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Monthly Archives: December 2013

My Five-Layer Zebra Cake Recipe

My FIve-Layer Zebra Cake garnished with dark, white and milk chocolate chips.

My FIve-Layer Zebra Cake garnished with dark, white and milk chocolate chips.

I am, by no means, a professional baker but I do like to cook and experiment with recipes whenever I get a chance. I made two Red Velvet cakes last week so for my birthday I thought I’d try something different.

If you’re looking for a ‘healthy‘ cake recipe– this is NOT the one. Even though we live a primarily, low carb lifestyle, we do allow cheating around holidays and special occasions. This cake is NOT sugar-free, fat-free, gluten free or low carb. This is a fully-leaded, rich, moist, dense cake loaded with flavor and about a million calories.
  • There are five alternating layers of chocolate and white cake, sandwiched between alternating layers of chocolate and buttercream frosting.
  • I found the original buttercream recipe too small.  So in addition to the changes I made, I doubled the ingredients to allow for generous layers of buttercream and a little extra if you decide you might want to decorate with it. (maybe swirl it in with the chocolate.
  • This cake only takes three hours from start to finish, including cooling and frosting time. The finished product is a tall cake, comprised of five full-sized layers.
White Cake Ingredients
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Chocolate Cake Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder or (one Starbuck Via packet)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot coffee or (1 cup boiling water)
 Buttercream Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 stick), softened
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 5-8 tablespoons heavy whipping cream  (you can substitute half-and-half or milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Chocolate Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), softened
  • 1 cup cocoa
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder or (1/2 Starbuck Via packet)


  • 1/4 cup each of dark, white and milk chocolate chips (add more or less as desired)
White Cake Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans coated well with shortening (or butter) and flour them,  removing all excess flour. (Do not coat with nonstick baking spray.)
  2. Cream together the butter and shortening with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Slowly add sugar about a cup at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each cup before adding the next. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well before adding another.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add it to the butter and shortening, alternating with the buttermilk, until completely combined Next, add the vanilla extract and mix the batter on high until combined. Scrape the bowl as you go, making sure everything is mixed well.
  4. Batter will be extremely thick (stiff). Evenly distribute cake batter between the three cake pans and place pans into oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Remove from the oven and let cool briefly in cake pans, then cool completely on a baking rack.
Chocolate Cake Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by greasing and flouring. Do not coat with nonstick baking spray.
  2. Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl for mixing. Mix well to combine. (I could not find espresso powder but found a Starbucks Via packet worked perfectly in its place.)
  3. Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix well until well combined. On low speed, carefully add the hot coffee to the batter. Mix on high speed briefly to make the batter fluffy.
  4. Distribute cake batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until a toothpick  inserted in the center comes out dry.
  5. Remove and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a bakers rack.

 Buttercream Frosting Instructions

  1. Place softened butter into the bowl and using a mixer, cream the butter until it is smooth and fluffy.
  2. Add confectioner’s sugar, small amounts at a time and periodically mix on high to keep it light.
  3. Add vanilla and salt and mix well.
  4. Add heavy whipping cream  until the frosting is smooth, fluffy and workable. If you like firm frosting, add more confectioner’s sugar. Just remember if it is too firm it will be more difficult to apply to the cake. For a soft cream frosting, add more heavy whipping cream.

 Chocolate Frosting Instructions

  1. Pour cocoa in a large bowl for mixing.
  2. Cream together butter and cocoa powder until blended. Scrape well throughout the process as the cocoa will tend to stick to the bowl.
  3. Alternate adding sugar and heavy whipping cream to the cocoa mixture in small amounts. Periodically, turn mixer on high speed briefly to keep frosting light. Repeat until all the sugar and cream have been blended.
  4. Last, add the vanilla extract and espresso powder and mix well.
  5. If frosting seems too dry, add more heavy whipping cream, a little at a time until it reaches a smooth consistency. If it appears too moist, add more confectioner’s sugar, a little at a time until it’s smooth and creamy.

Assembling the Cake

  1. Place the first layer of white cake on you cake platter and then frost the top with a generous amount of buttercream frosting.
  2. The second layer should be chocolate, topping with chocolate frosting.
  3. Continue alternating white- chocolate- white with a layer of frosting between each until all five layers are assembled.
  4. Frost the entire cake with the remaining chocolate frosting and you can blend in the remaining buttercream, or use it for more precise decorating.
  5. Use the chocolate chips for decoration by sprinkling them on top of the finished cake and carefully pressing them individually into the sides of the cake as desired.

Now cut yourself a big hunk of cake and enjoy!



I hope you enjoy this tasty treat! You can also make just the chocolate cake or the white cake with your choice of frosting.

  • The coffee and espresso powder are barely noticeable and add a richness, not really a coffee flavor to the chocolate cake and frosting.

I promise the next recipe I share will be especially for those health-conscious people out there looking for delicious alternatives to mundane cooking. I’d love to hear to comments!

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,900 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

It’s Just Another Day

After a relaxing, rather uneventful birthday– I’m not sure what I expected when I got up this morning… but being that my life follows the Big Brother slogan, “Expect the Unexpected”… I should have been prepared.

We decided to have a few people over tomorrow evening for New Year’s Eve and Michael and I were discussing it this morning before he left for work. I decided to run to Jewel and get some salt for the driveway because the back was a solid sheet of ice.

I warmed up the car and pulled around to the front gate but it wouldn’t open. I thought the battery in the remote was frozen but it was lighting up. It took me a few moments to notice some of the Christmas lights outside were also off, so I figured the breaker must have flipped.

I went back in to tell Michael he might have to use the other gate, checked the breaker and it just kept tripping when I tried to reset it. Oh well, I figured I’d try and fix it later.

l_8474eab0-af1e-11e1-b28b-1755f6a00003So, I went and got salt. I came back home, got out of the car to close the back gate…. then BAM! Full body-slam on the ice. Luckily, I was wearing my puffy coat and my ski cap (which Michael refers to as Pippi Longstocking) and they thankfully cushioned my fall. I wasn’t hurt– just a little rattled. I spread the salt and went about my day.

When I got around to messing with the breaker again, I figured one of my light connections outside might be continuing to trip it, so I disconnected them. Of course I was wondering, Why couldn’t this have happened AFTER New Years? Because now I had to get the lights working again for our guests coming over tomorrow night expecting to see them.

I went back in to get some things so I could try switching out some cords. While I was there, I decided to plug in the big Christmas tree and… nothing.



Yes, after checking all the breaker boxes– The outlet was on the same breaker as the gate and the outlet the lights were plugged in to outside. What idiot wired this place? (The trials and tribulations of an old house.)

I went back out, put down the cords, noticed the ice wasn’t melting enough– and I let my ADD take over and I was back on the road to get for more salt. But, instead of going back to Jewel, where I knew they had salt… I decided to waste an hour of my time, driving from place to place to find that it (the salt) was either way overpriced or sold out. (Thank you Ace Hardware and Home Depot!) So I ended up– back at Jewel– for more salt. (I cleaned them out.)

I got back home, spread more salt… now totaling around 200 lbs!

Oh wait, what was I doing?

Oh yeah, then back to my lights. I re-ran cords, connected them to a different outlet… lights working… done.

Back inside…. re-ran the cord through the foyer to a different outlet… big Christmas tree… working.


Not working. Fried. Dead…. and no remote gate. (Sigh.)

The ice did start to melt in the driveway but I put down another 25 lbs in the heavier areas anyway.

So, basically… I spent the whole day just to get back to where I was when I went to bed the night before.

What next?

Oh yeah… it’s snowing again.

More shoveling, more salt ahead.

Just another typical day.

Over the Hump: Turning 51

Last year I celebrated my 50th birthday, December 29th– at 12:01 am (my official birth time), in my favorite city in the world: New York– standing in Times Square. This year, the moment was spent snuggled in bed with my babies, Cash and Roxie. Two vastly different scenarios but both equally appealing and memorable.

I can’t say I’ve looked forward to this birthday the way I did the last but I haven’t dreaded it either. Turning 50 was magical. Why does turning 51 feel like it just sounds so much older? I’m now officially over the half-century hump.

I’ve always said age is just a number and it’s more about how old you feel. Better put: it’s how old you act. Measured that way, I must seem pretty schizophrenic to some people. Believe me, the old adage, act your age means very little to me. Acting your age assumes that you know how someone in your shoes should act. How can you actually know that, if you haven’t already experienced it?

I think society still expects that once you reach a certain age, there are certain behaviors that should be adopted to exhibit a perceived level of maturity. As our population ages and life expectancy increases, some of those presumptions are also changing. Nevertheless, I’d prefer to be referred to as an old, crazy, creative guy than someone that acts their age. Being 50-plus may not be considered old anymore but I think it’s still considered something worse by the younger generation: boring. I hope I never fall into that category.

I’m pretty lucky. Most of the people I know– my age and older are active, adventurous mold breakers. In their seventies, my parents are extremely active and constantly on the go. One of my friends that just retired has basically traveled the world, non-stop this past year. So I have some great examples going forward.

I’ve had plenty of time to reflect and to reevaluate my ambitions over this past year. What is clear, is that there are still so many things I want to accomplish, places I want to visit and things I want to experience in this short lifetime. I want to leave my mark, my thumbprint on the world– in some way, making it a better place. I’m still not sure how I accomplish that. Whether it be through my writing, some action, or some impact through connecting with others… I guess only time will tell.

My fiftieth year was in many ways a difficult one. A big year for change. At the same time, it was year full of affirmations. So even though I may be over the half-century hump–it’s certainly not all downhill from here. Onward, upward… so much to do, to see… to create. There are many new adventures ahead.

Live life, love those around you… and above all else: Be Yourself!

Christmas at 321 Division Street: Photo Essay

Happy Holidays Everyone! I just wanted to share some photos in and around the house decorated for the holidays. Our house was built in 1889 by John Newman and is frequently referred to as the Butterman Mansion. I hope you enjoy!



















Sounds of the Season: My Top 12 Favorite Christmas Recordings

I thought I’d share some of my favorite holiday music with you to help you get in the Christmas Spirit.

As a kid, my favorite thing was to turn all the lights off in the house, except the Christmas lights, pull out all the old Christmas records and crank up the stereo.

When I started putting this list together, I was wondering if I should include some of my old favorites that are out of print. As luck would have it, I found several of them in various formats! I’ll start by mentioning a few more sentimental favorites from my childhood that aren’t readily available.

Firestone and Goodyear released some great Christmas collections when I was a kid. Many are out of print but a few have managed to be released and re-released commercially and fewer still are available as mp3 downloads. I realize many people won’t appreciate these vintage recordings the way I do because the style and recording quality may feel too outdated.

Firestone – Your Favorite Christmas Volume 1 (MLP7005) My parents owned this album and my Grandma had Volume 3. Lots of choral renditions with soloists here. Very nostalgic. I was able to get a clean, digitized copy and I;ll admit, I kind of miss the skips and scratches I remember from our old worn out record.




Goodyear – Great Songs of Christmas, Volume 6 Featuring many prominent artists of the day. If I think of childhood Christmases, I immediately think of the New Christy Minstrels’ version of We Need A Little Christmas found here. It also includes the best-ever version of Let It Snow! by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.




Goodyear. Christmas Is (P11417) Another popular artist collection– I can actually remember the excitement of following my Mom into Goodyear to buy this one. I played The Carpenters, Merry Christmas Darling — so many times, I nearly wore it out.





O here’s my most current top twelve. I did try to rank these album as best I could– saving the best for last. I hope you find some new, or maybe remind you of some familiar choices!

Number Twelve

kellyWrapped In Red by Kelly Clarkson New this year, I hate to list it in last place but it hasn’t had the opportunity to stand the test of time. Clarkson co-wrote five original songs on the album that vocally, once again shows her versatility as an artist. Pop, country, traditional– there’s something for everyone. Undoubtedly, the song I’ll have listened to most this season, will be the original, Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song). Contemporary and upbeat, I can’t get enough of it.


Number Eleven

burlRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Burl Ives   Pure nostalgia wins this album a spot on my list. Watching Rudolph on TV was a family holiday tradition. It was years before I knew Burl Ives wasn’t a snowman in real life.




Number Ten

crosbyWhite Christmas by Bing Crosby One of the best-selling Christmas albums of all time, White Christmas (1945) has the distinction of being the longest, continuous in-print recording in the U.S.. second only to the musical cast album, Oklahoma! (1943).




Number Nine

connickWhen My Heart Finds Christmas by Harry Connick, Jr. A long time favorite. Connick’s smooth crooning warms you from the inside out.




Number Eight

amyHome For Christmas by Amy Grant I love this album. Re-released and expanded as The Christmas Collection, Two of my all-time favorites are included: Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) and My Grown Up Christmas List.



Number Seven

KennyGFaith: A Holiday Album by Kenny G Currently only $7.33 for both the CD AND the MP3 (Auto-Rip) version through Amazon. I love a good soulful instrumental album and this one hits the spot. The perfect background for holiday parties or after dinner music and cuddling by the fire.



Number Six

vanessa christmasThe Christmas Collection: The Best of Vanessa Williams: 20th Century Masters Originally released as Star Bright, this collection is hard to beat. I’ve always been a big fan of Williams and this recording is one of her best. It’s a terrific bargain, currently only $4.99 and you receive both the CD AND the MP3 (Auto-Rip) version.



Number Five

christmasMasonChristmas! Christmas! Christmas! by Karen Mason   A live recording by Chicago’s own, Karen Mason. Mason still tours a version of this cabaret production annually, which is brimming with humor, heart and holiday joy. It’s a gem!



Number Four

allychristmasAlly McBeal: A Very Ally Christmas From the hit TV show featuring Vonda Shepard as well as performances by the rest of the cast. Shepard may not have Adele’s dazzling technique but she certain has her heart and soul. Most notable on this album is Robert Downey, Jr.’s heartbreaking rendition of River. Amazon doesn’t currently have the album available for download but it is available on iTunes.



Number Three

NoelGrobanNoel by Josh Groban I can’t resist Groban’s warm smooth voice. If you are looking for a male artist whose sound is a little more traditional– check this one out. You can get both the CD AND the MP3 download together in this version from Amazon  Here.




Number Two

babsA Christmas Album by Barbra Streisand A perennial favorite, re-issued three times and never out of print, this 1967 album is always on my playlist. It was the best-selling Christmas Album in 1967, spending five weeks at #1 and is believed to be one of the best selling of all time. ( It is not listed in the Top Ten on the Billboard chart, which only records sales from 1991.) It’s probably my most listened to Christmas recording. Over the years, I owned it in every format (except 8-track tape) and I love every song. Streisand’s rendition of Ava Maria remains my favorite to this day. Not bad for a Jewish girl from Brooklyn. You can purchase the CD AND the MP3 download together in this origbabsversion from Amazon for only $4.99 Here.





My Number One Favorite Holiday Album of All-Time is:

Christmas Wonderland by Bert Kaempfert Recorded in 1963, this all instrumental album is timeless. I grew up with it and some of you may recognize tracks that were used frequently in seasonal commercials. I spent years looking for it on CD and finally found it a few years back. It was remastered and re-released in 1997 on CD and cassette. It is currently not available as an MP3 download but new CDs are available through Amazon.com starting at $23.99. If you are looking for a great one, I highly recommend it.




Free (and Cheap) Holiday Music at Amazon.com:

Here are some free Holiday MP3 album downloads available as of today (12/17/13):

Green Hill Christmas Music Sampler – Twelve songs by various artists. FREE.

Green Hill – Christmas Music Sampler: 20 Holiday Favorites – Free Download.

Free Must-Have Christmas Masterpieces – Four more songs; various artists. FREE.

Tons of Music For Only 99 Cents:

Big Christmas Box – 280 tracks including a large chunk of Handel’s Messiah for a total of over 13 hours of music! Only 99 cents.


And For Those of You Stressed Out By the Holidays:

Green Hill – One Hour Of Spa Music: An Exclusive Amazon Sampler – Great Artists in this free 9 song download.

Dream Music: For Sleep & Relaxation (Exclusive Amazon Digital Sampler) – 24 free Tracks to help you sleep and relax.

I apologize in advance if any of the prices or links aren’t accurate but they are all current as of this posting. (12/17/13)

Happy listening!

Winter Dreams: A Photo Essay

We had a beautiful snow yesterday– so at my Dad’s request, I took the opportunity to shoot some photographs around the house. I hope you enjoy them! (If you click on the photo, you’ll be taken to a larger image.)


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