Banana Cake with chocolate cream cheese icing

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I built a cake earlier this week. I’m doing really well at blogging about it while the cake is still in existence on the kitchen counter! I’m still playing catch-up with blogging about news from the summer, but I wanted to share this before it died in my drafts folder like so many other recipes. Excuse the bad lighting in the photos, it starts getting dark around 4.30pm these days and I had run out of good daylight hours before I was done with the cake.

At our place we have dessert on days starting with T and S, so dessert days come around pretty frequently. Sometimes it’s a piece of chocolate or candy, sometimes it’s ice cream. Recently we went on a bit of an ice cream streak, especially after discovering Trader Joe’s Pumpkin ice cream. It’s like eggnog and pumpkin pie had a baby that turned into ice cream. So good! Anyway, after a while Ben suggested that maybe we should have some variety in the desserts around here. I had a look at my fruit bowl and saw a bunch of very sad looking bananas — perfect for banana cake/loaf. There really isn’t any difference between the two, one gets icing and the other you slice up and eat with butter) — and I concocted this banana cake with chocolate icing using a mishmash of various recipes online. Poor Ben, it wasn’t quite what he had in mind — he’s not a cake fan! — but it turned out delicious nonetheless, and even he thought it wasn’t too bad.

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Cake

(I got this recipe from my sister in law, Elrike, and have tweaked it just a very little bit. The key to getting a moist but light cake is to alternately add the wet banana mixture and the dry ingredients a little bit at a time. Say goodbye to dense or dry banana cakes, this will become your go-to recipe like it has for me!)

½ cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas
2 T plain yogurt or sour cream
2 cups flour
1 ½ t. baking powder
¼ t salt
½ t baking soda
1/2 to 1 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly. Mash bananas; stir in yogurt/sour cream. Sift dry ingredients and add alternately to creamed mixture with banana mixture. Fold in nuts.

Spread in greased 9 ½ x 5 ¼ x 2 ¾ loaf pan or a 9″ cake pan . Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-60 min. Let stand 5 min.; turn onto  rack to cool.

Icing
(This makes enough icing to be able to cut the cake in half horizontally and to put a layer of icing in between the layers of cake as well as ice the outside.)

1 block of cream cheese
4 T butter
1 t vanilla essence
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 cups icing sugar

Walnut topping

1/2 c walnuts, chopped finely
1 T butter
1 T brown sugar
1 t cinnamon

After icing the cake, cut a circle out of a piece of paper that leaves an edge of about 2 inches of icing exposed. Lightly wet the exposed icing in case it has started to dry out (this helps the nut mixture stick better), then put the nut mixture onto the piece of paper in the middle and spread it outwards until it is all off the paper and in a nice ring on the outside of your cake. Gently press the nut mix onto the cake, and ta-da!

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Our Veggie Garden

(Though perhaps a better title would have been My Veggie Garden, but I’m generously including Ben because he heaved heavy compost bags and helped with digging and building a frame for my beans.)

I decided that this year I’d like to have a veggie garden again after not having one for three summers. I built the veggie boxes myself, which really sounds more impressive than it actually is because they came in a kit set and I just had to put them together. I did, however, have to use a power tool — a.k.a. a drill — to build them. I planned and planted, watered and weeded and then we all enjoyed the harvest!

When we got back from our great two-and-a-half week long roadtrip, we were greeted by a veggie garden gone wild. Our kind neighbors watered our garden for us and the plants had grown phenomenally and produced a big crop!

We went from this:

To massive plants and this great harvest:

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Our garden continued to do well through the summer and well into the autumn. Not so much that we didn’t know what to do with it, but enough to keep in a good supply of good, healthy veggies freshly picked from our own garden. Does anything taste better than a carrot you just pulled out of the ground?

Here it is after it had started to slow down in the autumn:

As of now, in the middle of November, I still have a bunch of different herbs, swiss chard/silverbeet, and celery going, but I don’t think they’ll be around much longer. I love growing my own food — it’s so great to know there are zero pesticides or chemicals (though does anyone know how to deter those darn squirrels??), just old-fashioned good food!

I’ll leave you with this funny fella.

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He came to to a delightful end in our stomachs, along with his brothers and sisters who all got roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and sprinkled with some fresh parley. If I was a carrot, that’d be how I’d want to die!

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The Greatest Gift

A couple of years ago, I really enjoyed reading through The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp for Advent. This year I’m trying to be organized enough to remind you that if this is something you’d like to buy, now’s a good time, with Advent being just two weeks away and all! This is not a sponsored post or anything, I just really loved to book and wanted to share it with you guys!

I don’t have the ornaments that go with the devotional, nor will I have time in the foreseeable future to make any, but that doesn’t detract from the book at all, in case any of you were wondering!

Roadtrip ’16: Six Flags

For the last leg of our roadtrip home, we made a stop at Six Flags in the south of New Jersey. They have a program called Read To Succeed where the kids have to read a total of 600 hours in the year to get free tickets to Six Flags. Just kidding, not 600. Not even 60… SIX. Yes, for a mere 6 hours of reading the kids (and their teacher!) could get free entry to the park. I made them do those 6 hours as out loud reading because heck, they read more than 6 hours in a week!

It was a beautiful but HOT day. We split up according to our abilities to handle thrill — Ben and Marica went off and hit the crazy roller coasters, while I did the tame kiddie rides with the two little ones. Our most exciting ride was the Log Flume, and that was about as much as I can handle. I’m such a wuss!

Esther, Laurelin and I took a sort of animal safari tour (so gimmicky, but then it’s an amusement park, isn’t it?) and got to see many interesting animals.

After lunch we were disappointed to find out that all the tall rides had been closed because there was a thunderstorm within 30 miles (dumb protocols) and so we hung around a bit doing not much — you know, eating funnel cake, looking at people on stilts and attempting to do an inside ride that ended up way too scary for the kids — and were about to leave when we found out the rides had been opened again. That was nice, because that’s when I got my chance on that Log Flume Ride of Death, ha. We were glad the high rides opened because we wanted to finish off the day with a cable car ride, which we got to do. It was neat to see the park from the air!

And then it was time for dinner, which we decided to have outside the park to not pay through our noses for blah food. We went to Cracker Barrel, where we paid next to nothing for blah food.

On the way home we spotted an alien space ship cloud over Newark airport. They’re coming to get us!

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Roadtrip ’16: Chincoteague

After our stint in Charleston, we had a long but beautiful drive up to Chincoteague, VA. Our reason for visiting was because we had recently listened to Misty of Chincoteague on audio and loved the story, and seeing that it was sort of on our way home, thought it would be cool to stop and see the area. We stayed only one night — I wish it could have been longer! — but managed to see some of the things we learned about in the book: some memorabilia of the real Misty at the local museum, and we took a trip over to Assateague Island where the ponies roam wild. We even saw a licence plate of the Chincoteague Fire Department, who own the wild ponies and hold a Pony Penning day once a year near the end of July.

We had a lovely lunch at a little taco stand, and then followed that with ice cream at the Island Creamery, which apparently has the best ice cream in all of the US! It was very good, but we’ll have to go on an ice cream tasting mission around the US to verify whether this is true. Does anyone know how we could do this as a family and get paid for it?

On our drive inland we drove past the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, where we stopped to have a quick look at their visitor’s center. We had the treat to see two fighter planes take off right next to the road where we were standing. They were super loud! I think the Wallops Flight Facility is the second largest NASA rocket launch site (The Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral being the largest).

Then it was on to our last stop of the trip: Six Flags. Next time. :-)

Roadtrip ’16: Charleston, SC

It was with heavy hearts that we said our goodbyes after the Hoyt reunion, but it was time to start making our way home. Because Ben was in between jobs at that point, he could take off some extra time and we decided to take the trip back up a little more slowly to stop at a few places we were interested in.

Our first stop was in Charleston, SC, and it so happened that we were there over the 4th of July, which was pretty neat. We stayed downtown in the historic district and shamelessly did touristy things like perusing the craft markets and taking a horse carriage tour. The tour was very interesting and was mainly about the different buildings and architecture around town. I loved the planter boxes all over and got to take lots of photos of pretty houses. Charleston has a real charm about it (at least the parts we saw), and I just wish we could have stayed longer and seen more.

In the afternoon, Marica and I went for a walk through the market and had a quick coffee stop — it was nice to have a little one-on-one time as well as getting to peruse the crafts without a bored crowd trailing us!

For the evening on 4th of July, had a nice dinner of (supposedly) southern food–I had chicken and waffles–and then we walked down to where we could view the fireworks. We were pretty early, so we walked around a bit and took the kids to the playground. I looked up and saw some ominous-looking clouds and was kind of pushing to go back to the motel, but Ben was pretty positive it would pass over. Well, it did pass over leaving us rather wet, but was gone in time for fireworks! (I always forget how long that wait is for it to get dark enough for the fireworks to start… always feels like an eternity!) There weren’t any fireworks really close, but we could enjoy several shows in the distance across the harbor. I will not share my attempts at taking firework photos for your benefit, but there are some photos of us all hot and sticky and tired during the fireworks.

Charleston is so rich in history, I wish we could have stayed longer and done some historic tours like visiting Fort Sumter and a plantation or something. Maybe next time…

Roadtrip ’16: Hoyt Reunion

After our great camping experience, we drove down to Columbia, SC, to spend the night and visit Ben’s parents’ old church where we got to meet people who knew them 40 years ago, which was pretty neat. Apparently Dad was a bit of a rebel back then, growing long hair. I’d love to see a photo of that! We drove past their old house, which was brand new when they bought it and looks a little bit different now.

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After church and a lovely lunch put on by some of the church folks for Mum and Dad, we drove west to Georgia for the long-awaited Hoyt reunion.

People came and went as they could; we were thankful we could be there a full week. Somewhere in the middle of the week we had around 70 people there! What a wonderful time visiting, talking, playing, eating Aunt Nora’s great food, swimming, dancing, and just generally loving being together. Pretty much everyone I talked to wished we could hang out longer and spend more time together. This reunion we had loads of little kiddies, which can make it tricky to visit in the evenings and which is probably why a bunch of us felt like it was all over too quickly.

Disclaimer: some of the photos on here are pilfered from Bryan, who managed to get shots of some things I didn’t.

During the day we met at Uncle Stan and Aunt Nora’s church hall for activities, meals, games, and more.

We went out for trips to a nature reserve one time, played baseball another day, and went swimming most days.

In the evenings we did a bit of a house-hop for visiting and endless games of Mafia. We also had people over to our cabin one night for a bonfire and s’mores, which was one of the highlights of the week for me, but somehow I didn’t get any photos of that.

We had the traditional evening of folk dancing, which is always riotous fun, twirling and hoping like crazy you remember the right steps and don’t break someone’s toes or something.

We got to do some swing dancing on the Friday night, which was great — another highlight for me.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Hoyt reunion without a talent show! We ended up having two of them — one more casual one on the Thursday afternoon and a more formal one at a beautiful church in the evening. So much amazing talent in one family is almost criminal.

It was great to see all the different licence plates from all over the States in the church parking lot. People traveled long distances!

There were a couple of trips to a nice restaurant in town called Grits (which, being the south, sounds like ‘gree-uhts’. Had it been the deep south it would have graduated to ‘guh-ree-uhts’). This was delightfully a kids-free event for me and Ben thanks to some kind cousins and grandma who babysat.

Our next few butterflies hatched while at the reunion. Man, they were pretty.

We were hosted by friends of Uncle Stan and Aunt Nora in a cabin on their beautiful tree-filled property that they use for guests and an office. Dan and Beth were such gracious and kind hosts. Beth has done a fantastic job of decorating in a really neat country-folk-meets-artsy style. That, coupled with the beautiful wood in the cabin, gave the cabin a really nice homey feel.

 

 

With our hosts and their grandson on the cabin porch.

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So, as wonderful and fun as these events are, there is a huge downside to them… they only happen once every 3 or 4 years. So, as a solution, I propose lots of little mini-reunions in the in between times! Not the same, but it helps with the withdraw symptoms. Come on round!