Odds and Ends

So my husband and I, as well as everyone we know, completed Portals shortly after it came out. Our first thought, of course, was to make the cake the game so vehemently insists is a lie. From reading the recipe, it was 2 cakes, one made of a standard cake mix, the other made from scratch, as well as a long list of robot parts.

This presents a problem, obviously one due to Glad’s insanity. However, vanilla crazy cake is a real thing, a vanilla-white cake that is covered with a chocolate frosting mixed with plenty of chocolate chips. The cake pictured on the opening screen obviously has chunks in it, so it is quite possible that the cake was truly modeled after real vanilla crazy cake.

Still, though, I didn’t want to completely ignore Glad’s insanity, as well as the gaming nature of the cake. Thus, I decided to use an altered cake mix so that I might make a substitution: Mountain Dew.

You see, it could be horrible to leave the milk out of a cake, or to substitute it with a nonfat liquid. In a powdered cake mix, however, the milk has been dehydrated, and is to be reconstituted by the water that you add. I could likely have figured out how much powdered milk to use, but I’m lazy and don’t want to purchase powdered milk. Thus, I went ahead with a plain white cake mix. I did add 1 1/2 extra teaspoons of vanilla, however, because white cake mixes are kind of flavorless. I substituted the full 1.25 cups of water for an equal amount of Mountain Dew, and baked immediately after mixing in two cake rounds.

It baked quite well. While it was baking, I mixed up chocolate frosting with dark chocolate chips (to represent the darkness of that thing’s soul). I have never had more trouble frosting a cake, but I eventually got it done! Then, whipped cream, cherries, and one lit candle later:

Vanilla Crazy Cake


PS: It was delicious.


Bah! I am having trouble, ladies and gents.

I have spent a good hour of my life trying to come up with a dinner menu for my parents, who are coming over Sunday. They are my parents, so I automatically want to impress them, however, they are also mid-renovations on their home. They’ve ripped up flooring, replaced glass, relaid tile, and done an impressive fall cleaning. Their visit to our home represents a miniature vacation to see my husband and I, whose lives are very quiet and less full of jackhammers. I want this to be very relaxing for them.

I also want to blast their palates with something truly amazing. Obviously, cooking is my hobby. I wouldn’t blog about it semi-regularly if it wasn’t. It is also true that I take a great deal of self-validation from people’s appreciation of my food, especially those people with refined palates! Also, in addition to my own selfish goals, my parents have been eating nothing but takeout due a kitchen that is out of commission. They have had fat grams coming out their ears, and I want something refreshing. It either needs to be light, or be intensely flavorful. Both preferable.

Thus, I have spent considerable time and effort planning this menu, but it’s difficult. What do I create? Most foods I would consider “normal” the average non-foodie would find “gourmet” – when you do a search for fancy food and you come up with a list of meals that are on your regular rotation (or involve raw cactus or duck liver), well, I guess you should feel proud. I mean, it means anything I make would appear “refined.” (HAH! If only I could plate…)

But that’s not good enough. I want to create something that I personally know took a little extra effort. Even if it seems just as fancy as chicken Francaise or a spinach fettuccine with veloute, (which are only fancy because the words aren’t English!) there is some self-pride in creating something for these people I love that I know was quite different from our norm.

Therefore, a set of menus. None of these recipes are by any means difficult – some are even simpler than our normal fare – however, they are less common around here and thus seem “special.” Also, their ease can assure me that I won’t mess up, but I won’t be making my standard kitchen walk, or using my most honed and mindless skills. I will have to think about what I am doing, and that cognitive process will feel more like love to me.


  • Garlic Wontons (An (uncommon) favorite)
  • Sesame Chicken
  • Pear, Walnut, and Ginger Salad
  • Chocolate Wontons

American Classic

  • Roast Spiced Potatoes
  • Steak
  • Caesar Salad
  • Creme Brulee

American Modern (Thanksgiving updated)

  • Acorn Squash with Walnuts and Brown Sugar
  • Cranberry Chicken Salad (possibly just cranberry chicken)
  • Fresh Bread with Rosemary
  • Ginger Snap Sticks with Dip


  • Chorizo and Spanish Cheeses
  • Shrimp Sauteed in Garlic Butter
  • Crusty Bread and Garlic Aioli
  • Truffles
  • Honeyed Pear Bites

I’ll keep you updated on our choice, and also will provide recipes! I’m leaning away from the American Classic, as it seems heavy, if indulgent. Modern American is fun, but I don’t know. Asian and Tapas are my two favorites.

This is the easiest thing ever. It is, in fact, so simple that I invented it when I was 5 with my cousin. We were at her house, and we were hungry. I wanted biscuits, she wanted something sweet – but no jelly – and so we compromised. We were heartbroken when someone told us that Kraft had been doing this for years. Idea stealers.

Anyway, Thing One: Take kitchen scissors, because your mom won’t let you play with a knife yet, and cut up the biscuits into 4-6 peices. If your mom doesn’t have kitchen scissors, you can tear the biscuits up with your fingers, that’s okay.

Thing Two: Get two bowls out of the cupboard. Make sure that one of them is okay for being in the microwave, kay? And unbreakable would be good. Melt butter in the microwavable one, maybe one stick. That’s a 1/2 cup! It’s okay if there’s a little taken off, but not much.

In the other one, while the butter is melting, put a 1/2 cup of sugar in the bowl. (The cup that is in the sugar bowl is probably a good size, right?) Then shake enough cinnamon on that it is a little brown and smells good. Mix it together. There should be lots of brown specks, but it should be mostly sugar.

Thing One should dip the pieces into the butter – her hands are already sticky! – and drop them into Thing Two’s bowl. Shake and shake until the pieces are all covered, but don’t get any on the floor, okay? Mom would be mad and you would have to clean it up.

Put it into a bread pan. They are long and thin and deep, but if you can’t find one, ask mom. She’ll know. Spray it with the spray oil. Ask mom where that is too. Put all your buttery sweet pieces in there and have mom heat up the oven (400 degrees, mom!) and bake it for 15 minutes or until it’s done. Eat with your fingers and a LOT of wet wipes.

(Mom/babysitter: 1/2 c sugar mixed with 2 tablespoons cinnamon. 6 tablespoons of butter is usually enough. Also, if you want to be mother of the year, take 2 tablespoons of cream cheese, 1 c powdered sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Blend. If it needs thinning, add splashes of milk. Pour/spread over warm monkey bread.

However, if your kids are hyperactive already, don’t!)

Yesterday I cleaned the whole house from top to bottom. (Sometimes you just have the superwoman days, right?) Well, once I got done, I was exhausted. So I decided to have a dinner date night – because steak is that easy. I pulled a loaf of bread dough from the freezer, sprinkled rosemary and fresh parmesan all over the top. Yanked the steaks, rubbed them with olive oil and rosemary.

For a veggie, I made green bean salad again – this time I had a bit more experience making a dressing, so it came out much, much better, and I used more of the freshly grated parmesan on the top. Stuck that all back in the fridge.

10 minutes before Josh was due home, tossed the steaks on. Take that, Rachel Ray! probably 20 minutes of effort, even if 10 minutes of it was 3 hours before the rest of it. And I also managed to pull that off only getting 1 bowl, 1 saute pan, and then some plates dirty. Because I’m convinced – the meals may be 30 minutes, but clean up is at least 3 hours.

Tonight is mac and cheese, and Josh wants it completely and perfectly plain. No fancy cheese, no crazy spices. Just homemade mac and cheese. Thankfully, there’s Ace of Cakes tonight, so I won’t be completely bored – and it will taste good.

So, since being back at college, I’ve seen quite a few people making that most quintessential of college foods: Ramen. I had assumed that never again would I crave it. This was foolish. I was hanging out with old college buddies in the lounge when the craving hint. The aroma of lethal amounts of sodium, mixed with no small amount of MSG and those delightfully starchy noodles. Ahhh, memories.
Completely fake, and completely delicious. I had to have them. I needed some badly. However, I don’t exactly keep ramen in the house. It’s ramen! I haven’t eaten it in ages. Even while I was in college, I ate things that I made myself, or I ate in the cafeteria. Ramen was never really something that I wanted.

Now, I had to get some. A quest to my local grocery, the one in town that I could walk to, was in order. I put on my boots and down the road I went. A short walk later and I was questing up and down the aisles of the small, locally-owned grocery. I knew that they had very little – you couldn’t expect prime beef, noodles in shapes beyond “elbow” or “spaghetti” and things of that nature. However, I knew where things were hidden. I knew where they hid the lemon juice (for some reason, behind the parmesan cheese display, which is in the juice aisle. I don’t know, people.) and that you could even find a plethora of fresh veggies – overflow from the local farmer’s market – if you bothered to look beyond the “produce” table. (It’s not a section when you can fit the contents on a card table).

Being a grocer in a college town, though, they have a long aisle of liquors and beers. For a grocery quite so small as they, it’s rather impressive. Therefore, I assumed, ramen would have similar selection and quantity – not to mention ease-of-finding. I mean, is not “Ramen” and “Beer” the college meal?

How confused was I, then, when it was not near the wall of mac-and-cheese. No, nor even near the spaghetti noodles. They wouldn’t put it with the beer, would they? No, they didn’t even do that. Near condensed soups? No, not there either. I was stumped, growling through the grocer’s like a bear denied his bee-larvae.

Finally, I managed to find not the ramen, but a red-shirt grocer. “Where is your ramen?!” I railed of him. He told me, and in the most illogical of places. Why would you try and stuff all the Ramen behind a display sign on the bottom shelf near the spices!? Grouchy, I selected my packages and then noticed the price.

People, in my day (and it wasn’t that long ago), back when I was learning to walk and cook in basically the same breath, ramen was 10c. I know, because if I could find a dime and a penny on my brother’s floor, I would be allowed to purchase my most favorite of foods when we went to the grocery – and I’d get to purchase it all by myself! I would put my ramen up, put the divider down, and help my mom unload. When it became my turn, I would proudly display my dime-and-penny combo and would recieve my ramen in my own plastic bag. Okay, this is pretty big news for a toddler, people. So it’s a fond memory.

Even in earlier in my college career, I railed at walmart for raising the price 2 cents. 12c? 12c for ramen? that makes it so much more inconvenient.

I stared at that little yellow symbol for a good minute, ranting and raving in my brain. It was thirtythree cents, people. 33c. What on earth? 3x as much as it has been with tax before tax?! An outrage! It’s as though ramen were gas or something.

However, a craving is a craving. My single green bill would not be enough to feed both Josh and I – I need four for that. I would need change. Thankfully, a part of my brain had wondered if this would be the case, so I had a couple quarters in my pocket. I grumblingly purchased my ramen and went home and made it. Craving satiated.

“The final days of summer are upon us!” scream the radio car commercials. Annoying as they are, they’re right. The season which has so long lasted is finally in it’s symbolic final weekend. I hope you all have wonderful grill-outs before you put your grills away for the summer, and that the brats and burgers are worthy of your attentions.

I, however, am extraordinarily excited. Ladies and gents, autumn is upon us and I love to cook for it. Hearty stews, apple crisps, apple chicken for that matter, and oh, my word, did somebody mention pork? Pumpkin-casserole! Candied squash! The yam!

A drink recipe for you, a summery, chilled drink that yet embodies all that is fall.

Crush 4 graham crackers with 2 tablespoons of sugar into a small rimming dish (a saucer works well). Wet the edge of a martini glass and rim with mixture. Pour in 3oz apple juice (for the kids) or apple pucker (for you) shaken with a teaspoon or two of cinnamon sugar. Shake over ice, or just chill everything before. It’s apple juice/pucker. This isn’t fancy, people. It’s called the Apple Pie Tini, and it’s meant to be easy on the liver. And do let the kids have theirs in plastic martini glasses. Kids are particularly hilarious when you let them be sophisticate.

See you all on Tuesday! Have a happy labor day weekend!

So now that we’re back in Iowa. Yes. Iowa. Complete with home-like feeling and mice. But that’s a drama for when I catch the little bugger. Not sure what to do with him yet. Desperately hoping the trap (well, whichever one of eight) just kills him in one humane blow.

My in-laws, geniuses that they are, have a deep freezer. Why does this make them geniuses? Because when you have a deep freezer, you can buy butchered cow. Not “beef” – no, half a cow, and butcher costs. It’s merely North Dakota beef (the delightful corn-fed Kansas beef I grew up with is blatantly superior) but beggars cannot be choosers. Real cow is better than processed cow. Period. We are so grateful for this, or at least I am. Holy cow. (er, pun not intended, but it’s funny so I’ll leave it) Chuck steak from a small ranch is at least double as good as the greatest New York strip from the cow factories.

So now I have all this delicious beef and I don’t know what I want to make with it. Fajitas, definitely. Soup, maybe, as I have soup bones. Never waste soup bones. Steak and herb pasta. Steak Salad? the boys would never fly with that. They might deal if I made roast beef. Beef burgundy.

Perhaps I’ll just have steak once. And cobbler. thepioneerwomancooks.com has been doing a “Battle of the Cobbler” and it’s got me hungry for the stuff. It can be our indulgence this week.

Sounds like a week! I should be back to my normal reviewing schedule shortly, after this mouse has come to a satisfying end.

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