Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Best Chocolate Cupcakes. Ever. Seriously.

Growing up, we always used cake mixes in our family. I distinctly remember my mom telling me that there was no sense going through all the work of making a cake from scratch when it was going to taste better coming from the box. To a certain extent, I agree with her. Cakes from box mixes taste great. Cakes from box mixes are easy. I may never have ventured away from them if I hadn't moved to the Land-Of-No-Boxed-Cake-Mixes. Actually, the more honest title would be Land-where-cake-mixes-require-a-4-hour-commute-and-cost-a-large-percentage-of-my-salary. But then that title is just ridiculously too long. Anyway, desperate places call for desperate measures (Yes, I know I altered the idiom. No, my English is not that poor...yet.). I realized a couple years back that I needed to learn how to make a good cake without a mix. I searched through piles and piles of cookbooks, I searched through hundreds of websites, I interviewed gourmet chefs...

Just kidding. All I did was look at this:

And immediately inspiration hit and I created my own recipe! Ok. Not really. I turned the package around and found this:
"Hershey*s deems this the 'perfect' chocolate cake? That's worth a try!" I mused. Hershey*s doesn't lie. These cupcakes turn out light, moist, and with the perfect amount of chocolate-ness. I've been making these for over two years now, and they never last very long. They are a favorite on the team.

For the first two years, I'd top the cupcakes with Dreamwhip packets (very convenient for those living in the Land-of-no-cool-whip). However, about a month ago to please a chocoholic teammate, I wanted to top them with chocolate icing. Icing from a can is absolutely wonderful. The texture is perfect. Unfortunately, it is as rare and pricey (or more so) as cake mixes. I turned once again to the trusty cocoa package and sure enough, there was a perfect icing recipe to go with the perfect cake. You're thinking: "It took you TWO YEARS to figure that out?" I think I had looked at the recipe way back when I started making the cupcakes, but due to the fact that I didn't have the key ingredient of powdered sugar, I had abandoned all hopes of perfect frosting. However, thanks to a loving father who has shipped me powdered sugar by the pound, I was now equipped. Once again, this frosting is as good as its name claims.

I made up the cupcakes last week for Sarah's chocolate-themed "Kiss me I'm 23" birthday party. I added a slight twist by putting white chocolate stripes on some of them to make the famous hugs and kisses.

I don't know that those of you living in a land of convenience will ever make a cake from scratch...but in case your car breaks down, your bike has two flat tires, you're out of cake mixes and you just have to make something for your second cousin's birthday...here are the recipes:

2 c. sugar
1-3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. cocoa
1-1/2 t baking powder
1-1/2 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 eggs
1 c. milk
1/2 c. oil
2 t vanilla
1 c. boiling water

Mix all of the ingredients, excluding the boiling water, on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Stir in the boiling water and don't be afraid when the batter is very runny. Bake the cake about 30-35 min., cupcakes about 20 min. at 350.

1 stick butter
2/3 c. cocoa
3 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. milk
1 t vanilla

Melt the butter and stir in the cocoa. Alternate adding the sugar and milk, beating on medium speed. If not the desired consistency, add more milk.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I love...

...when students are actively engaged in a lesson.
...that I sold all of my orphanage raffle tickets planned for all of my classes to ONE class in a period of five minutes, and they still wanted to buy more.
...that I can't walk more than 10 feet on campus without seeing the smiling face of someone I know.
...that my pen seller constantly hums.
...that I have a pen seller.
...that I know my pen seller well enough to know he constantly hums.
...that I can by Crocs for 13 RMB (less than $2).
...that my fruit seller cuts the rind off the pineapple when I buy it.
...that pineapple is cheap.
...that the campus is infused with the smell of lilac bushes.
...the smell of the bathrooms in the spring (just kidding).
...being spontaneous sometimes (e.g. traveling 4 hours round-trip just to go to Pizza hut with the team for lunch).
...that I know Wu has a pair of khakis waiting on his bed at his parents house every time he visits.
...that when playing catch phrase, all I have to say is "Sonny's favorite actress", and everyone knows "Uma Thurman".
...that team really becomes like family.
...chocolate cupcakes (recipe to come soon!).
...living in China.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The BIG news

I know you all have been eagerly anticipating the news. I can just see you sitting at your computer repeatedly hitting the "refresh" button. OK, maybe not. However, I am so excited to share this story with you! Warning: it is a bit long. The type of long where you might want to go grab a cup of coffee before reading. I could just skip the details and go directly to the main event, yet the remarkableness of the main event is found in the events leading up to it. It's just like the story in the Word: the climactic event is made more beautiful and glorious when all of the events leading up to it are examined.

Before we get to the story, I have a question for you. Have you ever doubted the Father's care of orphans and widows? Let me be perfectly honest; I have. Visiting an orphanage week after week tears at my heart. I have a deep longing to see these children placed in loving families, and to see weeks and months and years pass by is difficult. It is easy to look at them as forgotten. Yet the story I have to share with you is just one small testimony to the fact that the Father does intimately care for the orphans in this world. Beyond that, He is also intricately at work on their behalf.

Now unto our story. This story begins on February 6, 1983 when my mother headed to the hospital to give birth to her second daughter...ok, just kidding. We don't need to go that far back. The story doesn't necessarily have a definite beginning, but we'll pick it up two years ago when I was privileged to meet up with a family who were adopting their daughter from the orphanage in our city. It was a joy to meet this couple, and a friendship was formed. I began to regularly check their blog to see updates on their daughter Lily. It was through their blog that I found the blog of another adoptive family. I was immediately attracted by this adoptive mom's wit and expressive writing, not to mention the fact that she was in the process of adopting her third child from China (bringing, at the time, the total number of kids in her house to 7). This blog became one of my regular sites to visit.

From a distance I watched this family adopt their third and fourth child from China. I watched as both of these sons' clubfeet were treated by the serial casting method. This process corrects the feet without surgery through a series of casts. When Stefanie (the mom) opened a website for the purpose of informing and encouraging parents adopting waiting children with special needs from China, I had to email her. I sent her a quick note thanking her for all the work she was doing on behalf of the kids over here. I got a sweet email back from her and an acquaintance was formed.

Fast forward to about one month ago. For awhile, Stefanie's blog had been blocked in China. I could get there a backdoor way, but because of the added nuisance I wasn't checking it very frequently. But with an afternoon with a little free time, I decided to stop by the blog. I knew her family was in the process of adopting their fifth child from China, a precious little girl. I opened the blog, finding the most recent post to be an update on this girl. I was amazed to learn that she was currently being treated in China with the serial casting method.

There are two toddlers at our orphanage with spina bifida. The girl has two clubfeet, and the boy has one clubfoot. At the beginning of the semester, we were hoping to help with a surgery for the boy's back. We were planning a fundraiser at our university, where each teacher would offer a prize to be raffled off. Each teacher had selected a prize and we were just waiting to get the doctor's assessment of the cost of the surgery. But then we found out he was not treatable. The doctor was also asked about possible treatment for the children's feet; but once again, we were told there was no treatment.

Consequently, I was excited to see on Stefanie's blog that children in China were not only being treated for clubfoot, but treated with the most advanced method. I knew her daughter was way in the south of China, but I sent her a quick email asking if she knew of anywhere else in China that was using this method, or if this organization took kids from different areas. She emailed me back saying that was the only location, and that she thought they only treated kids in the area. However, if I wanted, she could give me the organization's email address. I was a little disappointed, but not surprised.

Within a day, though, Stefanie emailed me again. She had talked to the stateside leader of the organization, and had told her about our kids. The leader wanted me to email her. A glimmer of hope began to shine, and I sent an email right away explaining the situation. She told me to email the head of operations in China. I sent an email asking if they treated kids from other provinces, and if she knew of any other treatment places in China. I know the mound of hoops and red tape adoptive parents go through, so I could only imagine the hassle of trying to get a child transferred from an orphanage to another province (serial casting treatment lasts around 6 months, so the child would stay for a long time). To my surprise, the leader emailed me back saying that the logistics were quite simple and that they would be more than happy to treat children from other provinces. The glimmer of hope grew stronger. I sent along pictures of the children's legs for a final determination of whether they were treatable, and got an email back saying there were two beds reserved for the kids as soon as the center officially opens in June.

The last small mountain to be moved was getting the orphanage to agree to take the two children way down south and leave them for six months of treatment. After a few conversations, with a student along to translate, the orphanage director was willing, but doubtful about whether treatment was really possible. She wanted a doctor to look at them one more time. Yesterday, the doctor came to examine them. After discussing their condition with a Chinese worker at the organization, the director gave her final approval to have the kids sent for treatment.

Next week we'll be starting the fundraiser on campus to raise money for the travel costs of sending the kids down south. These two kids' lives are about to be radically changed!Whew, congratulations if you made it to the end of this! I hope you are encouraged by this testimony of the Father's care!

Monday, May 4, 2009

BIG news!!!

I have BIG news guys...amazing Father-sized news. But you'll have to wait until tomorrow. Despite the fact that I had the entire day off, I still have a lesson to finish before the morning, so that story will have to wait. Today, all students had the morning off from class for International Youth Day. Apparently, the foreign affairs office is under the impression that this is a big holiday in the States, since all foreign teachers had not only the morning but also the afternoon off. Don't get me wrong, I am NOT complaining! There is no need for you to inform the office that, in fact, most Americans have never even heard of this holiday.

But back to lesson planning...with one more hint...the news has something to do with this guy...
See you tomorrow!