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Hodge Podge

March 28th, 2015 at 07:29 am

This will be long and rambling and probably pretty boring. Feel free to stop reading now. There's a teeny bit about finances but most of this is off topic.


It's 20 degrees here right now. Happy Spring.

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I have to go to a memorial service for my aunt and uncle today. He died a couple of weeks ago on Thursday -- he'd been battling his second round of cancer, and his health was failing for a while. The following Sunday (three days later), my cousin found my aunt dead at home. My aunt, as far as we knew, was healthy, although in need of a hip replacement. (She was 72-73, he was 75-76. Not all that old, really.)

I know it sometimes happens that way, but I wouldn't have expected it here. Honestly, my aunt was filing for divorce every other week when we were kids, and as far as we could tell nothing had really changed. (It wasn't a grand love story, is my point.) But who knows what really goes on behind the scenes, and maybe near the end their relationship really evolved.

We didn't see too much of them; I'm not exactly sure why, probably because a) my parents divorced when I was 3 (my aunt is my dad's half-sister) and we barely saw my dad after that (and not at all since I was 19), and b) our mutual grandparents moved out of state when I was 6 or 7. So not a lot of 'family get-together' opportunities. Still, we kept vaguely in touch, they came to my wedding, etc., but it has been probably 2-3 years since we've seen either of them, or any of my three cousins.

I really feel bad for my cousins, losing both parents at once. Some people have said maybe it's better that way, you get all the grief over and done with, but I don't know. I'd think it would still be preferable to have one parent for a while.

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I find myself becoming obsessive about my finances lately. I'm constantly checking my bank accounts, tweaking my 'budget', playing with my credit card payoff spreadsheet. I think I might be over-focused on it. Not that I want to ignore it, but I get disappointed when there's nothing I can update from half an hour ago!

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We had "The Reckoning" last weekend, where my mom, my sister, and I get together and figure out my sister's and my loan repayments. (Sometimes the interest rates have changed, sometimes we pay off one thing so start paying more on another, etc.) We also settle up any random things that have come up, like my mom picked up a gallon of milk for my sister or we split the cost of a gift for someone. (My mom is very.. um... precise with her money. My sister and I almost never pay each other back for anything -- we figure it all balances out over time. Mom is down to the penny, here's what you owe me, plus tax.)

Anyway, it actually went much more smoothly than it has in the past. Mostly I think because my sister is only paying on one loan now, and it's only going into two of my mom's bank accounts (instead of four). I'm paying on three loans still, but two will be gone by January 2018. (I'm hoping that we can avoid redoing our roof this year, but if not that may be a fourth loan! We could get other funding for that, really, but "Mom loans" are at 2-3% interest which we haven't been able to beat. Plus she then gets a much larger return on her money than she would if it was sitting in the bank.) Fortunately the income from my rental covers most of my repayment amount.

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I think I mentioned before that I was testing out a few brunch recipes, in preparation for The Reckoning, because for Christmas we gifted my mom with one brunch together per month. I figured it might as well be the same day as The Reckoning, and we had talked about picking something up but then I decided to make it, instead. I'm not sure why.

I made four different "muffin" type dishes: French Toast Muffins, Donut Mini Muffins, Ham & Cheese Muffins in Hash Brown Nests, and Caprese Egg Muffins. They were all quite good, although the hash brown nests stuck horribly, despite a thorough coating of non-stick spray. (I should have used a non-stick pan, but I only had one and I already knew the French Toast Muffins needed it! Lesson learned for next time.) They all turned out well, if a little messy (the nests).

I also made some cake dip, on a whim, after I stumbled across a recipe online. Super-easy, but I wasn't crazy about the taste. This particular recipe included Cadbury Mini Eggs, which I think is what I don't like about it. (Surprisingly, because I love Cadbury chocolate normally, but I've been eating some of the Mini Eggs plain and I'm just not a fan.) I might try it again sometime without the candy.

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I've also been baking a lot of bread lately. (Well, three loaves -- one white, two honey wheat -- and then one mini-loaf and twelve 'muffins', just to experiment with baking bread in a muffin tin. It's a lot for me.) Not in a machine, just the basic, mix and knead and let rise and knead some more and let rise some more and bake, kind. The last time I made bread was in Girl Scouts -- I'm now in my mid-40s, so that tells you how long ago it was!

Last night I made vanilla cupcakes, from scratch. I've never made any kind of cake from scratch in my life. I had a lot of leftover cake dip, though, and my mom suggested using it as frosting, so I wanted to give it a trial run. (Because if it worked, I'd make cupcakes for Easter.) I normally would have bought a box mix, but looked at some recipes and it seemed pretty easy, so I tried it out.

The cupcakes are OK; I'm not a big cake fan regardless. The flavor was good -- I would use more vanilla next time (the recipe calls for vanilla bean, but I didn't have any and wasn't about to pay $15 for two beans for a test batch of cupcakes!). The texture was a little dense, more like a muffin. One of the comments I read said that might be from mixing it too much, but I mixed by hand and stopped as soon as there were no lumps (which is what the recipe said to do). The batter was very thick -- but I've seen some batters on "Cupcake Wars" that look the same. I may have over-cooked them; the recipe called for 20 minutes, but maybe I should have stopped at 15 or 18. The flavor is good, they aren't horrible, I just like my cupcakes a bit lighter in texture.

The cake dip frosting is -- well, I didn't love the dip so it makes sense that I don't love it as a frosting. It kind of works, although if I do it again I'll add some powdered sugar to sweeten it up.

The buttercream I made as a taste-test comparison to the cake dip, on the other hand, is divine! I could eat the entire batch in one sitting.

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Again, I don't know why I've been baking/cooking so much. I've never really been a 'chef' type. If I stumble across a new recipe that sounds really good I'll try it, but I don't typically seek them out. S makes dinner at least half the time, if not more. And I've never really baked, except Christmas cookies. I make chocolate chip cookies from scratch on occasion, and peanut butter cookies even less frequently. S insists on killer turtle brownies for his birthday, but they're partially from a box. Mostly I either buy pre-made cookies or get the break-and-bake kind.

I'm wondering if it might be related to my giving up pop (Pepsi, primarily). I stopped drinking it, mostly, at the end of January. I'm not "not drinking" pop, because a) deprivation just makes me want it more and b) I have had it a few times since then, and will have it again (especially if I ever get to the movies; popcorn and pop are movie must-haves). I'm just not drinking it every day, and especially not all day, every day, like I had been. (Sadly, unlike 99% of the population, giving up pop hasn't resulted in any kind of weight loss for me. Which I knew, because I gave it up totally for two months before and lost four pounds -- and that could have just been my normal fluctuation. Of course it could be compounded by the fact that it's Cadbury Creme Egg time of year.)

Or, it might be my version of a mid-life crisis. In which case, there are worse things I could do. (Cue Stockard Channing...)

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Anyway, those are the thoughts that have been tumbling around in my head lately. First world problems, right?

If you've read this far, thanks! And if you have any thoughts on the cupcakes (or anything else, of course), please share. I still might make them for Easter, if I can get them a little lighter and fluffier.

5 Responses to “Hodge Podge”

  1. rob62521 Says:

    Maybe you are baking more because it gives you control. There is something very satisfying to mixing together dough, working with it, seeing yeast do its magic, and having such a wonderful end product.

    Sorry about your aunt and uncle ... you are right...who knows what goes on behind closed doors. Maybe they liked fighting. There was an Andy Griffith program about this couple who were nice to everyone around them but fought like cats and dogs. When Andy made them be nice to each other, they were snarky with everyone else.

  2. PatientSaver Says:

    Another benefit of giving up soda is stronger bones. The phosphorus in Soda leaches it from the bones.

  3. Shiela Says:

    Sorry to hear about your aunt and uncle.

  4. doingitallwrong Says:

    Thanks, all.

    I hadn't thought about the control aspect of baking, but there certainly is a satisfaction to it.

    I do feel better off the pop, even though it hasn't really translated to weight loss. (And with menopause looming, preserving bone strength is a definite plus!)

    The service for my aunt & uncle was very nice; lots of people came. At one point my mom, sister, and I saw movement outside one of the windows -- it was a cardinal in one of the trees. I mentioned my grandparents (my aunt's parents) moved out of state when I was young; they went to North Carolina, the state bird of which is the cardinal, and so we've always associated the bird with them. They've both been gone for several years, but it felt as if they were letting us know they were with us that day.

  5. CB in the City Says:

    The cardinal reminds me of a story. My former boss, after she lost her father, believed that seeing a cardinal was a kind of a visit from her dad, because he loved them so much. She shared this with a co-worker, who said, "But that's exactly how I feel about seeing cardinals! I feel like it's my dad!" So my boss says to me, "Now whenever I see a cardinal, I think, okay, are you Dad or are you Ann's dad?" Smile It just struck me funny.

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