Sunday, August 26, 2012

If Life was a Slow Dance, and Orange Dreamsicle Cream Cake

If life was a slow dance, then I think I might have the chance to be the person I want to be and do all the things I hope to accomplish.  I would be more educated, I'd have done something heroic for someone, I'd be more fluent in French and Chinese instead of only half-heartedly studying them, I'd be thinner and more fit while still getting to bake every day (and taste what I bake), I'd have traveled to Europe, I'd have made a prototype of one of the many inventions that only exists in my imagination, I'd be making a real difference in someone's life.

But life pulls me along, faster than I like, forcing me to keep up and change and alter myself and make things work with what I have.  Reinvent my plans and dreams.  Altering dreams, even if just for the moment, is something I have a very hard time doing.

At the wedding in Baltimore last weekend, there was dancing, of course.  Dancing has never come naturally to me.  I blame this on the fact that there were no school dances in my youth, no dances at friends' homes, no dancing in my own home.  The closest I came to a dance was a church youth night at the town roller-skating rink, when they'd play the Hokey Pokey, and we'd all follow along, although eventually the pastor put a stop to that, too.  In my ultra-conservative upbringing, dancing was a sin, so I was never really around dancing until my 20s when I did a little club-hopping.  Club dancing, though, isn't really dancing either - flashing lights, smoke and booze, deafening music, grabby hands and a sweaty, crowded, grinding dance floor just wasn't my thing.

If every dance was a slow dance, like in the wedding reception of Father of the Bride, I'd get along just fine.  Anyone can sway back and forth to music while gazing into someone's eyes, even me.  But the slow dances are few and far between.

Then there's my lack of music education of all the 80's and 90's hits, something that Jamie still shakes his head in disbelief at when I don't know a particular song or artist that he feels was crucial to our formative years.  When everyone else was listening to Michael Jackson, and I don't even know who else, I was singing in school and church choir and listening to Faith Hill and Tim McGraw and Toby Keith in my best friend's car.  My favorite song was "Lady in Red", and my friend recorded it for me about 10 times on one side of a cassette tape so I could listen to it over and over without having to rewind (there was no CD player in our house yet...)

And so, as a result of a dance-less first 22 years of my life, I seem to be missing that "groove" needed to let loose and have a little fun on the dance floor at weddings.  I'm too self-conscious, and don't have any idea what to do with my hands and hips and feet.  Everyone else just looks so much cooler, even though half of them probably don't know what they're doing, either.  But what makes it work for them, is that unlike me, they don't care if they look ridiculous or not, and for most people, looking ridiculous is kind of the point.

I might like to learn how to dance something that has steps to follow, since at least then I would know what I'm supposed to do, but the free-style get-your-groove-on thing just makes me want to run to the sidelines.

The thing is, I'm generally fine with just watching everyone else; it's other people that seem to have a problem with it.  There's usually some well-meaning person who loves to dance and wants to see everyone having a good time, who is convinced that I'm not having a good time if I'm not dancing every dance, and drags me unwillingly out to the dance floor where I try to pretend I'm enjoying myself, but really just can't wait for a chance to sneak away.

Is there a part of me that would like to join in and be able to let go of that self-consciousness?  Of course.  Hopefully I'll have the guts to dance at my own wedding someday.

After attending weddings two weekends in a row, one as a photographer and one as a guest, I suspect that the Cupid Shuffle is going to be making an appearance at every wedding for years to come.  Even there, with instructions in the song, I feel lost - down down, do your dance, do your dance, to the right, to the right, to the left, to the left, now kick, now kick, now walk it by yourself.. down down, do your dance, do your dance...

Lately I've felt like my life has been a little bit of a dance, in which I'm just trying to figure out the right steps to make.  This has been a summer of change for me, and tomorrow, I'll be starting my new job and heading down a path that's completely unfamiliar to me.  I'm excited and nervous and hopeful and grateful, and I can't wait to see what happens.  Life isn't a slow dance, after all, and I've got to keep up.

Another big change is that my parents are moving away, as I write this, back to South Carolina.  Yesterday, we helped them finish packing up the house and said goodbye.  After 20-plus years in Colorado, they're going back to where I was born and spent the first 12 years of my life.  All of my family on my dad's side is on the East Coast, and it's where they want to retire.

We spent the day at their house yesterday, along with some of their friends from church, lugging boxes, carrying furniture, packing up odds and ends, sorting through dusty boxes of forgotten toys and dolls in the basement.  My allergies won't forgive me for that part.

On the truck, my dad asked someone to hand him a blanket to wrap around a piece of furniture, and someone grabbed a patchwork quilt from a pile of blankets, towels and rugs.

"Hey!" I said to my dad, "Mom's been looking for this for years!"  He did a double take at the quilt and realized I was right, it was the quilt she thought had been missing for such a long time.  I took the quilt and went into the house to find my mom.

"Mom, I have a going away present for you," I said, holding the bundle behind my back.  "Can you guess what it is?"

"Hmm, a pile of dead spiders from the basement?"she joked.  I held out the quilt and she gasped.  "Where did you find this?"

Her grandma, my great-grandma, stitched this patchwork quilt together so long ago, and through our childhood, it became known as "the sick quilt".  Whenever one of us would stay home from school with a fever, chicken pox, a cough...  my mom would use this quilt to make the couch into a bed, and somehow, it always maintained the perfect temperature, keeping us cool when we were feverish and warm when we were shaking with chills.

I don't think anything else could have made my mom happier yesterday.  It was a long day, over 12 hours of hard work to pack up 38 years of marriage.  A pot of  chicken, corn and bean chili, chips and a cake kept everyone sustained for lunch and dinner.

To celebrate this new adventure for all of us, I baked an Orange Dreamsicle Cream Cake, to take over to their house for all the people there helping them to pack up the moving truck.  I know it's a flavor that both my parents love - a while back they had a thing for these little packaged orange cupcakes - but of course this cake is so much better than those!  The technique I used to pipe the citrusy orange buttercream is called "ombre", a graduation of shades of color from darker to light.  Inside all those pretty swirls, which I didn't want to cut into until I took the cake over to their house, are four layers of incredibly moist, vanilla cream cake, filled with sweet orange marmalade.

Dreams are the stuff of our past, present and future.  Sometimes I feel like I've spent so much of my life dreaming, some of which have come true, and many of which haven't.  Maybe they will, and maybe they won't, but those dreams are what keep me going, reaching forward, and believing that good things are going to happen.  Maybe they won't be exactly what I had planned, but they'll be good nonetheless.  Life isn't a slow dance, and it's never going to stand still and wait for me to catch up.

...down down, do your dance, do your dance, to the right, to the right, to the left, to the left, now kick, now kick, now walk it by yourself.. down down, do your dance, do your dance...

Orange Dreamsicle Cream Cake
printable recipe

  • 1 white cake mix
  • 1 1/4 cups half 'n' half
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon butter extract
filling and buttercream:
  • 18-ounce jar of orange marmalade
  • 2 1/2 cups (5 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 5 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 5 tablespoons milk
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4-5 teaspoons orange extract (pure, not imitation)
  • orange (or red/pink and yellow) gel food coloring
Cook's Note:  This may sound like an exorbitant amount of butter for frosting one cake, but piping swirls, rather than spreading a thinner layer, uses much more buttercream.  I started with just 4 sticks, and ended up running out for the last row of swirls, then had to make more.  If you plan to simply frost the cake without piping all the swirls, you can cut the recipe down to 3 sticks butter, 3 cups powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons meringue powder, 3 tablespoons milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and 3 teaspoons orange extract.  As far as the calories go, eat a little piece, share the rest, and move on!

Bake the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray the bottoms of two 8-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray, line with a circle of parchment paper, and then spray the paper also.

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all the cake ingredients on low speed for 30 seconds, then on medium speed for 3 minutes until well combined.  Divide batter evenly between the pans.

Bake for 25-29 minutes, until golden and the cake is pulling away from the edges of the pan.  Set cake pans on a wire rack, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely in the pans.

Prepare the Filling and Buttercream:

Scoop the orange marmalade into a small bowl and stir with a spoon to smooth it out.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat butter for one minute with whisk attachment.  Combine powdered sugar with meringue powder (meringue powder should not directly touch any liquid).  Add to butter and mix on low to combine.  Add milk, vanilla and orange extract.  Increase speed to medium high and whip for 4-5 minutes until impossibly light and fluffy, scraping as needed.  Set aside.


When the cakes are completely cool, turn out of the pan.  Using a sharp knife or cake leveler, level the tops of the cakes (save cake scraps for another use, such as cake pops/truffles).  Split each cake into two layers so you have a total of four layers.

Place a layer of cake on a cake board.  Spread with 1/3 of the orange marmalade.

Cook's Note:  A little trick I learned in cake decorating class, when using filling between cake layers that you don't want squeezing out into the frosting on the outside, pipe a "dam" of frosting around the edge, then add filling in the middle.  This will keep the filling from leaking out.  See picture below...)

Place another layer of cake on the first, pressing down gently so that it's level.  Spread with another 1/3 of the orange marmalade.  Repeat with the third layer of cake and the last of the marmalade.  Place the fourth layer of cake on top, finishing with the bottom side up.

Spread a very thin layer of buttercream all over the top and sides of the cake - it doesn't have to look pretty - this is your "crumb coat" to catch all the crumbs.  Place cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to set the crumb coat.

If frosting a simple layer of buttercream all over, tint the buttercream to your desired shade of orange, and frost the cake.

If making the "ombre" swirls (ombre refers to graduating degrees of color from dark to light), tint all the buttercream a very pale orange, using orange food coloring, or a combination of red/pink and yellow (I used a drop each of Americolor brand Lemon Yellow #107 and Soft Pink #132).

Fit a piping bag with a medium-sized open star tip (I used Wilton #22), and fill the bag.  Starting at the top center of the cake, pipe swirls of buttercream, starting at the center of each swirl and moving outwards, about 1 1/2 turns.  Create swirls all over the top of the cake, keeping them close together to avoid gaps.

If you have any buttercream left in the piping bag after finishing the top of the cake, squeeze it out back into the bowl.  Now, add a little more food coloring to tint the buttercream a slightly darker shade of orange.  Pipe a row of swirls at the top edge of the cake.  Repeat with the rest of the cake, tinting the buttercream a darker shade for each row.  With the leftover buttercream, I piped three roses for the top, using the Wilton #102 rose tip.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen


  1. Such a BEAUTIFUL cake and I bet it tastes great!

  2. haha - I have the same perspective on dancing as you do! I grew up Mennonite.

    how wonderfult to find the missing quilt AND have a gorgeous cake on a moving day.


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