Why Should You Read This? Because – Chocolate!

My son requested chocolate cake for his birthday so I trotted to one of my two favorite markets for the awesomely delicious gluten-free store brand cake mix we usually use (because one member of our family can’t have gluten, and three others probably shouldn’t) only to discover – gasp! – that it had apparently been discontinued. (So disappointed in you, HEB!)

I could have made it from scratch but – oops! – out of cocoa, so decided that I was officially in the mood to experiment. Yay! (Sarcasm.) I grabbed a box of Aldi’s Live G Free Chocolate baking mix (from my other favorite grocery store) which inconveniently had NO recipe for chocolate cake using the mix on either the box or the website. Seriously, Aldi?

Soooooo – I went to Aldi’s Facebook page where several ladies had posted recipes that sounded great but were still not quite what I was seeking. So I whipped out the baking corner of my brain and forced it into creative submission with the promise of chocolate. Because, like most estrogen-based life forms, I can force my brain into almost any (mostly) non-violent behavior with the promise of chocolate.

I threw together a variety of mystery ingredients and confidently slid my first attempt into the oven and sat down to type out the recipe so I would have it for the future. But as the Good Book does say, pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Speaking of falls . . .

Time for Intermission

Let’s a take a minute to ponder famous falls. The dictionary defines “fall” as “moving from a higher to a lower level, typically rapidly and without control” – such as The Fall of the Roman Empire, Niagara Falls, Custer’s Fall, The Fall of the Third Reich, and some of the more dramatic falls of Evil Knievel. Anything, really, that could be considered an Ultimate Fall. Getting my drift here? Have you pondered enough? I certainly have.

Intermission Ends

The fallen cake tasted delicious, though, so I am freezing the remains for a future chocolate trifle (another family favorite) since fluffy oomph is not really a requirement for trifle – just cut up cake bits.

I tried again with the following combination of ingredients and titled the result:

Karen’s Chocolate Cake To Remedy Aldi’s and HEB’s Fails
(Am I calling out Aldi and HEB? Yes. Yes, I am.)

1 Aldi’s Live G Free Chocolate Baking Mix
3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten Free Flour (or any 1-to-1 GF flour)
1/2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 to 2 tsp almond extract (Optional, but adds a light fruity flavor.)
½ cup softened butter (Or, in my case, melted butter – because I hadn’t softened any ahead of time.)

3/4 mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (Because, hello? Have you met me? More chocolate is a GOOD thing!)

Preheat oven to 350. Using electric mixer on medium speed:

  1. Mix liquid ingredients until just slightly foamy.
  2. Add in dry ingredients.
  3. Add chips.
  4. Mix until everything is combined and batter tastes yummy.
  5. Pour into two 8″ round cake pans to make a low-profile layer cake, and bake for give-or-take 30 minutes (you could probably also make a 9×13).
  6. Against the advice of every nutritionist on the planet, give bowl and beaters to children to enjoy. Keep the spatula for yourself because you certainly don’t want to miss out on the batter.

I frosted the cake with gluten-free frosting and added a nice, thick coating of berry preserves on top of the frosting in between the layers, then decorated it as you see in the photo. The cake was low profile but quite good, if slightly dense (as some of us just are, so don’t judge . . .).

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that the first cake, presently known as The Ultimate Fall, actually tasted richer, moister, and more chocolate-y. When I figure out how to make it taste that way and remain among the unfallen, I’ll post the recipe here 🙂

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Hunting Thoughts

Pokemon Go arrived at our house in 2016 via my daughters. My husband and I resisted the influx of Pokecritter-seeking energy except for occasional designated driver responsibilities. Not that my oldest daughter can’t drive, you understand, but she wisely decided driving while simultaneously staring at her phone was a questionable decision at best. Whew! Another good life choice! I am a success as a mom.

Sometime in 2018, we had a Pokemon crisis. My older daughter ceased playing and my younger daughter firmly stated that she now needed help with hunting and raids. Yes. Raids. I had no idea Pokemon Go was so violent. Soft-hearted sap that I am, I found myself with a new phone app and a burning (not really) desire to locate something called shiny Pokemon.

I have started to have Dr. Seuss moments. Every time I turn around there’s a Beedrill in my bedroom, a Pidgey in my fridge, a Rapidash in my bath, a Jigglypuff in my stuff, or a Clefairy in the library. The only one I can find some excuse for is the Electrobuzz in the carpet fuzz. A little static electricity and that kind of makes sense.

In an effort to instill the Hunt with reason and practicality, we recently knighted our two rescued canines “Official Hunting Dogs”. They excitedly pull us along on high-energy walks as we seek weirdly named cyber-critters who manifest randomly on our phones. I’m still not too sure about the game, but the exercise is good.

Just a sec – timeout – my daughter informs me we must catch the Squirtle in the living room. That just seems wrong – shouldn’t something called a Squirtle be in the bathroom?

I do have to confess that I have some questions about how the technology works and if there are possible oddish effects on the human brain. How does Nintendo park imaginary characters with crazy names around my house, neighborhood, and town? Are these critters just floating around on satellite waves? And if they are floating around, can they float through our brains and affect our thoughts and communication? Would we know if they did? I am seaking to understand this whole phenomenon – I would hate to think we are surrounded by parasects and don’t realize it.

But I am not, after all, a conspearowcy theorist! The whole Pokemon thing appears to be sheer mankey business so I don’t want to get too krabby over it.  There are far more important concerns, such as the situations in Kangaskhan and Magmar, and wasn’t there an uprising recently in – I think it’s . . .  Kabuto? Gastly situation – it haunters me.

There’s also flu going around and, with all the weezing and koffing, I’m concerned about the family getting sick. Probably shouldn’t mention it – wouldn’t want to jynx them! No point in taking a chansey. I worry enough about my husband, anyway; when he gets drowzee he can really snorlax. Perhaps he should be tested for sleep abra. Maybe hypno therapy would work?

And personally, I find the current political situation more arcanine than Pokemon Go could ever be – I just want to cloyster my ears and ignore it all. The issues surrounding the office of Exeggutor-in-Chief can make my temper flareon and sometimes the news is completely in-tangela to me! I wish there was a way to raticate the problems before I golbatty because I get a venomoth headache just thinking about it all. But enough about these dragonite issues – I should probably just take a few minutes to relax with an apple dratini.

Alakazam! Time to wrap this up – there’s a Charizard in the yard and it’s freaking out the dogs. We’re off to capture it.

Drop. Your. Stone.

We are all part of this thing called Humanity. We may have different skin colors and different cultures but we are – above all other things – human. Just for my own mild amusement, I occasionally get literal with demographic forms and write “Human” under the request for “Race”. (A teen once told me this is politically incorrect and I replied that the truth often is.)

Unlike Darwinian evolutionists, I do not believe we descended from apes or any other order of simians with different subsets of species going through evolution at different times, causing a separation into different “races” and therefore making some humans more developed than others. That way lies bigotry and red herring arguments. Rather, I believe God created us all in His image, of equal value, of the same race, descended from two people who were probably a nice medium brown, give or take, with a broad and varied genetic code. It seems to follow logically that different gene pools developed as humanity filled the earth, with different physical characteristics (skin color, eye shape, etc.) becoming more prevalent in certain people groups as families scattered over the earth and procreated with those nearby. Different cultures developed because that’s what people groups do – develop cultures. Most of the problems we have in the world today have less to do with differences among cultures and more to do with a failure to recognize similarities among humans.

So – my point today . . .

While first responders in general are often admired and honored, it also seems that criticism and hostility against law enforcement has increased in recent history. In the vast majority of cases, police are first on every scene, doing their best to protect those involved while having to make spur of the moment decisions in dangerous and unpredictable situations. They usually appear confident and in-charge, but we need to remember that officers and all first responders are subject to the same concerns and fears as everyone else – the difference is that they have decided to handle those fears and concerns with action, with the raw courage it takes to face down the darkness in order to protect the innocent. (I’m kind of doubting most of us are as innocent as we like to believe, but you get my drift here.) Sometimes officers make mistakes – sometimes tragic mistakes – but sometimes we all do. Just because a man or woman puts on a uniform does not make that person exempt from everything that makes all of us human. If we open our eyes to see the similarities we share instead of the differences, there would be much less judgement and much more compassion, much less crime and much more honesty, much less darkness and much more light.

Instead of looking for the light of shared humanity in each other, humans too often listen to their own fears and biases and rush into judgement – usually with incomplete information about the person, situation, culture, or circumstances. In the Bible, there was a moment when people stood in judgement over a woman caught in adultery and wanted to stone her to death. Legally, they had the right. Jesus was not one to care about legalism. He told the crowd, “He who has done no wrong among you, cast the first stone.” In that moment, Jesus called upon each person in the crowd to look upon themselves and each other, to see the shared humanity, the shared mistakes, the shared need for understanding. They dropped their stones and walked away. I like to believe that they each saw the truth in that moment. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness. We all need compassion.

That is not to say that we do not have consequences for our actions, both good and bad. Of course, consequences must be faced. Criminals must not be allowed to prey on those who try to do right. But I encourage you, when men and woman make mistakes in the process of trying to do the right thing – look inside the soul and see the part of that person that is just like you. We are all human. We all share so much under the skin. We are much more like each other than we are unlike. Rather than stand in judgement, choose to stand in compassion.

And drop your stone.

Sweet, Sweet Mardi Gras

Tuesday was Mardi Gras. There are not a lot of places to celebrate in our area that don’t involve over-21 activities, expensive restaurants, or events that already occurred the previous weekend. But I have a daughter who likes to celebrate EVERYTHING with celebratory food so I looked online and found many lovely King Cake recipes requiring yeast.

Well. That’s not gonna happen. My bread-baking days are over. Maybe. I think. (At my age, I’ve learned to never say never.)

A web search for “easy king cake” netted a delightful recipe using canned cinnamon rolls. Ding! Ding! Ding! Folks, we have a winner! We made a quick trip to our local grocery store and came home with the required items, plus fruit (because something healthy seemed to be called for), breakfast sausage (Deal of the Week: Buy the sausage, get the cinnamon rolls free – what’s not to like?) and, of course, Mardi Gras ice cream. I kid you not. The carton says “Limited Edition, Mardi Gras” and is decorated with people who appear to be playing jazz. I have been quite successful on my diet lately, but I knew right then that Fat Tuesday would not be Dieter’s Paradise.

I usually go light on sugar, but my darling daughter is dieting with me and had strong, profound, and fairly articulate feelings that if we were already messing around with gluten-infested cinnamon-roll based King Cake, we might as well go all the way. She made a reasonable argument and she has high functioning autism, so we take all the good, clear communication we can get. I bought the ice cream because sometimes I’m just a squishy bunny like that.

It all went down much as expected. My hubster came home from work and we had King Cake for snack. I made a celebratory tamale chile bake for dinner, and we had a little more King Cake after dinner with our Mardi Gras ice cream. I consumed the ice cream in extreme moderation because dairy is not my friend, but I definitely consumed enough to form an opinion.

So, what – you are asking – does Mardi Gras ice cream taste like? WELL, if you took a cinnamon King Cake with cream cheese frosting, added something green, something purple, and sprinkles, AND you whipped it with frozen whipped cream, AND mixed in approximately 40 lbs. of undiluted, refined sugar, THEN you would have ONE (and only ONE) gallon of Mardi Gras ice cream. To say it is just a bit sweet is like saying Niagara Falls is just a bit wet. A spoonful would probably be enough to keep your average 3 year old up all night.

My children stay up later than I do; I’m not saying there’s a correlation, but the rest of the King Cake was inexplicably gone by the next morning. I don’t ask questions. The Mardi Gras ice cream languished in the freezer for a day or two before finally succumbing to whatever mysterious force made the King Cake disappear.

I have decided to give up Mardi Gras ice cream for Lent along with any other foods that are in any way reminiscent of cotton candy on steroids.

May God bless you during this season of Lent!

Selfie Time. Be Still My Heart –

WordPress wants my photo. Badly. Every time I log in, they ask. I like to assume it’s because I’m (pick one) gorgeous, charming, aged, not millennial, parent of millennials, rocking the baby boomer thing, incredibly popular, moderately hot, screamingly sexy, or possibly ___ (provide your own adjective).

As much as I would like to take it as a personal compliment, I suppose they nag all their new bloggers so I remain unmoved. I have been calmly searching my technological devices for a recent and decent photo to satisfy the obviously passionate need of my new blog site, and have discovered something weird.

Current photos of solo me are nonexistent.

I have a gazillion photos of my family, friends, events, and scenic views. I have saved memes (“I don’t always drink wine . . . But when I do, the day ends in the letter y.”), saved quotes (“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending” – C.S. Lewis), pictures of our pets (four of them – not four pictures, four pets; we’ll address that another time), and the occasional amazing photos of cakes and cupcakes my youngest daughter has decorated. I am in photos with others, but nothing croppable. Huh.

So I dug through my bathroom cabinet, found and applied my rarely used make-up in a manner my cosmetically gifted older daughter would find utterly appalling (I plan to wash my face before she sees me) and began to take selfies. Many of them, trying to get a good one, Because – wow.

I appear to have aged. What are the odds? I feel a perky and youthful 30 inside, but I promise you that the outside most certainly does not match the inside.

Of course, I am aware that I have white hair. No self-deception there. I once had a friend who whispered that her decidedly graying husband saw only blond when he looked in the mirror. Since I was originally an auburn-level ginger, I could not claim as blond the white strands that started appearing before 30 and created a snow-on-the-mountain effect by 40. Matter of fact, a friend once hauled me into an unlit traveling TARDIS (I kid you not) to shine a sonic screwdriver blacklight on my head. Does my hair, in fact, glow in the dark? Yes. Yes, it does – but I digress. Even though the white was premature, I have apparently grown into it now. And I am a bit surprised and slightly appalled to discover that my eyes and other parts of my face have become riddled with smile lines. Many smile lines, going all different directions. One might even say my face smiles no matter the expression, and not just around the mouth.

And now you know why I appear mildly shell-shocked in my photo. So this is me, in make-up (don’t expect to see that again), wearing reading glasses, taking a selfie. Now, look back to the first paragraph – did you pick an adjective? I most certainly did. After pondering my inside, my outside, and my photos, I have finally decided I’m a hot, rockin’-the-boomer-vibe babe. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Fierce Forgiveness

Christ tells us to forgive 70 x 7. That sounds like a lofty goal, but have you ever had to work so hard at forgiving – or been offended by the same person so repeatedly – that you actually counted up to that 490th time? So does that mean when we hit 491, we are exempt from forgiving? If so, I think there should be a revenge app that plays the theme from Jaws when the counter flips to 491.

Well, just – sue me, but sometimes I don’t feel particularly forgiving. Forgiving certain offenses rips at my brain and tears at my gut. My anger is especially fierce against hurts to my children or others I love.

But carrying unforgiveness causes me to hold anger in my soul and bitterness in my heart. The very same heart and soul that I have given to Jesus as a dwelling place within me. Who would want to live in that? Who would even ask anyone to live in that? There is a reason He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who curse us. I have discovered it is quite difficult to hold a grudge against someone I pray for regularly – or even irregularly. When I close my eyes to pray for someone, God opens my heart to the fears and struggles causing that individual to be unkind or thoughtless. That makes me look at my own fears and failures, and then I see how much I share with that person, after all – and my heart breaks a little, surrendering my grip on the negativity. I cannot help but release my resentment and forgive. This does not relieve the hurt entirely, but the bitterness and the anger are lifted and compassion flows instead.

Not all offenses are major – some are light and easy to forgive. But others generate pain, and pain leads to anger, and I must wrestle fiercely with myself and God before finding peace in forgiving those offenses.

Offense can be fierce. Anger is fierce. Forgiveness must be fierce. There is nothing more fierce than battling the powers of Hell and death in order to offer grace. As a Christ-follower, I am called to be a living, breathing carrier of the very grace and forgiveness that was given to me – no matter the circumstances. So, on the days when my heart burns with hurt, I remember that Christ burned with so much more, and I am inspired.

Welcome to the Love Zone

We all need a Personal Love Zone.

No, no – I am not referring to your local XXX establishment or even your favorite karaoke bar. A Personal Love Zone (PLZ) is a metaphorical safe place within our souls; a place we share with others in our lives, a place where we give and receive unconditional love and acceptance without judgment. A PLZ relationship (or even a PLZ moment) is not to be confused with agreement and acceptance of the behavior and ideas of the person loved. It is a wild, insane myth of our time that loving and accepting a person is synonymous with endorsement of their every thought.

Think of your children, your spouse, your parents, or anyone you know well and love dearly. As part of the love you share, do you cheerfully support absolutely everything they do? Do you agree with and encourage their every thought, and they yours? Perhaps you sometimes argue with those you love best. Perhaps you step back a bit because, no matter how much that person is in your PLZ, you cannot be with them in a certain moment (I may love people who demonstrate for a cause I don’t share, and I may even appreciate their commitment to their beliefs, but I have no intention of joining the picket line). Perhaps you remain thoughtfully quiet on certain topics because you both know you will never see eye-to-eye, even though you hold each other close in your PLZ’s.

It’s called giving each other grace. It’s not always easy – matter of fact, it’s often pretty hard – but it is doable.

Unconditional love is graceful. It’s messy and honest and argumentative and quiet and pervasive. It hangs on through laughter and tears and joy and heartbreak. It doesn’t run away after a fight, and it knows that staying and working things out does not necessarily mandate agreement. Unconditional love is passionate and faithful. Unconditional love finds a way to make life work.

God knows we are all different – He created us that way. The Bible is pretty clear that God loves us all equally, unconditionally, and eternally, including those who fight Him. The Bible also makes it pretty clear that anyone who believes in God should reflect His heart to the world, so – aren’t we all supposed to love like that?

I think we are.

Welcome to the Love Zone.