Here’s the Catch…

You guys know I love to cook. My daughter likes to cook with me. So, when a program came up to learn more about cooking for the girls in our church, I thought she would love it. Her twin sister wasn’t so enthused.20130604b20130604d

One of the criteria in the program was to gather 100 recipes for a personal cookbook by asking members of the congregation to contribute. Here’s the funny thing: My not-really-into-cooking daughter excelled at this. Her apron-donning sister, on the other hand, hardly collected any. Why? It was all about talking to folks. She said it was too embarrassing and hard to go up to people and ask for recipes. She’s good at cooking, but that wasn’t what she needed to succeed in the program.

This is so much like the writer’s dilemma! Joshua A. Sipper discusses the things a writer has to do to in his post, Life of a Non-Salesman, and gives some great tips to help a writer get his/her work out there. The bottom line: It takes more to excel as a writer than writing the story. Hey, we all know this! Unfortunately, that doesn’t prompt me to leap out there and take risks. Rather, I’m like my daughter, stepping back and shaking my head.

“You’re ruining the joy!” I wanted to say to the cooking program creators. “Why can’t you just let her cook?” But that wasn’t the sole purpose of the program, and we had to reevaluate.

It’s the same with writing. Every time I get to the point where my craft requires me to do something I absolutely hate, I have to remind myself, “Why I am doing this? What will I get out of this? Is it worth the end result?”

The answer is it’s worth it because it means more opportunities to write, which is all I want to do!

Our Ray of Sunshine

Last week started out as a disappointment. My kids were supposed to spend the week with Realm’s parents while I went south and spent some time with my aunt and grandma. Due to sickness, we had to stay home. The kids and I stared at each other glumly until sunshine beamed down upon us in the form of a phone call from Realm’s mom, asking, “What if I come visit you for the week instead?”

I texted Realm the good news, and he responded, “She’s the best mother-in-law, isn’t she?”

Oh, she is!

A classic fairy with a wand
A classic fairy with a wand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes I think I live in a fairytale world when I consider the fact that my mom-in-law is my best friend. It’s true!

When Realm and I were in college, he made plans to go to a football game with his dad. His mom wanted to visit with him, too, but didn’t care to go to the game. Realm asked me if I would hang out with her, and that’s when I met Mom O (that’s what I call her). I would not have had such an excellent opportunity to know what a jewel my future mom-in-law would be if she’d been an avid football fan. It was fate that brought us together! Or the fact that neither of us gets a thrill out of a pigskin tossing. We spent the whole afternoon talking. I thought she was the nicest person. Where I was opinionated and rash, she was conscientious and thoughtful…and she was funny. On the way back to school, I told Realm, “I’d marry you just for your mom.” Looking back, my statement was pretty telling because I was dating someone else at the time. Realm and I had broken up.

Mom O and I share our joy of reading. I grew up in a house with bookshelves filled with books. She has bookshelves all around her house, too. So I feel right at home. Anything she reads and thinks I’ll enjoy she sends my way. She’s opened new worlds up to me, especially in fantasy.

CassandraAusten-FannyKnight
CassandraAusten-FannyKnight (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And she supports my craft. This isn’t an easy one because, as a writer, I’m always half-finished. Mom O will still read the first chapters with no ending and tell me what she thinks. She’s beta-ed many, many, many stories for me. She’s been my Cassandra, and I love her for the hours she’s spent on me and my scribbles.

She’s taught me a lot about cooking. I’ve watched over her shoulder many a time, asking all types of questions, trying to figure out what her secrets are for the best, fall-apart baked ham, the best cheese cookies, and the moistest pound cake. She says her secret is experience. She knows what she’s doing, and she’s good at it.

In the first years of our marriage, I was not shy about confrontation with Realm or with his family. There are many moms-in-law who feel it’s their duty to set an opinionated daughter-in-law straight from the beginning. There have been a ton of times that I’ve been set straight by my mom-in-law, but not by any harsh word of hers. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that her middle name means “peace.” Every word of advice she’s ever given me has been with wisdom and with love. Her reproaches have come in the form of her own patience and gentleness with me. It’s humbling, and I look up to her more each time I realize how often she’s been proven right without saying a thing.

I get so much from her example. Her principles are formed by God’s word. And when she sees how her grandchildren are being raised, how Realm and I are trying to bring them up with God’s precepts, she lets me know she’s proud of both of us. It’s a God-given blessing we enjoy every day of our lives as a generational family.

This is why the kids and I spent last week sniffling, sneezing, but smiling. We had Mom O to cheer us up.

Apple Goodness with an Apricot Twist

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Voila! Scrumptious Baked Apples – but next time I’m cutting around the stem of the apple to prevent cracking. 😛

It’s Apples and Apricots Month! I made this cozy, healthy recipe for breakfast, replacing the sugar-free apricot jam it called for with puree canned apricots (adding a little agave nectar). I also replaced the apple juice with frozen apple juice concentrate to make up for the sweetness I took out by not including the sugar.

20130107aMaking this was completely kid-friendly, but it doesn’t compete with Peanut Butter and Chocolate Puffs cereal. The consensus was that it was good, and that’s all. (One would’ve gone with ‘meh,’ but was persuaded to change her vote by the kinder votes of her siblings.)

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Warmed the leftover apricot juice and added a cinnamon stick to that, too. The picture wasn’t complete without bunny ears.

My rating system is ever partial to foods that taste a little more real. So I gave it five stars, and my vote counts as ten. It’s a wonderful way to start a crisp January morning—warm and wholesome-tasting. And the aroma of cinnamon and apples that wafted through the house was incredible!

Veggies that Begin with ‘A’ Go Here

Craving artichokes and asparagus lately? That’s because January is the month to celebrate these funny veggies! Asparagus is in season in the spring, but you can get the canned kind at least. I celebrated by making a mayo-free spinach artichoke asparagus dip.

My Spinach Artichoke Asparagus Dip before it was demolished
my Spinach Artichoke Asparagus Dip before it was demolished

I found the recipe on Ree Drummond‘s site, the Pioneer Woman. It’s called, “The Best Spinach Artichoke Dip Ever,” and it definitely lives up to its name. I tweaked the recipe (I’m a rebellious cook) by adding asparagus tips, cooking them with the artichokes. Mmmmm…

This is a Piece of Cake!

Guess what I’ve been doing? (I bet you’ve guess it already because you’re brilliant like that. You must be; you read my blog.) Just in case you’re stumped, I’ll give you a hint: food writing. I have a friend who contacted me about a project with CakeTheater. The job description was something like, “creative writer to come up with blurbs for cake categories.” Within seconds I responded with, “Me! Me! Me!” Decades later, (okay, maybe just days) I was asked about my hourly rate. Thankfully, I didn’t send my immediate response, which was something like, “Somebody is going to pay me to write stuff about cakes?” Yes, confectionary delight of delights, all is right in my world! And, oddly, I’ve started making cakes. I think I must be very persuasive.

At first I tried to be all healthy about it. A carrot cake was my first attempt. The icing was made with cream cheese, whipped up to a fluffy cloud of sweetness. It melted on my tongue like butter. And, yeah, I used real butter anywhere it called for shortening/oil.*

It was completely fattening.

It was irresistibly good.

I couldn’t stand the longing looks the cake received from the fridge repair man when it was placed on the counter. I did not share with him. I was more generous when my sister and her boyfriend came over. (Actually, I was pretty much carrot-caked out by then.) Then they told me they’d been filching thin slices so I wouldn’t notice.

Jam & Tea Cake

You can see, cake decorating is not my forte. I’ve even taken a course. Isn’t that sad? That doesn’t seem to stop me, or anyone else at my house, from eating them. For this reason, this cake-writing project could be the death of me in terms of caloric overload. Otherwise, I am living in a dream… that funds the butter supply.

Here’s a cupcake idea I tried:

A mini Cat in the Hat birthday cake. Yes, I wrote a poem to go with it. (My creativity is good, though my artistry is lacking.)

Let’s do a recap of what you can know about me from this post: (1) I can’t decorate cakes well at all, and (2) my photography is just as bad. (Oh, and I’d better be keeping to a serious daily workout.) But know: if you’re drooling, or thinking about how long it’s been since you’ve had proper cake, then my work is complete. For you connoisseurs of our fine-floured friends, come be inspired by the cakes at CakeTheater. Not to tempt you or anything.

Oh, you talked me into it. One more:

Iced Lemon Cake for tea time

*Most shortenings and basic cooking oils are made with soybean oil, and I’m soy intolerant.