Wednesday, December 28, 2011

For the Love of Cake

Years ago there was this fabulous European Bakery and Pastry shop downtown. It started out as Napoleon’s and when the original owner retired, he sold the business to a couple who had worked with him for quite some time. The name then changed to Pitzmann’s, but the menu remained mostly the same. They would arrive at the bakery in the wee morning hours and begin baking fresh baguettes and chocolate filled croissants and beignets and other pastries and treats you just would not believe. It was always a treat to go early for breakfast and sit at the bistro tables and linger over one of these fanciful delights.

My mom, dad and I were in love, yes…in love, with this chocolate truffle cake that they sold by the slice. The cake consisted of three layers of a super moist cake with a buttery chocolate ganache between each layer. The bakery was literally within walking distance from my dad’s office, so every Friday afternoon he would walk down and purchase 3 slices of cake for us to enjoy on Friday evening. This was a family tradition and because he was so faithful to go every week for years, he was on a first name basis with Gretchen who worked behind the counter and she knew the moment he walked in just what the order would be. On special occasions we would order a whole cake and savor every last morsel of it. This cake was SO DELICIOUS that one evening my mom accidentally dropped her slice on the carpet and ate it anyway! This was some serious cake, y’all!

Sadly, a few years back Pitzmann’s closed their doors due to a personal health issue. Since we could no longer celebrate Friday nights with that oh so wonderful cake, I began to look for recipes that might be similar. I tried several cakes and frostings, but nothing matched the fullness of that chocolate truffle cake. In time I gave up trying to recreate what was.

This Christmas I found a new cake and chocolate ganache recipe. I made a few tweaks to the recipe and hoped for the best as I sliced the cake and served it up to my family. Everyone LOVED this cake and I was overjoyed to have found a dessert that we all enjoyed. As I ate the cake, I was reminded of the moistness of the cakes we once savored from Pitzmann’s. Then, the buttery-ness of the chocolate ganache that we so looked forward to each week. It has been years since we enjoyed a slice of chocolate truffle cake, but every wonderful taste that was once enjoyed long ago came flooding back. This was an unexpected delight!

The cake and ganache are so quick and easy to make too…this could be dangerous!

Moist Vanilla Cake

2 Cups almond flour
¼ Cup coconut flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
10 eggs
1 ¾ Cup maple syrup, grade B
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Whisk eggs, maple syrup and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients and whisk until well combined.

Line the bottoms of 2 nine inch cake pans with parchment paper.

Divide the batter evenly between the pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cakes for at least one hour. Run knife around sides of pan to loosen. Place bottom layer of cake on a cake plate. Cover with ganache (see recipe below). Add the top layer and cover cake with remaining ganache.

Serve, savor, enjoy, and linger over every last bite!

Chocolate Ganache

2 Cups dark chocolate chips
1 Cup extra virgin coconut oil
4 Tablespoons maple syrup, grade B
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a boiler over low heat. Stirring until chocolate is melted and mixture is well combined. Place boiler in the freezer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from freezer and whip with a hand held blender. The mixture will become thick. Spread over cake and Enjoy!

Monday, December 26, 2011

He is Coming and He Has Come!

Just a month ago I began my first Christmas season of deliberately keeping focus on the Christ of Christmas by reading a daily devotional that would, between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, take me through God's plan of redemption from The Beginning through the birth of Christ while pointing to our salvation made possible by His death on the cross and resurrection. In addition to reading the devotionals, I hung a new ornament on a Jesse tree each day, each one a reminder of how God loves, provides, disciplines and fulfills His promises.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from its roots shall bear fruit. - Isaiah 11:1

As the tree filled, my heart filled with anticipation and excitement about Christ coming, about Christmas Day. This was perhaps my most highly anticipated Christmas ever! Looking at the Jesse tree is a constant reminder of God's care for His people, those of us who choose to receive the gift He has so graciously given.

Four days before Christmas I was filled with an unexplainable sense of awe, excitement, anticipation and joy in waiting for Christ, His blessings and the manifestation of answered prayers. I had great confidence that God was up to something good.

Over the next couple of days I kept thinking about Mary and how she must have greatly anticipated something wonderful as she watched her belly swell with child. During the months of waiting, did she ever doubt what the angel had told her, or did fear try to creep in? Did she ponder just what this God-child would be and do in this world? Was she anxious as she waited to see what God's Son would look like? Then, as the day drew near and labor pains became more intense and more frequent, and she and Joseph were in a dirty barn and she cried out in pain, did she ask God, "how can this be that Your Son would come into the world through all this pain and in this stinky, filthy barn?" Did she cry out, "where are you God?" as she pressed on in labor and did she tremble before Him in prayer? And then, when Jesus came through the birth canal and she heard His cry, did she rejoice? "He is here! Emmanuel God with us! He is here!" Did she thank God for choosing her? For allowing her the honor of participating in and witnessing this miracle?

Shepherds came and told Mary and Joseph what the angels said concerning the child. That they would find him in a manger, wrapped in cloths and that this is the Savior, Christ the Lord! (Luke 2:8-20) Did Mary feel peace that only the coming of the Prince of Peace can give as she pondered and treasured these things in her heart?

Christ came as a baby long ago one Christmas Day and He came this Christmas through "labor pains" as He birthed new life and answered prayers. And He is coming again. It may not always be gentle, but once the "labor pains" subside and His presence is fully here, we rejoice and glory for Who He is and how He loves.

This year, I can joyfully say that Christ has come and I know Him more fully as my Jehovah-Rapha (Healer) and my Jehovah-Jireh (Provider) - physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

Praise You Jesus! You are coming and you have come!

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...

Christmas-looking breakfast...

and dinner...

Go light your world...

Angels we have heard on high...

My niece and nephew LOVE doing the Jingle Bell Rock with this guy...

The stockings are hung by the chimney (not really, but by the fireplace) with care...

Cole and Chloe's well-loved reindeer...

What Christmas is all about...

My humble little Advent tree. This little tree was just $5 at Hobby Lobby and although I am no artist, I am drawing ornaments to hang on the tree each day. I had no idea what a tremendous blessing this would be. Reading the devotion each day is truly building the anticipation and joy of waiting for Christ to come. I am so thankful to have this daily reminder to keep focus on what Christmas truly is all about...

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Recently in a conversation with an acquaintance, this person mentioned that they “choose to just believe the worst about people and in doing so, they are not hurt by others”. At first glance, this may seem like a good way to live…have little or no expectations of others and you won’t be disappointed…but, what are the true repercussions of this view? What may at first seem “self-protective” can easily give way to bitterness, anger, and a judgmental spirit while leading one to hurt his/herself and others. It can create walls of separation and isolation. In short, it’s just no way to live.

Looking more intently at this viewpoint, I see that this “no expectations” mantra is really an expectation that others are not good, are not trustworthy, are not kind, and so on. In converse, we can also swing in the complete opposite direction where we have heightened expectations of others to do or say certain things because, “That’s how we would do it” or it’s just how we think it should be done.

“Expectations kill relationships” – Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts

When I first read the above quote, I lingered over it, reading those words over and over again, not sure if I agreed with what was said. I was stuck and struck by the comment. Should we not expect others to treat us with respect and compassion and love and…and…and…?

There is a delicate balance between expecting the worst and expecting what we view as the best in others. In a world that promotes “self” we could be easily swayed to think that other people owe us anything. It can be a struggle to land in the middle, and I admit that I’m guilty at both ends of this spectrum. It is a slippery slope to find the middle ground of hope because a twinge of doubt can quickly slide my thinking to see the worst in others, whereas a heightened view of self can quickly slide my thinking to view others as owing me something. In either case, I am harboring expectations and find myself disappointed and lacking in joy.

Ann goes on to say, “Without expectations, what can topple the surprising wonder of the moment? The joy-filled do not fill with expectations, the joy-filled expect nothing – and are filled.”

How many wonderful moments have I missed because of my own expectations? How many times has my tendency to slide around on this slippery slope colored my view of God and squelched His joy in me?

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. – Psalm 73:2

To live in the middle of two extremes, where I believe hope is and ultimately joy fills my soul:

"the knees must bend humble and the hand must lie vulnerably open and the will must bow to accept whatever the Giver chooses to give." (Ann Voskamp)

Lord, help me live a life where hope and joy rule.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stay Awake! Yesterday’s Hair and Coffee

“Stay awake” Those were the last two words I read in my Bible on Friday morning and how timely those two little words would prove to be for the next few days.

The tickets were bought months in advance for my mom and me to attend the Living Proof Live event with Beth Moore and Travis Cottrell on December 2nd and 3rd. Just after we made our ticket purchase, we found out that my brother and sister-in-law were expecting their third child, due around the same time as this event. We were very excited about the new baby, but for months we asked my sister-in-law to "not have the baby on the second or third of December"! Mostly joking, but half serious! Mom and I had never heard Beth Moore speak at a live event, so we were thrilled that she was coming to our hometown and we did not want to miss it.

Friday was a beautiful day, I had a great sense of peace and excitement about attending the event. As I was getting ready to go, with my hairdryer in full action working to get this thick, curly hair of mine tamed and straightened, I heard a click followed by nothing but cold air. Temperature is very important for straightening hair, the air must be hot and strong. There I stood, looking in the bathroom mirror with half-straight/half-curly hair. Praise the Lord for keeping me in perfect peace because this was a hair crisis if I ever saw one! My mom’s hairdryer is not nearly the fast-acting super-powered one that I use, but it got the job done and we were on our way. The event was open-seating and we wanted to be early for a good seat, so getting ready in a timely fashion was important to say the least. Even with my hair crisis, we were in our seats an hour early.

Just 4 minutes until the start of the event I received a text from my dad: Call me ASAP! I knew immediately that my sister-in-law was going to have the baby. We were a little unsure what to do…should we stay or go to the hospital? My dad was going to the hospital, my niece and nephew had another family member staying with them and my dad promised to keep us posted if the baby seemed to be coming quickly. I hung up the phone as Travis Cottrell and the praise team made their way onto the stage. The most overwhelming sense of peace came over me and I cannot describe the power of the Spirit filling the arena as 4,000+ women (and a few men) praised God in songs of worship. When Beth Moore began to teach us from the New Testament book of Philemon, I had no idea how much I could learn from this one- chapter book of the Bible. This was most definitely a God-ordained message for me to hear.

At the close of the night, we went straight to the hospital to wait for my new niece to make her arrival. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, no one seemed to think she would arrive soon, so my mom, dad and I went home to get a little rest. By the time we made it home, delivery had sped up and the baby was here! My brother called us with the news and we planned to see her before we went back to the arena for the Saturday morning portion of Living Proof Live.

My hair crisis continued...going on less than 3 hours of sleep, having much to do, without my good dryer, there was no time to do anything with my hair. I had to go out with yesterday’s hair! Sometimes going out with yesterday’s hair is OK, like to the grocery store, the post office, running a few errands, but this was a Beth Moore women’s ministry event! Not where I wanted to go with yesterday’s hair! The grace and peace of the Lord was with me.

To help keep me going through the day, I even drank a cup of straight-up black coffee! I have never enjoyed a cup of coffee, but again, grace and peace were with me because it was good and I did not feel tired all day long!

We were able to peek in on my niece in the hospital nursery before dashing off to the event. If you ever have opportunity to hear Beth speak or worship with Travis Cottrell, do not pass it up! You will be blessed beyond measure. I am still reviewing my notes, soaking up what I learned, and applying it to my life. Beth prayed at the beginning of each session, “broke the bread” and I believe all in attendance were filled.

There was so much excitement with a new baby in our family that I could hardly contain myself to get back to the hospital and see her and hold her. But, the event was also such a blessing and being in the presence of so many Christ followers joining together to praise Him was such an incredible experience that I did not want to leave there. I’m so thankful that God’s sovereignty worked out all of the details. He allowed my mom and me to attend this event and He blessed our family with a new addition. Although we’d hoped my precious niece would come before or after the event, she arrived right on time, perfectly in the middle of it. Not how we expected it to all work out, but in God’s timing and way, it was a perfect and beautiful weekend.

I “stayed awake” physically this weekend and I pray that I will “stay awake” spiritually to the things that I learned, the things that were revealed in and through each experience and word spoken.

Friday, December 2, 2011

More Waiting…and an Unexpected Christmas Blessing

I’m just four days into the Advent readings and hanging ornaments on the Jesse tree and the anticipation of Christmas Day is upon me. I feel it building a little more each day as I read a little more of the greatest love story in all of history. At the close of each day’s devotion I am filled with a great desire to turn the page and read on. It is taking quite a bit of discipline to patiently wait, reading just a little bit each day, excitement swelling within me. I love a love story and I know how this one goes, yet I feel like a little child who wants to hear her favorite book read over and over again, each time it somehow seems fresh and new and exciting. I could devour it in one sitting, but instead I’m savoring it and hanging on every word, following each twist and turn, relishing in the unveiling as it leads to something beautiful.

Cole and Chloe love to be a part of anything we do, so naturally I was holding her yesterday morning while reading our daily portion.

Still soaking up the day’s lesson, my mom and I began to reflect on a Christmas eight years ago when we received an unexpected blessing…

It was late November/early December 2003, I was working not too far from the mall so I spent many lunch hours meandering through stores and often stopped by the pet store to watch the puppies playing in the window. You cannot watch puppies play for too long before you start wanting to take one home! I set my sights on one in particular and I watched him through the window for several days before asking to spend a little time with him in the playroom. I greatly enjoyed playing with toys and tossing balls for him, he was FULL of energy and cuteness and after a little time with him I decided that on Christmas Eve I would bring him home with me.

The morning of Christmas Eve 2003, my mom went with me to the pet store (I know…buying animals from pet stores is not the best thing to do and there are numerous sites for finding rescue animals in need of good homes…now my dad volunteers with Pilots N Paws to help get rescue pets to new homes, so we’d definitely go that route in the future). Back to the pet store…I went straight to the back of the store and looked for my puppy, but he was nowhere to be found. I looked in the playroom and finally asked an employee about him. She said he had been adopted out the day before. I was crushed. Sure, there were other puppies in need of homes, but none of them were “my puppy”. Leaving empty handed, my eyes filled with tears as we made our way through the sea of last minute shoppers and out to the parking lot. My mom suggested we go to the other pet store nearby just to take a look. I was doubtful that they would have a puppy for me, it was Christmas Eve after all…I was certain most puppies had found their way into homes already. Nevertheless, I agreed to take a look.

There were several puppies awaiting homes in this pet store and I carefully looked at each one, watching them sleep and play in their kennels. I was already emotional and did not want to make a quick decision, so we watched and waited…there were two tiny Maltese puppies rolling around in a kennel together. After watching them play for a while I asked to see the smaller one of the two. As soon as the pet store employee placed her in my arms I knew that she was “my puppy”. I held her close and did not let her go. It was just moments later that we heard a howling cry and looked to see her playmate, still in his kennel, looking towards us turning his little head up and letting out a sorrowful cry. Immediately my mom asked to hold him and soon after, we left that store with not one puppy, but two.

Flash forward eight years and we still feel so blessed. I cannot imagine having any other puppy. During that time when my hope was set on one puppy, God had a better plan in motion to fulfill the longing in my heart. Cole and Chloe were unexpected, but perfect gifts that day. On a day that started out full of hope, then quickly filled with sadness and letting go of my heart’s desire and my one Christmas wish, I opened my hands to receive the gift God had prepared for me.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep…And God said, “Let there be light…and it was good.”- Genesis 1:1-3

I am so very thankful today that God saw darkness and gave us light in the beginning, in the birth of Christ and in our souls. That He takes darkness and nothingness and creates something. That when Mary’s response to the angel was, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38), and she died to her expectations and her plans, fully accepting the gift God was giving to her, He filled her emptiness with the fullness of Himself.

I am so thankful that He sees darkness and emptiness and needs and longings and He knows better than I do how to fill those places and all I have to do is open my hands to receive the gifts He has prepared. When I don’t know what to ask, He knows and He gives and it is good.

He who did not spare His own son, but gave him up for us all, how will He not also, along with him, graciously give us all things. – Romans 8:32

I’ve been putting up the Christmas tree and setting out other decorations this week, flooding darkened places with tiny white lights, turning on lamps, and lighting candles all as reminders of the light He gives.