• dark chocolate zucchini cake

    A couple weeks ago, I had to run into town for a mid-afternoon appointment, so I dropped the kids off at The Property, along with a plate piled high with thick slices of chocolate zucchini cake. I wasn’t sure how many people were working on the house and wanted to be sure there was enough cake to go around.

    There were only two pieces when I got back. Apparently, my kids ate most of it. Oh well.

    At first, I wasn’t all that thrilled with the cake. It seemed too wet, and maybe a little too heavy. But by the second day, all extra wetness had disappeared and the cake was lovely—dense, dark, chocolate-y, and moist. But because my kids had already eaten most of it, there wasn’t much left for me to enjoy.

    So yesterday, I made another chocolate zucchini cake. We ate some, shared some, and squirreled the rest away in the freezer for later.

    Julie says this is her favorite chocolate cake. I wouldn’t go that far (this one holds that title), but there is something chic about an unadorned wedge of chocolate cake. Somehow it manages to be both homey and classy, functional and elegant.

    Bonus: it’s super simple to make.

    Dark Chocolate Zucchini Cake
    Adapted from Julie of Dinner with Julie

    The first time I made this, I used part whole wheat pastry flour. The second time, I used all white flour. I don’t think there was much difference between the two, so feel free to sub in a cup of whole wheat for a cup of the white.

    Also, I like to use mini chocolate chips instead of regular sized ones—you get bits of chocolate in every bite and it doesn’t mess with the cake-y texture vibe as much.

    ½ cup butter
    1/4 cup canola oil
    1 3/4 cups sugar
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    2 1/4 cups flour
    3/4 cup cocoa
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    ½ teaspoon salt
    1 cup sour cream
    3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
    2 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini

    Cream the fats and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well.

    In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture alternately with the sour cream. Fold in the chocolate chips and zucchini. Pour the cake batter into a greased angel food cake (or bundt) pan.

    Bake the cake at 325 degrees for an hour or until a cake tester comes out clean (though the chips will leave some chocolate smears) and the top of the cake is cracked and boingy to the touch. While the cake is still slightly warm, invert onto a cooling rack.

    (Looking for a good zucchini bread recipe? Try this one. It’s quite lovely.)

    This same time, years previous: swing set mutilation, beef empanadas, one whole year, reasons, lemon donut muffins, weird, honeyed apricot almond cake, brown bread, simple granola, fancy granola, French chocolate granola, oregano, garlic, and lemon roast chicken with asparagus and potatoes, and a sketchy character.

  • the quotidian (6.25.12)

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

    Lots of rain alternating with lots of sun equals perfect weeding weather.

    my workhorses
    (and yes, she has shorts on under that shirt)

    He fully embraces his gardening duties…for real.
    He’s so dirty he’s practically wearing the garden.

    What happens when the show is over
     and I bring home the theater make-up: makeovers for all.

    A kid’s solution to hot weather: dump a bunch of water on the concrete porch
    and then pretend it’s a water park.

     

    His glory days are nearing their end: my husband had to actually work to win this match.

    Extreme porch sports: take down the swing and use the remaining dangling chains to swing out over the yard…all while wearing too-big roller blades that are stuffed with dish towels to make them fit.

    Our new grape arbor is working out splendidly!
    (Now if we can just keep the kids from chucking the green grapes at each other…)

    We left the boy alone to do his chores. When my husband came home,
    this was how he found him: in the kitchen, surrounded by radios
    so he could listen to music in stereo while doing the dishes.

  • beets, and more beets

    My father and husband planted a huge long row of beets, and the other day when I was thinning them, I saved the pretty, red-tailed greens.

    For my lunches, I sizzle a little butter in a skillet and throw in a few large handfuls of beety greens, salt the whole mess, and then toss it around with a fork until it’s dark green and tender. I let the greens sit, off heat, for a few more minutes while I make my quesadilla—this gives the beet roots time to soften a little more.

    I make a tortilla sandwich with some kind of melting cheese and a bunch of feta, toast it, and then stuff the quesadilla with the greens.

    Thanks to all the beet tails, it looks a little like I’m eating a mouse-stuffed quesadilla. Mm-mm, good beety mice!

    (If that image disturbs you, chop up the greens pre-saute.)

    Speaking of beets, I wrote about them for this week’s column. It’s a new recipe, so I’m posting it here, too.

    Cilantro Beet Salad
    Inspired by my pastor, Jennifer Davis Sensenig

    This is more a formula than a recipe. It seems like a crazy amount of cilantro, and it is, but it’s all good. Trust me.

    1 cup roasted (or boiled) beets, cooled and diced
    ½ to 1 cup chopped cilantro, stems and leaves
    1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    salt and black pepper to taste
    cooked quinoa, optional
    feta cheese, optional

    Toss together and taste to correct seasonings.

    How to Roast Beets
    Trim off the stems and leaves. Scrub the beets. Put the whole beets in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 60-90 minutes or until the beets are fork tender. Cool slightly before peeling. Eat warm, with butter and salt, or refrigerate for later use.

    How to Cook Quinoa
    Cover 1 cup of quinoa with hot (not boiling) water and let soak for 5 minutes. Rinse and drain the quinoa several times. Both the hot soak and the rinsing help to reduce the bitterness.

    Put the quinoa in a saucepan and add 1 ½ (scant) cups of water or chicken broth. Simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the grains are tender.

    P.S. I’ve been getting a bunch of spam, so I added the word verification back into the commenting process. If it gives you any trouble, let me know.

    This same time, years previous: spaghetti with fresh herbs and fried eggs, a driving lesson

  • angst, flubs, and strike

    My life—er, the play—is over.

    Truth is, I was feeling overly dramatic about it ending and all, but now I’m moving on. I weed the beans and thin the beetsthe dirt and sweat help me straighten things out in my head.

    Seriously, though, this play was the biggest project I’ve undertaken in years. A friend pointed out that she has never, in the eight-plus years that she’s known me, ever seen me involved in an out-of-the-home project to this extent. I do things here and there, sure. I get really busy for a week or two, yes. But seven weeks in a row, four or five hours most every night? Never.

    running through the light cues pre-show 

    vocal warm-ups: every night, five minutes before the house opened, 
    we FILLED that green room with harmonies 

    Nearly all the men had to shave their mustaches to get the correct period look. I doubt it was period appropriate to get haircuts from strange women in their underwear, though.

    flashing stockings, bloomers, and petticoats, and with her hair down, too—risque!

    The burn make-up went on pre-show. It took about 20 minutes to apply. Then, between the last two scenes, she’d race back to the green room, take off the good dress, put on the burned one, and they’d quickly apply more make-up to her hands and face. 

    faking nerves: this girl is a pro
    Being delivered up to the hairdresser: I have so many pictures of this child being carried around. 
    Her name should be Koala Kid. 

     

    See what I mean? 
    cute kids: they added a lot of depth to the play just by being themselves
    (Koala Spotting Alert!)

    It was so worth it. But when you sink that much time into something and then it’s over, there’s bound to be bounceback.

    “I wish I was more stable,” I told my husband the other night.

    Emotional Instability Example Number One: I was so grateful to be a part of the play, to get a chance to try acting, and I had a lovely time doing it, but then the play ended and I found myself thinking all the-glass-is-half-empty thoughts, such as, I’ll never have another chance to act again, wah!

    Emotional Instability Example Number Two: Someone tells me they liked such and such a scene and I feel great about it. But then I don’t get any compliments for a couple days and I start to think thoughts such as the following: My acting was pathetic, or Everyone could clearly see that I was 15 years older than my character and it totally ruined the play for them, or They only said nice things because they were being polite—WHAT CHOICE DID THEY HAVE, or The director just let me be in the play out of the goodness of her sainted heart. And on and on and on until I’m in the fetal position in the bottom of the pit I’ve just wormed my way down into. But then someone says, No seriously! So and so said you rocked! and I shoot up to the top of Mount Everest and do a little jig, trip on my feet, and slip back down to the bottom all over again. It’s miserable.

    Emotional stability is not my forte.

    But then another friend told me that her college roommate would curl up in bed and cry for a couple days after finishing a play, and I breathed a little easier. And then one of the other actors admitted she was feeling down about the play being over, and I started to think, Maybe I’m not the only one, after all?

    Of course I’m not. I know better than to be that self-involved. But see, acting is new, and I get this way with every new thing I do (especially when it’s public), more or less. The bouncing gets less vigorous the longer I do it. Take, for example, parenting. I’m much more confident as a parent than I was 12 years ago when my son emerged through the sunroof. My confidence in my parenting skills and abilities still spikes and plummets on a regular basis, but overall, it’s on the rise. The same is true with writing and cooking. When it comes to acting, though, I have no footing whatsoever.

    one minute to places; one last check in the mirror

    Not that all that really matters. Because we’re supposed to do what we enjoy because we enjoy it, period. Here’s a fun TED talk on creativity and skateboarding that provided me with some needed perspective.

    ***

    I promised I’d give you some of the inside scoop, so here you go:

    *The guns didn’t always go off. Once all the bullets (blanks) fell out of the pistol. Needless to say, death is kind of anti-climatic when there’s no BANG. Conversely, when the guns did go off, Reuben and I, who were sitting on our little off-the-bedroom balcony/exit stairs waiting for our scene, would quietly cheer.

    *Once a sack got slammed down and instead of just making a loud, satisfying thunk like it was supposed to, it split open and all the chopped-up apples from the apple schnitzing scene (that were being used as filler for the sack) exploded all over the “porch”…

    *…and when one of the actors came running on stage to tackle another actor, he stepped on an apple and went skidding across. He still made the tackle and successfully completed the scene.

    *Once when I was arguing with Reuben, I backed all the way up to the dresser and then, when I started to stomp off across the stage, my apron loop hooked itself onto the dresser knob and the drawer started to come along with me. I stopped short, quickly unhooked myself, and kept going, while Reuben calmly shut the drawer behind me. The funny thing, though, was my line. As I started to walk off, hooked to the drawer, I was saying, “This wasn’t supposed to happen!” Indeed!

    *When Reuben and I were practicing, I got stuck on one of my lines: “…and if the conscription men come, I’ll hide you in the—” and then, instead of “springhouse,” the word “greenhouse” popped into mind. Which was no big deal, except the next time I was on stage, I came to that line and couldn’t remember which it was. …”And if the conscription men come, I’ll hide you in the—” (oh crap, what is it? Springhouse? Greenhouse? Springhouse? Greenhouse?) “—I’ll hide you in the springhouse!” Whew.

    I spent a good deal of time in this little bed.

    *I jumped lines and garbled things at different points, but never once did I blank. That is, not until I got to the very last line, nay, the very last word of the very last play. Then I blanked completely. My last line, “We’ll make it through, Mama,” is followed by me starting the theme song, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand.” Simple, right? You’d think! I started singing, no problem, but then I got to “stand” and all I could think of was “sail,” which does make sense, now that I come to think of it, since I’m standing on the banks of water and all, but I didn’t notice any of that then. All I noticed was that my mouth was hanging open and no sound was coming out of it. I tried to think of all the “s” verbs, which, in my panicked state, boiled down to two—sit, sail, sit, sail—while trying not to look like a deer in headlights. It only took a couple seconds (please, please say it wasn’t longer than that!) before my “mother” joined in and I was like STAND, duh, it’s STAND and then the play was over. My “mother” said she thought I was just choking up and that everyone else probably thought the same thing. I’m not convinced.

    ***

    We struck the set after Sunday’s show.

    I made my husband come and help because wood and tools is what he does. We stayed till nearly ten and the job still wasn’t done. And that was with lots of people helping. It was a complicated set, plus, they were taking down the stage, too.

    I wasn’t all that helpful, really. I mostly wandered around and picked screws off the floor, labeled boards (because we’re Mennonite and can’t throw anything away, much to my husband’s dismay), and hauled boards.

    About halfway through, I started to fade. My husband took one look at me and bought a Pepsi. I chugged it, revived, started twitching, and then got to work.

    I even did an impromptu dance solo.

    Afterwards, I asked my husband what he thought about the whole operation. “It’s fascinating,” he said.

    I’m glad he thought so, because it’s exactly how I’ve been feeling for the last, oh, seven weeks. 

    ***

    The one problem with acting in this play? I now have high expectations for how a play should be executed. All stage managers must wear stop watches around their neck, all light directors must be so dedicated that they pull all nighters to get things Just So, all directors must be like god—giving you just what you need when you need it—all musical directors have to say things like “you went off a half step in the second measure,” all costume designers have to keep a three-ring binder full of handwritten notes on historical details, all the actors have to be a variety of ages, and the play has to be meaningful—no fluff allowed.

    And that’s all I have to say about that.

    P.S. I took most, but not all of these pictures. I can not give photo credits, however, because I handed out my camera. So anyway, just saying. (And thanks to you people who took the pictures!)

    This same time, years previous: orange-cranberry scones

  • refried beans

    My older daughter has a strong aversion to dried beans.

    It’s the weirdest thing because beans are a staple in this family. I keep the pantry stocked with black, red, navy, and pinto beans, as well as green and red lentils—none of which she likes (but eats nonetheless, since it’s what’s for supper).

    I’m hoping she out grows her dislike someday, but I’m not too optimistic. Even after three years of living in Bean Central (otherwise known as Central America), my husband still isn’t that fond of the magical fruit. My daughter gets her bean-hate from him.

    This is where refried beans comes into the picture. She much prefers beans when they’re not in their beany form (it must be a texture thing, not a tastebud thing). I made a big pot of refried beans the other night for supper, and she was gratifyingly grateful.

    The rest of the family liked them, too. We topped the puddle of beans with sour cream and cheese and salsa and then scooped the whole mess into our mouths via soft flour tortillas.

    There are many ways to make refried beans, and I’ve experimented with a variety recipes. However, it’s my own creation that I keep coming back to. Probably because it involves bacon grease.

    Bacon grease is a precious commodity in my kitchen. I love to use it in place of butter when frying eggs or sauteing the veggies for a potato soup.

    Please tell me you reserve your bacon grease, yes? Yes? Oh, good! We of the bacon grease saving mentality are kindred spirits.

    Refried Beans

    1 pound pinto beans, cooked until very soft
    1/4 cup bacon grease
    1 onion, chopped
    4 cloves garlic, minced
    lots of salt

    Saute the onion in the bacon grease until tender. Add the garlic and saute for a couple more minutes. Add the beans and some of their broth (reserve the remaining juice in case you need to thin the beans further) and heat through. Using an immersion or stand blender, blend until smooth. Season with salt, and don’t be skimpy about it, either.

    Note: these freeze well.

    This same time, years previous: thrift store shoppingsour cherry crostatas, how to freeze spinach, strawberry margarita cake, and Swiss chard rolls

  • the quotidian (6.19.12)

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

    under construction: a dollhouse of flowers

    how to make a piñata, hickville-style: 
    1. steal a plastic milk jug from the recycle bin
    2. fill it with water
    3. tie it to one end of a rope, the other end of which is fastened to a tree branch
    4. with a stick, beat the living daylights out of it
    5. Repeat with a new milk jug (because the first one is in pieces all over the yard)

    if you give a girl a screwdriver… she’ll
    a. become calm and focused
    b. make a mess
    c. get her papa to help her
    d. all of the above

    proof that he does in fact stop moving

    They were talking about tea parties and painted fingernails and puppy dogs, right?
    Wrong! They were deep in a conversation about…allergies!

    a portrait of her parents 
    by my younger daughter

    (My favorite part, besides the fact that we’re kissing, not fighting, is the hearts in the eyeballs.)


    cousins 
    (but doesn’t she look like she could be mine?) 

    evening wrestling sessions
    (I wasn’t joking when I said my sofa had a violent hole in it.)

    This same time, years previous: cold-brewed iced tea and coffee, In honor of Father’s Day: the giant green slug, cabbage apple slaw with buttered pecans

  • a dare

    On Saturday, my daughter and I drove into town to do a bunch of errands. First up, we stopped at the thrift store. I like to check in there whenever I can, just to see what’s in stock. This time, we found some water shoes for my daughter and a couple dress-up dresses. And then my daughter appeared from behind the shoe rack wearing an old lady wig. I hooted. Other customers chuckled. We bought the wig.

    She’d put the wig on whenever we got into the car, but would take it off before going into any store. Every time I looked over at the passengers seat, there she was in her sunglasses and granny hair. It about did me in.

    It was when we were pulling in the gas station, our next-to-last stop, that I got an idea. “Hey, you wear the wig and glasses into the grocery store and I’ll give you a quarter for the gum machine.”

    Into the store? But everyone would look at me!” She looked at me incredulously.

    “From the car to the car,” I said. “The whole time we’re in the store. It’ll be funny.”

    “Fifty cents,” she countered.

    “Okay, fifty cents,” I said.

    “Seventy-five,” she shot back.

    “No.”

    She waffled for a bit—but people will look at me! I’ll feel funny!—and then she grew steely. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

    As we parked the car I said, “Just forget you’re wearing a wig and glasses and focus on the shopping. We don’t have a very long list.” I wasn’t sure who the pep talk was for—me or her.

    being shriveled

    We didn’t get very far into the store before a woman from our church passed us. She stopped and turned around. “Is that…one of your children?”

    “It’s a dare,” I mouthed.

    “I’m not going to say anything else,” she laughed, and walked on.

    We ran into another friend in the dairy aisle. In the middle of preliminary greetings, she suddenly looked over and spied my girl.

    “Oh my word!” she shrieked. That is perfect! I love it! Can I have it? I’m going to a 40th birthday party today and I need that!”

    She made plans to pick it up later that day (though she never did then), and then, as we headed off in different directions, she leaned over to my daughter and said, “You age so well!”

    We made it through the store without further incident. No one else made a peep. Maybe prematurely gray ten-year-old girls are more common than I realized?

    In the check out line, my girl picked out two airheads for her reward. She gave me a taste of each.

    This same time, years previous: Kate’s enchiladas, my boy children, old-fashioned vanilla ice cream, making art

  • a glimpse

    Yesterday afternoon, I took the kids over to my parents’ property so they could run around with sharp, pointy sticks and play with fire (or, as the case may be, stick the sharp, pointy sticks in the fire and then run around with them) while I went for a walk.

    My husband and older son were already up there working. When schedules allow, my son has been getting up early to hitch a ride over to the property with his dad, or sometimes he’ll ride the 2 ½ miles on his bike.

    After a full day of work, my son glows with sunburn, sweat, and pride at being able to wear a tool belt and his papa’s straw hat and work boots. He’s pretty pumped about having his own packed lunch and getting to hang out with The Men.

    Why do my boys always stare at me with such confusion and bewilderment? 
    Am I really that hard to understand?

    I confess, seeing my son caulking boards up there yesterday, my heart swelled up just a bit. Finally, after all these years of trying to get him to jump in and apply himself already, he’s finally doing it.

    However, my back-patting got cut short first thing this morning when I assigned him the simple tasks of scrubbing the bathroom floor and sweeping the porches. He did a staggeringly horrendous job and then had a hissy fit when I insisted they be redone properly. (I won.)

    So, to summarize, the gig’s not up yet. But still, it’s nice to see glimpses of the future.

    (And, to be clear, it’s the hard worker that I see in the future, not the hissy fitter. Call me Pollyanna, but in cases such as these, I’m an eternal optimist.)

    This same time, years previous: polyester bras

  • this, too, shall pass

    Three times this week, I got to have an evening at home. It’s a novelty, all this time on my hands. I have time to eat more than I need at supper and help with clean-up and work in the garden (begrudgingly) and read to the kids and watch Modern Family with my husband (the part where the kid was jumping on a pogo stick on the trampoline? we laughed so hard we had to stop the DVD) and go to bed in decent time. It’s nice, yes, but truth is, it’s also rather dull.

    After being on such a steep learning curve for so long, pushing myself to do something so completely different from what I’m used to, The Humdrum Daily just doesn’t cut it. I feel anchor-less, indifferent, and—yes, the dread word that I use way too often—bored.

    I’ll get beyond this—if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 36 years, it’s that everything is a stage and nothing lasts (also known as Having Perspective)—but in the meantime, I’m vacillating between wanting to do something else New and Scary and trying, really trying, to nestle myself back down into the nest.

    Last night I half-heartedly did some hoeing, planted the zucchini (yes, we’re late), and weeded the tomatoes before collapsing on a blanket in the yard.

    This was my view—all green and blue and white. Pretty.

    This was me being all sorts of vapid. My kid had to check to make sure I was still alive.

    Then he used me as a pillow.

    What is it with kids sticking out their tongues at the camera? Do all children do this? Or is it just my uncultured monkeys?

    Eventually I realized that the sunlight was kind of pretty and so I started snapping pictures of my surroundings.

    I took pictures of weeds.

    I took pictures of the clothesline.
     

    I took pictures of the tomato cages.

    I took pictures of my husband charging me with the mower.

    When I didn’t move, he gave me What For.

    When I still didn’t move, he backed up and went the other way.

    So then I moved.

    This same time, years previous: when I sat down (oh look, another post on boredom!) (it’s better than today’s), how to freeze strawberries and make strawberry jam, buttered peas and brown buttered noodles with ham

  • Greek cucumber and tomato salad

    Re the play: under no circumstances whatsoever are we to eat food while wearing our costumes. If we do, we run the risk of the (normally bubbly and happy-go-lucky) costume designer suffering an apoplectic fit.

    Even so, there is often food in the green room anyway: bagels, cake, bread and jam, pie, crackers, and the like. We eat while walking around in various stages of undress or after the play is over. I usually don’t eat anything, partly because of nerves, partly because I don’t need to, and partly because the corset doesn’t allow for breathing, let alone food.

    However, four and a half hours is a long time for the little kids to go without eating, so their mother often packs them something more substantial. They put on full-body bibs (the plastic smocks that we wear while we’re getting our hair done) and dig in. One night I spied them huddling over a big container of cucumber and tomato salad.

    “What’s in that?” I asked, bending over to get a closer look.

    The mother rattled off the list: tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas, feta, and black olives.

    “And the dressing?”

    “A garlic clove mashed up with some salt and olive oil.”

    “Vinegar, too?” I suggested.

    “No, lemon juice. I always use lemon juice for the acid when making Greek food.”

    I love it when people have particular food prep habits. It’s indicative of style, flair, an informed opinion. I never knew that lemon juice was preferred over vinegars when making Greek food (I am flair-less!), but I’m all for learning.

    I made the salad this morning, mashing up a bit of garlic with some salt in my mortar and pestle, just like she recommended. I never use my mortar and pestle, but that’s all changed now. It transformed that clove into a pungent, salty paste. A couple glugs of olive oil and the juice of half a lemon later, and I had a smooth, authentic (yes? yes!) Greek dressing.

    The salad was as good as I imagined it to be. Maybe even better. Come August, when tomatoes and cucumbers are at their peak, this salad will make a frequent appearance at our table.

    Greek Cucumber and Tomato Salad
    Inspired by my friend MAC

    1 cucumber, quartered lengthwise and then sliced
    1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
    2 green onions, minced (optional)
    1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
    ½ – 1 cup black olives, quartered
    ½ cup feta cheese
    1 small clove garlic
    ½ teaspoon salt
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

    In a large bowl, combine the first 6 ingredients.

    Mash the garlic with the salt until creamy. Whisk in the olive oil and lemon juice.

    Pour the dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat. Taste to correct seasonings.

    P.S. My younger daughter was washing the dishes and came upon the mortar and pestle. “Can I have this when you die?” she asked.

    I didn’t answer right off—there were so many things wrong with this statement. First, she’s planning my death already? Second, a mortar and
    pestle is the best she could come up with? Seriously?

    “Can I? Can I?” she pressed.

    “We’ll see,” I finally answered, shaking my head.

    This same time, years previous: microwave flower press