Chocolate Cake for Any Day

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake – easy enough for every day!

Can a chocolate cake tell a story? Can any recipe? I think food can tell a lot about someone. We whisk together good times, lovingly stir tradition into our favorite dishes and mix up quick and delicious meals on busy weeknights. Food speaks to me and tells me things about myself and my family and friends that help us all grow together – hopefully not too much around the middle, but more in the sense of connection and shared experiences.

A Little Story

My friend, Sara, shared this recipe on Facebook a while ago. We met years ago while we were training to be volunteer naturalists for the Tucson Audubon Society. A few of us from the class would get together to hike and enjoy the birds and wildlife around us. Those were good times!

But then life started to get busy. My job changed, I moved to the other side of town, eventually stopped volunteering, and I lost touch with my naturalist friends. Thankfully, I’ve found them again on Facebook! For all its faults, Facebook IS great for reconnecting with friends.

So Sara shared this recipe for a cake that her mom used to make. And although it was just a post about cake, it was clear that it was so much more. It was a post about memories and family and relationships and love. That simple post told a story and it meant something important to my friend.

Not Just a Chocolate Cake

Last week was super busy, and if you read my post about it, you know that we also had a guest visiting from out-of-town. I wanted to do something nice to welcome him, but it had to be ultra simple, so I found the recipe from Sara to see if this cake would fit the bill. I had all the ingredients in the panty and it didn’t require anything more than the pan, so I made the cake.

It’s super simple to make, and boy is it delicious! My son wanted to decorate, so we melted some chocolate chips, added a little half and half to thin it out to a nice consistency, then drizzled it over the top. Well, he got impatient with drizzling, so he did more of a slather. Then he sprinkled every color of sprinkles we had over the top, and the result was a beautifully messy chocolate cake that you could tell was made with love.

Chocolate cake on a plate

A big slice of cake, perfect for snacking!

The cake, itself, has a rich chocolate flavor, but it’s not too sweet. It’s moist with the perfect texture that’s not too dense but perfectly bouncy. Sara’s mom used to call it “snack cake” and it does seem perfectly suited to snack on – not too fancy, not too heavy, but deliciously satisfying and easy enough for any day, no matter how busy.

More importantly, it’s a piece of Sara’s mom that she has graciously allowed me to share. In her words, “sharing that recipe is an awesome way for me to keep my mom’s sweet and giving nature alive!” I didn’t know Sara’s mom, but I have to agree. This cake oozes love and generosity and simple, sweet goodness. And if Sara’s mom was anything like Sara, I’m sure the cake is an accurate reflection of her.

Enough Storytelling, I Want Cake!

As I said, the recipe is super simple. All it takes is a 9″ x 9″ cake pan, but if you want to make it in a bundt pan, like I did, you’ll want to double the recipe. Mix it up right in the pan, or mix it in a bowl and pour the batter in. Then pop it in the oven and enjoy! And to help you connect with Sara and her mom, here’s the handwritten recipe – because nothing can make you feel closer to the cook than the handwritten notes that come with perfecting a recipe over time. (The printable version is also provided below.)

Is this a recipe you would enjoy? Let me know if you try it. I’d love to let Sara know that her mom’s legacy lives on!

Chocolate Cake Recipe Card






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Restaurant Review: FnB Scottsdale

FnB Spring MenuIn case you don’t know, I live in lovely Tucson, Arizona and life keeps me busy enough that it’s a rare treat to get to enjoy a fabulous meal at a hip restaurant. But my sister came to town! Well, not exactly to town, but she came to Arizona, so I made the 2 hour drive up to Phoenix to have dinner with her. Boy am I glad I did!

Her meeting was in Scottsdale, the trendy, upscale suburb of our beloved state capitol, and we didn’t have much time, so we wanted to eat somewhere close to her hotel. My 7-year-old was with us, so I was looking forward to a low-key, family-friendly, average-weeknight meal. But I told my sister that if she had the chance to eat at FnB while she was here, she should definitely do it. My friends and I had experienced one of the best meals of our lives there last summer, and I knew it would be right up her alley.

As we started walking around looking for a restaurant, we stumbled across FnB’s front door. Literally. Not knowing my way around too well, we just started walking, and there it was. My sister stopped to check out the menu while my son threw coins in the fountain nearby. She was hooked.

Let me say this upfront. I do NOT recommend this restaurant for the average 7-year-old. The food is sophisticated and a bit mysterious even for adults. But Mary, the host/restauranteur/manger/whatever she was, was wonderful! She picked up my sister’s vibe that she was interested and she catered to our every need. It just so happened that the restaurant had hosted a local philanthropic group meeting the night before, and they happened to have some yummy macaroni and cheese in the refrigerator. It wasn’t on the menu, but it was available to make my kid happy, and it turned two reluctant diners into enthusiastic patrons that night.

The menu here is intriguing and fun and a little bit confusing, but if you put your trust in the amazing chef at FnB, you won’t be sorry. The food is made with the freshest ingredients, most locally sourced, in combinations you didn’t even know were possible. But it works. And it works well.

The best way to eat here is to order a lot of different things and share them. That way, everyone can taste everything and nobody will go home missing out on the spectacular culinary experience that this establishment provides.

FnB starters

Sweet Pea Falafel (L) and Sumac Roasted Tomatoes (R)

We started with the sweet pea falafel with Meyer lemon tahini and mint and the sumac roasted tomatoes with i’itoi onion quark and dukka. I have absolutely no idea what most of that is, but I know that it was absolutely delicious. The falafel didn’t look overly impressive, but once in your mouth, it bursted with flavor. Delicate and complex and utterly divine.

The roasted tomatoes came with grilled bread and were nestled in a cushion of soft, rich goat cheese. The best way to eat these was to scoop up a portion of tomato & cheese, making sure to keep the spice and onion mixture on top intact, and put it on a piece of bread to eat it like a bruschetta. The result is best described as a happy explosion of flavor in your mouth. Roasting the tomatoes with the sumac brings out a smoky richness that you wouldn’t otherwise get. The goat cheese provides a creamy coolness that balances the tomatoes beautifully. Put it all together, and you’ll wonder why you never thought of this at home. Although I don’t know if you could create this at home. You’ll have to come back to FnB.

FnB Cauliflower

Cauliflower Adobo – Look at that delicious onion salsa on top!

Next came the heirloom cauliflower adobo with spring onion vinegar salsa and the California black bass with green beans, jicama, chermoula and spring dug turnips. I love cauliflower, and this dish made me love it even more. The tender florets were cooked to perfection in adobo with a savory, tart salsa on top. Again, the flavor combination in this one dish were nothing short of amazing. It was bright and fresh and at the same time rich and complex. I couldn’t get enough.

FnB Black Bass

California Black Bass with all kinds of goodness on top

The fish came with much more than green beans, jicama and turnips. It was layered with juicy grapefruit and orange wedges, turnip and/or radish sprouts and the perfect blend of seasonings. Each bite brought a different taste of elegant flavors, and it was hearty and satisfying without being heavy or overdone.

FnB Ricotta Board

Honeyed Ricotta, Marmalade & Nut Bread Board

Finally, we ordered the board of super fresh ricotta, drizzled with honey alongside a dried fruit marmalade, grilled nut bread, fruit and nuts. Our thought was we could have a few bites of these sweet morsels and skip dessert, but we couldn’t wait until the end to enjoy this array of treats. Again, the ricotta was best served spread on the nut bread and topped with the marmalade. The marmalade was slightly spicy which complemented the sweet, rich ricotta nicely. I added a few of the spiced nuts on top as well, and it was fabulous. My son was happy to eat the apples, and I wasn’t about to complain about him eating fruit, so we made the sacrifice and let him enjoy them.

We were happily stuffed by the time we finished, and there were leftovers of everything except the falafel. The food is just as good as leftovers as it is fresh, and trust me when I say I thoroughly enjoyed this meal for days!

My sister loved FnB so much that she returned a few days later, at the end of her stay in Arizona. She was happy to report that the lamb riblets with sherry vinegar, honey, aleppo, coriander and wheatberries were so tender they melted in her mouth, and she enjoyed a fresh made panna cotta and grapefruit cake for dessert.

If you find yourself in Scottsdale, AZ for any reason, don’t hesitate to enjoy a meal at FnB. Make a reservation, bring your friends, and make it a shared adventure! Your tastebuds will come alive in ways you can only imagine, and it will be a truly memorable dining experience.

(**Note: I wish the photos had come out a little better, but the lighting in the restaurant wasn’t ideal. While these may not make you want to lick your screen, I hope you can see at least a smidgen of the goodness!**)

Have you enjoyed a meal at FnB? What did YOU think of it?


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Busy, busy, and more busy!

Staying busy

To say this has been a busy week is an understatement. Unfortunately, this lovely blog hasn’t gotten the attention it needs. Well, sort of.  I’ve actually put together a scrumptious post about an out-of-this-world restaurant {yay!}, but I’m having trouble getting the pictures to load {boo!}, so it’s on hold for now. Hopefully you’ll see that one soon.

I’ve also been writing up a storm. I’ve branched out a little and you can now see some of my stuff in other places.

Staying Busy with MapQuest’s Parachute

In honor of Earth Day (today), I had a simple piece published on Parachute, MapQuest’s online travel magazine. You can read about how to celebrate Earth Day in Tucson here. The stories I write for Parachute usually highlight fun things to do in Tucson from various different angles. If you’re interested, click to find my other Parachute stories. And I hope, by the time you get to their site, my latest submission will also be published. They’re definitely keeping me busy, as I’ve got another story in the works for them.

Discovering Medium

Do you blog? Are you a writer? Even sometimes? Then get yourself over to Medium, and check it out. Medium offers a free platform where anyone can write. Post a blog post (even one you’ve already published), respond to stories you read, and follow publications, topics and people that interest you. What I love about Medium is that at the top of every story, it tells you how long it will take to read it. You can pick and choose what you read by the time you have, and if something really catches your eye and it’s longer than you have, you know you can always come back to it. It’s perfect for busy people! It’s also a clean platform, free of ads, which makes it a really nice reading experience.

One of my favorite places to read on Medium right now is the publication, The Coffeelicious. The editors note on their About page says,

Home to some of the best stories on medium. Look around, relax and enjoy one with a sip of coffee.

It’s like having your favorite magazine come to life on your computer screen. I love it so much, I decided to submit something I wrote for publication in The Coffeelicious, and they accepted it! It’s a personal piece that doesn’t quite fit on the blog, so I’m glad to have found it a home. And, it’s getting good feedback, which is good for my delicate writer’s ego. Read it here. I’m going to get busy writing more for The Coffeelicious and taking advantage of Medium’s platform and audience, so look for more in the future.

Keeping up with Life

So beyond lots of writing in other places, my family has kept me busy this week. The pets have created more work than usual for me with my particular favorite being the lake of cooking oil that greeted me Wednesday morning after taking my kids to school. Apparently the dog decided to open the door to the secondary pantry, somehow unscrew the lid to the 3 liter jug of canola oil and knock it over. Seriously, the doors were closed, and the lid was on when I left for school. Then the doors were open and the lid was removed from the jug, with no damage to it! Either we have a gremlin or my dog is smarter than I give him credit for.

Anyway, it was probably about a 3 ft x 5 ft area of the floor that was completely covered in oil. Painstakingly cleaned that up, then the dog started throwing up, apparently from consuming some of the oil and turning his insides into a slippery tummy ache. (If anyone has any tips on how to get copious amounts of oil out of cushions, please let me know!) The good news … the dog seems fine. The bad news … the clean-up still continues since getting grease out of anything requires constant vigilance and lots of repetition.

Meanwhile, my husband is away with our oldest and an out-of-town friend. So, I’ve also been flying solo as I’ve handled our home-grown Exxon Valdez oil spill, plus I fielded the electrician appointment, a trip to the vet and our ever-diligent, yet slightly annoying pool guy’s weekly need for human contact. All this and the normal weekly tasks of making sure everyone is fed, clothed and off to school on time. I even squeezed in some girl time with friends, which was lovely! Only one brief lapse in grace, when I lost it with my 7-year-old, makes me think I’m actually doing okay this week. Thankfully, the grandparents’ weekly school pick-up has been a great help.

So, it’s finally Friday. I’m seriously proud of the work I’ve done that has been published by someone other than me, and I promise, to the best of my ability, that I will post some great stuff on the blog next week. But it’s been a crazy – full moon kind of crazy – busy week. And since my in-laws are picking the kids up from school today, I’m off to clean the toilets, un-earth the kitchen counter and make the house presentable before my husband returns home with a house guest for the rest of the weekend. Wish me luck!

Have you had weeks like this? Please comment let me know I’m not alone! And share with others so they know they’re not alone either!



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Thinking of Dad & How I Know He’s Still Here

Thinking of Dad - plaque

Thinking of Dad on his Bench at the Park

Today is kind of a hard day – today I’m thinking of Dad. It’s been eight years since my dad passed, and his loss left a hole in my life that hasn’t quite closed. Perhaps it never will. Certainly, it’s not as hard to be without him after all this time, but I miss him all the same. And so does my mom. And my sisters and their kids.

My kids are a different story. Our two oldest are my husband’s kids from his first marriage. They met my dad but didn’t have much of a chance to get to know him. My little one … well, I got pregnant eight years ago at almost the exact moment that my dad died. At least that’s the way I like to think of it. Thinking of Dad being somehow connected to my son makes sense to me. Like a part of him is in my kid, so he’ll always be with us.

Although they’ll never know each other in this world, somehow I think they know each other. First, in my entire family, there are nothing but girls. My boy is the first and only boy child in the family. I know I could explain this through a simple look at X and Y chromosomes and how chance determined the gender of my child. But I think it was my dad. How he would have loved having a little boy in the family!

From my son’s earliest days, I would show him pictures of family members who lived far away, including my mom and sisters and nieces and brothers-in-law. I wanted him to know them, especially since he didn’t have the chance to see them very often. My dad’s picture was in there, too, and from the very start, while he would guess at who the others were, he always knew my dad. Somehow, without being taught, he even called him by the Chinese word for grandpa. I didn’t even know he was doing this until I was talking to my mom on the phone one night and told her what he called him (because I thought it was cute), and, without missing a beat, she told me what it meant.

We don’t have a ton of pictures of my dad around the house, but he’s here. My little guy asks about him frequently. He wants to know what he liked to do, what his favorite foods were and what I remember about him. We talk about him like a close and familiar friend, not like a mysterious stranger who lurks about in books and pictures. That’s what amazes me. I never knew either of my grandpas, and they always seemed mysterious to me. To my son, Grandpa is just Grandpa, as if he’s known him all his life. He even asks me when was the last time we saw him. Because, in his seven-year-old mind, he knows that he’s seen him.

I see my dad in my kid all the time. Sometimes it’s an expression on his face or a simple gesture that’s just like him. Sometimes I’ll post a picture and one of my sisters will comment that “he looks just like Dad” in this one. Sometimes, he throws his head back when he laughs, with mouth open and eyes full of mischief, just like my dad. He’s smart and likes a good joke just as much as he is particular about how he wants things exactly the way he left them. Just like Dad.

Dad Moon Gate

Me, Dad & Emily in China, 1996

Thinking of Dad in the Moon Gate

Being like Grandpa

As we were talking last night before bed, I told my son that we were coming up on eight years since Grandpa died. I asked him, if he could hear you, what would you want to tell him? Here’s what he said …

I’m sorry you died, Grandpa. I hope that it wasn’t painful. I’m sad that I never got to meet you, but Mom tells me about you. I hope you’re having a good life now and that you can be happy and not sick anymore. I miss you, and I love you.

So, yes, today I’m thinking of Dad. There’s so much more that I could say, but I think I’ll just leave it at that.



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Pineapple Boats for a Beautiful Fruit Tray

Pineapple Boats on Fruit Tray

Pineapple Boats – Centerpiece of a Beautiful Fruit Tray

Fancy fruit trays may not be one of life’s priorities, but when you’re entertaining, knowing how to make pineapple boats can give your party an extra special flair. A fruit tray brings color and vibrancy to a table and can be appropriate for breakfast, lunch, dinner or brunch. And if you can find a whole pineapple, you can make these beautiful boats that will be the centerpiece of your food display.

I first learned how to make these while I was the co-advisor to the Hawaii Club at the university where I worked. The Hawaiian students had a luau every year, and fresh pineapples were flown in from the islands. Since then, I’ve used this technique to make pretty pineapple boats on my fruit trays for family gatherings, and potlucks. This week, I made this tray for a school function, and everyone loved it. It looks more complicated than it is, so let me show you how to do it.



Gorgeous Golden Pineapple

First, be sure your pineapple is ripe. Look for a body that is slightly golden, and take a whiff. If the fruit is fragrant and sweet, it’s probably ready. Take it home and throw away the little card with instructions on how to cut a pineapple! Do this instead.

Pineapple cut in halfLeave the crown on the pineapple and cut it in half from top to bottom, including the crown. This is actually a little easier if you start in the middle and cut down through the bottom, then up through the top. When you get to the crown, be firm yet gentle while cutting it all the way through. You want to split it in half without pulling it off the top of the pineapple or damaging it too much.


Pineapple quartersThen, cut those halves in half again. You now have four pineapple quarters.


Slice under the core IMG_2826Next, slide a sharp knife under the core – that lighter section in the middle of the pineapple – and carefully cut down the core and around the sides and bottom, leaving the pineapple intact at the top and bottom. Be gentle, so you don’t break the core at the corners.


Boat with pineapple sliding outYou should now have a pineapple boat with a bar (that’s the core) across the top. And you’ll have a big hunk of pineapple that you can slide out of the body of the boat.


Pineapple boat with slicesSlide it out and slice it up.


Pineapple boats filled with slicesThen, slide it back in. If you’re not going to serve right away, leave it like this. I’ll show you how to store your pineapple boats it in a minute.

Now do the same thing with the other 3 quarters of your pineapple.


Pineapple boats ready to storeIf you’re preparing this ahead of time, you’ll want to store it until it’s time to serve. Simply put the pineapple back together and secure the pieces with a couple of rubber bands. Then stick it in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge. Be sure your bag doesn’t have any holes or leaks or you’ll have a sticky mess in the refrigerator!


Ready for the fruit trayOnce you’re ready to serve your fruit, take each quarter of the pineapple and carefully slide the slices out about halfway, alternating direction each time. This will allow your guests to grab hold of a juicy piece of pineapple and slip it out of the pineapple boat. You can also stick toothpicks in each one to make serving colorful and easy.


Pineapple Boats on Fruit TraySee how simple that was! Place the pineapple boats directly on the table as a tropical appetizer or add some other colorful and tasty fruit to a tray and you’re done. Now you know how to make beautiful pineapple boats that will leave the impression that you are a fruit artist. Even the most accomplished hostesses will want to know your secret.

Will you try this at home? Let me know if you do or leave me a comment & tell me what you think of this idea!

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