Friday, March 18, 2016

Coconut Quick-Mix Yellow Cake with Marshmallow Frosting - All #Homemade! NO #Chemicals!

Hey peeps!
So I know I've built a reputation as an undomestic goddess....but I've been working to remedy that 'flaw' and so have gotten quite proficient in the kitchen, especially the baking area. If we're friends on FB, you'll often see pics of my baking during the weekend on my wall.
And a couple weeks ago, I made this cake and a lot of people asked me for the recipe. Rather than blowing their eardrums off with my rambling, I decided it would be best to post the recipe with all its tips and tidbits here so everyone could have access to it. And also, I love to share whatever I have acquired as knowledge, so here goes.
Other thing if you know me well - I am a huge, huge, huge proponent of the from-scratch, homemade avenue for everything, especially what we eat. Don't forget - I've had cancer twice so it's really the sensible thing for me to do to steer clear of all the chemicals and stuff they push into processed food out there. And this involves cake mixes - and is there a more ubiquitous store-bought cake mix than Yellow Cake?
So I was digging through my recipes and came across this one. Can't recall where I actually got it from...could be a recipe I pilfered from my MIL's cake recipe box...
And then, there's the frosting. I remember when I was little, there was a White lady who lived actually just one street from where I am now based and we used to order this scrumptious, moist, and decadent cake from her all the time. I recall the frosting was something out of this world, and I hadn't tasted that in anything ever since (we're talking 25 years or something. I think she passed away around that time, coz I recall her as already being very old at the time. Think Maggie Smith-kinda old, LOL).
Then one day, I was on YouTube, on the Joy of Baking channel, and I saw the woman there making Marshmallow Frosting. I think she called it 7-Minute Frosting (as in you had to beat the frosting over a bain-marie for 7 minutes using a mixer on full speed). It looked really easy...but I only own a stand mixer now and no electric beaters, and I sure don't have that much elbow grease in me to whip egg whites for 7 whole minutes at a constant high speed! So I scraped that off, thinking I wouldn't get to make that.
Fast-forward and I was on French channel by this Parisian guy called Herve (pronounced Air-vay) and he was making Marshmallow Frosting (watch the vid here. It's in French but you can get the gist of it. Frosting starts at the 3.22 mark). Hope rose in me...and soared when I saw how he actually made that frosting. Easy-peasy...and I just knew I had to try this! At the same time, I recalled that cake from when I was young, and a light bulb went off in my head telling me that the frosting that little old lady used must've been Marshmallow Frosting.
So on I went, and made the cake and frosted! And would you believe it - I was taken back to my very early childhood when I tasted this cake...because it tasted just like that old lady's cake! Even my husband concurred (he, too, had been ordering that cake from her when he was younger. Strangely enough, from this same spot we now live in, as this property has been his family stronghold like forever, LOL).
Now a few things before I give you the recipe.
1. I don't own two same-size cake tins (I don't think I even have matching plates in my kitchen, come to think of it... Anywho...). So I have a 9-inch pan and a 10-inch one. The reason I have only 3 layers in my cake? The 9-inch cake was split in 2; the 10-inch one came out flatter and I just trimmed around the sides to make it the same size as the other 2 layers. If you have two 9-inch pans, you should be set and manage to get 4 layers when you slice them into 2.
2. I made this amount of frosting from the recipe...and it was barely enough to fill and cover the 3-layer cake. My advice - double it up (or make it in 2 batches). You can never have too much frosting in a cake!
3. I don't crumb-coat and then frost. It's gonna get eaten, anyway, so why bother? (and the blokes in my house don't eat - they wolf down or inhale food, and they certainly don't use their eyes to look at the food; it's only their taste buds and stomach that do the work here). So if you're gonna crumb-coat and then frost after 20-30 mins in the fridge, you need a double batch of frosting.
4. I very rarely use a recipe as is. I love to experiment with the numbers. Like, my husband is diabetic, and sugar tends to turn the boys into rabid monsters, so I try to cut it down as much as possible without losing flavor. And I also prefer something not too sweet, too. So the sugar in this can be cut by a third and the integrity of the cake will not be affected (they all say baking is a science that needs precise measurements and such...I've found that's pretty much BS in most cases...).
As for butter, there isn't that much in here, but you can cut it by a quarter if you want. I actually prefer my cakes really buttery and soft, so I rarely tamper with that unless I discover it feels like I'm eating textured butter when the cake comes out as there is just so much in it! But this one works great with the butter measurement, so it's up to you.
And on we go with the actual recipes! These are both fool-proof. I forgot to add the milk when it was called for and remembered at the end and dumped it in...and it still came out great! Also forgot the lemon juice in the frosting (kept wondering why it wasn't "picking up" then I recalled that and added it. No harm done - frosting came out fine!)
Quick-Mix Yellow Cake
(versatile - I made mine coconut, but you can make it vanilla, almond, pretty much any flavor you want)
Half cup butter, softened (I think that makes 125g, which is an American stick. I use Kerrygold 200g packets here - butter made from milk of grass-fed cows! - and just used half of it, so it was 100g that I used)
1 and a Half cups sugar (can be brought down to just over 1 cup. And yes, white granulated here. The very small white crystals - never mind what it's called, LOL)
3 large eggs (I don't get really large eggs here, so I used 4 smaller ones and it worked fine. I also don't have the weights, so go with your gut here.)
2 and 1-quarter cups all-purpose flour - sifted, of course!
1 teaspoon salt
3 and a Half teaspoons baking powder
1 and 1-quarter cups whole milk (DON'T try to use 2% or skim here. Just won't do!)
1 teaspoon essence/extract of your choice (I used coconut)
Optional: If you're making coconut cake, have about one-third cup of grated or flaky coconut and soak it in the milk that you will have heated prior. Then allow it all to come to room temperature. I don't recommend coconut milk here as it's too thick, but this does the trick.
And if you're making an almond cake, add about one-third cup of almond flour to the mix.
- Preheat your oven at 350F/180C
- Grease and flour your pans. You can also use a layer of greaseproof paper on the base, but I didn't find it necessary as the cake detaches really well from the pan if it has been well greased and floured.
- In your stand-mixer with the whisk attachment, or with hand-held beaters, cream your butter and sugar until it gets really thick and fluffy and pale. (basically, this is just mixing the butter and sugar at medium-high speed until it is whipped. Nothing complicated. Takes about 3-4 minutes. Might need to scrape down the sides a few times with a silicone spatula - these things get everything off the sides!)
- Add your eggs one by one (Tip: break the egg in a small bowl and NOT directly into the mixing bowl. I've had eggs be 'weird' inside and ruining my food, and also, if some cracked eggshell fell into it, you can easily remove it beforehand.)
By now, your batter should be looking pale yellow, and the sugar crystals will have dissolved. Don't worry if there's still some grainy sugar in there.
- In your flour, mix in the salt and baking powder. (almond flour, too, if you're going the almond route)
- Slowly add the flour to your mixing bowl (3-4 Tablespoons at a time). When it is all in, beat it on slow/low speed for about 30 seconds, just to combine.
- Add in the milk slowly (or it will all blow into your face!). And remember, your coconut is in there, too, if you're making coconut cake.
- When all the milk is in, beat on High for 3 mins until the batter is really well-combined.
- Pour into your prepared pans.
- Bake for 25-30 mins (It can take a little more than that, depending on your oven. I have a convection oven and it still took about 40 mins to have mine done. But check at this time mark, anyway)
- Let cool in pan. Invert onto rack. Let cool completely before slicing in 2.
- Fill with the frosting, then decorate.
Easiest Marshmallow Frosting Ever!
4 egg whites (Side note: I usually use the yolks to make mayonnaise when I make this frosting. No wastage!)
180g sugar (again, the small white crystals kind. Granulated, I think it's called, or Caster)
Half teaspoon cream of tartar - and if you don't have it, like it's the case in Mauritius, then use the same amount of fresh-squeezed Lemon Juice.
Flavor extract (I used coconut as I was making a coconut cake)
- Place a bowl over a pan of simmering water (a bain-marie, or a double boiler. The bubbling water should NOT be touching the base of the bowl, though. Just the steam/heat)
- Mix your egg whites and the sugar and tartar/lemon juice off the heat, then pour into the bowl (You could also just mix it in the bowl and then place said bowl over the pan of water, Duh, lol)
- Using a hand whisk (trust me, it does not require that much elbow grease!) or a handheld beater, whisk the mix over the heat.

- Whisk until the mixture is thickened and opaque, which pretty much happens around the 5-min mark. Don't worry if it doesn't look like frosting yet - it doesn't need to at this point.

- Once your mix has turned opaque, take the bowl off the heat and scrape the contents into the clean, dry bowl of your stand-mixer, and whisk this on High, just like you would make whipped cream. (You can also continue using your handheld beater if that's what you're using, but basically, get it off the heat at this point. Also, I forgot to add the lemon juice before and my mixture was looking like fluffy egg white pillows. I added it at this point and the whole thing whipped up just fine from here on.)

- Stop once your mixture is thick and fluffy and it leaves stiff peaks in when you remove the whisk.

- Let cool completely, then use to fill and frost your cake.

So there you have it, peeps! It looks like there are a lot of steps, but it's really very, very easy, and the only chemical in there is baking powder, so you're safe on that front. *grin* And this cake is definitely to die for, and would make a stunning birthday cake or dessert centerpiece.
Definitely best when eaten chilled, so keep it in the fridge and take it out like 10-15 mins before you'll be serving.

I'm not sure how long it keeps in the fridge - I'd say 3-4 days is a safe bet, but mine disappeared the day after and has never 'survived' beyond Day 3, so I really dunno here. But anywho, this cake won't last long once you get a taste of it. *grin*
Hope you'll enjoy! Let me know if you've tried it - yes, I want pics!
From Mauritius with love,

Friday, March 11, 2016

From Couch Potato To Exercise Freak: My #Fitness Journey Amid #Cancer Struggles

Origin: Rebel
Hey beautiful people!

Post didn't manage to come in on Wednesday; I hope you won't mind that I moved the day a little as it seems Fridays are/will be a bit less mad in the big scheme of things.

So it was my birthday last week, and when I turned 32 a year ago, I took a long, good look at myself and my lifestyle and I knew something had to give. The thirties were creeping up on me (slow metabolism, finding carbs to be almost toxic to my waistline, sugar making me balloon up, loss of energy, listlessness) and this was all not helped by the fact that I also take Tamoxifen, the estrogen blocker hormone therapy that is a fixture of post-estrogen-receptive cancer diagnosis. It was my fourth year on the drug, and though I'd been originally told on 2010 when I came down with breast cancer for the second time that I would need to take the drug for 5 years, in the meantime, the consensus had changed that the drug should now be taken for 10 years (!!!), to be switched after those 10 years with another drug that caters to post-menopausal women. But in my case, I had come down with this cancer at the age of 27, so 10 years onwards would make me only 37, not at all even close to 'real' menopause and certainly not post-menopausal...
But I digress. One of the side effects of Tamoxifen is (but of course!) a slower metabolism and making you put on weight all while having a sharp tendency to raise your cholesterol levels. It's literally what a woman would've gone through at menopause, when the body dwindles to a stop the production of estrogen (Tamoxifen is an estrogen inhibitor that blocks the hormone, effectively negating it, in the body).

Watch me packing on the pounds then!

Awry numbers on the scale? Check.
Spare tyre around the belly? Check.
Thicker arms that looked like wobbly salami? Check.
Thighs...well, let's not even go there, shall we?

I'll be honest with you guys. I've never been 'naturally' thin. I was a chubby kid - prolly because my mother made me drink about a pint of whole milk morning and night (right upon waking, last thing before going to bed). Then when she would take out a plate for me, the rice (we are Indians, after all, so yes, rice) would be what an adult is supposed to eat portion-wise. Add to this that I was never encouraged to exercise (Indian mums and aunties tend to think that exercising runs the risk of turning women into those body-built, steroid-enhanced women whose muscles bulge everywhere...and something else, too: too much exercise could affect your 'womanly' balance. Read by that make you a woman who doesn't like men anymore...aka a lesbian. I dunno where they got that idea, but still, I digress again.)

So I never exercised. I would run 200 yards in PE class and already have a stitch in my side. I would be among the last to cross the line at the school cross-country race (unfortunately, you couldn't bail out of participating). I remember one year we had a male PE teacher and every other week (or for as much as I could get away with it), when asked why I wasn't in my PE clothes, I would use the classic excuse, "Got my period." Being a man, he would look away and never call me or my friends on our BS with this excuse, so there you have it. I even faked pain in my knee and got a medical certificate once to be excused from PE class for a few months.

That's the extent I ran away from exercise...without actually running away, if you get what I mean. In the meantime, I was still a chubby, flabby girl with monster thighs and who had never seen a flat stomach on herself.

Then the year I turned 16 happened, and I was doing my O-Level exams. Kind of a big deal, so lots of studying, and lots of walking all over the school campus as I had one of the most eclectic electives schedule so I was always rushing to and from classes. At the same period, my dad started buying Oolong Tea to drink for his cholesterol levels to go down, and me being forever Daddy's Little Girl, I would have a bowl of the tea with him in the evenings after dinner.
At the start of my 16th year, for my Dress & Textiles class' exam, we had a course work component - we had to make a blouse and a skirt for ourselves, taking the most extreme care with the stitching and all that lovely hoopla to showcase that we knew how to sew from scratch (or maybe, from pattern, coz we never drew the pattern). I took my measurements, made my skirt and blouse from these, sent off the garments to Cambridge. Forgotten about it completely afterwards.

Results come in early 2000, and I passed my papers with flying colours (all that studying paid off). Then our course works were returned to us...and shocker when I got mine, and even the teacher mentioned her shock there - the clothes were a full 1.5 sizes too big on me now! Went to investigate - over the period of my studying and exams - let's say it was 3-4 months - I had lost...get this, 12 kilos! That's almost 25 pounds!

Spurred on by that monumental weight loss, I took to better habits. I cut soda and sugar, even from my tea (no clue today how I ever managed to do that!), I reduced my portion sizes, especially with rice. I drank only water, to the amount of 3-4 litres a day. Cut the milk, as well, and switched to milky coffee in the mornings.

This continued for a few more years, and by the time I married my husband (current one, who is actually Husband #2 - long story for another post, lol), I was at my lowest weight of 46 kgs/101pounds for a height of 5'3/1m61. I remember there was a Max Mara outlet in Mauritius back then, from where I got a pair of trousers that were, get this, Size 0! I wore this on our honeymoon flight back home.

Then soon after, I got pregnant. Eating for two, coz I really didn't want this baby to have a bad start, I packed on the weight, to end up at 64kgs/140pounds on the day I delivered him. He weighed only 6 pounds, so guess what - I was left with over 30 pounds extra on my body. No clue what to do with that...and the plan was for us to try for another baby once he'd be a toddler, so bit pointless to lose the weight only to gain it back, right?

We hadn't counted on cancer to make an appearance (well, who does, really?). The year my son was to turn 2, I noticed I was losing weight, and everyone was pointing it out. I thought my lifestyle was making me shed the post-baby weight - who in their right mind, at just 22 years of age, thinks acute and sudden weight loss is actually rapid-growing cancer cells eating off the sugar and fat in their system? And bam, we had breast cancer on our hands. Over a year of treatments later, I just wanted to be left alone...

Notice there is no exercise in there whatsoever! I was still allergic to it. Fast-forward a few more years, and my 5-year potential remission date approaching. I wanted this number to have full meaning for me - for the doctor to tell me I was "cancer-free" and that I should go and enjoy my life like a "normal" person now. (Side note: it doesn't actually work that way... More on that in another post).
But lo and behold - 2 months before that 5-year mark...*drum roll* guessed it...another cancer pokes its head out.

And that's when I got to the point of "enough is enough!" To prevent cancer, or at least try to coz you can't really plug it in, you should be living a healthy lifestyle full of antioxidants, vegetables, no bad fats (and these to me mean vegetable fats, NOT butter and the kinds that they tell you are supposedly bad for your heart. Again, another post on that later...), and shocker of all -well, not really- you need to be active, aka exercise.

I'd done everything I could to escape exercise my whole life, but guess I would have to pinch my nose and swallow the bad pill here. I had no way out.

I don't really remember how it started... I think it was a Jillian Michaels' DVD (Ripped in 30, I think it was). Around the same time, my husband was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes so he, too, needed to get on the exercise wagon. We bought our first treadmill - which he wanted to get as a manual one, as in you need to get the rug moving by, well, moving. Not the automated kind that moves and pushes you off onto your arse if you're not paying attention. Then soon after, we got our elliptical machine, which I used 3 times a week. I won't tell you about the pain in my legs the day after - will spare you that horror!

From there, I discovered Zumba, and from home and armed with DVDs and YouTube videos, I learned the moves, started dancing and working out along the music, and in the process, unlocked all those joints that had never seen any movement and even corrected my two left feet!

As for results - was I getting them? I did see a faint tone in my arms, but the belly and thighs? Come again, they seemed to be saying to me. But I was in all the way, and I am one of those people who once she's started something will not give up unless a force majeure is at play to stop her. So I powered on, tried different stuff - strength training, HIIT, Kickboxing, and finally, Yoga (all this last part in the course of the past year).

Today, I cannot conceive of a week where I'm not working out at least twice for 45mins-1hour as one where I can expect to feel good. Exercise is my drug, you could say, and I am seeing the results they're bringing. FYI - this girl, at 33, finally has a flat belly and stomach, for the first time in her life! This is how I feel good now, what powers my body and keeps me not just in shape but in a good mood, allows me to sleep better (Tamoxifen & menopause bring a lot of insomnia, not to mention night sweats and hot flashes that further disrupt your sleep). And the biggest change happened in the past year - will break it down to the hows and whys in further posts.
And is it working for the cancer? Well, I know my cancer marker numbers are staying consistently low (praise be to God!), so yes, it does seem to be doing its job.

Bottom line - if I can do it, anyone can! I was the epitome of the couch potato, the one who never moved beyond maybe getting the remote from the couch. Housework? You gotta be kidding - I got off with the bare minimum while using the least energy and movement possible. Does that describe you? Well, give exercise a try - you might come to actually like it!

And I now realize this has been a looooong rant... Thanks for having stuck by if you're still here! And please, think about what I've said. You could be saving your life through just a bit of movement a few times a week.

From Mauritius with love,


Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Falling Off The Wagon...and getting back on again #MyMeaCulpa

Life passing you by...
Hey beautiful people

First, I have to apologize for being both MIA and AWOL from here for quite a while. Life happened, blah blah blah (or is it bleh bleh bleh like Dracula in Hotel Transylvania? I digress...) So yes, I do have that excuse...but that's exactly what it is - an excuse.

Have you ever fallen off the wagon? I clearly have, and case in point, blogging. Where did I lose myself, where did I fall, and where did I land?

When I started this blog and its accompanying site, the major goal was visibility. I was building my reader base, getting to know people online, but that was a very small catchment area for attention, so what advice did I follow? Yes - increase your visibility by getting more people to your blog. How did I do that? Blog spotlights and review tours and other such book tours were the preferred route.

And then it caught up with me - I was reviewing not for fun & pleasure, but as a duty to the date booked. Then I looked at the string of 'last posts' on my Dashboard and saw that they were about books I had read and signed up to spotlight.

Which got me thinking - I no longer wanted to do this, but the real kicker came when I realized what I was putting my readers through. Yes, you people - you signed up/come here to 'meet' me (lol, I know it's just a handful of people, but even if it had been just one person, I have failed you.) Why are you really here? It might be about my books - you liked one or more and want to know more about when the next is coming, and how it is coming along. Or you liked me as a person, and wanted to get glimpses into my crazy/nutty/over-the-top life and maybe get a laugh from the antics happening in my existence. Maybe you came here for both these reasons.

In which case, I have let you down, because there was no longer any 'me' present in this space. Zee had vacated the spot, without an excuse, without an apology, without, it seems, any due consideration. Pretty terrible person, I would say... I'd hate to have been treated like that. I didn't give my readers any dues, and I fell prey to that awful bug known as 'marketing and visibility by all means'. Book/blog/review tours would've brought 'their' people to my blog...but what about 'my' people? I left them high and dry...

So here is my Mea Culpa, peeps. I'm sorry for having been such an asshat person in the past year and more. I apologize for not paying you, my readers and followers, due consideration and also instead turning into one of those voices that just shouts in the dark without any care nor concern for how many eardrums of those who close to her she is bursting.

Can I say I am back here, for good? Me, and nothing but me? I am trying to say just that...if you people will still have me. Once a week - I'm not asking for much, but I'll understand if you don't want to advance me even an ounce of your attention. I'll work for it, I promise...

Gosh, feels good to be back, to be talking to ye all again!

From Mauritius with love,

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