Friday, July 31, 2015

The Family Has Got To Eat

I remember a game we used to play as kiddos when we were bored or stuck in the car running errands with my mom.
You had to pick 5 foods, and only 5 foods, to eat at every meal for the rest of your life. When I was nine, all 5 could be found at the check out aisle by the cashier. It was all about the sodium and sugar, folks. But if asked the same question today, I would still choose one thing to top that list. My Nanny's Texas Sheet Cake. It is chocolate. It is delicious. And it is a snap to make.

Because I love you, I am going to show you how easy it is to make this cake.  It will change your life - seriously. With the help of my darling daughter Colleen, acting as chef, here we go. Don't worry, I will include the written recipe at the end of this post.

One of the great things about this recipe is I usually have everything I need already in the pantry. Bonus for me since my nearest grocery store is 20 minutes away.

Both the cake mixture and the frosting require boiling the cocoa with the butter. I don't know why this makes me feel all June Cleaver, it just does. I'm all about vintage, baby.

Once the cocoa, butter, water and shortening boil, add it to the flour and sugar.

Mix well.  In a large measuring cup, blend the buttermilk, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, soda and salt. Pour this into the bowl with the flour mixture and stir until it is well combined.

Don't worry if you don't have any buttermilk on hand. Julia says you can add 1/2 T of lemon juice to 1/2 cup of milk and 
it will turn out perfectly in this recipe. If you can't trust Julia, who can you trust?

Pour into a half sheet cake pan and bake for 15 minutes.This is the only part of the recipe which is a bit tricky. This is the BEST sized pan for this cake. I used a disposable pan I found at the grocery store for $4.95. But Santa, if you are listening, I need a half sheet cake pan. As in yesterday.

While the cake is cooking, boil more butter, cocoa and milk.

Once it boils, pour this over the powdered sugar.

Add the vanilla and pecans and stir like you mean it.

When the cake is done, pour the frosting over the cake while it is still hot.

Spread evenly and slide the bowl with leftover frosting over to your mother so she can lick the bowl. Pray she does not drop the camera into the frosting while she multi-tasks for her blog.

Now I am going to share the ultimate secret of this cake.You are just going to have to trust me on this. Do not ask me why. This cake has to be put in the refrigerator and not served until it is ice cold. It will look exactly like this.

Here is the recipe as promised.


And here is my Nanny.
Look at how precious and adorable she is.
This is a woman who obviously knows how to cook.

This is why you have to serve the cake ice cold.
Because when a woman who looks like this tells you it has to be served ice cold, well...

you just don't ask any questions.
You serve it ice cold.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Big Texas Hair in the Middle of Sha- Nowhere

I feel it is only fair that I warn y'all right up front about today's post. Grab a notebook and some pens to take notes. Nothing but deep, thought provoking literature coming out of my mouth today, people. Words of wisdom that will change your life. Actually, it's just about my hair. I understand if you need to leave now :-)

As anyone who knows me can attest, I have major commitment issues with my hair. My heart is always saying yes to a long term relationship with a new hair style, but after a few months, the spark is just gone. I have the best of intentions to stay devoted, but my eye begins to wander and I find myself seriously considering foolish things- like mullets or spiral perms or going platinum blond. It is a long standing problem, folks.

So in the midst of Greece's economy tanking, the USA preparing for Pope Francis' visit in September, and the avian flu causing egg prices to sky rocket, this was my primary concern this morning:

 This silly little piece of flippy hair. Clearly, I am living a complicated, high pressure lifestyle. My industrial strength Chi  flattening iron could not tame it. My ultimate strength hairspray was useless. And it was driving me out of my mind.

My neighbor, Mimi, was the first to enlighten me to the fact that locals lovingly refer to my hometown as "Sha- Nowhere" instead of "Shamong". Apparently, it is because we are so far out in the sticks.

Luckily for me, even in Sha-Nowhere, there are professionals who know how to handle crazy women who think they can cut their own hair. You would think the "Pete Rose Episode" would have taught me how limited my barbering skills are, but evidently, my learning curve is a bit shallow. Thank you, Salon 541, for not judging me.

And when all was said and done, the ill mannered lock of hair paid the ultimate price. Each strand was now behaving and lining up like Rockettes in a chorus line.

And then I started thinking....
You know what they say..
when in Rome...

This could be a new chapter in the ongoing saga with my hair. A chance to rewrite the wrongs of my hair history 
and embrace the East Coast in a real and personal way. This style has a definite AquaNet feel to it. I am a seasoned veteran when it comes to aerosol hair products. Maybe I could make this work!

Or, maybe I could just go back to my tried and true Big Texas Hair.

Either way, I think Theresa would approve.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Love Child of Costco and Sam's

There are some responsibilities in life that start out as simple tasks on your list. They are not complicated, but they are necessary. At a certain point, they take on a life of their own. If you are lucky, these moments evolve into traditions.

One of my favorite traditions, when I lived in Austin, was food shopping with my dad. But it wasn't just any kind of food shopping. It was Wholesale Club Food Shopping.
(See what I did there? Emphasis, baby!)

My Pops and I had a very specific pattern we followed almost every week. Dad would go to Daily Mass, then swing by my house at around 9:45am. We would jump in the car and head to Sam's first. We loaded up on anything that was dry goods. It was cereal/granola bar/tortilla chip heaven. After this, we had a standing date at Five Guys for lunch. This is where we always managed to solve most of the world's problems over french fries and double cheeseburgers. And Coke Zero- always, always Coke Zero.
Because we are all about nutrition and philanthropy.

Last but not least, we stocked up on produce and meat at Costco. It was also the place I invariably bought the "Ooooh! I need that!" I know you know what I'm talking about here.
248 AAA batteries?  "Ooooh! I need that!"
98 yards of Christmas ribbon? "Ooooh! I need that!"
At the end of our excursion, my van always looked like the Joad family's Hudson in The Grapes of Wrath-  my minivan teeter tottering down the Southwest Parkway on our way back to Lakeway. I loved every minute of it.

However, a new address = a need for a new tradition.

BJ's Wholesale Club to the rescue. Yes, it is unfortunately really named BJ's. It is the closest wholesale food store to my house. We eat a ton of food, so I loaded G 2.0 in the car and hit the road.  BJ's can best be described as the love child of Sam's and Costco.

It has a first class deli (of course- we are in Jersey!) with dozens and dozens of different kinds of cheese. As in imported cheese, artisan cheese, stinky cheese, triple cream cheese. You name it, they got it. They had 2 refrigerated cases of cheese for every one case of deli meat. Cheese almost as far as the eye could see. This spoke to me on a very deep, personal level.

You had me at brie.

It had almost everything my clan needs to survive. And a lot of  things we don't - contrary to 9 year old opinion.

But here's the thing, y'all. Names are important.
They carry a lot of weight and can influence a child's future. Just ask Kim and Kanye. So, Costco and Sam's- I am talking to you and you need to pay close attention. If you have any more children, let's be a bit more careful when looking through the baby name book, shall we?

Friday, July 24, 2015

The gift of "Same old, same old"

As a mother, I know I am preaching to the choir when I say there have been stretches of my life that have felt like a mini clip from "Ground Hog Day." Waking up to the thought, "And here we go again."

With one major exception.  I have never managed to attain the gloriousness that is  Andie MacDowel's hair. Don't even pretend you don't know what I am talking about. That woman has hair to die for. As in, "I would sell one of my kidneys to get tresses like that" kind of hair. Other than striving for the perfect spiral perm, some days can feel EXACTLY like Ground Hog Day. A particular kind of repetition that can seem constant.

It is a steadfast routine of tasks we do out of love for our families. It is the constant battle of sheets, pillow cases, and laundry. It keeps things in order. It helps diminish the chaos of the world outside, providing a sense of structure and calm within the four walls of our homes. A predictability that makes everything in the outside world easier to handle.

It is a lot like the feeling I get when I walk into the four walls of this sanctuary. It doesn't matter if I am in Austin or New Jersey. It doesn't matter if I am in  Shamong or London.

There is a stillness to this place that settles the darting thoughts in my mind. I am the kind of person who likes to sit in the same pew every Sunday. I like that we say the same prayers, the same way, every Sunday.

I love that we sing the songs my parent's parents sang during Mass. I love that we genuflect the same way my great grandparents did.

I appreciate that it is always the same, no matter where I live.  But I still wish I had Andie's hair.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It's not the beach, it's called the shore

I have always been an advocate for choosing the right word. I think words are incredibly powerful. Some words, honestly, just drive me out of my mind and my kids can probably rattle them off to you with hair trigger accuracy.
"always", "never", "forever"
These are lackadaisical words. They pretend to mean something, but they are just wimpy in my mind. These are the words that will have me channeling Jo March, jumping up on the nearest chair and exclaiming, “I like good strong words that mean something…” 

Which brings me back to New Jersey. There are very specific stipulations when choosing your words in the Garden State. They take their words as seriously as I do. Do not make the mistake of taking this lightly. It is not a sub sandwich, it is a hoagie. It is not a restaurant, it is a diner. And, most importantly, it is not the beach, it is the shore.

Here is a super crazy thing. I now live about an hour away from the Atlantic Ocean. As in, I can go visit miles and miles of water whenever I want. Warm sand, cool breezes, and an ocean the temperature of a small toddler's tubby time. I have driven farther than that to buy an area rug at IKEA.

So, yesterday, we decided to go check it out. Everyone piled in the car and off we went. Once we got there, I noticed right away how many people were packed onto the beach. There was not a single inch of sand that did not have a family camped under an umbrella. Bocce, sand castle making, burying your uncle in the sand. You name it, they were doing it. It was like flipping through a Family Fun Magazine- Beach Edition.

But, because I am an avid people watcher, this is the thing that kept grabbing my attention. This pizza guy at Manco & Manco Pizza. The one who is throwing that huge disc of pizza dough in the air.This is where it gets interesting, folks. Watch.

Do you see it? Did you catch it?

Here it is one more time. Look closely.

Did you spot it? His eyes were closed the WHOLE time! Every time he threw that bad boy up in the air, he would close his eyes. Each and every single time. It was as if he was disregarding the whole world to get that mass of carbohydrates just right. I have no idea why, but this seriously impressed me. And when I use that word, I really mean it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

How the Zamboni made me cry

When you have four kiddos, you spend a lot of time at practice. Football practice, fencing practice, baseball practice, swim practice. There is a lot of driving and sitting on the mama's part. I have spent more time on a bleacher than Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls.

It is where I have met other moms who went on to become my dearest friends. It is where I could read entire chapters of a book without interruption. Things slow down and get a bit relaxed. Unfortunately for me, it is also where I have made some of my most monumental social faux pas. Take baseball for instance. I am sitting in the stands, chatting with the ladies around me, when I notice my son. He is the catcher and has been doing a pretty good job, but seems distracted. So, in my infinite wisdom, I decide he needs some advice from me. I call out to him, "Hey, Bubba! Quit goofing off and start focusing on your job." Reagan stands up, turns around, and takes off his mask.
Not my boy.
Lo and behold, it was the son of the incredibly quiet lady sitting next to me. 
Score one for Cindy.
But, let's move on, shall we?

 Being a fan of full disclosure, I must tell you,I have always loved hockey practice. There is something about hockey that speaks to me. Maybe it is because you get to bundle up in blankets to watch it. Maybe it is because it was the very first practice I ever went to as a mommy. I can't really say, except, I still love it.

My boys played hockey the whole time we lived in Colorado. And all was good in the world.

Then we moved to Austin. Great for Tex-Mex, football, and two-stepping. But ice hockey? Not so much. We tried finding a league that was a good fit, but it just didn't work out. Life went on, of course, but I knew how much my oldest missed the ice.

Then, an unforeseen thing happened. We moved to New Jersey. They play ice hockey in New Jersey. They play a lot of hockey in Jersey. As in, they love ice hockey like we love Blue Bell.

So, guess what happened today? This happened. 6 years, 60 pounds, and at least a foot and a half later, this happened.

Back on the ice. No sweat, piece of cake, like he had played three 20 minute periods only yesterday. As I sat there on that chunk of permafrost they call a bleacher,  I couldn't help but get all choked up.  Yes, he is over 6'5" in those skates. Yes, he is old enough to vote. Yes, he can serve on a jury. But that is not what I see.

Not this either. 

 This is what I see.

 I see a kid with a smile the size of Texas, having the time of his life. Which is why I was doing my best, trying not to blubber in the bleachers. I may or may not have been successful. The fault rests squarely on the Zamboni's shoulders.

Friday, July 17, 2015

No one needs 40 wrenches

When Graham and I were a young married couple a little over 10 years ago, *ahem*,
 one of our favorite things to do was hit garage sales.
 Part of the thrill was we owned nothing. 
This made every chair, Pyrex dish, or box of Christmas 
garland a treasure waiting to be bought and loaded into our Honda. 
It was the classic quest of all newlyweds.
Feathering our new nest together.

The best purchase we ever made was one I tried to talk Graham out of for over half an hour.
 I am insightful like that.
A gentleman was moving into a retirement community and wanted to sell all his tools- lock, stock, and barrel.
 Now, when I say ALL his tools, I mean ALL his tools. 
Tool boxes and tool benches loaded with wrenches, 
screwdrivers, nuts, bolts, chisels, awls,
 Allan wrenches, hammers, 
drills, levels - the list went on and on.

He and Graham had hit it off going through his stockpile of goods.
 They were comrades in arms.
 They were both gazing at his collection like it was their first girlfriend from high school.
The man wanted $325 for everything.
I could tell by the look in Graham's eyes he thought this was a steal.

All I could think of was: 
1) We don't have $325 to spare.
2) No one needs 40 wrenches.
3) We don't have $325 to spare.

But here's the thing.
Graham knew something I didn't.
He knew this man was actually gifting us with his 
most precious possessions so we could begin our new life together.
It was the chance to pass on his legacy to a young couple just starting out.
To give us what we needed, exactly when we needed it.

So, they shook hands on the deal and every little tool was careful loaded into our Pathfinder.
They are, to this day, always carefully and systematically arranged in drawers, on peg boards, and on work benches.

We have always had exactly the right tool to do the right job.
I have never had to make a run to Home Depot in the middle of a project to find the right size drill bit.
I have worked on each house we have lived in, alongside Graham and our kiddos.
Some have been easy fixes and some have been a struggle.
I have come to the conclusion that, contrary to popular belief, everyone needs 40 wrenches.
No worries if you only have 6- you can come over and borrow one of mine.