Honey Cake and Happy New Year Times Two!

Honey Cake & Pistachio Maamoul
Honey Cake & Pistachio Maamoul

I love to bake, so, by now, you’re used to all of the desserts you see on this blog. This time of year is always interesting with lots going on, like the beginning of the school year, sports tryouts, back-to-school shopping, and getting ready for fall activities like Canadian Thanksgiving and Halloween.

One thing is for sure, though: I’m back to cooking and baking quite a bit more after the long summer break, where I apparently slacked off in the kitchen! Kids are always so honest. When I came back last week from a trip to Lebanon with tons of fun desserts like date and pistachio-filled maamoul (shown in the round box), pistachio nougats, and boxes of chocolate bars, I was surprised when my daughter said that I need to bake some desserts!

Honey Cake With Chocolate Glaze
Honey Cake With Chocolate Glaze

So, bake I did. I made brownies that are gone, and decided to make this Honey Cake (basically a coffee cake made with coffee and honey), which you may be seeing in stores as it’s popular this time of year for the Jewish New Year. By the way, this year the Muslim New Year and the Jewish New Year are on the same day, today – something that happens only once every 33 years! If you’ve ever wondered how the Jewish calendar observes the new year in late summer or early fall every year, despite being a lunar calendar, it’s because of the addition of ‘leap months’ into the lunar calendar to keep the holiday steady. You can read more about when the New Years collide here. Happy New Year!

Honey Cake With Chocolate Glaze
Honey Cake With Chocolate Glaze

The recipe (which I slightly modified) is from the Zabar’s site, and I used a chocolate glaze from Epicurious.

For the Honey Cake:

Ingredients:
3 ½ c All Purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
4 tsps cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp allspice
1 c vegetable oil
1 c dark honey
1 c granulated sugar
1 c brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 c warm coffee
½ c orange juice
¼ c coffee or brandy whiskey

Parchment Paper

Bake in a 10 inch bundt or tube pan

Preparation:
1. Preheat Oven to 350 degrees.

2. Lightly grease pan and line bottom with greased parchment paper.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.

4. Make a well in the center on the dry ingredients and add oil, honey, sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee, orange juice, and brandy.

5. Combine all ingredients well (you can do this by hand but believe me an electric hand mixer works best) making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl while mixing.

6. Spoon batter into pan

7. Bake until the cake springs back when touched gently in the center (approximately 60 to 70 minutes for bundt or tube pans – small loaf pans will take less time).

This is a very wet batter – and depending on your oven it may take longer to bake.

8. Once baked, allow cake to stand in pan for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a wire rack

Chocolate Glaze:

Ingredients:
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk (not light)
2 tsp light corn syrup
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, coursely chopped
1/4 c sliced almonds

Heat the milk and syrup until it gently simmers. Add chocolate and let sit for a minute. Mix and drizzle over cake. Sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Honey Cake With Chocolate Glaze
Honey Cake & Pistachio Maamoul

Have you ever made a Honey Cake? How do you glaze yours? Enjoy!

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Tie Front Tops Are Here To Stay!

It’s been a summer of all kinds of trendy tops, including cold shoulder, off the shoulder, lace-ups, and tie-fronts. And, if you’ve been watching the shop windows change, you’ll notice that these details are here to stay through the fall.

I did a post in the spring that included a long-sleeved wrap and tie top and I’m happy it’ll still be on trend come fall. This is a quick post on the tie-front tops that I’ve seen all summer. A tie-top is a bit different from a wrap top in that it doesn’t wrap – it’s just two pieces of fabric that tie in the front or side. I love the look because it’s dainty and dressy. It’s a bit frilly and girly and every time I’ve worn the top, I’ve received lots of compliments. I think it’s mainly because I’m usually in jeans and a t-shirt, but we’ll take it!

I’ve styled the top with white jeans because it’s a striped white and blue top and the white makes the top stand out. For fun, I’ve added floral, colorful sandals, and kept the bag a neutral beige.

Here are a few tops that I’ve linked should you wish to try this trend.

Do you own a tie front top? How do you style yours?

(top: Macy’s; jeans: Hudson’s Bay; belt: Marc Cain; bag: Furla; sandals: Stuart Weitzman)

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Exploring The Mini Shrines In The Villages of Christian Lebanon

Beirut, as seen from Broummana in Mount Lebanon
Beirut, as seen from Broummana in Mount Lebanon

Many of you know that I’m Lebanese and that I try to go back to Lebanon at least once a year. Last year, I posted two blogs about my visits: one about my  March 2016 trip and one about the Feast of the Assumption, which falls on August 15th. You all enjoyed my posts so much that the former post appeared in the Aramco Expats online edition and the other one resulted in my getting more emails than any other post!

Given that it’s August 15th today, the day of the Feast of the Assumption, I thought I’d show you, in pictures, how much the Virgin Mary is celebrated in Lebanon. It’s a national holiday there, and everyone named Mary is celebrated! I drove my dad crazy when we would go for walks as I stopped to photograph every shrine we passed. Making it a challenge to find unique and hidden shrines added to the fun.

In these photos, you’ll find shrines dedicated not only to the Virgin Mary, but to other saints that are important to Lebanese Christians. These include Saint Sharbel (also spelled Charbel), Saint Elias, and Saint Thecla. You can read more about the saints specific to Lebanon here.

This post is meant to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to walk and drive around the small Christian mountain village of Broummana, 20 minutes east of Beirut, in the Mount Lebanon Governorate. You will hear church bells ringing all day on Sunday and on other days of the week. Going to church is a daily activity for many. Outings to visit churches or larger shrines are common all year round. It would be an understatement to say that people in this small village are religious because they are very religious! Many activities revolve around the local churches. Check out this huge church square overlooking the beautiful mountains of Mount Lebanon:

Church veranda for public use and celebrations
Church veranda for public use and celebrations

The mini shrines are typically at the front of people’s properties, near the road, for others to see and enjoy. They can be on trees, set high on pedestals, or set in the woods. And, they can be indoors at public places like hospitals.

These shrines are so much more than the physical structures because they represent a devotion to God and to the saints they depict. They’re a daily reminder about the blessings of life and the need to pray and feel connected spiritually to God, nature, and each other.

These shrines are well-maintained and you will often find fresh flowers or lit candles that have been intentionally placed by passers-by and devotees. It’s common to cross oneself every time you pass one of these shrines and to say a quick prayer. There’s a sense of peace, belonging, and comfort as you walk around and see the number and variety of shrines.

Have a look at all of the different mini-shrines and bigger shrines dedicated to saints, below. The captions will tell you more about each one:

Public mini shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary
Public mini shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary
Mini shrine on the side of a road with Virgin Mary inside
Mini shrine on the side of a road with Virgin Mary inside
Mini shrine for Saint Elias on private property
Mini shrine for Saint Elias on private property
Shrine to the Virgin Mary at Bhannes Hospital
Shrine to the Virgin Mary at Bhannes Hospital
Indoor shrine for the Virgin Mary at Bhannes Hospital
Indoor shrine for the Virgin Mary at Bhannes Hospital
Mini shrine dedicated to Saint Sharbel, the Virgin Mary, Saint Elias, on private property
Mini shrine dedicated to Saint Sharbel, the Virgin Mary, Saint Elias, on private property
Mini shrine for the Virgin Mary high on a pine tree
Mini shrine for the Virgin Mary high on a pine tree
A shrine for Saint Thecla, in a church square
A shrine for Saint Thecla, in a church square
Mini shrine on private property, dedicated to Saint Thecla
Mini shrine on private property, dedicated to Saint Thecla
Outdoor altar and shrine for the Virgin Mary, hidden in the woods
Outdoor altar and shrine for the Virgin Mary, hidden in the woods
Outdoor altar and shrine for the Virgin Mary, hidden in the woods
Outdoor altar and shrine for the Virgin Mary, hidden in the woods
Virgin Mary mini shrine on private property
Virgin Mary mini shrine on private property
Shrine on the grounds of Deir Mar Chaaya, a monastery
Shrine on the grounds of Deir Mar Chaaya, a monastery
Mini shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary
Mini shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary

 

Mini shrine for the Virgin Mary outside an old-style Lebanese villa
Mini shrine for the Virgin Mary outside an old-style Lebanese villa
One of my favorite shrines, this mini shrine used a mirror to incorporate nature
One of my favorite shrines, this mini shrine uses a mirror to incorporate nature

So, what do you think? Have you seen so many shrines in such a concentrated place before? Many Catholic and religious parts of the world have such shrines and I’d love to hear where you’ve seen some!

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Bringing A Little Bit Of Europe To A Summer Outfit

Repeat Cashmere Top; Marc Cain Lug Soles; Furla Stacy Bucket BagThis post is a tip of the hat to European styling and designers. As I write this, I realize there’s a lot to talk about when you think about American vs European designers and the different approach to design and style. Hmm, I’m thinking this could be the topic of another blog post, but I digress.

This very simple outfit shown is a little bit outside of my comfort zone in that the top is flowy (where I usually prefer more fitted clothing) and the shoes are lug soles, which I’ve blogged about before (and a little higher than I would choose for every day wear). It’s a casual outfit, yet it has some details that make it more stylized.

Repeat Cashmere TopI gravitated towards this top because it’s navy and because it’s soft, made of silk. It’s also not plain, having some raw edging and tie-dye detailing which I like. The back has a keyhole button and loop closure and the slightly elasticized hem is a separate piece of fabric with more subtle tie-dye detailing along the seam. I paired it with classic white pants because I liked the contrast with the blue. This top is by Repeat Cashmere, a 40 year old clothing company based in Holland that I was familiar with because I love their winter sweaters and cotton blazers. Continue reading

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Wearing Orange…White, And Blue, For That Pop Of Color!

Wearing orange
Wearing orange

I’ve been told I wear navy all the time, and that’s true! It works for my skin tone, I’ve blogged about, and I’m just more comfortable in blues. One way to mix things up is to add bits of color to the blues I wear – and, orange is one of my favorite ways to do this. It’s not much different than red, white, and blue, which is often seen together. Orange is just a softer version of red.

In these photos, I’ve styled this orange merino wool sweater with white jeans. I like the contrast of the orange and white together. Merino wool in the summer is fine if it’s lightweight and a finer knit and it’s actually a good idea in the air-conditioned indoors. Continue reading

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Of Bell Sleeves And Bucket Bags

Bell Sleeve Top from Banana Republic; Furla Stacy Bucket Bag

Summer is passing by so fast and, before it’s over, I want to share a few of my favorite fashion trends. In this post, I’m combining bell sleeves and bucket bags, because, well, time.

Bell sleeves are making a comeback. I remember bell sleeves being big more than ten years ago. I had a super stylish blazer that I hope I haven’t given away – you may see it in an upcoming post! And, I’m seeing more bell sleeve jackets on websites for the fall.

This top works for me because it’s petite. It’s hard to get the right length on the bell sleeves if you’re short and I find that the sleeve length is key in getting an outfit to look proportional. I love the light blue color and the oxford fabric, which gives the top some weight and shape. I’ve paired it with white jeans because that’s mainly all I wear in the summer.

Bell Sleeve Top from Banana Republic Continue reading

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My Delicious Chocolate Orange Cake!

Chocolate Orange Cake
Zesty Chocolate Orange Cake

Almost everybody loves a good chocolate cake, but last week, I made a simple addition to my usual recipe to make an amazing chocolate orange cake. For some reason, I can’t follow a recipe without making a small change, adding a twist, or substituting an ingredient. It’s more fun that way, and I get to experiment in the otherwise strict domain of baking!

The following recipe is based on my go-to chocolate cake recipe, the ‘Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake’. I love that name. I’ve made it for guests and they love it, too. It’s very chocolate-y and it uses cocoa powder in both the cake and icing.

Chocolate Orange Cake
Zesty Chocolate Orange Cake

Continue reading

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Fun With OTS (Off The Shoulder) Tops!

Rayon Top From Reitmans

The ‘Off The Shoulder’, or OTS, trend has been around for some time now and it’s nearly impossible to go into any store without seeing some variation on this theme! Simply put, an OTS top exposes your shoulders. I love this trend.

There are also ‘cold shoulder’ tops where just the top of your shoulder is exposed in an otherwise regular style top. I think that’s an even sexier look than the straight across OTS look because it’s just an ‘exposure’ of the shoulders and not the whole décolleté! Continue reading

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Monochromatic Linen Scarves In The Summer

Kala Scarves
Handpainted Linen Kala Scarf

In my last post on scarves, I showed how a contrasting scarf adds interest to an outfit. Well, a monochromatic scarf can also enhance an outfit!

The scarves here are by the Canadian-based Kala Scarves. The Spring/Summer 2017 collection includes a wide range of fabrics, from lightweight wool/silk, modal/silk, to linen. There are many colors and designs, some abstract and some with summer themes like boats. In the warm weather, I love wearing linen for its lightweight texture.

Kala Scarves
Handpainted Linen Kala Scarf

In these photos, I’m wearing two different rectangular linen scarves with the same jacket. Because the scarves are handpainted, each one is unique and a piece of wearable art. No two scarves are exactly the same! I love the pink/red patches of color on the neutral cream and beige backgrounds. The tweed jacket has pink and red threads in it and I think the linen scarves dress up the jacket even more. On its own, the jacket is smart casual and can make any jean outfit look put together. By adding the linen scarf in the same tones, there’s that extra layer of color and richness. Plus, if you tend to run on the cold side like I do, you can use the scarf as a wrap in the air-conditioned indoors! Continue reading

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The Best Shortbread Sugar Cookies For Canada Day!

Canada Day Cookies
Canada Day Cookies

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation! As an immigrant to Canada, I cannot be more grateful that I live here. I’m more proud every year and I love celebrating everything about Canada. When I first moved here, I kept asking people how Canada was different from the United States, where I had lived prior to moving. It was a lot of fun to hear what each person thought was the major difference. After living here for more than 25 years, I can tell you what is different, but that would be the subject of another post! Let’s just say that our cities consistently rank as the top livable cities in the world and that, along with Canada’s diversity, is one of the reasons I love living here.

This year we’ve seen lots of fun activities going on around the country in celebration of Canada’s 150th, also called Canada 150 by the Government of Canada.

Continue reading

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