Saturday, December 12, 2009

Flashback Friday: The Great Christmas Baking Fiasco

I've been doing a lot of holiday baking so far this year.  Well, really, I've baked one particular dessert several different times, and I'm not done yet.  That dessert is cheesecake.  I have a recipe that my mom developed over several years of testing and trying, and I happen to think it is one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten.  It has become my holiday staple, and I pretty much make it for any holiday gathering occurring between Thanksgiving and New Years.  This year, I made one for Thanksgiving, one for Cy's Blessing celebration, and one for Jason's office holiday party.  I am making four for this Tuesday's Relief Society Enrichment Meeting, and I am making at least one for Christmas Eve dinner.  All of this cheesecake baking reminds me of the first time I made this recipe all by myself.

It was the year 2005 and it marked Jason's first Christmas in New York.  We were engaged and sharing an apartment in the Bronx.  We were unable to fly home for Christmas because we had to fly home in January to plan our wedding in April.  It was admitedly depressing to not be with any other family, so I wanted to bring some of my family's traditions to our little Bronx Christmas.  There are two things that make me think Christmas - homemade cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning and cheesecake for Christmas Dinner.  So, never having made either before, I set to make them both on Christmas Eve.

I began with the Cinnamon rolls at about 1:00pm in the afternoon.  I mixed all of the ingredients, rolled them up, put them in the pan and left them to rise.  And left them.  And left them.  They didn't seem to be rising the way I thought they should, but I baked them anyway.  They came out small and hard, and they smelled oddly of play-dough.  I took one out and took a bite and was disgusted to discover that they tasted of play-dough as well!  After examining the flour bag, I realized that, not being a regular baker, I was using extremely old flour! I think it had expired like 6 months prior or something.  So, I started all over.  I don't remember exactly how long the cinnamon rolls take to rise and bake, but it is quite some time.  It was at least evening by this point.

I then began my cheesecake.  After several phone calls to my mom, I had it all mixed and ready to go. The way her recipe works is that, after making the graham cracker crust, you then make the rich, cream cheese filling.  You bake that for about 30 minutes, let it cool for 10 minutes, then put on the sour cream topping and bake for another 10 minutes.  I guess with eating dinner and what not, the process took quite some time.  When I pulled it out of the oven the first time, I was extremely pleased with the results.  Beleive me when I tell you that it was perfect.  There was not one single crack, it was smooth, and the perfect consistency.  I mixed the sour cream topping, and put it back in the oven.  While it baked I took a shower, as I had been baking all day and was tired and dirty.

It was about 1:30am Christmas morning when I went to pull the cheesecake out of the oven for the final time. Oh man, it's hard to talk about even now, four years late.  I pulled the cheesecake out, and as I did, the bottom of my spring form pan popped out of the ring, rose into the air (with the cheesecake on top, of course), turned over and landed with a splat on the floor.  I believe my response went something like this:


I then ran into the bedroom and flung myself on the bed in a fit of tears.  I had been baking for 12 hours and all I had to show for it was one lousy batch of cinamon rolls!  Jason ran in from the living room to see what was wrong, sure I had burnt myself or cut off a limb or something.  When he saw the disaster, being the thoughtful guy that he is, he immediately grabbed a camera and snapped a picture.

Yes, my friends, that is what happens when hot cheesecake, which has not yet had time to set, is thrust to the ground by gravity. It really did flip exactly upside down in the air.  Kind of amazing, really.

That is the splatter effect up the dishwasher.  What you can't see, is that it also splattered clear under the dishwasher.

A close up.

To his credit, Jason sent me to bed and cleaned up the whole mess, after getting photographic evidence, of course.  The worst part was that I was going to miss out on my Christmas Cheesecake!  Fortunately, our good friend Jean was also unable to go home for Christmas and was planning to join us for ours.  I called her first thing Christmas morning and asked if there was anywhere in her neighborhood that was open on Christmas day that might sell cream cheese and sour cream.

Lucky for us, there was, and so I made my second ever cheesecake fewer than 24 hours after making (and killing) the first.  Though not quite as perfect as the first, it was still mighty tasty!

Cheesecake #2

Fortunately, I have yet to have a repeat of that disaster; however, I have been permanently scarred.  While I am fine to remove the cheesecake from the over after it's first baking, I am so terrified of a repeat performance that I insist that Jason remove it after it's second baking, just to be on the safe side.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Matters of Sharing our Religion

This is a post that has been clanging around in my head for quite some time, but was brought to the fore again this past weekend when we had Cyrus blessed at my church.  For those of you who are unaware, I converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon church) about three and a half years ago.  Jason did not join the church.  I may someday post my conversion story, but not now.

So, in our church, new babies are given a blessing and their names are recorded on church records.  It is kind of a similar process to a Christening, I think.  Anyway, Jason, being the supportive husband and father that he is, agreed to have Cy blessed.  The blessing was performed by a good family friend of ours.  We also decided to invite several of our family members, none of whom belong to the church.  In the end, we had Jason's dad, grandma, sister and her husband, one uncle and a cousin and my sister.

This was a nerve-wracking process for me, and I'll tell you why.  First of all, I think most people will probably agree that discussing religion can be kind of awkward - many people avoid it all together.  It becomes even more difficult if your religion is of the somewhat controversial variety - as Mormonism tends to be.  However, for most members of the church, their religion is such a significant factor in how they live their lives that is hard to avoid at least mentioning it.  And, since many people grow up in the religion, I think that being Mormon becomes a known fact and is not so difficult for people to talk about (if you are of this group, feel free to disagree with me if I am wrong).

For me, I not only did not grow up as a Mormon, but I went through a several-year period where I was vehemently against all organized religion (call it my rebellious college stage).  I not only did not want to belong to an organized religion, especially not one as regimented as Mormonism, but I held a pretty negative view of those who did.  The more "religious" the religion, the more negative my view.  I'm not proud of this judgemental stage in my life, but there it is.

So you can imagine that, when I converted to the church, family and friends who had known me for a long time were quite surprised and even shocked.  Some were down right confused.  And because of this, I have found it pretty difficult to discuss my religion openly with people I know - whether new friends or old, but especially old.  Over the past few years, I have reconnected with a few friends from college - remember, my rebellious, anti-religion days - and when it came out that I had joined the Mormon church, I was met with open-mouthed shock and some definite stammering.

Anyway, back to Sunday.  I was nervous about having so many members of Jason's family there.  I knew that everyone knew I was Mormon, but no one really talked about it.  And I didn't know what their views of the church or of me being a part of it were, either.  Add to that the stress that is was Fast and Testimony meeting.  For those who don't know, the first Sunday of the month is typically Fast Sunday, where members fast for two meals.  Then during Sacrament, instead of hearing talks, the time is opened up for members to share their testimonies - a kind of open-mic for the religious (I hope that's not blasphemous...)  Anyway, you kind of never know what you're going to get on Fast Sunday.  Sometimes people share really relevant stories and testimonies...other times, not so much.  Plus, the more people you have talking, the higher chance someone will say something that could offend a non-member.  My anxiety also came from whether or not I would bear my testimony.  On the one hand, I wanted to share my testimony because it was a really special day for our family; on the other hand, for someone who doesn't talk about her religion openly to people who aren't of her faith, sharing my testimony in front of so many family members was down-right terrifying.

In the end, I did share my testimony, and I'm glad I did.  I'm also glad that so many family members wanted to share in this day, even if it was as part of a religion that they may or may not agree with.  No one made any rude comments or remarks (not that I really expected them to) and there were some really good questions after the sacrament meeting about things like the process of the blessing, the meaning of the sacrament, and why we bear testimonies.

Have I totally gotten over my fear of sharing my beliefs? Definitely not.  However, I'm hoping that this experience will help me open up a little bit more and not be so worried about how other people will respond.  After all, my beliefs are a really big part of who I am and how I live.

Jason, Cyrus and I with our friend Bill (who performed the blessing)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Worth It

I know today is Friday, but I'm just lacking the energy to write a really quality flashback.  Perhaps sometime in the next few weeks I'll figure out how to get back on the Flashback train, but for now, a regular post will have to suffice.

I hate to admit this, but I'm kind of tight-fisted.  In our current financial situation, this is actually a pretty good thing, as it helps us buy only what we need, and spend less than we might want to. However, even when we have a little disposable income, I can still be rediculouly cheap, even to the point of not wanting to buy something that we really need. (For example, I sometimes go several years without replacing my bras, something my mom finds so horrifying that she often insists on taking me bra shopping every few years so she can have some peace of mind.)  One of the side effects of my cheap ways is that I scrutinize every shopping receipt to figure out where we spent our money, and to make sure that I was charged appropriately.

So this evening, Jason and I went grocery shopping at Winco.  The total came out to a little more than I was expecting, so as Jason was bagging the groceries, I did my customary thorough check of the receipt to see if there were any items that cost more than I was expecting.  As I scanned, I came across the ground turkey meat.  We had purchased two packages of ground turkey meat, each pre-seasoned - one with Italian seasonings and one with taco seasonings.  I never buy pre-seasoned meat, but in this case, it was the only ground turkey on sale, and it was selling for $2.18 a package, versus $2.68.  Yes, not a huge difference, but one just the same.  I needed turkey meat for one of my meals for the week that has an Italian flair, so it wasn't a huge deal to buy the Italian seasoned meat.  However, we decided to buy the taco seasoned meat just to have on hand, since it was on sale.  (I promise that these details are important.)

So.  Back to the receipt.  When I got to the ground turkey meat, I noticed two different entries - one was for $2.58 and one was for $2.78 - both more than I what I thought I was paying.  I was a little irritated.  Again, I realize that this only adds up to one extra dollar spent, but every dollar counts.  I felt a bit silly being so nit-picky, but Jason convinced me to go to the customer service counter and inquire as to the difference.  I explained that the posted sign said $2.18 but that the receipt rang up differently.  As I waited for the woman to go and check the sign, I began to wonder if it was really worth all the effort, for only a dollar.  But, it wasn't just a dollar at stake, because if the meat If they hadn't been on sale, we wouldn't have purchased the taco-seasoned meat at all.  I also worried that, even though I was sure I had checked the sign three times, maybe I had misread and they were not in fact on sale.

When the woman got back, she confirmed that I was, in fact, correct!  The meat department had forgotten to change their tags.  I watched while she took the items off, and I figured she would then put them back in at the $2.18 price, then refund me my dollar and I'd be one my way.  Imagine my delight when, instead of ringing them up again, she opened the cash register, took out $5.36, and handed it back to me!  Apparently, if they get the signs wrong, the first item is free.  And, since I had purchased two different products, they were both free!  If there is one thing I love more than a sale, it is getting something for free!  It really makes my day.  And, I was so pleased that my extra 10 minutes had earned me not one dollar, but five!

So there you go.  I guess making a stink about a wrong price, even if only wrong by a few cents, can really pay off.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My Cloth Diapering Story: Part 3 - Fuzzibunz Follow Up

Jason reminded me the other day that I never followed up about our cloth diapering experience after my last post.  And, since it had a happy ending, I thought I would share.

As you may remember, I had quite a time finding the invoices, but thanks to the helpful people at Babyworks, we got them all together and finally got the diapers sent out about a week after I figured out that there was a problem.  During this time, I had to use disposables, which I just really didn't like.

It took the diapers about five days or so to get to Fuzzibunz, but fortunately their turn-around time was only about two days.  Then it took another four or five days to get them back to us.  I was a little nervous about what I would find. On the Fuzzibunz website, it states clearly that if your diapers are outside of the warranty period, you will be sent factory seconds.  I understand this with one or two faulty diapers, but not with all 24.  I was worried about that.  Also, when I called about sending in the diapers, I was told to send only the main diaper, and not the inserts (remember, the diapers came with two inserts).  I figured I would just get the diaper shells back as well.  Well, when I opened the box, it was to find 24 brand new diapers, in their regular packaging, with two more inserts!  That's right, I now have four total inserts per diaper. Probably more than I'll need, but nice just the same.  I also found two packages of super soft, thick cloths.  They seem too big to be wipes and too small to be burp cloths, but they are really nice and I love them.  Apparently, they were an added bonus for my trouble!

We have had those diapers back for over a month and have not had a single leaking issue.  Also, while using the disposable diapers, I had several poop blowouts up the back of the diaper.  On at least one occassion this required me to not only change Cy's entire outfit and the changing pad cover, but also to bath him, as I managed to spread poop all over his body and head as I took off his clothes.  This scenario has NEVER happened with the cloth diapers.  I've only had one or two blowouts and they were out the legs, which is much more manageable.  I decided that I would take leaking urine over widespread poop any day.

So there you have it.  I love my cloth diapers.  I love Fuzzibunz, and I feel that I can recommend them.  Their customer service was stellar, and that can be a hard thing to find.  Plus, their product is genius!
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