A Tale of Two Cakes

It was the best of cakes, it was the worst of cakes. Armed with a recipe, lemons, and an inordinate amount of patience, Katie took a Lemon Bar Cake Bake literary recipe for a  test drive….twice. Which means I got to eat TWO cakes Katie baked. Which means yum (though, as you will soon read, one was a tad melancholic). Take it away Katie!


My house typically has a small but steady supply of lemons, but a recent error in sharing grocery store shopping lists meant we were faced with having TOO many lemons. While it’s hard to grow tired of fresh lemonade, my hands and arms were getting worn out from the constant squeezing. I decided it was time to do something new with our lemon abundance.

I went on a search and discovered a recipe for a Lemon Bar Cake Bake in the picture book titled Pop Pop and Me and a Recipe, written by Irene Smalls, and illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson (Xist Publishing, 2012 – read here by The Little Reading Nook). Pop Pop and his grandson cook up a fine day together preparing, baking and eating a delicious lemon cake. Filled with sweet rhymes and beautiful imagery of a grandfather with his young grandson, this book is sure to bring a smile to your face.

Armed with a plethora of lemons and a bottle of lemon extract left over from making Harry Potter’s favorite Triple Power Icy Lemon Pops, I pulled out the rest of the required ingredients that were already in my pantry and got to work.

I soon discovered there were a couple of ambiguous directions in the recipe. Under the list of needed utensils, it mentioned a flour sifter, but the recipe never specifically stated when you should use it. The instructions also said the butter needed to be either softened or melted. I decided to use softened butter, which I later learned was not the correct choice (more on that shortly).

After stirring the dry ingredients together, substituting all-purpose flour for cake flour, I set the bowl aside and started combining the other items into a different mixing bowl. That’s when the troubles started. I ran out of lemon extract, so I decided to add a little bit more lemon juice to cover the missing extract. The softened butter was also not fully mixing into the batter, despite using my trusty Kitchenaid mixer at high speed.

My son was heading down the shore for a few days with some family friends, so I decided to send a cake down with him. Thankfully, there was enough batter to separate the cakes into two smaller aluminum baking trays.

When I pulled the trays out of the oven, I knew something was amiss. It looked… weird. Upon trying the cake, my tastebuds confirmed what my eyes had seen. The cake was off. It wasn’t particularly bad, but it wasn’t good either. There was a strange odor that I have reason to believe was the lemon extract. According to the bottle, the extract hadn’t expired, but I know it was roughly four years old. There may have also been a reason why the recipe called specifically for cake flour, and I knew I should have fully melted the butter before mixing it together with the other wet ingredients.

Sad and defeated, I threw what was left of my original lemon bar cake into the trash. I later learned the cake I sent with my son also ended up in the garbage. The beachgoers shared my opinion and were underwhelmed with the texture and flavor of the cake.

[Dr. Dana: I also had a piece. The lemon was anemic and definitely off. The cake had a weird heavy texture with an occasional eerie lump thrown in. It was kinda gross, but if you’re wondering if I still ate the whole piece, the answer is YES.]

However, I am not one to give up on a recipe. I was determined to make Pop Pop proud and bake, bake his favorite cake. On a future visit to the grocery store, I bought a new bottle of lemon extract and a box of cake flour. I followed the recipe down to the very letter.

I sifted the dry ingredients together, the butter was fully melted, I had plenty of fresh lemon extract, and I let my mixer run for an extra minute to make sure all of the ingredients were blended well together. I slid the new cake into the oven, hopeful the changes would yield a better result.

And it did! As you can see from the photo, the cake is definitely yellower and has a much more even texture compared to the first attempt. It passed the taste test too. It was delicious!

The Lemon Bar Cake Bake is a heavier density cake that reminds me of a pound cake, but the flavor was like a big lemon party (to quote one of my colleagues). My son and I both loved the lemon icing that coated the cake with a sweet lemonade essence. No question that the second effort was much, much better than the first.

[Dr. Dana: I too enjoyed a piece of the second cake attempt. MUCH better flavor, better texture, no lumps, and the glaze was super yum!]

Lesson learned: trust the recipe and do what it tells you to do. Clearly Pop Pop knows best!

The 12 Month, 46 Hour Library

When Katie saw this DIY miniature library online, she  was entranced. It’s perfectly adorable with its tiny little books and knick knacks on the bookshelves and darling framed pictures and actual working chandelier with four lights. But she did NOT love the lengthy process of constructing it. It took 46 hours. 46 HOURS. Katie, share with us your epic journey…


I built the Rolifé DIY Miniature House: Sam’s Study (DG102), which can be purchased on the Rolifé website for $47.99. There is another company, Hands Craft, that makes a similar, if not identical kit. You can purchase their version of Sam’s Study on Amazon for $35.85. There is an age suggestion of 14+.

The kit arrives with a multitude of wood, fabric, and paper parts and pieces to construct the library, as well as small bottles of white latex and liquid glue, tweezers, white paint and a small paint brush. You will need to have a few additional tools to help with the construction: a ruler with millimeters, scissors, needle nose pliers, screwdriver, pencil and a binder clip.

I also highly suggest having a glue stick, another option of super glue (I used Krazy glue with an applicator brush), and a pair of small sharp scissors (I bought a pair of 4.5 inch nano detail scissors). Even though the kit claims batteries are included, you may need to purchase a pair of CR2032 Lithium 3V batteries for the chandelier.

There is an instruction manual packed with photographs and detailed steps to create the miniature library. I followed the manual very closely, making sure I had the correct pieces for each of the cabinets by using the included part number illustration paper.

So many pieces! So much glue! Oftentimes I had to be creative with figuring out ways to assist the various parts to hold together as the glue dried. Elastic hair bands for the win!
When I reached the section to build the sofa – it’s actually a wingback armchair – I was riding a wave of confidence. I had put together six dressers, cabinets, and bookshelves and a ladder without much difficulty.

The petite handles for the doors and drawers were a challenge, but I was able to create them. Surely I could make an armchair.

Surely not.

I created one side of the armchair and my fingers were so completely covered in glue, I was forced to give up. I couldn’t pick up the red fabric or the bottle of glue without it being nearly impossible to put back down. Defeated, I set aside the armchair.

My next challenge was cutting, folding and pasting the roughly 130 paper books, boxes and paintings that fill the shelves and walls of the bookstore. I started snipping with my 9 inch pair of scissors, and it didn’t take me long to realize I needed a much smaller pair in order to save time and my sanity. I was able to cut through the paper much faster with the 4.5 inch scissors, but it took a while to fold the little books and boxes and glue them all together. I used the glue stick and a q-tip to apply glue to the narrow paper edges, which greatly helped speed up the process.

The pièce de résistance was constructing the walls and floor of the bookstore, as well as creating the realistic chandelier that provided the gentle glowing light. The bookstore was relatively easy. The chandelier was complicated. And frustrating. And it nearly didn’t happen because I almost ran out of wire necessary to provide electricity to the bulbs.

Despite trying to be very careful while cutting and stringing the fragile wires, I cut some and broke others. It took many long hours (and the utterance of many bad words) to bring the light to life. I can fully understand why some who left online reviews of the kit simply gave up on the chandelier. Trust me, I almost did.

finished walls and light 2I was just about ready to furbish the bookstore, but I still had to finish the wing back armchair. The various bits and pieces of the chair were ready to go, but I was not looking forward to the actual construction. Begrudgingly, I used every last bit of my dogged patience to put the chair together. It’s not pretty, in fact it’s far from perfect. One side of the chair is slightly taller than the other and there are many areas of the wood frame showing through the red cloth, but I finished it.

Now came the fun part – decorating! The instruction manual had generic photos showing where the furniture needed to go, but you can decide where the books and decorations go. There were many times I needed to use the provided tweezers to glue a tiny framed picture on the wall next to a bookshelf, place a minuscule pamphlet in a specific area, or put the bitty silver coffee mug on top of a book. After all of the irritation I had while building the kit, decorating the bookstore was quite cathartic.

The miniature library is amazing. There are so many charming little touches and details that you could stare at it for hours. Even the red wing back armchair, in all its misshapen glory, looks fantastic nestled in the corner with a pile of books resting on the seat.

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Dr. Dana and I had a bet as to how long it was going to take me to finish the library. She said 25 hours, I guessed it would take much longer. I was right – it took nearly 46 hours.
Now that I am done putting the kit together, I think it is safe to say that I completely overestimated my technical crafting abilities when manipulating small parts and pieces. It is also safe for me to say that I will try to avoid doing another one of these types of projects in the future. I would recommend it for adults who have tremendous patience and dedication to lengthy projects.

May the teeny-tiny crafting kit odds be ever in your favor.

Say Cheese!

next-stop-cannes

Since childhood, there have been a few craft projects that have proved elusive to fabrication…umbrellas that stay open, a conveyer belt that moves, and life-sized fake cotton candy that still looks yummy. The cotton candy is ESPECIALLY difficult. Tulle fabric looks weird, and cotton balls just clump! They. Just. Clump.

Cameras used to be one of those elusive craft projects, but I’m happy to report that we’ve managed to create several fun versions complete with lenses, shutter clicks, and Polaroids! So today, in honor of National Camera Day, we will be sharing our favorite camera projects. Starting with the one pictured above. A handheld camera with color changing lenses!

Shutter clicks go hand in hand with camera, be they physical or digital. I never was able to quite nail the sound until I stumbled upon these bug clickers. They really add dimension to this snazzy tea tin camera, modeled here by a penguin…

say freeze

Polaroid cameras were a thing of my youth, and attempts to recreate them were met with various degrees of success. I felt I reached my zenith, however, with this OCuSOFT box turned Polaroid camera. We also turned the photos into a nifty little story time matching game!

canyon photos

Finally, go BIG with an entire film crew, complete with handheld mic, camera, and a boom mic! We’veve used this set up a number of times (from science interviews to cooking shows), and it’s always fab-u-lous!

a star is born