Sunday, April 22, 2012

Alone on a Sunny Sunday Afternoon

Today was an amazing weather day...over 80 degrees and sunny in April!  We had our first-of-the-season Sunday dinner outside on the patio and then angled our chairs for either full sun exposure or umbrella shade while we savored toffee pavlova and iced tea for dessert and visited.  Then the guys left to go golfing, the girls left to go shopping, and I was left alone with the dishes.

Something is not right with this picture!  I am a major sun worshiper and I also love to walk.  Jeff and I usually go for a long walk every Sunday, and the nicer the weather the more we look forward to our walk.  But today---the most perfect day of the year thus far---I have no one to walk with and I have a sinkful of dirty dishes!  I swished the dishcloth in the soapy water and stared out the window at the neighbor's apple blossoms that hang over my fence, the lilac buds on my own bush, the sun slanting through the trees in the ravine, and the blue, blue sky above it all.  What was I doing stuck in the kitchen?  I looked at the coffee pot and the last two pans waiting their turn in the dishwater and I thought, "They can just wait a little longer."  Then I peeled off my gloves, grabbed my clippers, and headed out the door.  The street was full of kids playing basketball, skateboarding, chalk drawing, riding bikes, and selling lemonade.  The sidewalk was busy with people pushing strollers, walking dogs and jogging.  The breeze was fragrant with fresh-cut lawns, barbequed ribs, and flowers. The sounds of birds, laughter, splashing water, and happy shouts filled the air.  And it was perfectly, pleasantly hot!

My destination was the woods where I go for my morning run.  But this time, instead of looking around me and enjoying the panoramic view, I focused my attention on the sides of the path, watching for wildflowers, blossoms, branches and grasses to clip and take home to make a bouquet.  I love to forage in every season, and each offers its own special beauty and scent.  Today I clipped lavender-tipped grasses, tiny fuscia blooms, wildflowers, blossoms and just-budding leafy branches.  I left the more delicate flora for two reasons...those flowers would be wilted by the time I got them home, and if everyone "just picked one" there would be none to enjoy on walks through the forest.  What a good environmentalist I am!

When I got home, I snipped and trimmed the flowers and put them in a vase and set them on my dining room table.  They won't last long...maybe two days.  But the pleasure in picking them and admiring them is well worth their short lifespan.  I spent the rest of my quiet evening blogging and sipping an iced latte on my patio under the warmth of the evening sun...still wearing shorts and flip-flops at 7:30 at night because it was still 76 degrees!  And the dishes I ditched this afternoon?  I think I'll let them wait just a little longer and finish them after the sun goes down!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Inky blackness, damp ground, shrouds of cobwebs, skeletal remains, droppings and dung, mold, dim light and flickering shadows, tight places, dirt and rocks, stale air, hard to breath...

I've just returned from my journey to the center of the earth, and that's what it looked like, smelled like and felt like.

Camponotus pennsylvanicus

About a month ago I began noticing the odd ant...they were big guys that crunched when you squished them.  One or two, no big deal.  And then there were 3,4, 7 and finally one day 12.  That was the day I called the exterminator.  He came the next morning and examined the specimens I had captured and put in a jar and confirmed they were carpenter ants...not a good thing.  They gnaw away at the wood in your house as they tunnel deeper and deeper inside.  They ruin your foundation, wood trim and more, as they invade your home.  Plus, it is incredibly gross to open a kitchen drawer and find ants crawling on your measuring cups!  So we picked a day for his team to come and "terminate" the ants.  And then he wrote up the estimate.


I gulped and signed and then called Jeff to rant about the ants.

And then I went online and did some research and asked friends what they thought.  There was a lot of good advice, but ultimately I knew what I had to do...lift the trapdoor to our crawlspace and go under the house.

The very thought of this was creeping me out.  But a friend assured me that newer houses had heavy-duty plastic over the earth and up the walls of the foundation and it wouldn't be that bad.  A little doubtfully, I googled "crawlspaces" just so I could really see what I was about to get myself into...literally!  Justin, who is studying architectural design, gave me a good idea of what I would encounter as far space and dimensions, and it wasn't the spacious 3-foot high and 10-foot wide area I pictured.  He told me there would be places I could barely pass through.  Then another friend told me that I could buy a total-body suit at Home Depot for under $20 bucks.  When I heard that, I knew I could do it.

So Jeff went to Home Depot and bought me my fancy white suit, a "stocking" to fit over my head, and a big bottle of pellets for the carpenter ants to take home to their nest and cause mass genocide.  I also made him get the trouble lamp and extension cords to help ready me for my ordeal.

As soon as I finished work that night, I went downstairs to prepare.  First I had to empty my Christmas decor from the closet under the stairs, which is where the trapdoor to the crawlspace is.  Funny thing, but I have lived in this house for almost 5 years and never so much as wondered what was beneath that carpeted trapdoor until this Christmas when Justin was helping me move the holiday boxes back into storage.  He asked me if I wanted to see inside, and I said sure.  He lifted the door and we peered into the dark depths and spied a lot of cobwebs and droppings.  We both shuddered and said, "Gross!" and then he put the door back in place and I finished moving my boxes into the closet, never dreaming that in just a few short months I would be re-opening that trapdoor and lowering my body into the belly of our house!

I imagined it would be chilly under the house at night, so I wore my fleece jacket and slippers underneath my bodysuit.  I pulled the stocking over my head and it instantly made the back of my neck itch like crazy where it pressed my hair down.  So I scooped my hair up and shoved it underneath the cap so it wouldn't touch my skin.  Then I pulled the front of the stocking over my mouth and nose.  I slipped into the huge white bodysuit and tied the legs over my feet.  Last, I slipped on rubber gloves. 

I grabbed my camera and a flashlight and lowered myself down. Jeff handed me down the trouble lamp, and I shined it straight ahead and found that my way was blocked by huge black tubes of something. I would have to squeeze myself through a space that was about a foot wide. I knelt down and began to crawl. Cobwebs hung low in front of my face. I called up to Jeff to bring me a hockey stick so I could scrape them down and out of my way. Then my trouble lamp went out. If it wasn't for the fact that I was only a couple feet away from the trapdoor, I would have been plunged into total darkness. Jeff quickly pushed the ends of the two extension cords tighter together and the light came back on. I took a deep breath, aimed my lamp at the narrow place, took a couple knee-hand-knee-hand steps forward and...Suddenly, I didn't want to do this at all!

This is the tiny space I had to squeeze through...
Wow!  Now that I see the picture, it wasn't even a foot wide!

"$750"  I reminded myself.  "We're saving $750."  I shoved the trouble lamp ahead of me through the narrow space and then wedged my body against the wall and the tubing and pushed myself ahead into . . . I wasn't sure.  But the tubing gave way to the right and I came into an open space where I could actually look around.  There was a wall to the right that totally blocked me from half the house.  "Great," I thought.  I knew then I'd have to do half the house, crawl all the way back to where I started, go around the bearing wall and then go to the other half of the house to treat that side and then crawl back again.

The earth was covered with gravel and the gravel was covered with a heavy black plastic tarp.  Every piece of sharp gravel poked my knees as I crawled.  Sometimes pipes blocked my way and I had to climb over them.  Other times tubing blocked my way and I had to lie on my stomach and slide beneath it.  Everywhere were mouse droppings, sawdust, dirt and webs.  In some places the tarp had torn and water was puddled in the folds of plastic, smelling mildewy and foul.  I carried the big bottle of ant poison, the trouble lamp, a smaller flashlight in case the trouble lamp went out again and left me in blackness, the hockey stick and my camera.  Okay, too much stuff.  I could hardly move.  I abandoned the hockey stick and the camera (which is why there are no more pictures beyond the photo of the tight space above) and managed by pushing the trouble lamp ahead of me and then crawling on my knees and elbows while holding the bottle and the flashlight in my hands.  I grunted and groaned the whole way...I couldn't help it!  "OOF!" as I went down on my stomach and slid under a pipe.  "UMPH!" as I hauled my body over a pipe.  "EWW!" as I wiped away sticky cobwebs that clung to my head.  And "OUCH!" as my hands and knees again and again grinded into the sharp gravel.  I was also super hot in my sauna-suit!  I pictured myself as Andy on Shawshank Redemption, crawling the length of two football fields on my hands and knees through the sewer to freedom.  Okay, so it wasn't nearly that bad!

And then I was done.  I tossed the last of the pellets against the foundation and around the last vent and then, gratefully and anxiously, I crawled back to the trapdoor and called Jeff.  I stood up and peeled off my suit inside out so I wouldn't get any yucky stuff on the carpet, and then Jeff gave me a hand up and out of the hole.  I was drenched in sweat...wetter than I ever get doing Zumba or going for a run!  I crammed my suit into the garbage and headed for the shower.  That may have been my favorite shower ever!

Crawling out of the depths of darkness and dirt, completely
drenched and dripping with sweat!

So now I'm clean, warm and dry and back in the land of the living.  The Home Depot bill totalled $18.92:  $6.88 for the ant spectracide, $2.29 for the stocking, $8.67 for the bodysuit, and $1.08 for the Hershey Almond Bar...Wait!  I never saw a Hershey bar in the Home Depot bag!!  Jeff, you're busted!  Anyway, my expeditition saved us $731.08!  I think Jeff owes me big time!

By the way...

I never saw one single ant.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Magic is Over

I woke up this morning in my little beach cottage to the sound of birds singing enthusiastically outside my window. I opened my eyes and saw pink light filtering through the slats of the blinds. I looked at the clock: 6:28. So, I hadn’t slept in. I felt a twinge of disappointment, but I also felt awake and refreshed, so I slipped out of bed quietly and put on slippers and my favorite fleece jacket, took my Bible from the nightstand and went into the little living room to sit before the fire. I was torn between a longing to go down to the beach right then in the sweet stillness of the rosy morning and a desire to wait for Jeff to wake up so we could walk together. Then I thought, "I can do both!" So I changed into running shoes and put on my raincoat in case it was windy, grabbed my Bible and a thermos of good coffee that I had brought from home (hate that motel no-name stuff!), and quietly let myself out of the cottage and into the fresh morning air.

The ocean was pale and frothy in the early morning light. The gulls were busy and so were the seemed everyone who owned a dog must be out on the beach letting them run. I found a spot in the soft sand that was tucked away in the tall grasses with an open view of the water and sat down to read. It was so calm that the pages didn’t even so much as flutter. My bottom worked a comfy indentation in the sand and I read in this pleasant atmosphere of sand, sea and scripture until I started feeling hungry.

Back at the cottage I made some old-fashioned oatmeal with cinnamon and brown sugar and then sat down to eat and read the online news on my laptop since I didn’t have my regular morning paper. Soon Jeff was up and he ate and then headed into town to buy us a latte while I showered. We thought we’d shop a little and eat lunch and then hit the beach for a long walk before driving home. By the time we were ready and heading into town, the clouds were rolling in and the temperature had dropped. I thought I’d better be prepared, so I wore my raincoat but kept my sequined flip-flops on.

"Don’t you want to change your shoes?" Jeff asked.

"No," I replied. I don’t like wearing clompy running shoes in town."

We were surprised at how chilly it was, so we ducked into a restaurant where there was a woodstove pumping out radiant heat and slid into a wooden booth. As we ate, the rain started---first a drizzle, then a steady, slanting rain. I felt my spirits sag a bit. "Oh, well," I said. "We can do the rainy-day-at-the-beach thing and browse the shops, read in the bookstore, and have a treat at the bakery." So we pulled our hoods over our heads and ventured out into the gray, dreary street. I thought I’d buy some earrings because last night when I took mine out the pearl came off the post. I hadn’t packed another pair because we were only staying one night. So a cute pair of earrings from the coast would be my purchase. But I didn’t find a single pair that interested me. Then we went to the bakery and it was closed. Then we went to the bookstore and I overheard a man say that many businesses were closed on Tuesday, as it was the slow day at the coast. By now the rain was really coming down. My feet in their sequined flip-flops were wet and cold, my hair was a frizzy mess from putting my hood on and off, and my jeans were damp from the wind blowing the rain against my legs. Jeff’s glasses were spotted with water and he was hunched inside his coat.

"Let’s go," he said.

"Okay, but let’s go to the creperie and get something yummy for the road."

So Jeff drove me over and I ran inside while he sat in the running car and waited. I ordered a lemon curd and strawberry crepe and talked about Brazil with the owner (he had postcards from all over the world adorning the walls of his creperie and his wife was Hawaiian). I told him about the delicious Brazilian crepe I had eaten called, "Romeo and Juliet," which was a mild, gooey cheese and sweet guava jam folded into a hot crepe so the cheese melted and melded with the jam. He liked the idea because he had easy access to guava jam in Hawaii. He thanked me and handed me my crepe in a red-checked paper cone and I ran back to the car, protecting my treat from the rain with my body. Jeff took my picture biting into the yummy crepe, and then the camera broke. Just like that. I helped Jeff with the messy crepe so he could eat and drive, and I gave him the final unwrapped portion so he could bite into it without eating the paper wrapping. He stuffed the entire thing in his mouth! Just "rrrrmmmphhh" and it was gone! His cheeks were bulging and a bit of strawberry dripped down his lip. I said, "Hey!! You just ate it all! He said, "I thought you were done." I said, "No, I wasn’t done. Why would you assume I was done? I hardly had any!"

The magic was over. It was pouring rain, I didn’t get my walk on the beach, I didn’t find earrings, the bakery was closed, my camera broke, and Jeff ate my crepe. We both felt grumpy and rode in silence for a good 5 miles looking out the car windows through the rain at the bleak, gray sky. Then we started talking shop...back to business again, back to routine, back to responsibility, back to the real world.

Why can’t the magic last a little longer?

When we got home, carrying in the luggage seemed like such a chore. Jeff dropped the last of it on the kitchen floor and announced, "I’m going to lie down."  He went upstairs and I stood at the kitchen counter, brooding.  Then I spied the last piece of left-over lemon cheesecake from Sunday sitting on a platter.  I picked it up, unwrapped it, and spontaneously ate the whole thing. "Rrrrmmmphhh." Delicious. I felt a sly grin tug at the corners of my mouth. The magic was back.



The open road calls...

Being spontaneous is much more exciting and adventurous for people who are disciplined and orderly and routine.  I find there are people who tell you to be spontaneous or claim that they are spontaneous, but those people, to me, are usually just undisciplined procrastinators who would rather play than work.  Taking off for the beach on a whim is just a cute way of saying, "I didn't feel like dealing with the responsibilities of life so I avoided them another day by running away."  Okay, that was harsh.  But really, for people like me who live by their to-do list, doing something spontaneous borders on the edge of daring.  In fact, just writing about what I'm doing today makes me feel just a tiny bit in, "Oh, yeah, man...she be bad."  You know...when being bad is cool and good?

This morning I was up just after 6:00 as usual, doing my regular routine of laundry, tidying up after those who stayed up later than I did the night before, making Kate's lunch, going for a run, etc., etc., etc.  I was in the middle of making Kate's lunch when I heard Jeff get up.  Today is his day off, so I was surprised to hear him up so early, especially after our wild weekend adventure that gave those of us involved a huge adrenalin rush in the middle of the night and left us with a surreal, dream-like feeling the next day.  Sorry I can't give the details, but let's just say some pleasant spontaneity was greatly needed after the unpleasant surprise the night before.  So as I was wondering why he was up before 7, I heard him call down to me from the top of the stairs, "Do you want to go to the beach?"

I looked out the window.  It was pouring.  "Today?" I asked.


"It's raining."

"That's okay."

I actually like the beach when it's stormy, but only if I have a hotel room or a cabin to return to after a wet and windy walk to get warm and dry by curling up next to a fire and reading while watching the wild waves through the window.  If it's a day trip, there is nothing worse than a rainy beach and having to sit in the car for a 2-hour drive home in damp clothes and foggy windows.  So I ventured, "Overnight?"

"Yeah, I'll make the bank deposit and then we'll go in a couple hours.  We'll spend the night and come home tomorrow before 7 because I have an appointment tomorrow night."

"Um, okay," I agreed, and I turned to Kate who was looking at me in surprise (we are not a spontaneous family) and said, "Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow night.  I'll leave you some money and you can buy lunch tomorrow.  There's a big container of the pasta Justin made last night for your dinner.  I'll text you if I think of anything else."

Then I continued on with my routine, folding the next load of laundry, cleaning out the fridge...and then throwing some stuff in a bag, grabbing a coffee for the road and heading out under the suddenly dry sky.

By the time we got to the beach, then rain had stopped and the sun was joke!  We couldn't believe it.  The forecast had said 100% chance of rain and it wasn't just not raining, it was sunny!  We first began looking for a place to stay, but then I said, "Forget the's gorgeous out there!  Let's just hit the beach now and find a place later in case the weather changes."  So we did another spontaneous thing...parked the car and ran down to the beach and walked for miles with no plans or destination in mind.  We explored the tide pools and climbed the rocks.  We talked and took pictures and held hands as we walked.  Jeff remarked that everyone is equal at the beach:  The rich professionals who owned the gorgeous homes hugging the coast, the poor who slept in their cars at night and beachcombed by day, and us---those who didn't have a lot but wished we did so pretended we did---all wearing beach clothes and sporting wind-blown hair and rosy cheeks as we wandered back and forth along the ocean's edge, our paths crossing in total anonymity as to who was the billionaire and who was the beggar and who was the one in between.

Note to self:  Putting hands in pockets of
hoody makes one look pregnant!

Speaking of billionaires and beggars and those in between...we began discussing where we should stay and where we should eat, as dinner time was drawing near.  This is where Jeff is not adventurous.  He is predictable and plain.  He wants a reputable chain hotel, at least 3 stars, and a safe and expensive retaurant.  I like to be pampered as much as anyone, but I also quite enjoy adventuring out to find the quaint, charming and unique, especially when those three words save you about $100!  I was quite content to do the old-fashioned beach experience---little cottage on the coast and a cute cafe tucked away in the trees off the main street that served a great clam chowder, homemade bread and good coffee.  So now we disagree, but we're having such a wonderful time that both of us are willing to defer to the other in order to maintain the peace.  As we're driving past various hotels and restaurants while simultaneously checking Google and Expedia on both our phones, we finally strike a deal that pleases us both:  We will stay in the adorable vintage cottages I found that were built in the 1940s and remodeled, and we will go to dinner at the beautiful seaside restaurant where Jeff can have a full dinner and an ocean view.

When we booked our cottage, Jeff kept asking the desk clerk if the cottage was clean, and safe, and modern.  She smiled nicely and assured him it was.  I nudged him and whispered to stop asking silly questions and then showed him the bowl of saltwater taffy on the desk and offered him a piece.  That kept his mouth too busy for any more questions!

We pulled up in front of our blue-shingled cottage with a white adirondack rocking chair next to the little glass-windowed alcove over the door that protected the entry from the wind and rain, neither of which were bothering us today!  Jeff unlocked the door, stepped inside and said, "It smells damp."  I walked in and said, "Oh, it's adorable!"  Jeff walked around the corner and said, "The floor slants."  I turned the corner and spied the tiny little bedroom and bathroom and said, "It's perfect!"  The walls and cupboards and ceiling were all whitewashed beadboard.  There were vintage tiles in pale green for the kitchen wall and green milk-glass knobs on the cupboards.  The white shelves were open with scalloped trim with white dishes neatly displayed.  There was a tiny round table with two chairs by the window, a love seat in front of the fireplace, another white chair with a wicker seat and lots of windows with white wood blinds.  Around the corner was a bed with a white wooden headboard and made up in all white sheets and blankets, with a fluffy quilt at the foot of the bed in a deep ocean blue.  Two tiny white night stands with cute little lamps flanked the sides of the bed.  Little pegs were on the wall to hang our coats and there was a tiny closet off to the side.  The bathroom was all white too, with its own window and a pedestal sink and white wood-framed mirror, old-fashioned light fixtures and green tiled floors.  It was like the ocean...clean and white with splashes of deep blues and sea-green and the beige of seagrass.  It was quaint, charming and unique...and very affordable.  I was happy.

We changed clothes and walked the little beach path to the restaurant and got a table with a view.  It is Dungeness crab season, so I ordered crabcakes from the appetizer menu and a side of veggies (sauteed brussels sprouts, tender roasted pearl onions and asparagus, my favorite).  Jeff ordered the Dungeness Chicken Florentine...a chicken breast stuffed with crab, swiss cheese and spinach and all the trimmings.  It was delicious.  We started our meal with a shared clam chowder and then ate slowly, enjoying our food, conversation and the view.  Jeff was very full when he was done eating, so it was his turn to be happy.

The sun was still shining at 7 at night, so we changed clothes again and went back to the beach to watch the sunset.  There was another couple walking the beach.  They looked like Portland art students...young, mismatched second-hand clothes, straggly hair, little dog, bottle of wine for sharing.  They wandered slowly and aimlessly together and apart with their dog weaving between them.  There was a man who was clean-cut standing immobile with his jeans rolled up and his feet sinking in the sand, holding a can of soda staring straight out over the sea watching the sun slip away.  He told us he always comes home from work and heads out to the beach to watch the sunset.  It's his unwinding routine.  We watched the hot-pink sun literally drop before our eyes right behind the sea, then we walked for awhile until the sky turned lavender.  Back in the cottage, I had brought popcorn from home, so we made popcorn and sat side by side on the loveseat in front of the fire with our laptops and planned our dream trip to Europe for awhile and then just read until we were sleepy.  We turned on the heat and opened the windows so we could let the sea air and the sound of the ocean lull us to sleep.

Perfect end to the day.  Spontaneity has never felt so serene.  We both racked our brains and tried to remember if we had ever done something like this before and both of us agreed it was the very first time.  Maybe that's why it was so special.  If you do it twice, is it really spontaneous?  I don't know.  I'll have to try it again one day and see!

The classic "take a picture of yourselves at arm's length"

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Chocolate Bunnies That Live In My Closet

I'm not a fan of candy.

I don't really like it very much and I really don't like my kids to eat it.  Jeff has always thought I was stingy and mean when it came to how strictly I prohibited the kids' candy intake when they were little.  And I always thought Jeff was overindulgent and lacked self control when he would choose the "pleasure of sin for a moment" over good nutrition and common sense in allowing the kids to eat lots of candy.  To this day, I actually have to look away when I watch Jeff eat chocolate like one would eat a sandwich...chomp, chomp, chomp.  All gone.  Me, I savor every bite...when I decide to take one!  I'm very selective, first of all.  It must be top quality, like Bernard Callebaut or Moonstruck.  Then it must be stashed away in a secret place until I'm in the mood.  Then I take one small bite and let the chocolate slowly melt and spread across my tongue, tasting the richness and feeling the smoothness of that one perfect bite.  Then I'm done, and my chocolate is carefully wrapped up and tucked away until the next time...which could be a few months or even longer.  It drives my kids crazy.  They used to ask me all the time, "Can I have your chocolate?"  When I would say no, they would always reply, "But you're not eating it."  I would assure them I most definitely was, and even if it took me a year to finish it, it was still mine!

When the kids were very small, I could get away with just a few small candies in their Easter baskets, and the rest of the contents were gifts...small toys, socks, books, barrettes, play-dough, sidewalk chalk, and other fun "little" things.  As they grew older, I would give them a few of their favorite candies, but I still put the emphasis on little gifts.  My mom and Jeff's mom, however, would provide them with huge chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, Peeps, and Cadbury Creme Eggs (the worst candy EVER!).  I would let them eat freely from their baskets on Easter Sunday because there was so much other good food served at Easter Brunch or Dinner that they really didn't overeat.  But the next day, I would sneak part of their basket contents away and stash it in my bin for next year.  Yep.  Pretty bad, huh?  Of course, the older they got the harder this became.  Finally, I pretty much gave up.  The only candy I could salvage was the stuff they didn't like, usually the jelly beans.

This year I did something I never do...I gave everyone a chocolate bunny.  I usually make up some kind of little basket for all our college kids, but this year I decided to buy gold foil-wrapped Lindt chocolate bunnies because they matched my color scheme for my Easter table.  I put one at every place and they looked great.  I liked the bright colors of this year's table...yellow, orange and red.  It was vivid, sunshiny and bright.  After the wettest March in history (no joke...we broke the record!), pastels just weren't far enough away from the shades of gray we had endured the month before, so I chose the cheeriest spring colors I could find!

Dinner itself was so yummy.  We had both a ham and a lamb.  I treated the lamb to a flavorful rub and roasted it and the ham was baked and topped with a peach glaze.  Then we had one of my most favorite side dishes---rich and creamy risotto, fragrant with white wine and flecked with fresh mint to complement the lamb.  For the vegetable we had asparagus, because it is the favorite of most of our gang.  But I made it special by drizzling on a lemon-butter sauce made silky by whisking in egg yolk and simmering it to a smooth and glossy finish.  The salad was butter lettuce, a more delicate, tender leaf than romaine, and I tossed it with carmelized peaches, feta cheese, avocado, green onion and a peach vinaigrette.  Then I attempted homemade hot cross buns.  I made them the night before and refrigerated them until their last rise before baking in the morning, but I think that toughened them.  The flavor was great but the texture was a bit heavy and dry.  Oh, perfection this year!  My mom always brings deviled eggs, but I found the cutest deviled eggs on Pinterest that looked like fluffy yellow chicks coming out of their shells.  I forwarded it to her and she felt up to the challenge.  They turned out adorable that it was a little hard to eat them!  Then for dessert we had lemon meringue parfaits with lavender shortbread.  Honestly, I'd skip the candy any day but shortbread calls to my heart and wins me over every time.  I think I would probably eat it until it made me sick if I didn't conjure up every ounce of willpower to stop after one piece!

After that wonderful meal and lots and lots of laughter, I cleaned up and put everything back in order.  The kids loaded up their laundry and laptops and left for school.  I noticed that my daughter had left her Easter basket and her bunny behind.  I took them upstairs with the other Easter decor to pack away for next year (chocolate keeps pretty much indefinitely, just for your info!).  As I was finishing up the last of the kitchen and just about ready to head to bed, Jeff reads my daughter's Facebook status out loud to me:  "Mom, I left my chocolate bunny at home.... Please don't hide it and then save it for next Easter!"  I put my hands to my face and confessed, "Aaaahhh!  That's exactly what I did!"  Jeff and Justin looked at me in disbelief and shook their heads in the next nicest thing to disgust.  "I can't believe you," Justin said.  "Oh, Karyn!" Jeff chimed in.

Busted by the Easter Bunny.

I humbly and dutifully went straight upstairs and took the gold bunny out of my closet and put him back in my daughter's room.

I'm repenting.  From now on, I will not steal my children's Easter candy.

{or their Halloween candy}

{or their Christmas candy}

Sorry, kids.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Table Talk - You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!

Today's dessert was a fiasco.

Yes, a total fiasco...THREE TIMES OVER!!!

Last night I tried a new recipe.  It's called "Tres Leches," which means "three milks" in Spanish.  It's a cake that is very popular throughout Central America.  I've eaten in it Mexico and in Costa Rica.  It's a sponge cake that soaks in a rich, creamy sauce of three milks---evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and regular milk (or half-n-half).  The cake absorbs the milks like a sponge, making it exceptionally moist and creamy and, supposedly, delicious.

I planned a Mexican-themed meal for Sunday dinner today---fajitas, beans and rice, tortilla chips and guacamole with virgin mojitos (fizzy lime drink) and then wanted to end on a sweet note with a slice of this rich dessert topped with fresh whipped cream and sliced mango.

But the cake would not cooperate.

Cake #1 was hard and flat and wouldn't absorb a single drop of cream.  I threw it in the garbage.  I went online and found a different recipe that seemed to me to have better ingredients and definitely had great photos and step-by-step instructions.

Cake #1

I started over...7 more eggs, separated, with the whites whipped until they stood at attention and the yolks beaten until they were creamy and pale and then both folded gently together and added to the other ingredients until I had a beautiful, thick, airy batter. 


Until I took it out of the oven.

Cake #2 was hard and flat and wouldn't absorb a single drop of cream.  I threw it in the garbage.  I went to my recipe book and selected a tried-and-true recipe for a basic white cake that I had made many times with many variations.

Cake #2

The batter's texture and taste was exactly like it always is.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I put it in the oven.  It would be done baking right before my guests arrived.  I would have just enough time to pour the cream over the warm cake and then pop it in the fridge to chill while we ate dinner.

Cake #3 was hard and flat and didn't absorb a single drop of cream.  We ate it anyway.

Cake #3

After I doctored up that poor cake with a pretty dollop of whipped cream and garnished it with mango and raspberries, it looked quite presentable.  But the taste was heavy and bland.  What a disappointment!

But what a conversation piece!  My failed cake was definitely the Table Talk of today's dinner!  Everyone had a suggestion or a solution.  But when the third cake was a flop, I knew:  It was the baking powder.

About 8 months ago I decided to try organic, chemical-free baking powder from the organic food supplier I get a lot of my specialty foods from.  I began thinking back on all the baking I've done and how it seemed a lot of my desserts hadn't turned out very well.  I didn't realize until today that the flops had always been a baked good and not fruit crisps, pies, cheesecake or ice cream-based desserts.  I spoke my suspicion out loud, and Kate instantly remembered the Tarte Tropezienne for her birthday two months ago that was also heavy and dense.  I had chalked that up to a bad recipe because it had come from France.  But then she reminded me that our French exchange student Laure could not make it either, and she knew the recipe by heart.  We had decided then that translating French measurements into American measurements was the reason for her heavy, flat cake.  Then there was the flat mocha layer cake for Jeff's birthday.  I had just accepted the thin layers as the way they were supposed to be because I had never made the recipe before.  And then there was the coffee cake that the kids accused me of using whole wheat flour instead of white because it was so heavy.  I had used half whole wheat and half white, so I agreed that was the problem.  But now my mind was going back to other desserts...flat brownies, flat cookies, dense banana bread, heavy biscuits.  I even said to a friend, "I don't really like baking.  It's so fussy.  Cooking is a lot more fun."

My sweet potato spice cake that was supposed to be
light and moist but weighed a ton!  Each layer
pressed down on the layer below it, squeezing out
the toasted marshmallow filling.
Nobody could finish their piece.

See how dense the layers are?  I had photographed
this cake to share on my blog, but when it turned out
so poorly, I threw away the recipe and didn't bother
putting up any pictures.  Now I want to try the recipe again!
Kate's terrible Tarte Tropezienne birthday cake
No one finished this either and I threw it away a few
days later.  All that work  : (
(But the filling was fantastic!!)

All these months of bad baking...all because of bad baking powder!  I am so excited to buy a brand new box of non-organic, chemical-laden baking powder and bake me up a mile-high layer cake!!  I am soooo going to have my cake and EAT IT too!

No more cakes in the garbage...this time I'm throwing out the baking powder!