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Star Light, Star Bright Hodgepodge

Although Joyce spent time traveling this week, she still managed to come up with another fun list of questions!  Go Joyce!!  Hope you had a wonderful time while you were away!  Let’s get to the questions!

1.  Share one way you think the world has changed for the better since you were a kid?

Technology has advanced to the point where the world is a very small place.  I love that I can connect with people I haven’t seen in years, and it’s as though we were never apart.  With technology has come advances in medicine and a host of other improvements.

2.  How ’bout one way it’s changed for the worse?

Technology has advanced to the point where people have a new way of sharing way too much personal information or inappropriate content.  This is just one way that technology has changed the world for the worst.  Technology can also be distracting.  I think of students who are so enamored with their digital devices that they fail to take full advantage of stimulating conversation going on in class.

3.  Starlight, starfish, starling, Starbucks…your favorite ‘star’?

Anyone who knows me can predict the answer to this question…STARBUCKS!!  It’s to the point where my local establishment knows the various nuances of my very special orders…soy milk, no whipped cream, toppings included.

4.  Name a song that’s overplayed, but you love it anyway.

I really don’t have a good answer for this question.  I mainly listen to Christian radio, and it’s no different from other stations.  The same songs get played over and over.  I don’t care, though, because I love them all.

5.  When did you last have home made ice cream? Your latest favorite flavor?

I don’t know that I’ve ever had homemade ice cream.  I’m lactose-intolerant and haven’t been able to eat it for the last twenty years.  When I could eat it, I loved chocolate ice cream.

6.  What do you think is the best way to inspire or motivate people?

I love this question!  I teach Intensive Reading to struggling high school students who are unable to pass our state assessment.  A big part of my job is figuring out how to motivate my students.  I have to build their confidence and enthusiasm so they will want to read and so they will believe that they can.  I’m only three years into this adventure, but what I’ve found that works best so far is to set a good example and model the enthusiasm I want them to have.

I buy books every time I get paid.  Before I put them in my classroom, I read them.  Then, I do book talks with my kids.  By the time I’m finished, there is a waiting list for the books.  I think what motivates these kids is sincere enthusiasm in what I do.

One very quick story.  I’d recently finished the book Beautiful Creatures.  It is several hundred pages long, but it tells a wonderful story.  It is narrated by the main character…a male.  One of my students who struggled severely with reading and simply had no interest in being at school had finished his current book.  I casually put Beautiful Creatures in front of him and encouraged him to give it a go.  For any struggling student, a thick book can be very overwhelming.

He reluctantly began to read.  He reluctantly read the next few days during independent reading time.

Before I knew it, he had stopped complaining and was really reading.

A few weeks later, he’d finished the book.  Fortunately, I’d just received the second book, Beautiful Darkness, in the mail the day before and had taken it to school the day he finished the first book.  He snatched up the sequel and began reading.

He got suspended from school but still had my book.  I was able to procure it from his brother, whom I’d taught the year before.  I found out that my student had finished this book and really wanted to read the third one.  He had also tried to get another student in his class to start reading the book.

We motivate by example and sincerely believing in what we are doing.

7.  When was the last time you were without power?

We were last without power a few weeks ago when my area was hit with torrential thunderstorms that caused flash flooding.  The rain continued for days.  Chicky had gone to spend the night with a friend, and she scared me to pieces when my phone rang at 3am.  She was standing outside my front door.  The power had gone out all over town, so my garage door opener wasn’t working.  She’d left her friend’s house in search of home and, hopefully, air conditioning.  We were only out for about an hour, but it got hot and humid quickly.

8.  My Random Thought

As you are reading this, I am driving a moving truck that is filled with many of my Chicky’s possessions.  She’s moving out…permanently, we think.  She signed a two-year lease for a rental house.

At this moment, I’m not sure if I’m going to leave bawling, or if I will be stoic.

This is the fourth summer she’s left, but there’s a sense of finality with this trip.

It is the most bittersweet move of all because she is on the precipice of being completely independent.

I am excited for her.  Every summer has led to this moment, preparing both her as she stretches and me as I let go.

I am also sad.  Our relationship is far from perfect, but I think we turned a corner this summer, and we are beginning to relate to each other as adults rather than just mother/daughter.

Deluxe Cocoa Brownies

So, I’ve been blogging about the dinners I’ve been making, but I’ve left out the desserts that have accompanied said dinners.

First up is my batch of Deluxe Cocoa Brownies.  The recipe is in the book Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.

I made my first batch (yes, I said first) early last week.  I’d had my eye on that recipe the moment I’d seen it while thumbing through my book after it arrived in the mail.

The first batch was good, but it was a teensy bit overcooked.  Brownies can be a bit difficult to bake simply because you don’t want them too gooey, but you also need the batter done enough to eat.

Although my family enjoyed the brownies, I was determined to make them better, so I headed back to the store and bought a couple of different items.

The first was a silky tofu, which is part of the recipe.

Although I’ve been a vegan for over two years, I haven’t fully embraced all of the specific ingredients used to cook these types of dishes.  The staple of my diet has been beans, fruits, and vegetables.  Now that I’ve gotten into baking, I’ve discovered the value of cooking with tofu.

With that said, the repeated baking of these brownies taught me another valuable lesson:  all tofu is not the same.

There’s a reason why recipes ask for silky or extra firm.

It has to do with texture.

l could tell, immediately upon opening the package of tofu, that it was very different from the others I’d recently been using.  It was much softer.  I had to use a spoon to scoop it out.

I used a food scale to measure out the required amount and proceeded to make the brownies as instructed.

The other item I bought at the store was a bag of vegan chocolate chips, which I added to the batter before putting it in the oven.  I had not done this the first time because it was not part of the original recipe.  It was suggested as an alternative.

I’ve always loved chocolate but have found myself unable to eat it with my new eating lifestyle.  I figured the more “chocolate,” the better.

I watched my timer carefully and poked the brownies more than a couple of times checking for done-ness.  I figured out that withdrawing a toothpick that had a little bit of brownie stuck to it was okay because the pan kept cooking after I pulled it from the oven.

One final inspiration that struck me on Round 2 of brownie making was to whip up a pan of chocolate ganache, which I drizzled over the top.

You should have seen my guys’ eyes light up when I set this on the table after dinner…

The big test was the taste.  I wanted to find out if they were better than the first batch.

Obviously, from looking at the picture above, you can see how moist these brownies were.

The texture was very smooth and chocolate-y.

The guys raved over them.  The Mr. declared this to be the best dessert I’ve made since embarking on my baking adventure.

That’s when I started telling the guys about the tweaks I’d made…dropping the bombshell that there was tofu in the brownies.

Their jaws dropped open, and they began sputtering, “Tofu…you put tofu in these?”

And then they started laughing…hysterically.

They could not change their minds about the brownies.  They could not take back their words of delight over this dessert.

The brownies did not last long because, as Chicky explained, I’d cut them so small that she had to eat two at a time.


I made a third batch the next day for my small group and returned home with two left in the pan.

I’m calling this recipe, with my modifications, the Ramped Up Deluxe Cocoa Brownies.


Better Late than Never

Saturday evening, I completed a quest I’d been on for the last fifteen months.

I finally finished reading all of the books in the Harry Potter series.

I read the seventh book in under a week.

On Saturday, I read the final 250 pages.

I read everywhere that day…the bathroom (TMI), the car on the way to the beach, the beach, back in the car to go home, the ride back to the beach to see a movie, the way home.

This final book had so much action packed into it that I could not turn the pages fast enough!

I got mad several times as important characters died.

When you’ve invested so much time into reading these books, you develop relationships with the people in them, and your heart breaks when they don’t survive their circumstances.

I needed to find out if Harry successfully finished his quest.

It may be hard for you to believe, but I’d never watched the movies nor read the books previous to this time, so I had NO IDEA how the story would end.

I can honestly report, without spoiling the surprise for anyone, that I am happy with the ending.

This series is deep on so many levels and provides lessons that we can apply to everyday life…love overcoming evil…the ramifications of judging others based on external appearances or circumstantial evidence…loyalty…bravery…daring to go against popular opinion…believing in the underdog…untapped potential.

The characters were so unique and gifted with special talents that, when put together with the other characters’ talents, made for breathtaking scenes in the books.

Professor McGonagall is a wonderful role model for me…a blend of strictness balanced with tenderness and courage.

Mrs. Weasley reminded me of my best friend’s mom when I was growing up.  She took me under her wing, prepared my favorite food when I stayed over, and always had a warm hug ready for me.  As Harry found the unconditional love and acceptance that he had missed out on for the first eleven years of his life, my heart soared.  Throughout the books, his relationship with Mrs. Weasley evolved to the point where he was treated like a son.  This is what I think we humans are called to do…love each other with the same kind of abandon and acceptance.

I so appreciated how seemingly minor characters eventually played very important roles.

For the record, Neville Longbottom will forever be one of my favorite characters ever…such a sweet boy who only needed a bit of encouragement to blossom.

My vocabulary will never be the same.  It now includes words such as muggles, lumos, and patronus.  I am giving serious thought to teaching my students roots/prefixes/suffixes using the names of the spells cast in these books.

I would kind of like to say that I’m sad I didn’t read these books sooner; however, I don’t know that I would have fully appreciated them had I done so.

Now that I am older and a teensy bit wiser, I can see the multiple layers of storytelling that occurs in each book.

Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Sirius, and the rest of the gang will live on in the part of my heart reserved for those special characters in literature who do more than occupy pages in a book.  They will continue to challenge me to be a better friend, not take the easy way out, and not judge circumstances according to what my eyes see.

Day 2 of Two Days of Cooking Dinner

Day two of two days in a row of cooking dinner involved chicken…again.  This is one staple that the carnivores in my family like to eat, and I can usually find it for a decent price at Sams.

Chicky has pinned quite a few recipes on Pinterest, and I had seen a simple chicken recipe a few days back.  Although I couldn’t locate the pin again, I googled “chicken” and “brown sugar” and found just what I was looking for…Chicken Hurry.

My original intent had been to cook this in the crockpot, but I realized I didn’t have enough chicken, so, by the time I ran to the grocery store to get more on the way from taking Rooster to the college to get registered for college…a two-hour ordeal), I didn’t have time and had to do it the old fashioned way and bake it instead.  I followed someone’s recommendation by doubling the amount of sauce I made.  I also added garlic.

You can see it in the 9×13 pan in the center of my table…

The other item I made for this dinner was Old Fashioned Fry Bread.

I’ve been very active on the Harry Potter Knit/Crochet House Cup forum on Ravelry.  Someone shared this recipe, and I knew I had to try out.  I’m pasting the recipe below…

Old Fashioned Fry Bread

4 cups flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shortening (shortening works better than oil in this case)
1 cup warm water

Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add in the shortening and water. Add only enough water to make dough stick together. Knead dough until smooth, make into fist-sized balls. Cover them with a towel for 10 minutes then pat them out into circles about the size of a pancake. Fry in hot cooking oil in cast iron skillet until brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels, serve with jam

Here’s what the bread looked like while I was cooking it…

I had no idea if they would taste good.  They were a lot thicker than I’d anticipated.

Well, let me tell you that the family RAVED about these!  They turned out more biscuit-y than pancake-y, but everyone said that was fine with them.

Chicky and the Mr. grabbed the honey and ate a couple that way.

Thus ended day two of cooking.

Nobody was hurt in the process, although the family is still recovering from shock.

Day 1 of Two Days of Cooking Dinner

I surprised my family this past week by cooking two nights in a row.

No, hell hath not frozen over, for those of you who lean towards being sarcastic.


Wednesday night, I knew I wanted to make chicken fingers.  The Mr. and Rooster absolutely love them; this is the only dish they will eat left over.

I hopped over to Google to find some sort of different batter and found the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Homemade Chicken Strips.

Because I’m a huge fan of The Food Network, I’ve noticed that most people soak their chicken in buttermilk before applying the breading and frying.

The Mr. is lactose-intolerant, so this has never been a viable option for me.

Because I’ve been doing so much vegan baking, however, I’ve learned that I can create “vegan” buttermilk by mixing a small amount of apple cider vinegar with soy milk and set it aside to curdle.

So, this is what I did and then followed the Pioneer Woman’s instructions carefully.

Here was the result of my efforts…

Look at that breading!!  Pretty, isn’t it?

To accompany the chicken, I made Roasted Red Potatoes with Rosemary.  I had a bag of potatoes that was a day or two from having to be thrown out.  They weren’t red, but I said what the heck.  I also didn’t have fresh rosemary, so I used dry herbs.  What a super easy side dish to make!!!  They turned out crispy, and the taste was the perfect blend of garlic and herbs.  Yum!

Dinner probably took about an hour to put together.  This is one I will definitely duplicate during the school year when time is at a premium!


Grace Instead of Gruffness

I am a work in progress.

People often think I’m sweet.

My friend, Barb, knows otherwise.  Well, so does my family, truth be told.  But Barb is the one who likes to say, when my horns come out, “That’s just proof that Jesus ain’t done with you yet.”

So true.

Still, though, as Lysa TerKeurst says in her book, Unglued, the goal should be to seek after imperfect progress rather than perfection, which is unattainable.

This summer has been one of rest…one of reflection.  I have wondered over these last couple of months how I will do when tested.

My first real test came a few days ago when someone responded to a message that I’d accidentally “replied to all.”

She wasn’t aware that I was going to see her message, and let me tell you that she had some very, very unkind things to say about me.

She and I have a history that goes back many years.  Things were said back then, and relationships were broken.  We’ve hardly spoken since.

After I read her message, I sat in shock.

I flashed back to the events that had led to our original break.

I remembered the emotions and the anger that had surrounded me during that time.

It had been a very bad time for me, personally.  I’d recently lost my dad and was dealing with the shock that accompanies losing someone unexpectedly.

I read her message on Facebook several more times.

I considered my options…should I respond and if so, what should I say?

I remembered Lysa’s words of wisdom…gifts from the Lord to my thirsty soul.

I sent this woman a response that did not accuse.  It subtly let her know that I had seen the response she’d crafted, but I didn’t jump in to defend myself.

I told her that I wanted to put everything behind us so we could deal with the big issue that we need to deal with.  This is something that is going to take both of us, in cooperation, to complete.

I also told her that during the intervening years, my heart had softened.

I used to be a person who flew off the handle.  My emotions always run just below the surface.

I still erupt sometimes, but I tend to suppress a lot now, although my face still shows how I feel.

These ten-plus years have changed me, though.  My experiences in life as well as my walk with God have matured me.

It has been the lessons I’ve learned in Unglued that have left their mark and have been the catalyst for the most recent changes in my heart attitude.

She responded to my response (are you keeping up) very quickly and told me that while my heart may have softened, her’s has not, and that she will probably always be bitter.

The anger runs strongly through her veins still.  However, as I read those sad words along with the rest of her message, I almost felt her desperation and longing to believe what I was saying.

I responded one more time, trying to be careful not to fan the flames that are obviously still burning.  But, as Lysa suggests in her book, I laid things out in a very honest way that did not excuse her from the role she had played in the division between us.

I ended my note by asking for her forgiveness.

I haven’t heard back from her.

I don’t know if I will, but in the meantime, I will be praying for her.

This, too, is huge for me.

I don’t know about you, but praying for those who hurt me is pretty low on my to-do list…right below having my toe hairs pulled out one-by-one.

I’m not telling you this story to glorify myself, because I know my heart all too well.

All glory goes to God for His hand that stopped me from writing something like, “You are seriously not over this yet?”

It is my prayer that this woman will draw comfort from the grace I extended.  By not being gruff, I did not give her any fuel for her anger.

I hope that one day she will see that God can heal the heart.  In fact, He’s the only person who can…if she allows Him to.

I heard the song on the radio last night while I was cleaning the kitchen, and I thought of how much we need God in our lives…to help us fight temptation…to get through life’s challenges.

Tofu Scramble – Undistinguishable from Non-Vegan Food

While perusing Chicky’s cooking board on Pinterest, I came across a site that has a number of links to vegan-friendly dishes.

I was drawn to the Tofu Scramble recipe because I had tofu in the refrigerator, and I knew I needed to cook it.

I added quite a few veggies…mushrooms, a sliced onion, basil (my new favorite herb), garlic, green pepper, and fresh tomato chunks.

Tumeric is the spice that gives this dish its yellow color.  I’d never owned tumeric before beginning my odyssey into cupcake baking.

I grew excited as I was cooking this dish.  It resembled scrambled eggs, which I haven’t eaten in ages.

The taste was quite flavorful, with all of the veggies playing a role in the chorus that sang in my mouth.

From the looks of it, the link provided when you click on Tofu Scramble (above) contains many recipes that look both do-able and delicious.

As always, I’ll keep you posted when I try something new!

When in Rome Hodgepodge

Can you believe that it’s the last full week of July?  Seriously?  How in the world did this happen?  Sheesh!  Time does march on, as does the Hodgepodge!  Join in the fun by linking up with Joyce!

1.  July 24th is Amelia Earhart Day.  Earhart was the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.  What’s something you’ve recently accomplished solo?

I’ve been on a vegan cupcake baking kick lately, and I recently made buttercream frosting for the first time!  I had to use the instructions in the recipe, but nobody really helped me, if that’s what you mean.  It was delicious!!!!

2.  What’s one product you use that never ever fails?

I love my Bon Ami to get the toughest stuff off of my pots and stove.  I love this cleaning product!

3.  Have you found your place in the world? Where is it?

I have to tell you that as soon as I read this question, the following song came immediately to mind (MWS’s is so very 80’s, don’t you think? He has aged well!):

At the ripe age of 43, I do think I’ve found my place in the world.  I love the place I’m at right now with my career and my job as a parent.  It’s so good to feel comfortable in my own shoes!

4.  Worst movie you ever saw?

One weekend a few years ago, Rooster and I rented a couple of movies.  One was Hoodwinked.

Oh word, but Rooster and I stuck it out but kept looking at each other and saying that we couldn’t believe we were watching it!

5.  What’s the last fun thing you did?

Heck…every day is filled with fun!  As of this writing (early Tuesday morning), I can tell you that the last fun thing I did was meet up with my local BFF at Chill, a local frozen yogurt place…at 8pm.  This place is the kind where you help yourself and weigh your bowl afterward, paying by the ounce.  It has quite a few flavors of yogurt along with four different flavors of sorbet, a vegan-friendly dessert.  Chicky went with me, and one of her friends, who’s dating my BFF’s son, went too.  It was a fun time filled with much laughter.  Both girls will be headed to school very soon, and their presence will be missed.

6.  The month of July is named for Roman Emperor Julius Caesar…ever been to Rome? What’s your favorite Italian dish?

I have never been to Rome but would love to go!!!!  I love Italian food, but I haven’t had much except for the standard pasta dishes.  I’m a fairly simple girl and will say that pasta with marinara is just fine with me!

7.  What is one piece of advice you’d offer new mom Kate Middleton?

I would tell her to enjoy Every Single Day…even the day that’s filled with little sleep and lots of crying.  Children grow up very quickly, and this time passes all too soon.

8.  My Random Thought

This time next week, I will be loading up a truck and moving my Chicky out of my home.  We will drive to south Florida and get her set up in the house that she and two other roommates are renting.  After she completes her student teaching, she will graduate in December and, hopefully, secure a teaching job afterward.  We have had a wonderful summer, and I am so thankful that she chose to spend it at home.  This is a gift that she gave us, and I will be forever grateful to her.

Lazy Days of Summer

Don’t be envious when you see this…

And this…

And especially this…

I don’t have too many weeks of summer left, so I’m going to enjoy each and every one of them to the fullest!

A Baking Fiend


I have a confession to make.

While I haven’t been working, per se, I have been studying…

My vegan cookbooks, that is!!

I’ve been on a mission to make yummy vegan cupcakes and other desserts.  You’ve seen a couple of the cupcakes.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time shopping for ingredients.  One of my local Walmarts had this amazing assortment of extracts…three entire shelves!!

I went a little crazy, I’m afraid, and stocked up…

On Friday, I needed to find a dessert to take to my small group meeting that evening.

I decided to make Crimson Velveteen Cupcakes.  They are similar to Red Velvet Cake.  The frosting is a custard type…very different from the buttercream I’d been making.

Ok…so the frosting…well…it had some issues.  The taste, though, was DIVINE.  I haven’t had custard in YEARS.  I could have eaten this stuff with a spoon.

I took most of the cupcakes with me and returned with one left.  It didn’t last long.

Because I am the ultimate good student, I knew I needed to figure out why I had the issue with the consistency of my frosting.  What better way than to try again?

The frosting came out almost identical…dang…despite making sure the custard I’d made beforehand had completely cooled.  I don’t think I properly creamed my sugar, margarine, and shortening.  I’ll be working on this skill.  Darn.  I hate that.  😀

One change I made when making the cupcake batter was that I added the proper amount of food coloring after purchasing a large bottle (don’t you dare tell me how unhealthy it is…I know but I don’t do unhealthy hardly ever any more so whatever).  I also added a little bit more almond extract.

Oh word.  The extra wet ingredients may have made a difference.

The second batch of cupcakes were soooo moist and delicious!


On Saturday, I received a new vegan baking book in the mail…

You may be astute enough to recognize that it’s written by the same gals who authored the cupcake book I’ve been using.  It got great reviews on Amazon, so of course I had to order it.

Thumbing through the book was a pure delight.  There’s so much helpful information in the beginning sections.  They provide how-to’s for making recipes gluten-free and even more organic.

One of the tips I picked up was to check my oven temperature, which can cause a lot of problems when baking.

I already owned an oven thermometer, so I pulled it out as I prepared to make my first batch of cookies from this book.

I’ve always thought that my oven heated quickly.  It beeps when the temperature reaches what I’ve programmed.

I was very surprised when I discovered that my oven had only reached 250 degrees!!!  THAT is why recipes tell you to turn on the oven first!  I’ve always figured that I was wasting electricity by leaving it on too long!  Lesson learned!

So…back to the baking.

When I showed the Mr. my new book, he told me that he wanted Chocolate Chip Cookies…his favorite.  Coincidentally, that was the first recipe in the book!

I started the recipe and realized, just as I was adding my flour, that I had not added my soy milk to the sugar mixture, which I was supposed to prepare first.

I dumped everything and started over.

Yes, I wanted to get this right.

After adding the soy milk and following the recipe even more closely, things resembled how they were described in the book.

Imagine that!

Here’s what the cookies looked like when I pulled them out of the oven…

I had to put them back in for an extra two minutes.  They were a lot more wet than they were supposed to be.  However, that two minutes did their thing.  When it was time to eat…well…take a look for yourself at how “normal” my vegan cookies were…

I am so thrilled that I can finally indulge the sweet tooth that had been dormant for so long.

There are many recipes in this book that will be fighting for priority status.

You know I’ll keep you posted!

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