|A boy and his dog rest after a long weekend of work.|
I'm trying to decide what to do in the last 45 minutes of precious, kid-free time this afternoon. Eat lunch or write my blog post? Blogging, as you can see, wins. I ought to be vacuuming or cleaning, but I'm taking a well-deserved "me" morning. This weekend we had my parents here as well as my sister and her family of four (soon to be five). My parents came to help us chop down our forested backyard and chip up all the wood. We'd already taken hundreds of saplings down over the summer and our backyard was nothing but piles of branches and trunks. My dad helped Jerry and our teen finish taking down the small trees, limb out the trees covering the front of the house, and trim the bushes. Our neighbor across the street is thrilled. "You can see the house now!" he cried. I can see how badly it needs power washing and trim painting, myself, but at least it's an improvement. We've had lots of trouble with mold and damp because the house never had a chance to dry out after rain in all the shade.
My sister came down because my parents were here and because I gave her my son's toddler bed for my niece, as the crib will soon be pressed into service for the next baby. Then, some friends called and said they were in the area and might drop by with their family of five. I was beginning to feel like I was in my grandmother's dream. My grandmother raised six children in a tiny ranch house with a minuscule kitchen. Until she died she had a recurring nightmare in which she had to crawl through a hole in the wall to get to her kitchen and every time she returned to her house with the food more and more people were in it. Then, someone announced the US President was coming, so she was having to crawl through the hole to cook more food. I love getting to see family and friends, but I can certainly relate to her dream! Added to all the comings and goings this weekend was the fact that all the men and children were continually tracking wood chips and leaves through the house going in and out. I probably swept the floors a hundred times over the weekend, and I noticed this morning the carpet upstairs is terribly in need of a vacuum!
|My daughter's birthday doll cake|
Since everyone was visiting my mother wanted to have another birthday party for my daughter. So, we took her shopping for some new games and clothes and I made her a cake. A few months ago I purchased a big estate box of dolls and doll clothes with some housewares thrown in. Among these I found a vintage "cake doll". This is half a doll with a little spike on her waist. You bake a dome shaped cake, stick the doll on top, and ice the cake and the doll's torso to look as though the doll is wearing a fancy ball gown. I had one of these for my birthday once and so did my mother. When I told my daughter about it she was very interested, so I made one for her.
|My special pan|
I happen to have a Betty Crocker Bake and Fill pan with a dome-shaped option, so it was perfect for this cake. I love this pan. You can make ice-cream filled cakes, or pudding filled, or fruit filled, or just make neat looking layered cakes. I made a chocolate cake and filled it with vanilla pudding. Even though it's not really good for you, I used one cake mix and one box of pudding. That's what the pan is designed to use, so if you try to make cake from scratch you always have a bunch left over. I figure, cake isn't good for you anyway! Then I made my famous homemade icing. This is basically buttercream to which you add 1 1/2 tablespoons of whipping cream and one egg yoke. It is an heirloom recipe I adapted from an old lemon cake recipe. The whipping cream and egg make the frosting whip up much lighter-tasting and less sweet than regular frosting. I hated frosting even as a child because it's too sweet and makes my teeth feel funny like the enamel is squirming around, but this frosting I love. Even my brother-in-law, who hates sweets, loves my frosting!
Because I'm so nice, I will give you the recipe:
Mandy's BEST Creamy Frosting
frosts one 9-inch cake; double recipe for frosting and filling.
1/2 cup butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sifted sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 tablespoons whipping cream
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
3 drops food coloring or as desired to obtain your color
Cream butter; add remaining ingredients. Beat until smooth and somewhat expanded. Refrigerate to harden some and before serving.
You should be aware, since this uses raw egg yolk you might want to use pasteurized egg if you have someone who is very young or immune compromised. Also, this is not a great icing for piping. I did use it for the doll cake, but you can see, it only holds a soft edge. If I want hard-edged piping I use buttercream or royal icing for that and use this recipe as a filling or base. This icing also melts easily, so frost your cake right before serving or make sure you have room to refrigerate it.
|Our bedroom after makeover|
You can make a doll cake even if you don't have this special pan. This is how my grandmother made my mom's cake: use an angel food cake pan with the hole in the center. Once the cake is baked and cooled place a regular Barbie-sized doll in the hole of the cake and ice the doll and cake to look like a big ball gown. This is a great idea, because this way you can use a new doll and give it as a gift. I remember being disappointed that my doll cake only contained half a doll, not usable for play after the cake was eaten!
|Our new chair and pouf ottoman|
I've had to sit and rest a lot over the weekend because I'm still not 100%. Jerry dragged me to the doctor on Friday. The doctor isn't sure what I have (the reason I avoid doctors if possible. I get the feeling they're just guessing most of the time!) but he put me on a z-pack. He thinks I have a virus that went to my chest and caused a secondary infection. The z-pack cleared up my chest significantly, but it just tore my stomach up. So, between bouts of uncontrollable coughing and stomach cramps and cooking and cleaning for a zillion people, I'm a bit worn out! My sister the nurse also helpfully mentioned since the doctor didn't do an X-ray or take blood, just did a throat swab for strep, there's no way to know if my spleen might rupture, apparently something that can happen with certain viruses. So, that's a cheerful thought!
Jerry did help a lot on Saturday night by grilling brats (bratwurst, not children!). Then he and our teen built a bonfire and we let the kids roast marshmallows. Mom bought a huge tin of Nyakers Pepparkakor (those thin, crunchy, Swedish gingersnaps) and we let the kids make "Scandinavian S'Mores" with pepparkakor, chocolate, and marshmallow. Really, they should be "Swedish" s'mores but I can't do that. The Norwegian blood won't let me. Jerry said, "Yeah, you'd have to turn in your...antlers and...sweaters if you admitted the Swedes created something." I told him, the Swedes didn't make up the recipe, I did. They just made the gingersnaps! Then, my mom left the whole tempting tin of pepparkakor here, even though we're doing Atkins. Thanks, Mom! I guess we will save them for carb night.
|Ingredients for Scandinavian S'mores|
I'm trying to limit wine to carb night, but it's so hard. Wine is very important culturally to me; that's my excuse! I've been re-reading my Norwegian folk tales to inspire my story. These are sort of like The Beedle and the Bard from Harry Potter for Norwegians. They are full of trolls who steal princesses down to their underground world, and princesses whose beauty is "as red as blood and white as milk", and magic swords or draughts, and giant eagles. In my favorite, Følgesvennen (The Companion), a wine tapper is executed and frozen in a block of ice rather than given a Christian burial because he mixed water with the wine!
To thank the men for all their hard work I cooked a huge Ohio supper Sunday night. I made schnitzel and pretzels with beer cheese and Himmel und Erde (Heaven and Earth). All these recipes are on my Pinterest Recipes board. Just know, the Himmel recipe is wrong; halfway through the blogger seems to forget which recipe she's writing. You need to mash the potatoes and apples with the butter and spices before you top with the bacon and onions. I leave the peels on, but you might want to peel them first if you don't like chunky mashed potatoes. And remember I use a full can of beer and increase the nutmeg in my beer cheese. Jerry says he could love me for my beer cheese alone!
Speaking of great recipes, today I made the best salad ever. I used my leftover chicken from my Winner Winner Chicken Dinner post on a salad. That recipe is here: http://mandalineartfulliving.blogspot.com/2013/11/winner-winner-chicken-dinner.html. I heated the chicken and put it over cold, crunchy baby mixed salad greens and topped it with Atkins Creamy Italian homemade dressing. This dressing tastes like ranch, only super-fabulous. It was like bacon ranch chicken salad! Here's the dressing recipe:
Atkins Creamy Italian (Ranch) Dressing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
basil and oregano to taste (I use fresh or frozen herbs)
salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients and let sit for about a half hour before serving to mingle the flavors.
To make up for my hard weekend, this morning I worked on my book and then took a long walk down to the lake. I sat on the dock for a long time enjoying the mild, sunny weather. Tomorrow it's supposed to be freezing and possibly icing all day, so this is my last chance to enjoy the lake for a bit. I can't even begin to express my gratitude at having a lake in my life again. I practically lived in the water for most of my childhood and it's been the most significant regret of mine since we moved to North Carolina when I was 10 that I couldn't walk to the lake. I am just loving Lake Norman.
I'm happy to say my story is coming along well. It's over 11,000 words now and still pretty much writing itself. I'm glad it's doing well because my store sales have been just abysmal the past couple weeks. It's not good, because it looks like all our kids need braces and I am trying to help pay for that. If you would like to shop in my store it is much appreciated. The link is here: http://stores.ebay.com/atelier-mandaline.
I have the best event to look forward to this evening. Jerry set up a trip to Lenoir-Rhyne University nearby to hear A.S. Byatt, my very favorite author who wrote Possession, my very favorite book, speak. I am so excited I can hardly stand it! I hope I won't give up on my own book in despair, though. A.S. Byatt is a really amazing author. I hope you will check out her work if you're not familiar with her. I picked up Possession by chance years ago. I was digging through a discount bin at the bookstore looking for a lightweight paperback to read on a flight to Italy. By that I mean size, not subject matter. Possession was small enough to fit in my purse but long enough to last through the flight and I like the painting on the front (I think it is Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Persephone, but it may be another of the Pre-Raphaelites). Unfortunately, my well-read and tattered copy disappeared during all our moving last year and I can't remember the exact painting on the cover. Anyway, it just shows, you never know what mundane decision, like a trip to the store, is going to change your life forever!
|A beautiful sunrise|
I've been making an effort recently to be grateful for all the wonderful things in my life. This morning I took a photo of the beautiful sunrise. It's very hard for a night owl like me to appreciate waking up early, so that gorgeous sky was a great reminder of the gifts that come with change, even changes we don't really want.