Monthly Archives: November 2011

Ah Oh Watch Out! There’s a New Cake in Town

Okay I hate to say this, but there’s a new cake in town.  I mean no disrespect to Aunt Lucy Cake and I do not aim to even try to take anything away from it, as it is still my favorite pound cake, but I have been working on a buttermilk layer cake for ages now and have finally mastered the recipe.  At long last I have created a cake that brings back memories of a bygone era and one bite will make you think it was baked by your grandmother.

Without any further ado, I give you…

Don’s Buttermilk Layer Cake with Caramel Frosting!

Ingredients:

2 sticks of softened butter

2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon each of baking soda & baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups buttermilk

1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Instructions:
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time.  In a medium mixing bowl sift the flour, baking powder, soda and salt.  At this point I also add the vanilla to my buttermilk.  Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk/vanilla, starting and ending with flour. Beat until well mixed.  Pour into three well buttered 9” round pans (I also line them with parchment.  It just makes baking so much eaiser.) and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes and remove from pans to wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

A pinch of salt

6 tablespoons milk

3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar (may need to add if frosting is too thin)

1 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions:

Melt butter in a saucepan (Don NOT brown… just melt), stir in the brown sugar and the salt. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the milk, stirring all the while.

Return to heat and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat and allow to cool until lukewarm (approximately a half an hour). Stir in the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth enough to spread. You might need to add a few drops of milk if frosting gets too stiff as is sets up quickly.  Use to fill between layers and frost cake.  Press the chopped walnut around the side of the cake if desired.

I am just wild over this cake.  I love the old time flavor.  I am sure that you could use any frosting that you want (only please NOT from a can) but I implore you to first give it a try this way.  The walnuts are TOTALLY optinal and I like the cake just as much without them.  It is purely for a fancier presentation that I use them.

Aunt Lucy will alway be the cake most near and dear to my heart, but sometimes a guy’s just gotta have a hunk of layer cake and a glass of cold milk!  I am sure she would approve.

Until next time,

Don

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My Sister and Me

Today is my sister, Janice’s birthday.  Being a gentleman, I will not disclose her age here.  Suffice it to say… I am older.  In fact, for nearly seven years before she came along, I was the baby of the family. 

We were reminiscing recently about a birthday she had a few years back when she turned 19.   The night before her birthday, I asked her what she wanted to do for the big day.  After all, this was going to be the last of her teen years.  I told her that I would take her anywhere she wanted to go to celebrate the occasion and Janice, being the low maintenance gal that she is, suggested Beefsteak Charlie’s (remember that?). 

You can imagine her delight, when I recommended that she and I take a trip to Disney World instead.  At first I don’t think she believed me, but after a few minutes on the phone, I had secured us rooms at the Polynesian Village Resort (someone had canceled just minutes before) and booked us two airline tickets. 

Beautiful Walt Disney World

There is a lot that I can tell you about this very eventful trip but there was one incident that stands out above all the other adventures, and once you read this you will understand why… 

After three days and two nights at the Polynesian Village Resort, our room was no longer available.  Remember, I had only gotten the room because someone else canceled so we were restricted only to the time of their reservation.  I was hoping (beyond hope) that another room would open, but this was the early 1980’s and The Polynesian was THE place to stay in Disney back then.  

It wasn’t a big problem, a friendly young lady at the front desk recommended that we take a ride along International Drive and get ourselves a room in a hotel/motel, as there were many to choose from on the Drive.  Our Disney passes were good whether or not we were staying at one of the two (that’s right two) Disney properties or not.   Back then it was only the Contemporary or The Polynesian.  In fact the week we arrived, Epcot had just opened.  It didn’t even have all the countries built yet. 

As we drove along the grand route of International Drive, we decided on the Davis Brother’s Smorgasbord Café and Motor Lodge, mostly because we were young and really found the name to be a lot of fun.  Well we didn’t know exactly WHAT fun was going to be in store for us that night. 

After an opulent dinner at the smorgasbord (aptly named by the way) we settled into our room to plan the next day at the park and watch a little TV.  We were asleep by ten. 

About 1:00 AM we were startled awake by a loud pounding on what we thought was our door, but turned out it was the door next to us.  Janice and I both sat upright in bed as a woman began to yell at the top of her lungs, “Open up the F-en door!  I know you’re in there! I followed you, you dirty bastards!”

Finally, we heard the squeak of the door as it slowly opened.  A man with a hillbilly accent was trying his best to convince this woman (who appeared to be his wife) that he was alone in the room and had just stopped in to sleep off his drunk. 

Suddenly we heard, “F— she has a gun… Watch out!” 

At that point I turned to my sister and said, “Hit the deck… get on the floor and lie flat.  Don’t move!”  We both were on the floor and holding hands in a heartbeat. 

The drama continued…

Woman with the gun:  “What’s your name whore?”

Frightened Adulteress:  “Cindy…. Please don’t shoot me!”

Woman with the gun:  “Well Cindy, you know what I want you to do for me whore?  Get on your knees and show me what you do for my husband!  Do it!  Now!” 

Apparently there was a bit of hesitation that the scorned woman didn’t approve of so she continued even louder, “Put this F-en gun in your mouth Cindy and show me what you do for my husband.  Do it to my gun, zackly like ya do to my husband, you whore!” 

Through all of this madness, the husband was pleading with his irate wife to put the gun down before she hurt someone.  He quickly shut up when she threatened to have his genitals be the first thing she shoots! 

Well finally the police arrived, the drama continued for a couple of hours but I am happy to report, Cindy, the adulterer and the scorned wife all managed to remain unharmed and gunshot free, as did Janice and I. 

We were in a room on the second floor, not the last room but the one before it.  The drama took place in the last room.  The next day as Janice and I left our room to go have a smorgasbord breakfast, we noticed that all the people from our motel (which had been invaded by the gray panthers) were looking at us as if we were dirty.  All of these senior citizens thought that Janice and I were Cindy and company!  Of course I had to add my usual fuel to the fire by calling Janice, Cindy (quite loudly and often) during our entire breakfast. 

Yes, some birthday celebrations you can never forget! 

Happy birthday Janice!  I love you more than words can say and am thankful to have you as my sister each and every day of my life.

Janice & Me

Until next time,

Don

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A Day at the Fair

What to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon when the weather is beautiful and the family wants to gather? Why we hit the annual Italian Festival in Jupiter’s Abacoa for some sausage and peppers, pasta, meat balls, pizza and some light as air, sugary (and yes greasy) zappoli!

Every November here in South Florida, we have an outdoor Italian festival where one can stroll the streets to purchase Italian themed souvenirs, play carnival games, go on rides, hear music, dance and of course… eat your way into your next dress size.

Some Yummy Sweets

So James and I, two of my sisters (that pair that reside here in SoFlo) Maureen and Janice, their husbands, Ralph and Dave respectively and our dad decided to meet at the festival to enjoy the day together.

It was a great afternoon filled with laughter, people watching and my favorite pastime, food! We stopped by all the souvenir booths to see what was new this year in Italian novelties. One of my favorite finds was a tee shirt that read “I’m NOT shouting… I’m Italian! That’s how we talk.” I would have bought it too had it not been imported from Taiwan. Not that I have anything against the import/export business, but it didn’t seem right to me that an American shirt touting an Italian theme, should come from Taiwan of all places. To me if that shirt couldn’t have been imported from Rome, it should have at least come from Brooklyn… I’m just sayin’

A Talented Street Artist

Speaking of Brooklyn, my sister Maureen and I had a hardly laugh today as we recalled an Italian festival from our childhood in Brooklyn when we were trapped on the top of an old wooden Ferris-Wheel that broke down during a horrific electrical storm. The folks, who ran the street fair, thought that everyone had been safely removed from the ride. Between the storm, the wind, the fair and all of the street noises; no one seemed to hear our cries for help. I don’t know what would have happened to us if someone hadn’t happened to looked up and shout, “There’s a couple of kids up there!”

Before we know it, the fire department was on its way sending a rescue worker up a large hook and ladder to bring us down, as Maureen and I said our Hail Marys! I remember that we both bargained heavily with God, promising to become perfect children if he got us down alive. Of course, our very first act of Christianity once saved, was to pledge to each other to never tell our mother what happened. After all, she had made us absolutely promise her that we would NOT go on the Ferris-Wheel if she allowed us to go to the festival.

I know, I know… the good news was… we DID learn our lesson. Well maybe it wasn’t exactly then, it may have been a few months later when mom walked us across the “big street” to go off to school and had us promise her that we would not cross back. We vowed to go straight up the corner to the crossing guard, who would see that we safely crossed the side street to our school. Long story short, Maureen sees her little girlfriend across the street. The girl could not walk to school with us because she too was not allowed to cross Metropolitan Avenue. “Promise you won’t tell mommy!” Maureen demanded of me as she made the executive decision to cross in the middle of the forbidden block to join her friend.

Needless to say, a moment later… the sound of screaching breaks, the booming shrill of an air-horn and we were both hit by an oncoming truck  because we had once again gone back on a promise to our mother. THAT was the moment we learned our lesson! What can I say? We apparently weren’t the brightest stars in the constellation.  But even we knew that three strikes meant you were out!  We were not going to tempt the hands of fate ever again.

 Anyway, to get back to our present day celebration, I am happy to report that we were all able to get through the afternoon with no casualties aside from a tummy ache. Hmmm… maybe we should have listened to dad when he said not to eat too many cakes and candies? Okay, you can stop that laughing now… I’ve already told you that we weren’t the brightest stars!

Until next time,

Don

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Six Days That Changed My Life

I came across some photos yesterday from a mission trip that James and I took to Honduras a while ago.  I also found an article that I had written about the trip and thought with Thanksgiving being just around the corner, that it would be nice to share it with you all… 

Last year our company, Dazzle Creative Event Producers, was honored to help with the planning, designing, and coordination of the JustWorld International annual fundraiser in Wellington, Florida.  What started as just another job soon brought us into a remarkable family — the JustWorld International family.  After learning about their great work and efforts, we asked founder Jessica Newman to let us know when we might be able to join her and the others on one of their trips to help them in their fine work.  We were given just such an opportunity last week.  We accompanied Jessica, Astrid Corvin-Brittin, and Marie Lesterps to Honduras to assist where needed and see firsthand the work that JustWorld International is accomplishing there.  Although our trip was not a long one — only six days — they will forever remain the six days that changed my life. 

I suppose that somewhere in our heads we all have our own vision of what we think poverty and those in desperate need will look like, but once we actually saw for ourselves the conditions that these people are living in and the faces of the children, we became inspired to do whatever we can to make a difference in the lives of these unfortunate individuals.  My story is two-fold.  First, there was the suffering and despair.  Then, there were the inspiring projects being spirited by JustWorld International that help to change the lives of these children and offer them opportunities for a better future. 

Upon our arrival in Tegucigalpa, one of the first places we visited with JustWorld was the municipal garbage dump.  Here we saw children and entire families that live in the dumpsite amongst the garbage, dirt, insects, and foul stench of the location.  They live here so that they can be first to retrieve recyclables that they can bring to local businesses for small amounts of cash, as well as scavenge for whatever food might still be fit for consumption.  We arrived with what they considered a rare luxury:  hamburgers from McDonalds and bottles of cold beverages.  Although the people were many and it had most likely been a while since their last meal, they formed a long, organized, and peaceful line in which to receive their meal.  There was no pushing, shoving, or violence — just grateful people offering a smile and a “muchas gracias” for our help.  One small little girl stands out in my head.  She was not even waist-high to us and was covered from head to toe in black dirt and soot.  Once she was handed her burger she beamed a smile from ear to ear revealing the whitest teeth and dearest twinkling eyes.  She was beautiful! 

A Makeshift Home in the Dumps

 

A Grateful Smile

With all that we saw, I believe that the place that touched me most of all was the IHNFA, an orphanage housing children from age 0 to 17.  I have been around children most of my life.  I come from a family of six children.  My mother, plagued by serious illness throughout her life, needed a hand in the rearing of my much younger sisters, and I can actually say that helping to raise those fine girls was the high point of my fifty plus years.  I have remained emotionally connected to children all of my life.  So, when we reached the IHNFA project, it tugged at my heart when, just as I stepped out of the car, a young boy no more than eight years old ran over and immediately hugged me.  He was starved for love and attention, and he stayed by my side holding onto me for most, if not all, of the afternoon.  In fact, he even helped me to carry in the pizzas and soda that we had brought with us as a lunch treat.  “Como te llama niño?” I asked him.  “Daniel,” he replied with a happy grin.  I winced within; this dear little boy shared the name of my only brother who, sadly, had passed away at the age of seventeen.  Was it a sign?  Were we being sent here by a force far stronger than we knew? 

Daniel and Another Lad – How I Longed to Take Them Home

We spent the afternoon feeding, laughing, playing games with, and giving piggyback rides to the boys and girls in the project.  We interviewed many of the children through Astrid, our guide and translator.  The stories we heard of suffering and abuse would bring even the toughest and worldliest men to tears.  There were stories of rape, incest, and abandonment.  The very adults that had brought these children into the world had turned against them.  I met one little girl named Isabella.  Her story broke my heart, and I will never be the same again because I was blessed to have met her. 

Isabella’s mother had taken to beating her severely on her head — so badly in fact that she damaged her brain leaving young Isabella mentally retarded and physically crippled.  The poor child could only get around by pulling herself across the floor with her hands like a crab.  She pulled herself over to me and hugged me around my ankles.  Isabella ached for love.  I got down on the floor and embraced her while we rocked back and forth together.  She smiled with such joy.  You see, Isabella understands love, and, like all of us, she needs it.  She has so much of it to give back.  This young child’s life can be changed with a wheelchair.  She can be brought outside into the sunshine with the other children and wheeled to the table when meals are served.  For now, she spends most of her day alone on a small bed in a tiny, corner room.  I am making it my personal mission to get this angel a wheelchair if it’s the last thing I do.  

I could go on and on for hours with individual stories, but there is more than sadness and grief in Honduras.  Thanks to JustWorld International, there is inspiration, joy, and hope for a better tomorrow.  Allow me to tell you about the good works I witnessed.  First, there was the Mobile Library.  There is so much more to this project than the name indicates.  Yes, it’s true that the children can pick out books from the truck to read and enjoy, but there are also interactive games, arts and crafts, and storytelling.  All of these help to encourage the children to read on their own, opening them up to a world of endless possibilities.  We had a blast painting with the children, and Marie even went so far as to be painted herself, which brought loud laughter and joy to the children and adults alike! 

At Angelworks, we met honor students in grades 1 through 5 who, by keeping their grades at the 90 percent and above mark, have earned themselves scholarships that provide them with uniforms (that they wear proudly), shoes, and backpacks filled with all the school supplies that they will need to get them through the school year.  These beneficiaries work very hard to keep up their grades.  As long as they earn their scholarships, then school will not become a financial burden on their families, which might otherwise cause them to drop out. 

Another fun afternoon was at a project called “Classic Honduran Painting”.  Here children from the most underprivileged areas are encouraged to try their hand at painting.  They are taught by a local man who was, at one time, a student himself.  He teaches from his wheelchair, and the respect and loyalty he has earned from the boys is most evident.

Because of the neighborhoods that these children come from, they are at risk of becoming members of gangs or, at the very least, delinquent.  So the goal here is to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.  Through the “Classic Honduran Painting” project, they learn to tap into their natural talent and master their painting skills to develop a craft that will one day earn them a living.  The works of art that we saw on our visit were as beautiful as they were inspirational.  We were amazed at the degree of talent and the well-deserved pride that these children have in their art. 

For our last two days in Honduras, we traveled to Tornabe.  Here we met with the Garifuna community.  These people are descendants of African slaves from the Caribbean.  We were treated to the most amazing Garifuna dance show.  There were drums and costumes and an artful dance that dates all the way back to their slave day heritage.  The energy, excitement, and showmanship will never be forgotten! 

 

Playing with the Children After Lunch

The following day we went to the school where we helped to feed the children lunch and had a little time for some afternoon play with the kids.  Then we headed off to the classrooms to meet with the teachers.  As an added treat, the children sang us their national anthem in their native Garifuna language.  Our final two stops on this whirlwind mission was to visit the new construction site where JustWorld is building new facilities to better accomplish their community work in this area.  Then, we got to see the soccer team at play before it was back to our hotel to pack our bags for the trip back to the United States. 

We as Americans take so much for granted each and every day.  We often forget that there is a whole world out there where even the most basic commodities are impossible to come by.  For every child who sulks because they can’t be the first to own the newest video game, there are a dozens of Isabella’s in need of a wheelchair.  For every kid who pushes his meatloaf away, there are hundreds of others living in municipal garbage dumps trying to beat the rats to the food scraps.  I am not saying that we should feel guilty for what we have, but let’s be grateful for our blessings and reach into our own hearts and pockets to help those in need.  Take it from me, it will be the most rewarding thing you can do.

The Children of the OrphanageAnother Cutie-Patootie That Stoled my Heart

 

Another Cutie-Patootie that Stole My Heart

 

Update:  Thanks to the efforts of Bonnie from Southern Self Storage, we were able to secure a beautiful wheelchair for Isabella donated by man whom I only know as David.  Bonnie had been so touched by the story that she went out on her own and purchased Isabella a lovely plush teddy bear and a soft blanket, which she had embroidered with Isabella’s name.  A few weeks later, Jessica Newman was able to fly down to Honduras and present dear Isabella with her new wheelchair.  I am happy to report that Isabella loves her time outdoors with the other children!

Isabella feeling the sunshine on her face at last!

Until next time,

Don

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