Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wrapping up August

Well, August has been interesting.

Amanda traveled to Africa and back this month, where she helped conduct a basketball camp for kids in Kampala.

view of Lake Victoria from Father's House

My baby turned 13 years old.

We started back to homeschool this year with only ONE student.

Eric went back to Appalachian State University for his SENIOR year!  woo hoo!

We had both an earthquake and hurricane here last week.

My hubs and I celebrated 29 years of marriage on my 51st birthday. Mark celebrated his 51st birthday today!   We also  helped surprise my friend, Shelley, for her 50th birthday, and I baked CUPCAKES.

I had an MRI done on my left knee, which has been getting more and more painful over the past several months, and found out that the meniscus is torn. So I have surgery scheduled in 2 weeks.   In the meantime, my right knee is starting to "catch" and give me some trouble. 

Today we went on a field trip to Fort Bragg, NC, visiting the Golden Knights Army parachute team headquarters and also the Airborne and Special Operations Museum.

On to September. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Searching for the Perfect Vanilla Cupcake Recipe

Vanilla cupcakes -  classic, basic, simple.....
If you spend any time looking through cupcake blogs ( as I do ), you will find that there are numerous quests going on for the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe!  It seems like it would be simple, but there are many variables that go into a basic vanilla recipe, and everyone seems to have different expectations for what makes a "perfect" vanilla cake!

Since I was baking Neapolitan cupcakes this week, which start with a vanilla cupcake filled with strawberry filling and then topped with chocolate buttercream, I looked through numerous recipes and chose one that sounded good.
Double Vanilla Cupcakes - found at Simply Recipes.

I have been baking cupcakes for about 9 months now, and have made vanilla cupcakes a couple of other times. But I hadn't been completely happy with them.  Some recipes are dry.  Some are flavorless.  Some are heavy and "cornbread-y".   Some are so tender that they crumble and fall apart when you take off the cupcake paper.

These Double Vanilla Cupcakes were delicious!  Just the right sweetness with a strong vanilla taste, moist, fluffy -  beautiful!  I don't have any vanilla beans, but I do have Nielson-Massey vanilla bean paste, so I used that along with the vanilla extract. The recipe only made 12 cupcakes, and I needed to make 7 dozen.  At a glance, it seemed like the recipe should double easily.

Not so.

The batter seemed fine, but the cupcakes exploded in the oven.  At some point as they baked, the batter flowed up and over the top of the cupcake pan, and the cupcakes didn't cook all the way through, making a soggy, gloppy mess. I have no idea why, except that perhaps the ingredients didn't mix thoroughly in the larger amounts. Thinking that perhaps I had measured some ingredient incorrectly, I tried the double recipe again, and the same thing happened.  Into the trash.
So I decided to try another recipe that seemed similar, but made a larger amount of cupcakes. That recipe produced cupcakes with a "muffin top",  and the edges broke as I tried to take them out of the pan, making them not very pretty, and the texture was too soft.  That batch went into the trash can along with the failed exploded cupcakes. 
A third recipes yielded unsatisfactory results as well, with big airholes in the cake and a dry texture.  ugh.

So I went back to the original Double Vanilla Recipe, and made it as written for 12 cupcakes, and they came out perfectly.  If anyone has success doubling this recipe, I'd love to hear about it.  It doesn't make sense to me, but after two failed attempts  I'm sticking with the small batch version.

Double Vanilla Cupcakes

1 1/2 c. + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temp
1 c. sugar
1 egg + 2 egg whites, room temp
1/2 c. milk, room temp
1/4 c. sour cream, room temp
1 1/2  tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter for 3 min. at medium speed.  Slowly add the sugar and continue to beat for another 3 minutes, scraping the bowl once or twice.  Add egg and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape bowl and add the egg whites, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds each.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, sour cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean paste.

With mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture and combine, then add 1/2 the milk mixture, stirring just to combine. Add 1/3 flour mixture, mix, then the rest of the milk mixture, mix, and finally the remaining flour mixture. It is important not to overmix the batter once the flour is added, so stir just until smooth and combined.

Divide the batter into 12 cupcake papers in a muffin tin, and bake for 18-20 minutes at 350 degrees, until slightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean.  Cool for about 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes from pan and finish cooling on a wire rack.
Fill and frost.
Makes 12.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

When Your Child is in a Third World Country on Another Continent

Be careful what you pray for!  When your children are small and you pray that they will grow to love, trust, obey, worship, and serve God more and more, that might take them places you never dreamed of!
Like Iraq.
Or Haiti. 
Or Uganda.

My 18-yr-old daughter, Amanda,  left Thursday for a 10-day mission trip to Uganda.  She has wanted to go to Africa for about 4 years now, but the right opportunity never presented itself until this year.  She is part of a small mission team of 6 people led by our friend Jennings Wright, who heads a ministry called Ten Eighteen.  They will be partnering with a ministry in Kampala called Father's House to put on a sports camp for 40 kids from the Namuwongo slum.  They will also be visiting the slums and delivering donated clothing and medical supplies.  In addition to ministry, they will be doing some fun things too, like going  to the National Theater and Friday markets, attending the Ndere Dance Troupe dinner theater, and going on a one-night safari to Lake Mburo, during which they will actually cross the equator!

They are actually staying at a beautiful house in Kampala that is the home to an ex-pat  American family  who have lived there in Uganda for the past 5 or 6 years. I am very comfortable with that.  I know they are with people who are wise and knowledgeable about the culture and the political situation, who know where to go and where not to go.   I know she will see and experience things on this trip unlike anything she has ever seen before, and it will change her forever.  Going to a third world country is life changing.  Amanda already has a heart of compassion, and I'm sure this trip will expand that aspect of her life. 

It is hard not being able to communicate at will.  We are so spoiled now, with nearly everyone having cell phones. I am used to being able to get hold of my kids pretty much whenever I want to.  But with Alex in Iraq and now Amanda in Uganda, I have to practice patience and trust, waiting for occasional communications via email or Facebook.  It really does cause me to be in prayer more, entrusting my children to the care of their heavenly Father.  I can't get to them if they are sick or hurt, I don't know what they are doing or where they are all the time.  It makes me marvel at the strength and faith of our ancestors, who watched their children get on a ship to travel to the New World, or load up a covered wagon and head west, or board a train or ship and head off to war, not to be heard from for months, until a letter could make its way back to their hands.  What a different world this is!

Amanda gets back on Aug. 15, and about 10 days later my daughter Sarah will leaving for Haiti.   Looks like God is giving me plenty of opportunity to work on my prayer life! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

When Your Child is in a War Zone

Alex, my first born,  has been back in Iraq for almost a month now.  There has been very little communication from him - just a couple of sparse emails.  I'm chalking it up to sporadic internet service, although it is just as likely that he has a heavy workload and writing to mom isn't top on his priority list.
I'll hold on to my fantasy, thank you anyway.

People ask me how I'm doing.  Sometimes that catches me by surprise.  I'm doing fine! He's the one living in the desert in 120 degree heat, eating army food, working 12-18 hour days. I think about him often and worry about the fact that it is so hot there and wonder if he is drinking enough fluids and getting enough sleep.  I'm proud of him for serving his country and sacrificing comfort and convenience and security for something greater than himself.  I pray for him and for his safety, health, and spiritual and emotional strength. I wonder who his friends are and how he spends his days.

But occasionally something breaks through the veneer of calm.  A news report of a missile strike or IED explosion near Baghdad.  A tv reality show of surprise reunions of troops with their loved ones.  A song on the country radio station about a soldier who doesn't come home. A soldier we know making the ultimate sacrifice and losing his life over there.

That's when I think about the fact that he is living in a war zone, where there are people who want to do him harm.; that he wears body armor and carries a weapon with him everywhere he goes. And my heart starts to race, my hands start to tremble, and I sometimes burst into tears.  And I realize that maybe, underneath, I'm not as okay as I think.

I know that God is sovereign. I know that we are all here temporarily, and that my son has a room in a heavenly mansion awaiting him someday, as a child of the King.  But I am his mama and I have hopes and dreams for him, and I want to have him here where I can hug his neck.

Boy oh boy.  God has some work to do in me yet.

Proud Army Mom Pictures, Images and Photos

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sarah and SafeWorldNexus

My daughter, Sarah,  has been in Bristol, TN at her new internship with SafeWorldNexus for just about a month now. The weekend after the 4th, we loaded up the van and her Honda and moved her into the over-the-garage studio apartment ( generously provided by a friend of the ministry) which she is sharing with Rachel and Katherine, two other interns.  Things are cozy, so they are getting to know each other fast! After spending the weekend acclimating, they dove right into work,  brainstorming ideas for a September missions conference at a nearby church which they are leading, volunteering at Jon Acuff's "Quitter" Conference in Nashville, and preparing for upcoming trips to Haiti and Uganda.  

This internship is unpaid, so Sarah has been working hard for the past 6 months, saving her money and raising support from family and friends.  She will also be working part-time at a cafe called Java J's in Bristol.  In additon to regular living expenses, she also needs to pay for her travel expenses.  Right now she only has about 3 months out of the 12 covered.  If you would like to contribute to her support, go to her blog and follow the instructions on the right side menu. My cupcake baking will be helping to support her as well.

I am extremely proud of her in taking this leap of faith and giving her heart to serving God through this organization.  Whether she is there for 3 months or 3 years, I know God is faithful to complete the work He has begun in her life. Philippians 1:4-6

Follow her adventures at her blog.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Short Week in Massachusetts

We just got back from a short week in Massachusetts - drove up on Sunday and back on Saturday. My mom and I were talking this week about how years ago when my kids were small, I used to stay up there with the  kids for 3-4 weeks!  Mark would drive up with us and then fly back home to work, then fly back up to spend the last couple of days before driving us all home. Then as the kids got older and there were jobs and sports and classes and missions trips to work around, the trips got shorter.  This time, it was just 3 of us for the first time ever-  me, Mark, and J - so we didn't even need to drive the big van!  That felt really strange.

We stayed with my parents and got to visit both my and Mark's family, since we grew up in neighboring towns and went to the same high school.  My  niece, who is 10, slept over at Grammy and Grampa's for the week so she could hang out with us.  That is the one good thing about living far away - when we visit, we LIVE together for days and days.  It doesn't really make up for the time spent apart, but at least it helps.  We had perfect summer weather all week -  mid-80's, with 60's at night. So much more comfortable than the 100's that were baking things here at home! 

J and Mark got to go to an afternoon Red Sox game at Fenway Park, which they both LOVED.  They also got in some good games of badminton in the backyard during the week, and J and I played bocce on Grandpa's real bocce court!

On another day, the 3 of us, my mom, and my niece went out on a Whale Watch with Capt.John Boats, out of Plymouth, MA.  I had done that with my 3 older kids when they were young, and now J got to see the humpback and minke whales spouting, surfacing, and diving all around us.  The naturalist on board the boat narrated the whole time, telling us exactly what we were seeing and also interesting information about the whales, their habits, and the things that she and other researchers are studying and learning about them!  It was VERY cool! 

Going to the Drive-In movie was another treat that we look forward to every summer. It brings back memories of me and my 2 brothers and my sister, clad in pajamas, laid out with our pillows and blankets in the back of our family station wagon with popcorn and drinks brought from home, watching "The Sound of Music" or "Fantastic Voyage" or "The Pink Panther".  Later, it was me and my friends or me and my date....
This time, it was me, Mark, J and A,  watching "Captain America", still eating popcorn and drinks brought from home.