Kathi’s “Dutch” (English) Chocolate Torte Cake

Have you ever had a piece of an Arnie’s “Dutch chocolate torte” cake? Until we moved to Grand Rapids, I always wanted a Mardi Gras cake for my birthday, but after discovering one of Grand Rapid’s best culinary achievements, I began looking for excuses to buy Arnie’s Dutch Chocolate Tortes. They are “the best,” and they’re hard to beat for a birthday party or special occasion, because Arnie’s Bakery also has masterful cake decorators, but if you don’t mind your cake looking less than perfect, I’ve developed a cake that at least competes in texture and flavor, and that’s what really counts, right?—especially if you can save $25 in the process! 🙂

Kathi’s English Chocolate Torte
Serves 12- 18 (very rich!)
(Okay, so maybe it should be “Dutch,” but I’m not Dutch.
“If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much!”
?? 😦 Well . . . I won’t go there . . .)

Bake your favorite chocolate cake. I used a Betty Crocker Triple Chocolate Fudge cake, but make your own or use your favorite. (I find that Duncan Hines cakes are too soft, but home made or most store-bought mixes work fine.)

Use two pans, and after they are baked and cooled, cut each layer in half with a thread just when you are ready to frost.

Fluffy Butter Cream Frosting

Butter cream Filling:
2 pounds plus three cups powdered sugar
1 cup softened butter
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

Frost cake completely: each layer, the top and sides, and chill in the refrigerator until firm (several hours or overnight).

Four-layer chocolate cake filled and frosted with white buttercream frosting

Then, entirely frost the top and sides with chocolate ganache. Here’s how:

Chocolate Ganache:

 1 cup heavy cream, heated until it just starts to boil, then turn off the heat and immediately add 16 oz. (two cups) dark chocolate chips.

Chocolate Ganache

Whisk until it’s totally smooth.

Cool to room temperature, and then carefully drip over the chilled cake, spreading the ganache and smoothing it from the top down as you go.

Kathi’s “English” Dutch Chocolate Torte Cake

Return your masterpiece to the refrigerator and chill until the ganache is also firm.

Take it out of the refrigerator just minutes before serving. It’s easiest to cut if it’s cool, but it tastes best if it’s room temperature, so find the “sweet spot” time wise (maybe 10-15 minutes; if you want to serve it straight out of the refrigerator, try microwaving a single piece for 10-15 seconds to make it just about “perfect!”).

Kathi’s Dutch Chocolate Torte served with whipped cream and caramel sauce

Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good:
for his mercy endureth for ever” (Psalm 106:1).

Beautiful Birthday Week

This year, something unique happened for my birthday! My two older brothers came from California and New York City to help me celebrate. We had SO MUCH FUN! Included were a host of special opportunities, and right at the top was a mini-reunion with our sister over in the east side of the state!

Other highlights included a “day at the farm” with our niece’s family,

and a day with my daughter and her family,
including a tour of my son-in-law’s studio,

where he heads up the videography department at their church.

Rebecca Louise Law’s The Womb Exhibit at Meijer Garden

Back in GR, we took a trip to Meijer Garden— always captivating!

We visited Alan’s office and toured the campus
of Pine Rest Christian Hospital, where Alan works.

We took a trip to Robinettes for cider and donuts! (What would fall in Michigan be without a cider mill and donuts?). We also took a mini tour of the publishing house where our youngest son works as an editor.

One night, we went to Grand Haven for dinner
and a walk along the pier at sunset.

However, we didn’t know that evening was the night of the lighting ceremony for the new catwalk (after four years of construction). The place was jammed with well wishers. We enjoyed marching band music, a flyover, and fireworks,

but the end of the pier was blocked off, so we didn’t get in our quiet stroll.

Nevertheless, it was a very memorable evening
on an amazingly balmy night for autumn!

We toured Exalta, where my son Daniel is the dental director.

We also saw Daniel and Brianna’s new home,
with its wonderful backyard where the children can play!

The grand finale was my birthday party, complete with great big balloons

and a nerf gun war (sponsored by four-year-old grandson, Sammy).

Needless to say, it was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday! I’m just a little groggy and tired this week, but I wouldn’t have traded it for a trip to some exotic island! Thank you, Lord, for the great privilege and joy of family!!

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21).

The Armstrong Clan’s 500th Anniversary Gathering

Have you ever noticed there is more to do in life than will ever be done? No amount of prayerful planning and meticulous organization can align all the opportunities in such a way that we can be hither and yon at the proper moment to squeeze every last drop out of our lives’ orangey goodness!

I cannot watch over my grandson’s surgery across the state and still provide for my grand children here in GR while my daughter-in-law cares for her father’s medical needs.

Armstrongs in the Poppy Fields of Belgium

I couldn’t host my son’s family, coming home from Belgium to America, and still fly to Scotland to attend the 500th reunion of the Armstrong Clan, now, could I?

Marius’s First Birthday Party

Indeed, I could not. However, we had a splendid reunion of our “Armstrong Clan” right here in GR while the world-wide Armstrong Clan’s 500th Celebration was occurring!

Brother Terry at Milnholm Cross, Scotland

And, although Alan and I had to miss it, Alan’s brother and his wife were able to attend. So—I wanted to share just a little bit about the event.

Perhaps the world’s most famous Armstrong is Neil, First Man on the moon, so the events of the clan centered around the Armstrongs’ 500th anniversary generally, but also the 50th anniversary of the lunar takeoff, which was July 16, 2019.

The Common Riding in Langholm, Scotland

For over 900 years, there has been a tradition of “common riding” (groups of riders [raiders, really]) on horses riding along the border between Scotland and England during the summer months. Happily, this has turned into a non-raiding riding event for fun and has become one of Europe’s biggest equestrian spectacles!

Gilnockie Tower in Hollows, near Canonbie, Scotland,
built by John Armstrong 500 years ago

What I didn’t really understand when I married Alan was that I’d married into a wild band of “reivers” (“from the old Scottish word “to steal”)! Back in their hay day, it was said that to survive to thirty was an accomplishment and that no one walked along the border . . . they ran for their lives!

Sign explaining the Milnholm Cross

(However, lest I think poorly of our esteemed Armstrong heritage, my grandmother was a Kerr, who is also on the list of wild border clans, along with Nixon, Elliot, Scott, and a host of others!)

John Armstrong Memorial

Terry and Eileen explored the area and shared much of what they learned with us. The last famous reiver of the Armstrong Clan was John Armstrong, who owned Gilnockie Tower and was a fearsome raider, although in July of 1530 he was executed by the forces of King James V in an attempt to bring peace to the borderlands between Scotland and England.

Fifty years ago, Ted and Judy Armstrong revived the Armstrong Clan Association, and since that time, Gilnockie Tower has been restored and become the focal point for Armstrongs from around the world who are interested in DNA and genealogical research into their past.

Gilnockie Tower Common Room

I don’t know if you’re an Armstrong or have any Armstrong blood, but it has been fascinating and fun to learn a little bit more about our family heritage, and I’m guessing you might enjoy exploring yours too, if you ever get any spare time!

Terry at John Armstrong’s Grave Site

Terry and Eileen (and their faithful dog, Maggie) are retired and are able to enjoy some leisure time traveling through Europe and exploring their history. Talk about keeping fit and being a lifelong learner!

They’ve spent several years adventuring, and I have to say, I lick my chops when I read of their travels and see the gorgeous places they’ve visited!

The Neil Armstrong Tea

Still, I am content, even if we didn’t make it to the moon and back for tea in July! God is good. Life is good. As my father used to say (quoting Aldous Huxley from Brave New World): “You pays your money and you takes your choice.” Are you happy with the choices you’re making? I hope so! If not, you are the only one who can change your choices!!

Only One Life
(—Avis B. Christiansen and Merrill Dunlop)

“Only one life to offer
Jesus my Lord and King.
Only one tongue to praise Thee
And of Thy mercy sing (forever).
Only one heart’s devotion
Savior, O may it be
consecrated alone to Thy matchless glory,
Yielded fully to Thee.

“Only one life to offer
Take it dear Lord I pray.
Nothing from Thee withholding
Thy will I now obey.
Thou who hast freely given
Thine all in all for me
Claim this life for Thine own to be used My Savior
Ev’ry moment for Thee.”

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Epic Changes

Over the past few months, we’ve experienced some epic changes, not only around our home, but in our family and at Alan’s office. I’ll work backwards, since the first epic change occurred at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, where Alan works. After months of intensive planning and preparation, the entire hospital system (which is now one of the largest free-standing psychiatric hospitals in the U.S.) switched over their medical records to Epic Systems Corporation, a software company that holds the records for some 64% of all the patients in America. It was truly an “Epic” change…hugely expensive, hugely difficult, but also hopefully hugely helpful in better caring for their patients.  The second (although tiny) epic change was the addition of a new baby in our family! Little Marius joined Michael and Grace’s family at their villa in Italy in July. I was blessed to be with them during this precious time, made particularly epic for me because I ended up caring for their four older children solo for a few days…a first for me in my 12-year grandma-ing career. Grace ended up back in the hospital for several days (she is fine now), and in Italy they wouldn’t allow the baby to stay unless Michael also stayed to care for him!  The last epic change I’ll report (although there are still more) is happening as I write: the addition of a new sun room onto our home. Talk about digging and grubbing in the dirt! The view out the window is thrilling and intimidating…so much so that we gave up an opportunity to have our son Jon’s family visit for fear of their three little girls getting inadvertently injured by falling into the pit or being run over by some monstrous machine. One day there was such a thunderous impact from workers removing concrete abutments that a music box fell off the mantle inside! Lots of jolts and jars…concrete and mud sprayed all over our music gear in the basement when a plastic drape fell, etc! Beyond these changes for us, we have two close friends who are in epic battles with cancer right now…one friend who was in the hospital for three weeks, and another couple who needed to move from their (his) home of 60 years into a condo. It feels a little the earth is quaking under my feet, not just in my home, but in my heart!     How are you doing? Are you also experiencing epic changes in your life?  If so, may I comfort you with this prayer by Henri J.M. Nouwen? “Dear Lord, Today I thought of the words of Vincent van Gogh: ‘It is true there is an ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea.’ You are the sea. Although I experience many ups and down in my emotions and often feel great shifts and changes in my inner life, you remain the same. Your sameness is not the sameness of a rock, but the sameness of a faithful lover. Out of your love I came to life, by your love I am sustained, and to your love I am always called back. There are days of sadness and days of joy; there are feelings of guilt and feelings of gratitude; there are moments of failure and moments of success; but all of them are embraced by your unwavering love. . . .”  “O Lord, sea of love and goodness, let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life, and let me know there is ebb and flow but the sea remains the sea. Amen.” (—from A Cry for Mercy).Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength” (Isaiah 40:28-29). (I just spent 5 weeks in Europe, partly in Michael and Grace’s “castle in a cave,” and partly on a 3-week cruise of the North Sea, Iceland, and Norway. Hopefully, next week I’ll start recounting tales from these wonderful weeks of adventure! Meanwhile, God bless you! I pray for everyone who reads my blogs, that you will find all your needs met in God, our heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord!)

Rise Up, My Love (164): What’s Your Story?

Jon Brushing TeethSong of Solomon 5:9 “What is thy beloved more than another beloved?” Last week I shared a little bit about my experience with Christ, but today I’d like to ask you to reflect on your story. I’ll never forget the frustration of my son Jonathan had years ago as a teenager. He had such a compulsion to preach but felt like he had “no special message.” We were going down to work at  our local rescue mission, and Jon wanted to be able to share his testimony, but he felt like he didn’t have anything to say. Now, although I never asked my children to ask Christ to save them (because I feared that they would respond just to please me at such tender ages), I did teach them the gospel from infancy, and all of the children—on their own—did want to confess their sins and ask Christ to become their Lord and Savior as preschoolers…most before their third birthday. Jonathan was two and a half when he came tiptoeing down the stairs one night after I’d tucked him into bed, very concerned that he wanted to become a Christian that night!

Now, Jonathan was always an extremely good-natured child, and although he’d once had enough testosterone in his little eighteen-month-old frame to have heaved a footstool across the living room floor (in demonstration of his masculine prowess for his toddler girlfriend), he was generally a bouncy, eager-to-please angel. The only big change I noticed immediately after his conversion was that he’d let me brush his teeth without a tussle. Up until then, he used to clamp his little jaws down on the toothbrush every time I tried to brush his teeth at night. But, the very next night after he had asked Jesus into his heart, he smiled sweetly and let me brush his teeth without fussing.

This, folks, might bring a smile to the faces of the men at the rescue mission, but I’m not sure if hearing that Jesus had enabled Jonathan to kick the toothbrush-biting habit would convince the men that Jesus has enough power to cleanse them from their addictions to heroin and alcoholism, cure their mental illnesses, or restore their broken relationships.

Do you see my point? God’s work in our life is wonderful and miraculous, whether it’s cleaning up our tooth brushing habits or our drinking habits, but it’s still His work, in His way, and in His time, and it’s incidental to what should be the true focus of our testimony. In all things, Christ should be lifted up! Some people tell very sordid stories about themselves; others are afraid to share because they’ve had such an awful past and don’t know what to say. Think of the woman at the well. She didn’t list her sins in gory detail, she simply said, “Come see a man which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (John 4:29). Our testimony could be simply: “Come meet a man who healed me from all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?“

Never be afraid to speak out about Jesus and all he’s done and can do. It’s not what or how much you did that was wrong, but what he did that was right that’s important. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). Are you happy and satisfied with Christ? Then you’ve got something to share!

Finding Tanglewood Cottage

Swans with CygnetsIn light of the house-hunting of my two oldest of late, I was sharing the story of how Alan and I found our home with a friend, and she said I should tell you, too, so here goes! We moved to GR from Marquette (which is an 8-hour drive) some 22 years ago while our 7 kids were still quite young, so we really wanted to find a home before we arrived with a van full of kids and a moving van stuffed with early-American (hand-me-down) furniture and miscellaneous junk. Wispy Fog on Lake We lined up a dozen homes that sounded interesting, loaded the kids into our trusty van, and came down for a whirlwind tour on a snowy Saturday in late winter. I had a dear friend, an only child of an only child, who lived with her husband and only son as well as her mother and grandmother in “the perfect” home for them…which you can imagine would be a unique home indeed! When I asked how she’d ever found such a home, she told me that she’d just prayed for what she needed, which was a first-floor apt. for her grandmother and mother, and the rest was just a surprising and wonderful gift from God. Great balloon Dragon on lake So, after considering what my 7 rambunctious, outdoor-variety kids needed, I prayed, “Lord, we need some land with personality where the kids can play outside.” In Marquette, we lived in the middle of 50 acres of incredibly beautiful forest overlooking thousands of acres of Dead River flood plain and ending at the Dead River Falls. Trillium It was one of the most beautiful pieces of God’s great wilderness in Michigan’s interior, and I knew it would be irreplaceable. However, run space was my #1 priority, so that’s all I asked for. Lake in Autumn The morning we began our whirlwind tour, Alan and I prayed for guidance before reading our daily chapters from the Bible, which just happened to be near the end of Jeremiah.  I was particularly struck by such verses as “Flee, save your lives, and be like the heath in the wilderness” (Jer. 48:5), and “Leave the cities, and dwell in the rock, and be like the dove that maketh her nest in the sides of the hole’s mouth” (Jer. 48:28). So, by the time we got to Jeremiah 49:30, “Flee, get you far off, dwell deep…” I said, “Okay, Lord. I hear you! Don’t live in the city. Stream through the woodsYou want us to live in the country.” But, just as I was saying that, I heard Alan read the next verse: “Arise, get you up unto the wealthy nation…” and I felt like the Lord was telling me to be actively involved in GR. In fact, the Lord had specifically laid Jeremiah 29:7 on my heart as “my” verse for the move. But, I was totally confused by the sense that we should both “flee” the city and “Arise” and go into the city. How can you live in the country and the city? That thought was simmering on the back burner of my heart as we inspected all the homes. Skating on our lake At the end of the day, the unanimous, clear favorite for everybody was a little home built into the side of a tiny hill with a walk-out basement (“dwell in the rock…in the sides’ of the hole’s mouth”) on a lake with almost ten acres, including a patch of field and a stream running through the woods. Snowy Woods Definitely ideal from the standpoint of run space. So we went back for a return visit. “The only thing I don’t understand is the property line,” I remarked to the realtor. “Oh, I should have mentioned that because it’s a funny shape, and it’s actually two lots: One in the country where your house is, but also one in the city. You’re right on the border.” Bingo! Chills down my spine and the confirmation I needed. We bought the house and have been wonderfully content here at “Tanglewood Cottage” ever since!

Loosestrife on Lake“And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7).SUP at Sunset on our Lake(In case you’re wondering, all the picture are indeed from Tanglewood Cottage.)

Rise Up, My Love (134): When North and South Winds Meet…

Beach castles at Daytona BeachSong of Solomon 4:16 “Awake, O north wind: and come, thou south; blow upon my garden…Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.” Usually our Lord speaks in a still, small voice, but sometimes he speaks through a mighty, rushing wind. I completed the above sections just as our children finished their final exams for the summer, and then we left for a delightful family camping trip down to Florida (17 years ago now!). The skies were cloudless the whole week, and warm southern breezes brought daytime temperatures into the nineties. We spent the week playing volleyball and tennis, swimming, splashing in the waves, strolling up the beach, and building sand castles. It was heavenly.

However, shortly after we returned, there was a terrible clash between the warm, southern winds and a strong northern wind that blew down from Canada. The result was a tornado that leveled an entire town in North Dakota and tornado-force winds that swept across much of the country, leaving a path of destruction behind. I learned an unforgettable lesson concerning what may happen when both the north and south winds ‘awake’ together!Trout lilies in woodsMy husband and I were awakened by the loud crash of a tree coming down (which by God’s grace didn’t damage the house but landed inches from it—and the head of a set of bunk beds where our boys sleep!). The wind whistled like a train engine roaring down the tracks, and we fled with our children to the basement. In a matter of minutes the storm had passed, and it wasn’t until the next morning that we learned the true extent of the damage. We were just nine of 600,000 people in southern Michigan who were out of electric power. Our immediate surrounds were declared a national disaster area. Leafy branches and debris were blown all over the yard and road, and more than twenty trees had been blown over on our property…some with massive root systems reaching ten feet into the air. A telephone pole had been knocked over by two trees, and the trail through our woods was impassable. The sound of chain saws rang through the air all day, and the younger children helped me rake and sweep until our arms ached.Kids with daffodils and grape hyacinthsFortunately, no one died in our area, and after several days electrical power and water were restored. Although it will take years for the woods to recover from the trauma, the rest of our property is pretty much back to normal and the birds are singing again in the woods. But, we learned so many lessons from the storm! One: when you invoke the north and south winds at the same time, you may get a tornado, so be prepared! Two: be prepared, but don’t be afraid. There were so many ways God protected and provided for us during the crisis. God always has his hand upon his children. Three: curiously, mighty oaks and cottonwoods fell, but not one flower. Not even the hanging basket of fuchsias or the roses budding on the trellises. There were reports of quarter-sized hail falling some places, but at our house the sweeping rains only provided much needed nourishment for our flowers, and the next morning the gardens glistened in the bright sunshine. I could not help but be struck by the thought that the 120 m.p.h. wind which demolished huge trees not fifty yards from our house had not touched our home or any of the delicate flowers in the gardens. It was a profound lesson on how God can care for us even in the midst of storms.

By faith, the bride asked for the movement of the winds so “that the spices thereof may flow out” and her beloved could enjoy his garden. God may send a mighty, rushing wind into our lives that topples lofty dreams or sends brilliant career plans crashing to the ground, but it will not touch the fruits of the Spirit. Rather, the flood of rain will only provide spiritual nourishment and luster to our lives and souls.Girl with Downy woodpecker chicks(Kathy has one downy woodpecker on her head and another in her hand.)

Lastly, the Lord gave us one special blessing in the storm. A family of fledgling downy woodpeckers was nesting in one of the trees that blew over. The children found the birds quickly because of their distressed chirping and begged to rescue them, but I advised them to wait and see if their own parents would find and tend them. My children waited anxiously all day for the parents to return, but alas, as evening came the pitiful chirps for help were growing weaker. Rather than leave the babies to starve, our children took them in.Feeding a downy woodpecker chick It took countless hours of faithfully digging worms and grubs and pill bugs, stuffing blackberries, seeds, and tiny bits of crushed nuts and suet down their beaks…hours of work and love…but now (back then) we have five robust birds who trill and sing in the bedroom each morning and hopefully are within days of being ready to return to their woodland home. Girls with Downy Woodpecker baby Raising a brood of five baby birds…and all the lessons learned along the way…was a great source of joy and blessing to our whole family… Brookfield Zoo and to many families, as the woodpeckers traveled as far as Chicago with us! Boy with Downy Woodpeckers on his capWhen we pray for the Lord to work, he does! His touch may be like a gentle breeze, or like a terrible electrical storm, but it will be for our good. He will always be with us, providing for us, overseeing our trials, and bringing us through…giving us sunny skies and times of relaxing rest, and then times of severe testing. But always, always, his work in us is to produce spicy fragrance and pleasant fruit in our lives for our happiness and his eternal enjoyment.Teenager and Downy Woodpecker