This same time, years previous: hill of the martyrs, proofing baskets, in the kitchen, dance party, story of a trusty skirt, the quotidian (7.28.14), rest and play, classic bran muffins, spicy Indian potatoes.
- Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;everyday; ordinary; commonplaceKeeping the kitchen cool(er) and feeding the masses: two birds with one stone.To go with ice cream: all the berries, plus rhubarb.It’s a never-ending task.Making space.Always, dirty clothes.Encroachment.Country girl.Learning to throw each other.“Break the wrist and walk away” — name that movie!Vacuum wrapped.
Our Puerto Rican friends crashed our place last week, right around the same time a heatwave rolled in.the bottom number is the INSIDE temperature
And so we fled to the river!rock body paint
And then my brother’s family came to stay with my parents for a week, and our friends’ friends (who just moved to Maryland from Puerto Rico) came down for the day and we all ended up at my parents’ house for my brother’s birthday party — roughly six households under one roof.
The next morning, my older son and I took the train up to New York (along with the three Fresh Air kids we were escorting) and then played tourist for the next 36 hours or so. Highlights: a nighttime ice cream run in the pouring rain, watching the astoundingly bizarre Frances and Friends in bed while drinking decaf coffee and laughing uproariously (it was like watching a fever dream!), a morning run in Central Park, a visit to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, front row seats to Fiddler on the Roof, people watching, riding the subway, giant pizza, more ice cream, and way too much pasta.Back from getting ice cream: soaked through.
Then we escorted a Fresh Air Fund bus back home, kicking off a week of hosting (we are having so much fun with our Fresh Air boy!), sweet pickle making, bread baking, the start of tomato canning, and theater shows: tonight’s my younger son’s theater debut as Slightly, leader of the Lost Boys, in the Valley Playhouse production of Peter Pan.photo credit: my younger son
The highlight of making those dragon eggs — aside from 1) the thrill of creating, and 2) her reaction — was the Italian Meringue Buttercream. I’d made it several times before but this was the first time I got it right.
It was glorious.
I’m not an icing sort of person (I always thought that frosting-shot trend was just plain weird), but now I think I understand. Buttercream, the real stuff, is not too sweet, and the texture — both impossibly fluffy light and creamy rich — is a marvel. I worked with that lusciousness all day, dirty icing the cakes and then giving them a second coat (and then one more, just to be sure they were sufficiently sealed), and at the end of the day, instead of feeling sick from the buttercream, I actually craved it. I had a little leftover in the fridge, and every now and then I’d sneak some.
So what’s the trick to getting a good buttercream? Temperature! Everyone always said the proper temp was important, and it turns out they’re right (imagine that). Probably, when I’d made buttercream before my butter wasn’t sufficiently soft, or I didn’t take the time to cool the meringue and hot-syrup mixture all the way to room temp.
This time around, I beat the syrup and meringue mixture for the full twelve minutes and then, since the bowl still felt warm, I wrapped the outside of the mixing bowl with a cool cloth. Then to chill it even faster, my husband suggested I hold a bowl of ice water up against the bottom of the mixing bowl. Worked like a charm!
Also, since it was such a warm day, my butter was almost completely soft. It incorporated quickly into the meringue and then, three minutes more of beating and — FROSTING!!!!
A couple days ago I made another batch of buttercream, just to play. I tried to chill it faster, and heated the syrup a little more, etc, and consequently (maybe?), had a few minor problems.After 12 minutes of beating, the whites sprang up super high, perhaps a sign they were overbeaten.With the addition of butter, turning soupy (this is normal).And then it came together! (Though it was a softer mix than the other time.)
It had a bit of trouble getting as light and fluffy, and I read somewhere that that might be because I overwhipped the whites? Also, we’re in the middle of a heatwave, so that may have played into it some.)
I flavored some of the icing — along with the vanilla, some orange marmalade and chocolate — and then chilled them down till they were hard so I could re-beat them, making the frosting break and reincorporate, just to get a feel for it.Curdled!
In other words, I’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m well on my way.
Italian Meringue Buttercream
Adapted from Yolando’s recipe.
*All the recipes I’ve read say to use unsalted butter. I used salted and it was fine, but maybe it would be better with unsalted?
*Do not stir chilled (or frozen) buttercream! Wait until it completely comes to room temp; otherwise, it will curdle and separate. If it does, though, just keep beating (applying hot or cold compresses, depending on the room’s temperature, to the outside of the bowl). It will come back together.
*They say that buttercream is an ideal base for other flavors and colors. Play!
*With the leftover egg yolks, make chocolate cream pie. (It calls for 6 yolks, but a couple extra don’t hurt.)
*What with all the whipping, you’ll probably want a stand mixer.
½ cup water
1¾ cup white sugar
8 egg whites, room temperature
1 pound butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
Put the sugar and water in a medium-sized saucepan, attach a candy thermometer to the side, and bring to a boil. Once the syrup reaches 230 degrees, start whipping the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Do not overwhip; if peaks form before the syrup is ready, reduce the mixer speed to the lowest setting, just to keep them moving.
When the syrup reaches 240 degrees (though I’ve seen some recipes that say anywhere from 235 to 248 degrees, so I think there’s some wiggle room?), take it off the heat. Pouring carefully, with the mixer on low speed, incorporate the hot syrup into the egg whites.
Increase the speed to high and beat for 8-12 minutes until the outside of the bowl is room temperature. (After about 8 minutes, you can start applying cool compresses to the outside of the mixing bowl to speed the chilling process.)
Once the meringue mixture is cooled to room temp, add the butter a couple tablespoons at a time, waiting until each chunk is incorporated before adding more. The mixture will loosen, becoming slightly soupy. Add the vanilla, increase the speed, and beat for another three minutes, or until it’s whipped up into a glorious, luscious, creamy frosting.
This same time, years previous: last night, et cetera, such a hoot, sweet sixteen, in the kitchen, on his own, the quotidian (7.21.14), roasted beet salad with cumin and mint, how to beat the heat, picklehead, zucchini-Parmesan frittata.
When I asked my daughter what she wanted for her 18th birthday cake, she said, “Surprise me,” but I had no idea what to make until I came across these Game of Thrones dragon egg cakes. My daughter is a huge fan of the show, and they looked simple enough: just three eggs. How hard could it be?
And then I read up on the process — hollow chocolate eggs filled with buttercream, hundreds of handcut fondant scales, multiple cakes — and began to have second thoughts. But then my older son (also a GOT fan) got wind of the idea and was like, This is the cake, Mom. The cake. DO IT.
So I squared my shoulders and set to.
For two weeks, I chipped away at that cake, running to the store for piping gel and chocolate candy melts and glycerine, and ordering brushes and ivory dust and petal cutters from Amazon. I scoured the Internets for egg-shaped pans. Except for some outrageously expensive ones on ebay, there were none — NONE — but then at the last minute I posted an ISO on our church website and one of my friends actually had a set and said she’d give them to me, WHAT ARE THE ODDS.
Hollow chocolate eggs were also impossible to source, so I finally just ordered molds and made my own. Which turned out to be ridiculously easy and now I can make professional-looking chocolate-coated peanut butter eggs whenever I want.
I needed three batches of chocolate cake (each batch made one whole egg), so I made four just to be safe.
I made fondant in three different colors and spent hours painstakingly cutting out each of the scales with the petal cutter (and now have the blister on my thumb to show for it).
The deeper in I got, the more obvious it became that I was in over my head. This was, by far, the most complicated cake I’d ever made.
Saturday, the day before the celebration, I worked all day, from ten in the morning until 8:30 that night.
“If you don’t like this cake,” I told my daughter, who had no idea what I was making, “I will disown you.”
Now, about the display box. A few days before, I’d politely asked my husband if he’d please come up with something in which we could present the eggs. He dug in his heels, claiming he had no idea what to do. I pushed back: Figure it out. And then Saturday morning, he traipsed out to the barn to work on his own projects, and I blew up. This was birthday time, dammit. HELP ME.
My older son played intermediary — feeding my husband ideas for the display box and commiserating with me over the impossibility of being married to that man — and eventually my husband started whacking something-or-other together out in the barn.
One thing let to another and before I knew it he’d built her an actual present.
For two days, none of the children were allowed to look in the fridge (even though the other three had all helped at different stages, I wanted the final product to be a surprise for them, too), and then Sunday evening, after the birthday supper and presents, we banished the kids to the upstairs while my husband brought in the trunk from the barn where he’d been chilling it in an empty freezer. To help keep the cakes cool, he explained.
He placed three loaf pans upside down in the trunk and covered them with black cloth, and my older son — who argued that he should be allowed to help because he knew more about Game of Thrones than we did and could give us valuable staging advice — nestled his Bose speaker under the fabric. I positioned the eggs, and we closed the lid and locked the trunk.
For the big reveal, everyone gathered on the porch. First my husband presented her with the key to which he’d attached a strip of leather, then, Close your eyes! and he dashed back inside for the trunk. As he came out the door, my son hit play on his phone. As soon as the muffled strains of the Game of Thrones theme song reached my daughter, her eyes flew wide.
My son presented her a Game of Thrones knife…
And then she knelt to open the box.
She cracked the lid, the music swelled, and there they were: three shining dragon eggs.video credit: my brother
It was every bit as spectacular as I’d hoped, and then some.
- Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;everyday; ordinary; commonplace
Awaiting their cargo: zucchini boats.How the younger boy stacks it.In place of the supper salad.Lap dog.Making deliveries.Tallest girl has the smallest room.Karate clown.For the birthday girl: a popsicle stick ship, complete with a treasure chest filled with gold (anklets).Emotional wreckage!Because her older brother 1) gave her airpods (!), then 2) said they were actually hisbut that he was letting her use them for two weeks, and then, finally3) said that her pair was coming in the mail in a couple days.Aw, aren’t they sweet?
This same time, years previous: putting up walls, reflections from Orlando, in which a pit bull bites my butt, zucchini fritters, the quotidian (7.14.14), a tale, er, tail, in the woods: forts, ticks, and pancakes.
Firstborn bought himself a car!
Thank goodness, because transportation negotiations were getting a little intense.***
Have you ever been to a Fry Party? I’d never even heard of one until last week when we got an invitation to one on The Fourth. Bring side dishes, they said, and anything you might want to fry. We’ll have two caldrons of bubbling oil at the ready.
And they did! We stood around watching things fry and then eating them: mushrooms, chicken, pork, zucchini, cauliflower, bread, cheese sticks, french fries, potato chips, twinkies, oreos —
THE OREOS! Have you ever had a fried Oreo? This was my first time (so many firsts!) and WOW. Talk about a revelation!
In the oil, the Oreo (which was dunked in a simplified pancake batter prior to frying) swells and softens, the chocolate becoming less crunchy cookie and more rich cake. I couldn’t get over the transformation, and the deliciousness.***
Recently, I found myself with a whole bunch of leftover sangria. My kids had given me a gallon jug of it for my birthday but then I never opened it because, well, it was a freaking gallon of wine, so then I took it to that fry party in hopes of ridding myself of a goodly portion, but hardly anyone drank it, probably because they were so focused on stuffing their faces with fried foods.
Back home, after Google assured me I could freeze it, I poured most of it into pint jars and ran them down to the cellar.
Then, with the little that remained, I made a slushy: a generous pour of sangria, a thick slice of both lime and lemon (rind and seeds removed), a handful of frozen strawberries, and ice.
It was surprisingly lovely. The citrus cut the sweet, the berries added a little textural oomph, and the ice chilled it up nice and good.
Now, on the off-chance that I tire of sangria slushies — and because I’ll soon need to clear out my freezers to make space for green beans and corn — any other ideas for how else to use up my now-frozen sangria?***
Kickboxing — it’s still happening! When I finished my three-week freebie, I immediately signed up for the six-week trial. I’m at the seven-week point now and am happy to report that I’m no longer in constant pain.
I love having a set work-out time (and getting to work out with my kids), and I love getting pushed to work harder by someone other than myself. I like the mindlessness of the activity — the complete concentration on form, footwork, and not dying — and I like feeling stronger. I’ve progressed from using five pound weights to sixes, eights, and now tens. I can do ten push-ups, and, if I drop my knees to the floor and do them in sets, lots more. My achy, pop-y hip has stopped aching and popping, and my ankles and wrists aren’t as tender. There’s a very good chance that I’m in the best shape I’ve been in for years.in which my son volunteers to stand in for a punching bag
I don’t like, however, that it costs money and requires me to drive somewhere. I don’t like being holed up inside with artificial lighting, cut off from the birds and breeze and fresh air.
Also, I miss running — the silence of it, the simplicity, the way the rhythm of my feet pounding on the pavement cracks open my mind, allowing my thoughts to drift free — so I’ll be happy to get back to it again.
I sure am going to miss kickboxing, though.
The studio welcomes visitors to take a free class, so if you’d like to experience the pain and glory for yourself, leave me a message. I’ve already brought quite a few friends, and they’ve all, including my 70-year-old mother(!), had a great time.***
Speaking of exercise: The Pulse just did an excellent show about exercise — the history of it and its importance, especially for women because of their fluctuating hormone levels and lower bone density. According to them, strength training can really, really, really make a difference. Also, I think they said that a person should get about 150 minutes of level six exercise a week. (Level six = working hard enough that you can still talk, but not sing.) (With five classes of kickboxing a week, I’ve got that covered!)***
Recently, I’ve started, and then quit, a whole string of books: My Brilliant Friend, a nonfiction book about why families can’t afford America, some novel about Noah’s ark that I can’t remember the title of, and a thriller that wasn’t. Also, for months now I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to wade through White Fragility. It’s definitely a worthwhile book, but after taking that anti-racism class at church, the material feels redundant. I’m afraid that this most recent stalling out might be for good.
I always feel a little guilty about quitting books, like I lack some sort of gene for sticktoitiveness. Spending all that time trying to get into a book, only to quit partway through — what a waste. The least I could do is finish the book to get the thrill of accomplishment and/or relief. Right?
On the other hand, why bother? Reading for fun is supposed to be, well, fun. If I don’t like it, then I’m doing myself a disservice because maybe it’s exactly because I push myself to read un-fun material that I don’t read as much as I’d like. Maybe if I was more strict about picking only fun fun books, then I’d read even more.
Anyway. Do you quit books willy-nilly, or are you a “finish the damn book at all costs and never mind the misery” sort of person? What fun fun books are you reading? (I did just finish and enjoy Where We Come From. What with these upcoming immigrant raids, the story is disturbingly pertinent.)***
For a few months this year, all four of my children are teenagers. For thirteen years, I’ve looked forward to being able to say that — I have four teenagers! — and now I can.
I love it.***
AND, as of today, we are a household with four adults and two children (legally speaking, anyway).
Happy 18th birthday, Rebecca! You’re rocking it!
- Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;everyday; ordinary; commonplaceAnd now I wish I’d picked more.They. Don’t. Stop.Making everyone love me.No lunchbox, no problem. Use a shoebox!For the overflow: a second drainer.A cool, thrift-store find.Henna tat.Purse dump: the junk I carry.A new hire.A smashed muffler and the guilty culprit to go with it.Lazy days.Because the afternoon sun is fierce: a made-to-order shield.
(Thanks, Zoë!)When it finally sets, the relief is sweet.
This same time, years previous: fresh strawberry cake, three things about writing, reflections from Kansas City, the quotidian (7.7.14), let’s revolutionize youth group mission trips! please!, grilled flatbread, red raspberry lemon bars, rain.