I'll Never Write a Novel

The Memoir of a Personal Essayist OR Confessions of a Theatre Widow

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chocolate Swirled Banana Bread

I posted a photo of this banana bread on Facebook, and it turns out people wanted the recipe. So, I guess that means I should write it down. In fact, I am starting to think I should be writing a lot of recipes down. 

I used to follow recipes religiously. I never thought of myself as a creative or smart enough baker or cook to tell people how to make something delicious. But, I sort of love the things I make, and maybe others will too. I write recipes rustically, as if they are being passed to you by word of mouth, almost. I read an interesting analysis recently saying that recipes are written much more complexly and overly described than they were a generation or two ago. It was assumed that you learned to cook and bake in the shadow of a mom, a grandma, or a mentor. Now people buy beautiful cookbooks but have never cooked side by side with someone who has been standing in front of a stove for a few decades. So, now instead of a dash of this and stir till just blended you get 1 scooped and leveled off Cup plus a Tablespoon of something, or remove from oven with mitts and cool before eating. Thanks for letting me know. So much burning if I hadn't gotten a heads up.

I was lucky to bake by my mom's side. I don't remember studying recipes with her but I absolutely remember how she measured shortening in a Pyrex measuring cup, balancing water against the volume of Crisco being added. I know her shortbread had brown sugar despite the fact that no written recipe exists anywhere in her things left behind. I studied and tried recipes till I figured it out. But I knew where to start. She taught me all the important things, and that statement isn't limited to baking.

And my start for this recipe has family ties, too. My sister Aileen shared this recipe with me. I doctored it a bit and here you have it, in my version. She's a great pal to bake side by side with. More gifts my my mom gave me.

Chocolate Swirled Banana Bread

3-4 overripe bananas
1 & 1/2 C. Flour (you can do 1/2 whole wheat for a slightly heartier texture)
½ C Brown Sugar (you can use less if you don't want it too sweet)
¼ C Granulated Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
dash of salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 C. (1/2 stick) butter, melted
Handful of chocolate chips of your choosing

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

2. Mash bananas in a large bowl.  Add flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and egg.

3.  Melt butter in microwave, add to the bowl, and stir until just blended.

4. Melt a handful of chocolate chips in the microwave or over double boiler.

5.  Pour half of batter into greased loaf pan. Put ¾ of melted chocolate on top of batter. Swirl with knife or toothpick. Pour remaining batter on top. Put last of melted chocolate on top. Swirl with knife or toothpick. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

This recipe is great for variations. I often add a half teaspoon of cinnamon, good cocoa powder, etc. One variation I hear is great is to omit the chocolate and sub in blueberries and lemon juice. It also bakes well in a 9 x 9 pan and cut into squares. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Holy Thursday

What would you do if you knew you only had one day left to live? This is a common philosophical, very human question people often ask. And for some reason this Holy Thursday it struck me that Holy Thursday and venturing into Good Friday, is Jesus' answer to this query. He sets an example for who we are called to be, in all the most human and truly divine ways. Part of Jesus' answer is stunningly in line with my answers. Another part is a challenge, I think, to what we think of as our time on Earth.

Now, of course, we should recall that Jesus knew he would rise from the dead. But, it is a great mystery now, as it was then, what exactly that would look like. Jesus is transformed. He is "new" in resurrection, so part of Him truly dies on the cross. He is not the same. And, thankfully, we are all not the same because of it. But the point of clarity here is that the future is unknown, but Jesus was aware that time was fleeting. Suffering and death were unavoidable. This is universal truth.

When I think about what I would do with my final hours, I am certain that I would gather everyone around a large table and have good food and drink. Honestly, this is my dream for how to spend every Thursday (or Friday or Monday or... you get the idea). It sometimes catches me off guard how very Catholic I am at my very core. It has thoroughly imbued every aspect of my life in all the best ways. But there are things that surprise me when my eyes are opened to the connections. I dream of a huge dining table to have all my loved ones over and feed them. My husband and I have always lived in small places. And I am so grateful to have a roof over my head and a cozy home that I try not to beg for more. But, I eventually dream of a home that accommodates a giant table right at the center. And, I realized while at funeral yesterday, as the priest gestured toward the altar, that I have spent so much of my life gathered at the largest table. It has been the example set so beautifully at church, and so perfectly by my Irish Catholic mom at home. I want to have the table to invite others to. And, even in my small home, I have done it. And it is what Jesus does on Holy Thursday. He invites all of His closest friends. He offers them food, drink, and Himself. Surrounded by friends and memories, Jesus begins his journey. An example I understand and gladly follow.

The challenge he sets is that, with his last moments, Jesus serves others. Jesus washes feet. He serves others at the table, not waiting to be served. He gives completely of Himself. If you knew you only had one day to live, would you spend it washing other people's feet? It is not that I do not understand it. I want to make this life one about giving back and touching lives before I move onto the next life. I hope to do this in this life anyway. But if I knew I was down to 24 hours, would I volunteer to scrub someone else's stinky toes? People often talk about their "Bucket List." How many of these lists involve an activity of that kind of profound, personal service? I challenge myself to add this if I ever get around to making a bucket list.

The last way Jesus dedicates his time in his final hours is prayer. Aren't we all called to this? Having now watched people I love spend their last weeks, days, and hours, this surprises me less than it might have when I was younger. My Dad's last hours in hospice were dedicated to calling his family around him, laughing a bit --and deep, contemplative, powerful prayer. It was a gift to witness it. He wanted to venerate the Lord without distraction. But we need no bucket list to answer this call to prayer. If you believe death is a form of transformation, as seen in Holy Week, in a funeral for a good person, the passing from one life to the next, then it is natural to see prayer as the continuum of this. Prayer is our transformation. Our ability to believe in something opens us to transformation. And we do not need to wait till our last hours to participate. Jesus isn't afraid to ask for too much or too little in prayers. We can do the same. Every day.

The question of what we will do with our final hours is common. But I think the Easter Mysteries, ask us what we will do with our life, with all of our hours? Do we connect with others? Are we looking out for the greater good? Are we nourishing our friends, ourselves, even strangers, with our days? When asked to serve, do we say "yes?" Even Jesus struggles with His grand call. We are invited to struggle and find redemption in our suffering. Every day is not Holy Thursday. But if we want to be more than our answer to a handful of hours, we can try to make each day a little more "Thursday," filled with hope, service, fellowship, discipleship, and prayer.

Christians consider themselves Easter people. We are not just the people of Christmas, or just the people of the crucifixion on Good Friday. We require those events to happen, but they are not the reason we are Christians. The joy of Christmas, its innocence and majesty, inspires us. Good Friday is a reminder of the greatest sacrifice, and the suffering we all share in our humanity. God became fully human, which essentially requires suffering. But the miracle of Easter, the Resurrection, is the ultimate definition of the divine. Without Easter we are a collection of joy and suffering without purpose. But in the Resurrection we find real, true hope. Whatever we do in our final hours is made greater by this hope. We are more than ourselves. There is a greater good, and a greater glory, made manifest by the transformation begun in earnest on Holy Thursday. So how will we spend our last hours waiting in joyful hope?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

what if?

I say the phrase, "what if" a lot. As a rule I keep my expectations low, but dream big. Sometimes the "what ifs" are about wee steps out onto limbs I might take. Sometimes they are about amazing outcomes of far off possibilities. Today, I thought, "What if I just started blogging again?" would I share it with anyone? Would I keep doing it? Looking back at this blog it is genuinely hilarious to see my starts and stops.

I have seen a lot of "what ifs" come to fruition in the years of this blog, through our on again, off again, off again, off again, on again relationship. "What if we had kids?" "What if we moved to New York?" "What if my mom died?" "What if my dad died?" "What if I made a giant Barbie cake?" "What if I did that twice?" "What if I stopped living out my calling of being a writer?"

And finally I ask, "What if I stumble upon something worth saying here?"

What if I never write here again? It is a world full of possibilities.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Cake Challenge

I was a lucky little kid. This is true on so many levels, but today's topic is birthday cakes. And I had some cool ones. My favorite, of course, was the Barbie cake. It was the coolest cake. Ever. My mom had a friend who owned a bakery. Beck's Bakery, in Fircrest, was the closest thing I have ever seen in the Tacoma area that rivals the bakeries in my neighborhood. I assume it was modeled after the East Coast awesomeness. And I know my mom loved Beck's because of it. And, Mrs. Beck loved us kids. She was an amazing gal to know as a little kid. She was so nice and sweet (no pun intended) and you always got a free cookie or something delicious out of a trip to Beck's Bakery. Oh, and, you got kick booty b-day cakes. And the Creme-De la-Creme was the doll cake. Usually* there was a whole Barbie (or Barbie knock-off) standing in a dress made out of cakie wonderfulness. C'mon, you just can't beat that. Cake and a doll?! Too cool. (I say "usually", because I distinctly recall one cake that just had a torso and head. Yikes.)

And, now, living in bakery mecca my daughter has seen the Barbie cake and instantly recognized it's magnificence. Her first glimpse: A sight to behold rotating on a stand in the window of La Guli. She began requesting a Barbie cake at least six-months ago. And we kept saying, "for your birthday." So she began to pass by the bakery saying, "I'm going to get a Barbie cake for my birthday." We continued to agree. It never occurred to us to ask how much one would cost, we'd just enthusiastically promise Gwen the coolest birthday cake. Ever. Wanna see what they look like so you can agree? Click here then scroll through a couple images. If you want to see even more extraordinary images just do a google search. Ahh-mazing.

As Little G's birthday quickly approached The Dad Guy and I decided to find out how much it would be to procure fantasy cake. Then we found out. Now, for all the work that goes into such a masterpiece, and knowing how delicious this bakery's goods are, the price is not absurd. But when you think about the fact that we aren't likely serving more that 5 people cake, it's ridiculous. $80-90+. Seriously. But no other cake will do for our girl. I think she'd genuinely wonder where her Barbie cake is if we didn't deliver on the promise we made this week (her birthday is Thursday). So, what's a family with big promises and small wallets to do? Bake your own, you say? Well, that's what we are about to do.

I am taking on the crazy task... mission... nay, quest, of baking a Barbie cake. I am no crafter. I've got no secret cake decorating skills up my sleeve. I am just a girl, standing in front of an oven, trying to make her daughter happy. I have watched a couple tutorials on You Tube. I have selected the Belle doll to inhabit the cake. All the appropriate supplies have been obtained after stops at a lot of stores. And now, via the internets, I have announced to the public that I am reaching way beyond my capabilities to bake the improbable. I mean, I can't say it's impossible. Clearly, it's possible to do. It's just a stretch for this little lady.

The stats:
Doll: Beauty and the Beast's very own Belle. Her dress just screams to be recreated in frosting, right? Plus, the one I purchases actually has her top moulded to the body.
Cake: Basic 1-2-3-4 Cake
Frosting: Cream Cheese Buttercream. I hope I bought enough yellow food coloring.

The best skills that I bring to the project, I think, are a) my tremendous love for my daughter and my joy in her happiness; b) lots of experience eating cake (and enjoying the doll variety quite a bit); c) even more experience playing with Barbie.

So, now you know. You are officially on the Barbie Cake Journey with me. If you have any advice or words of encouragement, please do not hesitate to share with me. Isn't that what the comments section is for? Now that this is public knowledge I can't really back out. You're counting on a picture, right? I guess it better look good.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Anniversary, Broadway Show!

I just want to take a moment to say congrats to my hubby's big Broadway show. When he was offered a year-long contract on the project we both thought getting to the one-year mark was a long shot. We were excited about the prospect, but reticent about this small show about a pretty messed up family making it. But, here we are. With three Tony Awards and the Pulitzer added to the legacy, it seems to have worked out A-Okay.

We were talking the other night about how fun opening night was. It was a true highlight of our lives together. Uncomplicated joy. The show was perfection, the reviews brilliant, and the party was one for the record books. It was simply so much fun. We stayed out till the wee hours with my in-laws and loved every minute of it. There are few nights in life that can ever be so effortlessly exciting and surprising. This was one of them. I am sure there will be more opening nights in the future, but it was all new, and firsts, and amazing. I will never forget it.

So, here's to an amazing year and to enjoying the landmarks moments in all our lives!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Living the Dream

When I was in junior high I wrote a short story in which I won the Pulitzer Prize. I can't remember all the details of the story, but it had to involve science, as I recall. It was for Mr. Williams' science class so, hmm, not sure how all that goes together. And I think there was a beach involved.

And, yesterday, I think I found myself remembering that story as I came as close as I think I ever will to the Pulitzer announcement directly effecting me. The Dad Guy's show won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Only seven other musicals have ever received the honor (can you say, "South Pacific," "A Chorus Line," "Sunday in the Park With George"!?). My mind is blown at the amazing fortune and blessing it has been to have our family involved in such a beautiful, important, moving, and good piece of theatre. And, now I am a little linked to that Pulitzer Prize I have dreamt about. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

By the way, I am not sure what my hubby thinks he'll do after this. How do you top this? In G's parlance, "Oh, that's what I am talking about... I'm talking about getting a Tony award!" Goal set.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

It's My Party

I am sick of hosting my pity party these days. The Dad Guy and I were joking that at this party there is a pile of lemons. Perhaps a guest could suggest making some lemonade. I would likely just tell them that they are just there for sucking on. Bad attitude.

At Mass on Easter Sunday the pastor suggested something that I had been thinking about recently; that although Lent ends on Easter, the Easter season is just beginning. I didn't really do a great job of Lent this year. I was incredibly distracted, out of sorts (literally and figuratively) and hosting the aforementioned party more than I would like. I felt like I was already making enough sacrifices, so I didn't do anything "special" for Lent. It's more like I did Lent by accident. It wasn't thoughtful or purposeful and perhaps it was exactly what it should have been this year for me. But the 40 days between Easter and Ascension are a time of renewal of thoughtful engagement, and not focusing on suffering. It is a time in which Jesus fully lived and God shared the Holy Spirit with us. With the suffering going on around me, I think it's the perfect time for me to acknowledge joy and especially see the ways Jesus is risen and present in my every day. Instead of "giving something up" it can be a time to say "yes" to the world and to the risen Christ in everyone, and embrace life. It is time to be filled, on-fire with The Spirit. So, I intend to spend the next several weeks really living. So, less pity party and more party party. Today Gwen, Thomas and I went out for ice cream cones (Thomas will get his share later). It was time to enjoy the sun and have an ice cream social. And it was fun.

Jesus was among the living and it's the least I can do to attempt to do the same.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Let's Try This Again

Well, clearly I am not writing a novel. Alas, I am not even writing a blog.

Looking for focus. I am not sure what thoughts and ideas are worth posting here, but maybe if I just start writing, even if I don't know what I am going to write, I'll get some ideas.

Here are a couple topics to muse upon...

The Boy
Since my last post we have added Thomas Richard to the clan. He's darling and a great baby. While staying with my dad for several weeks he frequently commented how good Thomas is. And that guy knows a little more than something about babies. More on Dad later. Thomas already sleeps and eats better than Little G did by six months I would guess, so we're on the right track. That being said, it hasn't been all wine and roses (in fact very little of either, literally). The biggest obstacle has probably been the thrush/yeast issue I have had in nursing. I you are sensitive, scroll down now. I think the nipple pain I had rivaled my challenging and painful birth. And it went on and on. And I didn't know when and if it would end. After I got through it I commented to my sister that I finally thought I was going to get to keep the nipple (half kidding/half serious) and she replied, "That's good. And I never want to hear anyone say that phrase again." The midwife actually gasped when she saw was I had going on in the nippular region. She said she'd seen a few cases that bad in her time and that most people through came out okay. Yikes. That's enough about boobs for now, I think.

My Dad
So, my dad was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer within about four weeks after I had Thomas. I want to note here that Thomas is named after both grandfathers Thomas is Louis' dad and Richard is my dad. We are blessed to have two amazing men to have our son share a name with. We couldn't ask for better. My dad is a truly amazing, funny and inspiring person. It is my honor to be his daughter. He has quietly and meaningfully touched more lives that one could even begin to count. This diagnosis has been a truly devastating blow and the prognosis is not good. We hope to have him with us for a year or two. According to "the numbers" that is very optimistic. I choose to maintain hope. Anything else is too unbearable to think. I am grateful that I got to take the kids home and to be with my dad for four weeks. There is never enough time. While on the phone with him today I thought, "Please, God, do not let this be the last time I will ever with my dad a 'Happy Easter.'" I count on having Easter 2011 with him. I believe in miracles. If I keep up this blog I suspect that there will be much more on this topic. For now, I beg you to please pray for him.

Now for something completely different. I have been baking and cooking a lot lately. Not as much as I would like, mind you, but a good bit. I made coconut macaroons yesterday with The G. They are amazing. I generally cannot eat macaroons since traditional recipes call for almond extract (I mean, I could eat them, but then I would be fiercely sick). I subbed in some vanilla extract and I have no idea why anyone would want them any other way. Recipe, you say?

Coconut Vanilla Macaroons
One 14 oz. package sweetened coconut (I used Angel Flake)
2/3 c. sugar
6 tbs. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
4 egg whites
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix sugar, flour and salt in a bowl. In a large bowl whip egg whites with an electric mixers till soft peaks form. Add vanilla and gently blend. Add coconut and sugar mixture by hand with the egg whites.

Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. You may need a couple extra minutes depending on your oven. I advise using a floured parchment or a silpat on your baking sheet. Check for golden brown edges. Remove promptly to a rack to cool. Let cool completely. Enjoy. Try not to eat 20.

I've been making up recipes, trying new things and perfecting standards. I think this is a great new release for me and I look forward to lots more cooking. By the way, my Cuisinart 7-speed handmixer rocks.

So, I think that's all a fair smattering of life today. We'll see how long it takes to come back...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Master's Touch

The sermon at Mass was great today and it really got me thinking. Bear with me. I've got a lot to say...

Today's Gospel spoke about how Jesus was speaking to a crowd and saw a man he knew was in need. He took the man out of the large crowd and laid his hands on him. The man had been deaf and mute since birth. Jesus' touch healed the man, who went back into the crowd and was forever changed. The crowd was changed, too.

The priest began his homily by telling a story about an estate sale where many items were spread about a room, some more alluring than others. On one table sat a violin, out of tune and covered in dust. It had a sign pricing it at just a handful of dollars. It sat and sat and sat. It was late in the day when finally a man came by and actually noticed the violin in the crowd. He gently wiped the dust away, properly tuned the strings and began playing it. In gifted hands the true value of the instrument became evident. A bidding war erupted and the violin went for thousands of dollars. Most people passed by and saw the violin for what it was in the moment, the artist saw it for what it could be. All it took was a master's touch.

Then the priest turned the storytelling to a more personal note. He spoke about when he first entered Seminary. (Side note: I love hearing stories of priests seeking and fulfilling their vocation. It never ceases to amaze me). He spoke about how truly difficult his first year was. He'd left a loving, supportive family, tons of friends and a very active life and social scene for the unknown, reclusive, and the tremendously challenging world of the priesthood. He cried often and felt lonely. He hadn't built strong enough relationships in this new life yet to have a confidant. I think, in some ways, that is a journey many people can relate to. He struggled and persevered. Then, he got to go home for a short period. He got home and felt immediately welcomed. He sat with his mom and laid his head in her lap. And he cried. And cried. And his mom took her fingertips and began running her fingers through his hair. His soul was refreshed and he felt immediately complete. A master's touch had healed him and he was refreshed-- able to go on. He could take that touch and extend it out to others.

Aside: It's no wonder that commercials and songs use the phrase, "Reach out and touch someone," or phrases like that. Even telephone commercials talk about it. You can't literally touch someone over the phone, but we all know what they mean. When someone is really moved by something they describe it as being "touching." It's not just a physical thing.

This is what Christians are called to do. It's what people are called to do. We are refreshed by the healing touch of the Lord who sees us not for what we are, but what we have the potential to be. In His presence we can become that. And, by being the fullest, best part of ourselves, we can share that touch with others. We must extend our hands out and touch those around us-- our spouses, our kids, our friends. And, we must pull people out of the crowd (maybe even strangers) and embrace them, too. The crowd can be noisy and confusing. We can bring clarity through a little kindness and a warm touch, can't we? Haven't you had that happen before, when someone touches your life or embraces you and it just changes everything?

No one I know was better at this than my mom. So many people have said that she saw the best in them, and through her they became that better person. She was never hesitant to reach out her hand and touch you-- figuratively and quite literally. She would hold me and say, "You feel nice." It's significant to know that she didn't just mean, "You make me feel better." It was more than that. This was about you, not her. Having a daughter of my own now, I understand this particular feeling in a different way. Holding The Girl feels different. She feels like something else completely, almost otherworldly sometimes. I get how my mom meant this when she said this to her kids. But, beyond that she really reached out and wasn't afraid to grab you (in a good way) and embrace you-- whoever you are. And she invited the same from others just by being. And she made you better by seeing, and feeling, who you were at your best. And she healed your soul somehow, cleared out the crowd for a moment, and you could be that best version of you. No doubt she felt that God had called her forth from a different set of gifts than she had seen in herself. God laid His hands on her and made her the best she could be. I don't know that she would say that it was ultimately clarity, but she wasn't blind or deaf or mute in the world. She was a world class violin, only better.

There is no shortage of touching in my family. I am a hugger, a hand-holder, a grabber. I come by it honestly. It's the life I have known. I really feel for the priest who spoke today about needing that touch from his mom to be whole. It's a deep part of my homesickness. I have had my sisters say to me on the phone, when we are really missing one another, "I just want to get my arms around you." That is exactly what I need. My husband does a pretty good job of it, but it's a little more of a stretch for him. He's not always the first to hug. He loves it when I reach out and pull him out of the crowd to squeeze him, or play with his hair, rub his back, hold his hand, grab his arm, slap his leg when I think something is really funny (okay maybe not that last one quite as much).

We've certainly become a family of huggers. No icky PDA here, just people ready with a warm embrace. I don't think everyone is easily inclined to such a nature, or raised to nurture the impulse. However, I think this is something that people can learn. It's something that people yearn for, whether they know it or not. Don't you think so? Little G may not always give hugs and kisses on command, but she loves to do it when you least expect it and when you need it the most. Kids come out holding on and wanting to be held. It's hard to ever let go.

So, I hope to nurture this in myself and others. I want to be a person who pulls people from the crowd and embraces them. I like to hold hands with my family and my friends, and I want people to be unafraid to be the best version of themselves. I want everyone to see themselves as a world class violin.

And I just really want a hug most of the time.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I Hate Bugs

Do I live in the woods? No. No, I don't.

Then why, oh why, do I constantly have bug bites. The poor G has three huge ones today. We tell her she can't touch them-- she can blow on them. I have one on my hand that itches so badly I think I could slather it in Benadryl all day. There was a time I literally had 20+ bites and started to put the Benadryl on, reading the package. The package says something about not using it as an all-over lotion. Well, sometimes that's what it takes...

But, for me, the bigger deal isn't the bites. It's the bugs. Growing up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest I grew accustomed to our particular brand of creepy crawlies. Spiders the size of your fist... And, can someone explain why there are GIANT mosquito catchers/hawks at home, but I have yet to see even one in Queens. And let me tell you I could use some of those bad boys. Can you ship them? The bugs here are gross and icky and they are everywhere. They are strangers to me and I hate them. Are they what are biting me? I have no idea. Do they camp in my sink and crawl out? Just because they haven't yet doesn't mean they won't. There was some weird thing in our guest bedroom while we had guests here (sorry Beth and Megan!) and I will tell you, I have never killed a bug with a greater sense of urgency. It looked like something out of a horror movie.

While we are successfully navigating our New York adventures, I can tell you 100% that I would be a lot happier without the small, creepy visitors lurking. I really, really hate them.