Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Sally's Dream Cake

Aw, Salgal is being so sweet about the birthday cake I made for her over the weekend, that I just have to post the recipe. Even unto posting two posts in one day, which thing I never had supposed.

I must preface with the notion that normally I am a stickler for homemade cake, as in not from a mix. However for a couple of reasons this cake is made from a mix.

1. I did a little reading on epicurious.com and even they have a recipe for coconut cake made from a cake mix.

2. I also had to make my son's birthday cake and 2 lemon meringue pies this weekend., not to mention regular cooking duties.

So, you see? I am justified.

Here is the cake I put together. It was good. Don't take my word for it; Sally was the birthday girl. You may need to break open two cans of cream of coconut for this recipe. NOT coconut milk; you want the stuff that is mostly fat. It's worth it.

Sally's Dream Coconut Cake

1 box white cake mix
3 whole eggs
1 1/4 c plus 1/3 c cream of coconut such as Coco Lopez (You are substituting it for the oil and the water in this recipe.)

Mix ingredients above using box directions. Also bake in 2 9-inch layers as directed on box. Cool completely. Meanwhile, make this stuff:

1/3 c sugar
1/4 c corn starch
1 c cream of coconut
1 c whole milk
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 tbsp butter
1/4 - 1/2 c toasted coconut (Toast this in the oven on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees, stirring every couple of minutes until it is golden brown. You will use the rest later.)

Combine dry ingredients in medium-sized heavy saucepan with a wire whisk. Gradually stir in cream of coconut and milk. Heat over medium to medium-high heat until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir one minute. Pour half of mixture into beaten egg yolks, stirring. Return egg mixture to pan and stir. Replace on heat. Return to boiling; boil and stir one minute. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and coconut. Cool completely.

Use this recipe. It's my favorite cake frosting in the whole world. It does not taste like powdered sugar or shortening, and those things make me kind of feel ill. Not that I dislike sugar and fat, just the opposite in fact. But those particular incarnations are the worst incarnations of their broader categories.

And this icing uses the other part of the eggs you used for the filling. So thrifty.

On a large platter or cake stand, assemble cake with filling in the middle. You probably will not use all the filling; that's okay. Eat the rest!

If you have time, make a collar of foil or wax paper to fit tightly aroudn the cake and chill it or freeze it so you don't get pudding gushing out the sides when you are trying to put the icing on. I didn't have time for this this weekend, so I just faked it. You can fake it, too ... at least on this. Just scrape up any gushy pudding before you frost.

After you apply the frosting, carefully apply toasted coconut to coat the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with fresh flowers (I chose some pretty ivory-colored ones) and enough candles to pay proper tribute to a wonderful friend who has lived 30 fun-filled years on this earth.

Serve with pineapple sherbet. Yum.

Majesty and power

For my son's fourth birthday yesterday, we all went up to Yosemite National Park. We are incredibly lucky to live where this amazing area is just a day trip for us. We left the house at 7 in the morning and rolled into the park about 8:30. Plenty of time for lots of fun.

My husband is a hydrologist who studies the river water in the park. It's the subject of what will eventually be his Ph.D. dissertation. Poor man, poor man! A great advantage for us, though. We get in free on his sampling permit, he takes some pictures and fills up some little bottles with water, and we play for the day. And we have a built-in guide who doesn't just know the park, he's thought in advance about what will be workable with a 4-year-old and an almost-6-year-old. Bonus!

As we drove in, it was obvious that the rumors were true: There is an incredible amount of water in the Sierra this year. The river (the Upper Merced) literally roared. There was more white water than green, and even the smooth water was obviously swift and strong. Low-lying banks were inundated and islands had disappeared. It was stunning and irresistible. Even the kids, who are normally not impressed by scenery and would prefer to concentrate on the new Batman toys the birthday boy received in the early morning hours, were mesmerized.

I know in Mormon folklore we have images and stories of Satan riding upon the waters. Yet the thought that occurred repeatedly to me yesterday as I regarded that river was, "This is the power of God." The overwhelming beauty, the purposefulness, the sheer force of the water making its way over, around and through any obstacle toward the distant sea -- on a grand scale, we cannot resist it, as humans. We can only stand in awe.

We took the short walk to Lower Yosemite Falls. This was easy and fun, and the falls were amazing. We paused plenty along the way to spit in the creek, climb on the boulders, check out the bronze relief map (Batman took a hike) and use nature's bathroom (a tree). My only complaint: it was still so early in the morning that the mist nearly froze us to death.

Can you believe I used to live in Alaska? I am such a California crybaby anymore!

We took the shuttle back to our car in order to give the short-legged among us a little break. For them this may have been the highlight of the day. They loved the idea of being able to stand in a moving vehicle. Heaven help us.

By this time it was 11 (kids walk slow, and I think that shuttle moves even slower) and we were hungry. We headed down to Cascade Picnic Grounds for our lunch, then climbed up the boulders as far as we could up Cascade Falls. By this time the sun had come out and the spray from the falls was refreshing rather than miserable. And my boys shall henceforth be known as the Yosemite Scramblers! They were awesome! Nearly fearless and so coordinated! I was impressed, but I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, they have had years of experience on my furniture. They especially loved one very large, flat, sloping slab of granite. Each boy slid down twice. I'm sure I will see the results in the seats of their shorts.

We then spent the afternoon in our favorite spot on the Upper Merced near Briceburg. The river was, of course, impressively full here, as well. The rocks we normally climb on were covered and our normal swimming spots were unreachable. But we did find a lovely sandy beach with some more still waters where Bear Creek enters the river and spent some time getting sandy, splashing, eating snacks and trying to catch minnows and butterflies.

All in all, an amazing day.

P.S. Another story I wrote, "Stop!" appears in the June issue of the Friend magazine. Slight editorial error -- the incident happened to my dad and his brothers, not my dad and my brothers. Also I originally called it "Dad Said Stop!" which I think was a better title. Still, my satisfaction does not diminish. It's fantastic and fun to see my work in print. I'm fame-ulous! Haha!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Normally I know what to say

Actually that's not true in a general sense; I'm frequently tongue-tied in conversation and only think of my witty comebacks days later. However, when it comes to teaching a lesson, I can think and prepare in advance. This means I usually feel pretty confident and know what to say.

However, this Sunday's lesson in Young Women is about the requirements of missionary service. I freely admit that I know almost nothing about this topic. I wanted to go on a mission, in a vague, general way. But when Glenn came back from his two years in Korea very ready to get married, those plans changed. Really, I'd known they would, thanks to a patriarchal blessing at age 18 that indicated I'd marry "within the next few years." The same blessing promises a mission with my husband later in life, and I look forward to that.

But it leaves me with no experience on the requirements of missionary service. The lesson in the manual focuses heavily on what the rules are and how important obedience to them is. I'd like to share some more interesting and personal stories, especially from women. Tanya Spackman's post at Millennial Star gives me a great start. So I'm open to your input. Way open.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Vegetarian taco salad

Right now I feel like I could eat nothing but this salad forever and ever, and be perfectly happy.

1 can plain black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 small onion
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 c water or broth

Cook onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add beans and spices, and water. Stir and keep warm.

Now prepare these:

1/2 head green leaf lettuce - chop
1 orange bell pepper - slice
2 roma tomatoes - cut in wedges
2 avocadoes - cube
1/4 c cilantro - chop
1 c cheddar or monterey jack cheese - shredded

Open a bag of chips (we like these, which we get from our food co-op). Let everybody pile on the beans, cheese and veggies. Top with salsa and light sour cream or yogurt. (Light sour cream has about the same amount of fat as full-fat yogurt, so I call them interchangeable.) My husband likes ranch dressing on his.

Be careful you don't stay at the table too long. If I'm sitting there, I can continue to pick at the chips and veggies forever and a day.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Worth it

Over at Feminist Mormon Housewives, Tess is not sure if she wants to give up her carefree, child-free life. I can't blame her for feeling a little gun-shy. We gripe a lot, we moms of young kids. And we have good reason. There's a lot to gripe about.

I spent a long time wanting to be a mom without really knowing why. We adopted our first son after 6 years of marriage. He was a demanding, fussy baby, going through withdrawals from his birthmom's nicotine habit. He was beautiful and we had a lot of fun and happy moments, but it was hard. I was mostly sustained by the euphoria of having achieved motherhood at last.

21 months later we adopted again. Our second baby was happy, easygoing and fun. But suddenly it hit me how exhausted I was, how much I had lost. It was like I suddenly looked up and realized I was in a dark tunnel. It took me another year, at least, to see the light at the end of it. Another year after that to get to the end of it, and another one to recover from the whole tunnel experience.

My kids are now almost 4 and almost 6.

As of two days ago, my kindergartner is officially reading. He read me "Green Eggs and Ham" in his early-reader, halting, sometimes-guessing, sometimes-sounding-out style. I asked him if he wanted to take a break and have me read a page. He shook his head and kept going. I would go through all the hell of infancy and toddlerhood again just to experience that heart-busting joy.

I would go through it all again for the ego boost created by a 4-year-old peeking around the corner of the playhouse at preschool, then running full-speed toward me to leap into my arms with the biggest hug his little muscles can muster.

Or the daily sweetness of a small, warm person creeping into my bed at 6 a.m. for snuggles before the day begins.

For a Mother's Day card covered with the letter A, the 4-year-old's main skill, over and over.

For a child who is almost as excited as I am that there's going to be a Narnia movie.

For watching a little brown body, naked on the green grass, playing in the water from the garden hose. Or, clothed, spending an hour digging in the dirt.

For a small-voiced prayer that I'll feel better when I'm down with strep, as I was this week.

Yep, I think it's worth it.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Restorative Things

So last night I was working out with my buddy Rodney Yee. He was, of course, on my TV looking all effortless and cool flipping into funky yoga poses while I labored and sweated on the family room floor. Rodney says a shoulder stand is a cooling, restorative pose. I do not even attempt the shoulder stand right now. I just watch in wonder. Most of the other things, though, I can do. I always wonder if, when I talk about doing yoga in front of the TV, people imagine me doing it. I sincerely hope not, for the sake of my own personal dignity. I am not what you would usually think of as the yoga type. It's all a little incongruous.

However, as difficult as it is for me, I do it because I really do find it to be helpful. All the kinks and the stiffness that come from sitting at a desk writing all day, all the stress of balancing work and home and church and community, honestly disappear after a session with my man Rodney. I love the careful breathing, the reordering of my joints, the good-sore that happens the day after. That's me, today. I like it so much that I sometimes even think about taking a yoga class and doing it in front of real, live people. Then I think again and I arrive at this conclusion: nah. It's a solitary restorative activity for me.

Today I had lunch with some of the other young moms from church. We do this once a month and I usually try to go. Today it was in Jenny's back yard, sunny and breezy with chicken-and-spinach salad and lemon sweet bread and strawberries and little kids playing on the lawn. Lindsay brought her week-old babe, Natalie. Natalie looks a lot like my Abe did as a newborn: chubby cheeked, squinty eyed, slightly furry and utterly peaceful. It was sweet and quiet (maybe because my kids were at school, huh?) It felt like a deep breath in the middle of a busy day. Again I felt restored, driving back to work with the air blowing into my car windows. That was a more social restorative activity.

I think I need a balance. Solitude can be hard to find, but I've been a believer in its importance for a lot of years. I like it so much that sometimes I forget I also need social interaction. Today, after both kinds of refills, I feel amazingly even.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Thank heaven, I don't have girls

Last night after Mutual I took a few girls home. This is not so unusual, but a few things happened last night that were.

One of the 14 year old girls to whom I normally play chauffeur (chaufesse? Just kidding.) had made friends with a couple of Beehives over the course of the evening. They wanted to ride together, so I said I'd take them all, even though I hadn't brought my purse or cell phone. I live two blocks from the church building and hadn't known I'd be driving. The Beehives live in the next town over. All three girls in my car came from the Spanish branch closely associated with our ward. (We have our auxiliaries together.)

We got in the car, which my husband just bought last week. I told the Mia Maid she could work the radio. She ejected my husband's REM cd, found a hip hop station and cranked up the bass. (I still can't even figure out how to turn the darn thing on and off. Too many years of factory stereos, I guess.)

The girls proceeded to roll down their windows and yell and wave at every car we passed, especially low-riders full of guys. "Those are my brother's friends," one Beehive explained to me in a rare English-speaking moment. Then they all launched into rapid-fire Spanish again. It wasn't the last time in the evening's exploits that I regretted my insistence on studying French in school. (I did it just to spite my mother, an alumna of an Ecuadorian mission. Sorry, Mom. You were right.)

We made it to the next town just fine and dropped off the first Beehive in her trailer park. She begged me to wait while she got a pen so she could write down the other girls' phone numbers. As soon as she disappeared into her home, the Mia Maid said, "That girl just farted in your new car."

She returned and wrote the numbers on her hand. We waited to make sure she got back in okay. Just as we were pulling out, a young guy walked toward my car. "Who are you ladies?" he asked loudly. By this time we were already pulling away.

As we pulled out of the trailer park the remaining girls told me he was following us. I looked. No one was there, either in a car or on foot. I told them so. Yet they insisted that he was following us until we pulled off the main street into a neighborhood. I think they thrive on drama.

Once the imaginary stalker was forgotten, we began taking crazy turns. "Left!" Maria, the other Beehive, would call out, when there was no left turn in sight. "Right!" After a while I began to think she was just directing me at random and enjoying the ride.

I stopped the car. "Do you know where we are?" I asked.

"Sort of. Yes," she replied. Meantime, the Mia Maid was tearing into her in Spanish.

"What's the name of the street you live on?"

"I don't know."

Eventually, I saw the freeway. At least I'll be able to get out, if I ever get her home, I thought. The radio by this time was playing something vaguely obscene. I turned it off. Maria shouted "RIGHT! AY YI, you missed it!" We turned around and came back. Another trailer park. She got out.

As we watched her go inside, the Mia Maid said, "I don't think this is where she lives. She said something about her boyfriend."

After a lot of questioning about whether she was serious, she admitted she wasn't sure if that was what Maria had said. I took her home, in our town. Not to where she actually lives, but to another relative's house -- one I knew this time, at least. In her home, she said, her uncle was shot last week. He's in the hospital, and her mom wants her out of the area until things cool down. "For the rest of the week," she said.

Her key to the gate of the apartment was confiscated because she messes around with it too much. So we waited for someone to drive up and open the gate.

I got home from Mutual at 9:40 and called to make sure I had dropped Maria off at the right place. I did. What a relief. And I think she was just lost trying to get there from the other girl's house. (I don't know the other girl's name. How bad is that?)

So here's what I think. My two little boys give me a lot of grief. But it has to do with big messes, breaking stuff, throwing tantrums. I hope and pray that's as bad as it gets. I don't think I could take this kind of girl-drama as a parent. It would kill me.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Barbecue adventures

So normally I don't like to post two recipes in a row, but we had Salgal & family over Saturday for BBQ and wading pool splashing. (Sorry Sal, I had no idea they would turn it into a mudpool, honestly.) Sal has boys the same ages as my boys, plus a funny little 2yo who is starting to talk. We ate these yummy orange chicken kebabs with Sally's beer ... I mean, liquid yeast bread, and grilled veggies and green salad. It was a such a delicious and healthful dinner that I didn't feel too bad about my 3 or 4 servings of homemade vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries afterwards.

I also have to confess here that I am not really much of a measurer. When I put a measurement in a recipe I've made up, it's really a guess. It's flexible. Make it how you like it.

Actually this is because, as I confided to Sal on Saturday, my secret wish is to be a celebrity chef. I guess it's not such a secret now. Anyway you don't see the people on Food Network fussing with teaspoons, do you? No.

Orange chicken kebabs
Enough for 2 families with little kids who don't eat much

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
juice and zest of one orange
pinch basil (fresh would be better but I only had dried. Crush it in your hand before adding for better flavor if you only have dried.)
red pepper flakes to taste
1 tsp salt

Light barbecue and set kebab sticks in water.

Trim chicken of all fat. Cut in 1" chunks.

Mix remaining ingredients and toss with chicken in large bowl. String chicken on kebab sticks, leaving a tiny space in between pieces.

Grill until lightly browned on both sides. We got ours a bit overdone on Saturday but they were still good.

We also made veggie kebabs with zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions and pineapple, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. We cooked those in the broiler because we were out of room on the grill. This turned out to be a good idea because the broiler pan caught some divine juices that were perfect for dipping the liquid yeast bread.

We also had a brush fire caused by DH lighting our barbecue (a little $10 charcoal job, you know the kind -- we got it in college) in the middle of a bunch of dead palm leaves. He really is a smart man, just not sometimes. So, brush fire! Wooohoo! The boys loved that! Maybe it is time for a grownup grill, huh?

Friday, May 06, 2005

We ate the wrong kind of food, but it was good

Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo. We live in an area with lots of Mexican cultural influence, so really I should have gotten into gear and made some delicious fajitas. I do make killer fajitas. I'll have to post the marinade recipe another time. It's heavy on the lime and oregano.

But last night I did not have time to grocery shop. We had these yummy vegetarian lettuce wraps instead.

1 lb extra firm tofu, pressed, drained and diced

2 tbsp sesame oil
1/3 c soy sauce
1/4 c rice vinegar
1/4 c brown sugar
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
about 1 inch fresh ginger, minced, grated or pressed
1 tsp Sriracha hot sauce

Steamed white rice

Green lettuce leaves, washed and dried

Chopped peanuts
Pickled ginger (okay, I will eat this stuff with anything)

Heat oven to 375. Arrange tofu cubes in a 9x13 baking dish.

Mix sauce ingredients in a medium bowl. Microwave for 1 minute to dissolve sugar. Stir. Pour half the sauce over tofu cubes and toss. Reserve remaining sauce for the table.

Bake 20 minutes. Turn and bake 20 more.

Each eater should assemble his or her own lettuce wraps with tofu, rice, sauce and other condiments inside.

Maybe tomorrow I will make Mexican. It's still Cinco de Mayo weekend.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

It has come to our attention

That there are blogs where people are discussing the university where I work. Ooooh! Shocker!

Hey, all you kids (and grownups) blogging about UC Merced! Hi!

Steve Vicious, if you're out there, there's not going to be basketball yet. Sorry.

Just so you know, my boss is going to a meeting with other people around the UC system next month. They are going to talk about "Conquering the Blogosphere." Shore up your defenses.

Actually in my opinion it is great that you are talking about us. We know this is not the place for everyone. But personally I can say I love it here, and everyone I work with has the deepest personal interest in helping students succeed. Don't forget Irvine and Riverside started out in the boonies, too. Even Berkeley was a little isolated when it first got started. We need our wide open spaces, because we have a lot of growing to do.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What I'll regret

Each one of us has stories of things we've done that we'll regret the rest of our lives. Words we've said that we can't take back. Duties we've neglected that we can't make up. Opportunities we've passed by that we will never have again.

Inspired by and in keeping with a couple of other beautifully written, quite melancholy stories I've read in the Bloggernacle lately, here's one of the saddest stories of my life. (The other stories I've linked are not about personal failures, the way I see them, by the way. Mine is.)

I went to McCord Elementary in Ponca City, Oklahoma for fourth grade. My dad was a research and development engineer for Conoco. We lived in a newish house at the end of a respectable residential street, more country than city. Honestly, it was one of the nicest houses I lived in growing up! Though I was not aware of it at the time, some of my classmates didn't have the same economic privilege I did. Many lived in mobile homes. At the time I didn't see that as any kind of disadvantage.

But when Wendy* moved in, I could see the difference between her and me. Maybe because the teachers helped. The day before Wendy arrived, both fourth-grade classes filed into one classroom while Mrs. Shelby and Mrs. Thomas told us about her. Wendy's family had lost everything in a trailer fire, maybe a year or so earlier. Wendy had been severely burned. She was just now ready to come back to school. She was really going to need friends, they said.

I was resolved. These kinds of situations had been presented to me hypothetically all my life in Primary and in Family Home Evening. I knew what to do. I would be Wendy's friend. She was even going to be on my bus.

The next day, the bus groaned to a stop at a corner by the railroad tracks, a place we'd never stopped before. I could see, down in a hollow, a dilapidated trailer with sagging awnings and garbage in the front. That's where she lives, I thought. Sure enough, she boarded the bus. I remember her wispy, short blonde hair framing a thin face of tight, striped skin. She didn't have eyelashes or brows. I swallowed my discomfort and invited Wendy to sit by me.

We were friends that day, and maybe part of the next. We played together at recess. We talked. I don't remember what we talked about. I just remember that it was never easy for me, never comfortable. I felt strained.

I think that's natural. Some people seem to have a natural inclination to interact with others who have certain differences. Some people have a gift with the elderly, some with the sick, some with disabled people, some with people of different cultures. Some have a gift with nerds. I think I'm good with that -- look who I married! (Hahaha, Glenny, I love you!)

In fourth grade, and really all my life, I consistently occupied the thin line between cool and pathetic. Too stable and lucky in life (and cute, too, when I was young) to be really pathetic, but too smart and awkward to be really cool. Between that precarious position and my innate discomfort with Wendy, I was vulnerable to bad influences.

The cool girls provided that. When Leelee and Laci (inseparable friends, one black and one white, called "Salt and Pepper" before there was such a pop group as Salt-n-Pepa) decided that Wendy didn't make their cool list, they let me know it. Pointing, laughing, and finally the incredulous, "You're not going to keep sitting with her, are you?"

I wish I'd pulled out a wad of hair. I wish I'd stood up for what I knew I should do, even though I didn't feel like I was doing it well. I wish I'd told Leelee and Laci to get a grip. Instead, I set my backpack and my plastic Snoopy lunchbox on the seat beside me and ignored Wendy when she got on the bus the next day. I kept ignoring her. Before long, she was gone, moved away.

It's one of those things I can never fix. Wendy, if you're out there, I'm so sorry.