Helsinki, Finland – on the Scandinavia Cruise

Cruising Scandinavia and the Baltic

Helsinki, Finland

After St. Petersburg, we went to Helsinki, Finland. What a difference!

We had an opportunity to take a drive around the city of Helsinki and stopped at a beautiful Lutheran church that almost looked Russian.

Helsinki, Finland - on the Scandinavia Cruise

  And another church, built in 1969, was blasted out of solid rock

Helsinki, Finland - on the Scandinavia Cruise

Helsinki, Finland - on the Scandinavia Cruise









We took an unusual tour to a Finnish horse farm that’s been in the family for centuries – not just decades!

Helsinki, Finland - on the Scandinavia Cruise

Helsinki, Finland - on the Scandinavia Cruise

Currently, four generations with 26 family members run the farm. We had a lovely lunch in the house (never thought I would enjoy a fish casserole…but I did. Sorry, no pictures).

And we got to see preparations for an international horse and carriage competition.Helsinki, Finland - on the Scandinavia Cruise

Helsinki, Finland - on the Scandinavia Cruise














Guest Author: Vicki L

Coffee-Chocolate Decadence!

Cake of the Week:

Coffee-Chocolate Layer Cake with

Mocha Mascarpone Frosting


Coffee-Chocolate Decadence!

Let’s Eat Cake!

  What could be better?!         Coffee-Chocolate cake with a rich Mocha frosting – Oh My! The recipe shows a picture of a dark – almost black – cake and frosting so I was totally intrigued. After reading through the recipe I became a bit apprehensive  realizing the lengthy process and the number of steps involved: mix, bake, cool, mix, chill, mix more, frost some, chill again, frost more, chill more, un-chill to serve at room temp… whew!

I was also curious just how an almost black cake would result from mixing (white) mascarpone cheese & (white) whipping cream with dark chocolate and dark coffee Coffee-Chocolate Decadence! Coffee-Chocolate Decadence!

… NOT going to happen — and it didn’t!

But it WAS rich … oh – so rich and decadent!

AND… It was EASY!!  I allowed two days of baking and frosting to assure myself  enough time for all the steps and time required for mixing and chilling.


This is a delicious chocolate cake with VERY RICH frosting

My pans were a good size and baked almost evenly….one layer seemed to sink just a bit on one side while cooling but didn’t affect the layering (a little more frosting in that section!!) Once cooled, they were individually double-wrapped  (in plastic then in Ziplok bag) and refrigerated until being frosted.

Coffee-Chocolate Decadence! The process of frosting the cake (one of the many ‘steps’) is a good one to remember and probably use for others: brush the crumbs off with a pastry brush; put the layers together with the filling/frosting; spread a thin layer of frosting around the sides and over the top;  then chill another 10 minutes before finishing the frosting. … I figured it was to keep the whipped cream frosting from warming too fast (the chilled cake layers helped too) but I think it is good idea for any layered cake frosting. It also gets any extra crumbs confined.

It was a nice straight up cake to begin with but once I slathered on the second layer of frosting, it kind of ’rounded’ out and looks a little plump! Coffee-Chocolate Decadence! I  could have ‘straightened’ it up again making flat sides (and losing a little frosting), but decided to leave it. I added the chocolate curls to the top and around the bottom to dress it up.

The mascarpone cheese must help hold the whipped cream frosting together (I’m thinking the commercial bakeries that offer whipped cream frosting must use something similar so it holds up and doesn’t begin to weep and sag.  The mascarpone certainly makes it RICH!

The coffee adds a lovely flavor – especially in the frosting. It could almost be a Tiramisu cake if it was a white/yellow cake vs chocolate cake (I might give that a try!)  AND – as I have said a couple times now —  there is NO WAY this recipe is going to look like the picture – At least in color! But since I knew that, I am not disappointed in anyway with the outcome.

The cake looks a little dense but has a lighter texture that it appears. Both the cake batter and frosting have a delicious – almost chocolate toffee – taste. The baked cake has a lighter coffee flavor than the batter and goes well with the frosting.

ALL reports are thumbs up!! After his second piece (with tea the next morning), hubby rates it on par with (his memory of) cakes from our favorite Dimmer’s bakery.  Our granddaughter had a piece with Gpa this morning and could only eat half of her small piece (its very rich!) but had no problem finishing it later and then asking for more. Other family members raved and raved and asked when I was making it again! Our neighbor LOVED it and said it was one the best chocolate-chocolate cakes she’s ever had.

Yaaay!!  Another winner!


House of Tricks Restaurant

House of Tricks  – an Oasis in the Desert

House of Tricks RestaurantThis charming restaurant is nestled inside a fenced garden under a canopy of trees which provide a relaxing and peaceful environment for enjoying ‘mouth-watering cuisine’!   Just off the beaten path in downtown Tempe, Arizona, this delightful treasure is a favorite of locals and those visitors lucky enough to discover it.

House of Tricks RestaurantSitting on the ‘sun dappled’ patio under shady trees, umbrellas and enjoying the cool misting system, we lingered over an exquisite late afternoon lunch. The contemporary American menu offers a variety of seasonally inspired options that also reflect an “eclectic blend of cultures and flavors” and feature fresh produce when availableHouse of Tricks Restaurant

House of Tricks Restaurant House of Tricks RestaurantWe  chose  the Albacore Tuna Melt Sandwich with Tomato, Bacon and Havarti Cheese on Sourdough with Spring Mix Salad. And the Grilled Salmon entree which was served over Baby Lettuce with Sweet Roasted Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Avocado, Chive Risotto Cake, Tortilla Strips and Chipotle-Grapefruit Vinaigrette

House of Tricks Restaurant.

Following these amazing meals, there was no ignoring dessert! We opted for the daily special : a Blueberry Tea Cheesecake Mousse over chocolate cookie crumbs and served in a brandy snifter – oh my! House of Tricks RestaurantIt was all at once light and rich and decadent and delicious! And a perfect ending to our delightful al fresco lunch!


See the full menu and learn about the ‘Tricks’



St Petersburg-Day 2

Cruising Scandinavia and the Baltic

St Petersburg Part 3


Day 2 in St Petersburg

Our second day in St. Petersburg was spent at the Hermitage -the Winter Palace - Peter and Paul Fortress -
and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral where the tsars are buried.St Petersburg-Day 2 of Scandinavia Cruise

St Petersburg-Day 2 of Scandinavia Cruise

St Petersburg-Day 2 of Scandinavia Cruise

We heard a very different version regarding the deaths of Tsar Nicholas II and his family (the Romanovs) deaths before the Communist takeover. During the Communist era religion was banned. Churches and cathedrals were turned into libraries, offices and even an ice rink or two. Most of the icons and other religious artifacts were stolen or sold off.

Vladamir Putin is from St. Petersburg and has been instrumental in getting many of the buildings renovated (even though I abhor what he has done elsewhere).

St. Petersburg really is the Venice of the North.

St Petersburg-Day 2 of Scandinavia Cruise
St Petersburg-Day 2 of Scandinavia Cruise

Guest Author: Vicki L.

Glorified Red Velvet – Cake of the Week!

Let’s Eat Cake!

Cake of the Week!

Glorious Red, White, and Blue Cake

Cake of the Week!Cake of the Week!This one gets a thumbs up!

It’s pretty tasty, and went together easily.

This is one of the best red velvet cake flavors I’ve ever tasted, and I really like the hint of lemon in the white layer.

 The batter for both the red velvet layers and the white layer were both good (!) so I hoped, anyway, that the baked cake would be just as good and it was.

I don’t think any frosting needs to have 2 1/2 sticks of butter and 2 1/2 packages of cream cheese, but this is the caliber of cake recipes we’re doing, so I’ll let that slide. (!)

I really like the fresh fruit with the cake – pops all of the flavors.

I shared this cake with two different neighborhood families.  (First time getting to do that!) Recipe:  Glorious Red White and Blue Cake



Peterhof Palace – St Petersburg

 Cruising Scandinavia &  the Baltic

St Petersburg Part 2


Peterhof Palace

Part of our first day in St. Petersburg was taking an 1 1/2 hour trip through the suburbs and rural areas to Peterhof Palace – the summer home of Peter the Great. OMG!! The pictures just can’t do it justice. There were massive lawns, gardens and fountains everywhere.

Peterhof Palace - St Petersburg

St P5 Peterhof Palace - St Petersburg

Peterhof Palace - St Petersburg

Inside and out, gold gilt was used extensively. Peter was able to take a boat from St. Petersburg right up to his summer palace. It was good to be the tsar!

Peterhof Palace - St Petersburg

Peterhof Palace - St Petersburg

Peterhof Palace - St Petersburg

Guest Author: Vicki L

St Petersburg – Scandinavia Cruise

 Cruising Scandinavia and the Baltic


On to  St. Petersburg, Russia, for two days!   

Part 1

St Petersburg- Scandinavia Cruise

This city has been on my bucket list for at least 15 years.

After our visit,  I’ve decided it was good to be the Tsar (or Tsarina) because life was miserable for everyone else. I would have had to be a Tsarina!  The difference between the royalty and everyone else was staggering. One can easily see how the peasants decided to overthrow the Tsars but I don’t think they realized that communism would be even more oppressive.

I’m splitting this into 3 different posts – this first one is just scenes around St. Petersburg. Some are views from our river cruise on the Neva River in the heart of the city.

St Petersburg- Scandinavia Cruise

St Petersburg- Scandinavia Cruise

St Petersburg- Scandinavia Cruise

St Petersburg- Scandinavia Cruise

St Petersburg- Scandinavia Cruise

St Petersburg- Scandinavia Cruise

Guest Author: Vicki L

Tour de Fat – So Much FUN!

Tour de Fat is SO MUCH FUN!

And it is almost time for the ‘Tour de Tempe’!

Tour de Fat – a “celebration of all things bicycle”  - has been traveling the country since May and is closing in on it finale for the year.  If you haven’t experienced it yet, there is still time – especially if you are in the west! Coming this month – September – to San Francisco & San Diego, California with the Grand Finale on October 4 in Tempe Arizona.Tour de Fat - So much FUN!

This celebration was created by the New Belgium Brewing Company to “increase awareness and encourage participation in cycling as a sustainable form of transportation and has “grown into a national rite of passage for cycling advocates”


Each event opens with a “costumed” bike parade through the host city. Tour de Fat - So Much FUN!

 Everyone is encouraged to “embrace their inner-cyclist” and ride the streets in a rolling carnival of creativity.  ALL participants -bikes and bikers alike- can be seen dressed and decorated “in costume”.

Tour de Fat - So Much FUN!

Tour de Fat - So Much FUN!

Tour de Fat - So Much FUN!

Tour de Fat – Tempe has become a fun Family Event for us. Our little ones have become more capable of riding in the parade on their own and look forward to the activities in the special children’s Bike Rodeo area.  They also enjoy some of the other entertainment on and off stage:  music, dancing, jugglers, tricksters , etc.

Tour de Fat - So Much FUN!Tour de Fat - So Much FUN!Tour de Fat - So Much FUN!

Tour de Fat - So Much FUN!









All this FUN is brought to us by:
Tour de Fat - So much FUN!


Talinn, Estonia – Cruising Scandinavia

Cruising Scandinavia – Next stop: Talinn, Estonia

Next stop: Talinn, Estonia - Cruising Scandinavia  Talinn, Estonia, is another place I really didn’t know much about.  The thing that I will remember most is how thankful they are to have become a democracy in the last 25 years after decades of Communist rule and centuries under the Russian Tsars.

We got to see the marina and village that was built for the 1980 Olympics and are still used today. Then, a tour of Toompea Hill – the fortressed Old Town.

Next stop: Talinn, Estonia - Cruising Scandinavia Next stop: Talinn, Estonia - Cruising Scandinavia

Next stop: Talinn, Estonia - Cruising Scandinavia












More gorgeous buildings – the pink Parliament building and the Alexander Nevsky Russian Orthodox church were standouts.

But my favorite was St. Mary’s Cathedral, a Gothic 15th century church where the old medieval coats of arms are displayed and the tombs of the nobility are located. I felt transported back to the Middle Ages!

Next stop: Talinn, Estonia - Cruising Scandinavia

Guest Author: Vicki L

Let’s Eat Cake! – Watermelon Cake?

Let’s Eat Cake! - Cake of the Week:


Watermelon Cake! 

Let's Eat Cake! - Watermelon Cake?

 Funny thing is. . . during our first conversations about this cake ‘challenge’ we had some discussion about who might want which cakes… pick and choose? or random drawings?

The conversation went something like this:

ap: “I haven’t looked at the list – I’ll wait until you divide them up.  You can just do it randomly, or all you others can chose the ones you want and I’ll take what’s left.   And what I get makes no difference to me (as long as they don’t have watermelon or licorice in them!)”

hj: ”I” get any with watermelon and licorice!!!  Dibs!  hahaha!   (ewwwww….)

 jm: “watermelon and licorice cakes – ewww – I agree = no thanks on my end !! UNLESS it is a watermelon shape/decorated cake! but no licorice”

And then. . . there it was!

ap: “Speaking of cakes…!!  – “No Bake Watermelon Cake Recipe”

The next ‘round’ of recipes went out with the ‘extra’ recipe for watermelon cake!

 jmThe Watermelon Cake * is up for grabs and would be a good ‘summer’ cake. If anyone decides to make it, please share your experience with us all!!

 hj: “I’ll volunteer to make the watermelon cake “sometime” this summer!”

And now. . . HERE IT IS!!

 “No Bake Watermelon Cake” Let's Eat Cake! - Watermelon Cake?

Simple ingredients:  1 Large Watermelon, Blueberries, Raspberries, Almonds, Whipped cream or Coconut Whipped cream.

Simple instructions:  Cut watermelon in a circle like a cake, ‘frost’ with whipped cream, add almonds to sides, decorate the top with berries.

It was really very easy and makes an attractive and impressive presentation.

One suggestion I have is to take courage and just CUT the circle out. I thought I needed to use as much of the watermelon as possible, so I more or less ‘peeled’ it and ended up with a ‘top hat’ shaped cake. It also didn’t need to be as big of a watermelon as I used (about 8 pounds – wish I had taken a photo of the un-cut melon).

Let's Eat Cake! - Watermelon Cake?

I also experimented with whipped coconut cream to avoid dairy and was pleased.  Use coconut cream (not milk), well chilled with any liquid drained off, sweeten with sugar like whipping cream.

Let's Eat Cake! - Watermelon Cake?

It was really juicy at first. The recipe suggests ‘patting it down” with a paper towel before frosting which I did. It was still juicy when cut, but the left-over stayed almost a week in the refrigerator… and was still very good – maybe even better than the first day!

Should this be categorized as Edible Food Art? Healthy Cake? Gluten Free? Vegan? No-bake or just ‘Cake’ ? It is definitely fun and delicious!

The perfect healthy “No Bake Watermelon Cake Recipe” is from Jennifer Garza. Visit Jennifer’s blog for more exciting information and recipes.