Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cook It Up!: October challenge

This season I'm linking up with my good friend Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity. Trish is challenging us in her Cook It Up Challenge to get some use out of some of the cookbooks that far too often sit on the shelf and go unused.

I'm putting a slight twist on the challenge simply because I have many goals in my kitchen right now and still need to be productive this month. My choice for October is actually one of my go-to cookbooks, not one of my unused ones. I justified the choice because I only ever use the cookie and breakfast sections of this book, and there are dozens of sections!! So, while I'm halfway cheating by not dusting off an unused book (and I do have several), I am at least still making recipes that I've never tried, and I think that's the ultimate point of the challenge when all is said and done.

Last Thursday evening I made a two-layer Spice Cake with Browned Butter Frosting from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. This special Breast Cancer Awareness edition of the cookbook was a gift from my sister about 8 years ago.

Let me preface the rest of my post by saying that this was not my best cooking experience. During the roughly one and a half hours I was trying to make the cake, I was interrupted and distracted so many times I lost count. But here's a sample of what I was dealing with:
  • First, I had to change two poopy diapers, the first of which required a BATH it was so toxic. After the bath, after my sweet cherub of a baby was all clean, good-smelling, dry, and propped up in his chair in the kitchen again, he promptly soiled another diaper with similar toxic waste. 
  • Second, it took so long for me to clean up the mess from diaper #2--after having decided I just didn't have time to re-bathe the baby and finish my cake before bedtime--that he had a great time peeing all over me before I could get a new diaper on him.  (At the end of diaper #2, I was like, "I NEED CAKE, SO HELP ME GOD!!")
He is so cute, though...little goober.
  • One of the eggs I cracked completely shattered when I tapped it on the side of the mixing bowl. I was literally having to comb my fingers through my batter to find egg shell remnants. :(
  • I discovered that I do not have 2 cake pans the same size for layers, which meant I would either have to bake one layer at a time, which I didn't have time for, or bake two-different sized layers. I ended up making what can only be described as a postmodern cake. The bottom layer is a square and the top layer is a circle. Luckily the diameter of the circle was the same length as the side of the square pan (both 8.5 inches). My cake looked a little funny, but it also looks slightly artsy. At least that's what I told myself.
  • My mother- and father-in-law showed up without warning before the cake was iced (still cooling).  I wasn't dressed appropriately for company and had to run back to our bedroom to change after I let them in. But, on the plus side, at least I had a nice cake to offer my husband's parents once it cooled.
The cake turned out light and fluffy in texture. While I stand by my decision to reduce the amount of sugar, I could taste a sure difference between mine and sweeter restaurant or store-bought cakes. If I make this again, I'll likely increase the spices a bit and/or add spices to the icing. The cake was mellow, and I prefer bright flavors.  My husband and I bought thought that the cake had more flavor on the second and third days, though. The cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves were more potent, and I enjoyed it more on those days.

The Browned Butter Frosting was very nice and vanilla-y (I might have poured in too much vanilla). Next time, I might try a more traditional butter frosting and also use butter. All I had on hand was margarine that didn't have a very high fat content.  However, it was delicious!  I had twice the amount of frosting than what I needed for this two-layer cake, so I'm making a second spice cake today since we have more company staying with us tonight. No sense letting perfectly good frosting go to waste! ;)

Thanks, Trish, for hosting! My husband thanks you for inspiring me to make a cake (or two!). I'll try to follow the rules better next month and pick a dusty cookbook.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I studied abroad in Oxford, England during the fall semester of my sophomore year in 2001. While in Oxford, I lived in a dorm populated by American study-abroad participants. We’d had our morning medieval history lecture in the large lecture hall of our dorm and had come as a group up to the kitchen to make our lunches. Immediately after I sat down with my small mini-pizza, I heard a loud commotion in front of the TV in the next room over. I abandoned my food and ran to the TV only about a minute before the second tower collapsed. We were glued to the one TV in the dorm for the entire rest of the day and night, watching BBC news report on the attacks on the WTC towers and the Pentagon, as well as the downed planes. Several of my peers in my dorm were from New York and were beside themselves trying to get in contact with their families. I eventually was able to contact my family through email and then phone late that night, but almost all the international phone lines were unavailable.

As scheduled, our large group went to Stratford-upon-Avon, the hometown of Shakespeare, the next day to tour the town and then see Julius Caesar performed by the Royal Shakespeare company that night. None of us felt like being tourists. We didn’t want to hear English accents. We didn’t want to read London Times headlines of our country’s tragedy. We huddled together as we walked the cold, rainy streets. Around 6 in the evening, the group of four that I was walking around with happened upon an Anglican church that was all lit up, and we could hear music inside. We went inside and saw that every single seat was filled, and all the aisles, corridors, and hallways were filled as well. The service was a prayer and meditation service in honor of the lives that were lost on American soil the previous day. Although I’ll never be able to think of 9-11 without seeing the BBC news logos in my mind or hearing the news from a non-American point of view (…this is happening to THEM, not US), the most meaningful memory I hold of 9-11 is of that church service on 9-12. Hundreds of people who were not our countrymen or women were on their knees praying fervently for our country’s losses.

I remember flying home for Christmas and seeing ribbons and flags everywhere–in the airports, on school fences, on billboards, and in people’s windows and yards. It was jarring to see so much patriotism and support three months after the fact since I’d had no idea how much everyday sights had changed while I was overseas. These are a few of my memories from 13 years ago.

This post as well as many other recollections of 9-11 from my colleagues at Wayland can be found at

Monday, August 11, 2014

Having a baby

This happened. My husband and I had a baby in March. Well, I had the baby. And now we have the baby.

Our little guy is four and a half months old and, to be honest, despite our time with him, I am still in awe that it happened. I am still learning (baby steps, baby steps) to identify myself as a mother.

Mother has so many connotations. She's the one who always has a snack baggie of goldfish or cheerios in her purse. She's the one with wet wipes and travel-packs of Kleenex to spare. She's the one who can balance two dinner plates in one hand, a cell phone between her ear and cheek, a whimpering soggy child, and her checkbook all at once. She's the one with so much love to go around that she made a new lovable person INSIDE of her. And 21st-century mommy is even more awesome and intimidating: she's the one who keeps daddy and son happy and healthy, cookies in the jar, dollars in the bank, and laundry off the floor. All without skipping a beat or smudging her nails or scuffing her heels. Who is this woman, and why do I have the simultaneous urges to friend her on Facebook and kick her in the shins?

I am hard on myself because I fear inadequacy, which is something I've dealt with and fought at nearly every stage of my life. And, obviously, it's a quite silly fear--I've accomplished just about everything I've ever set my mind on doing. It doesn't matter, though. This fear is one that ignores the successes and highlights weaknesses, and it weighs me down but does nothing to improve the quality or quantity of my work. It's not like a deadline that sets my rear in gear to get something done or turned in on time. It's like wearing a backpack of camping gear year round without any relief. It is exhausting and would be numbing if it didn't hurt so badly.

My gut tells me that I'm doing well so far at this mommy stuff, but the voices around me poke and prod at my confidence until it has so many holes that it can't hold anything of substance. I have the have to feed baby formula because he has stopped breastfeeding guilt. The just dropped baby off at daycare and my heart hurt all the way to work guilt. The I have finally caught up on laundry but the sink is full of dishes guilt. The baby's pacifier fell on the floor and I popped it back in his mouth without washing it with soap and boiling water guilt. The please sleep, baby, please, please stay asleep guilt. The you're crying for me to hold you and walk you around but even four months later my stomach is still tender from the cesarean surgery, so can we please play on the floor instead? guilt.  I love him with my whole heart, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt sometimes.

So, today I shed a few tears in honor of all the women out there loving their babies and/or husbands or partners or family members so wholly that there feels like no room for any love for themselves.  There IS room, somewhere, there must be, and we'll be better for them--our loved ones--as soon as we start including ourselves in that group (loved ones) and turn away from the fears and guilt that are packed with lies from dark, bad places.  Today, tears and all, I intend to step (baby steps, baby steps) away from the lies and to nourish my wounds the best way I know how. I pray to my father God for healing of mind and body, and I pray for the washing away of feelings of mommy guilt and inadequacy. I especially pray for a lightness of spirit that will lift me up me as I try to slough off the heavy worries that press in close on this new mommy.