February 12, 2019

chocolate cake for february

Well hello. This was my birthday cake and I meant to share the recipe back in January. Then I got sick sick sick with some yet-to-be diagnosed stomach problem (I've been having issues for years), and my daughter was hit in the head HARD by a kid flinging open their locker door above her, apparently as fast and violently as they could (yeah I'm talking to the school, her nose could have been broken, or her eye put out), and THEN Snowzilla Seattle 2019 moved in and it snowed a TON and got crazy cold, which is unusual in the temperate and mild Pacific Northwest. The school kids have missed a week of school, and counting! This area just received the most snow it has had since 1945 apparently.

I've worn out my eyes (and my family's patience) checking the weather reports every 5 minutes. Multiple weather reports. And Twitter feeds. I've lost my mind.

So it's been an exhausting few weeks! Happy news - all of the Hygge and Folkore boxes were mailed before the storm  - I discovered that the USPS post office had a big rate change after Christmas - a two to three dollar increase! Regular ground mail is now the price that priority mail used to be. So no more quick priority mail, sorry! I have to switch to ground, which can take about a week to get to the East Coast, but most things take that long in the mail, so um this is a really boring bit of information and no one cares about this Melissa. Things arrive when they arrive!

Now Valentine's Day is almost upon us and I thought you might like to see this chocolate cake. Easy to put together, and we all loved it. I always do chocolate cakes for my birthday, and my daughter usually does some kind of fruity cake, typically lemon. And Andrew likes non-cake. He'd rather have cookies, brownies, blondies, or coffee cake.

So I didn't really discuss it on the blog at the time, but last fall my kiddo had a TREMENDOUS opportunity. After nearly 6 months of auditioning since April 2018 with nearly a thousand other kids, she was cast as one of the orphans in 'Annie' for one of Seattle's main professional theaters. It was a huge endeavor, and she pretty much missed school for most of the autumn, but it was a life changing experience for her. And she's bonded for always with the other girls who were also in the show!

The reason I mention it in this post is because at one point during the run of the show, the cast had 'Bundt Fest' day. As in most everyone in the adult cast made cakes and brought them in to share. One of the musicians in the orchestra made this chocolate orange bundt cake and I nearly fainted when I tried it. Turned out that this guy went to high school with my husband and they know each other! I badgered my husband until he badgered this guy into coughing up the recipe.

NOW - I don't think my version was as magical as his. Not sure why. I might have needed more chocolate, I was a little short. But it was still FANTASTIC, even if not as death-by-chocolatey a version as my husband's friend made. Even cake hating Andrew enjoyed it.



nonstick cooking spray for the pan
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam orange marmalade
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup raspberry orange liqueur, such as Chambord Grand Marnier
3 large eggs
One 15.25 box devil's food cake mix
1/2 cup fresh raspberries for decorating (i didn't use these)
1 bunch fresh mint for decorating (see above)
Dark chocolate orange candy bar (1?), chopped up

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips, dark chocolate orange bits
1 tablespoon seedless raspberry jam, orange marmalade
1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur, such as Chambord (or orange liqueur)
1/2 cup heavy cream

  • For the cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray, or grease with oil or butter.
  • In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to whisk the milk, jam, melted butter, liqueur, and eggs. Add the cake mix and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute. (Put in the dark chocolate orange chopped up in here).
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the cake, about 35 minutes (might actually need 45-50 minutes). Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • For the ganache: Put the chocolate, jam, liqueur in a mixing bowl. Bring the cream to a low simmer in a small pan set over medium high heat. Pour over the chocolate and let stand 10 minutes. Stir with a whisk until smooth. Let stand another 10 minutes.
  • Place the cake on a cake stand or plate and pour the ganache over it, letting it drip down the sides. Use the raspberries and mint to decorate the top to look like a holiday wreath if desired.

And there you have it! Really easy as far as cakes go, and it's moist and fudgy. You can make it with a dark chocolate orange candy bar, which is what I did, or wait until the holidays and use one of the chocolate oranges that you find in stores at that time - I find them at World Market or Trader Joe's. But a candy bar would also be just fine!

HAPPY CHOCOLATE DAY IN ADVANCE! That's what we call Valentine's Day. For more of my chocolate cakes over the years, you can check out this one and this one.

January 16, 2019

cool stuff i like

Hello lovely friends! It's my birthday week! So of course I got these beauties for myself, like, right after Christmas. My ability to get birthday presents for myself both confounds and amazes my husband. When I discovered that one of my favorite publishers, Virago Press, had come out with new editions of some lesser known Noel Streatfeild children's novels, I had to pounce on those, and I just can't wait to read both of them. I've never read either 'Caldicott Place' or 'Apple Bough'! Hopefully I can read these with some hot chocolate and a tea cake of some sort. That to me, is HAPPINESS.

Box news! Hygge and Winter Folklore books have arrived and boxes will be packed next week, and then off into the mail they go. A reminder - to avoid disappointment, if you think you might want in on the Spring Box in April (Japanese Tea Garden theme), it's not too early to email me and place an order!

Also if you like the look of the Streatfeild books, I'm wanting to discuss really soon some vintage children's book parcels (not boxes!) I'm considering starting up, but I have to do a few test drives first and figure out some mail prices and whatnot.

I'll be making a chocolate orange cake for my birthday, and I'll take pix and make a post with the recipe if it turns out to be all that I hope it will be. I had a chocolate orange wedding cake - it's one of my favorite flavor combinations. Oh and I've been mentioning over and over and over on my Instagram that I'm having a huge Susan Branch renaissance - I'll be doing a whole post on her really soon. I LOVE YOU SUSAN. Several years ago I did a blog post about her, I can't recall what I wrote about, maybe her Summer book? but she tweeted about me on her Twitter and I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

COOL STUFF of interest I found recently:

Will you be trying to see the Blood Wolf Moon this weekend?

I think this banana bread would perk up a winter week.

This tree trunk Little Free Library is the coolest I have EVER seen. Thanks Laura for showing this to me!


HOW DID I NOT KNOW about this 'His Dark Materials' news????

This is a fantastic article on dealing with dry skin issues.

Swedish home gazing. Again.

Speaking of soup.....

Yeah I'm going to go ahead and talk about Valentine's Day ~ specifically, this Tasha Tudor cake.

Let's all be sad together.

Cool Book of the Week: I have nearly every color fairy book that Andrew Lang ever wrote. And they are so beat up, it's time that I replace them, one by one. What I don't have is this awesome hardbound edition, 'Fairy Tales from Around the World' that just looks super gorgeous. Andrew Lang edited and compiled the best of the best fairy tales, and I read his fairy tale books obsessively when I was a child. This would make for a MAGNIFICENT birthday present for a fairy tale lover!

How is January treating you thus far? We kept our tree up later than we have ever ever ever done in our lives. We just took it down this past Monday. Hey - those of you who enjoy celebrating the Lunar New Year - it's early this year! Tuesday February 5. I'm a planner. Speaking of planning (sort of) - I want to start a BULLET JOURNAL. How do I do it? Do you have any websites or materials that you want me to look at?? I'm going to use lots of washi tape and stickers. I'm VERY excited. I don't know exactly how to start though.


January 8, 2019

2018 Holiday Box Reveal!

Will you look at this?! I'm back on the blog for the second time in less than a week! First of all, I have some sad news. Sad as in first world problem sad, not really sad. I'll try and spread this information around so everyone has a chance to see it a couple of times, here and on my Instagram.

So, I'm doing what I did with my holiday box for my Winter box. Which is - it's only going to my subscribers. I'm so sorry. I ran into an issue - the hygge-ish book I wanted to use is back ordered in a big way - I had ordered a bunch before holiday time for my subscribers and those arrived before Christmas - but when I went to go order more - those were proving hard to come by - local book stores were out, my UK supplier was out (they did get in more but I'm just not sure how many I can get my hands on), and Amazon was predicting wait times until MARCH. What? Maybe everyone bought this book over Christmas. Ha ha, I hope I'm not sending a book that everyone already has!

In summary - only already signed up subscribers are getting my Winter Hygge box.

What I AM doing is this, read carefully, I'm throwing down a lot of info:

I have 10 spots (1!) for a Winter Folklore box. Only 10. UPDATE: ALL SOLD. Some items I ordered for it came from Russia and if I have to order it again, it's going to take too long! And because I'm not using a vintage book, to avoid any duplication issues I will go ahead and reveal the book titles - 'The Bear and the Nightingale' was my book last year for a similar theme, and THIS year I am doing either Book 2 (Book 3 is coming soon! In hardcover though and I don't mail hardcovers.) or 'Wildwood Dancing', which was one of my absolute favorite reads from last year. (And if anyone hasn't read 'The Bear and The Nightingale', I'm happy to include that one as a choice.) I had a custom box request for this theme, so I figured I would offer it to a few more people if they were interested. $41 plus shipping.

Also: I am taking orders NOW for my Spring box, which is a Japanese Tea Garden theme. I am half full on this theme just from my subscribers. I want to get on this early, so I have lots of time to order the books, if there is more difficulty getting my hands on them! Most of my books I order from England, because I like the covers better. So I need a very long runway to allow time for the books to get here. $41 plus shipping. No international orders.

One more bit of news - after January, I will only be taking 3 month subscriptions for the rest of 2019. If you want a 6 month, you need to order now, and start with the Winter Folklore box.

Got it? Sorry for any confusion!

Let's show and tell about the 2018 Holiday box! Up above, you can see the books I used. I couldn't decide between 'Murder Under the Christmas Tree' and 'Murder on Christmas Eve', so I did a half half split. I loved both of the covers so much. Two Christmases ago, I asked for and received a vintage mystery that was set in the snowy British countryside, and it was a 'locked room' mystery, and I sat there on Boxing Day, sipping sherry, eating gingerbread, reading my mystery book, and I WAS SO HAPPY. I wanted to recreate that experience, and that type of cozy feeling was what I was going for with this holiday box.

These soaps! I found them very early in 2018 last year. I thought there were SO charming, and as cute as the packaging is, the fragrances are even better. Gingerbread, Fresh Holly, Winterberry, Cranberry Chestnut, Mistletoe, Snow Lily, Winterfield.....I adored the names for each one of these cuties.

I adored packaging up the books - I found some very bright and cheery, Scandinavian-inspired wrap, and I hope it gave the recipients a dose of holiday fun when opening their boxes!

Because I send paperbacks, and because I don't want the books damaged, I always wrap the books I send in my boxes.

I found some truly darling reindeer socks that were supremely thick and cozy. They came in a variety of colors and I was super delighted with them. Also included along with the socks and the soap, were mini tins of Harney & Sons tea. And again with the half half split - some folks got Godiva Dark Chocolate Peppermint pudding, and some got marzipan pistachio chocolate candies.

For those who got one of these, I'm so grateful and happy that you came on board with me as a subscriber. And to share again what I told people on Instagram - because I don't need additional craziness at Christmas - the 2019 Holiday box will be a similar set up - it will ONLY go to subscribers! So if you think you want in on a cozy box of Christmas cheer, start planning what kind of subscription you would like. Or would like to give to someone!

One more summary:

Winter Hygge theme is closed.

Winter Folklore Box has limited availability.

Spring Boxes - order NOW! This box will be $41 plus shipping.

6 month subscriptions, order by the end of January.

2019 Holiday box - only going to subscribers!

How to order?? Email me at juliasbookbag (at) gmail (dot) com, and let me know what you'd like, and most important, LOCATION, so I can estimate shipping! (No international orders.)

More subscription details are up on the 'Info' tab by my blog header.

Whew! XOXO! And Happy Winter!

January 4, 2019

noel streatfeild's christmas stories

Hello merry elves! WAIT IS CHRISTMAS OVER???

I didn't get the memo.

Sooooooooo hi! I blogged a month ago! We had a whirlwind schedule going on around here the past few months - house guests, the kiddo's extra curricular schedule went into overdrive, The Holidays, more house guests....and I blinked and Christmas (and New Years!) was over.

And I'm also writing in kind of some kind of Very Tired fugue state, which should be entertaining.

I tend to view January as Christmas Part 2, aka All The Winter Things I Didn't Have Time For Before Christmas. So let's talk about this delightful book! It's super fun to read at any time of year (seriously) or for those of you who are super organized, get it now and save it for next holiday season!

If you've been around these parts awhile, you will know that I have a deep and abiding and never ending love for every last thing that Noel Streatfeild ever wrote. I LOVE HER SO MUCH. That scene in 'You've Got Mail' where Meg Ryan goes on about her love for the 'Shoes' books? Someone crawled into my head and stole those words, BECAUSE I THOUGHT THEM FIRST. I did!! Ok, I'm not accusing Nora Ephron of stealing from my brain, but let me heartily assure you that Extreme Noel Streatfeild Love is real, and I'm not the only one who has it.

Let me tell you about this beauty. When I found out that there was a NEVER BEFORE PUBLISHED collection of short stories that came out last year called 'Noel Streatfeild's Christmas Stories', I did my usual book tizzy routine. I gasped. I ran for the laptop. I took out my ordering pinky and clicked. Apparently these stories were only published before in 1940's era magazines and on the radio in England.

After some conversation with a fellow Streatfeild lover on Instagram, my pal and I figured out that this collection is NOT the same as this other book, and there is no overlap among the stories. So if you want to get both books, I would heartily applaud that choice as being Very Prudent Indeed.

The stories will strike a familiar chord among those familiar with how Noel Streatfeild wrote her children's books - plucky children, who often have to move from London to the country or vice versa, who are involved in some way with the performing arts, have to raise themselves up by their bootstraps to make ends meet and fulfill their dreams and ambitions. Oh and the stories just happen to take place during the Christmas season. They are all ENCHANTING, and I had the best time reading this last month!

I can't praise this darling collection enough - I absolutely loved it, and I promise that you will too, and if you're already a Noel Streatfeild fan and didn't know about this, you MUST HAVE IT. I've said this many times before - I'm at the place with my blog now that if I take the time to put something on here, it's because it's FLIPPING MAGICAL, and it's basically my duty to let you all know about it.

So tell me - are you a Noel Streatfeild fan? What's your favorite book? Don't say 'Ballet Shoes', that's too easy of an answer. That's everyone's favorite! (because it's the best ha ha ha). What's your SECOND favorite book? I think mine is 'Dancing Shoes'.

December 4, 2018

cool stuff i like

I have been so crazy lately getting the Holiday Book Surprise Boxes out, I realized to my dismay that I have exactly ZERO pictures that I can use for blogging. I have taken next to no pictures this year and that makes me very sad. Next year I vow to take more pictures of our everyday life. This year just got away from me. How can a whole year do that? And yet, here we are. So please enjoy this photo of my wedding bouquet - my husband and I got married in December and we had a very Christmasy wedding. Back to the holiday boxes! Those went out only to my 2018 seasonal subscribers, and this time of year is so....how it is.....that I think I'll keep on with that plan. I'll show and tell about the contents a little closer to Christmas. The Holiday Box will only be included with my yearly subscription plan - which includes four seasonal boxes, plus a British Box and a Holiday Box. For more info on pricing and plans, please click on the 'Info' tab up above my blog header!

Lots of holiday cool stuff this week:

10 IKEA holiday kitchens.

A Dream Tonic? Tips for restful Sleep? I'm bookmarking this.

This is so great! Movie + cozy throw blanket pairings.

These holiday cards.

And lots of new holiday art goodness from my friend Heather Sleightholm.

Love these ornaments from Magnolia at Target.

A friend put this shop on my radar. Look at these pretty 2019 calendars!

Pecan Pie Pudding Cake.

Avoiding holiday stress tips.

The Local Milk 2018 gift guide.

Loved this post from Heather Bruggman about how her family exchanges gifts.

Cool Book of the Week: 'The Fox at the Manger' by P.L. Travers. (the author of 'Mary Poppins') - look at this beauty! It's a fable of sorts, about the nativity story told from the perspective of a fox, who has a unique gift to offer. Look at this beautiful cover! I've never seen or read this before - have you??

Where are you all at with your holiday planning? I'm limping along. I think I'm just about done with my family holiday gift procurement. Except for my father. It's impossible to find a gift for him. Someone needs to create the Impossible Father's Holiday Gift Guide.

I'll be back with two posts that I really want to just ramble about - Trader Joe's at Christmas, and an absolutely amazing book I just got. Wish me SO MUCH LUCK in my blogging, I really miss blogging here! I actually like talking about more things than just my book boxes lol lol.