Holiday Baking (despite the craziness)

This weekend, my weekend with the kids and a holiday weekend, we’ve done yard work, had a family outing to an old school arcade, colored Easter eggs, baked (Well, I  baked, the kids not so much.), did the Easter basket tradition, and are about to attend Mass and head to a big family dinner. Yet it somehow feels like I haven’t accomplished enough. Final exams loom, I’m about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry…but I’ve got one more lab write up, a homework assignment, and a final to get through first. That’s the cloud that hangs low and heavy over this weekend. (And my fairly legitimate excuse for the terribly infrequent postings around here.)

Balancing working enough to support my household of six, meeting ALL the needs, and giving time and attention to my classwork is a massive challenge, one that requires constant focus and re-calibration. Somehow I’ve gotten this far and done decently well at it. Most the time. Sometimes it makes me a less than enthusiastic parent. I’m not fostering the pre-holiday excitement or planning fancy coordinated outfits for my five  (not so) small ones like I once was. But there is one holiday tradition I’ve managed to maintain, one of my favorites, the holiday baking.

I know it seems like baking holiday treats is something I do for others…It’s not. Don’t be fooled. It’s a totally selfish thing I do. I bake what like for holidays and don’t do other things so I can get the baking I want to do done. Baking has always been a comfort thing for me. It’s a soothing ritual when I’m stressed or upset and a productive distraction when I’m bored or anxious. I think this (past) weekend I was all of the above. So I baked.

This year the emergent theme of my holiday baking was fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry though, it wasn’t healthy. I made pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake, and that blueberry cheesecake from last Easter.

Pineapple upside down cake is one of my mom’s classics. She makes it in a cast iron pan with this amazing gooey brown sugar goodness crystallized on top just under a layer of juicy baked pineapple rings. My mom usually makes this at Easter but decided we probably had enough desserts without it this year. I noticed fresh pineapples on sale on one of my many weekly grocery store runs and had seen a bundt cake pan version of the old cast iron classic that I wanted to try. And thus pineapple upside down cake was added to my baking list.  Like I said, this is selfish baking here!

Having never made my mom’s version of the cake I’m not sure how close this one was but I used a recipe found online. The melted butter and brown sugar went into the bundt pan first and then pineapple slices and cherries (which my mom never used). The cake batter gets poured over that, it’s all baked, and then flipped out. Easy peasy!

No really, this was quite easy to make. I’d recommend it. The only changes I made to the recipe were using fresh pineapple which I mashed up real good and, because I was concerned about the moisture level of the batter, an added splash of rum. I only had coconut oil on hand so rum seemed like a good balancing liquid. One of my sisters commented that the cake had a vague pina colada taste….maybe next year I’ll be sharing my magical upside down pina colada cake recipe with you all. We’ll see. ūüėČ

Unlike pineapple upside down cake, carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts to make (and to eat too). I started making it back in my early twenties when I was married. And, actually, carrot cake is responsible for my cheesecake baking obsession too.

My ex-husband’s birthday is in December. The first year we were married I wanted to do something fun and special for his birthday. I got tickets to a Piston’s game and planned to make his favorite dessert…but I didn’t know what that was so in the weeks leading up to his birthday I asked what kind of cake was his favorite. I swear he said cheesecake. Swear it! I had never made one before but had seen my mom make a classic New York cheesecake every year at Christmas for as long as I could remember. It never looked that hard. So I pulled out a cookbook, scanned the recipe, bought ingredients, and started a cheesecake a half hour or so before we had to leave for the game. I thought I could just whip it up and bake it real quick before we left so it would be cooled and ready to eat when we got home. It was going to be great and he was going to love it!

Except it takes way longer than half an hour to bake a cheesecake. Apparently my reading ahead and planning skills were even worse when I was 20 than they are now.

The result was a soupy mess of a cheesecake AND then, come to find out, my then new husband didn’t even like cheesecake very mush. He says he told me carrot cake was his favorite. There is no way he said carrot cake. Maybe he meant carrot cake but he said cheesecake. After that fiasco I decided I was going to master the art of cheesecakes. I’ve made many successful cheesecakes over the past sixteen years. I think I’ve succeeded. At some point after that I got a great carrot cake recipe from a co-worker and got pretty good at that too.

 

I consider it a win-win…at least as far as desserts are concerned.

 

As for the aforementioned blueberry cheesecake, I used the same recipe as last year because, despite my poor judgement on ingredient substitution, it really was a good recipe. This time I still didn’t find friache but I did use a better quality substitute: plain Fage Greek yogurt. It’s rich and creamy with a slightly sour taste and none of that cheap vanilla Greek yogurt overpowering after taste. It was super yum!

 

Oh, and I did get all my kids to dress up even if they weren’t in coordinated outfits. With a group of mostly teenagers that’s as good as it gets.

Foreshadowing & Irony: Great in Literature, Terrible in Real Life

Both of these things, foreshadowing and Irony, are popular literary devices used to drive a story forward and create interest sometimes even without the reader’s awareness.

Okay, maybe he’s talking about metaphor but you get the gist.

While I appreciate¬†irony and foreshadowing¬†in my literature, I’ve come to realize they’re not¬†quite as cool¬†when they occur in real life. For example, last week my son tripped over my laptop’s charging cord pulling the device to the edge of the table. It almost fell, my laptop, which surely would have resulted in it breaking. I pointed¬† that out¬†along with my great relief that this hadn’t actually happened.

A few days later, at the end of that same week, I made a sharp turn as I was driving home from school and my backpack plunged into the car’s dashboard. Actually this happened twice on my way home. Twice my backpack fell forward and slammed into the dash. That evening my daughter¬†asked to watch a movie on said laptop. She opened it up to discover a black spot on the screen along with multiple horizontal lines¬†spanning the screen. While I recognized the foreshadowing in this situation, I most certainly did not enjoy it.

The black spot on my laptop screen was sort of like this and I definitely felt cursed.

To add to the not-so literary quality of this tale, during the very same week I got an e-mail saying my device protection warranty was about to expire. I was pretty mad because I knew I had renewed it for¬†the year sometime in the early spring¬†, February at the earliest. Luckily that warning was for my daughter’s tablet. Not so luckily when I took it to the store I found out I had renewed tech support on my laptop last spring, not the drop & break warranty. Much like the¬†situations Alanis Morissette sings about,¬†I’m not sure if that’s irony but it sure is unfortunate.

Just in case you didn’t happen to be a high school girl in the late 1990’s…

Exactly a week after irony laced with foreshadowing reared its unpleasant head I saw that ugly bitch again. (Thursdays and I have a questionable track record.) I was feeling the stress of finals week combined with the kids’ last week of school before break (you know the one with all the concerts and classroom parties, all the expected school Secret Santa drawings and teacher appreciation gifts or treats, that week) and I wrote a post whining about the final for my last class. Maybe you read it, I kind of hope you didn’t. At the end of that post I said I didn’t even want to take my final final of the semester. Well I lied; in reality I did want to take that final. Even though¬†it was optional and I was no where near as prepared as I should’ve been, I definitely wanted the chance to pull my sad sad grade up to a respectable level.
Guess what. That didn’t happen. When I tried to start my car¬†Thursday morning it just didn’t. It appeared that the battery, the one I replaced just this fall (when the alternator kicked the bucket leaving me stranded), was dead. My brother had taken the kids to school that morning ( well, four of them, the other was supposed to go with the neighbors but had missed his ride) so I could get to campus by nine. He was still close by and able to come back and jump the dead van battery. Except it wouldn’t jump. And yes I hooked the cables up correctly. This is not, in fact, my first rodeo. After being on the cables for about ten minutes, the lights flickered a bit but that was all the energy the battery could muster. By that time my brother had to get to work¬† so he took the last kid to school and there I sat, 45 minutes away from the college with a dead car. I waved the white flag and commenced a solid angry mope session. It was a crappy ending to an equally crappy semester. I guess I need to learn to be careful for what I wish for.
Later¬†that evening my neighbor came over to look at my dead van. We tried a couple things before deciding that he would take my battery¬†to his garage¬†and try to charge it. As he was lifting the battery out we heard the subtle click of the electrical system kicking on. I tried starting the car, still nothing. “Move the battery around and I’ll give it another try” I suggested. He did. I did. It started. As the engine turned over I suddenly remembered that I had hit a pot hole so hard a week earlier that all the dashboard lights flashed. Turns out it jarred the battery loose.
I missed my final because of a loose battery terminal. In other words a screw needed tightening. That’s it. Son of a bitch!