Better Baking

My favorite desserts are always strawberry-related – especially in the Summer: strawberry shortcake, strawberry icecream, strawberries with honey and cream, strawberry popsicles, whatever. In high school, my then-boyfriend’s mother brought one of the most amazing strawberry-related desserts ever to a cook-out that was more than likely marching band related. It was cold and refreshing and had so many tasty components: frozen strawberries, jell-o, pudding, cool whip, and cake. Thankfully, she isn’t one of those Southern women who withhold recipes like they do affection and approval and she gave my mom a copy. Being that it has been oppressively hot for what feels like forever, I decided it would be the perfect dessert to bring to the Fourth of July party we went to on Wednesday. So, before getting down to business on my kick-ass American flag tank-top, I ran to the store to get the fixins for the cake and, while enjoying my morning coffee, got to baking.

Strawberry Ice Box Cake. The ingredients are simple:

For the cake:

  • 1 box white cake and everything it says you need on the box
  • 1 large (6oz) box strawberry Jell-O
  • 16 oz box frozen strawberries (chopped/halved/sliced/whatever)

For the Icing:

  • 1 box instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 1 medium Cool Whip (softened)

First, you bake the cake in a 9×13 pan according to the directions on the box using the 3 whole egg directions, not the bullshit 4 egg white directions. Meanwhile, mix the box of strawberry Jell-O with 2 cups of hot water until the Jell-O is dissolved. Add the frozen strawberries to the Jell-O and stir until melted/thawed. Once the cake is finished baking, poke holes all over it with a fork. I mean ALL OVER it – go nuts with the fork. Once you think you have poked enough holes, poke a few more just to be sure. Then, slowly pour the Jell-O mixture over the cake, allowing it to soak in evenly. The strawberries will sit on top of the cake for the most part, but some will sink down into it over time. Like so:

Chill several hours, or over night. Make the icing by first mixing the box of pudding and the 2 cups cold milk then, using a hand-blender (or whisk if you’ve got the stamina), add the container of Cool Whip a big dollop at a time. Evenly spread over the chilled cake and serve cold. Like this:

I enjoyed a pretty sizable piece at the party (the above picture is merely the last bite – I was so engrossed in the cake I almost forgot to document it in all its glory) and then, foolishly, left the remaining half of the cake at the party so I was unable to enjoy it for breakfast the following morning when I was suffering from a hangover-related headache and icky-belly. I trust that it went to good use though. Before Summer is over, I plan on making it again using frozen peaches and peach Jell-O. I’ll report back with delicious results.

 

 

Better Patriotism

This year, I had zero plans for the Fourth of July until the afternoon of the third when we were invited to a last-minute shindig at a friend’s house. Elsewise, I would’ve started this project earlier and posted it in time for the Fourth but, alas – such is life. For the last few weeks Pinterest has been covered in adorable patriotic creations ranging from ridiculous to sane. I mean, really – who has the time to make a danged ole American flag yarn wreath, paint their nails with stars and stripes, arrange fruit kebabs and various other edibles to look like the flag, and place said edibles on the table around the red, white, and blue bean (I don’t know where they found blue beans either) centerpiece? After all, it is a holiday meant to be spent drinking cold beer, playing yard games, and blowing shit up. But, I don’t own any patriotic clothing so I had no choice but to make an American flag tank top out of one of J’s old white shirts. So, I woke up early-ish to get a head start on the strawberry ice box cake for the fiesta and to create my star-spangled ensemble.

First, I took an old white v-neck and, using one of my favorite tank tops as a template, cut out the sleeves and neck. Like so:

Then, I covered the giant clipboard my husband has for some reason in paper and secured the tank to it placing a broken down Cinnamon Life cereal box inside the shirt to avoid getting paint where it didn’t belong. You could probably use any kind of cereal box, but Cinnamon Life really is the best. Next, using a variety of tapes and cardboard cut-out stars, we secured the design to the shirt. Observe:

Then, using some acrylic paint J had lying around (I am telling you, I have been known to complain about the random shit he accumulates but it really comes in handy sometimes) to execute the bitchin’ design. Like so:

Once I got the shirt on my person, we cut the sleeves into strips and tied the back of the shirt together to create a skinny racerback. And, BOOM – festive attire for the Fourth of July:

Not to toot my own horn or anything but the shirt got a lot of good press at the party and certainly made me feel more American than everyone else. Happy Birthday America!!

Better Friends

So, the solstice has come and gone and now it’s hot as balls. The closest I’ve gotten to any sort of cleanse has been taking a few days during the week to avoid alcohol before enjoying weekend merriment once again. The right time just hasn’t struck yet – I had 4 of my closest girlfriends in town over the solstice for a reunion/birthday/bachelorette celebration – detoxing prior to such an engagement would’ve been futile.

This particular group of lady-friends formed 7 years ago when we were all in our early 20’s studying abroad in Granada, Spain. We bonded over the same things most folks who study abroad bond over: wanderlust, self-discovery, home-sickness, and alcohol. We’ve managed to get together once or twice a year since we studied abroad together. The first reunion was only a few months after we all got back to the states – it was my 21st birthday and we decided to throw a party at my folks’ house. We constructed a giant slip-and-slide in the back yard which turned mildly dangerous when, after the contraption was deemed not slippery enough, we added dish-soap to the mix creating a foamy, eye-burning mess. My parents must have been so proud watching me get hammered in their back yard and slide around on plastic sheets repeatedly getting soap in my eyes three years into my college career.

We’ve gotten together many times since then in various places and we typically wind up sitting around, enjoying adult beverages, and reminiscing about the time Christine pulled a ham leg out of the trash outside the Cathedral and used it as a mic to interview randos on the street about their views on abortion rights, or the time most of us decided it’d be a good idea to go to the beach for the weekend with dudes we’d just met and were all perfectly ok getting in the back of a white, windowless van with no seats – the exact kind you imagine sexual predators drive around in – to get there. In the e-mails planning this reunion, we all claimed we didn’t do much drinking anymore and that we’d like to get a run or two in over the weekend and maybe spend a day at the climbing gym. All bullshit. We didn’t get into to same kind of shenanigans we usually do – getting drunk and playfully harassing strangers – after all, one of the ladies is newly preggers. But we did spend the bulk of the weekend sitting in various establishments, drinking, and talking about everything from why (almost) all of us refuse to read Fifty Shades of Grey to what really happens to your nipples during pregnancy and, as always, what the hell we are all going to do with our lives next.

I certainly polluted my person with rich food and plenty of alcohol, but there is something cleansing about spending time with your true friends – with whom you can just let go. At least that’s what I’m telling myself for now to make me feel better about my failed (nonexistent) attempt at a cleanse. I’ll detox with Bikram yoga and plenty of wheatgrass juice one of these days, but today is not that day.

Better Domesticity

I come from a rather large family but my experience with kids is relatively limited. I am #6 in a line of 7 kids. My little brother is just 2 years younger than me so, thankfully, I didn’t get roped into doing a bunch of free babysitting like my older siblings. I did do some babysitting here and there through junior high and high school – I even took a babysitting safety/CPR class that focused heavily on dislodging esophagus-shaped foods from the throats of little ones. Hot dog circles and grapes? Rookie mistake. But, it’s been a while so I was a little nervous when we recently went to stay with my sister (T), her husband (R), and their two girls (ages 2.5 years [r] and 2.5 weeks[p]) to help out around the house and maybe give them some time sans-children.

Given my limited experience – I figured it best to help out by cooking, cleaning, and distracting the toddler. I started making a list of meals we could prepare and came up with, what I considered to be, some pretty good ideas. Martha’s Baked Ziti was a must – I’ve made it many times and it’s always very tasty. I also thought I could try the overnight oatmeal recipe from Evolving Mommy that is all over Pinterest but, after we arrived, I quickly learned that breakfast, like everything else, was completely unpredictable so making it the night before would be, how you say: a fool’s game.

The weekend was fabulous and exhausting. During the day, we spent a lot of time playing with r – we ran around in their yard, went up and down the slide, blew bubbles, pushed her in the swing, colored, painted, and played “r, up high” which involves throwing all 30-some-odd pounds of her in the air as high as you can over and over and over. One day, we even took her to the park where, my husband (J) and I got a little taste of just how terrifying kids can be. r was a delight, of course, but the other children – my god, the other children! Hauling ass to and fro, not looking where they are going, screaming, swinging large sticks in the air paying no attention to the adorable 2.5-year-old in their immediate stick-swinging-radius! One even ran off to the parking lot alone, screaming. J brought him back no harm no foul, but holy shit! At night, we would sit out on the patio with T, R, and p, who was in a marathon nursing phase, and drink wine, eat cookies, and chat. T and I managed to get away just the two of us (and p, obviously) for a little while. We made a run to the store where I ran inside and did the shopping while T sat outside nursing p. It was nice, though, even if we did just get to sit outside a Whole Foods and chat for a while before p ralphed on my sister’s shoulder. Of the seven kids, she and I are the only girls and time spent just the two of us has always been hard to come by.

I feel like it was a successful weekend. I even learned how to swaddle a wriggling baby. Whether or not I will ever actually use this skill remains to be seen.

Better Training

I did something quite impulsive today. I signed myself up for a half marathon. One (of my 5) brothers sent me a text asking if I wanted to join he and some of our other siblings for The Middle Half. I signed up post-haste because I was bored and work and because I suffer from FOMO. I’ve been “running” since I was about 13 or so and by “running” I mean jogging. Slowly. I have certainly never run any significant distance. I once ran 7 miles on accident with my sister. We were on a trail in Chattanooga, got distracted by our riveting conversation, which I’m certain was not at all gossipy in nature, and completely missed our turn-around. That went fine. Surely now, almost 10 years later (holy shit I’m getting old), I’ll be able to run 13.1 miles. No problem.

There are 19 weeks till the run. I began looking for training programs this afternoon and was relieved to find some 12 week programs for beginners. Beginners! I’m a kind of experienced runner AND I’ve got 19 weeks to train! Piece O Cake. The training programs all seem pretty simple. Here is an example from halfmarathons.net. Every program I’ve seen suggests running, or at least doing some sort of cardio, 5 days a week. Seeing how I currently run a few times a week, sometimes, this should be totally fine. Right?

Better Parmesan & Peas

Y’all, our co-op kicks ass. When we lived in Nashville we went back and forth about joining a CSA because it was just the two of us and, even though I love me some random veggies – and I can certainly put them away, we were concerned about wasting food. I know there are options like canning, pickling, jamming, and so forth but farm girl I am not and I know my limits when it comes to the kitchen. At any rate, when we moved to Raleigh we started the search for a CSA to fit our needs and found Carolina Grown. Every week we get to order from their ever-expanding menu of produce, meat, fish, dairy, eggs, grains, pasta, baked goods, etc. all from right here in North Carolina and it is delivered right to our doorstep every Friday morning. Like I said – it kicks ass. The beauty of the co-op is that it inspires me to experiment with different ways to prepare the abundance of vegetables we receive every week.

This week, we got some English shelling peas. I love peas. They are adorable and delicious. But, I’d only ever eaten them one of two ways – in a pasta/casserole OR blanched with butter and salt. I did some sleuthing online and found this lovely collection of recipes from 101 Cookbooks. I was particularly inspired by the Spring Pea Slathered Crostini recipe but didn’t have everything on-hand so I just went with what I had: peas, parmesan, butter, salt, and crushed red pepper.

In the recipe she says to boil the water while you shell the peas. Due to my giant (not quite man-sized) hands and sausage-esque fingers – these kinds of tasks take me a good minute to complete. So, I waited until I was about half-way through the bag of peas to start the water. I cooked them for about 30 seconds, then rinsed and tossed them in a bowl with a pat of butter and a pinch of salt. I added a large (not quite man-sized) handful of shredded parmesan and several generous shakes of crushed red pepper. I attempted to “make quick work of it” with my immersion blender (also known as the most amazing kitchen tool I’ve ever owned) but, apparently, didn’t quite have enough of the mixture to fully submerge the blender resulting in a quick spray to the face of pea/parmesan/crushed red pepper. So, I got out my food processor and took care of business.

I served it as an ever so fancy blob on a plate with a fresh baguette. It was delicious. The crushed red pepper added the prefect amount of heat and parmesan is amazing no matter what you do with it. Next time, I’ll try it with manchego (my all-time favorite cheese) and serve it on a baguette with a slice of jamón serrano. Though, I don’t know if the manchego would last long enough in my kitchen to make it to the Cuisinart…

Better Detox

Every year since somewhere mid-college career, one of my many resolutions has been to complete some sort of cleanse seasonally. I have yet to complete any sort of cleanse. Ever. Unless, of course, you count those two times I got mono and survived off Jell-o and Sprite for a few weeks. I usually start strong, spending a lot of time Googling “detox” and whatnot but, then I remember I get awfully cranky when I’ve not been fed in a few hours and decide it’s in the best interest of everyone around me if I just continue eating whatever I want, whenever I want. Really, it wouldn’t be fair to my friends and family – I’m doing the right thing.

With the solstice approaching, I’ve decided it’s time to start the process of thinking about maybe doing a cleanse all over again. After doing some research, I’ve determined I need to just make up my own plan. My B.A. in Spanish and National Certification in Massage Therapy obviously qualify me to do such a thing. I have a few stipulations – most importantly: I must be able to eat for most of the cleanse. I must! So, the Master Cleanse and any juice fasts are out. My goal here is not weight-loss; it is giving my liver a well-deserved break from all the hard work it does for me so it can perform even better post-cleanse. Because, let’s be real here, my liver gets a pretty damn good work-out most of the time. The cleanse will be Ayurveda-based, (I found a great, 13-day plan in The Modern Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amrita Sondhi) focusing on gradually eliminating the more “toxic” foods from my diet and then slowly reintroducing them after a two-day siesta from solid food during which I will only drink water, which I can spice up with ginger and lemon to aid in detoxification if I’m feeling fancy.

BUT, I’m not ready for that shit yet. I’ve gotta get my mind right first. TWO WHOLE DAYS WITHOUT FOOD?! Besides, the solstice isn’t for another few weeks. So, today I decided to dip a toe in the detoxification pool and start my day with a little yoga. I’ve been practicing yoga on and off for about 10 years now, which is pretty sad given the current state of my practice. I know yoga is supposed to be all about accepting where you are in your practice and in your life and moving forward at your own pace and namaste and OM and BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, but, the perfectionist inside me is having a difficult time accepting the fact that I usedtocould hold a headstand for as long as I wanted and now I can’t quite get my toes off the ground. It did feel good to start my day with yoga again, though – even if I didn’t stop sweating till I got to work because, well, I’m a beast, and we still haven’t gotten around to breaking out the ole AC unit. Who am I kidding? The AC unit had nothing to do with it. Hopefully, over the course of the next few weeks, keeping up with the yoga and maybe even doing some meditating will prepare me for my first big-girl cleanse. One baby (crunchy hippie) step at a time.