Homemade: Carrot Cake

Monday, April 21, 2014

Yesterday was one of those perfect spring days where everything was in bloom and the weather was so delicious you wanted to savor it with all five senses. Our Sunday church services were a beautiful experience, complete with heartfelt songs and lovely messages. Throughout the day I felt a surge of gratitude for all the good things in my life and cherished all the quiet reminders of God's love for me.

We were lucky enough to get a last-minute dinner invitation and I was only too happy to make this quintessentially Easter carrot cake for the gathering. You can serve this cake with ice cream or whipped cream, but I prefer it as is and slightly cold.

Carrot Cake with Ginger Mascarpone Frosting
(serves 10-12)

2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound carrots, grated (see Note)
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
Ginger Mascarpone Frosting, recipe follows
Crystallized ginger (not in syrup), chopped, for garnish
Ginger Mascarpone Frosting:
12 ounces Italian mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger (not in syrup)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-by-2-inch) round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and grease and flour the pans.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar, oil, and eggs on medium-high speed for 2 minutes, until light yellow and thickened. Stir in the vanilla. In another bowl, sift together the 2 cups of flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ones.

In a medium bowl, toss the carrots, raisins, walnuts, and the 1 tablespoon of flour. Stir into the batter with a rubber spatula. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 10 minutes, lower the heat to 350 degrees F, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, turn out onto a baking rack, and cool completely.

Place one cake on a flat serving plate, rounded-side down. Spread half the frosting on the top (not the sides). Place the second cake on top of the first cake, rounded-side up. Frost just the top of the second cake. Sprinkle with the ginger and serve at room temperature.

Note: For this episode, Ina added 1/4 cup chopped crystalized ginger to the batter.

Ginger Mascarpone Frosting:
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the mascarpone, cream cheese, confectioners sugar, cream, and vanilla together for about 1 minute, until light and fluffy. Add the crystallized ginger and salt and beat for 30 seconds more. Yield: frosts one 9-inch cake

Note: Grate the carrots by hand on a box grater; if you grate them in a food processor, the carrots will be too wet and the cake might fall.

Recipe from Ina Garten

The (Long) Story of a Home

Friday, April 18, 2014

A lengthy explanation for my MIA status over the last several weeks. 

Last May (2013) Ken and I first met our realtor, Anna. She'd come recommended from a couple of friends and we thought that was a good starting point. At our first meeting with her we had a lot of questions. It must have been obvious how green we were, first time home buyers and all. (Honestly, I wonder if we even knew what we were getting into.)Yet at the same time it was exciting, we were going to be homeowners!

And then I lost my job.

It was almost like The Universe unilaterally stepped in to tell us our timing was off. But we didn't listen. Instead we started to look at a few homes here and there; pumped up on the energy of making a major decision together. As summer turned to fall and fewer houses came on the market it was obvious we weren't going to be moving before the lease on our apartment was up, so we sort of shelved the idea for a few months.

Then, at the start of 2014, we reignited our motivation and made things official by writing our goal of homeownership on a Post-it note. This was happening.

Initially our parameters for the home had to fit three requirements: 1. It had to be in a certain geographic boundary, 2. It had to have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and 3. It had to be in our price range. In my mind, these were all reasonable requests. But as we started to look in earnest it soon became apparent that the market had shifted considerably in just a few short months. Demand was up and supply was down.

Even so, each week I made an effort to look at two to three homes. Even the really crappy ones. And finally, at the beginning of March I felt like I'd found our home. A mid-century rambler that had all the charm of grandma's house with the possibility of some modern updates and a huge yard. In fact, I remember feeling the stories of the people who had lived there previously. It had been on the market for a few months and it just felt like a good fit. But before Ken could even see the property (the next day) it had gone under contract.

How could that be? 

After that first defeat I felt a greater urgency to find something and find it fast, hoping to find something before our lease expired at the end of June and before we added to our growing family. Initially, Ken and I decided that I would look at homes by myself and anything I really liked he would look at after. (This gave me the chance to view properties during daylight hours and weed out the really horrible ones.) Dozens of homes later I started to feel deflated. What happened to a buyers' market? Then, finally, a home came on the market that seemed just about perfect. A finished basement, three bedrooms with two baths, a gorgeous updated gourmet kitchen, and a chicken coop in the backyard. But it was out of our budget. Still we ended up going to the Sunday open house along with about 30 other families. The small space was packed and we knew that if we were really serious about the home we would need to put an offer in that very day. Which is exactly what we did. We decided we could somehow manage the extra $5,000 over our budget so we offered the asking price with closing cost back. Needless to say our offer wasn't accepted. In fact, the owners got six offers on the same day. Six.

It was so disappointing.

By that time the entire process was starting to take an emotional toll on me and I began to tailspin into worst-case scenarios. We're going to have a baby in this tiny apartment and I'm going to have to haul baby, groceries, stroller, diaper bag, etc. up and down 15 steps EVERY SINGLE TIME I want to go anywhere. My life is over!

After losing out on our first offer I took a little break from house hunting. Truthfully, I was falling into a depression and feeling entirely hopeless about our prospects. Every so often we would return to our three requirement and see if there was any wiggle room. We thought about expanding our geographic boundaries, but that never felt right. Whenever we talked about moving our budget up we knew that it wasn't a prudent idea considering we were/are a one income family. That left only one thing to adjust: how many rooms and bathrooms we actually needed?

So it was back to the drawing board.

Every day I scoured listings. Trying desperately to keep my hopes up. After changing search parameters to two bedrooms and one bath I ended up finding a house that was listed as such but looked sizable enough that it just might work. The Eulalie house had been on the market for over four months but had recently had a significant price reduction, so I called Anna and we made an appointment to see the home. I remember liking it immediately—especially the hardwood floors, natural light, fireplace, entertaining space, big bedrooms, location, and unfinished (with great potential) basement. Since Ken was working from home that day I had him come right over to see the home and we both agreed THIS was the home for us. That night I wrote a letter to the seller and we put in our offer above the asking price.

The next morning I awoke with a peaceful heart after having had a dream that the seller had accepted our offer. I felt confident and secure, knowing that this was in fact our home.

But then our realtor started to send us strange text messages. Asking if we would negotiate on really small things like move-in date and home warranty. As the day wore on I started to feel like something was wrong. It turned out the seller had received two nearly identical offers on the same day. Two days later our realtor told us that the seller had decided to go with the other buyer. I was devastated. How could this be? THAT WAS OUR HOME!

Heartbroken I cried and cried over another lost home. What made it even more difficult was processing the disconnect between my confirmation and the subsequent outcome. In my despair I decided I simply didn't have the mental stamina to keep looking for a home.

Over the next several days Ken and I prayed a lot. We prayed for the seller of the Eulalie home. That she would realize she'd made the wrong decision and that we would have another chance to buy her house. We prayed for the other buyer, that he would decide that it wasn't the home for him. We prayed for the house itself. We prayed that the home we needed would be available to us when it was suppose to be. Adding that we hoped that was sooner rather than later. But mainly we prayed that everything would work out alright in the end and that we would be comforted during the process.

I know every home buying article ever written cautions against getting too attached to a home. Save yourself some grief, they all warn, don't get attached. Don't start planning renovations in your mind or picking out paint colors or envisioning backyard bbq parties, because that's just setting yourself up for disappointment. Right? But here's the thing, after looking at 30+ homes it's impossible not to find one or two that you become really attached to. And isn't that the point? Don't you want to find something that resonates with you? Something that feels like home and whispers of endless possibilities? Call me crazy, but I think it's really important to sense that a home is right for you. That it fits and that you belong together.

Two weeks later I managed to scrape my dignity together to look at a few more homes (none of which I was excited about). While we were out with Anna she mentioned the Eulalie house—saying something about how both parties were looking at signing a mutual release document. What? Our eyes widened, thinking it sounded too good to be true.

A couple days later we received our first bit of good news. Both parties had indeed signed a mutual release agreement and the house was going back on the market. From that moment we went into overdrive. Putting all of our energy into making the Eulalie house ours. We wrote another offer and I dashed off another letter to the seller (explaining our convictions and prayers over the circumstances). After what seemed like an eternity, but was really less than 24 hours, we found out that our offer had been accepted!

From our nearly year-long search for a home I can honestly say that home buying has been one of the most exhausting and frustrating experiences of my entire life. Worse than dating. While I know that most things work out in the end, sometimes when you are mired in the thick of a difficult situation it is nearly impossible to keep that in perspective. Tears are shed, emotions run high, and a happy ending seems just out of reach. Of course I'm beyond grateful for the way things have turned out and it's amazing to think that after 17 years as a renter, I'm going to live in a place that is my/our very own. Today we finished our inspections and are moving forward to close in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I can't wait to start decorating and creating a warm and welcoming space for our family and friends.

Thanks for listening and sticking with me during the radio silence.

Music Monday: Goodnight, Texas

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hellloooo music lovers! It's been awhile since we've talked up a good band. One of my favorite ways of "discovering" a new band is by accident. Goodnight, Texas is one of those groups that recently caught me by surprise. A trio of guys with beards and banjos, straddled between California and North Carolina, the band opened for Shakey Graves last weekend, to a couple dozen folks. (Another plug for arriving early to live shows.) With rousing ballads and a gritty wholesomeness, their lyrics instantly transported me to another era; a bygone time nestled deep in the woods of the Appalachian countryside. Song after song I found myself liking their music more with each hearing. Lucky for us Goodnight, Texas plans to release another album this summer. But until then be sure to visit the band's website and take a listen to more of their catchy tunes.

For additional Music Monday posts click here

Currently | 4.11.2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

READING: There's something so satisfying about finishing a BIG book. Say anything over 600 pages or so. This week I finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It was one of those rare reads I picked up because I had read a previous book she'd written. Generally speaking, I'm not an author follower, but I loved the compelling and somewhat twisted psychological interplay of the book's characters. Now I'm re-reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown because I think it is one of the most important books of this century. Not even kidding.

WATCHING: As the seasons transition from colder weather to warmer I find myself watching less television, which is probably good for my soul. The one show I catch regularly is Modern Family. But apparently I really need to jump on this House of Cards craze.

EATING: When it comes to pregnant lady food cravings, I can honestly say that early on I craved brown rice and salsa. Now I can't stop hankering for steamed broccoli, Margherita pizza, and root beer floats. It's all about balance, right?

MAKING: Birthday cards. Or should I say massive birthday posters? I nearly died when I found this tutorial and I've had so much fun replicating the project for a couple faraway loved ones.

EXCITED FOR: A trip home! Sure it's easy to get lost in the idea of an exotic vacation or one of the dozens of places around the world that I'd love to visit, but sometimes going back to familiar well-loved faces is just as needed. In a couple weeks my sweet sisters are throwing me a baby shower, followed by my mom's birthday celebration, and then finally a big hurrah for my brother's college graduation. All exciting reasons to take a long holiday in Utah.

My Bookbloom All rights reserved © Blog Milk Powered by Blogger