As promised: Peanut Butter Brownies.

This is the peanut butter brownie post I promised you yesterday- I wrote it on my former blog back on 6/23/08. The title? A delicious disaster. How appropriate for the novice baker that I (still) am!

I really wish that, when I steam-burned myself and in my reactionary
shock of pain dropped the large glass bowl into a pot and sprayed
molten chocolate all over the walls, cabinets, our fresh fruit in the
banana hammock, and the dog's food bowl, I had thought to take a
picture of the damage. But alas, I was too busy swearing and chucking
my wooden spoon across the room and into the sink to think about such
nonsense. Let me assure you that it was quite an impressive mess, and
there was dark, buttery chocolate that ended up in places I'm sure I
have yet to discover. How none ended up on me is a mystery. But I did
manage to spy a rogue chocolate dot on the cabinet about an hour after
cleanup:

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Disaster aside, I set out today to make peanut butter swirl brownies a la Martha Stewart,
and they are baking in the oven as we speak, and they smell heavenly.
Cody is out picking up some Baja Fresh for dinner which will make for
an interesting smell combo when he gets back, but I digress. Alls I can
tell you is that I can hardly wait to get my paws on one of these
peanut-chocolatey squares, and don't you worry, if I were you I'd
totally be jealous too.

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And here we have zee fineeshed product…

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Delicioso!

Ingredients

Makes 9 large or 16 small squares

FOR THE BATTER

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for pan
  • 2 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 4 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

FOR THE FILLING

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan
    and line with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overhang. Butter lining (not
    overhang).
  2. Make batter: Put butter and chocolates in a heatproof medium bowl
    set over a pan of simmering water; stir until melted. Let cool
    slightly. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
  3. Whisk granulated sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs, and
    whisk until mixture is smooth. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture; stir
    until well incorporated.
  4. Make filling: Stir together butter, confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, salt, and vanilla in a bowl until smooth.
  5. Pour one-third of batter into prepared pan; spread evenly with a
    rubber spatula. Drop dollops of peanut butter filling (about 1
    tablespoon each) on top of batter, spacing about 1 inch apart. Drizzle
    remaining batter on top, and gently spread to fill pan. Drop dollops of
    remaining filling on top. Gently swirl peanut butter filling into
    batter with a butter knife, running the knife lengthwise and crosswise
    through layers.
  6. Bake until a cake tester inserted into brownies (avoid center and
    edges) comes out with a few crumbs but is not wet, about 45 minutes.
    Let cool slightly in pan, about 15 minutes. Lift out; let cool
    completely on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Brownies can be
    stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Helpful Hint

To swirl brownies, work quickly so that batter and filling don't
set. Use two large spoons to drop dollops of filling on the first layer
of batter about one inch apart. Repeat with next layer of batter and
remaining filling. Drag a butter knife back and forth through the
layers with the tip touching the bottom of the pan.

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Food and memories.

After Mum Mum passed, my family and I spent a lot of time sharing some of our favorite memories of our time with Mum Mum. There was a common theme running through many of those memories: food. I had this epiphany that so many favorite times- anyone's, not just our family's- are centered around food and delicious food traditions. Sometimes you spend an evening with family or with friends, and you share conversation over an amazing meal that is simply unforgettable. My mom is so good at this, and so is my Amma! When it came to Mum Mum, our family- especially my nephew, David- always looked forward to her amazing baked beans every Christmas. This is a tradition that I am sure will carry on, and I would share the recipe with you except my mom wants to keep it a family secret 😉

In light of this, I am going to be more intentional about not only sharing my own favorite recipes that are beloved by my family and friends, but actually getting my butt in the kitchen on a regular basis to COOK those recipes!

Before this blog, I had another one that documented many things- my political opinions, buying a house, getting a second dog, and also my journey as a new vegetarian (I'm not gonna try to fool you into thinking that lasted long- I succumbed to the amazingness that is Liberty Market after only six months. But it was good while it lasted). In the months after Cody and I got married, I was obsessed with all things kitchen gadget-y and learning to cook was at the top of my list of things to do. Take, for example, this post, dated 6/23/08:

I swear to you, I can't surf around 101 Cookbooks or Smitten Kitchen
without uttering the words, "ExCUSE me?!" at least seven times per
visit when I look at their recipes. Because who wants to eat Amazing Black Bean Brownies
really? I should be offended by this. And then I totally want to eat
them. Why this is appetizing is beyond me. But I am sure that blogs
like this inspire me to spend as much time in my kitchen as is humanly
possible.

Also, when I walk into stores like Williams Sonoma or
Sur La Table I can't help but get a thrill at the thought of a huge
kitchen filled with every cooking gadget under the sun, and me
inventing culinary delights so ethereal that the heavens open wide and
the angels sing upon my creations.

I think the world might
actually be coming to an end. I want to do things like sew, cook, and
plant a garden. When did I become a vegetarian, chocolate-obsessed,
weird brownie-baking, lentil-consuming, Martha Stewart wannabe who
actually wants to eat the aforementioned ingredients… all in the same
recipe?

On another note, I made Cody
eat a whole steamed artichoke the other night, and it was *nearly*
disastrous. Not quite cooked all the way through, but not entirely a
loss for a first-timer. All in all, a thoroughly weird experience. When
he got to the part where he had to slice and dice his way through the
furry mess to the heart, he sat there with a very concerned look on his
face, staring at what was left of the artichoke, and said, "I think I
just ate a wombat."

Thank God my poor husband was adventurous and patient enough with me to live through my experiments… fuzz and all.

The health of my family and my own health is very important to me, and I want to be sure that Linnea is raised not only with wonderful memories of delicious food, but also with good eating habits. I wasn't off to the greatest start considering that all I ate when I was pregnant was Nesquick and hot fudge sundaes from McDonalds (that's like the epitome of processed AND sugar! What!) but we're gonna work to turn this train around. This doesn't mean that I am going to be The Food Nazi and never let her have any treats- for goodness' sake, the peanut butter brownie recipe I found and made a couple of years ago was a little slice of HEAVEN!- but we'll simply have to do things in moderation.

So… since you're probably dying to have that recipe yourself, I'll post it tomorrow for you to try over the weekend. It's an old post but a fun one, and the brownies are simply divine!

Wish me luck with that whole health thing- clearly I'll need it (see above picture).

Breastfeeding FAIL.

Linnea turned three months old this week, and as of her weight check at the doctor she still only weighs a whopping 7 lbs. 12 oz. When people see her the first comment is usually,"Oh, look at her! She's a brand new one, isn't she?"

Nope. She's three months old.

When she was first born, at 6 lbs. even, and 5 lbs. 6 oz. when we left the hospital, she was pretty tiny to begin with. I was on a mission to exclusively breastfeed, simply because it was the best thing for her, and at first things seemed to be going pretty well. The doctor said she was "perfect" at her two-week checkup and said that we didn't need to come back until her two-month checkup. I continued breastfeeding and had no idea it wasn't working until we went in at two months, and she only weighed 6 lbs. 5 oz.!

I felt awful. A-W-F-U-L, awful.

Leading up to the arrival of our daughter, we had decided that we were going to keep her on a feeding and sleeping schedule- we had read the first of the Babywise series and it sounded like a good plan for us. We knew some families who followed the Babywise plan and it was working well for them, plus we agreed with the principles presented in the book, so we were going for it. But after Linnea arrived, and we fed her every three hours 24 hours a day for a while (which is pretty typical for every child at first), we noticed that she was pretty fussy, pretty often. My parents insisted that she was hungry, but I insisted on keeping her on a schedule. Turns out they were right. (When is mom ever not right? Someday Linnea's gonna learn that about me. Ha!) I wasn't producing enough milk for her (only about an ounce at a time)
but I had no idea because, needless to say, I was ignorant. It's been
such a learning process but it's been amazing.

So we started supplementing with formula and she became a much happier baby. Her skinny little legs are filling out and her knees aren't so knobby anymore. She's also pretty much outgrown her newborn clothes- finally. She's much more alert and content- and even though I never wanted to have to give her formula because it's the second-best thing for her and not the best, her health is much more important. While formula is much harder on our wallets, I'm not gonna lie- it's much easier to deal with bottle feeding in public than it is to nurse anywhere outside our home. 

On that note, I've pretty much transitioned completely from breastfeeding to formula. I still try to breastfeed her at least once or twice a day, but unfortunately it just isn't working anymore. As a mother, it's surprisingly difficult to have to let go of that ability to nourish your child the way God intended, but on the flip side it's also somewhat of a relief. This motherhood thing can be a crazy ride- no doubt this is only the beginning!

So anyway, here are a few pictures of Cody and Linnea last weekend.

Burps:

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Try and resist me:
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Look at my loooooong eyelashes like my Daddy's:
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Linnea loves Daddy! He's the best.
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Office makeover.

As any of my dear readers know, I am a work-at-home mommy. When I first met with my lovely client Kim at the TomKat Studio, I was totally inspired by her decorating style (as pretty much everyone else who knows her is!) and set out on a mission to make over my office space. As you also know, my favorite color ever is PINK, so not only did I know I had to incorporate it into my new decor, Kim did a gorgeous job decorating her studio/living room in pink and orange! I am also *slightly* obsessed with her pink chair in the foreground:

Pink chair 

She basically had the same reaction to it that I did when she saw it in someone's home, and offered to buy it from them and they sold it to her on the spot. Ha! That gorgeous rose pillow was a fantastic find at HomeGoods, where she is also a contributor to their blog. I've been heading there at least once a week in search of a fabulous pink lamp for my desk and any other amazing decor for my work space.

Needless to say, Kim is a fantastic decorator.

This is a work in progress, but here is a sneak peek of the first project I completed- refinishing the sofa table that I'm using as a printer stand and storage space.

Before (clutter mania!):

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After (sans clutter, but it will have some other more pretty items on it when I'm done):

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Found these gorgeous drawer-pulls at anthropologie. (Where else? Seriously.)

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So my overall plan is pink and white- maybe with some lime green accents? I haven't decided yet- it totally depends on what I find out there. I'll be checking out Ikea, anthropologie, HomeGoods, and other random places for inspiration and inexpensive finds. I've already found several items that I can't wait to share once the office is finished. Plus, the simple process of rearranging and moving some furniture pieces around has made a huge difference, and it didn't cost a thing! Gotta love that.

There's something to be said about having an inspiring, colorful work space, especially when you spend most of your day there. I also want to have room for Linnea to play near me when she gets a little older. I'm loving what we've done so far, and I can't wait to be all finished and organized so I can get started on even more projects I have in the works!

First trip to the zoo.

Last week, Linnea and I went to the zoo with my dear friend Jessica and her little man, Cruz. Jessica's family gave her a year-long zoo membership, so we got to go for free, which was great! I can't wait until Linnea is old enough to notice the animals and tell me the sounds they make and be totally enamored with them. Something tells me with all the animal lovers in our family that we will have another one on our hands 🙂

We snapped a couple of pictures in between chatting and picnicking by the lake and they are just too cute not to share. Enjoy!

I had to take a picture of a tiger because those were Mum Mum's favorites. That and they are simply beautiful animals!

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Jessica and Cruz admiring the tigers.

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Linnea and I checking out the lions. (OK… I'm checking out the lions. She's just trying not to be blinded by the sun.)

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FLAMINGOS! My favorite! Plus they're PINK!

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I'm not gonna lie, I'm secretly hoping that someday someone "flamingos" my front yard. That would be simply amazing. And I would totally leave them up until the HOA nazis start fining us. Ha!

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Such a fun day! We're gonna go again before the weather gets too warm to enjoy the zoo. Jessica, Linnea and I are heading out to the OC next month to visit my BFF Amber and that will be such a fun girls' weekend! I can't wait to take Linnea to the beach!

On another note, today is my baby girl's three-month birthday. I can hardly believe it! Time really does fly when you become a mommy. 

Mum Mum’s memory book.

My sister and I spent last Sunday afternoon sorting through Mum Mum's things in her room. What a treasure trove that was! We found so many old pictures, keepsakes, cards, and little pieces of history that our dad helped us piece together. While sad and strange, it was also quite fascinating. One of the most interesting things was a funeral program we found for Mum Mum's two cousins who died in WWII- one in Belgium in 1945 and the other in Normandy in 1944- brothers who shared a funeral in 1949. I could only imagine… Cody's grandfather survived that war, and he is still traumatized by his experiences there to this day. We also found pictures dating back to the late 1800s of  family members. My dad said he'd commission me to put together a family history- heck yes I'll do that! I mean, shoot, we have a family history based on my maternal great-grandparents from Iceland dating back to the 1100s or something crazy like that. No joke- the genealogy is more than 100 pages long! Why not make one for the other side of the family?

My favorite discovery was a little memory book that Mum Mum put together. No one knew she had it- my dad said that had he known it was there, he would have pulled it out often for her to look at in her final weeks. It was just a little pocket photo album, and in the very front was this poem clipped from a newspaper:

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And when I turned the page, the first thing I saw was a picture of me as a child.

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She kept all of my school age pictures in this little photo album, but it wasn't just me- it contained old photos of all of her kids, her mom, and her brother. She loved all of us so much. There was a picture of one of her beloved dogs, other newspaper clippings, and even a little card I gave her when I was little.

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Who knew she kept it all these years?

Remember the Skaggs story? I found the picture in this little album. I was dressed up as Bugs Bunny. Hahaha.

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Here's my dad and uncle- on the back of the picture she wrote, "Two little boys."

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Mum Mum LOVED her dogs- she has never forgotten a beloved pet. I have no doubt that she is reunited with all her cherished little canines up in Heaven 🙂

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Rainbow Bridge, Heaven, whatever.

Here are some of my favorite photos of Mum Mum and me from way back when. Such sweet, sweet memories…

Greeting her and Other Mum Mum (her mom) when they first moved to Arizona from Pittsburgh.

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Such a character! My dad giving her smooches.

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I don't know what I was eating, but whatever it was I liked it A LOT.
You can tell by the "don't eff with my food" look I'm giving the camera.

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Hugs 🙂

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…and kisses. I don't know why, but I really liked to give this
leopard of hers kisses every time I went to her apartment. I know. I was a
weirdo.

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Mum Mum gave me this stuffed cat and I named her Christina.

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She hated having her picture taken…

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…unless Muffin was in the picture! Later she would go cook up filet
mignon and feed it to the dog! (I'm not joking. She actually did this!
That dog ate better than we did. Haha)

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And finally…

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There was nothing I loved more as a child than to run around in circles yelling, "Chase me! Chase me!" And although Mum Mum couldn't run fast, she would always play along and say, "Come here, you little squirt!" And I would giggle and giggle, and run to her and hug her tight, and say, "I'm so glad you're here, Mum Mum. I love you."

This special lady was a part of so many of my most precious memories- ones that I will cherish forever. I'm so glad she's in a beautiful place, that she has been made whole once again. I'm smiling for her now, always.

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You were so good to me!

There are so many things

I wanted still

to do – to say to you…

We cannot see Beyond…

But this I know:

I loved you so- 'twas heaven

here with you!

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Who loves ya, baby?

Mum Mum Linnea

My dear grandmother went to be with Jesus this morning at 7:30. I had been praying for Him to call her home all night after my sister and I went to visit her in hospice care around 10:00 p.m. It was awful; her lungs had filled with fluid because she refused to take her medicine, and she was essentially- slowly, devastatingly- drowning. The sound of her fighting for every breath was heart-wrenching. The nurses said she wasn't in any pain, but… I don't know. I just wanted it to stop- for her sake. But the thought of her being alone in her final hours hurt more. Our brother showed up at around 10:30, and our parents around 11:00. We were all there to say goodbye. There to kiss her on the cheek one last time. We left shortly before midnight, and then we all went home and waited for the news that we both welcomed and feared. I didn't sleep a wink last night.

I don't remember life before Mum Mum. She had lived with my parents and I since I was four years old. I grew up and became the woman I am today because of her influence in my life. When I saw her for the last time last night, I was flooded with happy memories from my childhood that I had long since forgotten about. I shared all of them with her and knew she could hear me because she tried to respond. I made sure that she knew how much I loved her.

When I was three, before she lived with us, I used to get so excited to go see Mum Mum at her apartment and take her out to the fountain to look for goldfish. I remember one Halloween when my parents took me to the drug store for my costume, and we headed straight over to Mum Mum's, knocked on her door and she opened it and said, "Well my goodness, where did you come from?" and I said, "Skagg's." Ha! I remember playing with her ceramic leopard and trying on her shoes and her jewelry and playing on her reclining board and watching Nick at Nite with her. Our favorite show was Mr. Ed. I would sit on the back of the couch behind her and put velcro rollers in her hair. Every night before I went to bed, I would bring in my stuffed dog Henry, and she would sit him on her lap and I would ask him all kinds of silly questions, and she would nod his head yes or no, and I would giggle uncontrollably. I took Henry along on our visit last night, and happily she was not alone in her final moments because he was with her :) Sometimes I would drink water straight out of the gallon jugs she kept in her room and she never minded. I would run around the dining room table and say to her, "Chase me, Mum Mum! Chase me!" She would pick me up from school every day and take me to Smitty's and buy me a custard-filled donut- my favorite. She loved to drink Instant Breakfast, so naturally I did, too. When we went out and about on the weekends with Mom and Dad, Mum Mum and I would sit in the back seat and she would tap her fingers on the seat to the music. I've always done that, and now I know why. She used to feed filet mignon to our family dog, Muffin- my, how she loved that little dog! She is finally with her again :) When I got older, we would go to the mall together. And boy, when I turned into a bratty teenager, did we ever fight. But she never made me feel unloved. She always, always reminded me that she loves me unconditionally. She always told me that we shared a special bond, and we did- right to the very end. When I visited her in hospice over the weekend, even though she was confused and intensely medicated, she greeted me with a huge smile. She mixed up a lot of other people, but she always knew me for some reason. I will never forget her saying to me, "Oh, my Andrea, you lit up the room when you walked in! Seeing you makes me so happy." Whatever floats your boat, Mum Mum 🙂

I hated to see how gradually and yet suddenly her physical and mental health declined. She just started to fall apart and it was heartbreaking- not only for her but for my parents who, bless their hearts, worked tirelessly to care for her over the past several years. It goes without saying that they sacrificed a lot for her sake and I won't lie and say that there isn't a part of all of us that is relieved that they are free to enjoy their retirement years now- and I am certain that Mum Mum would want that. After 95 years of life, and a very rough past couple of years… it was simply time.

But the difficulties are not what I'm going to choose to remember, even though they're the most fresh in my mind. I am going to remember everything good about her. I will do my best to live my life with no regrets because even after 95 years, she would tell me that life is incredibly short, that time just flew by and she could hardly believe she had made it that far. Even before her death, I had decided to forgive, to do what I could to right wrongs, to make life count, to love unconditionally, to give without expectations, to make the most of my time with the people I love as long as I am blessed to experience it. Honestly, to choose any less than that would be nothing short of pathetic. I praise God for the example He gave me in our dear Mum Mum- one that I will try my best to carry on for my own daughter and her kids someday.

Every night, even into my adult years, she would say to me, "Who loves ya, baby?" She got a kick out of Kojak and his lollipops. And I would kiss her on her hand and we would blow each other kisses and catch them. And I would say back, "Who loves ya, Mum Mum?" Well, there's no question about that. We will all miss you for the rest of our days. But the good news is, we will see you again. The glory, wholeness and love you must be experiencing now no doubt pales in comparison to anything  you experienced on earth. And for that, I will forever be grateful.

It really was OK to let go of this life, wasn't it, Mum Mum? You had a good run at it. And my goodness… look how beautiful you were.

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Who loves ya, Mum Mum?

Helen Mae Eiler, 1914-2010

Arise and be comforted
For the Lord, He is good to the weary
And even the young heart can tire and fall
But He knows them all
For the Lord, He will renew their strength
And they will soar on wings as eagles
And they will run and never grow weary
They will walk and not grow faint
For the Lord, He is good
Lift your eyes to the heavens
For the creator is living in you
Come surrender as you are
And know that you'll never stray too far
Let His power within you heal your heart
Lift your eyes to spacious skies
Let Him chart your way to flight

Spread your wings and fly

For the Lord, He is good

~Arise and Be Comforted by Watermark

(If you are a family member or friend, share a favorite memory or your favorite thing about Mum Mum! I would love to hear what you have to say, and I'm sure everyone else would too 🙂