Blessings for St. Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I prepared this post before Covid-19 took the world by storm and I was thinking I’d be in Texas, so it may seem a little too lighthearted for the mood of our world, but then it occurred to me that we all we could all use a little cheer. Also, I’ve been sick with a wretched cold/flu (thankfully, probably not Covid-19), so I don’t have quite the umph to prepare a serious blog, although my hope is to begin sharing soon some ideas for what to do while we’re all confined. However, today I am praying over each of you who reads this some of these sweet blessings!


“The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Classic Carrot Cake

Carrot cake is another family favorite, particularly for Alan.

He rarely misses an opportunity to try a slice wherever it’s served,

whether at home, or abroad,

or anywhere at sea!

Carrot cake was made especially famous after our grandson, Samuel, started requesting his mother’s amazing carrot cakes (along with bowling parties) for his birthdays!

You know a cake is extra special when a youngster asks for it starting at age two (decorated like a ball, of course) and keeps wanting it again and again!

Absolutely everybody looks forward to Brianna’s carrot cakes (and Samuel’s birthday parties). However, with the corona virus crushing cruises and vacations, I’ve developed such a hankering for a carrot cake lately that I decided to learn how to bake my own!

I consulted with Brianna but made up my own rendition, which passed muster with Sammy (and his grandpa) last weekend, so I’ll pass it along to you today, just in case you—too—have a penchant for this rich, moist, vegetable . . . I mean cake! 🙂

Classic Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Grate 2-3 large carrots (enough to make 4 cups)
Pulverize 2 cup walnuts or pecans (depending on which you like better)

In a mixing bowl, combine:
2 cups white sugar
1 cup softened butter, and whip until airy and smooth, then add:
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla and beat until well blended.

Next, add:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice and whip in mixer until completely smooth.

Then add:
4 cups fresh, grated carrots
1 cup crushed nuts (I used pecans, but walnuts are also classic; use 1 cup in the batter, and the other cup goes on top of the frosting later)

Divide evenly into two 10-inch well greased and floured cake pans.

Bake for 45 minutes at 350°F. or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Set on the counter and allow them to cool, loosening the edges with a knife after about 10 minutes to help keep the sides from sticking.

Cream Cheese Frosting for Carrot Cake

While the cakes are cooling (or while they’re baking), make the frosting:
In your mixer, add:
8 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 cup (4 oz) softened butter
6 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons light cream (or milk)
Whip until completely smooth and a bit airy.

Turn the first cake upside down on a platter and frost.

Add the second cake upside down on top of the first and frost.

Next, completely cover the tops and sides.

Press the last cup of crushed nuts around the edges, and whatever falls off, sprinkle on top at the end.

Voilà! A rich, super moist carrot cake fit for a king or a prince and versatile enough to be popular on cruise ships and bowling parties!

Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties” (Genesis 49:20, spoken by Jacob while blessing his children before he died. Oh, that everyone in our world were able to enjoy “royal dainties”! I believe that someday, when the Messiah returns to rule the earth in righteousness and peace, there will be no more corona virus or other plagues, and there will be plenty for all. I wish He would come today! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!)

Frankenmuth: The Birthday Club and Historical Society Roots Tour

I wrote about Frankenmuth eight years ago as a sort of “Christmas Present” event, where Alan and I enjoyed the Christmasy ambience of this historic German community, complete with an afternoon of shopping at Bronner’s, the world’s largest Christmas store, which houses over 50,000 gifts in an area nearly the size of two football field.

I’m sure I’ll write about Frankenmuth again as a “Christmas Future” event, because Frankenmuth now sports two waterpark hotels where several of my children and their children love splashing around for a weekend on adrenaline-pumping rides like the Super Loop Speed Slide or the Tantrum Twist Raft Ride (or . . . the warm kiddy pools). 🙂

Today, however, I want to write about my “Christmas Past,” outing last week with the Birthday Club, where we concentrated more on the historical aspects of this charming village, which has even more to offer than great food, shops, and joy rides.

Just a few historical “fun facts” for would-be tourists! There are absolutely NO parking meters anywhere in town, so parking (where available) is totally free! How’s that for German hospitality? Also, the oldest neon sign in Michigan stands in front of Zehnders (which is also probably the oldest, most famous restaurant in Michigan).

Frankenmuth is also home to Michigan’s oldest continuously operating woolen mill.

This was the first stop on our list of tours, although faaaaar from the last!

The Frankenmuth Woolen Mill has been in operation for 125 years.

Anyone can still have their own sheep’s wool cleaned, carded, and batted!

Even though it’s a working mill, they have windows where you can observe some of the processes when they work.

Also, if you call ahead, they will arrange personal tours for groups of ten or more.

However, if you don’t have ten in your party or don’t come at the right time, there is a constantly running, short but very informative video that explains the process, and the clerks are hospitable and willing to answer questions.

As you might imagine, the store is full of wonderfully pleasant woolen products . . .

and other fun stuff, sure to make you smile! (Susan made us pose for this one! 🙂 )

There is also a historical museum, although it was closed the day we were there.

All the shops were open, though, including this fabulous old fashioned market that seemed straight out of my childhood, complete with a big pickle barrel. Huge dill pickles are sold for $.49 or a whole gallon for only $7.00!

For those of you who long for a day to experience the past in all it’s present glory, Frankenmuth is hard to beat!

Another fantastic shop is the Cheese Haus, which brought back memories of Alan and my visit to Edam in the Netherlands a couple of years ago . . . a wonderful store full of amazing cheeses, many of which can be sampled on the spot! (Tourist alert: Come hungry to Frankenmuth and pace yourself!!)

Of course, the culinary highlight of the day was experiencing one of the city’s historically tastabulous chicken dinners. Frankenmuth has two restaurants that were begun over 160 years ago by two German brothers. They have identical menus.

The first and most famous is Zehnders, which was just announced as one of 6 recipients of 2020 James Beard Foundation America’s Classics Award. Zehnders seats 1,500 in their ten dining rooms. It was one of 10 largest restaurants in America in the 1980’s, and I believe it still has the largest seating capacity of any restaurant in Michigan, serving about a million chicken dinners annually.

However, in honor of Susan (who has German roots) and me (who has a German daughter-in-law), Cindi opted to eat at the brother restaurant right across the street, where everything is just as wonderful, albeit with Bavarian ambience rather than Zehnder’s colonial American decor.

Needless to say, we were totally charmed and completely pleased by our dining experience at the Bavarian Inn!

If you go to Frankenmuth, be sure to walk around to the side of the Bavarian Inn in time to see the wonderful glockenspiel and hear the 10-minute performance about the Pied Piper.

Although it’s done in a rather cheerful manner, the moral of the story is somber and clear:

Pay those to whom payment is due, be fair, and don’t lie, or you will be very sorry in the end!

Well, like so many travel posts, this one is way too long already, but I want to encourage you to save time for one more historical site if you visit Frankenmuth.

This utterly charming community was begun by fifteen German Lutherans who had a heart to share the gospel with the Chippewa Indians in this area (back in 1845).

Across the street from the present day church, there is a replica of the original church.

Except during services, visitors are welcome to ring two ancient “church bells in the forest!”

There is also a fascinating cemetery filled with gravestones and expressions of faith.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Lorenz in Frankenmuth, Michigan

This historic church is alive and well today, open to the public and sharing the Gospel!

Inscription on the wall of St. Lorenz

To Susan, Cindi, and me, it was the crowning touch to a completely warm and wonderful day!

Thank you, Jesus!

Springing Forward is Just Plain Harder than Falling Back!

The old “Spring Forward, Fall Back” way of remembering which way to turn our clocks for Daylight Savings Time is even more intuitive for most of us if we think about just how much harder it is to spring out of bed an hour earlier in the spring than it is to fall back into bed for an extra hour of sleep in the fall!

Some cheerful souls try to encourage us with comments like, “Just look at it as getting to have breakfast an hour earlier!”

I’m more in the zone with those who lament, “Why can’t the time change come at 8:00 pm. on Friday night?”

Or, “Why do they consider less sleep and less light in the morning a good thing???”

There are a lot of things in life that aren’t easy, but we do them anyway, just to be good sports or good citizens, or to conform to societal norms.

So, this Saturday night before I go to bed, I’ll change all my clocks so they’re one hour later, which means I’ll have to get up one hour earlier on Sunday to make it to church on time.

Although only 62 of 230+ countries use Daylight Savings Time (DST), it’s a small matter, really, don’t you think? I’m thankful for my cozy bed here in America, so I’d best keep my chin up and support the laws of the land! I’ve read that DST was first initiated to conserve energy during World War I but has continued to help maximize daylight hours for children going to and from school safely, and that’s certainly an admirable goal! (More than half our 50 states have legislation on the table to consider either dropping Daylight Savings Time or making it permanent year round.)

In any family, church, organization, or country, there are all sorts of rules and regulations that aren’t immoral but are inconvenient. As one who benefits from the good aspects of governing authorities, I will attempt to appreciate the spirit of the law and not groan when I have to get up “early” this Sunday!

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Peter 2:12-14).

Thoughts on Retirement, Hope, Love, and Plucking Thorns

Last Friday was Valentine’s Day, and this week Alan and I are celebrating our 47th anniversary! In addition, we will both be turning 70 this year. Even though we are staring down inevitable retirement before too long, we are both feeling very vivacious and so are full of hope that there will be “life after retirement” and a future that will include all the things my father used to say were the essential ingredients for “the good life of all VIPS” (that’s all of us) . . . that our lives should be Varied, Integrated, Productive, and Social.

My father was not a professing Christian at that point in his life, so if I were making my own personal statement, I would definitely want God in the spotlight, but I do think Dad’s points are well taken. I would love to continue to be able to enjoy variety, integrity/integration, productivity, and social interaction, and in all the research studies, those qualities do come out as critical to emotional well-being and even longevity.

However, I have known more than a few loved ones (Alan’s father being one) who barely survived his retirement before being diagnosed with a terminal illness. I am seeing this more and more often, and it definitely makes me feel like I’m going to be holding my breath very tightly when we jump off the end of the retirement diving board!

One dear friend, whom I admire greatly, is struggling with her own beloved husband, who had a fabulous career and was always a rock in her life . . . but is now showing undeniable symptoms of memory loss just a few years post retirement. As we Boomers begin to time out, we find ourselves grieving losses. Our own. Those of our beloved spouses and friends. 😦 I don’t mean to discourage anyone who’s looking forward to retirement. Alan’s older brother, and my two older brothers have all retired and are aging extremely well, so it can be done! However, I want to share this timely and tender consolation from a devotional my friend shared with me:

A Valentine Devotion on the Cycles of Life
I Corinthians 13:7 NIV
“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

“Years ago I copied this paragraph from George Matheson’s book published in 1909, The Representative Men of the New Testament. He writes that we can see these same cycles in romantic love [as in the cycles of life]. It’s an old book and I loved this paragraph for its poetry and imagery more than for its realism. Today I see its realism. I will read it as my conclusion: ‘What is the common process of love’s enlargement? Take a human love; take what we generally term romantic love. What are the stages through which it is wont to pass? I think there are four. At first it is a hope – something to be realized tomorrow. Then it is a present possession but reserved as yet only for garden hours when we are free from the bustle of the crowd. By and by its range is widened – it becomes a stimulus for the great duties of life; it comes out from the garden into the city; it nerves to do and to bear. At last it reaches its climax – it comes down to trifles. It glorifies the commonplace; it finds sermons in stones and sonnets in the dust. Little things are magnified; unromantic things are glorified. We do prosaic work. We perform menial duties. We go through cheerful drudgery. We pluck thorns.'”

Death on a Plate

My oldest brother mentioned that his favorite “go to” when it’s his turn to bring a dessert for their bridge club is called “Death on a Plate,” and since anything that sounds so good it’s deadly appeals to me, I asked for the recipe. Rob got it from a buddy from back in the days when they were both working at Lockheed as rocket scientists, but the cake is simple—not rocket science—and pretty much fool-proof, bomb-proof, and a constant crowd pleaser!

It’s also very flexible, because my first run through, I totally missed the “salad oil” and left out the pudding mix, since I didn’t have one on hand. I used sparkling grape juice instead of Kahlua and English walnuts instead of black walnuts (which I couldn’t find in the store) . . . and it still turned out great. (However, I did double the amount of chocolate chips: from 6 oz. to 12 oz.)

Also, I served it with copious amounts of whipped cream to make sure the gooey factor was high enough.

On my second run through, I used a triple-chocolate fudge cake mix with 12-oz. of special dark chocolate chips and espresso instead of Kahlua. I remembered to add 3/4 cup canola oil but somehow managed to forget the vanilla pudding mix, (which I’d bought special for the occasion, since I normally just make it from scratch)— even though it was sitting on the counter right beside the mixes! Duh!! 🙂

Believe it or not, this cake is very forgiving, because it still tasted delicious!

Because this cake was made for a potluck with children present, I left out the nuts entirely (which put off lots of small children) and decided to make the cake more eye-catching by dripping some white chocolate ganache around the edges.

The final touch was spooning some hot chocolate over the top. I think of most cakes as serving 12, but I was able to slice this one into 24 pieces, which worked great for the potluck and gave more people a chance to try it. I can now vouch for my brother’s good taste and understand why it’s his go-to for special events! 🙂

(P.S.—if you need recipes for ganache and hot fudge, they can be found below. For a white ganache, just substitute white-chocolate chips for chocolate. For decorating a cake, you really only need about a quarter as much as the ganache tart calls for and about half the amount in my hot fudge recipe.)

He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen” (Deuteronomy 10:21).

Sweet Potato Pancakes

If you happen to have any sweet potatoes leftover after your Christmas company is gone, here’s a great way to use them up. One of my girlfriends was over the other day and commented on how clean my refrigerator is, claiming that hers is so stuffed with leftovers she can’t find anything. I told her that Joel (my son, who lives with us and is a great cook) and I work very hard at systematically and creatively trying to use up our leftovers (but, of course, our refrigerator gets stuffed at times too)! On the other hand, sweet potato pancakes are so simple and yummy that you don’t need any excuse to make them! In fact, they make a delicious special Christmas-season breakfast if you have a spare can of sweet potatoes sitting on your shelf. At any rate, here’s how:

Sweet Potato Pancakes
(Makes 6, which feeds about 2 adults,
so you might need to double or quadruple the recipe to feed a family!)

In a mixing bowl, add:
1 cup sweet potatoes (can have remnants of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, etc. on them, and some jelled liquid, which just makes them taste even better). Mash them.
1 egg
1/2 cup pancake mix
1/2 cup milk

Mash and then mix everything together until it’s of a relatively smooth consistency. (It doesn’t have to be perfect; I used a hand-masher just to save time and clean up, but if you’re making a big batch, an electric mixer and mixing bowl is ideal.) Spoon them onto a hot, buttered griddle or frying pan (350°F. if it’s an electric griddle).

Fry until golden brown on one side; flip, and fry until starting to brown on the other side. Sweet potato pancakes don’t bubble like regular pancakes, although they take about the same amount of time to fry. They brown while they’re still so wet they’re almost hard to flip, but don’t let them get too solid, or they might start to burn. So, as soon as you can flip them, do so! If they’re not perfectly done, you can always flip them over again after they’ve browned on the second side. You want them crispy on the edges, but they are super moist.

Serve with butter and syrup and whatever else you might wish!

P.S.—If you have less than the proper amount of sweet potatoes for the correct ratio for the number of pancakes you want to make, you can always use less mashed sweet potato with more milk and pancake mix (equal parts), but I’d add at least one egg per cup of pancake mix at any rate. If you’re starting with a can of sweet potatoes or leftover baked sweet potatoes (no skins, though!), you might want to add about 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and a dash of cinnamon per serving (of three pancakes). Obviously, my recipe is very flexible! 🙂

How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103).