Thursday, October 31, 2019


Yesterday my younger son made me breakfast.

It was just the two of us at home that morning and I’d slept in (I’ve been doing more and more of that lately) and then went running while he did the outdoor chores. After I got my shower, I came downstairs to find he’d set out breakfast for two: bowls, spoons, cereal, raisins, milk, and, over on the counter he’d sliced bread, all ready to pop into the toaster, and set out the butter and jelly. He’d placed my laptop by my seat, in case I needed to do some writing, he said, and there was a deck of playing cards and a piece of scratch paper on which he’d written our initials, for keeping score. Folded paper stars — his latest creation — dangled from the lamp. He'd lit candles, too.

I made my coffee while he flitted about, quietly making me toast with lots of butter, as per my request. At the table, I did a little emailing while he checked to make sure we had a complete deck of cards, and then we played several rounds of Rummy.

I won.

This same time, years previous: lickety-split pizza crust, smoking, the quotidian (10.31.16), apple farro salad, stuffed peppers, quiche soup, apple schmapples, dusting the dough.

Monday, October 28, 2019

the quotidian (10.28.19)

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

Getting my cozy on.

For your Monday funny: fold in the cheese.

Cake and science.

Baby delight.

If you give some girls a camera....

If the car breaks, fix it: replacing the coil springs and struts.

Father or son? From the back they're identical.

Friends don't let friends do push-ups alone.

Ultimate, again: I may need gloves.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.29.18), listening, watching, reading, the quotidian (10.27.14), the quotidian (10.28.13), under the arbor, the morning kitchen, it's over, apple tart with cider-rosemary glaze.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

vanilla fondant

So fondant: what’s your opinion?

Kids seem to love it, adults not so much. I don’t particularly care for it — too much sweet and too little flavor — but as long as it’s eaten in small doses, and consumed with higher percentages of buttercream and cake, it isn’t terrible.

Taste aside, though, fondant is a marvel. There’s something magical about the way it elevates a cake, transforming a humdrum homemade confection into something nearly professional-looking. Plus, it’s fun to make and a delight to play with. Adult playdough, I call it.

I’ve settled on a recipe that calls for cooking a little plain gelatin in water and then adding corn syrup, glycerin (for pliability), a little butter, and vanilla before stirring in a bunch of powdered sugar. It’s a breeze to make, and it holds up well to coloring (use gels, not liquid), rolling, shaping, cutting, painting, etc.

(I hear marshmallow fondant is a big hit with a lot of people — they say it tastes better — but I’ve never made it, mostly because of its reputation for growing sticky, though I should probably experiment for myself before I rule it out entirely.)

If you want to turn the fondant into gum paste (for sturdier creations, like human snowboarders), just add some tylose powder. And if it ever gets too stiff, work in a little vegetable shortening, and there you are! 

Vanilla Fondant
Adapted from Gemma's Bigger Bolder Baking blog.

2 teaspoons plain gelatin
¼ cup cool water
½ cup corn syrup
1 tablespoon glycerin
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 cups powdered sugar, sifted

In the top part of a double boiler, off heat, sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Let it rest for ten minutes before setting it over the simmer pot of water and adding the corn syrup and glycerine. Once everything is heated through, add the butter. Remove from the heat and, once the butter is completely melted, add the vanilla.

Pour the warm mixture into the powdered sugar and stir well. When the mixture becomes too stiff to stir, dump it out onto your counter and knead in the rest of the sugar by hand. Add more sugar, if needed, but take care not to add too much or else you'll run the risk of making the fondant too stiff. If kneading becomes too tricky-sticky, wash your hands and transfer the fondant to a clean bowl — it often seems to come together better that way.

Wrap the fondant in plastic (if you wish, lightly coat the outside with vegetable shortening first) and store at room temperature for up to two months. The fondant will harden a bit as it sits, so knead it prior to using — as it warm up, it will become pliable again.

To color fondant: use gel colors. It’s always best to add a bit of color to a smaller amount of fondant and then incorporate the colored amount into a larger ball of white. Here’s an excellent video on how to blend, mix, and create colors.

This same time, years previous: the young adult child, cilantro lime rice, the quotidian (10.26.15), sweet potato pie, tales of terror and woe, homemade pancake syrup.

Friday, October 25, 2019

snowboarder cake

On Wednesday my older son turned twenty. Twenty.

Two whole decades with this boy, lived and done. Not in the blink of an eye, mind you (I’d never say that) but gone all the same. I am not prone to melancholy — I don’t long to turn back the clock (horrors!) or stop time (never!) — so the throbbing ache I feel pulls me up short.

And, compounding my heart-twisting is this: His aging marks mine. For each new milestone he reaches, I’m knocked, too, into new territory, a place I’m not altogether sure I want to be. This, I guess, is the gift of the firstborn.

Not to be a killjoy! I am happy, truly. We’re so lucky, of course we are. Everything is moving forward as it should, as we want it to.

And yet...


For his cake, I decided to go with snowboarding, since that’s what he loves. Well, snowboarding and all things fancy cars (which always prompts me to fuss, Can you possibly be any more of a young male stereotype?), but snowboarding, unlike a Ferrari, is actually attainable. So! It’d be a cake mountain, a snowboarding person, the works.

However, since I couldn’t find any instructions or copy-worthy models, I was forced to venture out on my own which, since I’m horrible at puzzles, taking directions, map reading, geometry, or anything that requires spatial imaginings was stress inducing. I may have even lost a bit of sleep (until I realized that I could use my pillow as a model, smashing in slopes with the side of my hand to get a feel for how it might work).

In the midst of stressing, I made chocolate (his request) cakes, four of them, because the least I could do was stack cake to make a mountain, right? And then I roped in the younger three kids — they are all better at “seeing” things than I am — and together we made it work, more or less.

We first stacked and trimmed the cakes to get a general idea of our mountain. Then we numbered the cakes and de-assembled them so we could simple syrup them with a coffee simple syrup.

We restacked them, spreading coffee buttercream between each layer, and then I dirty iced them with Italian meringue buttercream, smooshing on more cake wherever I needed bumps. When the mountain was finally iced to my satisfaction, I swirled in a little light blue frosting on the vertical spots, for shadowing.

Then the fun part: fondant!

I never thought I'd say that. I am not keen on finicky decorations, but there's something about fondant. It's like playdough, but funner. It was meditative almost, all the rolling and shaping and gluing and sparkling, or it would have been if the kids didn't fight nonstop.

We made all sorts of things: stars, a snowboard and person, gum paste evergreens, snowmen, scarves, a snow fort with snowballs, a sign, etc. My younger son built a ski lift out of toothpicks and wood and paper folders, and he made paper cones that the girls covered in blue buttercream for a second species of evergreen. For the final touch, sanding sugar for snow.

A list of the things I bought:
Tylose powder, to turn fondant into gum paste
A big bottle of glycerin, because I’m sick of buying tiny overpriced bottles at the store
Lollipop sticks, to anchor the fondant decorations to the cake
Gel colors
Fondant cutters, which were more useful than I thought they’d be, especially the rolling pin
White glitter dust, to make the trees and snowflakes sparkle
Sanding sugar, for snow

The beast took two days to assemble (not counting the days spent making buttercream and cakes), and I washed the kitchen floor three times. It was A Production Like None Other.

And then it was time to eat it! A cake that size definitely needs a game plan but I hadn’t thought beyond the making of it. So we ate our slices and then, slightly ill from all that sugar, I let the kids carve tunnels into the mountain before hacking it into pieces (I seriously didn't even care) that I wrapped in plastic and trundled down to the freezer.

Out of sight, out of mind, whew.

Anyone want some cake?

This same time, years previous: nourishment, letting go, growing it out, reading-and-ice-cream evenings, our cracking whip, random, in the garden.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

the soiree of 2019

This year, the soiree was a little different. Instead of meeting in Auntie’s West Virginia home, she rented a house in Virginia (close to me, yay!); plus, two nights instead of one, there was a mystery guest (one of my mother’s life-long friends), and I got to play Master Chef (her words, not mine).

For the food, I had free range.

 Even though I didn’t go all out like Auntie does with her multiple courses and luxury meats (the theme, she said, was comfort food), the planning, cooking, and shopping still took a whole bunch of delicious hours, and by the end of the week the fridge was stuffed and my family was starving.

“Is that for us?” they’d ask, hungrily eyeing the cheesecake, the pans of French chocolate granola, the bagels, the plate of bacon, and when I’d answer — No, no, and no, and STOP SNITCHING — they’d sigh piteously and shuffle out of the room clutching their concave bellies.

(Once when they learned that a pan of hot buttery Parker House rolls I’d just made were for us and not the soiree, they scarfed them in mere minutes, probably because they were terrified I might change my mind.)

The Menu
Friday night: salad and cheesecake
Saturday brunch: pancakes, bacon, eggs
Saturday early afternoon dessert: Mom's cake
Sunday breakfast/brunch: bagel bar

I couldn't get over the house's professional Viking Range stovetop. (Also in the kitchen: two ovens and a warming oven that I never even touched, swoooooon.) It was insane: four large and wonderfully sensitive gas burners framing an enormous, perfectly evenly heated griddle.  I stood there, flipping pancakes and warming bacon and sauteeing spinach and mushrooms and stirring cocoa, completely in my glory. Never before have I cooked on such a spectacular beast and now I am ruined.

Photo credit: Auntie P

After brunch on Saturday, we played Guess What’s In The High-Up Cupboards That No One Can Reach and the mystery guest, aged freaking SEVENTY, balanced on the edge of kitchen counter and played the role of investigator.

My mother brought a lemon cream cake for our Saturday coffee hour that she transformed into a birthday cake for the mystery guest (because she had a hunch who it might be).

Saturday night we went out for pizza and my girls joined us.

Photo credit: server man

The house had a hot tub, of which we took full advantage. At first the water wasn’t hardly warm, so a couple of us compensated by first jumping in the swimming pool and then the hot tub — the pool’s icy water made the tepid tub tingly toasty.

Photo credit: Cousin Kate

Eventually the hot tub heated all the way up and we spent much of the afternoon, and then a few more hours that evening before bed, up to our necks in hot water, talking, talking, talking.

Sunday morning, Auntie gave us coconut wind chimes and people gave her wine and chocolate and a gorgeous linen jumper and a heart-shaped plant.

And then we packed up and went home. It was a lovely long luxurious weekend, thank you, Auntie!

P.S. My family, beyond thrilled to see that I’d returned bearing leftovers, immediately stuffed themselves with salad, pizza, and the last few slices of cheesecake.

This same time, years previous: curbing the technology addiction, the quotidian (10.22.18), another farm, another job, back in business, a dell-ish ordeal, field work, the reading week, breaking news, silly supper.