Thursday, November 15, 2018

guayaba bars

This year, Thanksgiving’s at our place. At last count, there will be about eighteen people banging around our house. In an effort to preserve my sanity and reduce my pre-hosting stress levels, I’ve delegated one hundred percent of the cleaning (plus bedding/sleeping arrangements and all mass-living organizational tasks) to my husband.

As for me, I’m doing the food. At this point, this means lists. Lots and lots of lists. There are shopping lists and will-you-please-bring-these-things lists and menu lists and what-to-do-on-which-day lists. Cooking for eighteen for three to four full days is not a big deal, really. It’s more a matter of organization ... and space. (Right about now is when I start dreaming of duplicate large kitchen appliances. Anyone have an extra fridge they want to park on my porch?)

Today I took advantage of the snow-and-ice day and did the following:

*cooked three pounds of bacon (for just in case)
*made the first of two (or three) batches of granola because remember: I still have a family to feed
*mixed up a batch of Ranch dressing
*made three batches of pie pastry
*rolled out and froze four pie pastries
*baked three loaves of cinnamon raisin bread, and, from the leftovers, a pan of raisin bread sweet rolls for our immediate gratification
*I made the glaze for the rolls and icing for the bread
*made hot chocolate … twice.
*started on the cranberry sauce, but I haven’t finished it yet.

Oh, and I also made eggs and pancakes for breakfast, the pancakes with leftover ricotta because I’m trying to clean out the fridge (because I don't think I'll be getting a second fridge any time soon).

While I worked, I listened to Thanksgiving cooking podcasts to keep me in the groove (I’m feeling minorly inferior because I’ve never spatchcocked a turkey; have you?), and now I'm feeling just a wee bit fooded out. You know, the bleary-blah feeling one gets when the skies are grey and the entire day’s been spent inside with drifts of sugar and mountains of butter. Before I started typing, I just sat on the sofa staring at the computer, my eyes glazed over. All I really wanted to do was watch movies. (Too bad it’s Thursday.) Maybe I should just close the laptop and go read for awhile?

Perhaps, but first, a recipe.

Remember Olga from Puerto Rico, the woman who brought us yummy treats made by her daughter-in-law? The last week we were there, Olga finally slipped me the recipes, but it wasn’t until last week that I finally got around to making the Panetela, or what I uncreatively call Guayaba Bars.

My husband brought me the brick of guayaba paste when he went to Puerto Rico the first time — a last-minute grab from the airport gift shop. They eat it with cheese, he informed me.

Which is true, I’ve since learned, but the paste never really lit me up … that is, not until I had Olga’s bars, buttery and dense with a strip of tangy-sweet jelly in the middle and a dusting of sugar on top: perfection.

So, like I said, I made the bars last week. They are easy to make, and they look right sharp, too. Seems to me, they'd make an excellent addition to a Christmas cookie platter....

Guayaba Bars
Adapted from Olga’s daughter-in-law’s recipe.

The recipe calls for a whole pound of guayaba (guava) paste but I used fourteen ounces and still found the jelly to be a bit overpowering in its thicker places. Next time, I’ll use just ten to twelve ounces.

To make your own self-rising flour: mix 6 cups all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda, and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Toss well and store in an airtight container.

1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups self-rising flour
1 stick butter, cut in pieces and softened
10-12 ounces guayaba paste
Confectioner’s sugar, for decoration

Cream together the eggs and sugar until pale yellow. Add vanilla. Add the flour and the softened butter and mix well. The batter will be thick, like icing.

Spread half of the batter in a greased, square glass pan (lined with parchment, if you wish). Slice the guayaba paste and lay the pieces over the batter. Dollop the remaining batter over the paste and spread smooth.

Bake the bars at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into pieces (you can cut the bars sooner, but the still-warm paste will be a bit runny) and then dusting heavily with powdered sugar.

This same time, years previous: Shakespeare behind bars, Thai chicken curry, the quotidian (11.16.15), I will never be good at sales, gravity, lessons from a shopping trip, the wiggles, why I'm glad we don't have guns in our house, chicken salad.

Monday, November 12, 2018

the quotidian (11.12.18)

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

Pappardelle pasta.

And what I made with it.

Discovering delicata: tasty and pretty, but not as flavorful as butternut.

Dishes done.
Photo credit: younger son

Voting is fun.

First time: it took two trips to the station, though, since he forgot his license the first time around.

Selfie at 14.

Insulating the clubhouse for Thanksgiving because we make our guests sleep outside.

Sunday evening at church: Kurdish (Filipino! Latino!) dancing and fantastic food. 
At one point, my husband muttered something about our kids having a bit of a different church experience than the one we both had growing up, and I burst out laughing, Are they ever.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

of mice and men and other matters

Yesterday morning, I walked downstairs in the dark, barefoot. Crossing the living room, I stepped on something weirdly soft and squishy. I switched on the light and —


I whisper-shrieked, cursed (my older son witnessed the whole sordid debacle and later soberly announced to my older daughter, “I will forever remember November 6, 2018 as the day I first heard my mother say the F-word”), and then hop-ran to the bathroom to scrub my contaminated toes.

(We still have no idea how a dead mouse materialized on our floor. Best we can figure, it sprung one of our traps — occasionally we find them sprung...and empty — got injured, and then finally, days later, gave up the ghost.)

Now I'm scared to walk around the house in the dark.

This morning I fell while running. I was chugging up the gravel road when I heard a large dump-truck approaching the upcoming intersection. My younger son was riding his bike up ahead, so I had looked up to keep an eye on things. Suddenly, my foot nicked a rock and I hit the dirt, skinning my knee and tearing a hole in my leggings in the process. It’s only a small hole — a pinprick really — but still, it’s POP: Proof of Pain.


My computer is dying. When we were in Puerto Rico, some of the keys stopped working so I bought a wireless keyboard. But now the wireless keyboard keys are beginning to stick. The backspace key, especially, is cantankerous. I have to pound on it with all my strength (think manual typewriter-type pounding) which makes the already painful process of backspacing just that much more demoralizing.

Just so you know, this is what my face looks like when I'm type-pounding:


Have you seen Five Foot Two, the Netflix documentary about Lady Gaga? I’d barely known who she was — just some singer sporting outrageously ridiculous clothes — but then I (and my husband, too!) watched the video and now I can’t stop thinking about it.

I have so many questions, like:

*In the midst of such pressure and chaos, how does she tap into her center and find space to create? 
*How can a person live in multiple houses and ever feel at home?
*How can she continuously put herself out there and still have a sense of self?
*She’s a singer. She smokes. WHY.
*How can a person dance all over a huge stage, and up and down stairs, in sky-high stillettos and not break her ankles?
*Doesn't she ever get cold waltzing around in her tiny t-shirts and super short shorts?
*And about those short short shorts: are they even comfortable?

That night after watching the movie I was so plagued with questions that I had trouble sleeping, no joke. 


Earlier this week we hosted a Salvadoran man for a couple nights. He was part of an advocacy group that’s traveling across the country in a bus, educating people about the plight of immigrants with Temporary Protective Status. Our town was the last stop before the group’s final destination, Washington DC.

I didn’t get to visit with our guest very much — both nights he arrived at our house shortly before bedtime, and in the mornings I left for work before people got up (and after crunching on dead mice) — but my husband did. Later, over supper, he filled us in on our guest’s history of attempted forced military recruitment, asylum seeking, police brutality, prison sentences, etc. — so many experiences that I can’t even begin to comprehend.

The kids reported that he made himself right at home, digging through the fridge for the butter, heating up the pot of beans I’d left on the stove. The first morning, he made them eggs for breakfast and then washed up the dishes afterwards. The second morning when I got back from work, our guest was already gone. Looking around, I noticed he’d emptied the trashes, scrubbed the bathroom sink, made his bed, and, once again, washed all the breakfast dishes.

As I fixed lunch for the kids and me, the lingering scent of our guest’s cologne stinging my nostrils, I found myself wondering: Who was this man who’d been thrown in prison multiple times, twice fled his beloved country, chattered to us in Spanish without pausing to draw breath, and made my children breakfast?

Suddenly, the quote that hangs on my wall by the dining room table, the one linking hospitality and strangers with the entertainment of angels, popped into my head, and I chuckled to myself. Oh yes, I thought, but of course.

Go well, stranger-friend.


This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.6.17), the quotidian (11.7.16), for the time change, "How are you different now?", yesterday, let me sum up.

Monday, November 5, 2018

the quotidian (11.5.18)

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

Tomatoes in cream, with toast.

To sweeten knobby, bitter carrots, an oven-roasting does wonders.  

Words become her.


A countertop facelift.

Practical love, rain or shine.

When jokes backfire.
I stick a beet tail in the trap and no one notices. Days later, my husband says, "Look what we caught!" I glance down, see my handiwork right by my bare toes, and scream bloody murder. 

This same time, years previous: old-fashioned apple roll-ups, meatloaf, musings from the coffee shop, awkward, bierocks: meat and cabbage rolls, cheesy broccoli potato soup.

Friday, November 2, 2018

sour cream coffee cake

I have a weakness for coffee cake. (I also have a weakness for fresh sourdough bread, pricey cheeses, and Swedish fish, but let’s stick with coffee cake for right now, okay?) I think it has something to do with the name: coffee cake. Coffee and cake, two of my favorite things in one title, win and win. Or maybe it’s the idea of a cake made specifically to eat with coffee? I don’t know, but whenever I spy a recipe for coffee cake, I have to read it. It’s a compulsion.

However, in spite of my abiding love and affection, coffee cakes are often (usually? always?) either a little too dry or a little too fluffy. Coffee cakes, according to moi, ought to be dense, heavy almost, and very, very moist. And even though coffee cakes are fashioned from a string of ordinary ingredients — butter, vanilla, cream — those ingredients are (verily, I say unto you!) some of the best things in the world, and their flavors ought to sing through loud and clear.

So anyway, the other week when cool weather struck, I got hit with the need for coffee cake. Or wait — maybe I got the idea for coffee cake when I deep-cleaned my pots-and-pans cupboard and discovered a handsome tube pan hanging out in the back corner? Ah well. Either way, a coffee cake craving was sparked.

Reading through recipes, I discovered an as-yet-untried coffee cake recipe in my hefty Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. True to (their) form, the method seemed unnecessary complicated, but then I read this:
Rather than creaming the butter and sugar, which made the cake too light and airy, we cut softened butter and some of the sour cream into the dry ingredients, then added the eggs and the rest of the sour cream; the result was a tighter crumb.
Well then.

The cake was what I was after. Like, exactly. So dense, so rich, so flavorful! The only problems were 1) I trashed the kitchen in the process, and 2) the cinnamon sugar mixture partially sunk so the swirly effect got lost.

In an attempt to solve the sinking sugar issue, I made the cake again. (I also made the book’s cream cheese coffee cake which I did not like at all.) The second time around, the problem was even worse. Almost all the cinnamon sugar sunk to the bottom, creating a bottom layer of chewy caramel. Which isn’t necessarily a tragedy. In fact, some might even consider cake bottom caramelization an asset.

I still haven’t solved the problem — am I beating the batter too long? should I reduce the amount of cinnamon sugar? increase/decrease the oven temp? — but I’m gearing up to make it again. If I learn anything new, I’ll update.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook.

for the streusel:
¾ cup each flour and sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar, divided
2 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup pecans

Put the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and ¼ cup of the brown sugar in a food processor. Whirl to combine. 

Remove 1¼ cups of the flour-sugar mixture, and transfer it to a small bowl and add the remaining ¼ cup of brown sugar — this is your streusel filling.

Add the butter and the pecans to the mixture that’s still in the processor and pulse until pebbly — this is your streusel topping.

for the cake:
2¼ cups flour
1¼ cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon each baking soda and salt
12 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
1½ cups sour cream, divided
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla

Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter and ½ cup of the sour cream and beat gently until the mixture comes together. Add the remaining sour cream, eggs, and vanilla and mix just until combined. (If you beat it longer, the cake will be lighter — not what we want here.)

Pour about a third of the batter into a greased tube pan. Sprinkle in half of the streusel filling mixture. Another third of the batter and the remaining streusel mixture. Pour in the last third of the batter and top with the pecan streusel.

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan at room temp for 30 minutes before cutting around the sides with a table knife and gently inverting the cake onto a plate, streusel side down. Remove the tube pan, set a cooling rack on top of the cake and flip again. Allow the cake to cool completely before transfering to a serving dish.

This same time, years previous: apple dumplings, cinnamon pretzels, 2015 garden stats and notes, chatty time, posing for candy, why I'm spacey, homemade Greek yogurt.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

lickety-split pizza crust

This morning I raced back from Panera so I could get home in time to listen to the On Point report on unschooling while I went on my run. My younger daughter loaned me her ipod, and just as the conversation started, I popped in one ear piece (leaving the other open to listen for crazy drivers) and headed out.

It was a good thing I was running while listening because it probably helped to diffuse my mounting frustration, but by the time I got home I was yelling and flapping my arms anyway. An hour of listening to people talk past each other will do that to me.

I’ve already ranted to a few of my kids and a friend. I should probably call my husband and warn him to brace himself.

In other news, my head is feeling over-full. I need to write it out — writing is how I ground myself — but when I’m drowning in ideas, it becomes excruciatingly difficult to sit myself down, put blinders on, and type one single solitary letter of the alphabet after another. But blogger Shannan says, “When life feels big, it’s more important than ever to get small.” So I’m sitting here forcing myself to type words, nothing words, just so I can find a way forward.

This is not interesting.

But it is true.

In other news, my son invited a bunch of friends over for his birthday supper. Two of the three guys share the same birthday week, and those same two kids are both miles away from their parents, so it was super fun to feed them. Before the meal, I made everyone watch the timpano making-and-eating clip from Big Night so they could fully appreciate what they were about to eat.

They polished off both the entire timpano and a giant salad, and they managed to nearly eat all the way through a small mountain of roasted vegetables. They did serious damage to the pies and ice cream, too, all the while regaling us with stories from their lives.

Teenagers are so much fun.

In other news, one of the women in my writing group recently posted an article: Blood on Our Hands: 7 Reasons Why I'm a Christian Against Abortion Who Doesn't Vote Pro-Life. As a group, we’d read through a string of drafts, and when she finally, after months of work, hit publish, it felt like a birth. Post-publication, my first words to her were, “How does it feel to be postpartum?” We clinked glasses of bubbly cider and cheered, so happy to have her hard work finally out in the world. (And only now, as I type this, do I realize the irony in my birthing analogy. Ha!)

In other news, the other day my younger son got a raging craving for pizza. All the recipes called for yeast, or at least the availability of already-made bread (bagels, tortillas, English muffins and the like) for a makeshift crust. We, however, had no bread.

Then, in my aunt’s cookbook, he landed upon a recipe for quick pizza crust. Similar to my English muffins, the recipe called for flour, baking powder, salt, and yogurt...which we had! My son stirred up a batch and in no time at all he had a handsome little pizza all for himself.

So in the off-chance that you’re having a pizza emergency, here you go!

Lickety-Split Pizza Crust
Adapted from Baking With Whole Grains by Valerie Baer.

The recipe calls for full-fat Greek yogurt, but my son used nonfat.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ - 1 cup Greek yogurt

Stir the ingredients together, starting with a half cup of yogurt and adding more as necessary. Knead the dough lightly to form a ball. Roll out the dough on a floured surface and transfer to a oiled baking sheet. Top with pizza sauce, cheese, and favorite toppings. Bake at 400 degrees until the crust is golden brown and crispy and the cheese is bubbling.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.30.17), the quotidian (10.31.16), apple farro salad, stuffed peppers, quiche soup, apples schmapples, dusting the dough.

Monday, October 29, 2018

the quotidian (10.29.18)

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

Birthday boy's lunch: an excellent choice.

For supper he went big, "since you won't be making me birthday meals for much longer."

Roasted: I'm convinced it's the best way to go.


When I cook, my kids suffer the consequences.

Scavenger hunt ammendments.

Doctoring the wounded.

Of a boring Sunday afternoon.

Patching the puppy's pillow. 

When there are no ordinary boxes available for the care package: 
at least they'll know we're "always" thinking of them! 

Moon rise.

This same time, years previous: the young adult child, listening, watching, reading, the business of school, the quotidian (10.28.13). the quotidian (10.29.12), under the grape arbor, applesauce cake, brown sugar syrup.

Saturday, October 27, 2018


It’s been nearly two months since we’ve returned from Puerto Rico, and I’m just now returning to center. 

For the first two weeks after we got back, my husband sat in a chair, either reading or sleeping. No projects. No work. No responsibility. No eye contact. No talking.

I’m only exaggerating a little.

It kind of freaked me out. We had one, maybe two, weeks of downtime (he took a full two, sigh) and there was so much to do. We had no money! House guests were coming for an extended stay! We had three birthdays to plan and celebrate! The donut-making marathon was fast approaching! I zipped around, buzzed on cool weather and stress, trying to goad him into at least a little action.

He rallied then, but only just in time for us to plow headlong into hosting and donuts, and then, that behind us, we switched roles. My husband swung into high gear, working long days and fretting about money, and I, for the first time in five months, relaxed completely.

It was so odd, having no events looming large on the horizon, nothing to do, nothing to be responsible for. Day after day stretched wide open before me. I slept in, watched shows in the middle of the afternoon, played in the kitchen, invited friends over for coffee, read books, went running, all the while with the distinct feeling that, no longer firmly anchored by a slew of responsibilities, I was hovering a couple feet above the ground, just floating on a delicious cloud of do-nothingness.

That glorious feeling lasted about two weeks and then I got ritchy. I floundered for a bit, longing to do something but reluctant to put forth the energy. When I finally could stand it no longer, I dug out my briefcase, stuffed it full with my laptop and keyboard (since my laptop’s keyboard is broken) and mouse and cords, and headed off to Panera. It was time to start writing again.

But I was worried. For the last five months, I’ve never once missed my writing. What if I found that I no longer cared about the subject? Maybe it wasn’t worth my time. Did I even want to keep working on this book? Maybe I should quit.

I needn’t have worried. The book files opened, I was promptly sucked back in. Once again my mind is a-whirl with ideas. Days I can’t slip away to write, I feel out of sorts.

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

This same time, years previous: 2017 garden stats and notes, letting go, growing it out, cilantro lime rice, reading-and-ice cream evenings, the quotidian (10.27.14), random, in the garden, sweet potato pie, the morning kitchen.