• Dusting the dough

    At my aunt’s annual soiree this past September, we made our customary jaunt down to the local bakery for our Sunday morning bread and scones. Once in the shop, I was immediately drawn to the little observation deck that overlooked the oven room. I planted myself at the glass-less window, leaned my elbows on the ledge, and scrutinized the baker’s every move.

    I love watching professionals do their thing. They move so smoothly and confidently. I find it soothing.

    The baker must’ve been accustomed to nosey people like me and chatted cheerfully while she worked. She explained the steam injector, opened the oven to show me the fire at the very back, and when I asked to see the starter, she even gave me (and the others who had finished purchasing breakfast and joined me at my lookout point) a little impromptu tore of the back kitchen.

    Watching people work is the best way to learn something, I think. Why, just the other week I had Miss Beccaboo make bread for the first time. When I started explaining how to knead the dough, she interrupted me. “I already know how to knead, Mama.”

    Dubiously I stepped back. She promptly dug her hands into the dough and started to press, turn, and fold like she had been doing it all her life.

    “Did Grandmommy teach you that?” I asked, impressed and a little sad that I missed out on teaching my own daughter how to knead bread.

    “No,” she said. “I’ve just watched you do it so I know how.”

    And then she made a turtle shell out of the dough ball.

    But back to that baker—I learned something from her.

    Before docking the dough, she waved a flour-filled sieve over the loaves. Once the loaves were dusted à la Amelia Bedelia, she slashed a design and rolled the loaves into the hot oven.

    When I quizzed her as to the purpose of the flour, she explained that it was totally aesthetics, an exercise in contrasts—the slashed-open part would brown up prettily while the top stayed a dusty white.

    So now I’ve taken to dusting my loaves with flour before docking them.

    It’s so simple to do, and it goes a long way towards making the bread look rustic.

    This same time, years previous: light-as-air hamburger buns, roasting squashes and pumpkins

  • Absolutely autumnal

    I was raised on applesauce (along with a few other things). We ate applesauce as a side dish at suppertime. We ate applesauce smeared atop butter bread for our lunch. We ladled applesauce into popsicle molds and ate it frozen on hot summer afternoons.

    Nowadays, there’s still an awful lot of apples getting turned into sauce around here. My children adore the stuff so we put up about a hundred quarts of sauce every summer. Despite our zealous, saucy ways, I must admit that I’m not all that much in love with the stuff. I prefer my apples fresh, or else baked up in a pie, cake, or crisp rather than in ordinary schmordinary sauce form.

    It has come to my attention that some people believe applesauce has only two functions: as baby food and as a baking ingredient. I agree that it’s a great baby food, but I have never, ever fallen prey to the notion that applesauce belongs in baked goods.

    There are two reasons that applesauce in baked goods grieves me most mightily. First, some people use applesauce as a substitute for oil. This is wrong. For me, of course. I wouldn’t presume to tell you what you can or can’t do. That would be rude.

    But folks! If you’re going to eat a cake, then eat a cake, for crying out loud! A cake complete with all the vital components—sugar! butter! white flour! And if you’re not up for indulging, then just don’t indulge! In any case, do not—I repeat, do not—desecrate the real deal with applesauce!

    Unless desecrated cake is the real deal for you. In that case, desecrate with abandon. See if I care.

    The second reason that applesauce in baked goods grieves me is that applesauce is a heck of a lot of work. After all that cutting, cooking, mashing, drilling, and canning, I’m not inclined to hide applesauce in other baked goods. It’s a food in its own right and I want everyone to see it and appreciate it for what it is: applesauce. No applesauce gets hidden under a bushel basket in this house, no sir! Here, we let our little applesauce light shine brightly.

    For both of the above reasons, I’ve been averse to cozy-ing up the words “cake” and “applesauce.” (Though, I must point out, applesauce in cake is very different from applesauce on cake. The former is taboo—or was taboo, as you’ve probably already figured out from this long-winded preamble—while the latter is perfectly acceptable, though slightly Pennsylvania Dutchy-esque.)

    Anyhow. What I’m trying to get at is that—big bite of crow hereI put applesauce in a cake and loved it.

    It’s all Deb’s fault. Deb posted a recipe for applesauce spice cake and she did not try to mask it with any health nut terminology. No indeed. Hers was a full-blown cake complete with icing and butter and brown sugar. It tempted mightily.

    And then I recalled the adult applesauce that I had made the other night. See, in an effort to get myself excited about apples in sauce form, I had simmered chunks of cored, unpeeled apples in some apple cider, with a couple sprigs of rosemary and a cinnamon stick thrown in for umph and some browned butter stirred in for richness. The sauce was classy and sophisticated, but no one liked it except for me. (There was the little problem with the apple peels, I must admit. I hadn’t cut the apples into small enough pieces which meant that large flaps of apple skin were a predominant feature. But hey, what are our chompers for anyway?)

    In any case, I had a bunch of leftover sauce in the fridge and when Deb’s recipe popped up and I recalled my rosemary-infused chunky applesauce, I was a goner. I had no option but to make the cake.

    So I did. I immersion blendered up a bit of the sauce till it was creamy smooth and tossed it in with the brown sugar and eggs and spices and baked myself up a lovely applesauce cake.

    If it’s at all healthy, it’s a total coincidence and completely inconsequential.

    It’s cake, is what it is, and a darn fine one at that. Simple, homey, comfortable, and absolutely autumnal, it begs to be eaten in front of a crackling fire, thick wool socks on your feet and a fleece blanket draped over your shoulders.

    One more thing before I give you the recipe: the cake’s name. I have to do something about the name. I’ve been calling this cake Applesauce Cake because that’s what it is, but the name does not own up to the cake. This is not a cake with some applesauce in it. This is an applesauce cake. But the name “Applesauce Cake” does not convey that fact.

    So I can not in good consciousness call it an applesauce cake. It must have a new name. Apple Spice Cake? Apple Infused Cake? Apple and Spice Cake? Sauced Apple Cake? Saucy Apple Cake? Saucy, Spicy Apple Cake? Applesauce Spiked Cake? Rosemary and Cinnamon Applesauce Cake?

    Good grief! This is going nowhere. I’ll have to bite the bullet, back down, and call it what it is. If you have any better ideas, please let me know.

    Applesauce Cake
    Adapted from Deb of Smitten Kitchen

    The apple-ness permeates the moist cake in a most beguiling fashion, and the spices are mild. The first time around I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t taste the rosemary outright (and you all know how I love rosemary and apples together) so the second time I allowed a few rosemary needles to get blended up with the apples. Also, the second time around I doubled the cinnamon and increased the ginger, two changes which I wrote into the recipe. If you want less spice, cut them back to 3/4 teaspoon and ½ teaspoon, respectively.

    If desired, you can make some rosemary applesauce for the cake (or to eat with your syruped-up Sunday waffles): wash and core a couple pounds of apples. Do not peel them. Chop them up into bite-sized chunks (or leave them bigger if you plan to blend them up) and put them in a kettle with about a half inch of apple cider on the bottom. Toss in a stick of cinnamon and a couple sprigs of rosemary. While the apples are cooking, brown a couple tablespoons of butter in a separate saucepan. When the apples are tender, remove the cinnamon and rosemary and stir in the browned butter. Serve the chunky sauce as is, or blend it up.

    One more note: the cinnamon in the frosting is a very fine idea indeed.

    ½ cup butter, softened
    1 cup brown sugar (I used dark)
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    2 cups flour
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    ½ teaspoon baking soda
    1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
    3/4 teaspoon ginger
    1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1 1/3 cups applesauce
    Cinnamon cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)

    Cream together the butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat some more. Mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and then add them to the creamed butter mixture. Blend gently to combine. Stir in the applesauce.

    Pour the batter into a greased 9-inch springform pan (or a square 9×9 glass pan). Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Cool and frost.

    If you’re not going to eat up the cake within a couple days, store it in the refrigerator. Otherwise, show it off on your most fetching cake plate.

    Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

    This frosting is gorgeous, pale brown with darker brown speckles.

    3 tablespoons butter, softened
    5 tablespoons cream cheese
    1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla
    ½ teaspoon cinnamon

    Cream together the butter and cream cheese. Beat in the vanilla and cinnamon and then add the confectioner’s sugar.

    This same time, years previous: garden inventory 2009, pizza with curried pumpkin sauce, sausage, apples, caramelized onions, and sharp cheddar (it wins the award for longest food title)

  • The morning kitchen

    These mornings it’s still dark when I wake up. I slip into our bathroom to dress and brush my teeth before walking oh-so-stealthily by the kids’ rooms and then, as quickly and smoothly as possible, skittering down the stairs, though almost never without hitting a bunch of creaky squeaky spots. Creaky spots can’t be missed in an old house like ours—it’s full of them.

    Once in the kitchen I turn on a couple small lamps, light some votives, start up the computer, and set a pot of water on to boil for my morning coffee. It’s quiet and chilly. I shiver.

    This morning I had to run down cellar for a quart of frozen strawberries to put atop our baked oatmeal. As I crossed the deck on my return trip, I glanced in the kitchen windows and my breath caught. For what I saw through the fogged-up glass was my life as a memory, fuzzy and warm.

  • Tales of terror and woe

    Tale #1: my lampshades

    This one has been stricken with permanent marker by an errant and heavy-handed child. Other lampshades have holes poked in them. Some are bent.

    I like lamps but my children seem to have a vendetta against them. Perhaps they are jealous? Perhaps they want to be the only Lights of My Life?

    Tale #2: fruit fly genocide

    Fruit flies, disgusting and gross little thangs that they are, have been swarming my kitchen. I thought there was nothing to do for them besides occasionally waving a vacuum cleaner hose over their party, but I was wrong.

    Really Sweet Fruit Fly Death Trap

    *Put a couple drops of dish soap in a jar.
    *Glug in some cider vinegar.
    *Cover the top of the jar with a piece of plastic wrap.
    *Poke some holes in the plastic wrap with a sharp pencil.
    *Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, gleefully watch as the bottom of the jar gets covered with dead fruit flies.

    (Other partners in crime: Margo—who taught me how to become a mass slaughterer—and Lynn.)

    Tale #3: I tried to poison my children and failed

    My children have sticky fingers. They steal candy from my cupboards. I have tried everything: talking, heaping on mountains of old-fashioned guilt, withholding their treat at treat time, having them pay for replacement candy and then withholding it from them, etc. All this to no avail. The sticky fingers continued to reign supreme. (I have not completely eliminated candy because a couple kids are oblivious of these crimes and adore their little treats. Plus, and more to the point, I like my little treats.)

    One night after opening my cupboards and finding the twist tied-shut bag of marshmallows untwist tied for the second time that week, I decided I’d had enough. Desperate times called for desperate measures. It was time to break out the poison.

    I scanned my spice shelves. Cayenne powder? Too visible. Baking soda? Not intense enough. Salt? Too bland. Then my eyes lighted on the little bottle of Tabasco sauce. Yes!

    I emptied the bag of marshmallows of all but four (no, I did not eat them—I ziplocked them away in a higher, secreter spot). Those four marshmallows I set on the table, cackled wickedly, and commenced to pierce the marshmallows with a knife and glug in my evil potion. To help obscure the rather tell-tale rust-colored smudge on the bottom of each marshmallow, I rolled them in powdered sugar. Then I stuck the bag back in the cupboard like it was, still untwist tied, readily available for some sticky wandering fingers.

    That was several weeks ago. Since then, no marshmallows have gone missing.

    I am crushed. I so wanted to catch the sweet-toothed thieves red-handed and hot-lipped, tears of remorse streaming down their faces.


    Tale #4: Cell phone panic

    I went to a church meeting the other evening, and on my way out the door, I stuffed Mr. Handsome’s cell phone in my purse. I didn’t think of it again until one of our church elders was intoning the closing prayer and the phone started brrringing.

    My chair was wedged in a corner. I couldn’t flee. I snatched up my purse and started digging.

    Brrrrring! Brrrrring! Altoids, receipts, keys… Brrrring! Brrrrrring! … grace to walk through the… Brrrrring! Brrrrring! Checkbook, wallet, lip gloss… Brrring! Brrrring! … the leadership wisdom as they …. Brrrrring! Brrrring! Pens, cough drops, calendar, CELL PHONE! Brrr— Cheeks aflame, I opened it and snapped it shut … Amen.

    Tale #5: Party pooper parents

    Elder son’s birthday presents did not arrive in time. This means that the poor child got clothes, deodorant, and Legos.

    I fail my children in so many ways but birthdays do not need to be one of them. I have control over birthdays. I like birthdays.

    And yet the most basic thing, the presents, I bombed.

    He soldiered on most magnificently, despite his parents’ shortcomings. He knew I felt bad. He acted tough.

    I knew he knew I felt bad and was acting tough for my sake. I felt worse.

    This afternoon the UPS truck is scheduled to deliver me from my pile of wretchedness. It’ll be nice to finally lift my head and stare at something besides my toes.

    Tale #6: Fondue

    This is not a story of terror and woe (unless you are lactose intolerant or have horrible memories of the 70s or once ate the whole pot of fondue and now just the mention of the word makes your insides seize up), but I wanted to tell you about it and since I was making a list, I decided that consistency would win out over logic this once. (Not that logic hasn’t ever lost out before..)

    In this house, fondue equals Classy Kid Meal. It involves all the elements of excitement and yum: fire, sharp poke-y things, plus weinies and cheese, all in the comfort of your home, arranged atop a red-checked tablecloth.

    Many fondues call for white wine and fancy cheeses. I love them all, but not everyone in my family does, so for our family parties I stick to a simple, alcohol-free cheddar cheese sauce.

    When it comes to fondue, I’m all about pleasing the masses.

    We only have one fondue pot. This makes for a complicated mealtime dance, what with all the lunging and plunging. Therefore, some people get to dip out of the pot and others get little ramekins of sauce to sit on their plates. This way no one gets stabbed. (If that happened, then this would be a tale of terror and woe.)

    Cheddar Cheese Fondue

    1 pound cheddar cheese, grated
    2 tablespoons flour
    1 cup milk
    1 teaspoon grated onion
    1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
    pinch of cayenne pepper
    pinch of salt
    dip-able munchies (see below)

    Put the milk and onion in a saucepan and scald. Toss the grated cheese with the flour. Add the cheese and heat through, whisking steadily, till smooth (do not boil). Add the Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, and salt, and taste to correct seasonings. Pour into a fondue pot or little ramekins and serve with dip-able munchies.

    Dip-able munchies:
    *cubes of bread—cut thick slabs of hearty bread into cubes, lay on a baking sheet, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes till lightly toasted, stirring every few minutes
    *steamed broccoli and carrots—steam the carrots till slightly tender; add the broccoli and continue steaming till both are tender
    *apple slices
    *sausages, little smokies, hot dogs—heat through and chop into bite-sized pieces
    *other ideas—mushrooms, boiled potatoes, shrimp, asparagus, etc.
    *to accompany—olives, grapes, other acidic munchies to cut the heavy cheese

    Fondue leftovers are wonderful. Chop up the veggies and meat and add them to a thinned down cheese sauce. Toast the bread cubes the rest of the way to crouton-dom, and bingo—you’ve created fondue soup!

    P.S. I thought up the theme for this post while at a funeral. The grave diggers looked like they were straight out of Mel Gibson’s Hamlet.

    Updated on October 31, 2010: That fondue soup is a little tricky. Sometimes the cheese doesn’t want to be thinned down and goes all stringy. So it might be best give up on the idea of thinning and simply chop up the chilled fondue into little bits before adding it to the soup.

    This same time, years previous: brown sugar syrup, buttermilk pancakes, apple tart with cider-rosemary glaze, Yo-Yo’s birth story

  • Moments of silence

    I’m afraid that I’ve given an inaccurate portrayal of our household life. Because I’ve chosen to write about all the escapades and explosions (loud bangs, smashed fingers, and wagon-smashed cars make the best stories, you know), you probably think that our house, or the people in it, are in constant motion.

    But that’s not true. We do have quiet times, and not just during the (blessed and gloriously beautiful) quiet time that is imposed every day after lunch by a weary mama. Believe it or not, the kids sometimes lapse into moments of silence all of their own volition.

    No, really! They do!

    Once upon a dark morning, the girls curled up in the downstairs study to read and listen to books on tape. They requested toast with jelly, and I, in hopes that the moment would stretch, obliged. It was nice. An all-too-infrequent moment of sisterly comradery.

    See, there I go, tainting a pretty picture with my negative comment. Why couldn’t I have left well enough alone? If I had, then you would’ve believed that my girls are the best of friends, amen. Truth telling is such a wet rag.

    Let’s pretend I never said anything. Just enjoy the sweet silence with me. Ahhh.

    Sweetsie is getting hooked on books on tapes. Right now she’s immersed in Hank the Cowdog. She curls up on a bed, on a chair, on the floor, cranks up the tape player to ear-splitting decibels and lollygags for hours.

    Even with the door shut, the roar of the tape is enough to give me a headache. To make matters worse, the player goes kind of slow, dragging the story out in a warbly, sick-o sort of way. And with every revolution of the turny thing, it squeaks. Sqeeeeeak. Squeeeeak. Squeeeeak.

    Did I just crash the peaceful party again? Did I?

    Soon after I took that picture I went into her room to move the floor mattress (Sweetsie’s bed) to our room. My grandparents were coming for a visit and would be staying in her room. I did not want them tripping over the mattress in the dead of night and breaking a hip.

    As soon as I sashayed into the room (advance warning was given but warnings hold no merit when it comes to my youngest daughter and her moods) and laid hands on the mattress, Sweetsie promptly commenced to wailing, shrieking, sobbing, screaming, etc. She flopped around on the floor, executing theatrics that would make your blood run cold (or hot, if you’re the mama). After twenty minutes (I removed the tape player so we didn’t have two noise machines going at the same time), she suddenly stood up, sniffed, and started to help make the bed.

    And here is the Baby Nickel, napping.

    He doesn’t usually sleep during rest time, but every once in a great while, the sandman triumphs. When the sandman triumphs, it is a complete and total victory—it is nearly impossible to wake the kiddo up.

    I give him about an hour to sleep and then I start in motion a long string of actions intended to raise him up. I open the door. We yell. Yo-Yo plays the piano.

    None of it works. He will not wake up until he is ready. It’s as simple as that.

    When this happened last week, I decided to take advantage of his rare tranquility. I sat by his head and snapped pictures. I focused on his eyes, his hair, his shirt sleeve. The camera was practically in his ear, but even so, it took a good fifty shutter schlicks before he stirred. He stretched. He puckered his lips.

    He rolled over.

    And then he smiled.

    And then he fell back asleep.

    And we did it all over again.

    So see, my life isn’t all chaos and craziness.

    It’s just mostly all chaos and craziness.

    Most of the time, sights such as these assail my sensitive senses.

    But would I be able to fully appreciate the quiet moments without the occasional catsuit-clad and red shoe-and-helmet sportin’ young’un?

    Um….yes, I actually think I could.

    But that is, apparently, beside the point.

    Endeavoring to be more appreciative,
    The Mother of all (my) Crazies

    This same time, years previous: classic cheesecake, love, the Tooth Fairy

  • How to have a donut party: part III

    The Day of the Party…

    38. Awake at 4:35 to the EEP EEP EEP of the alarm and a loud crash as your husband knocks the bedside lamp to the floor.
    39. Lie real still and pretend you don’t know anything about donuts
    40. After 10 minutes, shoot out of bed. Do not slow down for the next 16 ½ hours (except for during the church service because it would be super rude to run around and flap your arms during a sermon).
    41. Working as quietly as possible so that the kids don’t wake up, make six batches of this recipe.

    42. Generously give your husband the opportunity to have a good (hour and twenty minute) workout kneading the dough. (You had your workout yesterday and fear of impending sore muscles and immobility has inspired you to pop a preventative Ibuprofen. You feel amazingly great.)
    43. When the sun starts to come up and the children start to trickle downstairs and mess with the flour, turn your back on the mess at the kitchen table and transform 24 pounds of confectioner’s sugar into a glaze, kicking yourself all the while because of all the tasks, this one could have been done earlier.

    One-third of the total amount of confectioner’s sugar

    44. Look at the clock and start mumbling, There is no way we’ll be ready for church on time. Look at the clock again and state boldly, martyrously, I’m just going to have to stay home this morning. Then glance at the clock one more time, throw back your head, and howl piteously, THERE IS NO WAY WE CAN PULL THIS OFF ON TIME!
    45. In typical Sunday morning fashion, fifty percent of your children indulge in their own meltdowns, turning your solo performance into a splendid trio.
    46. Persevere.
    47. With twenty minutes till departure time, fly upstairs to wash hair, get dressed, put on make-up. Run to the car, drive pell mell to church, screech to a halt in front of the church, and…
    48. Step sedately from the car, walk calmly into the building, and collapse in your chair.
    49. Reeeeeelaaaaaax.
    50. Suddenly feel incomplete. Mentally review your outfit. Underwear? Check. Shoes? Check. Bra—is it on backwards?—no, whew. Check. Shirt? Check.
    51. Relax, again.

    52. After church, drop kids off at respective houses/activities and speed home to: punch down the dough, set up the work areas, spread tablecloths, arrange flowers, eat lunch, wash apples, vacuum, take pictures.

    53. When the newlyweds (who do have names—Kaitlin and Nathan—though it’s more fun to call them newlyweds because it makes you think of chirruping little birdies) arrive, send them to fetch the kids, cider, and ice.
    54. Pump yourself full of caffeine and chocolate.
    55. Send your husband to your brother’s house to borrow their table.

    56. Cut out donuts.

    57. Get bored with cutting out donuts and look up “doughnut” in the food encyclopedia.
    58. Eat more chocolate and cut more donuts.

    59. When Kaitlin and Nathan return with kids and cider, let them take over the donut cutting so you can relocate yourself to your station in the yard. It will become Your Spot for the next 3 ½ hours, so make yourself comfortable.

    60. Heat the oil. When it doesn’t heat as quickly as you anticipated, feel flustered.

    61. The first guests arrive. The oil still isn’t hot. Smile.

    62. Suddenly, cars start turning in and the oil is hot. First drop some donuts in the oil and then the mesh scooper spoon on the ground. Wait while Kaitlin races the spoon into the house, washes it, and races back. Dry the spoon and stick it into the oil. It sputters wildly. Quickly remove it and holler at your husband to bring the other mesh spoon. He brings some tongs.
    63. Cars are steadily pulling into the drive and passing behind you on their way down to the field to park.

    64. “Get me the other MESH SPOON!” you holler to your husband.
    65. “What’s wrong with the one you have,” your husband asks in his most infuriating, calm-yourself-down-you-crazy-woman voice.
    66. There is no time for explanations. Shriek loudly, “The donuts are BURNING! Bring me the other mesh spoon NOW!”

    67. People, quizzical expression on their sweet faces, draw closer to watch you dance about.
    68. “Here,” your husband says, all confident and manly. “Give me the spoon.” And he tries to dry it off by sticking it into the flame. He only succeeds in scorching the wires.
    70. Finally, FINALLY, your husband races into the house and returns with the appropriate spoon and you fish out the very dark donuts. (You mean for them to get thrown away, but forget to tell Kaitlin and Nathan, so a few dear souls get to eat burned donuts and go home thinking that’s the best you could do.)

    71. Your husband fixes up the original mesh spoon (the scorch marks are permanent) and hands it back to you. One of the newlyweds stations him/herself beside you and starts glazing, and after a few more batches of donuts fry up nice and golden, your shoulders start to relax.

    Kaitlin bearing forth a tray of risen donuts

    72. Friend Steve sees your camera sitting on the stand beside you and snaps a picture of you all a-glow with oil, stress, adrenaline, and the sinking sun.

    73. Fall into a pattern: plop donuts into the oil, grab the camera and snap pictures, remove donuts from the oil, plop more donuts in the oil, and all the while, visit, visit, visit, visit, visit, visit.

    74. Watch delightedly as people make themselves at home, visiting the chickens, walking the property line, ogling your basement canning shelves.

    75. Kids are everywhere, bouncing on the trampoline, playing in the clubhouse, riding bike, swinging, getting a lift up so they can peer into the pot of bubbling oil, and, always always always, cramming their faces with donuts.

    76. Cars continue to pull in the drive one right after the other, the donuts are being eaten as fast as you can make them, you are surrounded by chattering people on all sides, and suddenly you are so overwhelmed with happiness you could cry.

    77. But tears and oil don’t mix well, so blink hard and instead smile so vigorously your face nearly splits in half.

    78. About an hour into the party, start worrying that you won’t have enough donuts. Whisper your fears to your husband and when he says you haven’t even fried half the donuts yet, be relieved.

    79. Then be deeply dismayed.

    80. When people ask how many donuts you’re making, start to embellish. Instead of saying “five to six hundred donuts plus holes,” say “over a thousand donuts counting the holes.” Gleefully relish their amazement.

    81. Let your husband take over so you can take a bathroom break.

    82. Return to your post and fry away. Try not to splash the guests with hot oil as that would not be very hospitable.
    83. Destroy your clothes with hot oil splatters.
    84. As people begin to leave, ply them with extra donuts for the road.

    85. When darkness falls and the guests disperse and you can no longer see the color of the donuts in the oil and you still have several more trays to fry, throw up your hands and call it quits.
    86. When some late-coming friends offer to help clean up, do not turn them away. Instead, pour them some wine, point them in the direction of the sink, and toss them some clean dishtowels.

    87. Approach Kaitlin who is still working (Nathan having left a little earlier, though after staying much later than you expected) and tell her that she can leave at any time. When she says she was planning on staying till 8:30 and is still willing to help, thank her profusely and silently beam warm fuzzies in the direction of her (from-all-appearances-based-on-their-awesome offspring) honorable and incredible parents. (You’ve been exposed to Nathan’s parents’ awesomeness for years, so that he stood beside you for long periods of time [probably getting a sugar rush through his glazed-drenched fingers] came as no surprise. However, you were very impressed that he went so far as to actually anticipate your moves.)
    88. Set one of your late-coming friends up with a bowl of melted butter and another bowl of cinnamon sugar and the raised donut holes. Monkey bread will be in your future.

    89. Eat apples and spoonfuls of peanut and cashew butter to counteract the sugar rush.
    90. Open a care package/hostess gift: epsom salts for soaking (which you will do that evening before going to bed), a jar of pear-ginger chutney, and two-holy! freakin’! cow!-pounds of homemade maple sugar.

    91. Shut down the kitchen, bid friends good night, and put kids to bed.
    92. Bask in weary exuberance.
    93. When your husband asks, “So, was it worth it?” say, “Absolutely” and mean it, down to the tippy tips of your tired toes.

    The end.

    This same time, years previous: keeping my hands in the toilet, pumpkin-sausage cream sauce, rhubarb cake

  • How to have a donut party: part II

    The Day Before the Party…

    21. Peel, cook, and mash the potatoes.
    22. Burn up your mixer in the process.
    23. Hit full-blown panic mode because there are more potatoes to be mashed but you can’t (see Number 22), mashed potatoes are splattered all over your freshly washed counters, the house is a mess, your hair is dirty, you forgot to make the glaze, you have to leave for that all-important belly dance workshop in less than an hour, and you can NOT find a water bottle anywhere.
    24. Fixate on the water bottle.
    25. Accept your husband’s offer to find you a water bottle while you take your panicky self upstairs to get ready.
    26. Return downstairs, thank your husband for the bottle of water, and drive off without the water.
    27. Attend the belly dance workshop which, it turns out, is geared for professional belly dancers.
    28. Be awed.
    29. Be even more mortified.
    30. Position yourself at the back of the room and try to pretend you’re not an elephant in ancient yoga pants and a faded, too-small top with a threadbare sports bra underneath.
    31. Tell yourself that it doesn’t matter. Belly dance is not your life.
    32. Continue to suffer agonizing mortification pains anyway.
    33. Out in the hall at break time, moan about your inability to do a reverse undulation, belly roll, shoulder roll—heck, all of the moves—but then seize on one truth and shout, “But I can make donuts!” and feel better, if only for 3 seconds.
    34. When the workshop ends, slink to the car and profusely congratulate yourself on your decision to skip out on the swanky restaurant because your ego can only withstand so much embarrassment in a five-hour period and you reached your limit four hours and thirteen minutes ago.
    35. Arrive home, tuck kids in bed, and visit briefly with an exhausted husband.
    36. Mentally review all that needs to be done: make the glaze! grind the coffee! wash the apples! make the dough! decorate the porches! sweep the porches! vacuum the house! go to church! pick up the cider! buy ice!
    37. Crawl upstairs to bed and pull the covers over your head.

  • How to have a donut party: part I

    1. Set the party date for a couple months out, hope for good weather, and tell everybody.
    2. Freak out, sit down with your husband, and together process all the reasons for freaking out, of which there are a discouraging many.
    3. Make lists.
    4. Stress, worry, giggle hysterically.
    5. Make more lists, show them to your husband, and get your panties in a twist when he shrugs the list/you off.
    6. Let your husband know, in no uncertain terms, that making light of your stress does not help reduce it.
    7. Every few days make a new Panic List and show it to your husband. Have no shame—if things don’t get checked off quickly enough, resort to hysterics.
    8. If things get really bad, throw down your dish rag and threaten to leave.
    9. Decide to attend a five-hour belly dance workshop in a distant city on the day before the party and agree to dance at a swanky restaurant (in the same distant city) that night at 10 o’clock even though you know full well it means you won’t get home till 1:30 in the morning and you’ll have to get up three hours later to start making the dough.
    10. Feel sheepish (and ever so slightly guilty) and bust your butt doing lots of work.
    11. On second thought, decide that hundreds of donuts on three hours of sleep might not be such a good idea and back out of the swanky restaurant part of the deal but hold steadfast in your workshop plans ’cause belly dance is awesome.
    12. Stress some more.
    13. Combat the stress by making more lists.
    14. A couple weeks pre-party, snag a newlywed couple after church and cordially invite them to come help the afternoon of the party. When they say yes, bask in several blessed hours of stress-free relief.

    15. Buy mums, pot them, and set them on the front porch away from the main thoroughfare so your children won’t de-flower (not in the Shakespearean sense) them.
    16. Wash windows, dust, wash more windows, dust more dust.
    17. Watch happily while your husband cuts down ratty trees, puts the garden to sleep, spruces up the chicken coop, mows, weed wacks, pressure washes the porch, etc.
    18. Watch not-so happily as your husband decides that it’s time to build a woodshed, but don’t say anything as you know he’ll just cock an eyebrow and say mildly, And, um, the belly dance workshop?
    19. Buy 50 pounds of bread flour, 24 pounds of confectioner’s sugar, 3 gallons of oil, ½ gallon of half-and-half, and a bushel of empire apples.
    20. Accept a church friend’s offer to provide the apple cider—he will press it the day before—and do a Little Happy Jig because fresh-pressed cider rocks.

    This same time, years previous: apple cake, Italian cream cake, the stash of 2008, deprivation

  • Rolls that scream

    So, like I said, I made pepperoni rolls for Mr. Handsome’s birthday present. They looked and smelled so delicious that the kids commenced a-wailing when I bagged the rolls up and shoved them in the freezer with nary a crumb tossed in their direction.

    But a couple days later, after snitching one from the freezer (and tossing a couple crumbs to the kids while I scarfed down the majority), I decided they (the rolls, not the kids, or as well as the kids but let’s not get into that right now) had lots of room for improvement.

    Improvement #1:
    less bread.

    Improvement #2: more pepperoni.

    Improvement #3: some Parmesan in the bread dough.

    Improvement #4: remove the plastic casing from the pepperoni slices. Nobody likes to floss while chewing dinner.

    So I made pepperoni rolls all over again, and this time, thank goodness, I got it right.

    Boy oh boy, did I ever get it right.

    I first got the idea for pepperoni rolls from Larisa. Up until July of this year I did not know Larisa existed, but then I mentioned to someone that I was hoping to buy Miss Beccaboo some horseback riding lessons for her birthday and that person said, “Oh, you ought to talk to Larisa.”

    So I did. And Larisa, a college student and horse back riding expert, agreed.

    For six Saturday mornings she instructed Miss Beccaboo in the art of all things horsey.

    Miss Beccaboo loved it.

    And then it came time to pay up. Larisa and I had talked about compensation in the very beginning but she had yet to decide between bartering and moolah, straight up. So at the last lesson when I walked up to her with my checkbook, Larisa said, “Um, I was thinking that I might like some cooking lessons from you.” And so it came to be that Wednesdays found the two of us flitting about my kitchen, cooking, talking, tripping over kids, and washing dishes.

    Foods we (she) made:

    *roasted cherry vanilla ice cream with dark chocolate
    *apple pie with this pastry
    *roasted tomato and garlic sauce (in fact, she provided some of the inspiration for this recipe)
    *sourdough bread
    *orange cranberry biscotti
    *strawberry sauce
    *ginger cream scones
    *flour tortillas
    *whipped cream
    *and perhaps some other things that I’m forgetting

    I taught Larisa all those foods (she already knew quite a bit about cooking) and she, in turn, reminded me of pepperoni rolls. It was just a passing comment she made in one of our many conversations, something about a shop in Pittsburgh that causes her to drop her vegetarian habits every time she goes there just so she can feast on pepperoni heaven, but it planted the birthday gift nugget in my brain.

    Until I started researching recipes, I thought everyone knew what pepperoni rolls were, but no! I learned from my reading that they are a West Virginia specialty. Seeing as I grew up in West Virginia and pepperoni rolls were as common as white-tailed deer, mountain mamas, country roads, coal mines, and ramp festivals, I could hardly believe my eyes and—

    Wait! That means YOU probably don’t know what I’m rattling on and on about. How rude of me.

    Allow me to fill you in on the delicious details. It would be such an honor.

    First, a definition. A pepperoni roll is simply: pepperoni-and-cheese-infused bread wrapped around more cheese and lots of pepperoni and baked. The rolls can be made small and served as an accompaniment to dinner, or they can be made large and eaten in place of a sandwich, or as a hearty snack.

    So now that you know what I’m talking about, let’s break it down with a few pictures and some simple instructions. With me playing maestra, you will master the art of the noble pepperoni roll in two shakes of a rat’s tail.

    To your favorite pizza-like bread dough, add some Parmesan cheese and chopped pepperoni. It’s important that the rolls don’t just hint at pepperoni—that’s boring. No, the rolls must SCREAM PEPPERONI AT THE TOP OF THEIR VOICES.

    Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about a quarter inch thick. (Mr. Handsome will take one look at that picture and say indignantly, That’s not a quarter-inch thick! Geesh! That’s five-sixteenths! Don’t you know anything?)

    Using a pizza cutter, divide the dough into smaller rectangles by a) first cutting the dough in half lengthwise and then b) crosswise into an many pieces as you want to get. (Approximate size to aim for: six to eight inches by four inches. More or less.)

    Sprinkle a little mozzarella on the dough. Just a bit. The predominant taste is pepperoni, so go easy on the cheese.

    Now it’s time for the pepperoni. Make one layer of side-by-side pepperoni pieces. There is no need to stack it, just make sure the pieces are covering three quarters of the dough and extending all the way out to the edges. You want to see pieces of pepperoni sticking out of the dough. Nobody should mistake these rolls for anything but a pepperoni roll. Even if they don’t know what they are. A person should look at it and say, Oh, look at that. That’s PEPPERONI sticking out of that roll! So it must be a PEPPERONI ROLL. Nifty!

    Roll up the dough, using your fingers to tuck in any escaping bits of meat and cheese.

    Place the rolls, seam-side down, on an oiled and cornmeal-sprinkled pan.

    Brush the rolls with an egg wash.

    Bake and eat. The end.

    Pepperoni Rolls
    Inspired by Larisa, with a bit of guidance from the blog Chickens in the Road

    If you buy large slices of deli pepperoni, make sure that they removed the plastic casing before cutting the slices. Otherwise the rolls will be more toothsome than you anticipated.

    These rolls beg for creativity (though then they will no longer be able to fall under the title of “pepperoni roll”):
    *Add, or substitute, some browned sausage or bacon.
    *Try different cheeses.
    *Add caramelized onions, or some hot peppers.
    *Add some minced fresh garlic to either the dough or the filling, or both.
    *Omit the meat all together and make a vegetarian version using a filling of feta and spinach, perhaps with a few green olives thrown in for spunk.

    The measurements are intentionally vague. This is a process more than a recipe.

    1 recipe five-minute dough
    ½ cup (or more) finely ground fresh Parmesan
    1 cup chopped pepperoni
    Lots more pepperoni, either in whole slices or chopped
    Mozzarella, grated
    a bit of olive oil, for the pan
    cornmeal, for the pan
    1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for the wash

    After the flour has been stirred into the dough, add the grated Parmesan and the cup of chopped pepperoni. Let the dough rest for an hour or so.

    Roll out the dough into a large rectangle. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into smaller rectangles. Top each rectangle with a bit of mozzarella and then generously cover it with pepperoni slices. Roll the rectangles up and pinch the seam to seal (leaving the ends open).

    Spread the baking sheet (use a sided one to keep the drippings from dirtying your oven floor) with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Set the rolls seam-side down. Cover with a clean cloth and let them rest for 30-60 minutes till they are slightly puffy. Brush the tops of the rolls with the wash.

    Bake the rolls at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until toasty brown.

    Yield: as many as you make!

    These rolls freeze beautifully. To freeze, allow the rolls to cool to room temperature before bagging. To thaw, remove the rolls from the bag, wrap them loosely in a cloth, and thaw at room temperature. If desired, reheat them in a 350 oven for 5-8 minutes.

    This same time, years previous: sweet onion corn bake, the clubhouse (started two years ago and it’s still not done), pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting