Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Good Night and Good Bye 2014!

Last sunset of 2014

I hear the youngsters in the neighborhood popping bottle rockets with the occasional high-dollar canon exploding.  A wonderful cold spell just right for December has the stars dancing in a night sky so clear you can almost see heaven this last evening of 2014.

It is the time to review the year passed and post resolutions for the future.  The past being the past and all and the future not here yet, well hmmmm… I’ve news for you:  2015’s resolution look alarmingly similar to 2014’s.  And 2013’s.

I resolve in 2015 to continue to live a “no excuses” life.  Feeling particularly empowered by having completed culinary school despite obstacles (distance, fuel prices that have only come down now that school is finished, aging mother, necessary self-employment, normal effects of aging, tanked economy, et cetera, ad nauseam…), it’s liberating to fess up to failure when it occurs, making no excuse, but resolutely determining to learn from the situation, grow from it, and move forward.

I resolve to be better to myself, by saying “no” often and turning down business, so that adequate rest, aka sleep, is a nightly given and not an exception.  There are no spring chickens here.  Rest is necessary.  OOooooo!  And I will eat the fruit/ vegetable that is much loved, even green-house tomatoes in the middle of winter, regardless of cost.  Not because they’re good but because they’re enjoyed – and it’s the little things that make up the big things when it comes to being better to yourself.

And lastly, but most importantly, I resolve to continually show gratitude and praise to an Almighty that loves me, despite myself, by putting a very best effort and time into everything.  Whether it’s noticing pure crystalline hoar frost on the weeds in the ditches on the coldest Deep South morning or a random act of kindness – this life is the only one available to foster and expand love, joy,and peace.  It’s up to me and me alone, on the face of this earth, to make the best of this life.

And that’s it.  Nothing unreal.  No ‘lose a gozillion pounds by 2016.’  No half-marathons by March.  No sort of butter-cessation 12 step program...  Nope. According to Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, I’m at the top of the triangle;  not a bad place for a middle-aged Deep South gal just starting a new job to be on January 1.

Happy 2016, my friends!  It’s Hoppin' John and cabbage out at Mama’s tomorrow.  Y’all join us.  I’ll let you have the first piece of cornbread!

Ever and always,


Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Rose Is A Rose is a Swirl Rose?

Yep.  See?  I hope to get back on schedule of a blog post a week, now that the requirements for an associates in applied science culinary arts degree have been finished.  While decorating the 'Frozen' ombre swirl roses cake this morning, I remembered I'd done a five minute presentation for SkillsUSA competition last February on filling, crumb-coating, and decorating a cake with swirl roses-- and stored everything nicely together on hard drive.  Voila!  Instant blog post!

It starts with a really great quote...
All sorrows in life stem from the lack of cake. If you had your own cake, you wouldn't bother trying to take away the other person's cake!
And, if the cake you had were beautiful enough, you wouldn't bother trying to melt the icing on that other person's cake!
And if you always had a very beautiful cake that was always beautiful enough, then you would have a smile on your face all the time and wouldn't even care if other people were enjoying their own cakes! Because you'd be enjoying yours, too!
Therefore, I hereby decree that all sorrows can be fixed by many beautiful cakes!
Bake a cake! 
C. JoyBell C.

Bake a cake.
 These were actually the presentation cakes taken to competition.  I had to
show the process from start to finish in FIVE minutes.  Carrying three in various stages
of completion expedited the presentation.

 Pipe a dam.  Add structural support in the center.
 Structural support?  Well, the filling is less dense than the icing;  therefore
inner support is needed, lest the cake sink in.

Add filling of choice and smooth out.

Repeat with next layer.

It doesn't matter if the piped dam isn't quite level,
just make sure the next cake layer going on top is.

Repeat until cake is assembled.

Begin crumb coating cake, working from the bottom up.

Crumb coats seal in the crumbs very well, keeping 
them out of the finished icing.

When the cake is crumb coated, allow to dry
until no longer sticky.  You're ready to decorate!

Use 1M tip to create swirl roses.

Start each rose in the center, swirling outward.  
It doesn't matter which direction swirled.  Consistency
does matter.  Always swirl in the same direction.

 For the next rose, move over only enough to complete
the next rose.  Always start on the same imaginary center line
for the row of roses.

Always stop in the same place, too. I like to leave a bit 
of 'tail' that will be covered by the next rose.

Once the bottom row has been completed, pipe the
next row.  The number of rows is dependent upon
the height of the cake -- and the size of the roses.

Cover the top, working from the outside in.

Swirl roses are, without doubt, the easiest technique to decorate a cake.

End of presentation...
And now you know!  Here are a few more swirl rose cakes.  

This was a baby girl's first birthday smash cake.
Same swirl technique, different tip.

And this was the family's cake!

 Thanksgiving cake.

 This was one of the first cakes done.
It took me a little while to get the rose sizes even.
If you encounter the same predicament just 
fill in the spaces however best you can!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Rant

Christmas Rant?  Are you serious, Mayree?  Well…..  Yes.

And before anyone reads any farther to only get offended, this is a singular Christian perspective.  I’ve never professed to be anything but a member of the Presbyterian Church in America; far from perfect in all aspects of belief, but firmly staid in what I believe (which may or may not be exactly what the PCA stands for).  If you’re not a Christian, stop here. 

Where to start?  Elf on the Shelf.  He/she is as cute as the next holiday tradition but I’m kind of tired of Advent postings of a $29.95Target special making headlines on FB.  Parents have spent considerable amounts of imagination and time to make the elf appear someplace different every morning, usually with a bit of mischief in mind.  It’s to the point that demented Elf on the Shelf postings are enjoyed.  Far worse, though, what are parents teaching?  As a youngster, we studied the Children’s Catechism in Sunday School.  A question and answer ignored during rebellious years but remembered much better as an adult is Can you see God?  Answer. No; I cannot see God, but he always sees me.”  So then, if a Christian is to train up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22: 6), what does it mean that God has been replaced by a cloth and stuffing image  during Christmas?  Let me rephrase that.  How comfortable are you providing an idol to your young child(ren) all for the sake of Christmas fun and tradition?  Ohhhh, Mayree!  It’s just a fun thing for the kids and parents!  Really?  Geez.  And here I thought Christmas was all about Christ and celebrating THE birth…

Next up?  Type A/Perfectionist behavior.  Let it GO already!  It took a very long time for this old gal to let go of perfectionist tendencies (a very long time), but I’m so thankful I did, especially here at Christmas.  But, Mayree!!!  Everything HAS to be perfect!  No.  It doesn’t.  So what if you didn’t get a perfect balance of starches and veggies on the menu!  **snicker** My menu is starch heavy and it’s almost irritating but the day with family and friends celebrating a Savior’s birth trumps perfectly presented victuals.  Oh!  Ran out of wrapping paper?  Tape?  Gift bags?  Nothing is open?  Have you forgotten the magic of Christmas is not in the gifts but in the giving?  What’s that?  You didn’t find/couldn’t afford the one thing your child asked for?  Me neither.  And you know what?  I’m blessed to have children that will love me despite of it.  What are you blessed with?  Whatever physical things are under the tree/on the table are enough.  The day is about sharing and showing gratitude to a God that loves us enough to give us heaven by the birth of His Son, fully God and fully man – and that’s not a thing that can be duplicated on the face of this earth.

Lastly.  The tree/Christmas decorations.  I don’t feel the least bit guilty about not having a tree put up this year.  Why?  First of all, there are no small children (woot! I’m so thankful to have successfully survived to have grown sons).  No one will be over to ooh and ah over perfect placement of lights and ornaments, halls bedecked with lights and greenery, Victorian Santa collection, or any of the other dozen boxes of decorations up in the cabinets.  “But, Mayree, how can you foster the Christmas spirit without having a tree?” you say.  I’ve seen folks agonizing over not getting a tree up until the last minutes, their Christmas villages hastily arranged in a last-ditch effort to ‘get’ the Christmas spirit.  I’d gently admonish the reader that, if it takes the tree/food/gifts/unattainable things to 'get' in the Christmas Spirit, something is amiss.  Something is not quite right.  What is it you want from Christmas?  And, more importantly, why?

I’m no Scrooge, I promise.  I love Christmas the way I love Easter.  The two are so connected that one can’t be thought of without the other.  Both are observances of Something so much larger than a human mind can comprehend, indelibly provided by an Almighty that loves us despite ourselves.  We ought to remember more thoroughly why it is we celebrate, not binding it to any other thing.

Christmas is about love.  It is about family and friends.  And giving.  Give Christmas heart.  Give Christmas your heart.

Christmas rant over!  Now y’all come on down to the Deep South.  It’s supposed to be cooler tomorrow night and there’s wood for a bon fire.  We’ll have hot buttered rums, left over starches, and burn an effigy of an elf!

Merry Christmas, y’all!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Twinkie Cake That Wasn't: How to Make Do

Grandmama, grandmother to The Fellows on their other side of the family, used to make this cake (she may still).  I don't know where the recipe came from, Google, perhaps could tell, although Grandmama was making it well before wireless or broadband or Google.  I do know that it's a light and cool summer favorite dessert that gets put together in moments -- and is consumed just as quickly.

Pardon the ClingWrap.  I'd forgotten to take a final photo
before putting it in the fridge and only remembered
moments before exiting Pine Level.

The original recipe called for Twinkies.  A soul will be hard pressed to find Twinkies in Leakesville.  You think I'm kidding?  Nope.  Piggly Wiggly (aka The Pig) doesn't carry them.  We've lots of Little Debbie treats, though.  It was a coin toss between the Swiss rolls and Banana rolls.  Strawberries go well with the Swiss rolls but I've already done strawberries this week so the banana rolls won without even breaking out a quarter.

This is one of those desserts where name brands
don't make a whole lot of difference in the
quality of the finished treat.

Besides a large box of Twinkies, you'll also need a 15 ounce can of crushed pineapple and an eight ounce tub of whipped topping.  "But, Mayree, " you say, "that's a photo of pineapple chunks."  Yes.  Those are pineapple chunks.  I'm pleading menopausal forgetfulness for not purchasing crushed pineapple while picking up the banana rolls.  Like so many other aspects of life, I made do with what was at hand.

Here's how to make it at a glance:
Place Twinkies (banana rolls) in bottom of 9 x 13 casserole.  Or 
whatever.  There are 11 rolls in the dish with
one left over for Mama.  No comments about
OCD okay? I like symmetry...

Spoon pineapple on top of Twinkies or banana

Pour juice on top.  MMMMmmmm...
It soaks all into the rolls and makes
them a soggy cool mess.

Spread whipped topping on (duh) top.
This is the point that I remembered the dessert
is made with crushed pineapple.  Pineapple
chunks aren't 'smooth' friendly.

Cover and let chill.

Voila!  More time was spent in unwrapping the rolls than in any other step.  I've also used Swiss rolls topped with frozen (and thawed) sweetened sliced strawberries.  I'm warning y'all:  this very easy dessert is seriously addictive.  Do NOT take it out of the refrigerator until you are ready to see it consumed in its entirety. 

And "That's all," she wrote on a hot Saturday evening in the Deep South with Family Dinner tomorrow at church -- and a cool dessert to share.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

July 4th in the Deep South: As American as Cubed Watermelon?

It occurred to me the other day that I hadn't written a blog post in a very long time.  Not really having a bunch of anything newsworthy, the thought was dismissed;  until tonight, that is.  I was cutting a locally grown watermelon to share with coworkers and Mama tomorrow and the idea struck me that I hadn't seen a tutorial on cutting watermelon flesh into cubes in a very long time also.  Longer, even, that the last time a blog post was written here!

I can't remember where I'd seen the original tutorial on watermelon and, wanting to show y'all while still in the mood (menopause being what it is), I didn't google it either.  I do know there were multiple instructions including using a ruler to achieve perfect cubes.  This being the Deep South and all, watermelons are already perfect enough without having to be served in shapes with identical parameters (and this coming from a gal with borderline OCD when it comes to food presentation).

So.  Without getting a whole lot more wordy, here are the photos.  If you've any difficulty understanding what it is being done, leave a comment or email.  I'll be happy to explain in further detail!

**giggle** Now you never need melon ball again!

Happy Independence Day, y'all!  <3 Mary

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

...Lived to Speak Another Day

Lots of you know (and some of you don't) that I'm a middle-aged Deep Southerner in a second year of pursuing a degree in Culinary Arts Technology at Jones County Junior College.  It's a second go-round of higher education, the first attempt occurring almost three decades ago.  Remarkably and amazingly, all of the core curriculum credits from those college years transferred forward through time to land securely in this present day.  There was only one class missing:  speech.  I hemmed, hawed, begged, cited life experience for possible credit for the accursed class, and pled futuristic mental angst if made to take it. I should have saved my breath;  tonight was the first speech.

As far as speeches go it was to be short, of two to four minutes length.  Three items were to be brought, representative of who we are.  An attention-getting device, such as a favorite quote, was to begin the speech, along with naming and then explaining the different items brought.

These are mostly high school dual enrollment or first year college students.  There are only a handful of non-traditional students in the class and they're all younger with zero intimidation factor.  Most of the youngsters I know personally.  The large class was split in half so there were only 16 individuals in the later time slot, instead of the whole room full of giggling snorting texting students.  Did it matter, as far as nervousness was concerned?  Not one bit.   I don't fear death nearly as much as public speaking with a great amount of respect for both of them.

The two minute forty-nine second speech was made, a vibrato large enough to drive a Big Mac truck through developing at some point.  No notes were used, eye contact was made, words were not tripped over, pregnant pauses were non-evident, conclusion was conclusive; everything but introducing myself was remembered (and that was done at the end {and was the only 2 point deduction}).

So what'd I say?  I thought you'd never ask!  As well as can be remembered (it was kind of an out-of-body experience) here it is for you to enjoy or snicker at, permanently preserved in cyberspace.

Good afternoon!  I was going to begin with the well-known poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay that goes (suck in deep breath, quote poem with it) My candle burns at both ends, it will not last the night.  But oh, my foe, and ah, my friend, it gives a lovely light.  BUT upon reflection, I believe Freddie Mercury's apt lyric to be more suitable "Fat bottomed Girls you make the rocking world go round!"

The three items I've brought tonight are a Trinity Hymnal, official hymnal of the Presbyterian Church in America, and by extension, Leakesville Presbyterian Church; a photo of my two sons; and a clay statue by Dylan Karges, an archeological illustrator with the Cobb Institute at Mississippi State University.

The name of the hymnal is the Trinity Hymnal, readily identifying it as an object associated with the triune God that I serve.  It also has a trio of meaning attached to it.  The first is that is represents seventeen years worth of classical piano lessons and also 28 of 53 years as the pianist at Leakesville Presbyterian Church.  It secondly represents years and years of loving music, being able to identify rhythms and cadences and hear melodies surrounding me with musical texture all the time.  Thirdly, it holds, in the back of it, the positions of the Presbyterian Church in America as found in its Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism, Apostle's and Nicene Creeds, and responsive Psalter readings.

The second item is a photograph of my sons, Michael and John Robert.  To borrow E. B. White's phrase from Charlotte's Web (as Charlotte is explaining to Wilbur what her egg sack was), they are my magnum opus, my greatest work.  I was not going to be a mother.  I'd taken the GRE and was headed to the University of Texas in Austin to pursue an advanced degree in paleontology.  I had nieces and nephews that I loved and that was enough.  Life intervened, fortunately.  I had sons and knew that raising them would be the most worthwhile endeavor ever undertaken.  Despite all my efforts at being a perfect nurturing mother of bodies, minds, and souls, they turned out to be delightful, intelligent, sometimes quite, often rowdy, caring, respectful Southern Gentlemen. I couldn't be prouder.

The last item is a funny little clay statue titled Facing Future.  It was part of a larger exhibition at one time and was a Mother's Day gift at a point in life where much introspection had been done and time was presenting itself to be moved in one direction or another.  The statue is kind of funky, individual from all the others created.  He leans forward, chin up, looking skyward, ready to step into the future.  It acted as a catalyst to do something, to go forward, to go into the future.  That's where I am.  It's one of my most treasured possessions.

In summation then, on this table there are three f's represented, but in a good way:  faith, family, and future.
My name is Mary Havard-McCoy and thank you very much!