Monday, January 31, 2011

Measuring Success

Quote of the Day:  The true artist declares himself by leaving out a lot.  The artist alone sees spirits.  But after he has told of their appearing to him, everybody sees them. Goethe

photo by Joey Halvorson

I have spent many hours in coffee shops talking, listening, eavesdropping, asking questions, visiting with the baristas, observing life.  The characters of my first play in three acts, Coffee Shop Confessions, were formed here.  Many of them are based on real people, but they are all fictional.  They have a past.  They have current concerns.  They have hopes and dreams, talents and conflicts.  These characters were conceived inside of me, talked to me, grew, and birthed from my head, the way Athena burst forth from the head of Zeus, fully armed and ready to lead her armies into battle.

I'll claim Athena as my muse today.  She is goddess of war, civilization, wisdom, strength, strategy, crafts, justice, and Greek Mythology.  Don't we need all those skills as we march onto the battlefield of our crafts?  We need the tools for success.  We need an army of supporters, a cloud of witnesses if you will, strategic planning, and a sense of justice in a satisfying ending.

I am measuring my success today.  I have a few finishing touches left in Act 3, then I'm ready to unveil my first full-length play.  I've scheduled a read-through with supportive and talented friends, and I've already gotten enthusiastic response from them.

Thank you!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Write about the success you feel right now in your craft and in your life.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hello Hello!

At the urging of my friend Michelle B. I am returning to blog land.  I must admit I have missed cooking and blogging and just doing something that has nothing to do with school, work, kids, or my daily life.  There have not been many new recipes in my kitchen but I am working on updating some of the pictures from the early days of the blog, (why did no one tell me how terrible most of them were?!).  There are few things on the list to try soon and I promise as soon I make them I will share them.  Until then, keep trying new foods, saving money and enjoying life!

Friday, January 28, 2011

A question NOT to ask your spouse ie. "loaded questions"

So, we're sitting around the dinner table, talking about a show called The Walking Dead. There is the main character, his wife and his best friend. We find out that the wife thought the main character (her hubby) had died and then starts to sleep with his best friend. Okay. I get it (sorta). Sadness. End of the world as we know it. Not sure how much time has passed so we'll let this go.

By season 6, we find out that somewhere between 30-45 days went by before she slept with her hubby's best friend. What? That can't be right. I don't like the main character's wife anymore....especially when we find out that the main character finds his wife, son AND best friend with other survivors...and no one says anything. No one comes clean. Boooooo.

So, I am talking about this, at dinner, and Brian says, "It's the apocalypse. Give her a break." Needing to argue for whatever reason and because in 16 years I've never asked, I ask, "Well how long would YOU wait until after I died to either meet someone else, or you the deed? Never mind the apocalypse. How long?"

He says, "It would depend."

WHAT????? Stop the press. I'm pissed already. But, instead of ending it there, I say, "Well, I'd be willing to give you, oh, you know, 90 days to grieve."

He then says, "Each person grieves differently. I don't know how long it would take, but you're being ridiculous on giving a set time."

I left the table. lol

This is how I heard it. "I don't love you enough to know for certain that I would grieve for a long time."

This is what I was hoping he would say, "It would take a very long time to stop grieving for you. I don't know how long, but just the idea of you dying makes a tear come to my eye. I wouldn't even THINK of dating anyone else. For quite awhile."

Women. Why do we ask these questions that really, there is no right answer? Hence...loaded question. I wouldn't want him to grieve forever. I would want him to find someone else...eventually. I just wanted to know that the loss of me would be devastating. He didn't answer it wrong. I heard it wrong.

After being extremely pissed all that night and then most of the day (Brian had the Friday off) we finally talk about it again and said the "right" things.

Don't ask questions that you aren't sure how they are going to answer.

Here's a list:

What really happened at your bachelor party?
Do you think I need to lose a little weight?
Am I turning out like my mom?

Please feel free to add more. :P

"The Java Jive" (Ink Spots, 1940)

Quote of the Day:  I love coffee. I love tea.  I love the Java Jive and it loves me.  Coffee and tea, and the java and me...a cup a cup a cup...pour!

I first heard this song while riding around with my sister in her little Chevette back in the '80s, listening to The Manhattan Transfer.  Of course, they were great, but I found this recording on Youtube by the Ink Spots and love their true blue jazz style...m-m-m.  I find sippin' coffee to be invigorating and stimulating everything from creativity to conversation.

So, this morning, I laid in bed until the last possible minute, then jumped in the shower.  No sooner than the first blast warm water, came the knock on the door (no one needed me UNTIL the water turned on), so I said, "Can it wait.  I'm in the shower!"

"Mom," I heard Charlie, then words I couldn't decipher. I turned off the water and said, "Just open the door."

"How much water do you put in the coffee pot?" 

He was making coffee for me!  "I fill it between the 4 and the 6."

Water back on, knock, holler, "Mom! Which beans do you use - the ones in the red or the blue?"

"Blue!"  (The red is a weird flavored one that I don't like in the morning, and the clear glass one is decaf.)

The shower goes off.  I hear the grinder.  I dress faster.

"Thank you, Charlie," I say, kissing his head.  "That was the most thoughtful, kind thing to do for me."  I looked at the pot.  "How many scoops of beans did you use?"

"Just one scoop."  I looked inside and the filter was full of coffee grounds.  I added more water and asked him which scoop he used.  "Oh, the scoop that's the cover of the grinder."  Whew! That was a bit strong. 

Then, I went out for coffee with the Mother's of Multiples, our usual Friday morning coffee therapy session.  I could be dancin' "The Jitterbug" about now.

But, how sweet!  Also, my twins get up early, on their own, come downstairs, turn up the heat, get their own breakfast and watch a little tv. 

Being the mother of four boys has its perks! (wink)

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What gets you out of bed in the morning?  Who makes your coffee, tea, or beverage of choice?  How do you like it?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Quote of the Day:  I've been called a stylist until I really could tear my hair out.  And I simply don't believe in style.  The style is you. - Katherine Anne Porter

Do you ever feel like you could tear your hair out and leave it in a pile on the floor like the above mass?

My twin sons are getting pumped up for the section swim meet this Saturday.  Often, swimmers will shave off their hair before the big meet.  Since my guys' hair was corse, damaged, stinky, and slightly green, I seized the opportunity.

The "Before" shot

Some changes happen so easily.

Never hurts to add a touch of humor, eh, Bozo?

They're easy to tell apart, now...but not for long!


The "After" shot

Ah, free, easy, fast and clean...wouldn't it be great if all our changes, edits, and pursuits were like this?

As Dori says in Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming."  And, that's all the advice you need to develop your own unique stlye.

Journey on!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What makes you want to tear your hair out?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sweet Corn Bread Pudding with Raisins, Cinnamon, and Maple Syrup . . .

Winter rages on and it's a frosty world out there. The sort of world that calls for big pots of chili, simmering endlessly on the stove, and shiny pans of homemade corn bread puffing up in the oven. Last weekend, that scenario described my kitchen to a T.

For a lunch meeting to be held at my church that Sunday, I cooked up just such a batch of steaming red chili, enough for about 40 people. Along with it went an equally hefty batch of fluffy, sunshine-yellow corn bread. What I didn't know, however, was that another couple also planned to provide a significant amount of food for the same event. I'd had a nagging suspicion that this might occur, but ignored it and didn't take  the initiative to check it out first. No matter. It all worked out fine, of course, and the leftover chili -- about half of what I'd brought -- was poured into zip-loc bags and tucked into in the church's large freezer for future use.

The corn bread, though, didn't seem to me worth freezing. Not because it wasn't good. It was, in fact, a credit to its bready race--nicely moist, slightly sweet and, frankly, kind of hard for me to resist. But corn bread is one of those things, not unlike biscuits, that are only appealing eaten out of hand when incredibly fresh. Don't you think? After all, isn't it a widely accepted fact that corn bread's natural destiny is to dry out, crumble apart, and blow away like top soil in a dust storm?

In light of that harsh reality, I took two bags of the big, soft chunks home with me. This time, I pledged silently, I wasn't going to end up tossing it all in the garbage can. But other than using the stuff once or twice for poultry dressing in the past, I'd never explored surplus corn bread's potential. This time had to be different. There was far too much of it to toss into the trash guilt-free.

So I schemed. And that's how this warm, comforting, corn bread pudding recipe was born. Is it a dessert? Yes. Is it a fabulous brunch item, sort of breakfasty in its own way? Oh, yes to that, too. It's whatever you want it to be. Go ahead . . . explore the leftover corn bread possibilities. You won't be sorry. And your garbage can will thank you.

Sweet Corn Bread Pudding 
with Raisins, Cinnamon, and Maple Syrup
(For a printable version of these recipes, click here!)

Make the corn bread first. (This is a very generic recipe that appears all over; I've seen it on grocery-store brand bags of corn meal, as well as on name-brand containers of corn meal. It's universal!)

Lightly grease an 8" x 8" or 9" x 9" baking pan.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Ingredients for the corn bread:

3/4 cup corn meal (Not coarse grain; just the typical grocery store brand will do,)
1 and 1/4 cups All Purpose flour (I used unbleached.) 
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher, and a pinch more than this, actually.)
2 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk (I used 2 percent)
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter (I used canola oil.)

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the liquids. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients, and stir just to combine. Pour the batter into your prepared pan, and bake for about 20 minutes or so, until the top is lightly brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack, in the pan.

To make the bread pudding:

Lightly butter a deep casserole dish, approximately 9" x 9" or so. (A clear glass dish is your best bet for this.) Preheat oven to 325.

Ingredients for the bread pudding:

Approximately 6 cups of corn bread cubes (Cut generous bite-size cubes.)
2 cups milk (I used 2 percent)
1 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (I used Trader Joe's brand.)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt (I used regular salt)
1/2 cup dark raisins (Or more if you're crazy about them.)

Spread the cubed corn bread out on a half-sheet pan (the kind with shallow sides), and put it in the 325 degree oven for about 15 minutes, until it feels dry but not until it looks toasted (it doesn't need to "color"). Remove it from the oven and set it aside to let it cool.

Turn the oven up to 350 degrees.

In a medium size mixing bowl, whisk together well the milk, cream, eggs, and maple syrup. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Add the sugar mixture to the liquids and whisk briskly.

Pile the cooled corn bread cubes into your prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle the raisins evenly over the cubes and tuck them in here and there so they're not just on the top of the pudding. Pour the liquid slowly over the cubes, taking care to make sure none are left completely dry. Lightly pat the top down a bit to help ensure every cube will absorb some of the liquid.

Let the pudding sit for 15 minutes or so before you put it in the oven, again to ensure that it has a chance to absorb the liquid.

Bake the pudding for approximately 60 minutes, until the top looks toasty and golden, and the bottom shows some golden color as well. The middle of the pudding should be wet but not jiggly. Check on the pudding about halfway through the baking time to be sure the top's not browning too quickly. Cover the top lightly with foil if that's starting to happen.

Cool the pudding on a rack, and serve it from the pan while still warm, each serving drizzled with a little maple syrup, if you like. Be sure to store any leftovers in the fridge.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!) 

Monday, January 24, 2011


Quote of the Day:  I need noise and interruptions and irritation:  irritation and discomfort are a great starter.  The loneliness of doing it any other way would kill me. Anita Brookner

I also like:  I type in one place, but I write all over the house. Toni Morrison

Some writers need complete silence.  Some want blank walls and a a small room where they can shut the door.  Not me, I need people.  I find that I am more productive when the kids are home or when I go to a coffee shop.  I need the energy of other people to stimulate the flow of words for some of my projects.  Plus, I get most of my dialogue from listening to other people.  I'll confess right now that Coffee Shop Confessions is filled with overheard conversations as well as ones that I've been involved in.  I take real life and put it into my stories and articles.

This weekend my boys were with their dad.  The temps were well below 0 degrees F.  I was alone, feeling isolated, and a little schlumpy.  That means I tend to nap, putter around, and watch movies. 

This is my parents' mailbox, not mine.  It's about 150 miles away.  I didn't make it past the end of my driveway this weekend, but I wanted to use their mailbox because I like this picture.

This weekend, I decided not to let the solitude get the best of me.  I embraced it, (remember my word for the year) and found myself doing things that I like to do.  I read a book The Reader, then I watched the movie.  It was interesting comparing the written word to the movie version.  They're very close.  I worked on my play, merging some files so it was all in one place.  I feel very good about Acts 1 and 2.  I still need to work on Act 3.  I made a date with myself to work on it at the coffee shop on Tues.  I cleaned my floor, mostly because I couldn't stand the filth - salt and sand dragged in on dirty boots - yuck.  And, I made a delicious chicken stir-fry with lots of ginger and garlic. mm-mm.  My kids are afraid of stir-fry, so I make it when they're not here.

Sometimes when I'm alone on a weekend, I wonder, what are other people doing?  Where do adults gather, besides the bars?  Well, this weekend, we had the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza.  This is a fund-raiser for the organization and much of the proceeds go to Camp Confidence, a local camp for kids with disabilities.  We even had our new Governor Mark Dayton visiting the lakes area. 

(The following photos were taken by my friend Joey Halvorson.  She does most of the photos for my Her Voice articles.  She's much hardier and braver than I am.)

My friend Hans and co-author of my next Her Voice article, "Real Men Read Her Voice"

These folks are really walking on a frozen lake - thousands of them are out there trying to catch fish through a small hole in the ice.

Now, that's a cold seat!

I left the fishing and schmoozing to the hardier folks and stayed inside.  In the end, I felt refreshed by my choice to spend time with myself.  But, I was ready for conversation and life beyond my own couch this morning.

Journaling Prompt:  How do you handle solitude?   Do you embrace it or resist it?  Where do you do your art best?  Have you ever walked or fished on a frozen lake?  How's the weather where you are today?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Warmth on a Winter's Day

Quote of the Day: 

Mmmm, doesn't Frankie sing it best?  I've been thinking of this song ever since temps here in Minnesota fell well below zero.  Since I don't have my own crooner warming me up from the ears down, I put the flannel sheets on my bed and made hot tea.  I may not have romantic love right now, but I do have my boys who are full of sweetness now and then, even hugs from those growing sons.  And, I've felt lots of friendship and blog love.  So, I offer you a sip of warmth, two blog awards, and a good read for a cold winter's night.

I received this cheerful award from Kittie Howard at The Block.  I have raved about her before, and I'll do it again.  I enjoy reading her stories so much.  They're full of wisdom and humor and good Southern storytelling.  She's in essence writing her memoir - and what an interesting life she's led.  Thank you, Kittie, for honoring me with this award, and for sharing your stories.  It's the blog I might save to read at a time when I can savor the words.  Kittie, it's like we're sittin' on the porch together in the Bayou, sippin' iced tea and enjoying your Cajun cuisine.

The following blogs bring cheer to my days:

Jade at Blush of Dawn.  We just started following each other's blogs this year, and she really does bring that ray of sunshine into perspective.

My friend JeMA and her family are on an adventure in an RV, traveling around the country, two parents, four kids, a cat, a dog, a fish, art and technology.  Read all about it at Hair in the Air!

Keats the Sunshine Girl - the title says it all.  She gives us warm and colorful images from Malaysia.  A treat for the eyes when you're living in the cold tundra of the North like I am right now.

I also like reading glimpses of life in Guatemala from a young woman from our area.  Brianna.

Laurel G. at Laurel's Leaves gave me this prestigious award.  The award asks writers to share where they get good writerly advice.  I like The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, On Writing by  Stephen King, and anything by Maya Angelou.  The blogs I follow that make me think more about writing are:

Missed Periods - a humorous look at grammar and other things.
Mystery Writing is Murder, which many of you follow.  Elizabeth gives us both writing advice and a glimpse into a writer's life. And,
Tess Hilmo, whose blog is fun to follow right now because her debut novel is coming out this year.  I like reading about her publishing journey.

These are just a few of the blogs I follow and enjoy.  The internet can bring good or evil into your home.  These blogs bring sunshine, wisdom, real life, caring, and joy to mine.

I mentioned passing on a good read.  I read Still Alice by Lisa Genova this week and wept my way through it.  Before you dismiss it as a sad book, I say, why not read it?  Ms. Genova is able to create a character that seems so real that we weep for her loss and for her family.  She gives us an idea of what it could be like to have Alzheimer's.  I have a strong need to learn about Alzheimer's, maybe there's a story in there, maybe I'm feeling called to use my gifts of music and writing for the cause, or maybe I'm being prepared for something else.  Either way, I am profoundly affected by this disease and how devastating it is to families.  I hope to write an article about it in our local women's magazine.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Name some of your favorite blogs or what you like to read on or off line.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Heart is Willing but the Resistence is Great

Quote of the Day:  Writing is harder than anything else; at least starting to write is.  It's much easier to was dishes.  When I'm writing I set myself a daily quota of pages, but nine times out of ten I'm doing those pages at four o'clock in the afternoon because I've done everything else first...But once I get flowing with it, I wonder what took me so long.  - Kristin Hunter, American writer

I chose this picture for the summer feeling (it's below 0 here today), and because I brought a few of these handmade journals to my mom's group on Monday.

Last week, I wrote about Bucket Lists.  My new adult piano student and I both received wonderful comments and encouragement from that post.  One of her friends wrote, "I want to be a Kindergartner in something.  I just don't know what."  We make our lists.  We have our dreams.  We might even know exactly what we love to do and where we'd like to go with it.  And, yet, there is resistence.

On Monday, my Faithful Moms group wanted to talk and write about Bucket Lists, New Year's Resolutions, Word for the Year, and Dreams.  We met at 8:30 am.  First, we chatted a bit, catching up on the week.  Then, we watched a Youtube video of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.  He really was a powerful speaker.  One mom said, "He really knew how to work a metaphor."  I wondered if he wrote his own speeches.  Then, we talked about Civil Rights, looked up info on Dr. King, talked about our kids, what we would do "once they're out of the house."  And, on and on.  It was almost 10:00, the time we usually wrap it up, and I said, "Okay, time to turn off the computer.  Shut it down.  Stop talking and write."  I had to use my teacher/mom voice with these women.  The resistence in the room was thick like goo. (Those were the first words I wrote in my journal.)

Don't we all do that?  We want to do our art, or learn a new craft, or save money for a trip...anything.  But, we fuss around "doing dishes" instead of the task that's calling us.  And, like Kristin Hunter, in the above quote, I do the same thing.  I clean, start laundry, putter around, check my email, look at facebook, play the piano for a bit, even take a walk, THEN I'm ready to sit down and write.  Of course, by then the kids are home from school and the first piano student is at the door.

I challenge you to ignore the dishes, turn off the internet, and dig into your craft/goals today.  You can do it.  It's a bit like exercise, I know.  At first you avoid it, but when you're done, you feel so good about yourself.

Go. Create. Inspire!  (and, stop resisting!!!)

Journaling Prompt:  What would you rather be doing right now?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Justice Journey

Quote of the Day:  Psalm 40, verses 4-6, from The Message Bible
4-5 Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God,

turn your backs on the world's "sure thing,"
ignore what the world worships;
The world's a huge stockpile
of God-wonders and God-thoughts.
Nothing and no one
comes close to you!
I start talking about you, telling what I know,
and quickly run out of words.
Neither numbers nor words account for you.
6 Doing something for you, bringing something to you—
that's not what you're after.
Being religious, acting pious—
that's not what you're asking for.
You've opened my ears
so I can listen.

A listening ear and an open heart are the offerings you seek.

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to be homeless?  Last Wednesday, my son Zach and I, along with Pastor Erika and 17 seventh graders and another mom went on a Justice Journey in our community.  We walked the path that a family might take if they found themselves in a tough situation, probably due to lost jobs, loss of a home, and not having the resources or family to survive on their own. 

Our first stop was Bridges of Hope, an organization that links people to the services that they need in this community. Jana asked the kids what they might be feeling if they found themselves without work and no home or family to turn to?  What if you had kids to take care of?

Hands went up, "Desperate," someone said. "Sad, scared, lonely, hopeless," the kids understood.  They'd need to go some place that offered hope.  Jana said they are here to help people, to build a bridge between needs and services, a place where local church leaders can send the people who walk through their doors.  Someone is there to listen to their stories.

A social worker friend of mine said, "It's in telling our stories and sharing them with each other that we develop relationships."

Jana said "We're about spreading God's love."

We heard and felt that message again when we stopped at the Salvation Army to see their food shelf.

The need is great.

Our community has an Interfaith Hospitality Network.  Families stay overnight in one of the local churches.  Pastor Mark said those wonderful words again, "It's about showing God's love."  Area church members of many different faiths work together to provide a place for families to stay when they're homeless.  The temperature in Minnesota will be - O degrees Fahrenheit tonight. There are kids who have used these services who go to school with kids from this youth group, but they might never know it.  They also learned that our community has an organization that specifically helps teens who are homeless, usually from running away from a home where they don't feel safe.

My son woke up that morning and said, "So we're going to different places around town that help people, and we'll be helping people, too."  We did, by finding out what services are out there, becoming aware of the need for them, and doing a bit of work at one of them, like cleaning, sorting, moving things. It all makes a difference.

I've often marveled at people who can go off to another country to help people.  They need time, money, resources, immunizations, and connections.  What does it take to help the people on the streets of your own home town?

Our verse for the day:  Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our Lord.  from Micah 6:8

Journaling Prompt:   What services do you have in your community that help those in need?  What have you done, or would like to do to help?  Were you ever in need?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brown Sugar Pound Cake . . . with Sauteed Apples and Cinnamon Whipped Cream . . . (See How My Mind Works?)

Some fisherman live by a little motto associated with an acronym that you may have heard. They call it "CPR" and it stands for "catch, photograph, and release." If you're a food blogger who focuses on baked goods and desserts you probably already know full well that some of the items you'll make will be so densely packed with temptation that you'll be forced to CPR them--that is, you'll plate up just one serving, photograph it, and then, bravely, freeze or banish most of the remainder.

This brown sugar pound cake is just such a temptress. I suspected last night that I'd need to place this velvety pound cake in the deep freeze to stave off personal over-indulgence. But this morning I realized the freezer was an absolute certainty when my husband, on his way out the door, glanced back at me and said, "Don't let me eat any of that really good cake today, okay?"

Man, he's stoic. I have to admire that guy. He's lately been working particularly hard on losing weight, and I don't want to sabotage his efforts. I, too, am intimately familiar with the weight struggle, so, my overriding thought right now is:  Thank God for plastic wrap, Zip-Loc freezer bags, and refrigeration. Out of sight, out of mind is good, and sometimes out of house, out of mind is even better.

About this recipe . . . 

This pound cake recipe is adapted from chefs Todd English and Paige Retus's book, The Olives Dessert Table. Elegant but unpretentious, the small volume is jam packed with creatively plated desserts, and the self-proclaimed "familiar made finer" recipes are  presented in a way that seems specifically designed to neither intimidate nor discourage home cooks. In my ever-growing collection of cookbooks, it's definitely one of my faves.

What did I change in the pound cake's original recipe? Along with rewording the instructions, instead of using all white sugar, I subbed in about three quarters light brown sugar, and for the remainder I used white cane sugar (the use of light brown sugar was suggested in the book as a possible variation). I also, on a whim, threw in one tablespoon of real maple syrup to add depth of character to the flavor. (The recipe also suggests adding in nuts or dried fruit, but I wasn't at all crazy about that idea so I left those out.)

Noticing that the recipe didn't call for any chemical leavener at all concerned me a bit, so I decided to sift in 1/2 tsp. of baking powder with the flour and salt. I don't honestly know exactly how the pound cake would have turned out had I not included baking powder . . . probably would have just been more dense? I suppose. Before deciding to do that, though, I skimmed through about six other basic pound cake recipes in six different cookbooks to get a better feel for the general leavening situation. Those recipes were all fairly varied, but none of them omitted either baking powder or baking soda altogether. 

The addition of apples sauteed in browned butter, light brown sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, and a squeeze of fresh orange juice was my own idea, thrown together, along with that dollop of sweetened cinnamon-kissed whipped cream. See how my mind works? I know. I guess I'm just incorrigible.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake . . . with Sauteed Apples and Cinnamon Whipped Cream

(For a printable version of these recipes, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9" metal loaf pan, and one mini loaf pan or something of comparable size. (Please note that when I made this recipe, it produced a little too much batter for a 9" loaf pan, so I put about one cup of the batter into a mini loaf pan in order to avoid catastrophe. I suggest you have a mini pan prepared as well in case this happens to you too! The mini loaf will bake much faster than the big loaf, so don't forget about it when they're both in the oven.)

Ingredients for the pound cake:

1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 and 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated white sugar (I used pure cane sugar.)
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. real maple syrup (I used Trader Joe's brand--good, but not super expensive.)
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 and 1/2 cups All Purpose flour (I used unbleached, and I sifted .)
3/4 tsp. salt (I used regular table salt this time, not kosher/coarse.)
1/2 tsp. baking powder

Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the large bowl of your mixer, beat the butter for several minutes until it looks light, fluffy, and almost white.

Add in all of the sugar and beat well, for another minute or so.

Pour in the vanilla, and then add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium speed for at least a couple of minutes after each addition.

Add in the flour mixture all at once, and beat on lowest speed just until combined. Or if you prefer, do this by hand, folding the flour gently into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan(s), and bake on the middle rack of your oven for at least one hour (mine took closer to 75 minutes).

Check the loaf after half an hour or so to see how it's browning. I covered the top of mine lightly with foil after it had been in the oven about 40 minutes, to prevent burning. Remove the loaf from the oven when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out completely clean, and when a finger tapped on the top of the loaf doesn't leave an impression. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for about 10 minutes. Turn it carefully out of the pan and let it cool fully on the rack before trying to slice it.

Store the cake well covered. It should keep really well for a few days and, like so many pound cakes, it apparently improves with age.

Ingredients for sauteed apples (this makes enough for up to 4 servings):
2 medium size apples, peeled and cored (I used Pink Lady apples; firm and very sweet), and sliced into pieces about 1/4" thick
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 to 1/3 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
2 to 4 pinches ground cinnamon
1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (use a nice sweet orange)

To make the sauteed apples:
Heat a medium size saute pan on the stove over medium-low heat for a minute or two. Add in the butter, letting it melt and begin to slightly brown. Add in the apples and stir to coat them in the butter. Let them simmer for a few minutes. Sprinkle on the brown sugar and cinnamon, stirring it lightly to coat the apples; simmer a couple more minutes. Add in the orange juice and stir to combine. Continue simmering until the apples begin are tender but not mushy. Keep an eye on the pan and be careful not to let the sugar and butter mixture burn. Turn off the fire and let the mixture cool slightly in the pan while you plate your pound cake and whip the cream.

Ingredients for sweetened cinnamon whipped cream (makes about two cups whipped):
1 cup cold heavy cream
4 tbsp. confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 pinches ground cinnamon

To make sweetened cinnamon whipped cream:
In a chilled bowl, beat the cream on medium high speed until it begins to thicken. Sprinkle in the confectioners' sugar and the cinnamon. Keep beating until the cream forms soft peaks. Keep covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.

 (If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stay-at-home moms: RETHINK!

We had wonderful times together, my sons and I. The parks. The beaches. The swing set moments when I would realize, watching the boys swoop back and forth, that someday these afternoons would seem to have rushed past in nanoseconds, and I would pause, mid-push, to savor the experience while it lasted.

Now I lie awake at 3 a.m., terrified that as a result I am permanently financially screwed.

As of my divorce last year, I'm the single mother of two almost-men whose taste for playgrounds has been replaced by one for high-end consumer products and who will be, in a few more nanoseconds, ready for college. My income -- freelance writing, child support, a couple of menial part-time jobs -- doesn't cover my current expenses, let alone my retirement or the kids' tuition. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of two teenagers must be in want of a steady paycheck and employer-sponsored health insurance.

My attempt to find work could hardly be more ill-timed, with unemployment near 10 percent, with the newspaper industry that once employed me seemingly going the way of blacksmithing. And though I have tried to scrub age-revealing details from my résumé, let's just say my work history is long enough to be a liability, making me simultaneously overqualified and underqualified.

But my biggest handicap may be my history of spending daylight hours in the company of my own kids.

(Read the rest in the url)

Interesting read. It made my blood boil in parts but she made good points in others.

Here's what I have to say about it.

First off, the most noticeable. We are in a recession. She isn't the only one who has been having a hard time getting a job. Is it because she stayed at home for 14 years, or because she's a freelance writer trying to get a job...during a RECESSION. We won't know because there are too many other factors going on.

I do know that when I applied for a job 4 almost 5 years ago, that I was hired the same day, with no Nursery experience but with a love for plants and a knowledge to back it up. I know that I had been a stay at home mom for 6 years prior. I know that the company I work for now would have more people to choose from and could be pickier, and I know there's a chance I wouldn't have gotten the job now if they were hiring. Does it have to do with my being a stay at home mom? Absolutely not.

I do know that telling people to continue to work part time is a good idea, IMO. Whether it be from home, or a few hours a week, allow something on your resume if you decide to go back to work. Although stay at home moms work their butt off, it's still good to be in the work field.

The idea that the NEED for stay at home moms is not there anymore and that more are choosing NOT to stay at home...could this ALSO be because of the economy? Just because the numbers are down doesn't mean the want isn't there to stay at home, it could mean that people can't afford to live without two people working.

She talks about how she is divorced and has nothing and that there is no money for her kids school. This is about planning, or in her case, the lack thereof. No one plans to get divorced, and I am not naive in thinking that "it will never happen to me" (if you divorce me, love, I am kicking your ass) but I am also of the opinion that if you have marital struggles, you do something about it. You go to counseling, you make time for each other, you communicate and you are a good spouse. I don't know what happened between her and her husband, but I am not an advocate of divorce. I am also not a fan of marrying an asshat who doesn't help support her kids. Being a single parent is hard, regardless if you had been a stay-at-home mom or not. Plan, that's all I am saying. If it's not divorce, it's the possibility of your spouse losing his/her job, or worse...dying.

The thing that upsets me the most is the way it seems she is blaming her kids and raising them on her troubles right now. I would hate for her kids to read this, and see the guilt that they feel that mom isn't feeling like a winner right now...and hey, she thinks it's THEIR fault. Awesome. Being a parent (stay-at-home or not) is about sacrifices. You don't get to go out as often, you don't get to buy the newest and greatest car, your friends might slowly start dwindling because they DON'T GET IT. It happens. To me, it's worth it. Everything is WORTH it. I am a parent and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Here's the deal: I believe that kids can be perfectly fine growing up in day care. I do. I just choose to raise my kids the way I want to. I choose NOT to have someone else raise them. I choose to live a life a little differently than others who choose to work. I never judge anyone who makes the choice to work over the choice to stay at home. I figure we, as moms, need to stick together and support each other because either way, being a mom is HARD. No matter how you slice it.

Also, whoever came up with the term "opted out" when it comes to stay-at-home-moms...screw you.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bucket Lists

Quote of the Day:  The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves, they find their own order...the continuous thread of revelation. - Eudora Welty

A new piano student started with me this week.  She came to the door all smiles and bubbly.  Her palms might have even been a little sweaty.  She reminded me of myself on my first day of piano lessons.  This student was so eager to learn piano that she called me up herself and set up her lesson times.  Well, I guess that's not so remarkable considering she's 36-years-old and has been setting her own schedule for quite some time.  She told me that learning piano is less of a New Year's resolution, and more of a "Bucket List" item for her.  She wanted to learn as a child, but never had the chance.  Now, she has a piano in her home and wants to learn how to make music with it.  She chose me to help her with her bucket list. I am thrilled.  She's my first beginner adult piano student.  She claims to know nothing about piano or music.  Of course, we discovered that yes, indeed, she does know a few things.  We looked inside my baby grand, talked about different types of pianos and music and styles of playing and learning.  We talked about how music is a connector and that music evokes emotion and memory - which led us to the topic of Alzheimer's and how someone suffering from memory loss can sing all the words to Amazing Grace but not recognize their own daughter when she walks in the room.

Thank you, God, for the gift of music and it's healing and connecting powers.

My new student was a little shy about being an older learner.  When she walked in, a 5th grade boy was pounding out one of his favorite pieces, a Spanish dance, that he says he's "addicted to."  How fun is that!  And, he's already claimed it as one of his spring recital pieces.  My new student looked at him and said, "One day I'll be playing like that."

I said, "It will be sooner than you think."  I want to reassure her that any time is a good time to learn something new, and to erase the old idea that older means you should be more advanced in a craft.  It's like learning a foreign language.  You can't give a philosophical speech if all you can say is "My sock is blue."  We are all at different stages.  I'm going to a yoga/pilates class.  I've gone a few times in the past, very sporadically, so I think of myself as a second semester Kindergartner.  I'm not quite to first grade, yet.  I can't even lift my legs over my head and not lose balance.  I'm a long ways from standing on my head - might never even get there.

So, go ahead, dive into something on your bucket list.  Dare to be the Kindergartner in the activity.  Those Kindergartners have all the fun.  They fling their arms open wide ready to embrace new things and they're hungry to learn.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What's on your bucket list?  Write out your list, then pick something to do!  My new student has her bucket list on her computer and revisits it now and then.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Embracing Winter

Quote of the Day: 
by Bill Holm

After midnight the blizzard howls itself out,
the wind sleeps, a tired lover.
Before bed, I think of you
and play the Meistersinger quintet
over and over, singing
along on all the parts,
dancing through the house
like a polar bear who thinks
it has joined the ballet.
You are in my arms, dancing too;
whirling from room to room;
frost crusted on the window
begins to glow like lit up faces.
My five fingers, now on fire
like these five voices singing,
imagine touching the skin
over your shoulder.

It took some effort, but I was able to embrace winter today.  I needed to remind myself that my word for the year is embrace. It's been a little rough up here in the North Country.  We've had freezing rain (the worst!), blowing and drifting snow, ice-packed roads, hazardous road conditions, and sub-zero temps.  Oh, and I hear there's a "Siberian blast" or something like that coming our way.  Anyone up for a visit?

Despite all that, you can't help but look outside and marvel at God's creation.  The trees are heavy with snow, icicles drip from frozen oak leaves.  We have fresh snow for winter sports.  My friend Denise was raving about the trails and beauty of the Arboretum here in the Brainerd lakes area.  I said, before I could stop to think, that if she was going out cross-country skiing this weekend that I'd like to join her.

I played piano for church today.  It was a good service, Baptism and water theme, played a few of my favorites.  After the service, Denise said, "We'll be going skiing this afternoon."  I had thoughts of a long winter's nap, but at 2:00, I got up and met her and her husband.  They were patient instructors.  I'd been on skis before, but didn't really know what I was doing.  I was a bit tense.  I was out for less than an hour, but my calves were burning and I worked up a sweat. Part of it was from not knowing what I was doing, feeling tense, not wanting to slow them down, afraid of falling and busting up a knee or something.  Our first hill had a curve.  "Um, I don't think I can do it."  But, they didn't let me quit, or crawl down.  I made it.  I'd go again, after I rub out the muscle tension.

This is kind of a dumb, staged picture.  It looks like I'm heading for a tree.  In fact, I stayed on the path and took this photo of my skis and backyard when I got home.  I didn't want to worry about my camera besides trying to ski and not fall or embarrass myself.

It's hard to get enough fresh air and sunshine in the winter here.  You have to make an effort to embrace winter, enjoy the kinds of outdoor sports that only happen in cold climates, and tag along with friends who know what they're doing.

Before you go praising me for getting out there and exercising in the cold, I'm going to admit that yesterday I did my preferred winter activity which is staying inside and sitting in my reading chair all day.  I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and oh, my it's good.  And, now, I'm drinking tea, listening to jazz music and writing up this blog post.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  How do you cope with winter, if you live in a wintery climate, or cope with your environment when it's not your favorite, or difficult?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Orange Blossom Madeleines . . . Are They On Your List?

This seems to be the time of year for lists. Lists of what we'd like to change, what we want to try, lists of last year's best and worst--you name it, someone's got a list for it. I had a list of bread and pastry items I wanted to make, along with a list of unusual ingredients I wanted try, and I managed to cross quite a few things off over the last twelve months.

One of the items on my 2010 list of  baked goods, that I had intended to make at home but never got around to, were madeleines--those spongy little French cookies/cakes that novelist Marcel Proust immortalized almost 100 years ago. Why I never got around to doing it last year I can hardly fathom; they're not difficult or complicated. But as my 83  year-old dad enjoys pointing out, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. (He typically says this with a half-smile, as if he secretly believes it's one of the funniest aphorisms he's ever heard but isn't sure he should let on.)

Hard to argue with the philosophical truth of a statement like that, but I did at least manage to make madeleines in school a couple of times last year. Still, I never feel like I've made something on my own until I've done it at home, without a white-garbed professional chef hovering nearby. There's all manner of support and oversight in my baking and pastry classes but there's nothing whatsoever to fall back on at home. That's why it's often far scarier for me to embark on an intimidating recipe while I'm in my own kitchen than it is to do so in a culinary classroom.

Luckily, madeleines require nothing in the way of back-up and they shouldn't strike fear in even the most rudimentary baker's heart. In fact, they can be whipped up inside of an hour without the least stress or strain. No need for even an electric hand mixer. All you need is a bowl, a whisk, and maybe a pen so you can cross this one off of your list, too!

About this recipe . . . 

This recipe is from Nick Malgieri's book, Cookies Unlimited. (And you know how I love his books--they've never let me down, not once.) I changed it only by adding in a bit of orange blossom honey and I reworded the instructions, throwing in my own two cents, as usual.

If you don't have any orange flower water on hand, don't worry about it, but if you can get your hands on a bottle, I recommend you use it. Why? Because it's captivating. Its fragrance is perfume-like and slightly off-putting at first, especially when you consider that it's going to be added to food. But taste a couple drops before you decide against its use. The flavor, once it has a moment to rest on your tongue, reveals its origin in orange blossoms. It's like a beautiful potion. Even the bottle is pretty. I think you need to try it in 2011. So there.

Orange Blossom Madeleines
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour the cavities in a madeleine pan. This recipe makes at least 12 large madeleines, with a little batter left over.  (If you have two pans, I'd suggest you prepare both of them.)

2 large eggs, room temperature (Warm your eggs by placing them in their shells in a bowl of very warm water for a few minutes; works wonders.)
1 pinch salt (I used regular salt.)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, minus 1 Tbsp.
1 Tbsp. orange blossom honey
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 tsp. orange flower water (Okay to leave out if you don't have it. Could substitute a tiny bit of orange extract instead.)
1 cup all-purpose flour (Malgieri's recipe doesn't dictate that you sift, but I siftted.)
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (But not hot!)
Confectioners' sugar for finishing (You'll need just a couple tablespoons, really.)

In a medium sized bowl, using a hand whisk, beat the eggs and salt until they're bubbly; this should take only about 15 seconds.

In a thin stream, whisk in the sugar. Whisk in the zest, and orange flower water, then the honey.

Fold in the flour using a rubber spatula, then add in the melted butter, folding until well combined.

Use a large spoon (Malgieri recommends a soup spoon) to fill the cavities of the prepared pan about 2/3 of the way full.  

Bake the madeleines until they've risen, feel firm to the touch, and are lightly golden. Immediately remove the madelienes from the pan; they'll fall right out when you turn it over. 

Put them on a rack to cool. Dust them very lightly with confectioners sugar before serving.

 (If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)