly then moved into Jack’s house. Well, either Jack had no belongings before her arrival, or they mysteriously disappeared as Kelly worked her cozy, country comfort all over the entire place. It became the joke of the evening, and Jack did give a “tour” of things that had survived the decorating makeover – an antique saw, his old pair of ice skates, and maybe one or two other items!
(I don’t think he really minds.)

She even made gluten free spaghetti and chocolate chip cookies, and the boys enjoyed a quick ride in their new car – a hybrid! (Hopefully not a recently recalled hybrid??!!)

Such fun memories with such wonderful grandparents!

Next up…..Cousin Craziness!

Gluten Free Friday – LOTS of Eggs = Two Frittatas

I just LOVE having fresh eggs from my backyard – and think they are so beautiful!

While we were away in Texas, my wonderful friend Izckra stayed in and took care of our house. When I’d call her to see how things were going, she would respond, “Everything is great! It’s like living in a five-star hotel!” Then I would remind her that five-star hotels don’t have dogs to walk or feed, rabbits to feed and droppings to clean, or chickens who require fresh, unfrozen water each morning, eggs gathered, and food replenished. Really, we are every housesitter’s nightmare. Fortunately, the job doesn’t require a 6am paper route anymore!

When we returned, we had an abundance of eggs! Izckra didn’t eat many eggs at all, so there must have been close to 5 dozen when we got home. I thought we’d go through them quickly, but even with scrambled eggs and egg sandwiches for breakfast, the daily gathered eggs were replenishing the stock almost as fast as we could eat them. So, I gave some away to another friend who stopped by, and with the rest I decided to make two frittatas for our Wednesday Night Couples Bible Study. Frittatas are sort of an Italian omelette, and a great way to use up certain leftover veggies, cheeses, meats, and even rices and pastas. It’s a potluck at our house each Wednesday – the perfect opportunity to make good use of the abundant eggs!

Frittata #1 – Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato

10oz – 160z fresh spinach (I used a 10 oz bag)
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, diced or pressed
10 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2-4 Tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (I used the ones that are jarred and in oil.)
salt and pepper
3 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in oven-proof skillet. Saute onion until tender, then add spinach and saute until just wilted. Spoon onion and spinach mixture into a separate bowl. In another bowl, mix together remaining ingredients. Heat the other 1 Tbsp of olive oil in the skillet – swirling it around to coat the bottom and sides. Return the onion and spinach mixture, and then pour remaining ingredients over. Cook on stove top burner for 1-2 minutes, and then place skillet in oven at 375 degrees. Cook until set – about 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool a bit; 5-10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen. Place a plate face down on skillet and “flip” the frittata out onto plate. And because the top of the frittata usually looks “prettier” than the bottom, use another plate to “flip” the entire thing again. Serve hot or room temp.

And the second one, I decided to make a little more kid, male, and comfort-food friendly…..

Frittata #2 – Sausage and Potato

1 lb ground sausage (I use Jones All Natural)
5 small red potatoes, diced into medium cubes
10 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1/2 – 1 cup grated cheddar
1 – 2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Cook cubed potatoes in water over medium-high heat until just tender and drain. Brown sausage in oven-proof skillet, and when thoroughly cooked, add potatoes to sausage and brown both together a few more minutes. Mix together eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and cheese in separate bowl, and then pour over sausage and eggs in skillet. Cook on stove top for 1-2 minutes, stirring a bit to allow egg mixture to coat bottom, and then place in oven to cook for about 30 more minutes until set.

Do the “flip” trick with this one, too!

Texas Trip Part 1: The Birthday That Won’t Quit

As if a trip to New York City for 4 days is not enough, we continued to celebrate my 40th before and after the actual date!

We arrived in Texas on a Tuesday evening, and quickly realized how much fun it would be to watch the UT (our alma mater) Longhorns play in the National Championship Game (the night before my birthday) with Robert’s old college roommate and now our good friends Kevin, Sherri, and their 4 kids. Coordinating the schedules of 4 school aged children and an all-important football game on a Thursday evening is no easy task, though. Kevin had to “TiVo” the game until everyone would finally be home at 9pm! Do you know how hard it was to NOT discover any game details in the 2 hours we waited? It meant no Facebook, no email, no texting, no TV, and no radio. Phone calls had to be answered with a “Don’t tell me anything about the game! We haven’t started watching it yet!”

Robert did receive a text message from Ryan (in MA) before we considered the danger. It read: “Sorry about Colt.” Not too sure about the sincerity though. Ryan is a die hard OU fan, and therefore anti-Longhorn. Colt is a hard guy to dislike, though, so I think even Ryan was feeling the pain of our loss of a starting quarterback and all-around godly man. (Did you catch his interview after the game? Wow.)

We came to Texas totally unprepared, though, and had to take a trip to Academy to get everyone properly outfitted in burnt orange. My shirt was a gift from my sister Melinda, though, who also came along with us to watch the game.

Kory was in teenage boy heaven….football on a big flat screen TV, his friend Chandler, cool chairs to lounge in, and flanked on both sides with man’s best friend: the golden retriever! Rocky and Molly love Kory, and seem to remember that he loves them each time we visit! And staying up until midnight for a football game was well worth it, since my boys got to hear Colt give glory to God in the face of such great disappointment. What an amazing role model he is.
The men were quite serious about the game as you can see. Melinda, Sherri, and I eventually found our way downstairs for some girl talk. We also watched the end of the very disappointing game in “real time” and felt for our men with every cheer we heard coming from upstairs. The cheers would turn to tears in only a matter of minutes, we knew.
The next day was my actual birthday. Robert and the kids cooked me a yummy breakfast, gave me lots of sweet cards, a new cookbook, and a gift card. Later, Robert went and picked my dad up at the Austin airport, and when they got back we headed to Gruene, TX to eat a birthday lunch at the Grist Mill. Unfortunately, it was about 20 degrees – the coldest it’s ever been on this annual trip of ours – and the Grist Mill is quite drafty! It’s more of an outdoor summer hang out, and even though they tried their best to warm it up, we could see daylight through the wood floors and walls. The food is great all of the time, though, and my dad made sure there was plenty of chips and queso to go around and warm everyone up!
Sister Melissa Cookin’ up the Sides – Isn’t She Beautiful?

I knew there was to be a party the day after my birthday, but there were other surprises I did not know about. The gift card I had received the day before was for a spa just down the street from my dad’s house. It was for a full day’s treatment! Robert dropped me off there at 9am, and first on the agenda was a one hour full body massage! When I came out, I discovered he had brought me my favorite breakfast tacos and a bottle of kombucha! I ate up while waiting for my facial. The facial was wonderful and also included a massage of hands, arms, feet, and legs! Next came a pedicure (more massaging of feet and legs!), a baked potato and steamed veggie lunch, a shower and time to dress and get ready, and lastly a manicure!

He picked me up, took me for coffee, and then we headed back to my dad’s for the party. He had told me it was to be a “family party,” but I started to get nervous while at the spa that it might be more than that. The first person I saw was Kelly (a.k.a. Miss Riggs) and Jack. Robert’s parents were there cooking up some amazing steak and chicken, and my uncle had driven in from San Angelo. My sisters were there and supplied the decorations and delicious side dishes as well as this amazing flourless chocolate cake! Even Kevin and Sherri and family made the drive from Georgetown never letting on when we said goodbye after the game that they would see me in only 2 short days!

Robert encouraged everyone to share a memory or encouragement with me, and then blessed me with his own words of love and admiration. It isn’t comfortable to be the center of attention like that, but I appreciated everyone’s kindness, and was once again in awe of the husband the Lord has blessed me with. He is the most humble, sacrificial, loving, romantic, and caring man I know.
And here’s a group photo of some of the other birthday surprises. This photo also represents the goodness of the Lord in my life and the abundant provision of lasting friendship He’s given me. These are old elementary, middle, and high school friends and a special teacher, too. Cathy and Troy on the far left are new and old friends. Troy and I dated in high school, and reconnected through a series of events that brought he and Cathy to the wedding of our former teacher and friend, Miss Riggs. (Next to Robert and me.) Troy even made a trip to see us last year as a way to show his love and support of us, our church, and ministry here in New England. And that tells you what kind of a special wife he must have – willing to let husband go and visit high school girlfriend and family for a weekend, and then come together to her birthday party. Wow. They are both just incredibly kind, loving, and generous people.
Wende and Mike came and brought their 2 darling daughters – who immediately hit it off with all of the girl cousins who were running around. Mike is a friend and rival from 5th grade. He won “Best Citizenship” that year, ousting me by a slight margin, probably due to the fact that I spoke hardly one word that entire year. I was the new girl at school, and Mike decided that he would refer to me as Tom Landry (strong, silent type) and try and secure daily interviews with me on the most recent Dallas Cowboys game. (Tom Landry? I did just turn 40, you know.) We were 10 years old at the time and continued a love/hate relationship all the way through high school. He and Wende are expecting baby #3 right now, and I suspect Mike’s ready for a boy to train up in the ways of anti-Longhorn and SMU football. They, too, are one of the sweetest, friendliest couples I know. Mike recently took my youngest sister to lunch to help her make some connections in the Austin job market – really a blessing to have such kind friends.

And by now you should know all there is to know about Jack and Kelly! These newlyweds of the bunch have traveled literally all over the world in this first year of marriage, and have blessed countless lives by their generous outreach in Africa. Kelly is my former teacher turned mentor and dear friend. (She was Troy and Mike’s teacher as well!) I don’t know what I would have done without her in my life, and I’m not sure WHAT we did all those years without Jack!

Are you convinced that I am a blessed woman yet? Striving to not let a moment go by this year without being mindful of the Lord’s great goodness toward me.

Stay tuned for more Texas trip details in the coming days……