The other side of the counter

I placed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire down on the table next to my Dr. Pepper. I looked around to see what needed to be done. Nothing. So I sat down and read my book under the harsh fluorescent light next to the warm machines. Muzak, punctuated by store commercials, echoed in the high ceiling. Occasionally someone needed film processed, but only ten rolls were processed in the six hours that I spent in the photo lab that Thanksgiving day. It was my year to work Thanksgiving and miss going home to spend time with my family. Next year I would get a Christmas Eve shift. Working alongside me was a single mother of two young boys. She had been married, but her ex husband was a giant asshole. (Which was amazing, because he was a tiny drowned rat looking man.) She was only 34, but you would swear that she was much older. She was reserved, hardworking, and rarely complained. She hated being at work that day, too.

Over the years, Black Friday has crept closer and closer to Thanksgiving day. For awhile, it seemed to respect the boundary of midnight. But now it has oozed over the line and consumed Thanksgiving.
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Thursday is mine because I can!

Many are outraged! How dare retailers take over Th…Ooo, the camera I want goes on sale at 5 that day! Retailers aren’t starting sales at these times to be evil and take over Gluttony Football Day. They’re doing it because they can. People will show up. I’m willing to bet that some of those people will also be the ones who complained and were outraged by the sale in the first place. They will take part in the stampede to be the first to get XYZ gaming system and will bite your face if they have to. People have died trying to get something on sale. And yet, year after year, sales get earlier and earlier. Year after year, people are shocked and outraged by the materialism…right until they show up to the line that wraps around the store.

It’s our fault, y’all. We perpetuate this cycle of frenzied materialism. We’re the ones who rip people away from their families because they have to be at work to wait on your ass. Some may argue that participating in Black Friday is the only way they can afford whatever they want for Christmas. While I understand that it may be disappointing to not get that thing they crave, I’m willing to bet it’s not something they need. I’m sure for some, it’s not even getting the thing that they crave. It’s the rush of finding and getting that awesome deal. Is that rush really worth it? Is it worth blowing off your families? Is it worth pulling someone away from their family so you can get your fix?

I wonder what would happen if we all just stopped? Stopped showing up to buy mountains of shit. Stopped being consumed by our obsession with whatever toy the toy companies have deemed “hot” this season. Stopped having to plan our family/loved ones/special friends time around having to shop later. Stopped pulling people away from their loved ones because they have to go swipe your credit card and smile at you like they’re totally happy to be there.

If we stopped, they would stop. It’s just that simple.

Photo credit: Star Trek: TNG

Sweet potato marshmallows

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Thanksgiving is only a week away, and so I’ve been doing what I can to prepare for the big day. I tend to like to do practice runs for things I’ve never done before so we don’t experience an epic fail on the actual day. So I ended up roasting my first turkey the other night.
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Eating turkey the week before Thanksgiving is a wonderful idea with no possible drawbacks.

Before I made the turkey, I consulted my first go to person when I have questions culinary: Alton Brown. His podcast, The Alton Browncast, is dedicating three podcasts to Thanksgiving. So I relegated Mike to child interaction duty and listened intently on how to make gravy, (it was delicious, by the way.) During the course of the conversation with his producer, the subject of sweet potatoes and marshmallows came up. (By the way, the whole putting marshmallows on sweet potatoes came about because the mass food production industry put out a recipe saying we should do it. So, if you’re one of those offenders, STOP IT!) It was then that the world stopped because I heard these magical words: sweet potatoes in a s’more. If you’ve been reading for awhile, you know about my love for s’mores. I took to the interwebs to see what I could find. Of course, it had already been done. My favorite iteration was using a sweet potato waffle fry in place of the graham cracker. But I wanted the crunch and marshmallow containment of the graham cracker. Mike, then, casually threw out the idea of a sweet potato marshmallow. This is why I married him. He’s a genius.

Sweet potato marshmallows

Ingredients

1 cup sweet potato purée
½ cup cold water
¼ cup powdered gelatin, about 4 1/4 packets
½ cup cold water
1 ¼ cups corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon powdered sugar

Cook sweet potatoes in your preferred method. I steamed them and used the cooking liquid to thin the purée. Place sweet potato in a food processor or blender to create purée, processing until purée is thick, but smooth. Avoid over processing so your potatoes don’t become gummy. Move purée to a bowl and mix in 1/2 cup water and gelatin. If the gelatin isn’t fully integrating, add water 1 teaspoon at a time until gelatin mixes in. Set aside.

Use non-stick cooking spray to lightly coat a 9×13 casserole dish or baking sheet with sides, a spatula, your mixing bowl, and whisk attachment for the mixing bowl. I suggest spraying a bit on what you’re oiling and then using a paper towel to spread the oil and remove any excess.

In a heavy saucepan, mix together 1/2 cup water, corn syrup, salt, and sugar. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Use a wet pastry brush to wipe down the sugar crystals on the side of the pan just above the sugar mixture. Once the sugar mixture begins boiling, stop stirring. Place a candy thermometer in the pan and boil until 255 degrees F.
(If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can still do this, but it will be imprecise and require guessing. Once the mixture boils, it will take about 15 minutes to reach the correct temperature. The mixture will thicken, reduce by about 1/3, and turn the color of ginger ale.)

Once the sugar mixture reaches 255 degrees F, remove from heat and carefully stir in the sweet potato mixture. The mixture will violently bubble up for a few seconds. If the sweet potato mixture isn’t melting into the sugar mixture, gently use a whisk to break up the lumps. Add mixture to your mixing bowl and place splatter guard on your bowl. Slowly increase mixing speed to high and mix for 10 minutes. Mixture will change from deep orange to a very pale orange and mostly fill the bowl. In the last minute of mixing, add the cinnamon and ginger. Pour marshmallow creme into dish/pan and quickly smooth with spatula. Allow mixture to sit, uncovered, for several hours or overnight.
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When you’re ready to cut your marshmallows, sift together cornstarch and powdered sugar into a bowl. Oil a knife or pizza cutter. If you’ve made your marshmallows in a casserole dish, oil a cutting board. Turn marshmallows out onto cutting board and cut into 1 inch squares, or desired size. Toss marshmallows in cornstarch mixture and store in an airtight container with lid slightly ajar.
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Marshmallow prior to cornstarch coating.

I was happy with the way the sweet potato flavor came through in the marshmallow. It tastes like sweet potato without smacking you in the face with it. The spices are enough to give the marshmallow a kick without taking over. The marshmallow is light and sproingy, (it’s a cromulent word.) But how would it taste in a s’more application?
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It was horrible. Best leave all of them to me to take care of. *averts eyes*

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I tried a s’more with both milk chocolate and dark chocolate….for science reasons! While I typically go with a dark chocolate for a traditional s’more, I felt milk chocolate played a lot more nicely with the sweet potato marshmallow. Perhaps a lower percentage cacao would work better if you absolutely want dark chocolate.
(Side note: If you have the ability to buy fair trade chocolate, please do. Here’s why. I’m able to find some at my regular grocery store in the organic crunchy granola section. You can also order it online.)

Please note: these marshmallows aren’t nearly as stable as store-bought marshmallows. If you’re making your s’mores in the microwave, it only takes a few seconds for them to become s’more ready, as I very quickly learned.
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A sweet potato marshmallow saying “Wheeeeee!”, personified.

Recipe adapted from seriouseats.com

PSA

Pretty much every day, out of curiosity, I check out the stats on my blog. Today, to my absolute horror, I found this search term had helped someone find its way to my blog.

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I have no idea what on earth would have caused that kind of search to end up on my blog, but it did. So I decided to create a little PSA for the horrible monster who found his way here.

ETA: Mike’s asked me to take the video down until we can find a better platform than YouTube to post a video. At some point I’ll transcribe what I said in the video, but right now I need to make sweet potato marshmallows.

Lego Friends make me ragey

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There were things I wasn’t allowed to do growing up in a conservative evangelical home. I wasn’t allowed to trick or treat because Halloween was a celebration of Satan and all things evils. I wasn’t allowed to listen to current music like Debbie Gibson, NKOTB when they were still New Kids on the Block, Kris Kross, and Vanilla Ice. (In 7th grade, my best friend, Tara, introduced me to the world of alternative. Oh mid to late 90s alternative, I hug you in my mind.) Movies of a certain rating were out, (for which the adults in my church youth group made fun of me.) I wasn’t allowed to watch certain shows. (Daria is my hero, Real World: Miami was awesome, and of course my parents just happened to see the episode of Friends where Phoebe describes her polyamorous sex dream.)

While I wasn’t allowed to do those things because God needed my mind grapes to be pure, there were some things I wasn’t allowed to watch because they were “stupid”. The main offenders: Scooby Doo and Pee Wee Herman. At the time it was so unfair, you guys! Everyone else is watching them! You don’t understand me at all! *angst grunt*. But now, I get it.

This morning, Rachael was watching Friends of Heartlake City, a Lego Friends cartoon. Let’s just set aside the fact that Lego in no way needed to be girlified in the first place. Neither of my two girls have had their delicate sensibilities offended by the vibrant primary color scheme of regular Legos. Rachael thinks the Star Wars Lego sets are awesome.
I didn’t watch the entire episode because I was puttering around the house while Mike supervised the girls. But I saw enough to know that I am never letting them watch that show again. Here’s why.

1) It’s incredibly dumbed down.

These teenage girls make every little thing a problem solving issue. Even their teacher was a complete dumbass. They accidentally left a person behind on a boat dock and the teacher asked what should they do. While I get that perhaps it was an opportunity to let the girls take the lead, to me it just highlights that even the women in their lives are complete airheads. If you want strong girls, it starts with strong women leading by example.

2) It makes being smart “uncute”.

The plot involved the girls winning a cruise by presenting the best idea to help dolphins avoid fishing vessels. While they are out implementing their idea, the computer navigation fails, leaving them stranded in the middle of nowhere. They don’t have cell service or a compass, (because back up is lame?) so they have to figure out how to get back to shore another way. Then, one of the girls has a smart idea. They should use the position of the setting sun to determine direction. Yes! Great! Good thinking!
But then…THEN, someone else has a “better” idea. Look! The dolphins want us to follow them. They want to help us get home!

*FACEPALM*

First of all, everyone knows you never go with a dolphin to a second location. They’ll play hackeysack with your body for funsies. Second, and more importantly, what the fuck was wrong with the first plan? I guess thinking of something smart and sensible isn’t as adorable as following the goddamn dolphins. And God forbid they do something that goes over the heads of younger watchers. Then they might have to learn something.
And before you think that I have something against cuteness in general…

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My whiskers are both for sensory spatial ability and kisses! I wuvs you!

3) It makes the teaspoon of water you can drown in look deep.

The girls arrive at the dock in wellies and rain slickers, because science. They see a small sailboat and assume that’s what they’ll be taking out. But then their teacher arrives, looking super sun and fun ready, and informs them that they’ll actually be sailing on the tricked out yacht on the other side of the dock. Then, all of a sudden, the girls are all, OMG, you guys! We’re totes not dressed for a yacht. We have to go change! When they come back, we know they’re smokin’ hot because they’re in their 2 pieces, walking, posing, and making pouty faces in super sexy slow mo. Even the yacht boy notices their adolescent hotness. Yes. There’s a yacht boy.

At the end of the show, I declared that the girls are never allowed to watch Lego Friends again. It boils girls down to cute, animal loving idiots who are obsessed with looking right, rather than focused on their scientific mission. It miserably fails at trying to be smart, rather than actually modeling what it is to be smart. It doesn’t raise the bar, but lowers it to lowest common denominator stereotypes. When Rachael asked why she wasn’t allowed to watch that anymore, I explained my reasons to her in detail. We discussed these different scenarios and why I felt she could do better than what they presented. And then, I boiled it down to one succinct reason, which I believe encompasses the entirety of my argument.

It’s stupid.

Today’s parenting horror story

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I’ve chosen this picture of Britney (bitch) because I feel it accurately conveys my level of horrified, nauseated, and double chin-ness right now. Just when you think you’ve seen it all as a parent, today happens.

I was sitting on the couch, taking a break from not accomplishing too much being Super Mom. Zoë was watching Secret of the Wings. Zoë wandered upstairs for a few minutes, which isn’t unusual. I was distracted because I really wanted to find out why summer and spring fairies and winters fairies weren’t allowed to cross worlds. (Okay, seriously, after you’ve had the movie on several times, you can only go for so long ignoring it before you get curious. Stop judging me!) After a few minutes, Zoë came trotting back down with an upset look on her face. I noticed she had something brown near her mouth. I thought maybe she had thrown up because she hadn’t been feeling great the past couple of days. So I wiped her mouth and, after chasing her around Mike’s recliner, led her upstairs to clean up. About halfway up the stairs I noticed she didn’t have her diaper on. I lifted her dress and I saw it. The rest of where the brown had come from.

You guys, I have never been so horrified in my life. My. Daughter. Ate. Poo. POO! I’m not typically all that squeamish. It kind of takes a good deal to shock me. I honestly stood there for a good minute on those stairs because I just couldn’t make words. I finally asked her if she ate her poo. She said yes, opened wide, and pointed to her mouth. Needless to say, there was thorough hand and face washing and vigorous teeth brushing. I asked her where her diaper was, but she wouldn’t tell me. It became a great game to her. She just giggled maniacally as she led me from room to room going, Oh, it not ‘ere. While it appears as though she managed to put her pull-up in the diaper pail, she did leave behind her “how in the fuck do children make such large poos?” poo in the middle of Rachael’s floor.

I guess I should search to see if there’s anything I should do because, you know, she ingested a disease-ridden….substance? Of course, you know who will be the one who actually gets the stomach flu because of this. You know, I think I’ll file this under stories to tell her husband right after they’re married. Because someday, we’re all going to laugh about this. Someday.

To Be in Christ

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Photo from eatdrinkandtravel.com

My dad has a special talent. He has the ability to shut down arguments. Like a guided missle, he can target his words to the very heart of whoever is involved and leave them speechless. I have inherited a sharp tongue, and have learned to shut arguments down as well. I try to avoid doing it because, while it can have the immediate relief of ending the argument, it usually means I will have said something I regret.

But when I see things like what Rachel Held Evans posted on Storify yesterday, (and all the other Twitter conversation) it makes it hard not to say something. (It also gives me heartburn. And I don’t mean that in a Christianese sort of way. I actually took two TUMS.) Over and over, people who call themselves followers of Christ behave in ways that in no way reflect Jesus. (Side note: Can I just say, Rachel should be considered for sainthood given her ability to remain calm, assertive, and respectful while flaming piles of BS are lobbed her way.) I so desperately want to jump in and say, Rather than referring to these people as brothers (or sisters) in Christ, can we just call it like it is so we can all go home? They’re assholes who feel threatened by a strong woman calling shenanigans on them, and are hiding behind the patriarchy they’ve helped create. Nothing about their behavior suggests they are “in Christ”! It’s not helpful. It’s not productive. It’s not nice. But dammit if it doesn’t make me feel relieved to say it.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul said that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Gal 5:22-23 In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus taught his disciples how to recognize false prophets, telling them that they would know a tree by the fruit it bears.
No one, including me, could claim that I am an example of what it means to be in Christ. For one, I’m not even certain of the existence of God. But part of the reason why I don’t care to be involved in church right now is because I invariably find people who almost seem to make it their business to behave like massive douche canoes. And all in the name of God, praise The Lord. After awhile, even lab rats know when to stop pressing the pedal that doles out painful electric shocks. Ya know? If one were to assess whether someone was in Christ based on consistent bad behavior and attitudes, logically, one would have to come to one of two conclusions: 1) That the someone is either not genuinely following Christ or, 2) Jesus was a giant asshole who consistently denigrated people with different points of view and treated people as less than as part of His bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.

Even though Mike and I are not Catholic, we watched with baited breath as Jorge Bergoglio was revealed to be the new Pope. As Pope Francis began his address by asking everyone to pray for him, I developed a massive “Pope Crush”. With each thing he does, the “crush” gets worse: washing the feet of prisoners; refusing the papal apartment for more modest accommodations; choosing his own old, beat up car over the PopeMobile; becoming an example in Catholicism of love toward the LGBT community; working to eradicate corruption among priests and the Vatican Bank. I’ve commented to Mike how, for the first time in a long time, he is a leader in the church in whom I actually see Jesus reflected. While some have commented on how sad that is, I choose to see it as a glimmer of hope. Maybe, just maybe, it’s the beginning of a change within the church. Perhaps, more and more, we will see in others what it means to be “in Christ”. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll find myself in there again, too.

Mincemeat hand pies with cinnamon whipped cream

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This is the final pie for the month of October. Clearly, we are no longer in October. I chose sanity over pie, which is why this is late. Sanity is overrated, I know. Forgive me?

I had a bit of a hard time with this one from the beginning. The first challenge was to think of a pie that was just a bit different, something that wouldn’t bore me while dreaming it up. I also wanted to make something that reminded me of Christmas and had a nostalgic feeling. Then, with Kevin and Jill coming from England to visit, it occurred to me: mincemeat pie. Every Christmas, they send us a care package with things quintessentially British. Last year, along with orange marmalade, tea, and Cadbury Dairy Milk, we received a box of mini mincemeat pies. I had been hesitant to try such a thing before because they have the word “meat” in them. (Traditionally, they are made with beef suet. Hence, the “meat”.) I was pleasantly surprised when I bit into the muffin-sized pie. Spiced, dried fruit spilled out as I dug into a thick, rich crust. Slightly rehydrated by some booze, the fruit was moist and tangy. Out of the six pies in the box, I may have eaten four of them. And no, I didn’t eat all four the same night. I only ate three.

Once I had decided which pie I was going to make, I needed to figure out how to go about making it. Many of the recipes I found either called for beef suet, (eww) or store bought jars of mincemeat filling. No way was I going to buy a jar of mincemeat filling.
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So what I ultimately decided was to put together my favorite dried fruits and see what worked. Fortunately, all the fruits I chose liked getting boozy and juicy together. And then it happened. I got overconfident. I thought, Pshhhh, I don’t need no stinkin’ recipe. I can make pie better than John Boehner can run the House! So I spooned all the Christmas goodness into the pie crust, laid the second crust, and popped it in the oven. The smell! Y’all, it was heavenly. My house was perfumed by the smell of spiced cider or mulled wine. I half expected carolers to show up at my door in authentic Victorian garb. I was so excited to sit down to a piece of my own mincemeat pie. There was only one problem. I couldn’t sit down to a piece. The moment I cut into the pie, everything fell apart. Crust crumbled everywhere. The fruit made me chase it around the plate with my fork. That took me down a peg. On the plus side, though, it was absolutely delicious. All I needed was a method of containment. Hand pies!

This method perfectly contains the filling and remains intact while eating it. The turbinado sugar adds a little crunch, while the cinnamon whipped cream helps cut the sweetness. Something to keep in mind when choosing your fruit: balance is key. If too many of your choices are sweet, your pie will be cloyingly sweet. Using tangy cranberries, tart apples, and acidic lemon will brighten up the sweet figs, currants, and dates.

Mincemeat hand pies

Ingredients

2/3 cup diced dried apricots
2/3 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup diced dried figs
1/3 cup dried currants
1/3 cup dried dates
1 apple, peeled and diced*
1/4 packed light brown sugar
Juice and zest from 1 lemon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of coarse salt
1/4 cup brandy
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

*I used gala because it’s what I had on hand, but you can use your favorite baking apple. I suggest something on the more tart side.
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“Don’t they look like little jewels?” she said in her best Connecticut accent.

Combine all ingredients, except for turbinado sugar. Place in an air tight container for 2 hours to 3 days. If you’re leaving your filling to sit for more than a couple of hours, place in the refrigerator. The longer the mixture sits, the spicier and juicier the fruit gets.

Prepare your favorite pie dough. I used this recipe, which is the same one I used for my apple pie. Roll out dough to about 1/4 inch thickness and divide. (I got five hand pies out of one pie dough recipe.) Form each piece into a ball and roll out to a 1/4 inch circle.
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Using a slotted spoon, place about two spoonfuls of filling in the middle of the circle. Don’t place the filling too close to the edges or it will spill out when you fold your dough. Be careful not to overfill, or you’ll rip the dough.
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Fold the dough over the filling toward you, joining the edges. Use a fork to crimp the dough together so your dough doesn’t come apart while baking.
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Cut a small slit in the top of the pie for venting. Spray your baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Once you’ve placed your pies on the baking sheet, brush pies with egg wash, (add a bit of water to one egg and lightly beat) and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Allow pies to cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve with cinnamon whipped cream.

Cinnamon whipped cream

Ingredients

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp cinnamon, or to taste

Combine ingredients. Beat on high until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes.