Nutcracker Popcorn Trio (V)

IMG_8683I’m becoming more and more convinced that I should seek out an aspiring stand-up comic because my life is an endless supply of joke material. To truly recruit your investment in this plan, I think I’ll drop you right into the peak of my Tuesday afternoon–though peak is most definitely a poor word choice. Allow me to set the scene…

I’m sitting straddle in the corner of my kitchen floor, mismatched oven mitts on both hands; my sopping wet hair is wrapped in a drooping towel (a towel that I cannot adjust because of the oven mitts); my lunch, which I’d just finished making, sits in the microwave getting cold; a wet, uncooked loaf of bread is laying on the stove; a broom and a shoe box full of broken glass accompany me on the floor; and I’m hunched over inside our oven, which is also laden with shards of glass. This scene remains relatively unchanged for the next twenty minutes.

Now, for the sake of literary suspense, I’ll back track to that morning. I’ve just received a text from my orthopedist, informing me that he can squeeze me in that day if I come ASAP. So, realizing that the office gets busy quickly, I speedily wash my dishes, brush my teeth, spray myself with an ungodly quantity of perfume to compensate for the lack of a shower, glumly look at my makeup I know I won’t have time to use, and call a Lyft–oh yeah, my car is broken…again. I slide into the backseat, only mildly flustered and  distracted by the fact that I hadn’t even had time to make my bed.

The driver doesn’t say much…for the first minute, that is. Soon, a dramatic squirming pulls my wandering mind back to the front car seat–this man has unbuckled his seat belt and is hastily removing his coat, explaining over the beep of the seat belt alarm that “This is too much for me right now.”IMG_8698

Feeling the subtlety of his masculine display abruptly disappear along with his outermost layer, I silently chuckle as he tosses the coat onto the passenger side and then immediately dons a thick knit beanie. I watch as he completes his presentation by slouching back casually into the seat and glancing in the rear view mirror to assess my response. Doing my very best to avoid locking eyes with him, mostly because I realize I’d likely fail to keep a straight face (and Lord knows how some men interpret a simple smile), I check my phone for nonexistent notifications. I absentmindedly start to bob my head to the music playing from the front of the car, but when I see Mr. Macho perk up–not too abruptly as to break his cool–I realize my mistake. “You like this?”

I conjure up the blandest, most strictly polite response I can: “Yeah, it’s nice. It has a good beat.”

You would have thought that he’d written the song himself and that I’d just presented him with a Grammy. He smiles widely and immediately educates me on the genre of rap-reggae fusion to which I’ve just been exposed. As if I’d begged him to please allow me to hear more of this music, and as if it is a breach of Lyft policy for him to do so, he offers “I’m going to let you hear something.” 

I stop a sarcastic “Really?? Thank you!!!” before it escapes my lips and instead fake interest in an obnoxious song that is growing louder from the speakers. Eventually, I tire of this false engagement and turn my attention back to my phone. After a few seconds, I notice him looking at me in the mirror once again. Despite his one-handed steering and slumped posture, I can see something in his eyes, just a slight hint of panic–he realizes he’s lost me. Scrambling to regain his false sense of influence, he changes the song, grasping once again for my approval. Understanding the ironic power I hold over this macho individual, I start gently bobbing my head again, pretending not to notice his look of satisfaction; it has become a game, tampering with his (excuse my cliche) fragile masculinity. 

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I play my role for the rest of the ride, feeling his glances constantly assess my emotion and constantly contradict his attempts at nonchalance. I must commend his ability to adapt–when an especially shaky moment arises, he proactively gains control of the situation by switching from left to right slouch, or by demanding my attention with the sheer virility of slowly scratching his beard. Thankfully for his emotional stamina, the ride only lasts a few minutes longer, and he drops me off at the door of my orthopedist. I thank him and shut the door, finally able to laugh without risk of breaking character. It’s hard to believe that only the first couple hours of my morning have passed. 

After a lengthy appointment and a much tamer ride back to the apartment, I jump at the chance of getting the shower I’d skipped earlier. I’ve learned, after much trial and error, the perfect ratio of hot and cold water that produces the longest-lasting comfort for a shower (one comes to learn these unique arts when living in a nineteenth century building). Sometimes, though, no amount of mastery can prevent the chilling spritz from coming too soon. This is one of those days, of course. I feel my muscles begin to clench as the last bit of warmth from the shower head runs down my still soapy legs and down the drain. In a panic–I am an utter wimp when it comes to cold–I brush off the remaining bubbles, fumble for my towel on the bathroom rug, quickly pat myself dry enough to yank on clothes, and then wrap my frigid hair up away from my shoulders.

After a few minutes, I make my way to the kitchen, where I’ve been anxious to bake a loaf of bread that I’ve left to rise overnight. I’ve been working on creating a crispy crust on my bread, and one method of doing this is to place a pan of boiling water on the oven floor to create steam, which in turn helps a crusty exterior develop.

**Now, I’d like to prematurely defend myself by saying that this thing I’m about to explain, I’d done it before–idiotic or not, it had taken place without disaster in the past, and I like to think that’s at least a fraction of an argument for my case. You can be the judge.IMG_8694

So, I boil a tea kettle of water and moisten the top of the bread dough to prepare it for baking (another strategy to help with crust). I slide the tray with the bread into the oven above the pan I’ve placed on the bottom rack to create my steam. Lastly, I grab the tea kettle and pour the boiling water into the clear…glass dish. The glass dish which immediately explodes upon contact with the scalding water. By the grace of God, the hundreds of shards manage to avoid my body entirely, instead decorating the inside of my oven and the floor in a dangerous layer. I’m frozen for a moment, waiting to realize that I am dreaming or somehow very confused. Nope.

And here we are, back to the floor of my kitchen on Tuesday afternoon. With the help of a broom, vacuum cleaner, and shoe box, I managed to clean up all the glass eventually, though I always see the glimmer of a few stray pieces when I open my oven door now. Kind of Christmas-y, I guess! The rest of that day was far less entertaining, which, as you may assume, wasn’t the worst outcome. All I can say is that I’m learning constantly how to embrace those days when I feel like a silly cartoon character who gets struck by lightning and then steps on a mouse trap and then gets squished under a giant’s footstep. My roommate, a writer, even fantasized my life as a writing exercise in which you’re told to insert the character into as many unfortunate, inescapable situations as possible. That’s certainly far from my actual life–I’m so very fortunate. But I do experience plenty of face-palm incidents; and, if I’ve given you a chuckle at any point in this saga, well then I guess they aren’t for nothing. I may be dreading my next ridiculous misfortune, but I’m very much looking forward to sharing whatever it is with you!

When times are good, be happy;
    but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
    as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
    anything about their future

Ecclesiastes 7:14

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Nutcracker Popcorn Trio (V)

Ingredients

FOR EACH TYPE

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 TBSP canola oil

“Arabian” COFFEE CARAMEL CORN

  • 1 1/4 c light brown sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup coffee, separated
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

“Spanish” CHILI CHOCOLATE POPCORN

  • 2 TBSP vegan butter
  • 4 oz. vegan dark chocolate
  • 1 TBSP cinnamon
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 3/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
  • 2 TBSP cocoa powder

“Russian” CANDY CANE COCONUT POPCORN

  • 1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
  • 6 candy canes
  • 5 TBSP vegan butter, melted
  • 2 TBSP corn syrup
  • salt to taste

Instructions

PREPARE POPCORN

  1. For each type of popcorn, put oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Place 2 kernels in the oil.
  2. When the two kernels pop, remove the pan from heat and turn off burner. Pour the rest of the kernels into the oil.
  3. Return the saucepan to the stove over medium heat, and cover. When popcorn begins to pop, leave a slight crack in the lid to release steam.
  4. Allow popcorn to pop, shaking saucepan occasionally, until the pops are a few seconds apart. Remove from heat, and pour popcorn into a bowl.

“Arabian” COFFEE CARAMEL CORN

  1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and grease the top of the paper with butter. Spread one batch of prepared popcorn across the baking sheets.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, butter, 1/3 cup coffee, and corn syrup. Stir continuously until butter is melted.
  3. When mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring and allow to cook untouched for five minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in 1/4 cup coffee, almond extract, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Pour a little at a time over popcorn on prepared trays, and stir to coat entirely. **You don’t want too much excess caramel left on the bottom of the trays–you may have a little extra left in the saucepan depending on how much popcorn your kernels yielded. 
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool completely on tray, and break apart pieces as needed. 

“Spanish” CHILI CHOCOLATE POPCORN

  1. In a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate.
  2. Stir in cinnamon, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and salt.
  3. Pour over popcorn, and stir to coat.
  4. Sprinkle the cocoa powder gradually over the coated popcorn, stirring until evenly distributed.
  5. Spread onto a flat surface to cool completely.

“Russian” CANDY CANE COCONUT POPCORN

  1. In a small skillet, toast sweetened coconut flakes over low-medium heat until browned throughout, stirring continuously. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. (You may want to remove them from the pan immediately to avoid burning)
  2. Combined cooled coconut and six candy canes (broken) in the bowl of a food processor or cup of a Nutribullet. Pulse until fine.
  3. Stir corn syrup into melted butter. Pour over batch of popcorn, and stir to coat.
  4. Pour candy cane coconut mixture over a batch of popcorn, tossing to coat every piece. Mix in salt to taste.
  5. Allow to cool.

 

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Pumpkin Caramel Cake (V)

IMG_8126Yesterday, I baked for about six hours. Often when I begin my day in the kitchen, I lose track of time and space and reality and emerge hours later, shocked at how late it is and looking exactly how one would expect me to look after spending six hours in the warm, messy kitchen. While this habit is a wonderfully effective mental release for me, it’s not ideal for the near senile nature of my joints. So, when my mom called me mid-whisking my third bowl of the day and reminded me of the importance of doing that thing I hate called rest, I grumbled an acknowledgement of her advice and decided to plan something relaxing for later that afternoon.

Hours later, I took the last pan out of the oven and proudly admired the array of sweets that now adorned our table; after a relatively unsuccessful period of recipe development the week before, I was happy to see that everything I’d made was not just edible, but tasty. It’s always nice to end up with something people actually WANT to eat. Satisfied at last, I knew it was time to wind down and heed my mother’s request for getting off my feet.

Feeling a special sort of generosity for the knee and ankle that had literally supported me in my culinary endeavors, I pulled out a bag of Epsom salt and made the decision to take a hot bath. Me being the excessive person I am, I determined within minutes to make it not just a soak, but an experience. Drawing upon all my rom-com inspired bath knowledge, I rigged a setup for Netflix on my laptop to be positioned across the tub, prepared lotion to use afterwards, pulled out a freshly cleaned towel, found my warmest sweats; I even poured a glass of wine (it took tremendous courage for my clumsy self to trade the plastic cup for real glass, but I was committed to doing this thing right). All that was left was to actually fill the tub. IMG_8071

Funny, how simple that bit sounds. Because what should have been the easiest step ended up derailing my well-manicured plan of unwinding into a pathetic comedy sketch. The first hitch was that our tub didn’t have a stopper. Without hesitation, I looked up a solution online that involved filling a Ziploc with water and using it to stop the flow. I inserted my DIY plug, turned the water on, and went to retrieve my face wash. I also started boiling a tea kettle, thinking it would add a nice boost of heat to my bath. Upon return, I was shocked to find that nearly all of the water had drained out of the tub. I quickly grabbed a washcloth and shoved it down the drain, creating a successful but by then useless dam. It was only slightly disheartening–with the image of my tranquil soak to come still fueling me, I took a breath and turned the water on again. It was lukewarm at best. Knowing this temperature would not do, I quickly grabbed a 5 gallon bucket from our closet and went to my roommate’s bathroom (which has produced consistently hotter water all year). I began filling the bucket and then, remembering the tea kettle, retrieved it from the other room and dumped it into the near empty tub. When the bucket was full, I hoisted it awkwardly (there’s no flattering method to lifting one of those when you’re in a rush) and hobbled down the hall. When the irony of my heavy lifting encroached on my attitude, I stubbornly concluded that the bath would feel even MORE soothing after this hard work to prepare it.

The next ten minutes involved multiple buckets and tea kettles, lots of rushing between rooms, and absolutely zero relaxation. At last, after what seemed a small eternity, I took the last hissing tea kettle off its stand and excitedly–but carefully, as a scalding water burn could have shattered my efforts–made the last trip down our hallway. I poured it in the water, checked that my wine was positioned in my reach, pressed play on The Office, and took off my apron. It was finally time. This, I thought, was about to make every sweaty, strenuous minute worth it. This, I thought, is why we teach our children to never shy away from hard work. IMG_8102

Closing my eyes and exhaling, ready to relax, I got in. The water was…cold. Not warm instead of hot. Not 15 minute instead of 30 minute soak temperature. We’re talking get me out of here this is not meant for a human body kind of water. I sat in shock, my brain unsure of my next move. It had worked overtime for the last 7 hours and had already retreated into passive mode–it simply didn’t have the capacity to solve one more issue. As my stubbornness was the only thing unphased by the travesty, I sat in that tub for at least ten minute. A dinner table-esque motherly internal dialogue began in my head: I went through all that work to make this bath, gosh darn it, so you better enjoy it.

After I’d sat for a length of time that satisfied my ego, I eagerly stepped out of the tub into the relief of my towel. My sweats have never felt quite so nice. Chuckling from the events that had unfolded and realizing that I undoubtedly had a topic for my blog, I turned on my electric blanket, lathered myself in gingerbread lotion, and bundled up–finally, feeling more ready than ever, for actual rest.

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Mark 6:31

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Pumpkin Caramel Cake (V)

Ingredients

CARAMEL

  • 2 chai tea bags
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • 2/3 cup almond milk

CAKE

  • 1 2/3 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2/3 cup “buttermilk” (mix 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar with enough almond milk to make 2/3 cup; let mixture sit for at least 5 minutes)
  • contents of one of the tea bags from caramel
  • 1 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 2 TBSP molasses
  • 1/3 plus 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions

CARAMEL

  1. Steep the tea bags in the cup of water for ten minutes.
  2. Set aside tea bags, and place tea in a medium saucepan. Stir in sugar.
  3. Turn burner medium-high heat. Cook until just under 340°F–it will be very dark in color and slowly bubbling throughout. It took about 15 minutes on my stove.
  4. Immediately remove from heat, and whisk in almond milk. Caramel will bubble rapidly.
  5. Whisk in butter.
  6. Return to burner, and allow to cook very briefly until totally smooth and butter totally melts. (Test consistency by dropping some onto a very cold plate or spoon.
  7. Remove from heat. Allow caramel to cool until ready to use.

CAKE

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9″ cake pans, and line the bottoms with parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, “buttermilk,” oil, contents of the used tea bag, sugar, brown sugar, and molasses. Mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, cloves, cinnamon, salt baking soda, and baking powder.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet gradually, mixing after each addition until completely incorporated.
  5. Drizzle caramel across the tops of both cakes. Use a knife or toothpick to swirl it around the surface. Save any extra caramel for serving.
  6. Bake cakes in preheated oven until toothpick comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool for five minutes.
  7. Slice cake, and serve immediately–it’s best warm! Drizzle leftover caramel sauce on top of cakes.
  8. If you do have leftovers, heat them in microwave for a few minutes before serving.

**Serving idea: my roommate made an apple compote that we served with this, and it paired wonderfully! Just an idea 🙂

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