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Ever since I gave birth, it’s like my creativity is on hyperdrive.  I didn’t just give birth to Ruby, but also, 12 million ideas that keep me from sleeping at night.  Has anyone else experienced this after birth?

I’m not sure if it’s that my body was too busy creating its’ own project for the past nine months or if having Ruby has inspired me in ways I didn’t realize.  Was it that the prior fatigue and anxiety of pregnancy and childbirth were creatively stifling or maybe it’s just an inner need to create to maintain a sense of self?  Hell, maybe a mixture of all of them!  Needless to say, it’s a ‘thing’ to the point where if I’m not able to work on something a few times a week during the rare down time I do have, I get crazy restless.  

All that to say… Strawberries were on sale at Aldi’s for 89 cents and like the bargain hoarder that I am, I bought $26 worth.  I had seen videos recently on Facebook about the new ‘brushstroke cake’ craze, so I’ve been dying to try it.  

It’s easier and harder than it looks.  I’m guessing that if you use candy melt coating, it’d be extremely easy.  I think candy coating tastes like poodely oodley (but sets like a dream), so I tried to find a good quality white and dark chocolate instead.  The dark chocolate worked swimmingly.  The white chocolate on the other hand, not so good.

I watched a tutorial that taught you to add color to white chocolate.  You have to mix the color into coconut oil first so that the water in the food coloring won’t seize up the chocolate on contact.  I had grand ideas to make a Memorial Day Cake so I needed lots of vibrant red and blue.  The chocolate just wasn’t turning red enough so I kept adding more color, more color…and more coconut oil, more coconut oil.

When I put my brush strokes in the fridge, the white chocolate ones never set.  Too much coconut oil.  UGH!!  Did I mention I didn’t sleep at all the night before because I was too excited to make the darned thing? Yup, pretty much pulled an all nighter… So I had that going for me- ha! 

So I tried again.  This time sticking to white and dark chocolate, and some light pink hues.  I also made my brush strokes a little thicker.  (Also important as most of my dark chocolate shards broke to pieces). I have to say I’m grateful for so many failures over the years because one of my strengths I’ve gotten out of those experiences as a baker, is that I can always making something out of mistakes!  According to plan, this was all wrong… But I think it came out crazy funky cool.  *cue TLC*

And umm… Happy Memorial Day?  😉

I topped the cake with red colored white chocolate, dipped some strawberries in chocolate, splattered on a little luster dust and edible glitter (though I don’t trust glitter ever being edible- ha!)  I’m also not a huge fan of white chocolate either.

However, the strawberry cake with cream cheese icing and dark chocolate shards?  Totally a winner.  🙂

The cake is only colored with the redness of the strawberry jam, so you want to use the ripest of red berries, if you can.  Otherwise, you can add a couple drops of food color like I did. 

 

If you get the chance, you should definitely try to make this! It’s super moist and flavorful.  You don’t have do any crazy decorating.  Some big rustic swipes in the frosting and a couple of berries on top, would be lovely and inviting! And who doesn’t love strawberries when the weather starts warming up?  Also, be sure to let me know if post-pregnancy creativity was prevalent for you, too!  Super curious about what my muse has been up to…  Happy Monday!  

 

Strawberry Cake From Scratch
Serves 12
Flavorful and moist 9 inch triple layer strawberry cake from scratch! Full of fresh fruit and iced with a yummy cream cheese frosting.
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PUREE
  1. 4 1/2 c. ripe red strawberries
  2. 3/4 c. sugar
BATTER
  1. 1 1/8 c. unsalted butter
  2. 1 3/4 c. sugar
  3. 2 1/4 tsp vanilla
  4. 5 eggs
  5. 2 2/3 c. all purpose flour
  6. 1 1/2 c. wheat pastry flour or cake flour
  7. 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  8. 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  9. 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  10. 1 3/4 c. heavy cream
  11. 1 1/8 c. strawberry puree
  12. Food coloring (optional)
FILLING
  1. 2 c. strawberries sliced
SIMPLE SYRUP
  1. 1 c. water
  2. 1/4 c. sugar
  3. 3 T. gin
FROSTING
  1. 16 oz. cream cheese
  2. 1 1/2 c. unsalted butter
  3. 2 T. vanilla
  4. 1 1/2 pounds of powdered sugar
  5. 2-3 T. milk (if needed)
To make the puree
  1. Combine 4 1/2 c. strawberries and sugar in a large saucepan or pot. Simmer on low until the moisture is removed and berries resemble a jam. (Should be reduced by about half of what you started with). Cool completely.
To make the simple syrup
  1. In a saucepan or microwave, boil the water, sugar and gin until sugar is dissolved. Let cool.
For the batter
  1. Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a another bowl, combine the heavy cream and 1 1/8 c. puree jam. Set aside.
  3. With a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed in your mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and a couple drops of food coloring (if desired).
  4. One at a time, beat in the eggs.
  5. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and beat until barely combined.
  6. Add 1/2 of heavy cream mixture.
  7. Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients followed by the remaining cream mixture.
  8. Beat in the last of the dry ingredients and beat until just combined.
  9. Distribute evenly into three different 9 inch cake pans.
  10. Bake at 325 for 40-45 minutes, turning the cake pans in the oven halfway.
To make the frosting
  1. Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Add vanilla.
  2. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar until smooth.
  3. (If the frosting is too thick, add a tablespoon of milk at a time to thin out).
For assembly
  1. Shave off the round domes on each cake until they are level.
  2. Put one cake on a plate and generously dab with simple syrup. Add a decent amount of cream cheese icing.** Layer sliced strawberries over the cake.
  3. Stack another cake on top and repeat.
  4. Stack the last cake bottom side up (to get a smooth top surface).
  5. Frost with remaining icing and decorate as you'd like!
Notes
  1. ** Be careful when icing. The cake is fairly fragile. The frosting needs to be thin enough to spread easily or you will pull crumbs from the cake. If needed, put in the freezer for five minutes before frosting.
Adapted from Rock Recipes
Adapted from Rock Recipes
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/

A couple of months ago, during the height of home renovation, Seattle photography classes and taking on extra articles at our paper, I was asked to do the Fall cover for the Methow Valley Arts Magazine.  It’s one of my favorite assignments.  I love working with artists, hearing their story and doing my best to capture that story in images.  It’s always a unique and interesting exchange.

This issue was dedicated to a local folk singer named Hank Cramer. 

We met for coffee and got to chat for a while.  His wife Kit, a high country wrangler, even joined us for a bit.  They’re really sweet people that have learned over the years what it means for Hank to be a professional singer.  In the process of his successful career, he’s recently been able to help find and produce some other talent (“no egos!”), which it seemed like has been really gratifying for him.  

They live on a ranch in Winthrop, Washington, with horses, dogs and a cat.  

Living in the Pacific Northwest, you may have heard of our wildfire situation pretty much all over our state, coming from Canada and from neighboring Montana, Oregon and California.  The smoke has been thick and intense all summer.  The day we scheduled to shoot, there was an apocalyptic yellow haze that hung in the sky like nicotine clouds.  Not having seen real sunshine for days, we just had to go with it and I did my best. 

I had dreams of horses backlit by golden hour sunlight and dust in the air.  However, without any real light, I’m not going to lie, it was a real struggle to make things interesting. 

Hank serenaded me with his folk music almost the entire time.  It was so nice, peaceful and comforting and yet many times I’d have to make him hold still.  A face captured while singing tends to be what it looks like when you put a movie on pause- ha!  

I think this one is my favorite of the outdoor portraits. 

If you read the biography on his website, you will see that he has traveled all over the country as a musician. It’s pretty incredible. 

I was feeling iffy about the outdoor shots.  I was concerned the haze would feel more gas mask/ war torn than folk singer’s dreamy ranch life, and wanted back-up options. I asked him if we could go inside to get a few more.  I’m soooo glad I did!  He has a little guest house and for whatever reason, the light and the booth reminded me of a cowboy’s early morning cup o’ joe, when the world is quiet, the sun is just waking up to a big day of work ahead. 

Not to mention, I LOVE the moodiness of window light.  The contrast of dark and light can be really haunting and lovely to me.  This is probably my favorite of the indoor portraits. 

And this is probably my favorite of all the shots that day… I just love the light on a musician’s hands.

Since this shoot, I haven’t picked up a camera.  I haven’t edited a picture.  Between all that has been going on to get our home ready for the market, two Seattle photography classes that were within two weeks of each other, this shoot and editing, all while being pregnant with stress fractures in my feet (podiatrist appointment on Thursday- YESSSSSS)…Oh!  And taking on extra article at our paper because our poor editor was down for the count for a couple of months with some crazy back virus…  It was a LOT.  

Now that the house is clean, I pretty much spend all of my extra time meditating.  Ha!  No, really. No check lists, no to do’s, no hundreds of photos to edit… I’ve barely kept in touch with people.  Anything that feels like panic or work or ‘I have to’ has been shelved.  It has been the most amazing few weeks.  I would even use the word BLISS. 

I also packed up all of my baking stuff to make the house look less cluttered, so no baking 24-7 temptations there.  It’s like every instinct in me is saying, “It’s fall- you’re supposed to be making apple pie!”  No, Habit.  I’m really not.  I actually bought a pie at the store yesterday.  Ha!  I BOUGHT A PIE!!!  (Granted the pies at our bakery are kick ass, but still…)

Not to mention, the storage on my laptop is completely full with the photos I have on it. I couldn’t import anything new if I tried!  I bought a monstrosity of an external hard drive months ago in Seattle but the idea of spending time transferring photos right now sounds like a panic attack waiting to happen.  It sounds like death.  Instead, I’m just SO super enjoying the peace, resting in the quiet and recharging as best I can because I know when this house sells, our Relocate-to-California Adventure will require a lot of energy.  

Once we get there, I will be grateful to pick up the ol’ girl again.  Photograph my growing belly, our new life… But in the meantime, I’m focusing on gratitude for what I have right now, manifesting new owners for our adorable cozy cabin and taking in all the beauty our little place has offered us while I still can.  

The past year has been an education in putting away the Type A, 60 hours a week, money is everything, workaholic mentality to learn the joys of a work/life balance.  As dramatic as it sounds, it has been life changing. Now I’m learning what it means to be still.  In that stillness, I’m finding that who I am isn’t defined by work– or even more so, creativity or the projects I’ve finished, it’s who I am in the quiet that is actually me.  The crazy thing is that in doing nothing, I’m not even remotely bored.  I’m just in utter gratitude.  

I’m curious how this all plays out when our little one joins us, crying at three in the morning, needing constant attention.  Maybe the angels know how important this time is for me– to really know and recognize the spiritual being in this physical body bag before our lives flip upside down.  Whatever happens, big changes are ahead and I feel like I’m looking on a future that is so different and incredible than one I’ve ever lived, I literally have tears of gratitude and I don’t even know why yet. 

Also, I love our little Baby Soul… I finally felt a real kick the other night.  WOW.  She was dancing up a storm on her ultrasound the next day.  I can’t wait to meet her… Yes, big changes are ahead.  I know it is going to be such a special time.  As backwards as it seems, it’s– strangely– making me insanely grateful for every moment of right… now. 

 

When I found out we were pregnant, something resonated in me:  “Do it differently, Amanda.”

As I’ve previously shared, I’d always been terrified I’d end up the neurotic mom from ‘Modern Family.’ Was I going to lose myself?  Would I become a high maintenance control freak? Would my life revolve around my children?  Would I end up trying to keep up with the Jones’ like our American culture demands? Would financial constraints turn me into a resentful monster?  

Part of me also couldn’t shake icky feelings from my days as a server in Los Angeles, waiting on moms who expected everyone’s existence to revolve around their very special children.  A-very special children.  Or rather, audacious moms and dads, that expected you to be a babysitter, allowing kids to play in the middle of an aisle with an entire backpack of sprawled out toys while you’re serving hot coffee in a tight diner setting.  UGH.  It can leave a bad taste in your mouth for sure.  

But when a friend recently asked what I meant by wanting to do motherhood differently, I was dumbfounded to be at a loss.  What the heck did I mean?  Where does this idea resonate from? Am I just totally full of shit?!  My kid is sure to the color on the walls– I’m not that naive, but how do I want to do it differently?  

In the brief moments I have to actually connect with Baby Soul, I let this idea marinate.  I asked my friend Stacer (now Aunt Stacer!!!) to send me articles about unconventional parenting and like the pro that she is, she has supplied me with articles and podcasts about living minimally, or selling everything to travel the world.  Thus far, I’ve hinted to my sweetie, nothing says good parenting like zip lining through the jungles of Africa and he wasn’t having it.  HE NEVER LETS ME DO ANYTHING!!!!  *hogs remote to watch 127th hour of HGTV* 😉

Before getting pregnant I watched ‘Captain Fantastic.’  SUCH A GOOD MOVIE!!  It’s such an unknown, little independent gem.  If I had the Harvard education and insane physique, I would be over the moon to raise my kids off the grid in the mountains.  Well, “Power to the people!” minus the plot twists.  😉  

Talking with my BF (now Aunt BF!!!) about our shared love of this movie, she suggested I read some queer parenting literature.  After scratching my head for a minute, she mentioned it’s Unconventional Parenting 101.  DUH.  Very true! That’s kind of a brilliant idea. 

I also began thinking about parents I did admire.  Friends that have traveled to Mexico or Italy with their newborn and haven’t let being parents stop them.  Parents that brought their kids to every social party their friends were throwing because having kids wasn’t going to stop them from a social life.  Parents that are still making music videos or auditioning despite being moms and dads.  Parents where the mom brings home the bacon and dad plays Mr. Mom.  Etc, etc, etc… 

In a podcast, I remember Elizabeth Gilbert (now Aunt Liz!!!!)  sharing a story about her mother going into her room and shutting the door behind her two kids.  They knew that for an hour every day, it was mommy’s writing time.  Soon, mommy’s writing time became Liz’s writing time and she still recalls the impact that had on her as a young girl.  She didn’t view it as selfish or mean, it’s just what mom does and it taught them to play on their own and develop their own creativity. WHAT A GIFT!!!

In my ‘Psychic Teachers’ podcast with Deb Bowen and Samantha Fey (LOVE THIS PODCAST!), Samantha talks about doing the same.  Once nap time was over for her girls at a certain age, she introduced ‘alone time.’  The girls would spend an hour a day doing their own thing alone in their room.  They write, they listen to music, etc. This allows their mom to spend time mediating or having the alone time she desperately needs as a psychic to cleanse and get her work done. Not to mention the girls have learned to love it as well!

Obviously, I’m still figuring it out (and have a sneaky suspicion I will be for the rest of my life 😉 ) but what I do know is that I don’t want to live in fear.  I would love for my kid to backpack through Europe after high school. I would love for Baby Soul to learn to fix cars and ride motorbikes like her dad.  Why not a Mother/Baby Soul photography adventure through Brazil?  Maybe a culinary adventure through Paris?  (Nothing says ‘Make mommy dinner, kid!’ like French cheeses!)  Maybe hiking the PCT?  Maybe it just means we don’t let our (potential) daughter watch Disney princess movies because there’s more to life than finding a man.  I don’t know! 

Painting an elephant in Jaipur would be pretty cool to do with Baby Soul? (Ten year visa!) The men who take care of these elephants in India literally live with them in their cement ‘houses.’ The elephants are so well loved, they are practically family members.

But I will love this adventure…  🙂  And I would LOVE to hear what ‘doing it different’ means to you.  Any ideas you’ve had or stories you’d like to share, it would be a LOT of fun to brainstorm.  Not to mention would help a sista’ out.  xoxo

 

 

 

 

Every year I set intentions for what I’d like to bring into my life.  Some years I am more excited than others.  This year I’m over the moon about them, so I thought I would share.  🙂

  1. FINISH PROJECTS

A ‘Lightbulb Moment’ is an exhilarating and humiliating cocktail to choke down, isn’t it?  “I’m so excited for my life now!!!” mixed with a splash of “How could I be such a dumb ass for not recognizing something so common sense before?!”   Truly, a mixed martini of life realization. 

Six months ago my life felt entirely different.  I was a workaholic.  I wasn’t happy.  I was depressed.  And although I was planning a wedding and had my whole life to look forward to, I wasn’t living my life.  I found myself, again (AGAIN???), surviving it.  

I chose to leave my job and people I loved– people that treated me insanely well (in a valley where jobs are sparse mind you), to step out in faith.  I wasn’t sure what was next but I needed the Universe to know that this workaholic lifestyle wasn’t in line with my life’s purpose and no longer served me anymore. In my heart, I’m a creative and an artist. This is when I feel I have something to offer the world.

I wrote a description of what I wanted my new life to be and what that would look like on a daily and yearly basis. In my grandiose, gold colored ‘impossible’ dreams, I am making my living as an artist and I am actively participating in a variety of creative things that give me joy. Basically, a life full of rich and lush, creative experiences.

In my heart, I am a comedian, a writer, a baker, a photographer and a singer.  I’m also a blogger, a dancer, a professional poker player, an activist and a treasure hunter!  Not to mention– whatever the hell else I want to be! I know how ridiculous that sounds;  I would need 26 lives to make that happen.  

A majority of creative and artistic people that I know making their living creatively ‘double down’ constantly. They are theater directors and poets, producers and bloggers, magicians and novelists.  So the big question became ‘How do I go from being MandiCrocker, recovering food industry workaholic, to MandiCrocker, creative powerhouse?  How does one tap into a life full of lush, rich and creative experiences?   Then, the lightbulb.

“Oh.  I should finish something.”

How can I make my living at any of these things if I have nothing to pitch?  I have no finished book, no finished screenplay, no framed and printed photography to sell… It just seemed SO FLIPPING OBVIOUS. Over the years, I have probably started a novel twelve times.  I have started a television series, twice. I choreograph countless dances in my head waiting to be the size of Julianne Hough before I dance again.  In hindsight, it seems like ‘the definition of insanity,’ as they say.  Action is required.  

GOAL #1:  FINISH &$%ING PROJECTS.  🙂

2.  BECOME A GOOD LISTENER

I am a really horrible listener.  The other day I asked one of our local girls, home on break, how she was liking being overseas.  Before she even completely finished her answer, I cut her off with an assumption and another question.  I care about this girl and as a person that loves traveling, I am over the moon she is overseas at such a young age.  Why do I do this??? 

My Aunt Amy is an incredible conversationalist.  You can tell she is genuinely interested in people, asks questions, listens and is always super enthusiastic about what you’re doing.  It’s a gift I really admire! I think it’s a mix of my shy and insecure Virgo ascendent (completely uncomfortable with small talk) mixed with the creative, spiritual tendency to self examine to a narcissistic degree.  I’m also a Libra, so I hear something and run it through a filter of how that has happened in my life.  It’s meant to relate but while that filter is running, I often miss everything. 

I do this to my poor honey, too.  I’ll say something, pause and ask, “Is that what you just said?”  IT’S SO HORRIBLE!!!  I’m always in my head.  I am always dreaming. I talk way too much.  Whatever the reason, I don’t like it!  I love people. I’m fascinated with stories.  I think being present and a good listener will help.  PLEASE FIX ME IN THE COMMENTS BELOW SO I DON’T HAVE TO PAY A THERAPIST.  🙂

3.  BECOME STRONGER

Sarah Connor.  Maggie.  Princess Leia. The Stark Girls.  The Mother of Dragons.  Katniss. Ripley. Sydney Bristow.  All the Clones. I love strong women.  I love powerful women.  I love women that kick ass.

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When I first moved here, I lived with my aunt and uncle. To say the least, they are ‘outdoor sports people’ and that summer I stayed with them I was hiking, biking and rock climbing almost every day.  I can be insanely determined.  I think I lost 20 pounds in three weeks. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  Ha! It was very emotional.  In hindsight, I still have stress fractures in my feet that have never healed from pushing myself way too hard, too soon.  It was aaaaall me!  So stupid!   BUT! At the end of the summer, I felt STRONG.  I loved and appreciated everything about that feeling.

Three and a half years later, wedding planning under depression and anxiety, I have not felt strong. If anything, the path I’ve been on has literally scared me physically. Thankfully this new path, putting my creative self first feels so selfish and wonderful, it also makes me want to put my physical self first.  The snapshot of our world inspires me to be strong. So, I’m focusing on joining the kick ass list of fictional characters above to manifest a very real one for myself. 

It’s not– and can’t be– about numbers, ‘exercise,’ or ‘losing weight.’  Instead, it is about being my own princess and being my own superhero.  The desire to run to and away from whatever the hell I want is very strong in this one.  🙂

So that’s it, folks!!  My News Year’s Resolutions! Anybody else feel inspired this year to set resolutions? Maybe a resolution to set no resolutions? Ha! I always love how everyone’s resolutions are different!  🙂 Happy January 22nd, everyone!  xoxo