Murphy's 5th Birthday Cake - And Leftovers for the Chickens

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I don't like looking back on our time in California. A lot of it feels like failure to me. I'm learning to see it through different lenses, but that's an exercise I have not mastered yet. But I like looking back on our early years with Murphy, because I know that wasn't a failure.

We got Murphy the very night I finished my last final. It was Contracts law and I finished 20 minutes early so that I could drive to Los Angeles and pick him up. Small and crying, I held him in my hands and he was beautiful. He sat in the passenger seat, so tired from the adventure. I sang the Carpenters, I remember. I cried a little, I remember. He gave me a feeling of purpose when I didn't know if things were falling apart. He gave me something to dedicate my time towards; the question of returning to law school was still up in the air.

And for five years, I have loved Murphy with my whole heart. He's gentle. The sweetest dog I've ever met. He wants to be by my side for hours. He finds small crevices to tuck himself into. He has a tooth that's longer than the other and so his smile is a little crooked. He has a sweet tooth, too. And I know Murphy is the reason I changed five years ago (or started to, at least). I wanted to be better because of him. He, as well as Elsa and Milo, gave me the purpose I had been missing - a family. That love was not borne from opportunity, but a requirement for happiness and I have tried to live this more as I have gotten older.

I am lucky. I am lucky to love my dogs so much and I am lucky to have had Murphy as our first. Five years have been perfect with him and I am grateful for many years more.

And it's hard to wrap all of this up in one post, let alone one cake, but every day is a devotional to putting their needs before my own. The cake was impromptu, using ingredients from around the kitchen, but I made sure it has a little sweetness to it for him. And when they got sick of having cake for breakfast, I scraped off the icing for my other family, the chickens. I don't own anything on this land of ours, but I'll be damned if I don't want to make sure everyone's happy.

Ingredients for Cake:

  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (can sub for another cup AP)
  • 1/4 ts baking soda
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 whole milk 
  • 2 egg
  • 1/2 ts cinnamon

Recipe for Cake: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Prepare a 13x9 inch cake pan with oil and parchment paper
  3. In a bowl, sift flours and baking soda
  4. In a stand mixer, beat all remaining ingredients
  5. On low, add flour until incorporated 
  6. Beat on high for one minute
  7. Transfer to prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean

Ingredients for Icing:

  • 1 c yogurt
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup marshmallow fluff
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar 

Directions for Icing:

  1. For icing, mix all ingredients and apply to cooled cake. I also topped mine with Girl Pow sprinkles 
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Goodbye to Him

He was gone by Monday evening.  He was determined to die in his own way, and it's been understood by us all that it had to happen.  It's always inevitable, isn't it?  The way seasons come in confused rushes, the way you're never quite nostalgic enough to move back home.  He died on his bed with his family next to him, with his breathing heavy, then soft, then not at all.  He panted and looked my mother right in the eyes, probably apologizing.  Probably wanting her to hold him tight through it all. The last picture I took of him.  Two years ago, on a polaroid.

My childhood dog died.  His name was Charlie, he passed away of natural causes.  He was fourteen and my family had him since I was nine.  Three months before my brother had cancer, a year before I started middle school, a decade before I left for college.  I thought he was a girl at first, so delicate and beautiful.  He was bought in the rain and was scared of the thunder.  He was special, different than our dog, Humphrey.  He was needy and my sister would dress him up in baby doll clothes.  She painted his nails.  He ate a library book and a hundred dollar bill once.  He had a developmental disorder where we had to baby-talk to him for years and years, so he felt safe and understood we loved him.  He had a scratch under his right eye where it always cried a little.  He was beautiful, strong.  He was afraid of the basement and never went in there.  Not even when there was a storm and the television said to go somewhere safe.  He refused, that stubborn dog.

He one time starved himself to bones when we left him at a kennel, when we went to Florida for a week.  We were charged $200 to fix the fence he broke trying to find us.

He one time starved himself when Humphrey died, too depressed to play ball.

He loved the snow and even when he was arthritic, he still jumped head-first into the first fall of December.

He was special, he was different.  He was delicate like a girl dog.  Beautiful in his own way.  He was blonde, he shed a lot.   He didn't know any tricks.  He was stubborn.  He was perfect the way all dogs are perfect and special the way the small quirks of age make you special.

He was home to me, but he had creaks in him, too.  He stumbled, he fell.  He growled if you touched him when he was sleeping.  He would kiss your hand, then ignore you.  He couldn't walk down steps, so they built him a ramp to go outside.  He couldn't walk up steps, so my parents moved their bedroom into the library on the first floor.  Every morning, my mom would walk him around our fenced-in yard, the whole circumference so Charlie could smell and hear and remember he was still loved.

He died in his sleep, he wanted it to happen.  He panted, then slowly let go.  He lived for fourteen years, and it was greedy to ask for any more.

My mother called me the other day and said she was lost in the mornings, with more free time.  She said she wasn't going to get anymore dogs.  She said they would move the bedroom back upstairs when it didn't hurt so bad.  She said she's waiting for a sign that he's happy now.  I asked her what the sign would be and she said it was too soon to know.  She'll know when she sees it.

I don't think the dreams I've been having are a sign that he's happy.  I keep dreaming he's in pain, that we had to make the choice ourselves.  I dream about being a senior in high school and holding onto Humphrey as we put him down.  I remember crying until I threw up.  And I wonder why I haven't cried this week.  Why Charlie was different.  I'm waiting for a sign now, too.  To know it's okay that I haven't cried yet.  And when that sign comes, I hope this dam inside me breaks.

Mon Petit Déjeuner (plus, grapefruit two ways)

I exhale when it's time for bed and I'm asphyxiated by morning.  I don't know what I'm holding my breath for, but something awful is going to happen.I wonder how much of a midwestern I really am. What superstitions do I still carry that have some genetic ties to my parents' homeland.  If a bird hits a window, and I the first to think I'll die?  They won't thud as loudly as my heart, if that's the case. But it wasn't this morning.  This morning, I didn't feel the cast-iron dread of anticipating the failing of my company's sales office.  I didn't even think about it.  Instead, I found myself swaddled in a fleece blanket, damp with a little perspiration and the dew from the open window.  I found myself eager to make coffee and some breakfast, to clear out the dishwasher to make room for new, to teach Murphy a new word and wait for Nolan to return home from Phoenix with a present for me.  To water the herbs (basil, tarragon, and parsley) and to throw away any old fruit in the windowsill.

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It was nice to feel that way again.  It was nice to live in the diaphanous veil between sunlight streaming through your window and the dark roast brewing in the pot.  It was even nicer to fall asleep again while in the sun and then wake up and bathe, put on clean clothes, and finish my second cup before nine, this time with a scone.  I was able to enjoy the things I enjoy because there was no pretense of something "better".  I was content in the existence I made for myself and I didn't even mind it when the sprinklers turned on and I had to change my shirt.  In fact, I embraced it.

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I embraced it the way I embraced Nolan when I saw him after four days.  Awkward because of baggage, but comforting all the same.  Murphy cried when he saw him and I had a dry mouth, but soon began talking again.  Our conversation was normal, casual, relaxed the way the fleece blanket was.   He brought me a crystal necklace from Sedona and I made him fish for dinner.  After the five hour drive, he was asleep before I even finished my shower, his silhouette in the closet lie a lump under the golden-brown comforter that's peppered with dog hair.

It was comforting. It was the way a weekend (for me, anyway) should be.

And now for the recipes...

Grapefruit: Two Ways

I wanted to make something a little different, that I had not had myself before but was ubiquitous on many sites: curd.  I was going to make some Meyer lemon curd a while ago, but they went bad quickly after we had stolen them in a Wal-mart plastic bag on a neighbor's tree while walking Murphy.  Instead, I made the curd out of grapefruits, from these gorgeous ruby-reds I bought a couple weeks ago and were undoubtedly going to go bad soon.  My mom, being a candy maker, wouldn't have let me let the rind go to waste, and so I used those as well.  

Since my morning was so lovely, the curd was paired with an amazing scone recipe as well.

--profitez-en!

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Grapefruit Curd

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 whole eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

Directions

  1. Mix sugar, cornstarch, yolks, eggs, and salt in saucepan with whisk to combine
  2. Put on medium-low heat, stirring continuously until thickens
  3. Allow bubbles to form on the rim, bringing it to a small boil to cook out the starchy taste
  4. Take off heat and add vanilla and butter, whisk in
  5. Put in container and refrigerate

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Vanilla-Almond Scones (adapted from here)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/4 cup almonds, pulsed in food processor
  • 1 small box (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tablespoon almond extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup almond milk

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, almonds and salt in a large bowl.
  • Add cold butter and cut it in using a pastry blender or two butter knives until it forms small crumbs.
  • Stir in pudding mix. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the almond extract, vanilla, egg, almond milk, and cream. Stir gently with a fork until just incorporated. Bring the dough together with your hands.
  • Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Form into a round mass. Cut round into 8 triangles and place each on the prepared baking sheet. Brush each triangle with a little of the remaining an egg wash or 1 TB cream (I made a glaze from almond milk, a little honey, and some sliced almonds). Bake for 16-20 minutes until just golden. Serve with grapefruit curd (above).

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and as an added bonus....

Candied Grapefruit Peel

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Ingredients:

  • Peel of two large grapefruits, cut into thin strips
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar

Directions:

  1. In saucepan, cover peel strips with water and bring to a boil.  Drain.
  2. Repeat twice more. (this ensures all the bitterness of the pith is taken out)
  3. Bring peel (should now be pretty limp), 1/2 cup water, and sugar to a boil
  4. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until translucent
  5. Drain and let dry, 2-4 hours (I did mine overnight)
  6. Toss with additional sugar and enjoy (alternatively, you can dip in chocolate and let dry; I did not do this, though)

The Ides of March.

I once stood where Caesar was stabbed.  In the Largo di Torre Argentina, in Rome, when I was nineteen.  There are lion statues there and the myth goes that one puts his hand into the lion's mouth and if it closes, he's deceitful.  I didn't put my hand in.  I'll never put my hand in.

I lie a lot.  I lie about small things that aren't even white, they're paler than that.  They are innocent, but entrapping.  They are gnat-like and hover around sweet things, sweet people I find attractive.  I want to impress.  It's been a characteristic about me since I was a child. I don't know if I've ever really impressed anyone, but it's always fun to pretend.

Loneliness is the most unkindest cut of all.  I am often left in a dissatisfaction at my own amusement with simple pleasures.  I have had the house to myself for two days and have taken Murphy to the sitter's and drove in the car for nearly an hour and a half total.  I put a bid on a house, a house that's shared, a house that has a concrete backyard and is close to a tennis court.  A house that's in a nice neighborhood, but is equalized to our standard by the budget we set for it.  I could never live alone.

Then I wonder why I crave it so much.  Why I sit facing a certain way, away from others.  Why I am so bothered by the constant, incessant need to ask how my day is.  Why do pleasantries make me recoil?  I think it's the inauthenticity of it all, the mechanism of courtesy and the lack of true, distinct attention that I may get from so-and-so.  I cannot impress the disinterested.  I need an audience to survive.

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I'll wait patiently.  I will go to the dog park that doesn't have grass and is volunteer-driven and I will talk to a woman named Mariel about our dogs and I will drain my battery to 10% talking to my dad about his business trip to Arkansas and I will drink a whole Gatorade and wake up at 5:45 am to ensure I get to read A Farewell to Arms in the brown leather couches of a Starbucks close to work.  I applied for a part-time job at a French bakery and lied on my resume (as I always tend to do). I ate cereal for dinner last night.  I made tacos today.

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And while I wait for my audience to come back, I will listen to Murphy breath heavy and taste the goods I made myself.

 

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Cornmeal Cookies (via)

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened (1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Zest of one lime
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup 100% yellow cornmeal + extra for rolling 

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit
  • In a large bowl, whip softened butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in salt, zest, egg, vanilla.
  • Add flour and then cornmeal once incorporated.  Use a rubber spatula to mix to ensure full incorporation, as mixers often do not get the bottom/sides of bowl.
  • (Variant from original) Allow to rest in freezer for a few minutes.
  • Pat or roll onto floured/cornmeal-dusted board.
  • Cut into rounds.
  • Place on parchment-lined baking sheet.
  • Bake 8-12 minutes until just golden on edges.
  • Allow to cool.

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(I paired these with a grapefruit curd, which will be featured in my next post)