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!

Studio Snapshots: Stevie Lewis

Get ready to be amazed… this studio is on wheels! Today, we’re visiting Stevie Lewis. For half the year, Stevie, her partner, and her dogs (Kiki and Tigger, seen smiling above) travel to hiking and rock climbing destinations. And Stevie takes her work with her in a sweet van she customized herself! An animator for four years, Stevie has also illustrated a number of beautiful picture books. Her newest releases, I Am Thinking My Life (Bala Kids), and We Are Better Together (Henry Holt) will be available in 2022.


Picture 1: Here’s a picture of my workspace, which I share with my partner while we’re on the road in our van. I built out the van (all by myself!) before I met him, and we travel as often as we can. I usually work from the road on my computer.

Picture 2: Having a van home makes traveling feel very comfortable. I can park anywhere, and gather endless inspiration from the outdoors. Here’s the van parked off a road in Moab, Utah, where I enjoyed painting and drawing in the desert.

Picture 3: Another view of the kitchen/studio/living room area. It’s so important to stay organized living in such a small space!

Picture 4: The trunk is where we keep our outdoor climbing, camping, and biking gear, as well as any art supplies I bring on the road with me.

Picture 5: Sometimes I”ll bring my art outside, and use traditional mediums like color pencil and gouache. I can’t bring too many supplies with me on the road, but I can manage a few paints and pencils! I’m looking forward to having a real, non-moving art studio someday!


Images courtesy of Stevie Lewis

Destination: Sleepy Hollow

When the pumpkins begin to grow ripe on the vine, my thoughts always turn to my favorite spooky story since childhood, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I’ve always wanted to visit Sleepy Hollow and walk across that famous bridge, and this past weekend, I got my chance!

The tale was first published in 1820, and begins in Tarrytown, New York, on the banks of the Hudson river. Sleepy Hollow is a quiet glen a few miles away. Tarrytown most definitely exists, and North Tarrytown was officially renamed Sleepy Hollow in 1996. Here you will find all the famous sites, such as the cemetery where the Headless Horseman is said to materialize.

I love the graphics on top of this historical sign…

The churchyard is part of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, which was constructed in the 17th century. Featured in Irving’s short story, it’s one of the of the oldest churches in New York State.

From the church, we headed down to the FAMOUS BRIDGE. Which, as it turns out, is the “is the most popular destination in Sleepy Hollow that doesn’t exist.” Because the simple 1700s wooden bridge that inspired Irving has long since disintegrated (you can read a little more bridge history here).

The bridge is located in a pretty major intersection with a gas station nearby. So it’s almost a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it historical literary moment. Here’s the bridge as it stands today…

And here’s a postcard image of the historic bridge! With the logs, the stonework, and the silken water…you can absolutely imagine being clocked by a pumpkin at a ghostly hour.

Not far from the bridge is the town’s official statue, depicting Ichabod’s fatal race home. This was a bit of a surprise too. I expected something more traditional. But I like the metal layers on this interpretation – they’re almost like a paper cut silhouettes. Unveiled Halloween 2006, the statue was designed by artist Linda Perlmutter, and fabricated by MILGO/BUFKIN.

The Sleepy Hollow cemetery, church, bridge, and statue are all across the street from the Philipsburg Manor Upper Mills, which is a restored 18th century living-history museum (you can read more here). It’s currently closed for restoration work.

We also got an unexpected surprise at the nearby Philipse Manor train station, which operates on the Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line. The station’s pedestrian bridge had really cool stained glass windows…

And check out the VIEW of the Hudson River on the other side!

I also recommend heading to Patriot Park, which is on the border of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. It boasts stone bridges, staircases, and water. And plenty of green space to run around on!

At this point, we were getting hungry, so we headed over to Tarrytown for some bites. Main Street was charming, walk-able, and there were plenty of eateries to chose from.

One other building of note is the historic Tarrytown Music Hall, a 136 year-old historic theater. Supposedly haunted, and yes, they DO have ghost tours. And yes, I’m definitely kicking myself for not thinking of buying tickets in advance of my trip!

The sun was starting to set as we headed back to New Jersey with haunted places still on our minds. This Halloween, when I revisit Irving’s tale, I’ll actually be able to say that I’ve walked through the cemetery, stood next to the church, and crossed the bridge! How awesome is that?