Adulthood: it never ends

This is the thought that springs to mind when I take a swig of mouthwash this morning, and am so tired I almost swallow it absentmindedly. I think to myself I’ll go to bed early tonight and get caught up and then I can be back on top of things. False. I have a committee meeting tomorrow I need to prepare for, on top of the 9 things on today’s to-do list that will take at least an hour a piece.

The lawn didn’t get mowed (sorry, DH). Bills got paid, letters got written, plans for fall semester were researched, errands got done, and paperwork, and phone calls and vacuuming and herbs are hanging to dry. Videos from my sister-in-law’s wedding are uploaded for DH since he couldn’t be there for the big day and was pretty torn up about it. There was a time, before we were homeowners, before we had dogs (and fish), before we grew our own food, before I really understood the costs of cheap prepared foods, before someone could show up at the door any day between 5 am and midnight and somehow my brain is convinced that at least my dignity would be intact if only the house is vacuumed every day and no dishes sit in the sink or stacks of papers on the ottoman in that eventuality.

There was a time when “after this is over” (big paper, semester, internship) there really was time to rest, read a book, watch a movie. Now, there is only closer or farther from actually being on top of things, you never do reach the summit of Mt. Laundry anymore. And we don’t even have kids yet! I assume my capacity will just keep expanding, but there was a time back in college when you could, briefly, for up to 2 weeks, coast. You could function at less than 100% of your capacity. For the last 5 years, it has been more a matter of increasing what 100% represents, and that, ultimately, is adulthood. Continuing to grow and stretch and create and produce and learn and labor and hopefully stretch our capacity. DH says, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I hope he’s just exaggerating, that our golden years are full of sleep and books and laying in hammocks and swimming and travel and museums and eating out at farm to table restaurants.

The final ashrama or life stage in ancient sanskrit texts, after the work of raising a family, working land, and contributing to society, there was withdrawing to find one’s own peace and enlightenment. Okay, maybe adulthood does end, around the time we embark on retirement. But not everyone makes it that far, so let’s not forget to step off the hamster wheel once in a while even if things get left un-done. My back hurts and my brain’s fried and now I’m going to take a hot bath with a glass of wine and an espionage thriller. Maybe I won’t edge the lawn this week, and honestly, I don’t think the neighbors will even care.

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Screaming Eagle 4th of July Cake

Screaming Eagle cake decorating

My favorite childhood memory of 4th of July is the neighborhood parade that ended with a bbq and cake contest. I won’t be home this year, but I still made a cake

I used this classic white cake recipe which I then divided in 3 and to make red, white, and blue cake tiers. Again, avoiding non-stick pans because of the chemicals, the old fashioned way still works great for releasing cakes from pans (in fact, it works better in my humble opinion). Just use the wrappers from the butter and maybe a few pieces that get stuck in the corners to grease the pan. Then add 1T of flour and shake the pan until the flour sticks to all the butter. Then add batter to the pan and bake as usual. I filled the layers and frosted  with plain old classic buttercream frosting, because there is nothing better. I always do a crumb coat, which is when you spread the frosting very very thin over the cake and it will be full of crumbs and that’s fine, that’s it’s purpose. It is kamikaze frosting.  It sacrifices itself to trap all the crumbs. Then you wash off the spatula and do a thicker coat over it. No crumbs in the frosting!

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Edible Clay:

  • 1/4 c coconut oil
  • 1/4 c light corn syrup
  • 2 c powdered sugar, plus up to 1/2 additional cup
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 t rum
  • food coloring

Mix up the first 4 ingredients, adding additional sugar after it is mixed until it reaches a clay-like consistency. This will vary based on room temperature and humidity in the air. In general, refrigerating will make it harder, and kneading will make it softer as needed. Use three additional bowls, for red, yellow, and “black” colored clay.

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Black clay: mix 1/4 c clay and 1/4 c leftover bakers chocolate mix. Add 5 drops each blue and red food coloring until it is a dark blackish brown. The chemicals it takes to make true black are not worth ingesting, trust me.

Roll out the black clay about 6″ by 6″ by 1/6″ thick. Use a paring knife to cut out the shapes indicated in the insignia. You can ball it up and re-roll it as many times as you want to get the shape how you want it. Start building the eagle’s head with the other colors, and use a tooth pick and/or paring knife to manipulate the clay. To make the letters, roll very small ropes of clay about 1-2″ long at a time (any more will just break). Again, use the knife gently to shape the letters, the flat edge of the blade to straighten and the point to push.

cake 2Chocolate edible clay

The next step is to make the chocolate dog tag. I  used 4 squares bakers chocolate with 1t coconut oil and 1/2 c powdered sugar, melted the chocolate, and poured into a mini pyrex pan lined with plastic wrap. This will give it a little bit of texture, but since I antique it with dark gunmetal luster dust anyway, it’s not incongruent. Put in the fridge to chill. Once it is cold, use a skewer to first lightly mark the letters and then evenly scrape the letters so that they appear to be imprinted like a dog tag. I sprayed with duff cake graffiti in silver because I saw it on clearance a while back. It’s a very light shiny silver, and if thats the look you want, that’s your product. I then dipped my fingers in gunmetal luster dust (edible glitter) and antiqued the dog tag, working the darker especially into the letters. Then I rolled balls of the leftover black clay and rolled in the leftover luster dust to make a ball chain for finishing the cake.

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Then it’s a fairly simple matter of rolling out the red and blue clay between sheets of wax paper and slicing strips for stripes and cutting out “stars” with a straw. If the clay doesn’t stay stuck in the straw and come right out, just use the tip of your knife to pop it out. Pop the insignia on top and you’re nearly there. Add a light fresh layer of buttercream to the sides and stick the metallic beads side by side around the top and bottom edges, careful to cover any seams. Use any leftover clay to make a little stand for your dog tag to hold it in place so it doesn’t fall over or slide. Fini! Er…Done! I guess even though the French played a critical role in our bid for independence, since that whole “freedom fries” thing it’s de rigueur (shit, sorry again) not to use French when we talk about ‘Merica.

The best little pizza bites in the world

High protein cauliflower pizza snacks

I have seen a few versions of these now, and this is how I make them after trying a few.

  • 1 large head cauliflower
  • 3/4 c low fat cottage cheese (drained)
  • 1/2 c part skim mozzarella
  • 1/4 c parmesan cheese
  • 1/3c egg whites
  • 2T* minced garlic
  • 2 t* each: dried basil, oregano, and parsley
  • 1/2 t* crushed red pepper
  • 1 handful of organic baby spinach
  • 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 20 slice turkey pepperoni, chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil

*In my recipes, T is shorthand for Tablespoon and t is shorthand for teaspoon

The prime rule of this recipe is, get everything as dry as possible, or it will be mushy and not stick together well even after half an hour in the oven. First, process the cauliflower into crumbs in a food processor, and put it on a pan with 1t olive oil and the spices and heat on medium high stirring occasionally until all the extra moisture is gone and it is starting to brown onto the bottom of the pan (about 12 minutes). While it’s cooking, chop the veggies and pepperoni. Pre-heat the oven to 425F. Wait for the pan to cool a bit while you squeeze the excess moisture out of the cottage cheese with cheesecloth or a heavy duty paper towel in a strainer. Then put the cottage cheese, parmesan, egg whites, spinach and then cauliflower mixture back in the food processor and blend thoroughly. Then mix in the “pizza toppings”. These you can alter to your taste. I enjoy chopped jalapenos and turkey pepperoni and onion, or sausage and mushroom. But for now, let’s stick with peppers, onions, and pepperoni.

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At this point, I have to give a shout out to two of my favorite baking products. One: silicone baking cups. Naturally non-stick, they don’t have chemicals that can leach into your food like non-stick pans do, and the individual ones you can actually store the “bites” in until you’re ready to eat them. Two: the Misto sprayer. We got it for a wedding gift, and I LOVE my Misto. Instead of buying can after can of cooking spray, you buy one refillable spray can and a gigantic metal canister of extra virgin olive oil (saves so much money). You can get a couple in different colors for sesame oil (stir fry), vegetable oil (sweet bakes), etc.

Spray your silicone cups with just a tiny spray of oil. It will help them release even easier and help create more crispy on the edges. Fill the cups all the way with the mixture and bake on 425 for 25 minutes or until the tops are really golden brown for muffin size cups, or 450 for 18 minutes for mini muffin cups. These are much better a little over than under done.

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I made two sizes, the larger heart shaped ones are for meals. Three are perfect for a meal with a bowl of tomato sauce. The smaller mini-muffin ones are really bite size and great for snacks. For me this is the perfect amount to snack on for a month when I freeze the leftovers. If you have kids who enjoy them, I would make a double batch at least because it does mess up quite a few dishes (totally worth it). These can be frozen for at least a month (I’m sure they’re good longer but I can’t make any personal guarantees). Snack size ziploc bags are great for portioning, but I have come to prefer pyrex glass containers with bpa-free lids. They are freezer safe, they can go straight in the microwave after removing the lid, they are re-usable, and also they stack really nicely.

4th of July and Birthday Care Package

Big day for posting (and I thought I’d get away with re-posting my first ever blog)! It’s helping to organize my thoughts and feelings in a major way. I also busted behind to finish 3 household projects yesterday when I normally take sabbath time, so it’s a fair swap. Okay, I’m done rationalizing.

4th of July care package

I sent this package over 2 weeks ago. I typically wait until DH receives a package until I post it, but this one is taking forever. I poured my heart and soul into it because this is DH’s first birthday that we aren’t together.

His first birthday we were together, he had been working at Africom for the summer and was very hard to reach. We had 2 half hour phone conversations in 2 months, and we had only been dating since February. I wondered if this was the life for me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him, he had already permeated my being. The day before his birthday he arrived at a major hub from Germany and we flew the rest of the way to his Colorado hometown together (it was my first time meeting his parents). Over a mile above sea level and after 13 hours in transit we arrived late on his birthday eve, and his mother cough poured me the strongest margarita I’ve ever had. We sat out on the deck and I watched him catch up with his family, fill us in on all his adventures and present the gifts he had brought for us from his travels. I got up to get a glass of water and nearly tipped over. Holy tequila, Batman!  Oh, how she laughed! (I swear to this day she did it on purpose). My mother in law has an incredible laugh. We had an amazing 5 days hiking as a family, off-roading, enjoying a leisurely 3 hour dinner at a downtown steakhouse where his parents told stories about all the times he could have died as a child. That was almost exactly 5 years ago.

But I digress. The point is, the care package. I accidentally used a non-flat rate box (oops) so the scrapbook paper doesn’t reach all the way to the bottom as it should. I always use a couple weeks of comics on the bottom so he can read them. I filled the bottom with America. Apple crumble cups, chocolate chip cookies, one of those 20 WWII movies sets, and some of his favorite tv shows on disk. Cholulua jerky, Key West coconut lime patties and coconut water are also his favorites.

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Okay, ‘Merica represented, I moved on to a smaller box just for his  birthday. I pasted pictures of his favorite people all over the inside of the box, and then put a bunch of cheap prints from our wedding in the bottom (so if they get wrecked it doesn’t matter). I found a place that sells microwave birthday cake kits (Perpetual Kid has so much fun stuff for care packages if you have the money!). This made me feel so much better about him not having a home made gourmet cake for the first time in five years (many years, I have made a four layer car bomb cake based on this recipe from Smitten Kitchen). I added some star spangled plates and napkins since I’m not sure if they have that kind of stuff to even serve the cake. I asked if there was anything he really wanted for his birthday and he said no. So I decided to send some cigars for him to share with the guys since he hasn’t gotten to do that in a long while. And, as a special treat, a little reminder of his alma mater (Go Army, Beat Navy!).

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Finally, I got a bunch of balloons, and blew them up without tying the bottom and used metallic sharpie to write “I love…” followed by the traits I adore about him and the things I am grateful for in our relationship. The last balloon says “Happy Birthday!!” Then I let the air back out, so when he blows them up he can read the message.

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There is one other special treat in there that I will share next week after he gets the package because I don’t want to risk ruining the surprise. It’s a pretty cool idea, and I don’t know of anyone else doing it, so keep an eye out, I’ll title the post “Care Package Bonus.”

Things I learned from my grandpa

Grandpa at my baptism

My favorite picture of us, at my baptism

Today would have been his 90th birthday. And one of my most profound lessons from him is in relation to this birthday he did not reach. One summer a few years back, my mom found the first ever bottle of maple syrup he had made on their farm in upstate New York. I want to say it was from 1967. And he had saved that syrup all these years, for a very special occasion, perhaps a momentous birthday. But he decided upon seeing it to bust it open and make pancakes, because all the special things we keep for “later” you might not get to enjoy at all if you save them forever. It was his last summer. And they were the best pancakes I ever had. Lesson: enjoy what you have while you have it.

He and my grandma raised the kind of children that, when before my wedding I said how sad I was that he wouldn’t be able to dance with me, my uncle wore a pair of grandpa’s old shoes to the wedding so I could still have a dance with him. He taught us so much about love, being good people, working hard and not doubting our abilities. My cousin sweetly stated this morning the things she learned from him and I couldn’t have said it better myself:

“Work hard, love the people around you, waste not want not, make homemade ice cream with those you love, rebuke those you love in love so that they can grow to be a better person, wear shorts even in the middle of winter, and eat strawberry short cake whenever there are fresh berries to pick.”

My grandpa’s birthday: the year I forgot to bring a fork with his plate and he just couldn’t wait. Lesson: never take yourself too seriously.

My grandpa taught me nearly everything I know about carpentry, electrical work, and home improvement. He was a man who would say, “I won’t do it for you, but I’ll show you how” and guide you with gentleness to the solution. He did things the hard way if it was also the best way or the right way. He had a quiet righteousness about him that came out in the way he “grandparented” us cousins. He did not tolerate meanness in any form from anyone. At his funeral someone shared the memory of being on his school bus as a little girl (he was a school bus driver for many years) and kids were teasing her because she had a nosebleed. Grandpa stopped the bus, got out of his seat, and explained to the children that he would not tolerate meanness, as he used is own handkerchief to stanch the bleeding. It was not a problem again.

Making ice cream with grandpa

One of my favorite memories: The ice cream could have been done five times faster with his big muscular arms cranking away, but he did not suffer us to do things for us when he could teach us.

He and my grandma were both heavily involved in Grange, even as state leadership. They taught us to be community minded. Church and civic organizations are a foundation of family life, if not for what they provide for you than for how you serve others. I didn’t know until after maybe my third sermon that my grandpa had been a lay preacher at their church and had filled in sometimes when the pastor was gone. My mom mentioned it in an offhand way as if it was the most obvious thing about him that of course I already knew (I didn’t). I guess it runs in our blood, I guess that is where my vocation ultimately traces back to. In fact, I have a hard time figuring out what good qualities I have that can’t be traced back to my grandparents. I know my mischievous streak comes from him and my dad’s mother who both had blue eyes that twinkle when they’re up to no good.

He also gives me a lot of insight into DH, although they never met, which is one of my great regrets. Grandpa served in WWII and Korea and he did everything his country asked of him, even when he was called up again with just weeks left on his inactive reserve time. He was a plane mechanic, and actually knew how to fly. He could have, and should have been a warrant officer but the Army kept him where they needed his big strong hands and sharp mind: as a corporal fixing planes. He spent much of the war in India with the planes that flew “over the hump” to resupply (He blew us all out of the water in his 80s at an Indian restaurant when he started chatting with the waiters in their native tongue). This, from the same man who on the way to a Yankees game in 2003 told the conductor it was his first time on a train since his troop transport home from WWII. There are parts of  his service he wouldn’t talk about. All his ribbons and medals were found tucked away in a manilla envelope after he passed. “Veteran” was not a big part of his identity, he served because that’s what men did, and then he quietly put it behind him. When DH struggles with serving the needs of the Army, when he is put in roles that massively misuse his particular talents, I see a kindred spirit in his reaction. They serve out of duty and honor, and while they didn’t sign up for the glory, it grinds away at a person not to be allowed to live up to their capacity. I see two remarkable, commendable men who give their all because it is the right thing to do even when it hurts. Things I didn’t understand about my grandpa’s war experience also start to make sense in light of DH’s time with the Army. I am coming to know each of them  better through the other. Their servant hearts bless me, and my grandpa’s spirit lives on in my husband with his big strong hands and wise eyes.

Grandpa in India

One of the few photos from his service overseas.

Welcome to Ft. Campbell (Repost)

Today while I put together a few posts I’ve not had time to format, I thought I would re-post the blog that started it all on May 22, 2012:

To fill you in quickly, we arrived at Ft. Campbell to spend the allotted 10 days hotel camping. Hooah! Sigh, not really. The pool was nice and eating out was great the first two days. Then you start to feel reeeeally crummy. We made the mistake of going on AHRN, the Army Online housing page, which it turns out is often factually inaccurate and out of date. After three disheartening days of rental home shopping we were ready to move into any affordable, safe, clean place we could find. I knew God would show us the place meant for us, but I wasn’t really sure how. Our first visit, the realtor handed us the key and said go take a look. For 800/month we could live in a dingy little house with barely more square feet than my little 1 bedroom apartment in Chicago, a galley kitchen, at least two convenient holes punched in the wall, mirrored louver doors and the kind of smell in the shag rug that screams a pet-owning smoker lived here. So when a realtor offered to take us around houses in the neighborhood we had decided we liked best, we were serious about buying and The Man had gotten pre-approved for a VA loan. The rental mark ups were absurd, I mean, this is Oak Grove, KY for goodness sake! Well, house number two of three suddenly looked like a dream come true simply because it didn’t have popcorn ceilings (seriously…they’re hideous). Three tiny bedrooms, two car garage, open floor plan and a deck looking out over farmland–we made an offer the next day. Best decision ever!

I went home for Mother’s Day weekend and loaded my car to the roof with stuff for the house while The Man moved to a Super 8 since his 10 days were up. We won’t talk about the Super 8. The morning after I returned, I picked up the keys to our new house, let myself in, and started unloading the car. A card table, two folding chairs, a foam mattress topper and air mattress, 3 rubbermade totes of kitchen stuff, my sewing machine, some laundry hampers and then all the stuff I had tucked in the crevices free-form, because I am the queen of trunk tetris. It took less than two hours. I texted The Man to see what he wanted for dinner and headed to Walmart. As I pulled in he replied, “your cooking”. Well duh. I guess he was actually (gasp) getting tired of Buffalo Wildwings! Friday night, our second night in the house, The Man was assigned staff duty officer. Over the next 12 hours he had two critical incidents to write up–some pretty gnarly stuff. I got texts throughout the night, trying to debrief a little from the stress. All in all, I got about as much sleep as he did. We had a full Scottish breakfast and took naps. Sunday I installed a new light in the dining room that I got for $18 at Goodwill, reversed the fridge door, and installed towel racks in the bathrooms. Since then it’s been a blur of yard sales, Lowes and Goodwill trips, waiting on our personal goods shipment.

Yesterday at 4:30, I’m making a mess in the kitchen with homemade salsa prep when I get a phone call that starts with “So…I’ve got mandatory fun tonight.” I put everything back to wait for tomorrow and go find a dress and put on make up: the CSM’s Hail and Farewell is at 5:45 and nobody told him until 4:30. Go Army! The Man is in a FOUL mood arriving home, the thunderstorm I’ve been listening to through my kitchen window has actually already wreaked havoc on the main road, knocking out traffic lights at two of the gates and flooding the approach to our street. Aaand I didn’t pack a raincoat in my temporary wardrobe…I guess I’d been assuming it wouldn’t rain much between the bedroom and the kitchen or something… Anyway, the dinner was lovely and awkward as hell because we knew about 1.5 people there. The Man isn’t enthusiastic about mandatory fun, but I was glad to get out of the house after a week without internet, cable, or friends. Not that I’ve had time for any of them, my honey-do list is as long as my arm, but apparently you can still get cabin fever when you don’t have time to be bored.