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Monday, February 16, 2009

A new home for my family friendly food blog

5/12/2009 Update:

The new blog URL is http://www.familyfriendlyfood.com/, or click here to get there. You will find the same exciting recipes, dinner ideas, stories, and food photos...
To subscribe (it's free), click here.
Many thanks!!!

Weight Loss Weekly: This Time It Is Different

Dinner time. I help myself to another serving of… whatever. “What about portion control?” my husband asks. “Well…” I say as I take another scoop, “I SAID that it is still a challenge…”

To this Joie de vivre replied to me with: “Nurit, I have to tell you, if my husband were to ever make judgments about my portion control, I think my self-preservation mechanism would slap him upside the head! ... ”

Well, no, I did not smack him on the head or punch him in the face. He was trying to be helpful and supportive in a… guy’s kinda way. He is a great guy. Really. Bought me a box of chocolate truffles for Valentine’s that I have been fantasizing about since the Fat cookbook event in November.

This week we are tackling the question: Why this time it is going to be different?

Giyen from Bacon is My Enemy
writes: "This time is different because I am different. I spent a good many years thinking that life would be different if I looked different ..." To read more go to Bacon is My Enemy

Sunny at That Extra 20 Pounds answers: "So first, do I think this time is different? Yes! Why? Well, I think I've finally learned what works and what doesn't work for me..." read more at That Extra 20 Pounds

Joie de vivre writes: "To tell the truth, I'm not sure I will ever reach my "goal" weight, but this time IS different." To read more click Joie de Vivre: An amateur gourmet's guide

And I say:
What I think is going to make a difference this time is that I write/talk/blog about it and I have made a few modifications in habits that I can keep for life.

1. I write/talk/blog about it.

A few months ago we ran into a friend at the mall. When the topic of weight came up, he was surprised to hear that I weigh 18 pounds extra and told me: “You wear it well”. He meant it a compliment. Regardless, when we were back at home I started thinking about starting another blog about diets, or salads, or something like that. I thought that blogging about it will be helpful and keep me on track, kind of what Sunny is doing. But then I started thinking about incorporating this topic into this blog (because I already have a second blog).

I never talked about my dissatisfaction with my extra weight before besides the occasional complaint. I thought people are not interested or will get bored. But, hey, you are here, and reading this post. And I’ve found some online friends that blog about weight loss with me. This is the main reason why I think this time it will be different.

The more I write/talk about it, the more I think about it, the more I become aware of what I’m doing and how it makes me gain or lose weight.

So this was the biggest change. And I already see some results.

I told you in a previous post, why I think that my clothes are better judges of weight loss than the scale and I have good news: 1) the extra weight from the holidays’ season came off just by going back to eating what I usually eat, and 2) last night I wore pants that I haven’t worn in quite some time and they felt a bit loose! This makes me very happy.

A reader, Berni from Yo-yo No More blog, sent me this link http://www.dramandaonline.com/ with an approach that explains what probably had happened:

“… let's imagine you gain a kilo or two over the holidays. Your Fat Brake then
revs up your metabolic rate and cuts your appetite. So if you simply follow your
hunger signals you lose that excess weight automatically.”

I want to believe that a few modifications, instead of a revolution, in a few habits, will make it work. I hope I will succeed without “dieting” the way that most people refer to “dieting”. Other things that I have only recently changed and I think have contributed to losing some weight without a lot of effort are:

2. I take baby steps to change and weekly challenges
One at a time, I try to focus each week on one thing: portion control, walking more, listening to my body’s signals (see previous post below).
Even if I don’t immediately have success in changing a habit, it is on my mind, I think about it, I am aware of it, and I’m working on it.

3. Recent changes in eating habits:

If I ate terrible food in the company of horrible people, losing weight would have been much easier. On the other hand, I would probably want to kill my skinny self in that case. Lucky me, most of the time it is great food with wonderful people, so I had to come up with other tactics, and it was very easy to do, like:
* Eating more whole foods, seasonal, and organic when possible.

* Less meat, poultry and fish. For example, instead of eating beef 1-2 times a week, we now eat it 2-3 times a month. 2-3 times a week it's mostly vegetarian dishes (tip: I’ve found that a little bacon can give a dish a meaty flavor).

* More leafy greens. Wow, they are so good! How could I have not eaten them all my life?

You will find some examples like an Onion Tart with Gruyere, Herb Salad, Butternut squash salad, Farro salad, and others here, here, and here.

* Limit dessert to 2-3 days a week (I have mentioned I bake a cake every weekend a dozen times already, haven’t I?).
Warren Brown who wrote Cake Love cookbook suggests waiting a few hours after the meal before having dessert. This makes sense. Our body is working on all that food it just got, and it probably doesn’t need extra food and sugar to digest.

* After following a diabetic diet for a while, I learned to recognize the carbs in food and to monitor the amounts (without measuring and counting, just eyeballing it). For example, if you are eating a breakfast of yogurt, fruit, toast, and drinking a small latte you have carbs in ALL of those. Of course there’s protein and other things as well. So I would cut it to 2 separate smaller breakfasts. I’ll have coffee and toast with cheese first, and a morning snack later of yogurt and fruit.

There were easy steps of change in eating habits that I can follow all my life without a feeling of deprivation.

4. I’m being more physically active.
The weather warmed up so I’m walking more. I now walk to pick up my son from school a few times a week. Today we walked to the park; a 20 minutes of easy walk downhill, and 25-30 minutes walking uphill with your tongue sticking out (you can’t see it ‘cos the photo is too small).

5. And just as important, will power.
I never really cared before. But now I do. I want to lose weight and go back one size down.
Oh, yeah, fear of failure plays a role too.
I hesitated before starting to blog about losing weight because I was afraid I will fail. And I hate to fail (I sound like a Grouchy Smurf: “I hate to fail”). Once I set my mind on a project, I gotta do it and do it well.

Photo from The Smurfs web site

Friday, February 13, 2009

Oops, I did it again…

Remember the cognac/whiskey-soaked chocolate cake?
Well, my mother-in-law baked that cake and sent me photos. And then, I just had to make it again. I had to!

However… since Valentine’s Day was approaching, I thought I’ll try to make it CUTE. Hmmm…

About a week ago, when I was looking all over the place for mini cupcakes pans for my little girl’s birthday party (that’s her cake here), I found this pan.

Doesn’t it look cute?
So I really really wanted to use it for something and soon. Valentines’ sounded like an appropriate opportunity.

So take the original cognac -soaked chocolate cake + a cute pan with small indentations, and try it.
The result – wonderful!

Mini Cognac-Soaked Chocolate Cakes
Adaptation to the new variation:

1. It looked like the cognac bottle had 1 cup in it, but after measuring it, it turned out to be only ½ a cup, so I added ¼ cup cherry kirsch and ¼ cup water.
The flavor turned out to be great. Less alcoholic and intoxicating than when using all cognac, with a milder flavor, and the texture was great.

2. I used the pan with 12 mini cakes and the rest of the batter was baked in a long loaf cake (12 by 4.5 inch, measured at the top).

3. Baking times:
For the mini cakes it took 25 minutes.*
For the loaf cake it took 50 minutes.*
* Baking times may vary as I opened the door a couple of times to check if the cakes were done, so of course, heat escaped from the oven. It might take less time when you don’t open the oven

Now. If I was not dieting, I would have topped each little cutie with some Nutella or a chocolate ganache, filled the cute little hole with whipped cream, AND garnished it with a little berry.
But I won’t. Should I?
Maybe next year?

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Food Photography Class: Learning About a Lens

There’s this guy, Matt, who write this blog named Wrightfood which I like to read (and am subscribed to). Besides writing really great posts about food he also takes amazing photos! He also seems like a very nice guy who shares from his experience in food photography on his blog (click here and here). So when I felt overwhelmed in my research about buying a new camera and the equipment that goes with it, like a lens, I thought: “hmmm, maybe I can e-mail Matt and ask, and maybe he’ll be kind and reply to my e-mail with a short explanation to my question”. But I surely did not expect him to be as helpful as he was and answer in such lengthy and detailed educational replies.

I have already taken Matt’s advice and purchased a 500 watt lamp and see a major difference like with this photo that I took at night.

More than being happy about getting some help, I feel happier getting to “know” other bloggers and find out how people can be so nice to total strangers, like this lady, Sophie, who writes Mostly Eating blog that I found only yesterday.

Matt’s helpful tips are too good not to be shared with others, so here is our e-mail exchange below. I hope you’ll find it helpful if you are new to the amazing world of (food) photography like me.

* * * * * * * * *

Dear Matt,

I read that you have a 50mm 1.4F prime lens. I’m only starting to learn about this new world of photography. It’s still like Chinese, or Spanish, or Uzbekistani to me. There is a photo shop here in Bellevue. They have a “deal” on a Canon Rebel XS camera with a Promaster 28-200 lens.
I still need to verify the “deal” cost wise. But what do you think about the lens?
Many thanks!


Hi Nurit

Stay away from Promaster. I haven't heard anything good about them at all.
Some stuff to know about lenses:
"Prime" lenses (those at a fixed size, so no zoom) give the sharpest images, and a generally able to shoot in much lower light conditions. If you are just getting a lens for food photography, the Canon 50mm 1.4F is really great, and the cheaper 50mm 1.8F is still very good.
With zoom lenses, the longer the zoom (biggest distance between low and high zoom - 20-500 is longer than 20-80, if that makes sense) the harder it is to have really good optics - so you are going to get softer images.

A half decent "walk about" lens would be a 20-80mm - a reasonably short zoom, but covers most bases. 18-55 would be even better. You aren't going to be doing long distance shots at the zoo though!
The one thing to remember, that most people forget, is that it really isn't down to the quality of the camera; it is down to the quality of the lens. The XS is Canon's entry level digital camera - and is still a
Higher spec than the camera I have been using for all photography on my site.
Just make sure you spend some cash on the lens - that is where the big difference in quality lies.
Hope that helps!



Every bit of information is helpful. I'm a totally new beginner. Even when I started blogging I did not think photography will become a hobby. But I've got so much to learn.
What's the difference between 1.4F and 1.8 F? What does the "F", in this case, stands for anyway????
I think I'm in a similar position as you - living here in a gray area light, shooting food, no long distance shots, mostly at night (or on cold gray days). I got a 500 Watt light last night (following your advice but I bought it in a store for more $$. Alas). I can already see a huge difference together with the other 250 watt I have.
When you write: "zoom lenses, the longer the zoom ... the harder... it is to have really good optics - so you are going to get softer images", you mean "softer" as in more blurry?
I like about your photos that they look sharp and crisp. I'm looking for a similar affect too. The food just pops out. So which lens is best for that?

Can I just go shopping with you? ;-)
Thanks a million for your tips/help!

Hi Nurit

First the techy mumbo-jumbo on the F number. It is the "aperature size". Two things control the exposure of a shot. Firstly, how long the camera shutter is open. If the shutter is open for a long time, then more light gets into the camera (sensor/film etc), so the more the image will be exposed (best way to look at this - if you look at the sun too long, everything is going to end up white).

Second is the size of the aperature. Imagine the aperature to be the size of the hole in the lens that light can pass through. If the hole is really big, more light can pass through. If the hole is really small, less light can pass through.

So - light comes into the lens. If the aperature hole in the lens is really big, more light can get into the camera. That means that the shutter on the camera can be open for less time - since more light is coming in. This means you have less chance of camera shake/blurry images.

If the aperature is really tiny, then the shutter has to be open for longer to get enough light in to expose the image - this means that there is more chance of camera shake/blur when taken hand held.

So - the F number is the size of the aperature. Just to make things really annoying, the smaller the F number, the more "open" the aperature is.

So - what this means - the lower the F number, the bigger the hole, which in turn means you can shoot in lower light without the risk of camera shake hand held (since you will have a faster shutter speed).

The aperature size (F number) also controls the Depth of Field (how much is in focus). The larger the aperature (smaller the F number), the shorter the DoF (depth of field), which means less stuff is in focus. This can be desired or not... depends what you are after.

Blimey, I hope all that makes sense.

So what does it really mean to you? Well, the F1.4 lens will allow you take better pictures hand-held in low light. This fact alone might not be that great for shooting food photography. Typically you will have ample light (even with a light setup), and you will be using a tripod..

Which gets me onto my next thing - always use a tripod... and a good quality one at that (a stable one).

The F1.4 lens has other stuff going for it over the 1.8 too. It is built of metal (coated in plastic), the 1.8 is mostly plastic - so it is more durable.

Getting into technical stuff too - the out of focus effects (Boekeh) are nicer on the F1.4 than the F1.8. The blurry bits look better.

If you are strapped for cash, go for the 1.8. It is still a great lens. My brother, who is a nature photographer, uses it, and gets great photos when he does.

If you can, get the 1.4. It is going to last you a lifetime. Camera bodies might age faster than god knows what, but a good quality lens will never go out of date.

As regards the zoom lenses - yep - by softer I mean less sharp on the focus. You might also see blurring in the corners of an image with a really cheap zoom lens. Typically, if you are going to buy a zoom, and you want a really long zoom distance, you need to spend some serious cash to get good pictures.

As regards crispness - that is really mostly down to the lens, and a few other things. When you get your camera and lens, give me a shout, and I will talk you through some stuff.

All of my food shots I take with the 50mm F1.4, and just love it.



Wow, Matt, I really did not expect that you will give me such a lengthy explanation of these things.
Thank you very much!!!!!!
I will need to read it a couple of times for the information to sink into my brain.
I read and read it over and over and every time I giggle because this is so new and my brain is doing the loop-de-loop trying to figure out and visualize this stuff.

So let's say that 1 1.4 lens it is. So which model/series? You said you did not hear good things about the Promaster?
And, as the camera body/technology changes (and one might want to buy a new one), the lens still fit the newer cameras?

And another question - I've started posting about my learning in food photography. Would you mind if I post our e-mail exchange in a post on my blog?
You might be risking getting more e-mails from people though... :) or would you prefer to be "anonymous"?

Thanks again a million!!!!


Hi Nurit

I was exactly the same way when I started getting into photography - the whole aperature and shutter speed thing was just dead confusing. All I can say is that one day it clicks.. It really helps to have a camera in front of you to play with too, as you adjust settings you can see what is happening.

You know what, here is my thing with lenses. When I got my first decent camera, I bought a cheap Sigma wide angle lens. At the time I did architecture photography a lot. It was cheap. The results from the lens were "OK" at best. At the time I thought it was great, until I tried a decent quality lens (not even AMAZING quality).

So, my recommendation is to go with the Canon 50mm 1.4F, if you can afford it. This is going to sound really odd, but the lens is actually a complete steal for the price. Good quality lenses normally run into the thousands of dollars range. The 50mm F1.4 goes for about $320 online, from a good reseller.

If that is too much, the Canon 50mm F1.8 is a really great choice too - and much cheaper - just shy of $100.

A decent lens, from a good manufacturer will last you a LONG time. The lens mount (the interface between the lens and the camera) is going to stay the same for a long time. Pro photographers invest most of their cash in lenses (a pro photographer could easily have $100k in lenses) - if the "mount" changed, then all that would be worthless. You will find some technologies change - lenses get Image Stabilization and so forth, which is good for a telephoto (300mm) lens, but not much point on a short 50mm.

I have no problem you posting this email exchange! I would ask that you remove my email address from it though - a link to my site is more than welcome however!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Flaky and Creamy

No, I am not going to give you another decadent chocolate dessert recipe for Valentine’s Day. They seem to be all over the place as it is. You don’t really need another one. Do you? On the other hand, what are you going to have for dinner before the dessert? Or is it going to be just dessert on your Valentine’s dinner? Have you thought about that? Do you have anything planned yet? If not, I got a lovely butternut squash galette for you.

Flaky, buttery, delicate crust and a savory-sweet and creamy filling. Do I need to say more? It’s so light and satisfying that you will have room for that decadent chocolaty dessert. Although I think vanilla might work better…

Now, a word about the dough. Ohhhh, and what a dough it is! So flavorful. I have already mentioned flaky, right?!
I always thought that the bottom of the pie/galette/crostata doesn’t get as much attention as it should have. See for example your typical cardboard tasting graham cracker crust for cheesecake. Don’t you think that cheesecakes deserve a better crust than that boring thing?! I really should do something about it. The dough’s potential is not stretched to the maximum. In this recipe, however, the dough gets an extra oomph from sage. I’m sure that thyme, oregano, and/or parsley, or any other herby friend will work excellent too in this recipe. You really really should try this.

Butternut Squash Galette
Slightly adapted (in *) from a recipe in Gourmet magazine, February 2009

For pastry:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon chopped sage leaves
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 to 6 tablespoons ice-cold water
1 large egg, lightly beaten

For filling:
1 (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2- by 1/4-inch slices (4 cups)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced crosswise
6 ounces soft mild goat cheese, crumbled
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked*
Pine nuts, partially toasted*

Make dough:
Pulse flour, butter, sage, and sea salt in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle ice water evenly over mixture and pulse until it just forms a ball. (Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.) Gently press dough into a 5-inch disk and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

Make filling while dough chills:
Preheat oven to 500°F with rack in middle. (I roasted it in a 425 F*).
Toss squash with sea salt and 1 Tbsp oil and arrange in 1 layer in a 17-by 12-inch shallow baking pan. Roast until golden brown on edges and undersides, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove squash from oven and reduce oven temperature to 375°F.

Meanwhile, wash leeks, then cook in remaining 2 tablespoons oil with a pinch of sea salt in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl to cool slightly. Add squash, goat cheese, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and toss gently.

Make galette:
Roll out dough into a 13-inch round on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Transfer to a baking sheet. Arrange filling in an even layer in center of dough, leaving a 2- to 3-inch border. Fold dough in on itself to cover outer rim of filling, pleating dough as necessary. Brush pastry with beaten egg and bake galette until crust is cooked through and golden on edges, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool on baking sheet on a rack 10 minutes before serving.

Cooks' note: Pastry dough can be chilled up to 1 day. Filling can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day!

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Weight Loss Weekly: So what is My Diet?

I don’t believe in diets. There’s always something new; eat this, don’t eat that, eat more of this, eat less of that. Fat-free, low-fat, sugar-free, gluten-free, no-carbs… South Beach, Atkins, Whatever… Enough already! Even the USDA can’t make up their minds about the “pyramid”. You can really go crazy trying to follow up on all those fad diets telling you what should or should not eat. And none of them seem to work anyway, right?!

Unfortunately, most of us lost all common sense when it comes to food. Millions of people live in big cities far away from the land, the trees and the plants where our food grows, and some of us never saw a real farm or a real live cow or chicken. We have this crazy lifestyle – we eat on the run, we munch on power bars and all kinds of other silly food for a quick energy boost, and we’re not in sync with our bodies. Who has time to “listen to my body” nowadays?

Today the formidable four – that is me and my weight loss weekly friends – are answering the question: what is my diet?

Joie de vivre writes: "I'm finding this a difficult question to answer because I am not following a "diet" in the sense that some diets are..." To read more, click Joie de Vivre: An amateur gourmet's guide

Sunny at That Extra 20 Pounds
answers: "For our weight loss weekly bit we're discussing the main guidelines of the diet we're following which I already talked about last week. But I do have a few new things I'm going to be adding to my plan for my next 6 week challenge." Keep reading at That Extra 20 Pounds

Giyen from Bacon is My Enemy is discussing other things today, and you can visit her blog here.

And me, 1 family. friendly. food answers:

I have mentioned before that when I was pregnant I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I was put on a strict diet to control my blood sugar levels so the baby doesn’t grow to be too big which might cause complications later on. It was challenging to follow that diet but I did it for a few months until I gave birth because someone else’s life, the baby, was at risk. And the nurse was very tough. That helped too.

The diet was a success: the baby was healthy, the delivery was easy, and I don’t have diabetes anymore. Oh, and I lost weight. I think. Because it’s really hard to tell while you are pregnant. But my arms and legs felt slimmer and my weight gain slowed down until the end of the pregnancy. So I think I can say that I lost weight. In general, I think that it was a good diet. But I don’t really like to call it a “diet”. I consider it more to be a common sense approach to eating. The key guidelines are:

1. Eating on a regular schedule – 3 meals and 3 snacks at pretty much the same time every day. For example, eat breakfast soon after you wake up, then a snack at 10-11 am, lunch around 12-2 pm, a snack again at 3-4 pm, dinner at 7 pm, and a snack before going to bed.

2. Monitoring the consumption of carbohydrates.

3. When eating carb-y food, balancing it with eating protein and fat as well. An example for a snack – eat a small apple (=carbs) with a cheese stick or nuts (=protein and fat).

4. Portion control. I measured and weighed everyhting I ate according to the quanitites the nurse has ordered.

Seems pretty simple, no?

I thought I’ll try following it again to lose the extra weight. But I have difficulties:

1. I prefer to eat when I start to feel a little hungry than according to a planned schedule. I don’t know which approach is the “right one” but I’m following my stomach at the moment.

2. I've got to bake a cake for the weekend! It’s a bug that I have (explanation here). And cakes, you know, are loaded with refined sugar and flour = simple carbs, which make your blood sugar levels jump up fast.

3. Snack before bed time? Most of the nights, I really don’t feel like eating anything after dinner. Now don’t laugh… When I was on the diet during the pregnancy, I managed to shove ½ cup of ice cream with ½ banana, nuts, and peanut butter most of the nights – are you don’t laughing? I know you probably think “I wish I could eat that every night and lose weight” – but, really, I didn’t enjoy it that much.

I also have my own guidelines which I follow:

1. Eating mostly home-made food. This way I have better control of the ingredients that go into the food – especially the amount of sugar, salt, and fat (and the type of fat) – and I know what their quality is.

2. When we eat out, we go to a good restaurant. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but it has to have real food. Also, before I go to a restaurant I eat a little something at home. It sounds funny but I find that when I go hungry I tend to order more food, and since I don’t want to throw it away, or take a doggy bag, I end up eating it.

2. We very rarely eat junk food or drink juice.

3. When I do the grocery shopping, the first choice is to buy seasonal food. Seasonal food has more flavor and nutrients than when you buy the same thing out of season. I also find that organic, free-range taste better. When the food tastes better, I feel happy and satisfied sooner than when the food tastes like blahhh.

That’s pretty much it.

* I did adopt some of the “diet” rules: I'm eating a small breakfast, monitoring and balancing carbs with protein and fat. Sometimes I have a little something before bed time (like a glass of milk = carbs and protein, or fruit and cheese).

* I still bake and eat cake but only on over the weekend, and I give the rest away to collegues or kids' teachers (unless it’s a cognac soaked chocolate cake).

* Portion control is still a challenge (see here and here).

* Being more active is still a challenge.

* Listening to my body’s signals is still a challenge. I think I lost it; knowing when I’m hungry, knowing when I’m full, and knowing when to stop. This is my challenge for this week – listen to my body and do what it tells me.

What is most challenging for you?

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Food Love Link or This Week's Meal Plan

I follow many food blogs and plenty of times I find gorgeous food with beautiful photos that I really really want to try and make at home.
For this week I picked a few recipes, the Husband went grocery shopping with the Kiddies, and we’re going to have…

Organic Carrot Risotto from Foodie Tots

Roasted Cauliflower and Red Pepper Farro Salad from Closet Cooking. I never ate or cooked Farro. This will be interesting and new as well as Mushroom and Thyme Farro Salad.

I love clementine, so I plan to try the Clementine-Cranberry Bread from The Kitchen Sink

15-Minute Fried Herbed Chicken from NY Times Mark Bittman looks delicious.

Now I only need to find a new and exciting recipe for a cake for the weekend. Any suggestions?