December 7, 2014

A Birthday Equation

My beloved Mama asked me to make her a coconut cream pie for her birthday. The recipe I make requires rolling out a homemade pie crust, making a coconut custard, and crowning the whole thing with a meringue which may or may not survive an overnight holding pattern

The day I would need to make the pie is also the day of the children's Christmas program at church. Both my girls are in the program, I'm a reader, and I have been charged with feeding 50 shepherds, angels, et al., prior to the presentation. A full-on coconut cream pie will not be coming out of my kitchen this day.

Coconut Cream Pie Delight That's Better Than Robert Redford*

*As to the name of this dessert: in creating this recipe, I drew inspiration from a standard layered pastry/pudding concoction known, variously, as Pudding Delight, Almost-as-Good-as-Robert Redford, and Better Than ____________ (fill in the blank with whatever pleasure you suppose a dessert might surpass). I cobbled these together and came up with this name.

Coconut Cream Pie Delight That's Better Than Robert Redford

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup flaked coconut, toasted, plus additional for serving

8 oz. regular or 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 cup thawed regular or reduced-fat whipped topping 

1 package (4-serving size) instant coconut cream pudding
1 package (4-serving size) instant white chocolate pudding (vanilla or French vanilla can be substituted)
3 cups 2% milk
1-2 cups thawed regular or reduced-fat whipped topping
additional toasted coconut, for garnish

For the crust: combine the flour, melted butter, and 1/2 cup toasted coconut in a small bowl with a fork. Press into the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish; it will be a thin layer. Not to worry: plenty more good stuff is going on top of it. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes until it looks dry in the middle and is starting to brown a little at the edges. It does not need to be brown all over. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For the middle layer: Beat the cream cheese until smooth (a wooden spoon works fine for this if it's soft to begin with). Mix in the confectioner's sugar just until incorporated. (Reduced-fat cream cheese tends to rebel and turn runny if beaten too much.) Spread evenly over cooled crust. Chill for about 10 minutes to set slightly.

For the pudding layer: Whisk together both pudding mixes and the milk until the mixture starts to thicken. Pour or spoon gently and evenly over the cream cheese layer and spread out evenly. Chill to set (at least 15 minutes) before topping with additional whipped topping in a thin, thick, or somewhere-in-between layer, depending on your preference. Chill until ready to serve. At serving time (but not before), top with additional toasted coconut. Cut into squares and serve. (Alternatively, stand at the kitchen counter with the pan and a spoon and dig in. I did this with the sampler I made for myself along with my mom's birthday batch...but only for quality assurance testing purposes, of course.)

October 15, 2014

Rebellion Cupcakes (Chocolate Peanut-Butter Cupcakes)

Okay, so the original name for these cupcakes is "Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut-Butter Marshmallow Frosting." But after reading yet another headline about the evils of sugar, "Rebellion Cupcakes" seemed more fitting. These cupcakes, which my little family declared "maybe the best cupcakes you've ever made," break every current food rule, but they sure taste delicious while they're doing it. 

According to Facebook/magazines/newspapers/the Internet, I am not supposed to eat nor drink nor feed my family:
  • dairy
  • sugar of any kind/form
  • wheat
  • corn
  • nuts (too many allergies)
  • meat/chicken/fish of any kind unless possibly I kill it in the wild and/or make sure it's sustainable and/or make sure it doesn't have any mercury and/or make sure it has never been given growth hormones and/or make sure it had plenty of room to run around during its livelier days
  • eggs (allergies again)
  • non-organic anything but most especially not strawberries
  • tap water if my pipes are old
  • bottled water
  • M&Ms
  • anything from Subway--or any other restaurant unless all the food comes from the certified organic garden they've got growing in their back yard or on their roof
  • salt
I know we need to be careful about what "foreign substances" we put in our bodies, and I know some people must observe special dietary restrictions in order to be healthy. I believe that our bodies are gifts from God and, and we should treat them as precious vessels. But I personally believe that the spirits in these bodies are what God is most concerned about, and our spirits are the only parts of our bodies that aren't going to die anyway. I want to feed my family as healthfully as I can given constraints of time, budget, accessibility, personal preferences (gardening makes me want to cry...more on that in another post), individual tastes, and scheduling challenges. But eating one of these cupcakes is not going to desecrate my holy temple, and NOT eating one isn't going to prolong my life on this earth. So we'll have broccoli with dinner (non-organic, but cruciferous nonetheless) while we work on memorizing Bible verses for Sunday School (read: feed our eternal souls). Then, we'll enjoy a Rebellion Cupcake for dessert, and in the relative blink of an eye, we'll be in heaven and won't have to worry about any of this.

Rebellion Cupcakes
(Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut-Butter Marshmallow Frosting) 

1 standard-sized box (2-layer) chocolate cake mix WITHOUT pudding in the mix
1 package (4-serving size) instant chocolate pudding mix
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup reduced-fat or regular sour cream 
4 egg whites or 2 whole eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 standard-sized muffin tins with paper liners and lightly coat each liner with nonstick cooking spray. 

With a hand mixer, beat together all the above cupcake ingredients on low speed until moistened. Stop mixer, scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula, and beat 2 minutes longer on medium speed. The batter will be thick. This is a good thing. Spoon into prepared muffin cups. Bake 18-24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

1 cup peanut butter (I like smooth)
1 cup marshmallow creme
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup powdered sugar
For garnish: 4-5 full-sized peanut butter cups, coarsely chopped

By hand (don't use a mixer here unless you want PB sauce instead of frosting), gently fold together the peanut butter, marshmallow creme, milk, and vanilla. Gently fold in the powdered sugar. Frost each cupcake, then top with chopped peanut butter cups. Store cool and airtight for a few days.

July 4, 2014

Grumpy Gardener Girl

I hate gardening. 

I know, I know: in a current culture that encourages, “Eat local, seasonal, organic food of your own producing, and if possible, keep a cow so you can legally consume raw milk, and also please keep some chickens,” this sentiment puts me on the fringe of decent society. 

And no, “hate” is not too strong a word.

I'm so sorry, but gardening makes me grumpy. Of course, as a melancholy, dysthemic introvert, most things make me grumpy. (Cue chorus of "amens" from my family and all my college roommates.) 

But gardening takes me to a new level of grumpiness. That this has not escaped my children’s notice became clear one summer when my then-6-year-old daughter said, “I’ll tell you how much you hate gardening. Once you start, you’re already at the end of your rope.” And all I was doing at the time of her comment was walking toward the garden.

I hate gardening because my garden is just one more thing that needs to be taken care of, one more thing that can go wrong. I have children and a 100-year-old farmhouse to build character and encourage selfless living. What do I need a garden for?

I want to establish for the record that while I hate gardening, I love several gardeners. 

I am crazy about my mom, who tends five gardens (Vegetable By the Stream, Vegetable By the Barn, Butterfly, Perennial, and Wildflower) and dreams of things like raised beds and electric fencing. My dear aunt lovingly nurtures beautiful roses. Another amazing woman in my life, with whom I share a love of music but not, clearly, of gardening, pours over seed catalogs in winter as an affirmation that God always brings spring. One of my most treasured friends “gets” me in so many ways no one else does but cannot possibly be expected to comprehend my hatred of gardening while she anticipates the sprouting of her 500 (!) seeds of corn. I love these wonderful women in spite of their passion for gardening just as they love me in spite of my abhorrence of it.

The best thing about gardening?
Getting to wear my beloved mud boots.
There are, however, some chasms between the pro- and anti-gardening camps that cannot be bridged. I once had a birthday twin at our church, a fellow mom relatively close to me in age who shared my April 20th birthday. When I asked her one year if she had any special plans for our birthday, she replied, eyes shining, “The greenhouse opens that day, so I can go and spend my birthday money there.” That’s when I knew we couldn't be friends.
This is my kind of gardening:
I do nothing. Pretty stuff shows up in my yard.

Gardening proponents tout the unmatched pleasure of biting into a home-grown, perfectly ripe tomato whilst still standing in the garden. To this sentiment, I offer one retort: weeds. 

Also, the aforementioned tomato, which is supposed to make all this work and worry “worth it,” may never materialize at all due to various factors including but not limited to black spots, poor soil, deer, flood, drought, hail, heatwaves, and frost.

All of this, I know, begs the question, “So why do it?” For one thing, there is the guilt. Guilt is my modus operandi, my reason for doing almost everything except eating chocolate. We live on a quiet country road in an old farmhouse on 10 acres with a barn and a stone milk house, and it just seems we should have a garden. 

Also, I come from a long line of die-hard gardeners (see my mom, above), and I cannot escape the weight of my horticultural heritage. Plus, I love to eat. Pessimistic as I am about that perfect tomato, I would be thrilled to eat such a specimen produced in my own personal backyard. I could (should?) join a CSI or frequent local farmers’ markets, but our family is trying to survive on one income and such trendy practices feel a little indulgent on our budget.

So, I have a garden, but I hate it. In her excellent children’s book, More Perfect Than the Moon, Patricia MacLachlan tells the story of Cassie, who is about to be displaced as the youngest child in her family by the baby her mother is expecting. In her journal, Cassie takes to referring to her coming sibling as The Terrible Baby, and, in a nod to this wonderful book—and because I love reading so much more than gardening—I have begun calling my little patch of weeds and woe “The Terrible Garden.” 

It helps, a little.

January 11, 2014

Insomniac ABC's

Lydia woke me up at 4:45 this morning, complaining of a headache. I gave her ibuprofen and tucked her back into bed. Getting back to sleep before the alarm went off at 5:30 wasn't happening, so I figured I might as well get started on my daily prayer P.A.T.H. (Praise, Admit, Thank, ask for Help). Being an organization freak, I decided to work my way through the alphabet, praising God through His names/titles/attributes. Of course, He knows Who He is. The acknowledgement is for my benefit and reminding and because it is good to do. He is God; I am not.

Here's the list I came up with (thanks to my wise husband for his help!), including Scriptural support Unless otherwise indicated, all references are from the NIV...also note that my mental meandering considered the Triune God: Father, Son, Spirit. May His name be praised and adored. "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness" (Psalm 115:1).

Ancient of Days ~ "As I looked, 'thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat.'" (Daniel 7:9)

Blessed One ~ "'Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?'" (Mark 14:61)

Counselor ~ "'The Counselor, the Holy Spirit...will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.'" (John 14:25)

Deliverer ~ "The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer." (Psalm 18:2)

El Roi (God Who Sees) ~ "'I have now seen the One who sees me.'" (Genesis 16:13)

Faithful and True ~ "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True." (Revelation 19:11)

Good Shepherd ~ "'I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.'" (John 10:14)

Holy One ~ "Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One among you." (Isaiah 12:6)

Immanuel ~ "They will call him Immanuel--which means, 'God with us.'" (Matthew 1:23)

Jesus ~ "'You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'" (Matthew 1:21)

King of kings ~ "On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." (Revelation 19:16)

Lord of lords ~ "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome." (Deuteronomy 10:17) 

Maker of heaven and earth ~ "My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:2)

Name above all names ~ "God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name." (Philippians 2:9)

One and Only ~ "We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only." (John 1:14)

Prince of Peace"He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

Quieter of His peopleThe LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zephaniah 3:17)

Redeemer ~ "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth." (Job 19:25)

Savior ~ "Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long." (Psalm 25:4, 5)

Truth ~ "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

Unequaled ~ "'To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?' says the Holy One." (Isaiah 40:25)

Vine ~ "'I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and i in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.'" (John 15:5)

Word ~ "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)

Xerxes' Sleep-Taker ~ "The Lord took sleep from the king that night." (Esther 6:1, from the Septuagint; God was preparing to do something amazing among His people through His servant, Queen Esther, and "taking sleep" from Esther's husband, King Xerxes, was part of the plan!)

Yahweh ~ "Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7, World English Bible)

Zion's King ~ "'I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.'" (Psalm 2:6)

"Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for You; 
Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts." (Isaiah 26:8)

January 2, 2014

Real-Deal Chocolate-Covered Popcorn

Today seemed like a good time to share a little of the "chocoholic" part of Guilty Chocoholic Mama!

Here's an article I originally submitted for my column in Kalamazoo Parent magazine; this spotlights a Guetschow family chocolate classic: Chocolate-Covered Popcorn. Trust me: you need this in your life.

Dear Elizabeth,
We hope you like camp and had a good night your first day there. We think of you each day and will say a prayer for you at suppertime. I’m writing this on Saturday, so not much has happened that you don’t already know about…

Thus began a letter my mom sent to me when I was away at camp one summer during my elementary-school years. Actually, she sent it before I had even left home in order to ensure I would get mail early in the week. My mom was, clearly, a dedicated correspondent, and her missives about the weather and my family’s activities (particularly those of my sister, Missy, and my brother, Paul) at home in my absence helped assuage my slight homesickness.

We really had a good rain last night and this morning—everything is turning green again. I’m making pickles, and we might go over to Grandpa’s for lunch today. Daddy had two ballgames last night, and Paul went with him, but Missy and I stayed home and played “beauty shop.” Missy says “hello” and Paul says to tell you he’s “still here.”

My mom favored letters over care-packages. Our family budget was tight, and letters were far less expensive to mail. Also, I was only gone a week at a time and could easily survive that long on camp food. But if she had sent me a care package, my mom might well have enclosed a batch of Chocolate-Covered Popcorn. This gooey treat is a legendary family classic that travels well, is relatively inexpensive to mail, and keeps for days.  This is not, mind you, mere plain popcorn drizzled perfunctorily with melted chocolate. Nor is it caramel corn similarly treated.  This is popcorn fully encased in a chewy chocolate coating, almost like chocolate caramel. Stir up a batch and send it to your away-from-home child. I promise: you’ll have one happy camper, indeed.

Chocolate-Covered Popcorn
14-16 cups plain popped popcorn (I use an air-popper and make 1 ½ batches)
½ cup sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup butter (no substitutions), cut into chunks
Dash salt
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 300°. Place popped popcorn in a large roasting pan or other extra-large baking pan coated with cooking spray.  (If you do not have an extra-large pan, you can use 2 9x13-inch baking pans and divide the popcorn evenly between them.) Bake at 300° for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes; this removes extra moisture from the popcorn so the finished product will be crisp. Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt, and chocolate in a 2-cup microwave-safe measure or small microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave on High power 2 minutes or until boiling, stirring after 1 minute. Watch carefully unless you want to create a chocolate volcano in your microwave! Remove from microwave and stir in vanilla. Carefully pour the very warm chocolate mixture over the popcorn and toss gently to coat using a large spoon or spatula. Serve immediately or allow to cool in the pan before packing up to mail to your favorite camper. Makes about 14 cups…enough to send to camp with some left over for the home crowd. 

January 1, 2014

Gratitude and Good Things

It's the beginning of a new year, and true to my introverted, melancholy, dysthemic nature, I'm feeling a sense of dread. I know, I know...some attitude, huh? 

So, in the spirit of Veggie Tales' Madam Blueberry--"a thankful heart is a happy heart"--I thought I'd start a "Gratitude and Good Things" project...really just a list of things I'm thankful for that make me feel more contented and less fearful. This mirrors the "blessings jar" that many (my own sweet Lydia included) have started, but saves me having to make the jar--which feels too much like a craft. I'm starting this list on January 1, 2014, but will add to it throughout the year. Nothing is going to turn me into an optimist, but maybe this list will convert me to a more grateful realist! Happy New Year, mamas!

Elizabeth's 2014 Gratitude and Good Things List

1. Snow and cold. Real winter already, and only officially about 10 days in (from January 1, 2014). I know I'm the only person in the world who feels this way, but everyone else will have to start their own blog and put "90 degrees and humid" on their list in July. 

2. A clean shower. Comet "Lavender Fresh" with bleach smells lovely, is cheap, and deals with shower unpleasantries. Forgot I had cleaned with it yesterday and got a nice surprise gift when I stepped in this morning.

3. Hot water. 

4. Wood heat. And a wood-burning fireplace.

5. An MSU Rose Bowl victory! (And the very happy husband that comes with it.)

6. Good grades on a regular basis for both my girls. They have to work hard to get them, but that's a lesson in and of itself, and I'm thankful they have keen minds capable of learning. Learning (and even caring about grades) is a struggle for so many kids; I'm truly grateful my girls generally want to do well and are able to do so if they put in the effort.

7. Proverbs 32 women's Bible study...and our wild and wonderful journey though the book of Daniel!

8. Dark chocolate-almond Dove candies. (Mental) health food. Oh my.

9. (From Anna) When someone scratches your back and gets at just the right itchy spot. Ahhhh....

10. (Also from Anna) Chapstick--especially when your lips are like little deserts and you can't think of a thing in the world you want more than a tube of relief. 

11. On-line banking. I was late to the party, but I'm so glad I finally showed up. 

12. A new Scripture memory/meditation project. Always feel I should "listen" to/for God after prayer time during my morning walk. Alas, my own thoughts get in the way. Need something God-centered to keep my brain otherwise free in case He is trying to tell me something. Also need to memorize more Scripture. Ta-da! Mentally and/or verbally "chant" a portion of some chunk of the Word I'm trying to memorize. This will: 1)keep my mind from straying to what to make for dinner or finances or other troubling matters; 2)help me sharpen my sword (see Ephesians 6:17); 3)keep my mind/spirit available to hear God (I figure He can interrupt my replay of His own Word to tell me something else if He wants to). Current list of Scriptures I'm working on:

  • Daniel 2:20-23 ~ "Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are His. He changes times and seasons; He sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him. I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers."