• the quotidian (10.28.19)

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

    Getting my cozy on.

    For your Monday funny: fold in the cheese.

    Cake and science.

    Baby delight.

    If you give some girls a camera….

    If the car breaks, fix it: replacing the coil springs and struts.
    Father or son? From the back they’re identical.

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

    Ultimate, again: I may need gloves.

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

  • vanilla fondant

    So fondant: what’s your opinion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • snowboarder cake

    On Wednesday my older son turned twenty. Twenty.

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

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

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

    And yet…


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

    So! It’d be a cake mountain, a snowboarding person, the works.

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

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

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

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

    Then the fun part: fondant!

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

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

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

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

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

    Out of sight, out of mind, whew.

    Anyone want some cake?

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

  • the soiree of 2019

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

    For the food, I had free range.

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

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

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

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

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

    Photo credit: Auntie P

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

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

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

    Photo credit: server man

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

    Photo credit: Cousin Kate

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

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

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

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

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

  • three things

    My mother discovered a way to stretch her home-canned salsa: scoop some of the canned salsa into a bowl and stir in some plain tomatoes, either fresh or canned (minus the juice).

    No one can tell the difference (though if you’re using fresh tomatoes for filler, the salsa tastes fresher), and you get more bang for your buck.


    A few weeks back, our family (minus my older son) joined up with a local senior group to go the the National Museum of African American Art and Culture. I’m not a huge museum fan — I don’t like the feeling of “being told,” and I invariably get information overload — but I’d heard great things about this museum. Plus, we had a group to go with, and zero responsibility for transportation and scheduling, so it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

    My younger son stayed with me for most of the day. Together, we sat at the huge lunch counter, clicking through the different menu options to learn about the freedom buses and the sit-ins and the student marches. We walked into red box zones (my son said he’d be okay) and saw the horrific lynching displays — the part that most distressed him was a photo of a smiling white girl, about his age, in one of the mobs. We filed by the coffin of Emmett Louis Till (the display that most impacted my older daughter) and watched a video of Emmett’s mother describing his mangled body.

    As we wound our way from underground (the dark, overcrowded belly of the slave ships) and up to the fifth floor with its high ceilings and natural light and riotous celebration of all the many, many African American contributions, I realized that I was not only seeing the history, I was feeling it, too.

    But it wasn’t until we were back home and my husband and I were processing the day’s events that I began to fully appreciate the experience: the whole thing had been sobering, yes, but we’d been left, not with feelings of despair, depression, and guilt, but with appreciation and gratefulness, inspiration and hope.

    I’m so glad we went.


    A couple weeks ago, the girls and I watched Real Women Have Curves. They weren’t too enthused at first, but I’d been wanting to watch it with them for quite some time, so I forced the issue.

    They soon got into it (I knew they would), and by the end they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.

    It was just as good as I remembered, and now I’m left wishing for more movies of similar caliber.

    (And while we’re on the subject of movies, The Biggest Little Farm makes for a great family movie. We loved it, all of us.)

    This same time, years previous: kitchen notes, the quotidian (10.16.17), a list, grab and go: help wanted, that thing we do, Italian cream cake.

  • the quotidian (10.14.19)

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

    Muffuletta olive salad (now at Costco!) makes for some outrageously delicious grilled cheeses.

    Lunch of leftovers.

    If you can’t take the heat, move the kitchen outside. 

    She’s getting good at this.

    Awaiting the vet’s return call.

    Boricua thank-you gifts and fighting children.

    Thumbs up for Ultimate Frisbee, ouch.


    They’re still six-year-olds at heart, but funnier and more interesting. 

    Her grandmother’s wedding dress.

    This same time, years previous: English muffins, the relief sale doughnuts of 2017, peanut butter fudge, the quotidian (10.13.14), roasted red pepper soup, old-fashioned brown sugar cookies, pepperoni rolls, apple cake.

  • the relief sale doughnuts of 2019

    Sweet Problems
    by Rebecca Murch

    This was the fourth year that our family has been in charge of the doughnuts for the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale. Every year the process has gone a little smoother, but something still manages to always go wrong…

    Problem #1
    Two days before the sale, when we went out to the fairgrounds to prep the chicken shack, we couldn’t get into the building because the fairground managers hadn’t arrived yet.

    When we did finally get the door unlocked, we discovered that the chicken shack owners had gotten new tables, which were really nice, but for our purposes were completely useless. This meant that Dad had to make two new dough-rolling tables on top of everything else he already had on his plate.

    Problem #2
    A few days earlier when we were taking everything out of attic storage, we weren’t able to find the cloths for the dough trays. The people who’d been in charge before us handmade them specifically for these trays, so the fact that they were missing was a real crisis. Mom decided that we would just wrap the trays in parchment paper, but then on Thursday she discovered that tape doesn’t stick to parchment paper.

    Mom’s stressed face.

    Now we had to make the cloths ourselves, and at the very last minute, too. On our way home, we stopped by Ragtime Fabrics and bought some clearance cloth — the owners let us have it for just a dollar a yard!

    (Almost) Problem #3
    Friday morning, we stopped by the church to pick up the mashed potatoes that the senior group had made for us the previous day. We needed 40 bags of potatoes, but after taking them out of the fridge I only counted 34 bags. Mom started panicking, so Nicholas ran back inside to check again. He found 10 more bags of potatoes in the other fridge, thank goodness!

    Premeasuring ingredients.

    Problem #4
    Our main job on Friday was to make the glaze, but when the electrician came to set up the mixer, he decided to rewire the whole system which took hours, instead of minutes, so now we were really behind schedule. By the time he finished, Dad was pulling his hair out.

    Problem (and solution) #5
    On our way home, we borrowed scissors from a bunch of people, Grandmommy came over, and we had an emergency cloth-cutting session.

    Go, go, go!

    Then Grandmommy raced the cloths to a friend’s house so she could serge them for us (thank you, Rosemary!).

    Problems #6 and #7
    Mom, Dad, Jonathan, and I went to bed right after supper so we could get back up at 11:30 p.m. We arrived at the fairgrounds at 12:30 a.m. Jonathan and our cousin Kenton, who had driven all the way from Lancaster PA that evening, stopped by Rosemary’s house for the cloth.

    Kenton, on very, very, very little sleep.

    When we got there, we discovered that the heater in the proofing room wasn’t working. Also, the Crisco that Caroline had used to grease the proofing buckets was rancid, so the buckets had to be washed out and regreased with butter.

    Mom’s attitude the whole time.

    Like I said, something always goes wrong!

    (Dad says that we have to keep doing this until we have a perfect year. I say, That’s never going to happen!)

    I spent most of the night and the early morning heating the butter and milk and then blending them with the mashed potatoes.

    I also helped mix the dough which was messy, fun, and a little scary. I kept second guessing myself: Did I put in all of the flour? I cracked eight eggs, right? Is the dough mixed well enough? Don’t put your hand so close to the running mixer, Rebecca!

    At the very end, I helped cut the doughnuts: Jonathan hurled the doughnuts at me and I put them on the tray. I don’t know if I’ve ever moved so fast while working with food before! I felt awake, and, for the first time in nine hours, I was not freezing cold.

    photo credit: Jim Bishop

    Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make the last two batches of doughnuts because, since we were short on volunteers for each of the shifts (MAJOR Problem #8), we’d fallen behind schedule. By the time we finished, the line for the doughnuts was still long so Mom had Jonathan and me take the scrap doughnuts out to the people waiting in the back of the line.

    We finished cleaning up around 2:30 that afternoon (our grandparents and a handful of other volunteers helped out a lot, which made things go quickly), and on the drive home, Caroline and I had to keep Mom awake.

    photo credit: Jim Bishop

    The whole thing was exhausting, but I’m already excited for next year!

    This same time, years previous: the relief sale doughnuts of 2018, the quotidian (10.10.17), the quotidian (10.10.16), up and over, home, clouds, the quotidian (10.10.11), what we came up withv.

  • if you ask a puerto rican to make a pincho…..

    Chiro and Lery said they’d make the pinchos for the relief sale again, but this year they’d be bringing reinforcements.

    First it was just one of their sons and their daughter’s boyfriend (their daughter and niece are living here in town this year). Then Lery’s brother Joyto and his wife Heidi said they were coming with their three kids. Then Tony and Carmen (the couple that took our place and are living in our house) and their two boys. Then Chiro’s brother Rolando and his wife Glorimar and their daughter, but Shhhh, don’t tell anyone (they wanted to surprise their daughter who lives here). Then another Puerto Rican family who’d moved to Maryland a couple months back…

    Thus their ongoing joke that Puerto Ricans are una plaga (a plague).

    We cleaned house and borrowed an air mattress. I cooked butter chicken and taco meat and a big pot of beans and pans of regular granola and French chocolate granola and loaves of bread. My parents said they’d host one of the families. Rolando’s family stayed with other friends. Chiro and Lery’s crew stayed with their daughter. Heidi and Joyto with us.

    Everyone arrived mid-week, and Thursday we swung into high gear: them (plus a bunch of local volunteers) cutting, skewering, and marinating 250 pounds of chicken and us on the doughnuts.

    Evenings we ate together — one night I made a taco salad to feed the masses and another night Chiro made a Puerto Rican feast. We stayed up too late, making music and talking and playing games, and one night we went over to Mom and Dad’s for smores around the fire.

    The day of the sale, a bunch of them popped in to help with the doughnuts (and thank goodness, too, since we were wildly understaffed)…

    … before running off to make hundreds of pinchos.

    Once again, their stand was a raging success!

    Sunday, the day after the sale, everyone who was still here (a couple families had left), plus my parents, came over for lunch. I’d spent the morning making pizza rolls and, at the last minute, a surprise cake for Heidi’s birthday (the next day).

    And then the goodbyes (though Chiro and Lery’s family is still here).

    What a treat, to have all of them here, with us.

    What a gift.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.8.18), in my kitchen, o happy!, salted caramel ice cream, contradictions and cream, the quotidian (10.8.12), green tomato curry.