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Thursday, April 2, 2020

April 2: "When We Were Beautiful" by Bon Jovi

Yesterday was not one of my best days. I ended up taking a long bike ride to clear my head. During the 12 mile ride, that magical thing happened for me wherein a song I've listened to countless times in the past suddenly took on a new meaning when considered under the umbrella of my current life experiences and mindset.

The song--from one of my favorite Bon Jovi albums, The Circle--isn't something I had planned to share this month at all, but as soon as the magic happened, I knew I had to.
When We Were Beautiful 
by Richie Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi, Billy Falcon
The world is cracked
The sky is torn
I'm hanging in
You're holding on
I can't pretend
That nothing's changed
Living in the shadows
Of the love we made
Back, when we were beautiful
Before the world got small
Before we knew it all
Back, when we were innocent
I wonder where it went
Let's go back and find it
Sha la la, sha la la, hey, sha la la
Sha la la, sha la la, hey, sha la la
Some dreams live
Some will die
But the you and me
Is still alive
Now am I blessed?
Or am I cursed?
'Cause the way we are
Ain't the way we were
Back, when we were beautiful
Before the world got small
Before we knew it all
Back, when we were innocent
I wonder where it went
Let's go back and find it
The world is cracked
The sky is torn
So much less
Meant so much more
Back, when we were beautiful
Before the world got small
Before we knew it all
Back, when we were innocent
I wonder where it went
Let's go back and find it
Back, when we were beautiful
Back, when we were beautiful
Back, when we were beautiful
Back, when we were beautiful
Sha la la, sha la la, hey, sha la la
Sha la la, sha la la, hey, sha la la
Sha la la, sha la la, hey, sha la la
Sha la la, sha la la, hey, sha la la
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Richie Sambora / Jon Bon Jovi / Billy Falcon
When We Were Beautiful lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

To listen to the music with the lyrics (highly recommended--I mean, hello!, it's Bon Jovi! This is a bonus gift, I assure you!), you can click here for the YouTube video, or type the following into your browser:

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

April 1: "Spring" by Mary Oliver

          by Mary Oliver 
          (House of Light, Beacon Press, 1990) 

    a black bear
        has just risen from sleep
            and is staring

down the mountain.
    All night
        in the brisk and shallow restlessness
            of early spring

I think of her,
    her four black fists
        flicking the gravel,
            her tongue

like a red fire
    touching the grass,
        the cold water.
            There is only one question:

how to love this world.
    I think of her
            like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
    the silence
        of the trees.
            Whatever else

my life is
    with its poems
        and its music
            and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
        down the mountain,
            breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her--
    her white teeth,
        her wordlessness,
            her perfect love.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Poem a Day for April 2020

April is poetry month. Did you know that? 

I had big plans for this month. I’m on the local library board and I’d pitched several ideas for how the library might celebrate this year, culminating with an activity for Poem in Your Pocket day on April 30th. We were very excited about our plans. But then Covid-19 happened. Now, like so many other things, the library is closed indefinitely, and all programming for the month of April canceled. 

The thing is, though, in these emotionally trying times, we need the poetry more than ever. 

So I’ve decided to bring the poetry to my blog. 

Do you have a favorite poem? A favorite poet? Do you even like poetry? 

It’s ok if you think you don’t. I used to think I didn’t. For a time, I thought I hated it. (I also thought I hated cats. But you know what? Turns out I was wrong about that, too.) 

I suspect my lack of enthusiasm for poems stemmed from how they were presented to me in school (and, sadly, even how I felt I had to teach it myself back when I taught). A big part of English/Language Arts instruction is teaching people how to read and think, how to break things apart and consider meaning and recognize devices (which may or may not have been employed to serve the purpose we’ve assigned to them) as they all contribute to the author’s purpose. Certainly, recognizing word play and clever uses of literary devices can be thrilling and enriching. But being told what to see can also get in the way of connecting to it personally. And that loss of connection can ruin a thing we might otherwise enjoy. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not maligning my beloved English classes. Nor am I implying that a thing’s worth should be tied to our personal enjoyment of it. (There’s a great many things in this world from which I derive no pleasure that are still worthwhile. You know, like salmon.) I simply mean to point out that sometimes a focus on seeing (the lesson) can eclipse feeling.  

It’s that feeling, that connectedness, that draws me to poetry. (And really any kind of art—other genres of writing, music, visual arts, performance arts, etc.)

When I stopped searching for something specific in it, and instead experienced it without asking anything of it, everything changed for me. 

Does this practice mean I sometimes get something different from a poem than what others get from it, and maybe even from what the poet intended? I’m sure it does. But it also frees me to love it for what it is.

I love it for its relative brevity (though, of course, some poems are quite lengthy.) I love it for its soul. Most of all, I love how I can read a poem I’ve read before, and experience it a different way every time. 

As though one might unlock a level in a game, my own experiences seem to unlock new meaning in poems for me. Joys, sorrows, life itself rewards me with understanding and awareness and a sense of belonging which I find on the page. (I’m the same way with music. I’ve listened to albums or songs and felt nothing about them. But then one day I feel a certain way and BOOM! That nothing-album becomes my personal anthem. Surely the writers were inside my brain when they wrote it just. for. me.) 

I don’t know about you, but I most often become hyper-aware of my feelings when there’s some degree of strife in my world. Stress, uncertainty, fear, sorrow, anxiety, and disruption to my status quo all seem to open me up to these seemingly magical connections.

Throughout and following Bloggate, music (both the notes & the lyrics functioning together as a different form of poetry) bolstered me, reminding me as many times as I needed that I would get through, I would heal, I would move on. 

Similarly, during my husband’s chemo treatments this past summer, I carried books of Mary Oliver’s poems with me to all our appointments. Like a friend, she kept me company in the waiting room. Her whispered words –about animals, trees, the sky, the sea, among other topics--offered me solace, encouragement, and a sense that she knew just what I was feeling. They helped me through. 

This April, as I find myself adjusting to this new way of life—one thrust upon everyone with little to no warning—I’m once again bringing new meaning to (sometimes old) words. And I invite you to join me.

Here on my blog--this virtual world where we can be together apart—I hope to post a poem (or lyrics with a link to also hear the music, since a song is its own sort of poetry) each day of April. There will be no single theme, audience, style, or poet (though, for sure, my dear friend Mary Oliver will likely make several appearances). I’ll post what speaks to me that day. 

By Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

I hope you will join me. And please feel free to share your own favorite poems with me. Though right now none of us can be together in person, we can be together in spirit. I hope you enjoy the poems I select. I hope some of them speak to your soul in whatever way you need. 

From my heart to yours. Be well. 

Level up, friends. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

November 1: Bonus Recipe - Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Snickerdoodles

I know, I know. It's November. The month of tricks and treats is over.

Well, guess what? I felt like we needed one more treat, even though we've treated ourselves PLENTY over the past 31 days. And I felt like it should be another pumpkin recipe because, well, I had a craving for these cookies, tbh. 

I featured a very similar recipe the first year I blogged my month of tricks and treats, in the form of these Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip cookies. I noted in that post how I’d made one cookie with chocolate chips and I liked it even more than the cinnamon chip. 

They’re chewy and spiced, and I liked the added depth of flavor the chocolate added. I just really enjoy them. 

For the past several days, I couldn’t stop thinking of these cookies. Then, as if the cosmos was either taunting or inspiring me to get off my duff and finally do something about it, Sally of Sally’s Baking Addiction, remade her classic and posted them again. Time to bake!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Snickerdoodle Cookies
Recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction
Yield: 18-20 cookies (I got 20)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Melt a stick of butter in the microwave. After it cools slightly, whisk in ¼ cup brown sugar and ½ cup white sugar until they are proud to be lump-free. 

*Not yet lump-free
Add in 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 6 Tablespoons of blotted pumpkin puree. You want to measure the puree after you’ve blotted it to remove the moisture. (It was about 8 T of non-blotted pumpkin—that’s a lot of moisture in there!) 
This is what the blotted pumpkin looks like.
I used about 5 paper towels on about 8 Tablespoons of pumpkin puree. 
Notice the lump-free butter-sugar mixture
With pumpkin whisked in
In a separate, large bowl, whisk together 1 ½ cups (190g) all-purpose flour, 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ¾ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice,  ¼ teaspoon EACH salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until combined. 

Stir in ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

After 30 minutes, use a medium OXO scoop to portion about 1 ½ Tablespoons of dough. Roll into balls and roll in cinnamon sugar. 

Note: I wanted the cinnamon sugar coating on them (as I had with the cinnamon chip version) so I mixed ¼ cup white sugar with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, and rolled them in there before placing on my pan.

Place cookie balls about 2 inches apart on a Silpat- or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Since they don’t spread much on their own, gently press cookies down with the back of a spatula. 
Post- flattening
I pressed a few chocolate chips on the tops at this stage, just so they looked nicer and to ensure each cookie bite would have some chips in there. (Apparently I misread the directions because Sally noted that you should press chips onto the tops of the warm, freshly baked cookies. Luckily my way worked on these cookies, though, so my little boo boo wasn’t an issue.) 

Bake 10-12 minutes or until the edges appear set (but the centers may still look soft —which is what you want.) Allow to rest on the pan 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Sally claims these actually get more chewy and pumpkin-y the second day, and you know what? They do! 

So if you, like me, have had a hankering for a pumpkin cookie, consider this post the cosmos telling you to GO FOR IT! 

POST-SCRIPT: After I drafted this post, I ended up making these yet AGAIN. (This time for an event at my gym.)  I decided to switch things up and, prior to folding in my chips, separated the base batter into 3 portions. Then I added regular chocolate chips (as I showed you just now) to one third, white chocolate chips to the second third (which I also rolled in cinnamon sugar), and cinnamon chips in the final third (which I didn't roll in cinnamon sugar because of the cinnamon chips).
They came out great, again, and I loved having the variety all on one plate. There's so many ways to play with these. I hope you try them this November! (Maybe as a Thanksgiving dessert option? Just sayin...)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

October 31: Bloody Rat Meatloaves

Happy Halloween!! It's finally here. The big day. (And it's rainy here where we are so that's throwing things into a tailspin. Oy.)

It's been a long, delicious month, and I hope you've had fun counting down with me.

I'd like to close out this month of tricks and treats with a meatloaf meal specially requested by my younger daughter. 

The week after school started, my younger daughter started asking me when I was making Feet Loaf. But, see, I already did feet loaf. (Also heads.)

I wanted to do something new. So, like Pooh, I had to think think think

I thought I was going to use my bat-shaped dish to keep things easy (plus, three years ago I *had* to have that bat-shaped dish and have only used it… once. Oopsies.) But when I browsed online to see if I could find any quick and easy meatloaf recipes, I came upon these Mini Cheddar Meatloaves from Butter with a Side of Bread. (I was fascinated by the idea of putting cheese in the meatloaf because, tbh, I didn't really even want meatloaf; I was jonesing for a cheeseburger.) When I looked at them, though, the shape reminded me of something...


And just like that—sorry bat-shaped dish. Your services will no longer be needed. Again.

Bloody Rat Meatloaves
Adapted from Butter with a Side of Bread

For the “rats”

1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup diced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 lb. ground beef

For the “blood” (I cut back the amounts slightly from the original recipe) 
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 cup brown sugar


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Beat together egg and milk. Stir in cheese. 
Add chopped onion and salt.

Combine with ground beef. 
Shape into 6 small loaves in a sort of oval-ish shape. (The original recipe calls for making 8, but somehow I missed that until after I’d already formed them and I didn’t feel like touching the raw beef again so I decided 6 was fine.) 

Arrange loaves in a 9x13 baking dish. 

Whisk together ketchup, ground mustard, and brown sugar. Pour over the raw loaves.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the meat is cooked through (internal temp of 165 degrees. Generally, pull it out at 155 degrees and let it rest 5-10 minutes. It’ll keep cooking and it’s safe to eat at 165.) 

I served my rat loaves with mashed potatoes and peas. 

For serving: arrange the “rat” in the center of the plate. Place 2 peas on the front of the loaf to look like eyes. Slice a green onion into long, thin strips. Arrange one strip at the back of the loaf and angled forward to serve as a tail. Arrange side dishes around the “rat.” 
Everyone in my house got a kick out of these, and they tasted good, too! With bloody rats, who needs feet loaf?

Now, enough with the recipes. It's time to TRICK OR TREAT! (Weather permitting...)

Happy Halloween, friends!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

October 30: Knuckle Sandwiches (Tuna "Finger" Sammies)

I still mostly make my girls’ lunches each day (I do it the night before to save time in the morning) and sometimes I like to put fun surprises in there for them. Especially this time of year. (When I was in high school and made my own lunches, I remember my mom would occasionally sneak silly things in there for me. I’d reach in for my sandwich and find a little baggie with a single olive on which was scrawled a message in Sharpie: “Olive you!” One day I got the olive AND an uncracked walnut, with the note attached reading “…but you’re a nut!” Good memories.)  

The other day I surprised them with these knuckle sandwiches.

I’d seen these “finger sandwiches” in one of my old Taste of Home magazines. But my kids don’t really like cream cheese smeared on bread (and I discovered at the last minute that I was out of carrots because I’d used them in fake-Thanksgiving the day before) so I made a few changes.

I chose tuna as the bread topping (my girls looooove tuna) and cheese sticks as the fingers. From there, it was a quick process.

I sliced the bread into strips and made open-faced tuna sammies. 
Then I sliced the cheese sticks in half lengthwise so I’d get two “fingers” per stick. 

Using a paring knife, I trimmed the cheese so it vaguely resembled a finger. Be sure to put the “knuckle” marks mid-finger. (I made 2 shorter fingers and left 2 full length because the inspiration sandwiches used longer carrots, but I was partial to the look of the “fingers” flush with the bread versus the ones sticking out longer. That’s up to you.) 

I cut an almond in half (because I’d also recently used up and not yet replenished my sliced almond stock) and attached it to the top area of the cheese stick “finger” with a small smear of cream cheese.

I laid the finger across the top of the tuna and voila! They’re called “knuckle sandwiches” because my husband jokingly called them that and it made me chuckle. 

The best part is this little trick didn’t take much longer than it would have to make a regular tuna sandwich. Plus, I know it gave the girls a smile the same way my mom’s bits of silliness always did for me. Nice treat. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

October 29: Deadly Piñata Loaf Cake & Pumpkin Cake Pops

I originally had another recipe scheduled for today, but I decided we really needed to amp up the Halloween for this final week. Enter: today's sugar bombs.

On Sunday, I shared chili in a coffin. That made use of a corn bread base baked up in a loaf pan. The loaf was then partially hollowed out and filled with soup.

The next night as I was trying to fall asleep, I thought, "Hmm...that coffin was kind of cool. What if I did it with cake and filled it with candy instead? That could be fun."

Perhaps you're thinking, "Wait a sec. You've already done a coffin. This is cheating." And perhaps you'd be right. But also? I think this dessert one made better use of the concept because it's sort of like a Halloween piñata cake, but in a loaf pan. (Ever hear of a piñata cake? Here's a fun tutorial.) It's basically a partly hollowed out cake with candy in the middle that spills out when you cut it. You know, like a piñata spills out candy when you hit it.

I'm happy I tried it. My kids were HUUUUGE fans of it. (And why wouldn't they be? It's cake with candy. Sugar on sugar.)

So let's take you through this in a photo tutorial. (I apologize in advance that the pix are sort of dark. I made this on a rainy night and despite having all my kitchen lights on, it was dark and shadowy. Hopefully, though, because it's a scary tombstone, it's more on, riiiiiight. Ha!)
Supply list: Entemann's All-Butter Loaf, green Airheads candy (1 flat kind, 1 rope kind),
gummy frogs, gummy snakes, chocolate frosting. I also used some brown M&Ms (not pictured).
Turn the loaf on its side and use a serrated knife to slice just under the domed part
Here it is in half. Domed part on top, bottom part still on the bottom.
Working with the bottom section, use a knife to gently cut a rectangular shape within the cake.
I left only about a half inch border--I would recommend you leave at least 3/4"-1".
It needs a little more structural support.  
Within the rectangle, slice 5-6 smaller slices to make them easier to remove.
Work from the center and use a fork to gently remove a small bite-sized portion
of the cake so you can fit a fork in there to neatly remove the rest.
As you can see, I didn't work from the center. When I removed that first little piece, a crack formed in the corner of the perimeter. Eventually, that broke. This is why you should start in the center (so you can better approach the outsides) AND why you need to leave a thicker border to begin with. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!
Slide your fork under the cake and the tines will cut and remove for you.
Again, work from the middle toward the edge, instead of inward like I did.
Here is the hollowed-out loaf cake. I slid a toothpick into the corner which had cracked,
to serve like a nail. It held at first, but after I filled it with candy, it cracked open again.
Now turn your attention to the top domed part of the loaf cake you cut off earlier.
Turn the dome to face you.  
Use the chocolate frosting to lightly frost the un-cut top portion. 
(Optional Step - I did it because I didn't want to have gummy candy in crumby cake,
but depending on how you plan to cut it, it could be in your way. So you could skip the lining.)
Gently line the inside of the hollowed out section with a small piece of waxed paper.  
Pour a small, base layer of black or brown M&Ms into the hollow base.
I used Cookies & Screeem flavor.
Add some gummy frogs on top of the M&Ms
Add snakes on top. Try to position them in different ways,
so they look extra loopy and coiled like they'd definitely freak out Indy
This is the point at which the structural integrity of my coffin started becoming a real problem. The weight of the candy pushing against the already-flimsy sides cracked the cake on one side. I tried using toothpick "nails" again to no avail. So that's why you need a thicker edge to begin with. Trust me on that!
Using the rope taffy, cut a 3" section.  
Use your thumb to gently flatten one end, then use a paring knife
to cut out five fingers. 
Continue to press and squeeze into an arm shape.
Remember, it's a ZOMBIE ARM so it can look bumpy and gross.
Leave a little extra length for positioning inside the coffin. 
Using one of the flat taffy, cut thin strips and shape them into RIP.
Feel free to get more creative with your message if you want to spend the time on it.
Spooooooky, edible decorations

Position the RIP letters on the center of your frosted coffin lid 
Gently move the lid onto the snake-filled coffin,
then tuck the arm underneath with the hand coming around
(as though pushing aside the coffin lid to escape.)  
Here's a picture of the inside of the coffin from the side.
You can sort of see the side had collapsed there. 
Zombie hand!!!!
On a whim, I added a few chocolate chips and used a toothpick to gently drag leg
markings into the frosting. The idea there was that when the zombie pushed aside the lid,
some spiders scurried out. I'm not sure that's what they look like,
but that's what they were supposed to be. 
I added a little extra frosting to the sides of the lower coffin section
to add some contrast for where the zombie is reaching out.  
I just moved the coffin lid down more here so you could see the snakes inside. 
To serve, you can slice right on through in vertical chunks (IF you didn't used the waxed paper lining). I sliced the coffin lid into 3 portions and served those up, then let my girls help themselves to the candy. The bottom section can be its own portion since so much of it has been hollowed out.

Speaking of that cake you took out... I even have a plan for that.  It's called OPERATION CAKE POPS. I got 4 good sized pops, plus 1 tasting-sized portion for the cook. They come together in a snap.

In a medium bowl, crumble up the loaf cake you removed from the bottom section of the loaf.
Add 1-2 Tablespoons of chocolate frosting to the crumbs.
Stir until it's completely combined and the crumbs hold together like a soft dough.
Roll into balls. 
Melt about 3/4 cup orange candy melts according to package directions.
Dip the tip of a lollipop stick into the candy melt.
Gently press the stick 1/2-3/4 of the way into the cake pop ball.
When it sets, the melt will serve as a glue to better hold the cake. 
Repeat with the rest of the cake pops.
Freeze for 15 minutes. 
If they hardened while you waited, remelt the candy melts.
Dip the cold cake ball into the warm melt. 
Gently spin and tap to remove excess melt.
Add a small slice of flat taffy to the top of the pop. If your melt has already set,
simply dip the edge of the candy into the warm melt and press it onto the set melt.
Store upright so that the pop retains its circular shape. I poked holes into my egg carton
and it worked nicely to hold them upright while they set.
The "taster" for the cook (that's me!) It was yum!
Pumpkin-shaped cake pop 
There! That's TWO Halloween desserts in one post and from only one store-bought loaf cake. This is semi-homemade at its best. Anyone could do this and have quite a lot of fun with it. (Both making it AND eating it, come to think of it.) I hope you'll give it a try.