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Friday, January 22, 2010

Raising Hell & Soda Bread

I grew up being trained with cooking skills that included making hamburger helper, tuna helper, and grilled cheese. So, in my world any culinary ability I've gained, gleaned or invented is a boon, and maybe even a miracle. 

Baking has never really been my forte. My Mother-In-Law can mix flour, salt, and toaster stroodle chunks together to form an impromptu masterpiece which will pop out of the oven looking gourmet and which everyone will want as their birthday cake for the next 10 years.  

My own baking experiments ended when I made an apple pie for Thanksgiving, brought it to her house, and nobody touched it.  After that, I never tried to bake anything that Betty Crocker or Dunkin Hines didn't pre-prepare.  

But times they are a changing, and my newly adopted mindset (to do, try, and think whatever I want) has left me willing to try things because I want to try them, vs trying them to bring pleasure to others, or to make others proud of me.  (Let us not get into a co-dependency discussion here PLEASE.)

So this morning my classy farmer's-wife-friend called and asked, "remember that Irish Soda Bread we had in D.C. at that cool Irish pub?" Well, she had a recipe she'd successfully tried and tested on her family. 

SOOooooo, I grabbed the closest crayola and a big envelope and wrote down her instructions...

4 Cups Flour
1 1/2 Tsp. Salt
1 Tsp. Baking Soda
2 Cups Buttermilk (keep reading to learn how to fudge this ingredient)

~Mix dry ingredients, mix in buttermilk and form a rough ball.

~Plop on floured counter and knead but don't over-knead into a ball.
~Put ball in a greased 8 inch round cake pan (I used a pie tin).
~Cut X on top about an inch deep
~Bake at 375 degrees for 45-50 minutes
~Wrap in damp towel and let cool for recommended 8 hrs. (or less if you can't stand the wait.)

And in between talk about our teens latest girlfriend/boyfriend trials and a quick lesson on how to make faux buttermilk for this recipe;

"Put two tablespoons of vinegar in your measuring cup (she used apple cider, I used white but put in a splash of rot-gut red wine) Then fill it to the two cup mark, let sit for a few minutes."

I made a healthy sized mess in my kitchen and mixed up a batch of bread.   

Cut a big X on top...

Baked at 375 degrees for 48 minutes...

and set it out to cool for 6-8 hours (placing a damp cloth on top to cool).

It smells good and it even looks like bread.  

My Jess sis is coming over for a crock pot chicken dinner tonight, my Navy Brother is visiting, and I am looking forward to seeing if everyone enjoys the Irish Soda bread, but mostly I'm just glad I broke loose, got my hands a little dirty and TRIED to bake something. (Even if nobody likes it in the end.) 

It's so easy to decide you are no good at something and to stick with what you are confident you are good at.  (It's also easy to hold a grudge over a 10 year old apple pie that nobody tried.) 

But where is the fun in that? So today it took the kindness of a good friend thinking of me, a simple recipe that tantalized me to my Irish roots, and a healthy dose of disregard for the fear of failure, to remember why RebeccaFlys. And to remind me that the journey is often a lot simpler than I thought it was.

I hope that one loaf will be enough, maybe I should throw together another one with the girls when they get home? 

Best wishes,

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sea-Monkey Love

I have a confession to make regarding a certain small obsession I've harbored for six years or so.  There are only a few select visitors to my home who have noticed this, and even fewer who understand the truth behind the apparent obsession:

 I am the Queen of the Sea-Monkeys.

My Kingdom resides in the breakfast nook, on our windowsills. My briney subjects enjoy the view of the bird feeder, and they particularly like a move closer to the African Violets when the flowers are in bloom.

When I was a kid, Sea-Monkeys were advertised in my favorite comic books...

 Sea-Monkeys® are a true miracle of nature. They exist in suspended animation inside their tiny eggs for many years. The instant-life crystals, in which the eggs are enclosed, preserve their viability and help to extend still further their un-hatched life span! Sea-Monkeys are real Time-Travelers asleep in biological time capsules for their strange journey into the future!
As a science fiction fiend myself, I was desperate to bring my own adorable naked pink family of Sea-Monkey time travelers to life!  Unfortunately, the cat often knocked them over and drank them. Once they sort of boiled in the sun and never grew bigger than specks.  They were a grand disappointment.

Then, wonder of wonders, at Christmas time I found a little kit for sale at Wal-Mart ($4.95). DH was kind enough to shake his head in bewilderment (he does this quite a bit) and let me wrap the kit up for myself from Santa as I insisted the kids would LOVE it, but I would be the only one who would properly follow the instructions to grow them. (Amazing how we forget the disappointments of childhood.)

Christmas Evening I began the process. Within days I had specks, and soon little pink... well they look like a cross between brine shrimp, lobsters & spermatozoa. The females have little egg pouch things and the males have little beards.  They all have little beady eyes. They chase each other around pin one another and make a lot of love.

As a kid, I dreamed about what the Sea-Monkeys would look like and imagined the conversations we would hold. As an adult, I can appreciate the science and fun behind growing  real-live creatures from a pinch of old dust.    

Truly there are benefits to being a grown up and having the opportunity to buy what you want.  As my citizens grew and I realized the success of my Kingdom, I sent away to Sea-Monkey.com for the light up tank top and packets of Grow Quickly, Sea Crystals, Banana Treat, Sea Medic, and extra plasma. ($24.50)

Being Queen of the Sea-Monkeys does come with it's share of responsibility and tragic circumstance.  Once, my mom, in amazement at the size and voracity of my Kingdom, held it to the light and cracked the tank. She felt really bad and tried to suck the little citizens out of the carpet with my Sea-Monkey Aqua Leash, 

But it was too late.  Fortunately part of the Sea-Monkey miracle is that the green goop in the tank is full of eggs and a Good Queen can re-populate her kingdom from this Sea-Monkey Salad.  So, though tragic and now known as the Ooma's Murderous Rampage, the Kingdom rose from the carpet fibers.

This summer, my citizens began dropping like flies. Curling up into little balls they sank to the bottom and began growing shady green shrouds which quickly morphed into an inch of furry gunge, which was then fed upon by the seemingly healthy, who soon fell.  My BFF put it best when she said "Like the citizens of Paris during the plague, the continuing lack of sanitation caused the spread of death, your Sea Monkeys are like rats feeding on dead bodies you know?" 

As Queen I researched my options, and learned I should not feed the Kingdom until the green dissipated. However, the stuff was gross and after a few months I bit the bullet and used a plastic fork to peel it out. Like green jello left uncovered in the fridge, the stuff stripped out of the tank. I removed the corpses and noted just two tiny monkeys swimming in the brine.  My monarchian choice was well rewarded by a slew of hatchlings and the grown females in the photos above.   

When I was a kid, waiting for days and days to see what would come of following the instructions and losing interest when nothing ultimately filled my expectations, I never dreamed I would grow up one day to appreciate the wait, or the results.  But I did.  

I am the Queen of the Sea-Monkeys. And they are cool. 

Look, you can even order this wicked Sea-Monkey bobble head.  Some things are just worth the wait.

Best wishes,

Monday, January 18, 2010

Re-Purpose Me

The web definition of Re-purpose; To reuse for a different purpose, on a long-term basis; To alter to make more suited for a different purpose.

I have embraced this concept:

My Christmas gifts for family this year were hand made buckwheat heating pads. Each unique creation was comprised of fabric re-purposed from used clothing purchased for $5 per garbage bag full at the Once Again Shoppe.  

Due to the fact that my husband has expensive tastes, and we can't afford what he REALLY wants, my home decor is a hodge podge of found items (usually painted white), decorations I've built out of bits and pieces, and stuff I find interesting (like old school desks which seem appropriate in our little yellow school house.) 

I love to make something out of nothing. Somehow, my poor-girl style has become sort of cool, I think they call it "green," or country or shabby Becca. 

Re-purposing, once a thing of the past (think World War and Great Depression flour sack dresses) has come back around in this era of economic shlump.  

In fact, a lot of us are being forced to re-purpose our employed lives and re-investigate what we're trained in, what we're good at, and what we're capable of.  Perhaps even cobbling together part time jobs that add up to full time pay. A lot of us are considering our options along with the economic forecast.

I certainly am.

So, as my mind wanders back and forth, touching on the options available in my small town both educationally and employment wise, I'm going to spin it like this; my cobbled together shelves, well loved re-vamped school desks, crazy Christmas gifts and my own employment capabilities, are re-purposed! And re-purposing is a good thing.  It's even a little cool. 

Hey if anybody knows how to utilize dryer lint, let me know. I've been saving mine.

Best wishes,

If Then

The kinds of decisions which make themselves, begin with problems which cannot solve themselves.  And so, believe in those who tout fate, for they are the luckless few whose problems cannot be solved, and who cede defeat. ~by Rebecca