A Frying Pan Full of Bacon Offers a Gift of Time

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Late summer is a busy time for me. The start of school looms closer for my daughter, and I am helping to cover for vacations at work. When I’ve had time to spare, I’ve preferred to devote it to conversations with my daughter or my husband. If they would prefer time alone (because the three of us are an alliance of natural loners), I’ve indulged in some TV or light reading. For once I’m reading Father Brown stories with both of my eyes open, instead of dozing off as Chesterton zooms in on the cleric and his frequent sidekick Flambeau as they witness and anatomize yet another variety of mayhem.

Right now I have bacon frying on my stove top. I used to regret that I take so long to cook bacon. Whenever I rush the process, flavor is the sacrifice. I’ve grown to appreciate the time it affords me to slow down for a spell after work.

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Tonight’s Dinner, and Anticipation

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I’m pleased when the odds and ends in my refrigerator merge into a handsome dinner.

Currently my mind is full with waiting for my dad’s 23andMe ancestry-only test results. No matter how many times I’ve ridden this sort of testing roller coaster, I am anxious for the results, unreasonably so.

Since Friday I’ve seen “Your results are almost ready!” whenever I check the progress of his test’s processing. Whoever wrote that line does not share my sense of urgency. As Carrie Fisher wrote in Postcards from the Edge, “Instant gratification takes too long.”

Every day “Your results are almost ready!” doesn’t actually become ready, I feel a bit crushed, like a miniature of the deflated hope of each of the eight days I was pregnant past my due date.

It’s not like this test will offer earth-shattering revelations.  Like when my mom tested earlier this year, I am so grateful once again that my family has been so supportive of this interest of mine.

Once my dad’s test is done, my results will be phased with both parents, and this, to my knowledge at least, is the most accurate direct-to-consumer geographical ancestry composition result available currently. Through Dad’s results, I will also be able to see his maternal (mtDNA) haplogroup, which is currently a mystery to me.

And now I must check “Your results are almost ready!” again.

We made a peanut butter cake.

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Yesterday my daughter and I made a peanut butter cake for Father’s Day. My dad’s love of peanut butter is a bit legendary. When he was a child, he sliced his tongue in two by licking peanut butter off a knife. This incident did not slow down his preference for peanut butter. At all times, there is a jar of Jif in my parent’s refrigerator that is just for him. It is the only luxury he keeps for himself. He eats it by the tablespoonful.

Last year I made this cake, but its contour looked less like a cake and more like an Appalachian foothill. I’ve been baking cakes and making homemade icing for a long time, but I was somewhat hopeless in leveling and decorating these cakes. The beginner’s cake decorating class that my daughter and I are taking has helped a lot.

Before I close this post in time to bring this cake to my dad, I will share my recipe for peanut butter buttercream.

Peanut Butter Buttercream Icing

Makes enough to ice a 2 layer 8-inch cake, or 18 cupcakes

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup liquid vanilla coffee creamer
  • dash salt

Cream butter and peanut butter with a mixer. Sprinkle in salt. Add powdered sugar by the cup, blending well after each addition. Pour in coffee creamer slowly and blend on medium speed until the icing reaches spreading consistency. I’ve found that the amount of liquid or powdered sugar I use in an icing varies by the heat and humidity of the season. During the winter, I usually add a bit more liquid, and summer leads toward the opposite, more powdered sugar.

Buttercream Overload

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I devoted this evening to making a ludicrous amount of buttercream frosting for our second cake decorating class. I didn’t post an update about the first class because it was one of several interludes in my parenting history I keep in a mental file called Mother of the Year™.

We were missing a couple supplies needed for the first class, which so bogged down the pace of instruction that we finished a half hour late. I also had some spontaneous short fuse moments. I ask for your pardon in advance for the following: some people have resting bitch face, but I also suffer from resting bitch voice when the pace of my day overwhelms me. That day went full bore from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and I feel awful that I failed to suppress that voice for the occasion.

Today I learned that 10 cups of buttercream is the absolute frosting capacity of a six quart mixer. The result was something my mother calls a “full mess.” A mess is “full” when you hope against hope that no one will witness the scene until it’s at least halfway cleaned up.

By the way, our instructor has been decorating cakes professionally for 42 years. Willie Nelson gave a free concert in my town 35 years ago, and she baked the cake for his reception. She had a snapshot of this cake, which contained a portrait in icing of the singer. It really looked just like he did back then!

When he saw the cake, he said, “I’ve been done in everything but frosting until today.”

Dinner, May 21

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Tonight’s dinner was salmon, jasmine rice, buttered peas, and dill pickle hummus, with some dill and parsley sprinkled over all.

Food has captivated my imagination as of late. I may as well document this season (since my hobbies have seasons in sync with those of an as yet undiscovered planet) before I wake up a couple months from now with the sense that microwaving a frozen dinner could exhaust my interest in the subject. At least the phases when I deal with cooking no more than is necessary don’t last long.

Today’s dinner reminded me that making a festive plate doesn’t need to be expensive. I already had the herbs and hummus on hand, and the other ingredients costed just $6 total. The peas and salmon were the standard frozen versions, and the rice was bought in dry bulk. This dinner serves four, so we’ll have leftovers, too.

We Made Red Hot Cinnamon Cupcakes

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Today my daughter and I tried out the Red Hot Cinnamon Cupcakes recipe from The Domestic Rebel, and we were both delighted with the end result. This was the very first time we decorated cupcakes with a frosting tip, too.

For a baked good with bold flavor, this was a simple and super clever recipe. It involves adding cinnamon extract and crushed Red Hot candies to a boxed cake mix and the homemade icing that tops it.

Now that we’ve ventured into using a frosting tip, other cupcake ideas are rising to the surface of my mind. I think we might try redoing this recipe with Jolly Rancher candies and lemon extract, provided the process of crushing those larger candies doesn’t traumatize my blender.

Farro Salad

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I love whole grains so much I dreamed of one last week. My dreaming mind watched a cooking video which claimed that quinoa was cooked incorrectly if any of the “tails” were hanging out of the grains, and the riddle of how to keep these strings tucked into each tiny pearl boggled my mind enough I woke up. Could I keep them from being unruly through a low, vigilant simmer, or was the secret the addition of an acid at a strategic moment? Then I considered that both the premise and concern of this challenge were false. In my waking life, quinoa is done when it looks undressed, and the only person in the house who will eat quinoa, yours truly, is very easy to please regarding whole grains.

One whole grain I enjoy more than quinoa, which has been become as overexposed as the Miami Sound Machine in 1985, is farro. It is an ancient relative of wheat, and it tastes like a lightweight cross between bulgar wheat and barley. Its husk offers a satisfying snap when bitten, and its interior is soft but not mushy.

Today I reminisced about how I used to make tabbouleh with a boxed mix from the Near East company back when I lived in Washington around the turn of this century. I was bold enough to make hummus at home, but I didn’t feel confident enough to make falafel or tabbouleh without leaning heavily on a boxed mix for both of them. Once I moved back to Ohio, I left my dabbling in these dishes behind. While I loved them, they reminded me too much of a place I endured solely through food and cooking. I had an oven in the wall just like Alice in The Brady Bunch, and I challenged it often. My sense of the Puget Sound is darkened only by the personal drama of my time there. Otherwise, it is a lovely place, stunning in its physical beauty and exhilarating in the variety of its cuisine.

My farro salad was born today in tribute to tabbouleh. I need to buy some bulgar soon to attempt this grain salad in its proper form, but today I had a bag of farro I wanted to use up. This is the first time I’ve ventured into cooking with fresh mint. Oddly enough, I had a tragicomic encounter with mint twenty years ago that made me reluctant to try it again. I had grown a mint plant in a foot-wide pot situated on a balcony garden. This “balcony” was actually the flat roof of a one-car garage below. By the end of that growing season, the mint plant had so overtaken that pot that its roots cleaved the pot in two on the bottom. I figured the mint would not overwinter in a pot in zone 5, so I tried to empty the pot. The pot felt impossibly heavy. After pushing the pot a few inches, I planted my foot on the damp patch of rooftop I’d just exposed. Next the roof gave way beneath me and I had one leg dangling into the garage below. I have only my hearty thighs to thank for keeping me suspended in midair and not impaled on the shovels and pitchfork below.

I clawed my way back to the roof and knew that I’d need some time away from mint in all its forms. I revisit this herb for the first time in twenty years with this recipe.

My last addition was sugar, a concession that does not hearken to tabbouleh. I didn’t think to add it at first, but a touch of sweetness really unlocked the flavor of this dish.

Farro Salad

8 servings

4 cups cooked farro (1/2 pound dry cooked, drained, and cooled)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice and zest of one lemon

1 T vinegar

1 t salt

1 t sugar or honey

1/2 t freshly ground pepper

1 T white onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

2 cups cucumber, sliced

3 cups mixed cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise

Shaved parmesan cheese and additional coarsely chopped herbs for garnish

Whisk together oil, lemon juice, zest, vinegar, salt, sugar, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Stir in chopped herbs, onion, and garlic. Let rest for fifteen minutes for flavors to blend. Add cucumber, tomatoes, and farro. Stir until well combined. Chill in fridge for a half hour. Top individual servings with parmesan cheese and extra herbs to taste.