Thursday, November 28, 2013

I want pie!

I am writing this with a full tummy and a happy heart. This Thanksgiving could not have possibly gone any better. Considering all the moving parts to this work of art, that's saying something. My sister-in-law and her husband volunteered to make a turkey (it was delicious) and bring it to the house, and so many things could have gone wrong and did not! Alexandra, after several hours at the zoo with Mommy earlier in the day was somehow not tired enough to nap, and so she was a bit itchy before and during dinner, but even so, she did remarkably well (and she cannot get enough cranberry sauce).
Sitting down for Thanksgiving dinner
We had fantastic conversation, the food was all superb, and everything seemed to flow smoothly. Some of that was good planning and some of it was just good luck. I also enjoyed the opportunity to just sit down and let it all happen, which is something that I rarely do.
Uncle Seldon lets Alexandra lick the whipped cream off the beaters
Alexandra was eager to have pie after dinner, and she probably said plaintively, "I want pie," about 2 dozen times, despite the fact we kept reiterating that pie would not be served until everyone had finished his or her meal. Once pie was cut up, she was remarkably patient after being told that no one was actually going to start eating pie until everyone had a slice. She liked both peach and pecan pie, and shortly after consuming both, her tiredness caught up with her & Uncle Seldon held her on his lap. I really thought she might fall asleep on him, but she did not.
Great Aunt Jayne shares a book with Alexandra
We also enjoyed a visit from Jayne, who lives in Washington State. Alexandra enjoyed interacting with everyone, and Jayne was a great playmate for her! Alexandra picked out her own dress when we were at the store (for $3.50, you bet!), and she loved being dressed up. She was quite distraught when a shoe fell off at the table as she was getting tired -- a sure sign bedtime is not far off when she is so easily upset!

Once she was in bed, I chatted with my in-laws and after a while I wondered what was going on in the kitchen. Jayne started washing the china and crystal & soon my sister-in-law and her husband pitched in & Ken, too! So, I not only have this delightful experience, but I wind up with an almost completely clean kitchen ... and there are leftovers in the fridge ... and we have fantastic memories of a great time together? I want a repeat of this!!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"with only you, Mommy."

I had a couple of really moving experiences today, and since it felt really good to write about my Grandma's Chocolate-Mint Squares, I thought I'd write about today.

I don't usually give Alexandra much advance warning of fun outings, because she has a keen memory & if I need to change plans due to unforeseen circumstances, it's hard for her to understand. So, although I'd arranged my calendar today to be completely open after noon, with hopes of going to the zoo, I didn't mention it. 

When I was getting her dressed this morning and giving her a run down of the first half of the day, including going to lunch with a friend, she said, "No, Mommy. I don' wan' see Carrie wunts*." I was really surprised, because she's usually excited to see Carrie, whom we see every 4-6 weeks. I explained that we'd promised Carrie to see her & that it would be nice to see her. She said clearly, "Nope. I wan' have wunts wif on'y you, Mommy." (Is your heart warmed, yet? Because that was just a warm fuzzy moment for me.)

*wunts = lunch

I reiterated that we'd have lunch with Carrie, but then I whispered to her, "But after lunch ... we're going to the zoo!" Her eyes got huge (you'd think that she hasn't been to the zoo every week for the last 4 weeks) and she whispered back, "The zoo?" I nodded and smiled. "Wif you, an' on'y you?" I smiled and said, "Yes, just you and me."

So that's the first one ... and you ready for the next one? It's a doozy.

In the car, one of the many Disney songs we have is "Wishes," from the fireworks show at Walt Disney World. It started up & Alexandra, is often her wont, said "What IS this song?" which is my cue to pause it and give her a title and see if that's all she wanted to know, because often it's the first question of many. I told her "It's Wishes." She replied, "It fire-wooks?" I said, "Yes, it's from the fireworks show at Disney World." My eyes welled up, because it's a special song for me -- and you're about to find out why. I then said, "This song sometimes makes me cry, but they're happy tears." She, predictably, said "why happy tears, Mommy?"

I explained to her that before she was born, when I wanted to be a mommy and Daddy wanted to be a daddy, but that we didn't know if we'd be parents, we had been waiting a really long time, and we were sad. We went to Disney World and saw the Wishes fireworks show, and the song and the story said to always believe in your dreams. I told her that we'd both felt really sad then, because we were not parents, and we didn't know if we'd ever be. I said that we wished very hard that night, even though we were still sad, and a few months later, her birthmother called us and said she'd picked us to be Alexandra's parents. I told her that we saw the Wishes show again when she was a tiny baby, and when we saw it, it made me cry because I realized my wish had come true, and I was her mommy.

She responded as she often does when a tale has captured her attention, saying "Again," which means she wants the story repeated. So, with a few more tears, I retold the tale. I ended it saying, "So right now I have some tears in my eyes, but they are happy tears because I am so happy I'm your mommy."

Her response? "It okay, Mommy. I here now."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Baking Grandma's Chocolate-Mint Squares: A Fiasco, or Close To It

Okay, here's the scenario. I'm attending an event, wherein we honor those we love who have passed on, with some kind of food item & a momento. Great. I have a ton of my Grandma's recipes & I am reasonably skilled in the kitchen. Leafing through the recipe box crafted by my Father, I dig out several, and seize upon one that evokes fond memories: Chocolate Mint-Squares. In my memory they are all soft and gooey, a cake-like base, a thin layer of pink peppermint icing, covered by a layer of chocolate icing. What can possibly go wrong? Everything.

First of all, I wait until the day of the event (today) to make them, leaving little margin for error. Even this morning, after reading the recipe twice, I am confident I can make them in time for this evening's shindig.

Here's where things go pear-shaped. Let's read the recipe for a third time, shall we? And let's really pay attention:

Chocolate-Mint Squares

1/2 c cocoa + 1 c H2O - heat til thick - set aside to cool.
(heat? how much heat? thick? how thick? how cool? uh oh. how long is this going to take me?)

2 c sugar, 2 c flour, 1 1/2 t soda, 1 t salt - sift.
(sure. that's easy)

Beat 2 eggs w/ 1 c veg oil, 1 c sour cream (or milk)
(or milk? Uh, sour cream seems to be a very different animal than milk, here.)

Add dry ingredients to above & mix thoroughly.
(I can totally do this.)

Add cocoa mixture + 1 t. vanilla. Bake at 350 for 25-30 min in low cookie sheet.
(a 'low cookie sheet'?? What the hell is that? A jelly roll pan? Our cookie sheets have tiny lips, this'll slop over the edge! I'm in trouble!)

FROSTING: Melt 3T margerine in pan, stir in 3T cocoa + 2T milk. Stir til smooth; add 1c powdered sugar + 1/2 t flavoring. Stir 'til smooth.
(uh, wait ... is this for the cocoa frosting or the mint frosting? What flavoring? Vanilla added to chocolate? will 3T make it truly a chocolate frosting or should I add peppermint to this?)

Layer cooled cake w/basic mint icing and cocoa icing.
(Cooled? This is going to take way longer than I thought. and which recipe is the FROSTING? I still don't know! And I remember them being two distinct layers. How am I supposed to keep them from swirling together?)

Nothing for it, but to dive in. I am going with the assumption the frosting is mint with just a hint of cocoa. I find another similar recipe online and nab a chocolate glaze recipe from it. I'll start working on all of this as soon as we're back from brunch.

I get out the ingredients, unalarmed I am missing the peppermint extract, because, hey while things cool, I'll go to the store!

Mix cocoa and water. Great. Now I'll run to the store. Zip in, get chocolate chips (that's for the glaze) and the extract. Hey, low aluminum foil pans. Genius. I bet those will do the trick! And they come with lids for easy transportation. Brilliant.

Dash home, preheat oven & start mixing dry ingredients. Whisk wet ingredients. Check temperature of cocoa and water mixture. We're a go. Sweet. Everything is going wonderfully. I totally have this.

Mix, mix, mix, pour. Hm. That seems awfully thicker than I remember. Place in 350 degree oven.

25 minutes later, check on the cake layer. Whoa. Not even remotely close to done. It's still liquid in the center. Crap. I have to leave for the chiropractor's office in 10 minutes and my husband's not home to monitor the baking process. Even if he were, I don't know how I'd communicate my best guess on when it'd be done.

10 minutes later...still horribly underdone. Nothing for it, but to turn off the oven, leave the pan in and come home after my appointment.

50 minutes later, get home. Hey, it might be okay. I mean the middle has sunken a bit, but the damned things look cooked. I press the center & there's a little bit of give. I'd kill for a toothpick right now, but they've all mysteriously disappeared. Damn and blast.

Okay. Let it cool. Is it cool yet? Nope. Now? No. Now? These things need to cool faster. At this point, I'm feeling like this is becoming a fiasco & I have to decide if I risk putting it outside to cool, because right about now, the story would become hysterically funny if the chipmunks started eating it on the back porch. I'll risk it.

I start making the FROSTING. Within a second of adding the powdered sugar, there is no doubt in my mind, this is intended to be the chocolate frosting. I am not putting mint in there. And I need the mint frosting first. CRAP. I finish the chocolate frosting, and just cross my fingers it will hold until I (or more appropriately, the recipe, because I am definitely not the one in any control here) am ready for it.

Mint frosting. I can do a buttercream frosting. You bet. No idea how much extract to use ... or how many drops of red food coloring. At this point, I'll just wing it. That's when it occurs to me ... it doesn't really matter if the recipe turns out to be just like the Chocolate-Mint Squares Grandma made, because one of the things I learned from my grandma was just to figure out how to "make do."

She grew up in the Great Depression & she was a WWII bride. She had plenty of experience of working with what she had, so that's what I'm going to do. I'll channel Grandma & you know what ... everything's going to be just fine.

With that said, I do have a pan of Chocolate-Mint Squares cooling on the back porch, covered in mint icing. I need to go check on them and see if it's time to add the chocolate frosting ... or if it turns out chipmunks really like mint.