Saturday, February 27, 2010

Double Dose of Nyquil and Fudge Toffee Brownies

 Lou came home today!!Yay!! Five days seems like a long time but its really nothing compared to 60 days. I keep telling myself that. We have a stretch of 3 weeks, this one included, where he will be in the field for the entire week and arrive back to the fort Friday noonish. The week really flew by, with all the planning for the Dog-X. Nope, I still don't know what a Dog-X is. An FTX is a field-training-exercise, but I have thought and thought about the D-O-G and racked my brain for a suitable pairing of army lingo/words, all to no avail. 

Suffice it to say that it means 160 guys from Alpha Company go out into the barren wilderness/swamps for 5 days, eat MREs, don't bathe, walk for 20 miles with 80lbs on their backs, sleep on rocks and tree roots, and keep morale high by elaborating on their dream meals once they return home for the weekend. I think the average guy's dream weekend consists of "Sitting in a hot tub eating pizza, drinking beer, and detailing cold/wet/miserable times in the Army."
We wives of the 160 Alpha Company men are about 25-30 strong, not many married guys in the infantry, apparently. The wives are in the process of raising money for their spring social, hosted for the senior wives here on post. This requires money, as everything in this world does! So, in order to raise the funds we have 3 Dog-X cookouts slated- one for each Friday that the guys return to civilization. Today was the 1st and I was designated co-ordinator. Co-ordinating can be fun, at times. Like when you are trying to determine how many bottles of ketchup to purchase for 160 men, so you go to the fridge and read the "serving size" label on the back of your (non)Heintz label. Or googling "How many leaves in a head of lettuce?" in order to allow for adequate serving sizes without having enough lettuce to tile the parking lot with. In my case, googling didn't work for the lettuce because we did have 5 heads leftover. But, at least it wasn't something monumental. Anyway, as it turns out there were 10 wives who volunteered to bring food/serving dishes/drinks/etc for this meal and that made life easier, but since it was our trial run-I think I was inwardly wound up. The kind of wound up that keeps nagging in a small voice,"What if you completed underestimated these starving beasts' ability to put away hamburgers? What if volunteer with the plates doesn't show?" It all came off fairly well though and we were able to raise over 500 dollars, which was exciting!
  After we cleared the remains away, I went home and contemplated a nap. But, instead I packaged up the sliced remains of 7 onions before they could flavor the milk and cream cheese in the fridge. Then, I went grocery shopping for Lou's dinner, since in the planning and executing of this picnic meal I had left no room for his or my food in our fridge. 
The week took a toll on Lou. His lips are cracked and bleeding, his face sports a rosy windburn glow and he's scratched and bruised with fighting with briers and trees in the dark. No, he's not in the infirmary, but he has lost his voice this evening and coughed his lungs up (figuratively, for the most part).  He has a fever and a glassy look to him, which I helped to make even glassier with the double dose of Nyquil. Shocking? "And you a nurse....well,well..." Well, I know you're only supposed to give adults 30ml/2T of that stuff, but it never has the desired affect on a 6 foot tall man that it does on me. So, poor Lou came home after cleaning his weapon out in the field for 4 hours and in this order finished out his evening: shoes and socks (painfully) removed due to the enormous blisters that those 10 mile ruck marches cultivate, pitcher of ice water, backrub, bowl of fruit, vitamins, hot bath, sleep for 4 hours, Chinese supper-all that hot spiciness helps your sinuses out, dose of Nyquil and hobble back to bed for some more sleep. They didn't get a lot of sleep out there. One night from 9p-6am they spent in a 5 mile area doing night land navigation with night vision goggles. This morning they were treated to the 10 miler. There were a lot of hobbling men to be seen!
Today was exhausting. Or maybe its my writing at midnight that gives me that feeling. Some days here are filled with accomplishments. Sure, they're not earth-shattering. But, they are enjoyable and practical. My friend Cassie (pictured with boyfriend Bill and his REAL gun)
taught me my first knit stitch last week and I put it to use right away. Now Cass is a much more accomplished knitter than I am and just finished a baby bear-whose photo I will feature here sometime in the near future. But, just completing a dishcloth gave me a sense of accomplishment! I NEVER knitted anything in my life. And granted, I did unravel the thing at least 8 times in the first couple of days. Somehow instead of doing the "drop a stitch" thing I managed to add a stitch every 2 rows. So, I'd go back to count and think,"How can I have 47 stitches now when I started with 38?" It bothered me to know that even if no one else knew, I out it came again. But, now I'm happy to report that the last row has the identical number of stitches as the first row! Finally, I watched an internet tutorial to discover the art of binding off the last row-and managed to complete it.

Where do the fudge-toffee brownies fit into it all? Always save dessert for last, then you'll eat less and get fatter slower. Wish I took my own advice. One of the wives from Alpha, Sarah, came by last night at 10 with a stack of brownies for the meal. But, unfortunately the middle section of the pan was "too sticky to cut neatly" so she gifted me with 8 gooey sticky brownies, studded with toffee bits and chocolate chips. Me, being the self-controlled mature woman that I am promptly ate one at midnight when she left, right before going to bed. Then, I ate another one (to give me energy, haha) when I headed out to set up in the freezing cold this morning. And.....I confess, I ate my 3rd (in 24 hours) when I cleaned the kitchen tonight. That's why I always eat very little rice with my Chinese, I save the calories for something with flavor.....and dark chocolate. Enough confessions~

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Anatomy of a Chocolate & Strawberry Vacherin

Sometimes gifts come wrapped, but my favorites are the ones on 3 x 5s, printer paper or through emails titled “re:recipes (almost) worth dying for”. These are the recipes our friends and families talk about at holiday get-togethers, comment on at potlucks and reminisce about....”remember that crab chowder you made that was 90% cream? Yeah, we practically had to cut it, probably 4,000 calories per tablespoon”... Speaking of calories I was amazed to find that TWO-count them, Girl Scout Samoas are a serving and not only that, but 2 quarter size cookies have a whopping 150 calories. No, that's not all that much, until you figure that you have to eat 2 rows to even start satisfying your inner coconut cravings. That would be 12 cookies.....
Back to the story at hand, my cousin in law Rebecca made this amazing dessert for Christmas 2 years ago. The excitement built up as we waited for her to arrive at our aunt/uncle's place with the creation and she didn't disappoint! One of my favorite fruits, rasberries-mixed with whipped cream, chocolate and meringue. So, I begged the recipe from her and started experimenting with it in my signature haphazard way. Now, the original recipe is quite straight-laced and requires things that I never have in my kitchen....such as parchment paper and pastry bags....wouldn't Julia Child be horrified, not to mention Irma Rombauer. Oh well, I just improvised and used strawberries instead of the rasberries because
#1 I had them
#2 They might have gone bad unless used this weekend
#3 They are 1/4 the price of rasberries
#4 The above reasons are good enough for me but I don't like to end lists in odd numbers.....

So, here is the recipe for Chocolate & Strawberry Vacherin- Kim style. And thank you Rebecca for giving me a recipe that Lou likes! That makes 3 desserts now! And that's pretty good, when for a while there I thought we'd be eating pure chocolate ice cream for the rest of our lives. :)

 Chocolate and Strawberry Vacherin (Vach-RAN Thanks, Mrs. Boylan for the heads up! :) I had to look it up too on "listen and" :)

3 egg whites
3/4 cup superfine sugar (I thought it was something special too, until I read the regular sugar container which said superfine.)
1 tsp cornstarch
1 ounce dark chocolate, grated (more or less-grate on a cheese grater)

6 ounces dark chocolate
2 cups heavy cream whipped
2 cups fresh strawberries
a little melted chocolate to decorate

Draw three rectangles, 4 x 10 inches, on sheets of wax paper and place on 2 cookie sheets. I used a pencil to draw around the top of my bread pan, which isn't quite those dimensions but its close enough.

Beat the egg whites in a mixing bowl until standing in soft peaks, then gradually beat in half the sugar, and continue beating until the mixture is very stiff and glossy
Carefully fold in the rest of the sugar, then cornstarch, and grated chocolate with a metal spoon or spatula.
Spoon the meringue mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip, and pipe lines across the rectangles. If you don't have one, just use a ziplock bag, fill and cut a hole in the corner and pipe across the rectangles, then smooth with a butter knife to the edges and make level.

 Bake in a preheated oven at 275 for 1 1/2 hours, changing the positions of the cookie sheets halfway through. Without opening the oven door, turn off the oven and leave the meringues until they are completely cold, then peel away paper.

To make the filling melt the chocolate and spread it over 2 of the meringue layers. Leave the filling to harden.

 Place 1 chocolate coated meringue on a plate and top with about one third of the cream and berries. Gently place the second chocolate coated meringue on top and spread with half the remaining cream and berries. ("pay no attention to the seed trays in the background....")
Place the last meringue on the top and decorate it with the remaining cream and berries. Drizzle a little melted chocolate over the top and serve. Voila!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Like a Water Buffalo in a Pansy Bed

Walt Henrichson from has an excellent sermon on the roles of husbands and wives under his "Pillars of Discipleship series". While discussing mens' responsibility as head of their homes he emphasized daily martyrdom coupled with leadership. He used the above simile to describe a man who solely exercises leadership without personal  sacrifice for his wife and family. It stuck with me as I was mixing up my chocolate chip cookie dough truffles. How very blessed are all us wives whose husbands both understand and make those Bible passages their lifework. I sometimes think submission is difficult, but only until I read what a man's role in marriage is.
Back to the truffles...anyone who knows Louis well knows that he ONLY eats chocolate ice cream, pure and unadulterated as a dessert. Sometimes chocolate ice cream can get a little old for me, but it is his favorite thing on earth next to pizza and a good Italian sub...and Chinese food. So, I was surprised and excited to find him eating Cadi's cookie dough truffles one afternoon at the Vances' house. And yes, he loves them! So, I had an inspiration for Valentines Day. They have the recipe on and no, there are no eggs involved. And yes, it does taste like cookie dough, as long as you don't attempt the homemade sweetened condensed milk recipe that our family used to use for our coconut macaroon recipe. Excellent in the macaroons, terrible in these truffles. So, now it is past 11pm and they are chilling in the fridge. And will until morning, because my creative spirit is waning. I'm going to package them up and surprise him when the 4 day weekend starts-now only the entire world will know....but him...
Lou was supposed to have an entire week of out in the field experiences last week, but the cadre didn't want to spend the nights out in the cold with the men so they were kind enough to let everyone go home for bedtime. It was great because he was only 2 blocks away from the house shooting at one of the many ranges Benning has. Tonight however he is spending in the field and most likely tomorrow night as well. Today has been cold and rainy- this morning started with an 8 mile ruck march. While I was lying in bed silently complaining to myself about my shin splints, I was convicted of my complete selfishness when I pictured Lou out in the rain at 5am rucking for 8 miles. His captain does have a fine sense of humor though and told Lou if he kept pace with him the entire way, he could have Friday off...which would have been nice except that they are already promised Friday off. So, he arrived home with mega blisters and hobbled through his morning routine. The blisters are rather amazing!
Blisters to blisters, he actually started the collection Saturday morning. He bought a new pair of boots on Friday and decided to do some breaking in Saturday so we went on a ruck march together- 4 miles. He is a trooper. I am a weakling, I have decided! I carried nothing but a water bottle while he had his 40 lb. pack but I do have legs that are half the length of his so that must be part of my excuse. I kid you not, I had to jog to keep up with his paces and then in running I simply didn't keep up. Oh well, we took the RiverWalk which runs from Fort Benning proper along Lumpkin to the Infantry Museum outside the fort and beyond to downtown Columbus. I was told by a soldier in the post office that it has "alligators along it and so you have to be careful" and that started a lively conversation between the post office employee and the post office walls in general on the safety of jogging with alligators, her proclaiming loudly,"I wouldn't go where no alligators are running loose, you'll be running faster than ever before..." and then some. I reported the conversation to Lou when I got back to the truck and we jogged along "Alligator Alley" but didn't have the luck to see any. How disappointing after all that buildup!
Saturday night we spent a good evening at the McGinnis' house, the pastor from Westminster Presbyterian Church. Good food and funny conversations punctuated by their 2 year old daughter Abigail's protests for attention! Such a funny little cutie! I made the mistake of teaching her the "high 5" routine and then was called upon to repeat it millions of times. They have three kids, two boys and Abigail. They are all like a picture-very distinctive but look nothing alike. Luke, the second one reminds me of a browny-red Dennis the Menace. Full of mischief!
I have volunteering tomorrow at the post thrift store- from 9-2. I started last week and am busy mastering the art of tagging clothing in the prescribed spots- differs from shirts to pants and all is inspected by the head show runner with many critiques on my placement and/or speed (or lack thereof). She is very concerned with the flap-doodle way in which some of the volunteers operate and eyed me with suspicion when I arrived there last Wednesday morning. After spending some time watching with a hawk's eye and correcting my errors, she came to the conclusion that I was almost as Monk-like as herself in matters that involved: clothing hanging all in the same direction, pants together, shirts together, no clothing left on the floor, like colors in the same place...etc etc. We are both, in a (hyphenated) word "obsessive-compulsive". So, now we are friends and will get along famously, I think. Her 70something mother also works there and is the sweetest lady alive.
I had so much more I wanted to tell you all about but I spent all my day's allotment of brain cells on grocery shopping and exercising, resume writing and listing on craigslist, and can't remember half of the interesting news I have to share. Bleah, as Charlie Brown would say! Well, I'll update you when I regain clarity again!