writeonthebay

Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Ready to Advocate?

In Family on February 19, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Remember when I said my dad’s oncologist isn’t one to speculate? Well I guess he feels like he’s not taking too much of a gamble to put a number out on my dad’s remaining days. As I read in an email from my mom yesterday morning, the doc told my mom that “I would be really surprised if he was still with us a year from now.”

Devastating.

And absurd, put up against the sound of the Chipettes covering Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” over iTunes as I read my email. And then there’s the absurdity of my mom being told this over her cell phone in a public restroom. My Victorian grandmother would have been horrified.

Dad says, “Well, these doctors don’t have many encouraging words for me.”

True.

Sigh.

I’d like to have a word with the urologist who has ordered two bone scans and a CT scan for my dad within the last 4 months. The cynical thought that he might be vested in the machines doing the scanning certainly comes to mind. He’s not arguing with the oncologist that my dad’s out of treatment options. But apparently he’d like my Medicare and my parents to spend time, energy, and money on what seem to me (and the oncologist) to be superfluous tests so he can have more data in his files.

The CT was scheduled for today. I told my mom they should cancel it and only reschedule if they get a satisfactory answer from the urologist as to why he wants the test done and what possible benefit there would be for my dad. If ever there’s a time for them to be advocates for themselves this is it.

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Happy Valentine’s Day Y’all

In Family, Food, In My Kitchen on February 15, 2010 at 10:29 am

Happy Valentine’s Day Y’all

red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting and heart sprinkles

I love red velvet cake. I love red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting even more. And the proverbial apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Madeleine shares my love for the classic Southern treat. She also assumes that any white frosting must contain cream cheese. Because really, why would you bother with anything less?

Red velvet cake wasn’t something served up in my family, unless it came from a box. The woman who stood in as my grandmother (both of my grandmothers were deceased by the time I was a toddler) was my great aunt Helen. She had a small repertoire of baked goods she’d churn out, including a lovely coconut custard pie and an aptly named “sad cake”. And my mom just wasn’t much for baking in general.

But every year I could count on having at least one slice of that shocking red sandwiched in layers of white (albeit not cream cheese) frosting. One of my neighborhood friends always asked for a red velvet cake for her birthday, and her home-ec instructor mother happily obliged with a lovely version.

The friend and I gradually grew apart, and my red velvet experiences grew fewer and farther between, until I figured out that I could bake myself (silly, I know, but it truly was a revelation).

I’ve tried several recipes over the years, but I think yesterday I fell upon the winner. After comparing a handful of recipes, I decided to try out Magnolia Bakery’s recipe, at least for the cake. Paula Deen uses cream cheese for the frosting, God bless her. The result was Macon meets Manhattan (okay, Paula’s a native of Albany who now lives in Savannah, but I liked the alliteration), and it was delicious. The cake was moist and not too crumbly. The frosting was soft and not too sweet. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of the sprinkles, but my little Valentines wanted them, so there they are.

And now I can wonder which will last longer — the cupcakes or the red food coloring stains on my fingers.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Creamy Vanilla Icing Epicurious | February 2008
by Allysa Torey of Magnolia Bakery

3 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons red food coloring
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour three 9- by 2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper.
To make the cake: In a small bowl, sift the cake flour and set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla. Add to the batter and beat well.
In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk. Add to the batter in three parts alternating with the flour. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat. In a small bowl, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth.
Divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 1 hour. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
When the cake has cooled, spread the frosting between the layers, then ice the top and sides of the cake with Creamy Vanilla Frosting .

Epicurious Test-Kitchen Tip:
This recipe also makes 2 dozen cupcakes. Use 2 muffin pans, each with 12 (1/2-cup) muffin cups, and line each cup with a paper liner. (There’s no need to grease the cups.) Arrange the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and bake the cupcakes, switching positions of the pans halfway through baking, until a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pan 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely on a rack before icing. To ice, mound about 1/4 cup of frosting on top of each cupcake and use an icing spatula to make a swirl on top. If desired, decorate with colored sprinkles.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting (from Paula Deen):

1 pound cream cheese, softened
2 sticks butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
Chopped pecans and fresh raspberries or strawberries, for garnish

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.
Garnish with chopped pecans and a fresh raspberry or strawberry (or heart sprinkles for the kids).

Facebook Failure

In In Other Words, Writing on February 13, 2010 at 10:29 am

Some of my creative friends are doing 365 projects. They’ve committed to doing something creative everyday — a photograph, a drawing, a piece of writing. Me, I’d sort of half-heartedly committed to writing at least once a week. Of course, I never really made that commitment out loud or wrote it in some publishable form for someone to hold me accountable at any point.

So fine, I’ll do it now, 6 weeks into the New Year and 4 weeks away from baby’s arrival.

I will create everyday.

No, that’s not specific enough, cuz giving birth could count, right? Not to mention milk supply.

Ok. I will write everyday this year. Something. Even a sentence.

Doesn’t seem too hard does it? For anyone who doesn’t partake in creative activities, it might seem a little silly. But to create and put oneself out there on paper or canvas or computer screen means vulnerability. It means risking feeling like your living that grade school dream where you showed up for class naked. It means taking the chance of creating something that even you hate and view as a piece of crap.

My friend Damien is painting everyday for his 365 project — painting and posting his work on his blog no less. The other day he posted a piece he didn’t like, and pointed out that he felt for the sake of honesty, he needed to put it up anyway.

I applauded his efforts and decided I needed to take Anne Lamott’s words to heart myself.

““Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper.” Anne Lamott

Of course lately my failure has been less about terrible first drafts and more about the fact that I haven’t been writing much. Facebook, that modern day time thief and wizard of social networking, is where I can say I’ve largely mislaid precious minutes.

I love Facebook, which is not so surprising when one considers my Myers-Briggs score that tips steeply on the “E” for “externally motivated”. I love chatting it up with friends near and far about topics mundane or magnificent. My computer sits in my kitchen, where I spend most of my time, and it’s oh-so-easy to check Facebook a zillion times a day.

Facebook has been my failure. So I’ll add to that commitment.

I will write everyday this year. And only after that will I update my status.

Seeing Green

In Family on February 6, 2010 at 11:57 am

There are bushes under there, really.

I went to bed last night spooked by the sound of the fog horns on the Chesapeake, and the threat of a real-live blizzard. We made it through the night with power and without labor pains. After a shovel-fueling breakfast of cheese biscuits, sausage, and eggs, my thoughts are sunnier. Sure the snow’s still coming down with two feet already on the ground, and the kids may have ANOTHER day or two without school, but with the help of Jack Johnson on the radio singing about the Kamani tree and a recent read of Barbara Kingsolver’s ode to asparagus, I’m thinking warm and green more than cold and white.

For example, our proximity to the Bay provides more cheerful sensory effects than the melancholy fog horn, like the roar of Blue Angels jets zooming and twirling through a brilliant blue sky every May to celebrate Naval Academy commissioning week.

All the cold (and snow and ice) we’ve had this winter might be keeping my pregnant bod largely homebound, but it’s also turning embryonic peaches into sweet delights to come this summer. Come April, I’ll be ready to tote baby to the farmers’ markets to buy up all that’s still gathering strength underground or in seed flats in carefully tended green houses right now.

And then there’ll be pool and beach time. Madeleine and Dax will be full fledged fish this summer. Richard and I will alternate splashing around with them and catching shade with baby.

School will start, the trees turn gold and red, and then it will all start again.

We’ve largely acclimated to life in the Mid-Atlantic after growing up on the Gulf Coast. We love having four seasons.

Winter is still the hardest part of living here for us though. But I know the green is there. I can see it in the snow.