Saturday, January 26, 2013

Shower for Baby Annali

A baby shower to welcome our littlest Murphy,
Annali Grace.
Her mommy (my sis-in-law Jill) eats gluten-free.
Recipe for this Chocolate Passover Cake,
at end of post.

This morning I took Anna Kate to gymnastics.
I scurried about like mad all morning, making the cakes and wrestling the house into order.
Ran out of time, of course.
So I left Julia with this list:

Bleach countertops
Iron table runner
Cake on cake stand
Vacuum entry
Bleach entry floor
Windows above sink
Scrub sinks
Hand-wash and dry the glasses
Whip 1 c. whipping cream

What a girl!  She knocked off most of the list, with help from my sis-in-law at the end.
The table runner WOULD NOT iron smooth, since it's linen, but it looked fine.

She also found time to make these cupcakes!
They are on plates identical to my late Great-Aunt Teda's dishes.

Annali's cousins were busy all week with crafty decorations.

Malachi senses a usurper.

Annali's Mama and Grandma,
waiting for their cake.

Julia also made Annali a bracelet just like Malachi's.
She's so tiny, it slips right off her wrist.

Chocolate Flourless Cake
(Adapted from Martha)

3 T. butter
6 oz. chopped bittersweet chocolate 
6 large eggs, at room temp., separated
1 c. sugar
1 T. strong coffee
dash of salt
2 tsp. vanilla

Place butter and chocolate in glass bowl and microwave for 1 minute
Stir, microwave at 10-second intervals, stirring betimes, until melted and smooth

In large mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Blend in 1/2 c. sugar, beat till stiff, set aside.

In separate bowl, beat egg yolks (I do this with a whisk, and call it a work-out) with 1/2 c. sugar, for 3 minutes, till thick and light-colored.

Stir chocolate-butter mixture, coffee, salt, and vanilla into egg yolks, beat 1 minute.

Fold whites into chocolate mixture. Pour into buttered pan(s).

Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes.

After the cake cools, the middle sinks a little. You can fill it (as I did) with sweetened whipped cream (1 cup whipping cream, whipped, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 1 tsp. almond or vanilla favoring) and decorate with berries.
I bake this in a big quiche pan, but apparently it's not big enough, because it spills over and burns on the oven floor.  So use a big pan, maybe a 9x13, or 2 smaller ones.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sunny and Cold

It's below zero outside.
Yesterday was even colder.
So we're not going anywhere if we can help it.
The sun pours into our living room, sometimes so bright that 
we have to squint in order to see.

Last week I had a surreal day,
spent at home with my oldest (age 22)
and my youngest (age 7 months).
I can't say Isaac was as helpful with the baby as his sisters are.
He was busy finishing the 10th book on his reading list..
Having him here reminded me of when he was a baby,
and I was alone with him for days on end.
Winter, and babies, and isolation.
I wish I had happier memories of those years.

I wish I could tell my 24-year-old self
that babies grow up terribly fast.
That this same house which held tears of loneliness and frustration
would someday hold joy unspeakable.
That life would get harder,
and yet somehow, better.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chocolate-Cranberry Shortbread Cookies

 A few years ago, I let my sister and her friends borrow our house for a party (my house was in the right location), and while they partied, my girls and I escaped to my friend Ruth's house.  She fed us these cookies and I could not stop eating them. My sister's friends are some of my favorite people in the world, and they thanked me handsomely.  But these cookies were a great reward.

Preheat oven to 325.

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Beat the above ingredients well, at least 3 or 4 minutes, scraping sides of mixing bowl as needed.

To that mixture, add:
1 cup almond meal
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup chopped Craisins, or dried cherries
1 oz. dark chocolate, chopped

Using a small cookie scoop, scoop out cookies onto parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet.
Dip a glass in sugar, and press each cookie flat.

Bake for a LONG TIME, about 20 min.

If you like, drizzle with melted chocolate when cool.

Hide the cookies, or they will be gone in about 10 minutes.

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Bookshelf

About a week before Christmas, my two older sons came home from college for their very long break.
We had a fantastic month together.
But whew!
It was a little crazy around here.
Our house is not big, and we were all seven together for the first time.

They love this little brother of theirs.
He got used to having them around.
He wanted to attack the guitar every time they played
(and they played off and on all day long).
Malachi hasn't figured out where the sound comes from.
His little fingers scrabble at the strings, then he dives in with his face.

While I was doing who-knows-what, and keeping very busy at it
(I can't remember now why I felt so busy, it had something to do with taking care of a baby
and messes and food prep),
my big sons mostly spent their days reading.
They come home with lists of books they've been starving to read.
And it has been so long since I was told what I had to study,
what I had to read,
that I  forgot what a privilege it is to read whatever you wish.

   This is the sad truth:
since having kids, I have mostly read magazines.
Some of them have pretty good essays,
but those cannot compare
with a perfectly written book.

These are five of my favorites.
I took this picture because these are hard-covers, but they are also keepers.
Moby Dick is slow going, but worth the time.
Jim the Boy is like a long poem.  Tony Earley sometimes spent a day crafting a single sentence.
The Great Gatsby is one I revisit every now and then.  How did a partying non-believer so perfectly depict
a person lost to his false self?
The Ladies of Missalonghi is lovely, an easy read by the author of The Thorn Birds.
And although I had read To Kill a Mockingbird at least twice before,
when I read it again last week,
all the words seemed new.
 I found myself in tears at unlikely places.
"Atticus, are we going to win it?
"No, honey."
"Then why --"
"Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason 
for us not to try to win," Atticus said."

A person's bookshelf reveals so much.
Maybe I'm the only one who does this, but when I'm perusing decorating magazines,
I focus on the bookshelves.
What does this person read?
 I've decided that in many cases, these wealthy mansion-dwellers are reading garbage.
Okay, maybe not garbage.
But they could do better.
I could do better, too.

Here is "better."
I think my sons have read all of these,
and I have only read one, Surprised by Joy.
I've read bits and snatches of the others, but this year I'll try to read the stack.

From The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis:
"I do not think any efforts of my own will end once and for all this craving for limited liabilities, this fatal reservation. Only God can. I have good faith and hope He will. Of course, I don't mean I can therefore, as they say, "sit back." What God does for us, He does in us. The process of doing it will appear to me (and not falsely) to be the daily or hourly repeated exercies of my own will in renouncing this attitude, especially each morning, for it grows all over me like a new shell each night.
Failures will be forgiven; it is acquiescence that is fatal, the permitted, regularized presence of an area in ourselves which we still claim for our own. We may never, this side of death, drive the invader out of our territory, but we must be in the Resistance, not in the Vichy government. And this, so far as I can yet see, must be begun again every day. Our morning prayer should be that in the Da hodie perfecte incipere -- grant me to make an unflawed beginning today, for I have done nothing yet."

Strange how good writing is cohesive,
as though there is only one Story after all.
Atticus Finch and C.S. Lewis are saying the same thing.

What about you? What are you reading this year?
We carry a light burden, to read books of our own choosing.

Some of my other favorites:
The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Pulitzer)
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (Pulitzer)
The 20-book sea saga by Patrick O'Brian
How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill
Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie
John Adams by David McCullough
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (children's lit)
The Betsy-Tacy books (children's lit)
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sidney Taylor (children's lit)

(I've spent years procuring most of these books. I recommend having a houseful of real books, in order for your children to always have a good read at hand.  But for the rest of you, Kindle makes hard-to-find books accessible).




Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Yesterday was exhausting. 
I worked all morning to put away two Christmas trees and all their attending ornaments and lights.
I also made two pies and a big dinner for my family,
all while taking care of a hungry baby.
 I had help, and the day was wonderful.
But still, as 2012 drew to a close,
I was tired.
But every year on this first morning,
I turn the little daily verse to January 1st
and my heart lifts with joy.
It's a fresh new year.

Early morning, and sunshine flooded our living room.
I spent the first hour of the day dusting.
What a shocking amount of dust the sun revealed.

I washed the chalkboard clean and pondered what to write on it.
Usually I like words from a song,
but this verse from Ezekiel is the promise I need
for a new year.
Resolutions are fine, and goals are useful.
But what is needed for life
is a brand-new heart.

Look closely.
The dust of 2012 is about to be washed away.
It required strong morning light 
to show me what needed to be cleaned.

Now that the room is empty of Christmas decorations,
this is one of the only colorful things in it.
An amaryllis, nodding warm beside a frozen window.

It will bloom in the first week of 2013.

Happy New Year.

Every year, when I flip the kitchen verse to these lines from Ezekiel, they astound me.

"For I will take you out from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land.
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them,
and ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God."

(Ezekiel 36: 24-28)