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!

Bad to the Bard

bad to the bard 5Prepare to “Insult, exult, and all at once” (As You Like It, Act 3, Scene 5). Because today we’re reviewing the epic Shakespeare Insult Generator from Becker & Mayer! Wither you stub your toe on a rock, or are trading barbs with your bitter rival…if your situation requires a fiery oath or stinging retort, you are in good hands with the Bard!

Retailing for around $9 on Amazon, this little spiral-bound volumes includes 162 Shakespearean words. The pages are divided into three sections (the top and middle sections are adjectives, the bottom section is a noun). The sections can be quickly flipped  to create 150,000 original insults.

The cool thing is when you flip each section, the word is defined on the back. So if you are wondering what a “scut” is, it’s actually “the short, erect tail of a deer.”

In addition to being visually pleasing, the book comes with a fascinating and humorous introduction. Among other things, you learn that words marked with a feather icon means they were most likely invented by Shakespeare. Words marked with an “N” are ones he only used once (also referred to as “nonce” words). As you can see in the above photo, all three words are nonce. Amazingly, of the 162 words in the book, 22% were invented by Shakespeare, and 64% are nonce! That’s some amazing word-smithery, that is.

In addition to being educational, this book is FUN. The insults are quite creative and quite satisfying to select. In fact, we recommend buying two books so opponents can pair off and parry insults back and forth from stage right and left! Highly recommend.

Lovely Loons

Is there anything more beautiful then the sound of a loon calling? How about the fact that they carry their chicks on their backs when the little ones need a rest? Katie captured the loon love in this simple story time project AND provided the extra bonus at the end of the post!

We recommend reading Little Loon and Papa, written by Toni Buzzeo, and illustrated by Margaret Spengler (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2004 – read aloud here by Hannibal Ferret Story Books). Papa Loon is trying to teach reluctant Little Loon how to dive under the water. When Papa disappears below the water’s surface, Little Loon swim away and gets lost. After bumping into several different animals, Little Loon hears Papa’s call and summons the courage to dive and reunite with his dad!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small tissue box
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • Black, white, and brown paper
  • Scissors, glue or tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

Common loons are easily recognizable by the unique markings on their feathers and their striking red eyes. They also have extremely identifiable calls, which you can often hear as background outdoor sound bites in TV shows and movies. And as you see here, adult loons will carry their young chicks on their backs to give the babies a break from swimming or to protect them from predators. Just AWWWWW!

Image courtesy of Wikicommons

To make the adult loon, cut a small tissue box down to approximately 1.5″ tall. Cover the box and a toilet paper tube with black paper. Snip 1/4″ slits into the sides of of the toilet paper tube, then slide it onto the box. For the feathers, you can use patterned and silver markers like Katie did, or just go with white paper. The beak is construction paper, as are the eyes (which you should definitely color in red!). The black pompom for the top of the head is optional.

mama loon_3

To make the loon chicks, cut a toilet paper tube in half, then wrap each section with brown paper. Add paper wings, beaks, and eyes – or simply use markers to add these features. Feather crests are an option as well! Place the finished chicks onto the back of the adult loon, and marvel in the cuteness!

baby loons_3

The inspiration for this project was an actual pair of loons, lovingly nicknamed Benny and Joon, who reside together on a lake in northern Wisconsin. Katie and her extended family vacationed on the lake this summer, and were treated to daily visits and concerts by Benny and Joon. Listening to the haunting call of the loons was one of the highlights of their trip, along with tubing, waterskiing and catching plenty of fish!

Ready for 30 seconds of total relaxation with Benny, Joon, and gentle, lapping water?