Monday, January 26, 2015

the quotidian (1.26.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Leftover poinsettias from church: my daughter scored again.


Iced.


Wintertime color pops.


A broken back saves time. 
(Or something like that.)


Mellow vs. high-strung.


Breakfast state of the union.


One hundred percent phonetic: his journal.


A serious conversation revolving around potential marriage partners.


Morning rummy with my boy.


Coordination.
(The raised eyebrow helps.)


What we eat when the kids are gone. 
Him: fried eggs, pan haus (the neighbors butchered again!), bagel. 
Me: buttered popcorn with salt and nutritional yeast and seltzer with apple juice.


Gone parents: a fun read.

This same time, years previous: hobo beans, in which it all falls to pieces, rocks in my granola and other tales, what you can do, first day of classes, and then we moved into a barn, the quotidian (1.23.12), five things, housekeepingcorn tortillas, grumble, grumble, flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, pink cupcakes in no particular order, capturing the moment, and baked brie.            

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

lazy stuffed cabbage rolls

I am striking out all over the place when it comes to making meals that my family enjoys. For awhile there I was a dream mom, serving up the honey-baked chicken, the spaghetti and meatballs with vodka cream sauce, the pepperoni pizza, the egg and sausage bake, the mac and cheese, etc.

But then, all of a sudden, I got sick of it. The meals were too easy! Too predictable! Too boring! Too nice! I missed the weird grains, lentils, and spices, the not-our-standard veggies, the unusual sauces, the from-scratch hearty fare. I missed challenging my family.



See, if I don't keep hammering my loved ones over the head with broadening-their-horizons eats, they will invariably turn into club-wielding, nose-picking, grunt-grunting cavemen. A mama's gotta be careful of these things! So I stocked up on little white beans, red lentils, and fresh spinach. And I started push-ush-ushing the envelope.



Now mealtimes are pretty much hell. What with all the yell-ell-elling and groan-oan-oaning, one might even go as far as to call them barbaric.



Certainly, a lesser person would admit defeat and wave the white flag. But not me! Onward ho I go, slinging legumes and roasting cabbages. Certain progeny are beginning to look a wee bit peaked, but that's okay. If nothing else, at least we're saving money.



So, Saturday's supper. In keeping with my general mission of inflicting massive doses of mealtime misery, I made lazy cabbage rolls. I had high hopes. What with the beef and sauce, the family would be sure to like it, right? And I would be sure to get a little buzz from feeding them their evil nemesis (brown rice) and an entire head of knobby cabbage. It could only be win-win.

I was wrong. The masses revolted. Which was royally irritating since the meal was most definitely a gold medal winner, at least in my opinion. I couldn't stop eating it.

For reals. I've been eating the leftovers ever since.

Yesterday my mother stopped by and I fed her the last of the crock pot cabbage. And whaddaya know? She loved it! I almost didn't know how to interpret her loud moans of delight, so foreign to me are the sounds of mealtime appreciation.

“You like it?” I asked.

“Oh my, yes,” she said. “Yes. Yes!

(For those of you worried about my wasting-away children: tonight's supper is pasta with pesto, peas, pickled beets, and applesauce. They will happily consume one-half of the meal. The other half they will simply consume. Then tomorrow they'll sup at The Grands and pig out on hot dogs. The next night will probably be pizza. Because I am battle-worn.)

Despite my family's unfavorable rave reviews, this dish is quite spectacular. The assembly takes minutes (with the addition of the roasted cabbage, which is a fairly mindless step), and the final product is like a rich, very thick stew.


Lazy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls 
Adapted from Aimee of Simple Bites.

1 small head of cabbage, cored and cut in wedges
olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 pound ground beef
1 egg
2-3 cups cooked brown rice
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons salt, divided
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 quart canned tomatoes
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon each sugar and cider vinegar
sage, optional

For the cabbage:
Lay the wedges on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes, turning the cabbages over at the halfway mark.

For the filling:
Put the onion, beef, egg, rice, parsley, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Combine, using your fingers.

For the sauce:
Whirl the tomatoes, garlic, sugar, vinegar, and the remaining teaspoon of salt together in the blender.

To assemble:
Pour half of the tomato sauce in the bottom of your crock pot. Place half of the cabbage on top. Evenly distribute the meat over the cabbage (as you would the topping for an apple crisp—in other words, don't pack it). Arrange the remaining cabbage wedges on top. Drizzle the remaining sauce over all, and sprinkle with some dried sage, if desired. Cook on high for six hours.

Wear earplugs to the table so you don't have to hear the kids fuss.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.20.14), on the relevancy of growing onions, world's best pancakes, multigrain bread, moving forward, chocolate cream pie, on thank-you notes, and on not wanting.    

Monday, January 19, 2015

the quotidian (1.19.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Farmer Girl breakfast: cracked wheat pancakes.
(But with this leftover porridge in place of the cooked cracked wheat.)


Have you ever tried Pink Lady apples?
They're delicious—sweet and crispbut even if they weren't, 
I'd still eat them, simply for the pink factor.


About a six-month supply: so much cheaper when buying straight from the farmer.


Roasted cabbage!


Reading to her cousin, yes, but the real reason for this photo is the pierced ear.
After getting them pierced in Guatemala, she let them grow closed. Then at Thanksgiving, after hearing her aunt recount piercing her own ears as a child, this girl snuck off to her room and re-pierced her own ear. But just one! She plans to be a pirate next Halloween. 


After getting bucked off (and the ensuing wild horse chase), some good, old-fashioned discipline.


For a little boy, from The Grands: the perfect doodling book and these erasable colored pencils.


Nothing happened. 
(Yet.)

This same time, years previous: the things people say, cream cheese dip, the good and the bad, educational thoughts, kind of, cheesy polenta with sauteed greens, snapshots and captionschuck roast braised in red wine, and peanut noodles.

Friday, January 16, 2015

just do it

My father has set a goal to write one hundred 100-word essays. He usually writes them in the morning, sitting at his desk in the study. The other evening when we were at their house for supper, he let me read some of them. (Actually, I didn't know about this little practice of his until that evening—and he's been working on them off and on for a couple years—and only because Mom mentioned it.)

Here's one of my favorites:
So, is a suitable shoe at Bon-Ton? We’ve been here two hours. Do shoes create self-image?  
Never mind that last night’s temperature, 15°F, portends the winter to come. Only slip-on shoes with low sides or no backs will do. At least the toes are pocketed! Whatever she chooses, she’ll be graceful, herself.  After a snow, I’ll shovel a path to the car, an elegant path for elegant legs ending in elegant shoes. 
She’ll shiver and fiddle impatiently with the heater’s knobs, but when we enter the theater, she’ll be queen, having defied the elements in her wonderful shoes.
*** 

I struggle to teach writing. Aside from, “Do it a lot and you'll get better,” I don't know what else to say. One of the guys in our small group is a high school English teacher. Sometimes he tells us about a lesson he taught and I'm invariably amazed and fascinated and inspired. Such creative explanations! Such perfect metaphors! Such probing questions!

But at our house we're back at square one, battling the run-on sentence and possessives. I don't have the terminology—the facts—to explain the stuff clearly. I don't know the rules. Prepositions? Ha! I hardly even know what they are, let alone why they matter. So we (meaning, my older son) did a grammar workbook and some spelling stuff. Handwriting, too. It all helped, but only marginally.

Several months ago, I settled on the most basic thing possible: daily writing. I give my son a topic, set the timer for 30 minutes, and set him loose. The only rules: solid sentences and be logical. When the timer bings, I read over his writing and we correct it together. I'll say things like, “There are three run-ons. Find them.” Or, “Do you know the rule for when to spell out numbers?” And then we discuss and correct. Sometimes he spends another 15 minutes rewriting or fine tuning. Other times, we save an underdeveloped idea for the next day's writing.

As for topics, I sometimes ask questions based on what's been going on; for example, “What did you do over Christmas break?” Sometimes he writes a letter or email. Other times I use this page as a springboard for thought-provoking questions. I try to strike a balance between narrative (easy), comparison-contrast (super hard, logic-wise), persuasive, etc. Bit by tiny bit, he's improving.

He wrote this one last week. It made me laugh out loud.
How do male and female roles differ in your family? 
The mother does the cooking, financial work, shopping, school work, and the yelling at the kids and the father. The father does the equally hard work of bringing in the money for the selfish kids and greedy mother. The father also built the house with his own two hands, while the mother kept the bratty kids out from under the father's feet. The father does all the outside work while the mother is inside on her DELL INSPIRON 2006 that's running on duct tape and salt, a term the eldest son uses for saying the father and the mother need a new computer.
The kids sometime think that the mother is cruel to the father, but then the father yells at the kids and they change their minds in an insistent. The mother's never persuaded to do what she doesn't want to do. She rules with a staff of thunderous might, always telling the children or the husband that they need a move on in life, or that they are being lazy, or come say 'what next.' The father, on the other hand, is a mighty man who, even though he stands close to six feet tall, can never stand up to the mistress of the house. When the mother leaves, the selfish children are excited because they get to stay with the father, and because he might let them watch a movie. The father never really does all the chores the mother tells him to do, because he always stumbles on to a good article or the selfish children throw a hellish fight. During the fight the father yells at the mouthy children and says, “THERE IS NO MOVIE FOR YOU NOW.” Naturally then, the children fall apart and that's the end of a good evening.
*** 

Recently, I had to write a 100-word essay. Actually, it wasn't an essay, per se. More of a description of a seminar I'll be giving. I spent an afternoon mulling over the topic at hand, re-reading old posts I'd written, and watching a TED talk on the art of giving presentations. And then I sent a couple rough drafts to my mother and we spent another good while hashing out the finer points over the phone. All for 100 (less, actually) words. HOW DOES ANYONE EVER WRITE A BOOK?

Here it is:
Skipping School: Doing Education Differently 
What is learning? How does it happen? This often-fraught homeschooling mother of four will share her stories. This seminar is for a) anyone who has children or plans to have children, b) educators, and c) both homeschoolers and people who are appalled at the mere idea of homeschooling. Myths will be debunked, the status quo challenged, and horizons broadened. Everyone welcome! 
(This seminar will be one of the many offerings at our church's biannual convention in Kansas City this summer. More information forthcoming.)

(Title inspiration courtesy of Kate Fridkis' blog, Skipping School.)

*** 

Do you write daily?
Do you have any good pointers for teaching writing skills?

This same time, years previous: when a scholar marries a hunk of reality, on being burned at the stake (or not), day one, the quotidian (1.16.12), snapshots, Julia's chocolate almond cake, and five-minute bread.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

on kindness

On Sunday, Pastor Jennifer said that the definition of kindness is to enjoy people.

Want to be kinder? Actively enjoy people more. 

I've always thought “being kind” meant bestowing niceness on someone. Pastor Jennifer's definition, I think, is much meatier and way more fun. Kindness is delighting—honestly delighting—in other people. How crazy-neat is that?

*** 

I recently read a blog post on parenting tips in which one of the pieces of advice was: “Ignore your mother-in-law. She knows nothing.”

The suggestion was tongue-in-cheek, meant to be funny and all. But still, it felt like a slap. Ha, ha! Those stupid mothers-in-law—

And then, Oh CRAP! Where does this leave ME? I have four kids! At least a couple of them are bound to get married! 

So I left a comment: “Lucky me, my children aren't married yet. I'm still relevant.”

Writing people off is the opposite of enjoying them. It is unkind.

*** 

In contrast! …

Back at our annual soiree, my sister-in-law and my mother were recounting their adventures from last spring when they were in Japan. Among other things, they had gone to a bathhouse—you know, the kind where all the women (men in another section) sit around naked in hot water. This was a bit stretching for my mother, but she was game. And my sister-in-law, in telling it to us women, exclaimed about my mother, “And her body is so beautiful!”

We all kind of stared at my sister-in-law. It's not every day that young women see grandmas naked and rave about their bodies.

“I'm serious!” she said. “Her skin is gorgeous!

Her words pierced. So sharp and bold, unflinching in their extravagance. So warm.

*** 

My PMS has been pretty bad this time around. Off and on, my moodiness overwhelms and I can't stand anything, especially myself.

Two days ago my younger daughter locked the keys in the car and I had a the-world-is-ending meltdown. My daughter apologized—it was an accident—but I couldn't hear her. I couldn't see her. All I could see was my own misery and misfortune. I carried on like someone had chopped my foot off.

I do not fall apart like that very often, thank goodness. But what made the situation worse was that I felt helpless against my irrational emotions, hijacked by hormones. I could not, simply could not, cope.

Which makes me wonder about the link between depression and kindness. If depression is the absence of the ability to enjoy things, are depressed people destined to be unkind?


***

One recent evening, in the throes of riotous grumpiness—snapping at my husband, fussing about life, whining and bitching and generally being the most pitiful, rotten, unlovable soul in the world—I finally collapsed in a heap of despondent despair on the sofa to watch an episode of The Gilmore Girls.

My husband scoffs at my silly Netflix shows (preferring instead to read a book), but this particular evening he walked boldly over and snuggled up next to my toxic self. It was the sweetest thing he could've done. I was at my lowest—I had nothing to offer him—and yet he was choosing to enjoy being with me.

His kindness didn't change me much, but I sure felt it. Him sitting beside me was exactly what I needed. His presence was a balm. (And I don't normally describe his presence as "a balm.")

*** 

Back to that mother-in-law joke. Maybe I couldn't enjoy it because I'm pmsing and therefore unable to enjoy things. Maybe, if I was totally even-keel, it would strike me as spot-on hilarious.

Which makes me ask: are depressed people more likely to be critical? Are kind, hormonally-balanced people less likely to shake up the status quo?

And so ramble on my thoughts.

The end.

This same time, years previous: through the kitchen window, GUATEMALA!, vanilla cream cheese braids, quick fruit cobbler, cranberry relish, starting today..., ants on a log, spots of pretty, and inner voices.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

cranberry bread

I've been meaning to share this cranberry bread recipe since, oh, back around Thanksgiving. That I'm actually doing so after such a long wait only proves how good the recipe really is. If it were mediocre, it would've faded from memory and never seen the bloggy light.

Or I suppose the long time lapse might prove that I'm lazy.

Or that I forgot.

Or that I didn't really like it but have nothing else to write about so now cranberry bread it is.

That last one is not definitely not true. Well, at least the “not liking it” part is not true. Having nothing else to write about kinda is. I kept having other things to write about and so the bread kept getting scooched back. But not today! Today's the day the bread's gonna shine!


I have two proofs that this bread is good.

1. Thanksgiving evening when we all gathered at my parents' place for dessert, the options were excessive: chocolate-orange bread, cranberry pie, pecan pie, pumpkin bars, apple pie, vanilla ice cream, cheesecake, and cranberry bread. The little humble cranberry loaf not only held its own, it stood out. Everyone said so.

2. At our family Christmas gathering, there was a meal of desserts (it appears we have a thing for dessert suppers)—well over a dozen exotic cookies, as well as an apple crisp and, again, that unassuming cranberry bread. And just as before, the cranberry bread got raves.

I made the bread myself somewhere between numbers one and two. In fact, if my memory serves me right, I think I made it the day after Thanksgiving. It was so good I had to have it all to myself as soon as possible. My husband ate a whole loaf (they were minis) in one sitting.

This recipe happens to be similar to a recipe I already have on this blog. But this bread uses more sugar and less butter, as well as dried cranberries instead of golden raisins. As a result, it's more moist and a little sweeter, and it packs a satisfying cranberry punch. So good!


Cranberry Bread
Adapted from Cranberry Thanksgiving, by Wende Devlin and Harry Devlin.

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon orange zest
¾ cup orange juice
1½ cups dried cranberries
1½ cups fresh cranberries, chopped

Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the butter with your fingers. Whisk in the egg, zest, and juice. Fold in the dried and fresh cranberries. Divide the batter between four, greased mini loaf pans (or a couple larger pans). Bake at 350 degrees for about 40-70 minutes, depending on the size of your loaf pans. When the loaves are golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean, they're done.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.13.14).

Monday, January 12, 2015

the quotidian (1.12.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


And then he nibbled my knee. 


Ice bounce.


Of a cold morning, waking up.


Blogging and journaling.


Big boy, little boy.


Winning, but barely.

This same time, years previous: roll and twist, sticky toffee pudding, spinach lemon orzo soup, crumbs, eyeballs and teeth, kiddling shenanigans, rum raisin shortbread, creamy blue cheese pasta with spinach and walnuts, kisses and band-aids, and earthquake cake.

Friday, January 9, 2015

sourdough crackers

At our family Christmas gathering, my cousin served homemade crackers to go with the assortment of cheeses—blue, goat, gouda, etc—that the rest of us brought. The crackers were made from sourdough starter. She had written about them on her blog, and, while I had thought about them off and on since reading about them, I'd never taken the time to make them. There are so many good store-bought crackers—when I'm struggling to get well-rounded dinners on the table, I'm inclined to let go of the little extras.

But these crackers! More than just good, they were outstanding. My cousin had said they tasted cheesy without having any cheese in them and she was absolutely right. Their secret cheesiness made them kind of incredible, not to mention very, very addictive.

I prefer the thick ones.

So of course I came home and made them. And then yesterday I made them again, a double batch this time. The kids kept stealing them—heck, I kept stealing them—from the cooling rack, so I had to jar them up so I'd have some left for the evening's Milkmaid gathering. (To go with the crackers, I cobbled together a simple cheese ball with some leftover walnut cheddar from our Christmas Eve feast. My kids saw the cheese ball and commenced a-wailing, “What! They get cheese ball and we don't? No fairrrrr!!”)


The great thing about these crackers is that they use up the little bit of leftover starter I have every morning when I'm having a bread-baking week. It's the easiest thing in the world to just get out another bowl, toss in the bit of leftover starter and then stir in a bit of flour, salt, and butter. After mixing up my second batch of cracker dough, I ran out of time, so I just stuck the dough in the fridge. Then yesterday I rolled the dough out and baked the crackers. The extra wait time in the fridge didn't hurt them one bit. Translation: refrigerator cracker dough always at the ready!


Sourdough Crackers 
Adapted from Zoe's blog Whole Eats Whole Treats.

I like my crackers on the thick side, so a single recipe only yields about a quart. Yesterday's double recipe made a half-gallon worth. There's only a few left in the jar. (Update: the jar's empty.)

I went out and bought granulated garlic for these crackers. I only had garlic powder, and my cousin says it's easier to work with the granulated stuff. She's right. It sprinkles more evenly and it has a nicer texture. Also, I like my crackers salty, so I sprinkle the dough with a couple pinches of coarse salt prebaking.

Locals: I have starter to share. Just ask! (The feeding schedule is in the right hand column of this post. And here's a post on the origins of the starter.)

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup whole wheat flour, slightly heaped
½ slightly rounded teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, softened
coarse salt and granulated garlic for topping, optional 

Stir together the started, flour, salt, and butter. The dough will be soft and sticky—chilling it in the fridge for an hour (or several days) will make it more manageable.

Grease a couple cookie sheets and roll out the dough directly onto the sheets. In the overn, the dough will puff up about double, so plan for their thickness accordingly. Sprinkle the crackers with salt and granulated garlic, if desired. Pass a rolling pin over the crackers one more time, to help the toppings stick. Cut the crackers with a pizza cutter.

Bake the crackers at 350 degrees for 15-30 minutes (or longer—it all depends on their thickness) or until the crackers are golden brown and crispy. The crackers around the edges will brown first—I just pull the pan from the oven every few minutes and remove the ones that are done. I let the last of the crackers, when I finally pull them from the oven, sit on the tray to crisp up even more. Store in an airtight container.

This same time, years previous: one year and one day, between two worlds, the quotidian (1.9.12), hog butchering!, moving big sticks of wood, and baked hash brown potatoes.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

what it means

This fall my parents moved three miles down the road into a house that they (and my husband and a few other hammery folk) built. We were in virgin territory, living in such close proximity to my parents. I did not know what it would be like. What would it mean—really mean—to live this close?


Here's what it means:

*We are neighbors! We are far enough apart that we don't cross paths if we don't choose to, but close enough that we can walk over for a visit or to borrow a tool.

*For the first time since I left home when I was 17, I can visit my folks without baggage, husband, or kids. I just hop in the car and zip over. Or I walk over. Or run. Besides my own house, there is no other home in the world where I'm perfectly at home, except for my parents' place. It's like my living space has doubled. I've got two places to crash now.

*For Thanksgiving, we ate the main meal at my brother's house (a half mile down the road) and then had dessert at my parents' house. A bunch of us walked over in the dusk, enjoying the chilly air, exercise, and conversation.

*We pick things up in town for each other—groceries, plants, etc. If we spy a deal, we call the other to see if they want to take advantage.

*My parents do lots and lots (and lots and lots and lots) of child care. One of their goals for moving here was to soak up the grands. I keep thinking they're going to reach the saturation point any day now...

*So much flexibility! The other night we had supper at their house and when it came time to leave, my youngest didn't want to come home with us. So he stayed. My younger daughter had already fallen asleep in the downstairs bedroom, so she stayed, too.

*The kids can go over there randomly, just to hang out. Last week my older daughter called up my mom to see if she might spend the night. My mom said sure, so we dropped my girl off that evening. She didn't come home until the next evening. Mostly, my mom said, she just read all day. (I think she wants to go over there just so she can get out of work and read herself cross-eyed.)

*When my dad gets the urge, he rides over on his bike and gives the kids science lessons.

*My parents sometimes take the kids to their choir rehearsals or whatever, just to see what it is they are up to.

*My children invite their friends over, not only to our house, but to their grandparents' house. The other week, my younger daughter and her friend went over there and made a ginormous batch of tapioca pudding with my mom. Next up, my younger son and his friend are scheduled for a sleep over. 

*Last minute dinner invitations.

*Woods! My parents' 13 acres is all forested. So now my kids have a new place to crash through, explore, and make forts in. In the summer there are blackberries to eat. In the winter my father makes firewood deliveries.

All in all, it's a pretty sweet deal, this living-close-to-parents thing. We're loving it.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.6.14), date nut bread, headless chickens, so worth it, candied peanuts, salted dulce de leche ice cream with candied peanuts, winter chickens, turkey noodle soup, and what I did.    

Monday, January 5, 2015

breaking the fruitcake barrier

I am intrigued by fruitcake. Why are so many are so bad? Why do people continue to make them? Why the fake red and green chemical chunks? It's all so mysterious.

I suppose that fruitcakes had a very logical reason for being, at least back in the beginning they did. Back then, a cake built from dried fruits made sense. Everyone had dried fruit (and dried fish, dried venison, dried herbs, etc.), so they used what they had. Plus, the natural sugars from the dried fruit decreased the need for expensive, store-bought sugar. Preserving the cake with liquor made sense, too. They sure didn't have any freezers for long-term storage.

Actually, I just made all that stuff up. I don't know anything about the origins of fruitcake. But it sounded good, right?

As I see it, there is absolutely no justification for the current existence of florescent-colored, sticky-sweet, fruitcake atrocities. You'd think, what with modernization and evolution and all that, fruitcakes would either be a relic of the past or a knock-dead delicious dessert. In a world of chocolate and butter, I see no need for anything less.

Unless!

Unless fruitcakes are, in their true, unadulterated form, truly delicious. This, my friends, is my hunch. And this, my friends, is why on December of 2014 I set about on a quest to break the fruitcake barrier.

Spoiler alert: I failed.

***



Some foodie friends told me about their family fruitcake that everyone, including children, loved. I took down their recipe. I asked detailed questions. I ran a fruitcake background check, a sort of cross-examination of people who had actually tasted the cake. I sourced the last bottle of concord grape wine in town and then made my husband go get it. And then I made the cake.

It took three weeks. The fruits soaked in run and wine for two of those weeks, and after the cake was baked, it sat wrapped in wax paper for another full week. The cake looked promising.




Deception.

On Christmas Eve, we finally cut into it. And it was awful: bitter, gummy in the middle, and so overpoweringly alcoholic that it made my eyes water. Or perhaps my eyes watered from the disappointment? I don't know. But it was bad. Really, truly, irrevocably bad.


Part of the problem was me, I'm pretty sure. See, the recipe called for lots of minced orange and lemon rind. So I bought real lemons and oranges, carefully cut off the rinds to minimize pith, and then minced them up. But after adding them to the fruit cocktail, I learned, through further questioning, that the recipe meant candied peels. Oops. So that probably explained the bitter.

As for the gumminess—my fault, again. Fifteen more minutes in the oven would've fixed that problem.

But the alcohol, now. That was not my mistake. I followed the recipe to a tee. I had thought that because the copious amounts of alcohol were added pre-baking, much of the kick would be knocked out in the two-hour baking time. I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

***

At our family reunion, I brought up the mystifying topic of fruitcakes. Opinions varied. Someone suggested that we each come to the next gathering with a fruitcake and then have a taste test competition. I suggested that we make it more interesting by also bringing a catapult to launch the losing cakes... perhaps at the losing cooks. I was feeling vindictive.

***

Through the grapevine I heard that one of my friends was experimenting with fruitcake, so once we returned from Pennsylvania, I emailed him to suggest a fruitcake tasting party. He came bearing not only his fruitcake, but his father-in-law's, too.

Both cakes were completely different. The non-alcoholic one was like a fruit bar with large chunks of chewy fruit layered together. The other was like a dark, fruity bread that, even though it had been bathed in rum post-baking, only tasted mildly of alcohol. Both were delicious but neither was exactly what I had in mind: something outstandingly fruity while still maintaining an element of cakeyness.

When it came time to sample my cake, my friend took a tentative taste and then shook his head. It was unanimous: the cake was inedible. Let me tell you, it felt awfully good to finally toss that cake to the chickens. Also? My kids were so scarred by my failure that they refused to taste the cakes my friend brought. In their minds, fruitcake equaled poison. This fruitcake obsession of mine was not off to a good start.

***

Still, I'm not giving up. Deep in my soul, I believe—oh, I believe!—there is a fruitcake out there for me, somewhere. And full disclosure: I have another recipe in the works. It just might be my crowning fruitcake glory. Then again, it might not. I don't exactly have a great track record.

In the meantime, tell me: what is your relationship with fruitcake? Have you ever eaten a good one? If so, share! Because I am going to break this fruitcake barrier, so help me everyone.

This same time, years previous: buckwheat apple pancakes, sweet and spicy popcorn, and my jackpot.