Thursday, January 24, 2013

Molasses Cake

So in less than two weeks I'm turning the big 3-0.

If you're rolling your eyes & saying "Seriously? 30 is not old," relax.  I'm not about to tell you that I'm upset I'm turning 30, because I'm not.

However, when I hit certain 'milestone' ages, it does make me think back to my younger self imagining this age.

For example, I remember when I turned 21 and how different it was from what I pictured 21 to be years before.

Like... I didn't imagine myself sitting at the bar with my dad in New York City.  But that's how it turned out.

I was doing an off-campus study at NYU at the time, and I had just gotten to school only a week or two before.  I had made a couple of friends in the same program, and the three of us went out to dinner.  (It also happened to be Restaurant Week so we got a really nice meal on the cheap).

However, we didn't know each other that well yet - so when they told me they had schoolwork to do & couldn't go out after, I believed them.

And proceeded to call the only other people I knew in NYC - my dad & stepmom.

Meanwhile... my new friends fully intended to 'party' with me despite the fact that it was the middle of the week, and were wondering where I disappeared to.  But it wasn't until the next day I found out it was all a joke.

Oh well!  Don't get me wrong, I still had fun, just saying it's not how I imagined turning 21 to be.

I can also tell you that around that same time, I thought 30 was old with a capital O.

And L and D.

Now "earmuffs" Dad and Mr. Vittles, but when I was in college I had a taste for the older fellas.  I went to a really small school in Florida where I got an excellent education but had a very bizarre social life.

Think 'Land of the Misfit Toys' and I was there with all my working parts.

I wasn't a hippie, I wasn't into Dungeons & Dragons, I wasn't LGBT, I wasn't a Marxist - I was just Maggie from Point Pleasant Beach, NJ.  And even though I was OK with that, it seemed like no one else was.

Either that, or I was just totally invisible because I had nothing edgy to "define" myself.  I would see people from my classes at parties, and half the time they didn't even realize I went to school with them.  I can honestly say more people recognized me at my best friend's college an hour away than at my own.

Luckily, early on I found two other girls who felt the same way, and we became fast friends.  One of them, Natalie, became my off-campus roommate until we left school.  The fact that we all felt a little out of place led us to befriend more people away from school (or as we called them, Townies)... and often the Townies we befriended were much older.

First, I started dating the owner of the ice cream shop where I worked.  He was 7 years older.

Then the gaps seemed to get progressively larger, until I finally reached 10 years.

(Or... so I thought I reached 10 years.  But nothing ended up happening.  Read on.)

Through a friend of my roommate's boyfriend, I met this guy who was 30.  One night we were all out in a group, but he & I hit it off, so he asked me out on a date later that week.

I was... tripping.

Not because he was especially good-looking or successful or anything, but because I was shocked that someone at the ripe old age of 30 would be interested in little 20-year old me.

On the days leading up to our date, I fretted about seeming too immature.  This guy had already been married & divorced, had a regular job, paid his own bills.... etc etc.

I worked part time scooping ice cream, and watched Maury every afternoon on one of the 5 channels we got without buying cable, in an apartment that my dad and my roommate's mom paid for.

In other words, the only thing we really had in common was breathing oxygen.  What in the hell were we going to talk about?

Well let me tell you.

Our fabulous date consisted of me driving myself to a coffee shop, where he had been waiting and already purchased himself a cup of coffee.  Once I then purchased my OWN coffee, we walked up to the beach to watch the sunset.

Where he proceeded to tell me he wasn't looking for a serious relationship and just wanted to have fun.

Which was FINE, I mean hello I was 20 - not looking to get married here.  What he was too dumb to figure out is I was looking for the exact same thing.  But even I had the sense to know you don't make a statement like that within five minutes of a first date.  Some things just don't need to be spoken, and only serve to dampen the mood.

Also on that list is telling the other person you just want to hook up with them... and asking what type of panties they are wearing?  And then trying to make out before you've talked for more than 5 minutes.

Umm... excuse me.  I may have been 20, but I was not born yesterday.  Sunset Beach Makeout Party could have been a reality for my new friend if he had just shown a little respect.  (Clearly I was not the one who should have been concerned about seeming immature.)  So I not-so-politely told him where to go, and stormed off - with him running behind calling me names, then asking if we could 'start over again.'

And on that day, I realized that with age does not necessarily come wisdom.  Perhaps 30 was not so old and sophisticated as I thought?

Now, at 30, I pay my own bills.  I'm married.  I've been at the same full-time job for 5 years.  I own a home.  I have a child.  I have an accountant.  I have a living will.  I am planning for retirement.

I make molasses cake and blog about it, for God's sake.

For all intents & purposes.... I am old with a capital O, L, and D.

But most times I still feel like that 20 year-old college kid.  I wonder if anyone ever has Life figured out?  Probably not.

So for now... whether it's old or not... I'm just going to enjoy being 30.  I'm going to enjoy being married, and having a job, and being a mom, and owning a home.  I'm going to enjoy planning for retirement - when I can look back on this time in my life and say "HA! Remember how I imagined retiring to be? Silly 30 year-old Maggie."

Until then... let's all leave this business of figuring out Life to another day and just enjoy some molasses cake.

P.S. This is delicious but intense - so if you are not completely in love with molasses (like myself), you might consider perusing the recipe annals of V&B for something more suited to your taste!

Molasses Cake
  • 1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 3/4 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. ground ginger
  • 1/4 t. ground cloves
  • pinch salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 C. (1 stick) salted butter, melted
  • 1 C. molasses
  • 1/2 C. hot water
  • 1 t. pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease or spray an 8x8 baking pan with nonstick spray, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt.  Set aside.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together egg, melted butter, molasses, hot water, and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients and whisk (or beat) until smooth, scraping down sides with a rubber spatula if necessary.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 28-30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.  Cool on wire rack, slice, & serve warm and/or topped with powdered sugar or whipped cream.  Serves 9.

Recipe adapted from Just A Pinch

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Smoky Black Bean & Bacon Chicken Chili

So I'm not gonna lie to you guys- this mom stuff is tough!

Especially when your little monkey is having digestion issues like ours.  We ended up having to take Mini Smalls to a pediatric gastroenterologist when we found out that in addition to her milk protein intolerance, she has a bad case of reflux.

The poor little muffin has not been able to get through a meal without stopping frequently and crying.  You can tell when the Tummy Gremlins are acting up - she is happily eating away when suddenly she stops, goes completely stiff & arches her back, then starts wailing.

With all the stopping & starting, it takes an hour or more for her to eat - so by the time she gets just a few ounces in her, she is usually exhausted and falls asleep.

But in addition to feeling absolutely horrible for her, I must admit I've been feeling pretty badly for myself.

As the Grinch would say "Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise, NOISE!"  All that crying can really get under your skin, especially when it is happening so frequently & there is nothing you can do to soothe the little critter.  Which is a huge contributor to my stress as well - our little girl is in pain, and as of yet there has not been a damn thing we've been able to do to stop it! Sooo frustrating.

By the time Mr. Vittles gets home from work, I've had it up to here with the crying, barfing, diaper changes, bottle-washing, and laundry.  Close to going off the deep end, cooking is usually the furthest thing from my mind.

Don't get me wrong, I knew motherhood would not be easy; but I had been imagining my maternity leave to be a bit more peaceful than it's been.  I want so badly to enjoy my time with my daughter, but in truth that's been very challenging at times - and I now go back to work in less than a month.


So this past week, we were having some beautiful weather & I decided to get out of the house and bring the Mini to a place that always makes me feel better - my hometown of Point Pleasant Beach.   And more specifically, the inlet (a waterway where the nearby Manasquan River meets the ocean).  Growing up I spent a lot of time hanging out there with my friends, and I would often take walks there alone to clear my head.

Luckily, this week it had the same effect on me that it had when I was a teenager.  As I pushed Mini in the stroller along the road that parallels the river (called Channel Drive) and up to the point that looks out over the inlet to the town of Manasquan, my exhaustion floated away and I felt content.

Along the way, many happy memories came flooding back.  I thought about climbing on the jetty as a middle-schooler, and writing "I love so & so" on the rocks.  We were all warned by our parents not to play on the rocks, but naturally we did it anyway.  And at the time, you had to swing out over the water around this fence to get to one part (that was always the scariest) but it never stopped us!

I also thought about the time that, right before we left for college, my best friend Lauren and I schmoozed our way to the very top of the Coast Guard station... only to be "propositioned" by a creepy officer more than twice our age.  (Almost twelve years later, the guy is still stationed there - I actually saw him!)

I thought about all the hours we spent in the car in the parking lot of the inlet, when we were home from college - we would go there after a party or bar-hopping to recap the events of the night.  "OMG, can you believe what he said about her???"  Ain't no drama like 21 year-old drama!

I also thought about when, four years ago this March, Mr. Vittles brought me out to the jetty and made me the happiest woman alive by asking me to marry him.

And then I thought that, someday, Mini will have such funny & happy memories.  (Hopefully not of creepy men trying to get in her pants, but ... yeah, probably those too.)

And I realized that my mother-in-law is so right when she says that 'this too shall pass.'  It's just a phase.  Our trip to the specialist has brought me hope that we can get these issues under control, and either way she'll eventually grow out of them as her system matures.  She won't cry & cry forever.

And someday I will wish I could return to these days, when she was tiny like this again.

When the slightest smile between those chubby little cheeks could light up my morning.

When she didn't mind that I covered her perfect face in about a million kisses every day.

When she could wear a bear hat and hold up her little fist of fury and melt my heart.

It really put things into perspective for me.

Later that day, when Mini was down for a nap, I talked to Lauren ("Hey, remember the time we...?")

We talked for almost two hours straight while I made this chili.

And all felt right with the world again :)

Smoky Black Bean & Bacon Chicken Chili

  • 1 T. vegetable oil
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 lb. lean ground chicken
  • 1 T. + 1 t. chili powder
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1 3/4 t. smoked paprika
  • 1 T. dried cilantro (or more, if using fresh) 
  • 1/4 t. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/4 t. salt (you can add more later to taste, but the bacon & broth are salty)
  • 1 14.5-oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 C. low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 t. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 1/3 C. cooked, finely chopped or crumbled bacon
  • 1 14.5-oz. can black beans (undrained)
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, heat oil.  Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 4 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook 1 minute.

Increase heat to medium-high and add ground chicken; break it up with a wooden spoon and stir gently until it loses its raw color, 6 to 8 minutes.

Stir in spices and salt and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth, Worcestershire, brown sugar, and bacon - bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover partially, and cook 30 minutes.

Add beans and cook 10 minutes, uncovered. Season to taste with additional salt and/or freshly ground pepper if desired. Serve warm.  Serves 4

Recipe adapted from (originally Sunset Magazine, January 2007 issue)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Goodbye, 2012...

Happy New Year, everyone!

I don't know about you guys, but for the Vittles Family 2012 was quite a year!

We endured Hurricane Sandy.  We bought our first house.  We had our first baby.

We got through January, February, and March without any snow.

(Ok, maybe not that eventful to you, but very much so to me.)

And along the way, I made some awesome recipes (if I do say so myself).  Some were old favorites, some were new & exciting.

Some... were not so great & never made it onto the blog.  But that's ok - trial & error my friends.  Not everything is a winner!

However, on this first day of 2013... whilst my husband is napping on the couch beside me and the Mini is a-snooze in her bed... I thought I would recap my top 5 favorites from 2012.

Enjoy, and all the best to you in the coming year!


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