The “Pan”-Demic Experiments

“Sometimes you feel like a nut / Sometimes you don’t / Almond Joy’s got nuts / Mounds don’t” was the jingle used during the 1970s to advertise two of my favorite candy bars. 

SONY DSC

By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11364190

And, likewise, sometimes, I feel like doing culinary research for several hours, shopping at multiple grocery stores and markets, gathering stand mixer, blender, bread machine, and an array of measuring cups and measuring spoons on my countertop, to create a dessert worthy of the final round of Food Network’s Chopped. However, sometimes, I just want to whip up something quickly with what I have on hand, get it in the oven, and have it on a saucer thirty minutes later. 

Yes, these sorts of desserts rely heavily on packaged, processed elements, but while this pandemic has bestowed upon us all ample time for big projects, it hasn’t always given us the energy or enthusiasm for them. I do enough cooking and baking from scratch that it doesn’t bother me one bit to give my family something made from a box once in a while. 

One recent COVID-19 night my older daughter, who lives and works from home, was itching for a brownie. We had no packaged brownie mix, and we had not found a source for all-purpose flour yet, which was nowhere to be seen on the shelves of our local grocery store. We did have a chocolate cake mix, though. So, off to the internet we went where we quickly found a food blog about cake mix brownies. I’ve been making cake mix cookies for years–one cake mix, two eggs, and a half-cup of vegetable oil mixed together by hand with a wooden spoon, portioned out with an ice cream scoop onto a baking sheet, and voila, a batch of cookies before you can bat an eye. But, brownies? 

Our first experiment produced something that totally satisfied her craving for a brownie, moist and slightly gooey, definitely chocolate and cakey. The best part was that it only required four ingredients and one bowl, a wooden spoon, and one pan: chocolate cake mix, two eggs, half-cup of vegetable oil, and a cup of chocolate chips, mixed by hand and spread into a greased 8×8 square cake pan. Baked for 20 minutes at 350°, the results were amazing, and better yet, FAST.

Yesterday, I decided to experiment again, this time with a yellow cake mix, which I mixed with the requisite two eggs and half-cup of vegetable oil, but I also added one teaspoon of cinnamon, one teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, and a cup of cinnamon chips I had stashed away in the freezer. After I spread it out into the greased 8×8 square cake pan, I sprinkled the top with cinnamon sugar and baked it for 20 minutes at 350°. Cinnamon Chip BrownieMy daughter said it tasted like the cinnamon swirl coffee cake at Starbucks, which I haven’t tried but I’ll take her word for it. Suffice it to say, we were all happy to sit on the back patio with a cup of coffee and a quick treat that didn’t leave the kitchen looking like a White House State Dinner had just been prepared. 

Next on the list for experimentation: strawberry brownies! Stay tuned!

Silver Linings

BCB55D0D-151D-45DF-A63C-AA49012D7E64Today is April 11, 2020, Holy Saturday. It’s a gloriously sunny day in metropolitan Washington, DC. Spring, as they say, has sprung. The pink dogwood in my front yard is blooming, and the white dogwood in my backyard is doing the same. It’s brisk and windy, but beautiful out—out where we are not supposed to be during self-isolation and social distancing from the COVID-19 pandemic we are experiencing.

Maryland schools, including mine, will be engaging students via distance learning for at least two more weeks. Given that our neighboring Virginia has already announced campus closures for the rest of the year, I wonder if Maryland will follow suit, or if the president’s commitment to reopening the country to commerce and industry, a/k/a normal life, will affect that.

img_5960Either way, this is the time of year when I think about my summer plans, the start of the fourth quarter, the wrap-up of the school year. Last summer, my husband and I were supposed to go to Hawaii to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, but on May 4, I tripped playing with my dog in our living room and broke my ankle. No luau for us, as I spent the summer in a non-weight bearing boot. This summer, we were hoping to at least get to Los Angeles to visit our younger daughter, who lives and works there as a writer. But, with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, a summer vacation seems very uncertain as of now. Luckily, she is staying well and working from home, and we are thankful for the ability to FaceTime with her.

IMG_6578 2I can’t say that I am miserable in self-isolation. I’m with two of the three people I love the most in the whole world, my husband and our older daughter. We enjoy each other’s company, and we get along fairly well for three adults feeling the stress of the situation. We have a 16-pound troublemaker of a dog who keeps us laughing and pushes us outside to walk around the block for some exercise.

I love to cook and bake and being home-bound (but not chair-bound) has given me more time to do so. When I’m not teaching online via Zoom or preparing lessons and grading materials on Google Classroom, I am enjoying yarn crafts like knitting and crocheting while watching Netflix or Amazon Prime with my family.IMG_6566 2

I’m also enjoying more time for reading. I’m on my 6th book since my school campus closed, with a last-minute trip to my local MCPL branch the day before it closed. I have a nice stack still to go and my Kindle is loaded with possibilities if I run out.

IMG_6693 2The COVID-19 pandemic has been terrifying and watching the news for too long at any given time is very stressful. I’ve tried really hard to look for the positives, the silver linings, from this experience, the best of which is that my family of four is healthy and well cared for. Slowing down and staying home was a huge adjustment, but this time will eventually end. The curve will flatten, and the virus will run its course. Life, with all its stresses and busyness, will return to normal. Until then, we will get through this one day at a time, praying for those affected and those on the front lines of the battle, always looking for our own individual silver linings.

At Sixes and Sevens

We are a family of four, but as a family in isolation during COVID-19, we are but three. Our younger daughter lives and works (currently from her home) in Los Angeles while our older daughter lives here in Maryland with us. She works from home most days so this social distancing has not been much of a change for her.

covid-19-handshake-alternatives-v3As three adults living together under one roof during this pandemic, we are getting along very well. For work purposes, we have established three separate and distinct work areas: Daughter #1 gets the small bedroom upstairs that she was already using as an office, hubby gets the den and the dog, and I get our home office, which is a small bedroom downstairs. The kitchen, dining room, and living room, all upstairs, are common areas where we congregate, while still keeping some space between us. We meet for lunch and afternoon coffee, but otherwise, we try to stay out of each other’s way. I am the outlier, the only one over 60, so we are being cautious because of the CDC guidelines for age, but I am not immuno-compromised and have no underlying health issues that are set forth for caution. Still, it’s best to be cautious given the devastating effects of this virus on some.

zoomI’m a full-time teacher and a part-time freelance writer, and my school is closed (as of now) through April 24, 2020. I’ve already spent two full weeks teaching online, via Google Classroom for the first week and a half, adding Zoom classes this past week. The Zoom classes I had on Thursday and Friday restored a sense of normalcy to this whole crazy situation. It was so wonderful seeing the faces of my students, 7th grade on Thursday and 8th grade on Friday. There was only a handful who didn’t log on to their scheduled Zoom class, basically the same percentage that could be absent any given school day.  In essence, those two thirty-minute classes were the best I’ve felt since my school closed on March 12, 2020. 

The rest of the time, up to and including this very moment, I have been at sixes and sevens. You may not be familiar with that saying, an old English idiom, but it means being in a state of confusion or disarray. During this self-isolation and school closure, I can certainly identify with this saying.

Richard_II_King_of_EnglandIts origin is not completely known, but it is thought to have originated in the 14th century, perhaps in a dice game, and early use in literature was by Chaucer in 1374, and later by Shakespeare in 1595 in his play Richard II, “But time will not permit: all is uneven, And everything is left at six and seven”.

H_m_s_pinafore_restorationGilbert & Sullivan used it in their 1878 comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore in the opening song of Act II, “Fair moon, to thee I sing, bright regent of the heavens, say, why is everything either at sixes or at sevens?”

In 1911, O. Henry published a collection of 25 short stories, for which he was a master, called Sixes and Sevens. He was certainly qualified to use it, being someone who was convicted on very sketchy evidence of embezzlement of a paltry $900 from the bank where he worked before becoming a writer. He was certainly at sixes and sevens for the three years he served in the Ohio Penitentiary. He had fourteen short stories published while imprisoned, under various pen names, but the pen name (and its origin which he refused to acknowledge) that stuck was O. H(io)(P)en(itentia)ry.

Eva PeronIn the late 70s, Andrew Lloyd Weber had Eva Perón use “at sixes and sevens” in the famous “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” to describe her relationship with Juan Perón. 

It is an understatement that I am a creature of ritual and routine. The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have stripped me of much of my ritual and routine, the very things that bring order to my daily life. With schools closed, but distance learning still going on, I feel completely at sixes and sevens. I’m at home 24-7, but I’m not on summer break, Christmas break, or Easter break. This week, week three of school closure, I am going to try to sort myself out by getting up at my regular weekday time, and following all my regular routines as though I was heading out the door at 7:15, my normal time.

I’m going to put on business casual clothes (one notch down from the professional attire I normally wear to school) and go to my classroom/home office and do lesson plans, prepare online materials, hold my Zoom classes, and grade research papers that have been submitted via Google Classroom. At the end of my school day, I’m going to shut it all down and go and cook a fabulous meal for my family and watch Jeopardy, my favorite way to relax. With a minimum of four weeks to go in our school closure, I can’t be at sixes and sevens another day longer.

 

Another Kind of Break

Louisiana Holy Trinity of Seasonings

Louisiana Holy Trinity of Seasonings

 

I’ve been writing regularly, but my last post here was about how impatient I was for Thanksgiving Break. I recounted how I had spent the summer in a boot due to a bad break, a broken ankle. I just couldn’t wait for five whole days in a row off from school and being free to cook to my heart’s content. My Thanksgiving Break was fabulous.

Christmas 2019After Thanksgiving, I turned my greedy eyes to Christmas Break. My younger daughter flew in from Los Angeles (#veryworriedaboutherrightnow), and the four of us were all home together. It was glorious.

When a teacher returns to school from Christmas Break, there is a certain sense of urgency to lesson planning as the rest of the school year flies by with little breaks here and there: MLK, JR Day in January, a faculty retreat and Presidents’ Day in February, and for my school, a professional development day in March. Next on the calendar is Easter Break. triidumFor a Catholic school, this is a big deal. We observe Lent at school with no meat in our lunches on Fridays, extra prayers in the classrooms, attendance at Mass on Fridays as usual but in the afternoon we return to church for the Stations of the Cross. We have Holy Thursday and Good Friday off, and then all of the next week (Easter Week) for Easter Break.

This year, wow, this year, we have been thrown a curveball. Yesterday afternoon, Thursday, March 12, 2020, at 4:15 pm, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced ALL the schools in Maryland would be closed for at least two weeks, from March 16-March 27, out of an abundance of caution (this is the # phrase of the year) in light of COVID 19. Our school was scheduled for its spring professional development day today, March 13, so our school was already closed; thus I have an unexpected eleven school-day break stretching out ahead of me.

covid-19A bigger shock occurred later in the evening last night. I received an email with an announcement from the Archdiocese of Washington (DC) stating that ALL church services would be canceled starting Saturday, March 14, 2020. ALL? No Mass on Sunday? No Stations of the Cross on Fridays? This is a first for me. Even with my bad break this past summer, I attended Mass every weekend except for the week before the surgery and the week after the surgery. Sure, it was quite the palaver as the British would say (wheelchair, crutches, cane, oh my), but for me, it was non-negotiable that I was going to Mass.

last Mass at SJ covid

Last Mass for two weeks at Shrine of St. Jude due to COVID 19, Friday, March 13, 2020, Fr. Bob Kosty

 

This morning, on the first day of my COVID 19 Break, I went to 9:00 daily Mass. When the priest started Mass, he announced that it was the last Mass until further notice. There was a collective sigh from those present, the majority of the 50 or so parishioners who attend daily Mass year-round, but the mood worsened as Fr. Bob went on to say, in a poignant and personal address to us, that in his 46 years as a priest he had not been stopped from celebrating Mass for his people. It was a beautiful Mass with a short but meaningful homily, and then after, some stayed behind to pray the rosary while Fr. Bob heard confessions.

shrineofjude-logo2Many of the regulars stayed in the church, some praying and some just sitting. It was as though we didn’t want to leave. As Fr. Bob said in his opening comments, “We don’t miss something until we don’t have it.” We don’t have Mass for at least two weeks. No receiving the Eucharist. No standing in communion with others, celebrating the Mass. No listening to the liturgy of the word. No homily. I miss it already. Heart break.

💔