Dark Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake

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I usually don’t post recipes that use packaged stuff, but this recipe is the best for a super moist, mega chocolatey taste.

1 box Pillsbury Moist Supreme Devil’s Food Cake
1 5.9 oz box, Instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup full-cream sour cream (not fat free or low fat!)
1 cup oil
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup orange juice, at room temperature (can be replace with water)
2 Tbsp fresh orange zest (leave out if using water instead of orange juice)
1 1/2 cups Ghirardelli 60% Cocoa chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Dump everything but the chocolate chips in a bowl. Mix really well. Batter will be pretty thick. Fold in the chocolate chips. Pour into a well-greased, well floured bundt pan (I find shortening works best. With oil or butter, my cake sometimes gets stuck). Bake 50-55 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Turn onto a platter to cool completely. Store in a tightly covered container.

Sauce

Sorry, Didn’t really measure the ingredients. But you can’t really mess it up–just add more chocolate if it’s too runny or more cream if it’s too thick :)

Microwave heavy cream and Ghirardelli Intense Dark 72% chocolate squares for about 20 seconds at a time. Stir and nuke again as needed. I think I used about 3/4ths cup cream and 8 squares of chocolate.

Serve sauce separately or drizzle over the cake as frosting. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt over chocolate sauce and top with fresh raspberries.
 

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Review: Whisper by Mark Batterson

9780735291089Often claiming to hear the voice of God is to admit you’re bat crazy. So even when we have such an experience, we often keep it to ourselves rather than make a public announcement.

Whisper unfortunately does not deny that looking crazy is one of the outcomes of a lifestyle in communion with God:

Faith is the willingness to look foolish. Noah looked a little crazy building a boat. Sarah looked a little crazy shopping for maternity clothes at age ninety.  The wise men looked a little crazy following a star to Timbuktu. Peter looked a little crazy getting out of a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. If you aren’t willing to look a little crazy, you’re crazy. And when it’s the will of God, crazy turns into crazy awesome (p. 101)!

Using personal stories, anecdotes, and biblical truth Mark Batterson builds a strong defense for the connection between God and us that grows through communication and intimacy. And key to this relationship is the “voice” of God that intervenes into our lives, leading us into God’s will.

Batterson emphasizes that God’s “voice” does not necessarily manifest itself in thunder or audible words like it did for Moses on Sinai. Instead when we open our minds, our hearts, and our senses we can “hear” Him speak to us in seven love languages: through Scripture, desires, doors, dreams, people, promptings, and pain. In his exposition of each love language, Batterson brings to it his pastoral perspective. For example, about God speaking through doors, he goes beyond the usual “when one door closes, another opens.”

God closes doors to protect us.
God closes doors to redirect us.
God closes doors to keep us from less than His best (p.107)

And about pain:

. . . pleasures turn into pain when we misuse and abuse them, but make no mistake, every pleasure in its purest form is a gift from God. Yes, we can turn them into sinful pursuits when we try to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. But pleasure is a gift from God nonetheless. He whispers through those pleasures, and we should give thanks for them. But we better pay close attention to pain too. . . .

Nothing gets our full attention like pain, It breaks down false idols and purifies false motives. It reveals where we need to heal, where we need to grow. It refocuses priorities like nothing else (pp. 172–173).

While I loved the way Batterson dissects God’s voice and presents it as a tangible tool for the Christian life, I was a bit weary of the many anecdotal references.  I would have preferred less of them and more biblical insight and support for the excellent points He makes.

He also retells stories from his other books, and this too I could have done without–but then, I understand how first-time readers of Batterson would need these stories as context for the content of this book. This was not a big deal–I just speed read through those parts

The above two observations are pretty minor. Batterson’s writing and his passion for Christ, as always, rises above these and all else.

Responding to God’s voice, gentle promptings, strong presence, and undeniable assurances are all testimonies of who He is and who we are in Him. This book confronts and challenges the reader to not only listen for God’s voice but to respond to His calling—to understand Him and to live in His will.

Go here for more about Mark Batterson and his other books.

For the record, I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Leon’s Lawn

It was the drought of 1999

Leon wasn’t much of a gardener. Plastic flowers thrust into the soil were proof. But his lawn was his pride. He mowed that lawn once a week, every Thursday at 6 pm, and watered it every day. It was the best lawn  in the neighborhood.

Then came the mandatory water restrictions. No one was allowed to water their gardens. Neighbors wondered what Leon would do.

Miss Sally, the diplomatic, empathetic member on the Home Owner’s Association board was delegated to visit Leon to ensure he did not violate the restriction.

“What are you going to do, Leon?” Miss Sally asked with genuine concern.

“I’m going to pray,” Leon said

“That’s good, but you may want to consider mowing your lawn less frequently to keep it from burning from all the sun and not enough water,” Miss Sally gently suggested.

“Can’t do that,” Leon responded, “Been mowing my lawn every Thursday, Spring and Summer, since I moved here 40 years ago.”

Thursday came. 6 p.m. There were many eyes peering out the window. Leon’s garage door opened, and out he came pushing his mower. He stopped, looked heavenwards into the blistering sun, and raised his arms up high. After praying, Leon proceeded to mow.

Every week, it was the same. Every Thursday Leon prayed, then he mowed—but he never watered his lawn.

The neighbors watched and talked about it.

And throughout that drought of 1999 Leon’s lawn stayed green.

Review: The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook by Laura McLively

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 8.43.47 AMThis is a chronicle of author Laura McLively’s adventures with her local grocery store, Berkeley Bowl Marketplace which is known for its over a thousand varieties of  fruits and vegetables.

The Berkeley Bowl reminds me of Lotté, my local favorite where I don’t recognize most of the produce. So I shop there Google image search in land, looking for the English name and possible recipes. This cookbook is going to take my grocery shopping and food experimentation to a new level!

If you are a vegetarian or love trying new foods, this cookbook is a must. While the retail price is bit more than most ($35), I think it’s worth the price. Trust me, you don’t want to wait for a sale to get this one. Get it now, and you’ll be eating ceviche tonight—a vegetarian, non-fish ceviche made with aloe vera and mango (p. 90)!

If that ceviche is not adventuresome enough for you, try the unique flavor combination of the Green Garlic Soup with Lemon Cardamom Yogurt (p.111) or the delicate Fiddlehead Tempura with Sriracha Crème Fraîche (p. 95)

For the record, I received this book for free from Penguin Random House for reviewing it on my blog.

Love that Sticks

In our car every morning, before we pull out of our driveway, Roy and I pray together. On some days the prayer is longer than usual. (I confess, there are some rushed mornings when one sacrilegiously drives with eyes on the road while the other prays, head bowed and eyes closed).

But this Monday morning, even though we were running late, we didn’t start the car; we stopped for an extra long prayer. It had been one of those weekends, and the week wasn’t looking any better.

Preoccupied with the long list my prayer had left at Heaven’s door, I went through my morning ritual at work–connected my laptop to the big monitor, watered my  office plants, tore open a granola bar, got a cup of tea–and began answering my emails.

And it was only then, as my finger scrolled down the monitor and my eyes followed the cursor to the bottom of the screen, did I see the sticky note someone had left for me.

Faith makes all things possible—loves makes all things easy.—Dwight L Moody #919lovethatsticks

I googled the hashtag #919lovethatsticks and learned it’s a WGTS campaign that fosters a kinder world (they have other ideas that are just as easy and rewarding–like the Drive Through Difference).

The sticky note was just what I needed. And now I’m going to leave notes too when impressed to do so. The note also has me reminding myself: I’ve got everything I need to take on anything—faith in God and the love of family and friends.

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Review: Zen Camera by David Ulrich

zenBefore smartphones and Instagram filters, like many others, I didn’t dare share my photos with anyone let alone with the world, But today apps and quick lessons on YouTube can make most photos worth a second look.

So given all the photography tools out there, one would think another how-to book, let alone a hardback, full-color, meticulously indexed book, on the subject would not be worth the purchase. I’d agree, except this is not the usual type of how-to book; this is more like the master classes that are so popular these days: it’s a journey with an experienced man and his lens. And with him your eyes are opened anew to perceptions hidden in plain sight and you experience life from a magical point of view.

David Ulrich’s Zen Camera begins: “Photography is a powerful form of visual expression, available to everyone” (enthusiastic emphasis is mine). He continues, “No experience is complete, no meal finished, no friendship consummated until we have taken a picture. The photograph replies, I was here. I witnessed this event, met this person, or relished this experience.”

In this book, Ulrich teaches the foundational principles of photography in six chapters, titled: Observation, Awareness, Identity, Practice, Mastery, and Presence. Each ends with assignments and a challenge to capture something new. Yet, in spite of the homework and tips, he goes beyond the how-to’s, beyond sharing his experience and expertise. He grounds it all in a deep appreciation of beauty and the creative power of human beings.

An added bonus is the details and thought the publisher has put into making the book itself a piece of art. From its size to its scattered photographs to the cover, it’s too beautiful to be shelved with only the spine visible. Mine has found a place on my coffee table.

Published by Watson-Guptill, 2018, 217 pages.
For the record, I received this book for free from Watson-Guptill for reviewing it on my blog.

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Review: I Was a Child, by Eric Kaplan

If you’re expecting a typical memoir, you’ll be disappointed. I Was a Child is more like an illustrated storybook for adults. To appreciate it you must let go of the usual expectations of a memoir to enrich you with new insights into the human psyche or inspire you to make positive changes in your life.

Abandon those lofty pursuits for a few hours. Instead, snuggle up in your favorite blankie, preferably with easy access to cookies, and travel back to the simpler times of childhood. I promise it’ll be worth every minute.

Both Kaplan’s words and drawings spill from the voice of unbridled youth—straightforward, honest, perceptive, unbiased. The child’s point of view is so pure, I am amazed at how the adult Kaplan stayed out of the head of his younger self.

And the drawings! Oh. My. Goodness. Throughout the book, Kaplan’s cartooning was the string that yo-yo’d me between personal and universal truths. It made me see both the normal and the absurd child in me. Kaplan’s story is my story, it’s everyone’s story. It’s about retracing life through the eyes of a child, yet understanding and appreciating all of it through the maturity of adulthood. It’s about sifting through events, religion, pop culture, and less-than-perfect people and realizing that, in spite of the flaws and shortcomings, there’s plenty left that’s good, plenty left to shape and mold us into unique individuals.

Here’s Kaplan’s own summary of I Was a Child:

I Was A Child, published by Blue Rider Press, 2015, 210 pp.

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