Category Archives: Experiences

Saying Hello

I’ve put off this post since October because it’s been a sea of emotions and it’s all because of a four-legged puppy I picked up from the animal shelter. Oh it’s time to be frank and honest about the new member of the Gramlich household, Bob the Dog. (But you can call him Bob for short.)

Our brand new puppy – 10/10/2017

As you might have noticed, it has taken me since April of 2017 to write a blog post. During the time from then to now, I’ve been involved in a couple of residencies for an upcoming one-woman-show I’m doing, dealing with my son’s newfound depression, dealing with money issues tied to all sorts of things (who doesn’t have those?), and generally dealing with myself and my own depression and anxieties. Sounds about like the worst time to get a dog… but I told Pepsi when she was ready, I’d find her. And so it seems she was.

It started when I saw a picture of a puppy online named Pepsi who happened to live in my city. Just to be clear, in the 11 years I owned Pepsi, I’d never seen or heard of any other dog by her name. I looked online and there was this sweet little dog – GSD cross. Adorable. However, the people wanted to do a house visit to even consider me, and I am very protective of my home. It is my family’s sacred space and I don’t just let anyone come in. Maybe that’s weird of me, but I take it very seriously. If you ever get an invite to my home, consider yourself special! The longer it went on, the more I realized that it just wasn’t going to be. I relegated myself back to life without a dog… a life that felt like it was missing something.

I realized right about that time, too, that I could look back on the pictures of Pespi and see her as a frail, old lady. She really was tired, all her pictures showed it, and she really was hanging on – so it seemed – for me. I knew when I recognized that, I could begin moving on. Then I saw little Pepsi’s picture, and it began the odyssey. I think that was my old gal prodding me onto new things.

I told myself I would look with no set goals. I didn’t want just any dog, I wanted *the* dog. So I set off to the pound (that’s where I found my Pepsi, and I felt she’d want me to go save someone else from the same fate). I went to the one in the mall – no one. I went to the west side shelter – no one. I went to the east side shelter and found a wonderful dog named Yoko who was destined to go to the training center for Veterans with PTSD (Come on, how could I be anything but delighted at that). Besides him, however, there was no one.


Bob the Dog – 10/20/2017

About now is the time to discuss my fears, because like most people, I have some. Most of them are valid – I’m scared of bees because I am allergic to them. I’m scared of my teens driving because… who wouldn’t be? But there are many others that are based in irrational, anecdotal, media-fed frenzies. Such as… not letting your child go play outside alone, or pitbulls. Ahhh, the crux of the situation.

So, yes. Me, Nicole, afraid of pitbulls. Now, this is nevermind the fact that every pitbull I’ve ever personally known has been the sweetest, butt-waggling, tail-thrashing, face licking ball of goodness. Forget about the story of Pupcake, the Service Dog. Forget about Cesar Millan’s favorite dog, Daddy. Forget about Petey of the Little Rascals! I decided to forego my own experiences in favor of the one that replays all the time in the media: vicious, face-mauling, baby-killing monster. I decided to buy into the “numbers” that “proved” that these types of dogs were devils in fur coats waiting to angrily rip out your throat the minute you turned your back. That they “snap” at any moment. That they’re somehow not dogs, but the boogey men lurking in your house… waiting to taste your blood. Oh yes, I bought into it completely.

Thus, when I set off on my search, the one type of dog I didn’t want was anything that had a pitbull in it. I was adamant. (Let’s forget for a moment that Yoko, the dog I fell in love with? Was a pit mix, but I digress.) I traveled around my own city and found no one… but realized that there was a shelter 35 minutes away that was brimming with puppies of all kinds. It was baffling…

I wanted a puppy simply because we have two cats and chickens… I wanted to be sure that we could head any prey drive off at the pass and work with it. I drove down to the Valencia County Animal Shelter in Los Lunas. I brought a box just in case, but felt no elation. If the puppy wasn’t perfect, I couldn’t bring it home.


Baby Bob and his first cuddles…

I got there and just about every dog in the place was a barking, tail-wagging, slathering mess. It was clear that contrary to Albuquerque’s pound, Valencia county didn’t seem to have a lot of visitors clamoring for a pet. There were SO MANY dogs, and it broke my heart. I went in to look at the little pups. I saw a wall of pitbull babies – and saw a future where my life was in danger. Scared half to death… of baby dogs.

I walked past the wall of cages and about 20 pups of various ages – from 6 weeks all the way up to 8 weeks. The man volunteering asked if I’d like to see any of them. I declined. “I don’t want a pit bull.” He frowned a little and said, “Well, these are mixes. Like here, German Shepherd mix…” I cut him off. “You can see they’re a pit mix,” I proclaimed very knowingly. “Well, okay. Just let me know if you want to see any of them.” I nodded my head and continued my search.

I came across a cage with two pups in it. A fawn colored one and Bob. My heart was set. Though I held his sister first, Bob, from the moment I picked him up, put his head right up to my neck and snuggled in. I melted. German Shepherd mix… check. 7 weeks old, found abandoned in a box on the side of a highway. After getting him cleared to go home, I packed up my pup and drove back to Albuquerque.

Imagine my horror, then – me – scared to death of pit pulls, when I noticed the black markings under his mouth. When his ears began to fold up in that tell-tale pitty way. I am sitting here, ashamed to admit but going to anyway, how many nights I searched through statistics and stories, scaring myself so senseless that I couldn’t eat. Yes… I couldn’t eat. I was in a panic nearly all the time… somehow, this monster in dog’s clothing had come into my house. I hadn’t even noticed… and looking up info on Pit/GSD mixes? Oh I had doomed my family to a mauling for sure. (Let us nevermind that I love GSD’s and tons of people are afraid of them, too. Go figure…)


Bob the Dog – January 2018

Let us briefly touch on a few things during the time I was scaring myself stupid. Such as: Bob didn’t have a name when I got him. He picked it. As we were driving home, he was sleeping in his box, I was shooting out names of what we’d call him. Silly ones like Hollywood, Coke (antithesis to Pepsi, but sounded more like an affinity for a drug…), Osuna, and then I said, “Well, we could always call you Bob the Dog.” This pup shot his head up for the first time since getting in the car and looked over at me. GSD mix, Bob the Dog… check.

He learned how to sit within that first week. He was a laser focused little dog who was smart… I mean like… really smart. Sit, stay, lay down, wait, turn around, jump, in your box (even if he hears a knock on the door or the doorbell), leave it, turn around, come… smart. As I write this he is now 5 and a half months old. The biggest obstacle we have is his leash manners… the guy is so excited to greet and go that he will choke himself to do it. So… we enrolled in puppy kindergarten and have been working LITERALLY one step at a time forward but oh when he gets it…

I watched this pup’s face light up when he understood what I was asking him to do… when he learned how to do what I was asking. In between it all, his favorite thing to do is snuggle. When I did “dog lips” (where I moved his lips under his nose like he was talking) and he let me? I KNEW Pepsi had come home.

So, what about all that devil dog evilness? I finally understand a few things. 1) When the numbers are broken down what you discover is that the majority of pit bites that are reported fall into categories of either a non-fixed dog, owner neglect, unsocialized, or abused. 2) Several countries that had a pitbull ban reversed them when they realized that the incidents of dog bites did not go down as expected. (Italy for starters.) 3) The most reported dog bites are pit bulls – not that they bite more or less… no one reports small dog bites, and in general, when it’s anything other than a pit (lab for instance), people tend not to mention the breed. 4) You know the lady who had her face eaten off by her dog and had to get a transplant? A lab did it… and that means that the media definitely mentions a breed if it’s a pit, but doesn’t seem to care to tell you if it’s anything else. 5) With a good owner, with good training, with good socialization, with a good outlook you get a good dog… because in the end… that’s what Bob is. (As reminded to me when I say his full name…)


I won’t say I don’t have fears that creep in every now and again. Especially as we go through his puppy adolescence and I see him being a testy little brat some days… but I also have instances where I get to see the dog he’s going to become. I love seeing that smart pup in him, love seeing how much he adores people and (lo and behold) how many people adore him. (All the neighbors know Bob and every last one of them went goo-goo. No one seemed to care when I told them what he was… and I have two neighbors that always tease me over my fears: “Oh, I see you’re out here with that vicious guard dog.”) My husband jokingly told me that Pepsi came back as Bob because she wanted to be smarter and wanted more energy… she had been tired of being old and tired. I laughed, but it rings of so much truth. I see so much of her in him, the intimacy he craves, the desire to go anywhere you go… he’s still a puppy, still trying some days… but he fits.

The final thing I had to understand was about myself. Bob came to me to challenge my notions of what owning a pit mix was, and to challenge what I chose to believe about pits. He came to me to challenge my understanding of what kind of dog person I was… I fully believed that it took a certain type of person to be able to give a pitbull (or mix thereof) a good home and good life… I am working to realize that the person I’ve been talking about was me.

Getting through this puppyhood is a challenge… it still is. We’ve gotten through the house training, now we’re onto leash manners and impulse control, and there’s much more to do… but the glimpses I see are wonderful. And… the fear I had is fading away. I hope what we have is our forever dog. I look at Bob and what I see is a dog that likely wouldn’t have gotten a home. A dog that, like many of the pups and dogs at the shelter, were probably destined to death because there simply isn’t the room. Above all, I see my old dog teaching ME new tricks: be loving, be firm, be fair, be kind, and above all, don’t be afraid.



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Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

Today, I said goodbye to my dog companion of 12 years. What can I say… she was the best dog. I know, a lot of people feel they have the best dog, and I think they do. She was the best dog for our family. So gentle with my kids, so loving, so trusting, so delightful.


Our brand new dog – 2006

When we first got her, my husband was on the night-shift and though I’d gotten a kitten – my daughter quickly took him as her own. So, I said I wanted a dog. We went online and saw a picture of her – legs out in front of her, mouth hanging open happily… she looked like a dog that wasn’t in jail, but was simply on a trip. I went in and didn’t immediately recognize her… while all the other dogs were barking, whining, pacing, and pawing… she sat right down by the gate of her kennel – her back to me, and tossed her head over her shoulder to look at me. ‘Pet me.’ That was love at first sight.

We brought her home on Valentine’s Day, consequently, one day before she was to be put to sleep… one day before my birthday. I call that kismet. The people that had adopted her as a puppy had returned her at 11 months old saying she has seizures. She’d been at the pound for six days – they kill on the seventh. I was ready to buy whatever medicines she might need. I told her she’d never go back there. She had a forever home.

This old girl and I… walks together, hikes together, disc golf together. Nary a seizure in sight. She loved going places with us, loved just being in the same room with us if we weren’t on the go… truly, and completely, a dog that fit exactly our predilections for some days exercise, some days cake. She was always game… unless water was involved. Though she was part lab, water was a no-go.



Pepsi’s Final Visit to “The Hill.” 4/21/2017

We knew she was getting up there in age – little aches and pains, slow to get up with arthritic hips. We gave her glucosamine (which seemed to help a lot) and tried to be certain she got out at least to smell the roses. On her final wellness exam six months ago, I asked the doctor when I would know. He said, “With a dog like this… it will be when she just can’t get up anymore.”


Pepsi and Pixel – the cat who loved her, too – 2016.

True to his prognosis… it just got harder and harder for her. She would trip on her own feet, she took a couple falls that splayed her legs out in all directions, and eventually – we were having to lift her back end to help her get up. When she started refusing food – and being a lab mix, well… she’d eaten crayons before and left rainbow poop in the yard – we knew the end was coming. We plied her with everything from cheap Gravy Train to expensive dehydrated turkey – rib bones with meat on them to chicken backs fresh from the butcher… eventually, she turned up her nose at it all. We knew.

I took her on a walk and we sat in the grass and she looked at me. My dog and I had shared many looks, but this one was different. I could see it on her face, in her eyes, that she loved me but was so very tired. I know there are people who consider it anthropomorphism – but anyone who has ever had a dog and shared a bond with it knows. There is nothing like seeing into the soul of a dog. Your kindred spirit. That look, two days ago, was the one that let me know I – personally – had to start letting go.



Pepsi’s Final Sponge Bath

Our Pepsi got to lay out in the grass. She got copious cuddles. She got a sponge bath, a mani-pedi, brushing galore. Kisses, hugs… the whole nine yards of all the love we could give her, and she drank it up.

Today, I could see it on her face. ‘I’m ready.’ She was just so tired, so achy. We got her in the car, picked up our teens, and headed to the vet. She loved going there, too, so this trip was not at all a stress for her. As soon as the doctor saw her, he said, “She definitely looks beat. I support this decision 100 percent.” He liked her, too. Pepsi was a champ at getting the vet’s office to hand out half a bowl of treats. These guys would love on her and let her clean their faces. She definitely had a way of making dog people glow.


Pepsi gets ready to go on a hike in 2008.


They made the injection as I sat behind her. She grew drowsy and looked around for me for a split second. I told her I was right behind her… and her head dropped back into my arms. That is how I said goodbye to my most special girl. I told her we’d keep a look out for her and in that moment, in an ending that would make the best of Hollywood movies, she passed away in peace.

We’d been warned she might take an involuntary breath. Warned she might release her bowels. Warned about all those ugly things that death can be. But none of that happened. She dropped her head in my arms and took her last breath. To see her get to transition so gently, so dignified… I was privileged to be her human mom and companion.

I bawled simply because I’d been holding it in to let her pass without worry. This girl was so in tune with me that often, when I’d cry, she’d whimper. Her final days had me happy in her presence. Then, once she’d left behind her shell, I just wept. My husband was there, as were my teens – all of the people she’d loved for her life and loved her back.

It took me about 40 minutes to be ready to leave. The thing was, as I told my husband, I felt like she was still there. Not her body, but her spirit. Right in the room with us. As we drove home, I still felt her presence. Even as I sit here, she’s with me.

I can’t tell anyone how to make this decision or when, but I know for our old girl – we did it all right… all the way from start to finish. Knowing when to say goodbye before she was blind, deaf, completely lame, or using the bathroom where she lay… she still had all her dignity in tact, and – from one actor to my dog actor – died like a beautiful swooning diva. She always was a silly girl.


“Silly Dog” She’d lay like this and wiggle around. If she did it in front of the couch, she’d shoot herself across the floor by kicking off. Then she’d wag her tail and out would loll that tongue!

I told her as she lay there in my arms to come back to us. I know right now I’m not ready for another dog, and I don’t think her spirit is quite ready to be a new one… but I am a firm believer that nothing ever ends and we’re always coming back again. I do believe that when I’m ready, she will be too, and all that will remain is for the two of us to simply find one another all over again.

Pepsi Rainbow

Our daily message board for today.



Posted by on April 21, 2017 in Experiences, Musings, Spirituality


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Heaven in Seconds…

Heaven in Seconds…

Have you ever wondered what happens when you die? This post won’t be about food or religion, but something that I ponder from time to time. Some feel you go to heaven (or the equivalent in their religion), some feel you are reincarnated, some feel you hang out as a ghost doing ethereal things until you decide you’re done. But I have to state, for all the speculation, it’s all coming from the side of the living.

The honest, hard, cold fact is – we don’t know what happens when we die because once you’re dead – you can’t come back to let anyone else know. Sure, there are “near death” experiences, people who have “technically” died and been resuscitated, but those people were still alive. They didn’t endure cellular death and body breakdown, nor absolute brain death. Their bodies were still ready for a continuity of life.

Doctors have figured out that often, if you cool the body, you slow that process of death – the one that you don’t come back from, when your cells decide to die. I’ve read about it, there’s a certain point where your cells are so damaged, there is no return. That is why you can’t just die and be frozen, then be returned to life. Currently, we have no way to reverse that point when your body betrays your spirit. That is death.

So with that as my definition, I don’t believe the people who have come back as reliable bearers of what it’s like to be dead. After all, they never truly were. If they were, they’d be in a box under the ground. Not that their experience isn’t valuable or valid – I am definitely not discounting what they endured, I’m just saying – it comes from a living mind – even when it seems that person is not.

With brain death… those are people who don’t come back – their brain is gone, there is no captain to steer the vessel. You can do all the tests you wish – cold water in the ears, pin pricks on the soles of feet, swabs on corneas – no reaction. Once your brain stops working complete, it doesn’t matter how alive the rest of you is. You… what you know as you… has flown on to greener pastures.


But are there greener pastures? I’ve been put under anesthetic for two surgeries now. Do you know what I remember? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I remember getting groggy as I was wheeled into the operating room. I remember hearing Tchaikovsky – the Nutcracker Suite – and laughing to myself. I remember saying, “Tchaikovsky!” and then waking up. Maybe that doesn’t prove anything, but maybe it’s a reliable indicator of what is to come.

Please, don’t get discouraged while reading this. I just need to explain how I am coming to the point, the idea, that I’m about to make. You see, I thought about that darkness of surgery. Then I thought about how it is that when I’m dreaming, when I’ve fallen back to sleep for the five minutes after my alarm has gone off and I’ve hit snooze, that I can have an entire experience that lasted for hours in my mind. Minutes in real life that are hours in my brain.

So I have a theory – it may be right, it may be wrong. It comes from someone who has seen ghosts (I’ll share some of those experiences below, which I can’t explain). Someone who believes there is life in everything because the vibrations of atoms and molecules are energy and that means even rocks have life, though not consciousness.


Alex Grey – “Creativity”

My theory is that we experience our heavens and hells in seconds. From the point that you stop breathing until the point that your cells betray you – be that minutes or moments – you experience your life end. You might go to heaven and see all the relatives you’ve lost, you might walk the world, you might become a new person, you might burn in fire, you might become an angel, you might blow over the land as wind, become a star, travel the entire universe, or crawl in an insect’s body. But then, you die – and like the anesthetic that turns the world to black, you sleep eternally.

Honestly, I’m okay with that – if my theory is correct. Sure, it may mean I don’t live on forever, but if I’m right with myself at that last moment, my dying mind will give me a glorious ending. In those moments, I may live hundreds of years more. I may agree to enter darkness after those hundreds of years because I would like to finally sleep. Either way, I think how we are to others and ourselves allows our minds to create our final end. So long as we have a beautiful end… isn’t that all we ALL want? (Except those of you who want to live forever… 😀 )

I mentioned above that I’ve had paranormal experiences. I can’t account for those in my theory. And I’m not talking about looking for them on some ghost tour, or trying to conjure up spirits in seance – I’m talking about going about my business and being confronted with something that isn’t there. Some examples:

  1. My mother died when I was eight years old. I won’t go into how crushing that is right now, but I have only, just now, after thirty years, started to be okay with it. Of course as a child I thought I saw her at the foot of my bed, I can’t tell you whether that was true or not, but I can say that many a time when I was alone in my house after school, watching television, I’d hear footsteps. One of the times I heard the footsteps walking in my father’s room and grabbed a broom handle, ready to do battle. (Which honestly is comical – I was about as big as that broom handle.) I got upstairs and there was absolutely no one. Not in the closet, not under the bed. I checked the rest of the house when it dawned on me that I was hearing something that I shouldn’t have. I walked to my aunt’s house – a mile away.
  2. Coming up the stairs at my old house to go to bed one night, I hit the landing and looked up. In that house, from the landing, you could look up into the hallway and see my bedroom door and my father’s on the other side. Sitting on the edge of my dad’s bed was a greenish figure who had it’s head in it’s hands. It slowly looked over at me. I went back downstairs.
  3. Sobbing my eyes out when I was about 15 years old. I was cursing God, cursing the universe, cursing my mother for leaving me behind. (My life was one filled with abuse after her death – a story for another time.) I was crying so hard into my pillow I could barely breathe – there are times sorrow is so deep… so bitter… anyway… I hated everything at that moment including myself. As I wept, I felt a hand on my back, rubbing gently. I honestly thought my Dad had come into the room without me knowing it and was comforting me. I looked up and no one was there.
  4. Filming a short film at the old State Penitentiary here in New Mexico, sitehooded-figure of one of the worst prison riots in history. (There is a book called the Devil’s Butcher Shop… chilling.) We were filming in the medical wing, where I naively thought nothing had happened (I found out after that, indeed, several men had OD’s there). I wasn’t bothered by being there, I made peace and was respectful of the history and the prisoners who suffered there. At the end of the medical wing is a room with a window that looks out toward the new State Penn. I was all the way opposite from it and saw my friend standing at the window. So I start down the long wing calling his name, rankled that he wasn’t responding or turning around. I jogged the entire corridor as he turned and walked farther into the room where I couldn’t see him. When I got there, not only was it not Brian, no one was there. I heard my name and turned around to see Brian all the way back where I’d started out. He’d heard me shouting and come to find out what I’d wanted. And that figure was so dark as to have me believe it was solid, in silhouette from the daylight outside.
  5. Right before my surgery for my gallbladder removal, I was thinking about the worry on my husband’s face. I could do under and that be all, so goodbyes are crucial for that “just in case” scenario. Nothing over dramatic, but ‘I love you’ is a must. I was being a trooper, strong for him, when I felt what could only be described as a pair of arms encircle me from behind – like someone was standing behind me and hugging me. Calm swept over me. Of course, no one could fit behind the bed but the wall – no one was there… but I knew I’d be alright and I went calmly into my surgery.

There are many more instances in my life, but those are standouts. Those were moments that I was not thinking about ghosts, death, afterlife – just moments where I was going about my business or my grief or my apprehension and the ghosts/spirits came to me. I can’t tell you how that fits into the theory. I could say that regardless, those experiences are still filtered through my own mind and could have been manufactured by me. Psychosomatic experiences are real for those feeling them. Those visions sure were solid enough for me to react to them.

I can’t say I have any answers. I have a ton of theories and this is just one – if we are just fractals and the universe trying to understand itself, then who knows where we’re off to next or how our energy patterns will react with the whole. Regardless, the fact remains, the only way I’m ever going to know, is when that time finally comes for me and I go, “So this is what it is…” and turn around to tell the living… and can’t.


For what I *hope* to have happen – well, being able to travel the universe and go anywhere I wish would be amazing, but if our wispy souls are bound by laws of physics and gravity like the winds, I’ll settle for being a guardian angel. I like a good challenge. If I have to come back as someone new, I hope that I get to come into a family full of love to experience a childhood that I didn’t get to have before. I hope that my tenacity comes with me and that maybe I drive my new self to cure cancer. 😀 And, if after all is said and done, it truly is just darkness and eternal dreamless sleep – I just hope that I’ve done enough in this life to make a difference for someone else – be it helping them through a tough time, or simply giving them food for thought.


Kenny Callicutt – “Light from the Beginning of Time”

Until next time.

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Posted by on January 23, 2017 in Experiences, Musings, Spirituality


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Gluten Free Berry Chantilly Cake

Gluten Free Berry Chantilly Cake

I can’t believe this came out of my kitchen… YESSSS!!!!

Happy New Year!!

My friends… oh my friends. It’s been a little bit since I posted last and during that time I’ve been trying and failing (sprinkled with succeeding) in my kitchen. I’ve experimented with gluten free crackers (still working on it) which came out like thin little pie crusts – fail. I experimented with strawberry cake and watched as I completely didn’t account for the pectin in the fruit puree and ended up with a gel cake – epic fail. I made sandwich bread where I did every step right, watched it brown to a beautiful shade, then had the center gummy because I’d added just a shade too much xanthan gum – *sigh* fail. I made danishes – now those worked like gang busters and were delicious to boot, but only after the first one came out like a kid on a bike with training wheels – only slightly close. The first one was at least edible, the second… heaven. I had to recalibrate my oven after figuring out things were failing also because… 25 degrees of difference is a HUGE deal… oy.

I suppose all the failures were moments of teaching… there’s nothing in the world more defeating than to have to dump two cakes down a sink. It really does make you feel like giving up baking because you just sent about twenty bucks down the drain. But… with my two guys both celiac, and the successes that made their faces light up… well, I couldn’t give up. It’s all a learning process.

I decided to tackle this chantilly cake. A little background – my husband and I had this cake at our wedding (just celebrated 17 years!), back before he had his diagnosis of celiac disease. It’s one of those deserts he remembered loving, but hasn’t been able to have it in years. I think that’s probably one of the most terrible things for me, my son is one thing – he’s been celiac from birth and hasn’t ever had the opportunity to eat wheat-based products. He doesn’t miss it. My husband, on the other hand, does. I hate knowing he has these memories of great food that he can no longer eat. Imagine – your favorite cookie and never being able to eat it again. Constantly chasing that dragon as you plow through the sometimes bland and chalky world of gluten free sweets. I couldn’t give up.

I went on a search for a recipe that would work and finally found one on A Sue Chef (link at the bottom). Let me just start with this… I thought I understood how to substitute a regular recipe for a gluten free one. HA… ha ha ha ha ha ha *deep breath* AHAHAHA. To put it in a positive way – I’m still learning how to manage that one. Learning what a cake batter should look like, for example, and when there isn’t enough flour to help it even be a cake. Yeah, I subbed in 140g of flour per called cup and 1/4 tsp of xanthan and ended up with jello cakes. I watched my first two cakes slide down the sink, the disposall whirring with satisfaction as it pulverized them into goo. I then made the frosting and watched what happens when you whip cream too long… I had the best cottage cheese looking frosting ever… just… wasn’t what I was looking for. And no amount of microwave or extra cream could overcome it. I simply had to feed my sink again. I’m amazed it isn’t fat yet. Ha ha ha!


Two slices down, my heavy-handed nature bowed out the icing in the middle of the cake. Well, I suppose it only needs to look pretty before you nosh it to nothingness! 😀

So, I started again tonight. I decided that I was going to modify the cake recipe I’ve been using to make a vanilla/almond yellow cake. I decided I was going to make that frosting over again… and voila… after what feels like a deep slump in my baking prowess… I summitted cake Everest!! There it was… moist, delicious, and perfect – perfect – perfect!!

I would like to share the recipe below, along with some tips so you can avoid my mistakes my first go round. Trust me when I say, no one would guess it was gluten free. It’s insane how – when things come together – you can make magic in the kitchen. And yes… you can make magic, too. Don’t give up, even on those days where the best thing you did after four hours was make berry syrup. *grin*

A few notes:

  • The cake itself is more of a pound cake. So it’s more dense than what you’d buy at Whole Foods, but it makes up for the density with powerful good flavor and incredible moistness. Feel free to sub in your own gluten free vanilla/yellow cake if you want a lighter version. (And feel free to share your recipe, I’d love to have more things that work!)
  • I use dairy and eggs in my recipes. If you choose to substitute for those items, I can’t vouch for how well it will come out. I personally haven’t tried it myself, as I’m lacto- ovo- vegetarian. [And what would I tell my hens if I didn’t eat their wonderful products? I can already see Grace now, tilting her head with a skeptical gaze. Just like me, my girls want people to eat what they’ve made! That’s what I tell myself, anyway. Ha ha!]
  • Again, my recipe is by weight. This is how I’ve learned to bake gluten free, and I urge everyone to do the same. Since flours can vary so much, the safest way to ensure you’re getting the same amount in your recipe, is by weight. I urge you to weigh your mixing bowl, so that when you divide up the recipe, you know exactly how much of the batter is half by simply subtracting your bowl weight and dividing it by two. Tare your cake pans and pour in half the batter and rest assured it’s precise!
  • A Sue Chef’s gluten version of this recipe can be found here.

Gluten Free Berry Chantilly Cake

Cake (makes  TWO  8″ round cakes):

  • 8 oz GF flour (I use a mix of 20% millet, 20% sorghum, 30% super fine sweet white rice flour, 30% tapioca flour)
  • 4 oz superfine sweet rice flour
  • 2 oz tapioca starch
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 12 oz granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp almond extract
  • 8 large eggs
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 8 oz melted butter


  1. Preheat oven to 350F and line your cake pans with parchment paper (you can buy round parchment precut to fit, I simply put the parchment over my pan and trimmed it to fit, leaving two tabs on either side that stick up above the pan. This will allow you to pull the cake up a little once it’s baked).
  2. In a large bowl, thoroughly combine the dry ingredients (except sugar). [Flour through xanthan gum.]
  3. Place the sugar, extracts, eggs, and cream cheese in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Slowly add in the butter to the mixture, pulsing as you go.
  4. Pour wet into another bowl and whisk the dry ingredients into the wet until smooth.
  5. Divide and pour mix into prepared pans and bake for 15 minutes.
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 325F and bake for another 20 minutes. Turn the cake.
  7. Bake for another 20 minutes or until your tester comes out clean.
  8. Allow cakes to cool for 15 minutes before running a knife around the edge, and pulling the cakes out of the pans to transferring to a cooling rack.
  9. Allow cakes to cool **completely**.

Chantilly Frosting


  • 1 stick butter (room temperature)
  • 16 oz mascarpone cheese (room temperature). [TIP: I made this with mascarpone the first time, and a quick substitute the second time… I literally could not tell the difference. So if you can’t find mascarpone or simply don’t want to spend the money to buy it – 16 oz cream cheese, 1/3 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup whipping cream. Boom. Mascarpone.]
  • 8 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream (cold)
  • 1 tsp almond extract


  1. Cream your butter. [Just the butter. When I did this the first time, the directions I followed had you cream everything together… well, my butter ended up lumpy and that is why I threw everything out of whack. Cream it first, you’ll thank me.]
  2. Cream the butter with the cream cheese and mascarpone until light and fluffy.
  3. Add salt and extract and thoroughly blend.
  4. Add in the confectioner’s sugar a bit at a time, creaming it in while trying to avoid lumps.
  5. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. [DON’T overmix!! Literally, you will go from stiff peaks to cottage cheese in what feels like seconds, so check your whip often. If it looks like cool whip, you’re good to go. If you overmix, slowly add in very cold heavy cream a tbsp at a time and hand STIR with a whisk until you’re back on track.]
  6. Gently fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone cream cheese mix until fully incorporated.
  7. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate. If you are using it from the fridge, take it out 10 minutes prior to use to let it warm back to room temp.

Berry Syrup

You’ll be using this on any lower layers of cake to seal in moisture (and frankly, add in a little kick of berry flavor).


  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries (or 2 tbsps of berry jam if you want super sweet).


  1. In a small sauce pot, place all your ingredients.
  2. Cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and your berries are looking translucent. (If you used jam, just reduce by half and let it cool. You are done!)
  3. Pour the mix through a strainer and smash down the strawberries. You should have a nice red liquid.
  4. Cook until it reduces by half and you have a nice syrup. Leave out to cool to room temperature, or refrigerate for later. (If you’re using it later, pull it out and let it come back to room temperature.)


  1. Using a bread knife, trim your bottom cake to be flat on the top (chop the top off!). [You may need to go around the edges as well to line them up, but it depends on how pretty you want your cake. I did not trim the edges nor did I take the top off of the top layer of cake. I left a dome on mine, which means the upper layer is thicker than the bottom. You can also slice your rounds in half to make four layers.]
  2. Spread a layer of berry syrup on the top of the first layer of cake.
  3. Spread a thin layer of icing on top of the berry syrup.
  4. Place as many sliced berries as you wish on the cake. I used blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries.
  5. Place the second layer of cake on top and repeat steps 2-3 until the last layer. You don’t want to put berry syrup on the top of the cake because it is difficult to spread!
  6. Frost the rest of your cake. [You can choose to cool the cake and ice on top of your first layer if you want a smoother look. I did not do this.]
  7. Garnish the top with fresh berries. I used blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries.
  8. [Optional Step] You can glaze the berries on top with a simple syrup or apricot glaze if you want them to shine!
  9. Refrigerate until serving and enjoy. Delicious!

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The Most Moist Gluten Free Chocolate Cake… ever…

The Most Moist Gluten Free Chocolate Cake… ever…

Well hello once again! Since the last post, I’ve been playing happy homemaker – baking myself blind in the kitchen and absolutely loving it. I’ve perfected two bread recipes (now to perfect my timing for the rising… not so simple!), found a recipe for some of the best tasting cookies I’ve had in a while, and made fresh pasta – all gluten free! I’ve been spending so much time reading online – everything from how yeast behaves, to how thin pasta should be, to how different flours behave and taste… and I’ve just loved it. I feel as though I’ve opened up a part of myself that has been closed for so long. Which brings me to tonight…

I decided that I would branch out, combining the recipe for the Lemon Cake I made in the last post, with my own experimentations to make a chocolate cake. I didn’t know if it would work, but my friends… I just had my mind blown by a cake. I didn’t think anything could exist so moist and gratifying. Chocolate melting in my mouth in a pillowy soft – and I’m being absolutely honest here – pillowy soft cake. And I can eat wheat – so from a gluten eater who has a sweet tooth… this cake was incredible. Tonight was a dream… so much so, that my family of four had two slices a piece. I couldn’t even sit down to enjoy it, I stood there in the living room, presiding over our tasting, with the greatest joy. Nothing beats when an experiment turns out… and did it ever.

So, I want to share the recipe here. I will add better pictures the next time I make it because, frankly, we cut it open as soon as it was humanly possible to ice it. Ha ha ha! It went fast, but rest assured, I’ll be making it again. Plus, given it was an experiment, I had NO idea if it was going to come out like a champ, or be a failing disappointment with pictures to remind me of its horrors. Luckly, it was the former – for you and for me!

Here is the recipe. The cake is incredibly soft thanks to a little bit of Teff flour, and because of the Teff, has a slight hazelnut flavor. Almost like a nutella cake but all good and wholesome and guaranteed to remind you that butter isn’t always the devil. Delicious. It is all by weight because, frankly, not all GF flours are the same and at least by weight, you know you’re getting precisely what you should get in the recipe. Quick thanks to Gluten Free Girl and the Chef for the AP flour blend (my go-to for everything), as well as Christina’s Cuchina for the base recipe (you can find it in my previous post and it is delicious). Without further ado:

The Most Moist Gluten Free Cake Ever!

Have all ingredients at room temperature before beginning, except the cream cheese.


  • 3 oz Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (I blend 1000g a batch: 200g sorghum, 200g millet, 300g sweet rice, 300g potato starch)
  • 1 oz teff flour (Teff just makes the texture dreamy and adds that slightly nutty flavor. I highly recommend it. If you don’t have teff, just use 1 oz of your AP blend for a total of 4 oz.)
  • 2 oz rice flour (I just used more sweet rice flour here.)
  • 1 oz potato starch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp xanthan gum


  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 6 1/2 oz granulated sugar (mine is light brown from Whole Foods 365 brand)
  • 4 oz melted butter
  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate chips (you will be melting these)

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING (or leave bare, dust with powdered sugar, or any frosting you like – this is your cake and you can have it and eat it too!)

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 oz semisweet chocolate chips (you will be melting these)
  • 1 1/2 cup powered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and flour a 9×5 loaf pan
  2. In a medium bowl, combine all the dry ingredients thoroughly.
  3. Place the sugar, eggs, extract, and cream cheese into a food processor and pulse to combine. Set aside.
  4. Use a double boiler, or jerryrig one with a sauce pan filled with 2 inches of water heated to 130 degrees and a bowl above it, and thoroughly melt the chocolate chips.
  5. Add the butter to the chocolate chips to make a modified ganache. Stir until everything is melted and the chocolate mixture is silky smooth.
  6. Add the ganache into the food processor with the wet ingredients and pulse until thoroughly blended. (You may also use a stand mixer for this step, or a hand mixer and bowl. [I chose to move my processor mixture to my stand mixer and used it from here out.])
  7. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet and thoroughly incorporate everything. It should be smooth with texture slightly thicker than “regular” cake batter.
  8. Pour batter into a floured 9×5 loaf pan and bake for 15 minutes.
  9. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake for 40 minutes (turn cake halfway around after 20 minutes).
  10. At the end of the baking time, test with a wooden skewer or thermometer. It should come out clean if the cake is done. If not, continue baking in 3-5 minute increments, checking after each round. Remember, there is a fine line between done to perfection and burned! Dote on that cake like you’re baking a baby! Er… don’t bake a baby… just check on your cake dutifully. 😉
  11. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then run a knife along the edge carefully to remove it from the pan and allow to cool completely on a rack. Meanwhile…
  12. Use the same technique as in step four to mix your ganache for the frosting.
  13. Add the extract to the ganache.
  14. Slowly blend in the powdered sugar. If the blend is too thick, add in just enough milk to get the consistency of a nice, spreadable frosting. Let it sit out at room temperature to maintain spreadability. You can refrigerate any remaining frosting if you want to save any after frosting.
  15. Frost your cake once it is completely cooled.
  16. Cut, serve, and let your cares melt away as you indulge!


I cannot vouch for making a bigger batch, nor can I tell you how it will turn out if you half the recipe or double it, or sub in different ingredients. I know some folks can’t handle xanthan gum, but I haven’t experimented with replacements in this recipe. It’s always worth a shot to determine if something will work. I also realize some people don’t bake by weight, but trust me and so many others… put out the ten dollars for a scale. I can’t imagine doing this without a scale just because of the sheer numbers of different types of flours. While some people find that daunting, it’s much like vegetarianism… when you let go of meat and embrace the staggering number of vegetables open to you… you don’t miss the meat. Well… wheat flour is wheat flour and just stays that way… gluten free? The world is your oyster and your bake shelf can be full of everything from teff to millet to sorgum to buckwheat to corn to quinoa to almond to… you get the picture. Weigh it all and delight yourself. 🙂 Good luck and happy eating!

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Posted by on December 11, 2016 in Experiences, gluten free


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Gluten Free Lemon Pound Cake…

As I have struggled with my writing, struggled with feeling burned out and at odds with the way our election has turned out – as I struggled with feeling a deep sense of doom and foreboding, I decided to pick up baking once more.

I baked quite a bit many years ago. Until my mother died, she baked like a mad woman. Cakes and cookies were a staple in my house, and maybe why I still have such a sweet tooth. I baked up until my husband and son were diagnosed with Celiac disease, and then my hands went dormant in the kitchen. It wasn’t until a few days ago, when my husband and I were talking about the expense of buying gluten free bread, that I decided to give it another whirl. Am I ever so glad I did!

We went out and bought pans, and I’ll spare you the goose chase of finding a 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pan after buying 9 x 5’s, and all the ingredients. I made my own flour mix from scratch and set about baking sandwich bread. Now, while I can say the taste is great, the height still isn’t there – but during all of this discovery, my husband mentioned how much he missed lemon poppyseed cake. I, naturally, took this as a challenge.


A preview from Christina’s Cucina

I found a recipe online and for the first time, baked a completely gluten free cake from scratch. I love baking. I can let my OCD run wild as I dote over measurements and hover over the oven. Every bit of my perfectionism can grow wings and soar. And then, the house smells like a wonderful home – warm and sweet – and somewhere deep inside, I feel an insane pleasure at watching my family eat and enjoy what I’ve created. Doing it from scratch is just… well, pardon the pun, icing on the cake. Hah! Baking for me is a pleasure, and I’d forgotten how to feel that way in the past several months. I’d forgotten what it felt like to look in the oven just to check progress and smile at what was coming together, to cross your fingers that the cake doesn’t fall, that it bakes evenly… I’d simply forgotten just how much I love baking.

The loaf came out looking gorgeous, and the taste… oh my goodness, it was just like a regular lemon loaf made with wheat flour (and for something gluten free, that is a feat). Every pleasure center in my brain was alight with this sugary goodness, and when my husband wouldn’t talk until he’d finished his slice – when he wanted to savor the moment of the eating… I knew I’d hit paydirt. All of us sat still, chatting idly for about five minutes, before pronouncing that we were all thinking of another slice and had been the entire time. I’d call that a win!

If you’d like to try your hand at a fantastic cake for yourself, or a friend, or even someone you know that can’t eat gluten, here’s the link:  You will need a scale, just trust me and everyone else who ends up with awesome GF eats… your mouth will thank you. It’s different, not cooking with cups, but oddly enough – for me – it was a liberation. Still utterly precise, but a liberation none-the-less. Anyway… make it and be amazed for yourself.

As for what’s next… I’ll be back in the kitchen tomorrow for yet another go at GF sandwich bread, tutting over my bowl of yeast and smiling (I’m being hopeful here!) at what I see rising in the oven, my worries distant and my joy boundless.


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Learning Curves Ahead

Hello again!

It’s been a while, so I thought I should stop back in and bring everyone up to speed on what my life has been like since the publishing of my debut novel… let’s see… to get this just right… incredible.

I should start by telling everyone that the above word, “incredible,” does not mean I am rolling in the most awesome payday ever. Nor does it mean that I’ve gotten into major bookstores, nor that I’ve gotten a huge review from a well known source. Because none of those things have happened. What *has* happened is a ton of learning, discovering, and finding out that the community where I live is kick-ass.

Totally Kick Ass!

Totally Kick Ass!

First – the learning and discovering. This whole experience has held a steep learning curve on both the book prep side, as well as the publishing side. I’ve found out how many local bookstores detest CreateSpace and won’t even look at you if you use them, as well as the others that are happy to consign for about 40% of the earnings. I’ve found out that when I started up my publishing company, I ceased to be a “self published” author, but was an “Indie Published” author (much snazzier ring to it, if you ask me). I’ve learned that as soon as I exhaled the last breath of the writing side, I had to inhale the promotion side, then exhale the brand new outline for my next book (yep – it doesn’t stop if you want to have a hope and a prayer of making money at this job). I learned that the worst thing you can do is not ask people for help, that often you’ll find it in the most amazing and unexpected places.

Second – the community. I can’t begin to describe what this has been like. For the first month I had my novel out, I sold 29 total copies. Now, don’t get me wrong, for a nobody newbie like myself, that was a flashy number! Then came April and I sold 10. About this time I’m starting to sweat. All my friends, family, and acquaintances had bought their copies. Some sales came in from unexpected places, which was great… but my heart was beginning to sink a little bit. [As an aside, that was about the time I decided to look at this first book as a learning experience and start work on the second – not worrying about the first anymore. Not that I disowned it, but I wouldn’t keep hanging my daily well-being on whether or not anyone noticed me.]

Making friends with a great local bookstore is good to do!

Making friends with a great local bookstore is good to do!

Now we get to May, and the opening day of the Rail Yards Market here in Albuquerque. Well, I was too late to get my own space – vendors had taken up every available spot. The organizer suggested I contact Downtown Books and see if they’d share space with me… It took me two whole days to get the courage to write the owner of the shop. (I’m a little introverted writer, this was huge to me!) I debated on whether or not to do it, I chewed my fingernails off, I ate nearly an entire bag of potato chips… then I realized that this Market was set in the SAME location as my novel. If I didn’t do this, I would kick myself for life… and that’s when magic happened.

I contacted Scott and asked, and he was more gungho about inviting me down than I ever thought possible. I told him – “I only have 18 copies. I doubt I’ll sell any, but I’ll try and I’ll help bring people into the booth.” I gathered my things that Sunday morning – two tray tables, a sign I had made the night prior, a printout of my 5 little Amazon reviews, a handful of bookmarks – and walked up to the Market. I literally said out loud, “I hope this is worth it…” I proceeded to sell all the copies within 3.5 hours. My first sale was within the first five minutes of sitting down… I kid you not.

I was invited back the following Sunday, so with fresh copies, I proceeded to sell 14 more. Folks came up and talked to me, questioned me, chatted with me… I had a woman come back who had bought a copy the prior week and give me a huge hug to tell me how much it touched her. I had a Native American man tell me he didn’t really enjoy reading, only to ask me after he looked through it if I would be willing to trade him art for art. (I got myself some beautiful pottery for my story and a money making ceremony.) I had another woman walk up and look at the back of the book to tell me it sounded really good, then find out she’s from another bookstore I’d been trying to get into. She took copies for consignment on the spot.

So far, for May, I’ve sold 31 copies. I have to tell you, that alone is humbling. It’s amazing to know that my community is so incredibly supportive to a little writer behind her tiny tables. I’ve had people tell me they were inspired, I’ve had people ask advice, I’ve had people skeptical of my self-published ways (ah, ahem, Indie Published ways), only to turn around and buy a book when they hear what I have to say. I’ve had conversations with folks about fonts, typesetting, layout, cover design, politics, homelessness, and the love of pets… this is what I mean by “incredible.”

May has been magic. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had hiccups and blunders along the way (like getting an ISBN before I had my publishing house only to forget to change the imprint to the company name – I’m working on fixing that now), and have felt sometimes like I put all the work into something that no one will see… then the following: One man walked up, a self-professed book nerd, and picked up my book talking about how he knew who published it, he recognized the great work, the font, the layout… with pride, I told him I did it all myself.

I have a long road ahead of me, but I am so delightedly happy to be at the start of what I hope is a long, long career into sharing stories. I’m not rich, and I’m still learning (and I always will be), but man… there is nothing that has come close to this dream, and I’m only at the starting line and it’s going to be an amazing journey… I can feel it.

At the Rail Yards Market with Downtown Books.

At the Rail Yards Market with Downtown Books.

“Carla’s Rivet” is available through Amazon (SC), Amazon (Kindle), Lulu (HC), Lulu (PDF), B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, and Scribd. Please feel free to join my page on Facebook and sign up for my newsletter for information and deals! If you’re interested in getting your own signed copy, click here!

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Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Experiences, Writing


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