…And Half a Cup of….

Hello friends!

I can’t bake. This really should shock no one, baking is a precision science and I’m far too blase in the kitchen. But it’s deeper than that you see, because even when I give it my best shot, with the small exception of a couple tried and true cookie recipes, I can’t bake. 

Seriously, ask me about the great fudge disaster that happened on New Year’s Eve 2019. It made for some lovely garden pavers. It single handedly cursed me to the the family’s “bad cook” reputation holder for about two years. I could not smokehouse mac and cheese my way out of that title, couldn’t homemade gnocchi soup my way out of it, even my fried pickles didn’t win them over (and yes I just used mac and cheese and soup as verbs, it’s legal….probably). It wasn’t until my cousin made some truly disastrous pumpkin pie bars that I was off the hook. Funnily enough she didn’t inherit the title… but I’m grateful nonetheless. 

Did I get weird looks for staging this photo of eggs? Yes, yes I did

Thing is, I still end up on the hook for a lot of the birthday cakes around here. Why? Because I’m friends with the bakery ladies at my grocery store. Aaaaand because I can zhuzh a box mix with the best. Lemme explain.

(For those staring at the spelling of zhuzh, I was mad about it too)

Box mix cakes ask you to use foolproof ingredients so that people like me, chronic baking failures, can still achieve a pretty, fluffy, tasty cake. It’s usually something like a little bit of oil, some water, and an egg. Mix it up, throw it in a greased pan, Bob’s your uncle. Nice, satisfying cake.

But! Water and oils do not impart much flavor, so we can swap them out with relative ease. Butter is, unsurprisingly, my favorite swap for oil, as it gives you that warm, rich, buttery undertone and sometimes can make for a better texture (in my opinion). The taste of butter really starts to matter in lighter flavored cakes, think vanilla or lemon, so make sure you like it before swapping it out as a permanent solution. Also, important safety tip, salted vs unsalted butters taste, obviously, quite different and can drastically change your intended flavors.

Swapping in milk for the water works wonders too. I remember Alton Brown saying on Good Eats, my favorite cooking show ever, that most of the time, water in a recipe is a good chance to swap in flavor. You’ll almost always find me swapping stock or broths in for water in cooking recipes (it’s life changing for rice) and milk in my cake mixes. Buttermilk works too, makes it creamier, but you gotta add more. And it requires you to have buttermilk on hand which I rarely do. I have a friend who subs in cream cheese sometimes, but I’ve never been brave enough to try it.

Real talk? I have one recipe I sift for, and I don’t use my grandma’s antique sifter. But, my little mesh thingy-ma-bobber isn’t as photogenic

I’m also a big fan of adding extracts! Obviously vanilla is a go-to, mostly for punching up the flavor in vanilla cakes but also for helping along the flavor in others. Chocolate loves vanilla, as does red velvet (basically chocolate on steroids) and caramel. Lemon seems to usually prefer lemon extract (i know shocking right?) But it does not hate vanilla.

Chocolate cake does well with so many additions, I think because chocolate cake can taste the most flat. Depending on my goals I’ll add anything from a little peppermint/spearmint or almond extracts, or if you have no one in your house with an aversion coffee (specifically espresso, but to be honest I’ve just added the last of whatever was brewed that morning), coffee is a fantastic compliment in chocolate cakes. It just elevates the richness in the chocolate, unless you add lots and then it lends its own flavor profile. It’s at this point we could probably talk about the solid flavorings like sprinkles and candies and things, but those require a whole level of know-how to prevent the sugars from burning, the chocolate from running to the bottom of the pan, etc. It’s generally something I’ve not played with because it worries me and I have a bad habit of walking away from the oven during cook time. While I don’t really have experience with solid mix-ins like chocolate chips or candies, and I know those can go terribly wrong, I do love a little food coloring to tailor a cake to its event. Obviously you’re more tied to vanilla cake at that point, but it’s worth it for the effect occasionally. You can get away with lemon if you are using warm tones for your colors.

The trick with all of these though, food coloring or flavoring, is remembering that you are adding extra liquid and to adjust other measures accordingly. Especially with red velvet cakes, you have to add a terrifying amount of coloring, and all that can throw off your milk/water ratios or risk making your batter too loose.

If you use pre-made icings, adding food coloring can actually be a much needed help to loosen them up a little. I don’t remember this being such an issue on the coast, although I didn’t bake nearly as much there, but for some reason here if I buy pre-made frostings they are for sure going to need some work before they are usable. So, food coloring and a little milk to make it spreadable, and extracts to lend flavor if needed. Otherwise it’s a solid sugar brick, regardless of brand.

Again, do I use my mom’s fancy stoneware measuring set? Not even a little bit. But let me pretend to be Joanna Gaines for a couple minutes and keep my well-loved hand-me-down plastic measures to myself

Otherwise, decorating is an art all of its own. I’m not terribly patient, so I tend to frost and eat, but I have tried little chocolate ghosts, and I oven dried some pineapple into flowers once. I tried a couple star wars themed cakes, we don’t need to talk about those, but they proved people like candy on their cakes. As long as you remember the crumb coat and keep a patient spirit (and your cake is cooled) you can probably get away with a lot more than you think. 

Alright, I’ve procrastinated enough, time to post this rant and go actually make some cake… or maybe cupcakes? Either way, I need some blue and pink desserts for a gender reveal and I’ve written myself out of time. Wish me luck!
Until we chat again, my friends.

Poppin’ and Snappin’

Hello friends!

Little Ro-Ro had a chiropractic adjustment again. She always loves a little pampering in that way and this time she really needed it. Seems like she’s got a set of stubborn ribs that like to occasionally pop out of place and while she’s a total trooper, speaking from experience, after a while that nonsense gets old. So when she starts telling me her ribs are sore, or acting out during schooling, I call McKadee. We love McKadee and her lovely dad, who was my farrier for a long time and will be again, when I can get my trailer together (he stopped traveling, which he’s totally allowed to do, but I had to find someone else in the median. Our new guy is nice too, no shade here, and with time I think he’ll get better at working out what my girls need, but Jimmy was just absolutely amazing and I miss him).

Ro gets a spa day any time McKadee comes out, and I usually get an education because I am incredibly nosey and generally will make a nuisance of myself if allowed, especially when it comes to learning how to better care for my horses. Little 16 year old Amanda gave her trainer and her mom each a heart attack when the vet asked if I wanted to “help” with a tooth grinding and was then allowed to fully put my hand in the horse’s mouth and learn about tooth spurs and the medical tools to take care of them. I also have a baby horse tooth as a result of a similar situation. Never ask me if I wanna shadow you unless you mean it, I’m down to try almost anything once. Except for diving out of an airplane, I feel like I’ve learned enough about gravity from the horses, thank you. But learning a new skill? I’m all here for it. As an aside, if anyone wants a marginally annoying, overly excitable, relatively clumsy shadow while welding, lemme know. I really want to learn to weld. But I digress. 

McKadee has studied equine massage and chiropractics and she is crazy knowledgeable about the biomechanics of a horse, which I love because I used to be in judges training, which means I have some knowledge of what “preferred” or “correct” movement should look like, but not nearly as much as I would like about what creates that motion. She can usually tell by what I describe just what’s up with Ro, and if I’m not making a lot of sense, she can tell by feel. 

This time poor Ro was all sorts of crooked and out of joints. She had super sore spots in her withers and back, and those had started to cause sore legs and neck from moving incorrectly. I’m really excited to see the changes it makes. You could definitely tell that Ro wasn’t pleased with the amount of scary popping and snapping, but by the end of it she was moving more freely, and she even went trotting her way out into the pasture, which she hasn’t done in a while. 

She wasn’t really showing signs of discomfort until just a few days ago when I called McKadee. Or perhaps I should clarify, I’m really used to drama queens (mare and gelding) so when Ro very subtly says “hey Mama, I’m a little sore” I don’t always catch on right away. I’m working on it. I write down her and Nellie’s behaviors during our interactions each day, so that I can spot patterns quickly each time there’s a sore spot. Luckily sore muscles and out of whack horses aren’t super common here on the farm because we take life at a leisurely pace. But my little girl is also a trooper who would rather have fun than be on pasture rest, so I think sometimes she toughs it through when she certainly doesn’t need to.

The day after a chiropractic adjustment Ro is usually a little crazy pants and this time was no different. She ran and ran and worked herself up into quite the lather yelling and bucking and racing. I finally made her slow down because It was hot out and I was getting a little worried. Then I made the decision to hop on in usual form, with no tack. Less of a statement on my riding skills and more one about my lack of self preservation skills. We both survived and then she got hosed down and I got a half shower by proxy. Nellie looked on with curiosity until she got a little close to the hose and decided being wet without consent was a crime. She flounced off pretty quickly, but I made it up to her with some scratches and a good brushing. She’s very opinionated about such things though.

Gotta go hug some horses now. 

Until we chat again my friends!


Hello friends!

Welp, I’ve had to slowly move our morning rides to the midday. It’s not a bad thing per say, I just absolutely love our morning rides, it’s the most wonderful thing to enjoy your time with your horses as the sun is coming up and all is pink and lovely. It’s a special summertime treat. 

But now we get to have autumnal work. Wind whipping around makes warm horsey hugs more special, we bust out the coolout blankets for after work, and everyone starts wearing an extra layer or two. There’s warm beverages to be had, and slightly later starts on the weekends, all good things. The only rough part is knowing we are on borrowed time and after the first snow It’s really up in the air how long we have to work until we have to call it for a couple months. Unfortunately I just don’t have the infrastructure to keep my girls in activity over the winter, no way to cool them slowly enough to not shock them after work, less than great footing when wet (when things aren’t Just straight under water), and no wind breaks, which around here is a big deal. Winds are quite the thing in our little corner of the valley.

I’m really hoping that the weather is milder this year, last winter everything was very wet and the daytime temperatures were well below freezing for a good portion of the winter. I lost a bunch of the plumbing for the barn and had to literally chip gates open. I really want a milder winter, preferably one where we can keep riding and using the arena space for longer into the season before it starts to turn into a lake.

Mom’s got the house all decorated for fall. She absolutely loves decorating for each season and holiday, although we go a little lighter on the Halloween stuff since that’s not really a holiday we celebrate. We maybe watch Ghost Hunters reruns and I might make a spooky dinner, but nothing major. We keep it low key for Halloween, and we never get trick or treaters (for good reason, please don’t drive your kids out to the country to trick or treat unless you 100% know the farmer and know they have candy. It’s a dangerous game otherwise. I know yall are too smart for that nonsense, but it’s worth saying, it is the internet after all). But we get pretty into the fall themed and harvest fest stuff. I think it helps stem off the inevitable blues that the end of summer bring. Not that the other seasons aren’t great, but it’s hard to start slowing down when you just wanna be outside for forever. So we make sure it’s a warm and cozy time. But not christmassy yet. We don’t do Christmas stuff until after Thanksgiving and we are careful about it until the 13th, because my dad is a December baby. Don’t wanna step on his birthday. I’m lucky, I’m a July girl, so no overshadowing major holidays for me, and I get fireworks. Truly the best. 

Isn’t he the cutest!? I had to show you, also, please ignore the shaky camera, Joe was actively pushing me over

Winter season also brings out the excuses in me. My eyesight isn’t the greatest and there’s no streetlights this far out in the country, so I always try to excuse myself from events where I have to drive after dark. I also staunchly avoid driving on snow and ice if I can, so I spend a good amount of cozy nights curled up with a book and warm drink. Sorry, I can’t make it, I’m too chicken. 

My warm drink game is a little off right now. See, a few months ago my headaches started getting even worse, and I finally had to do something to figure it out. See, I come from a long line of headache sufferers, migraines, tension headaches, weather affect, you name it, and unfortunately I’ve definitely got one sensitive head. Luckily because this has been a forever thing, normally, unless it’s a particularly bad day, I can muddle through with relative success. I just warn people that I’m one bright light or loud noise from getting irrationally angry and I occasionally  treat myself to an early night in. But a few months ago it got a little crazy. We’re talking midday naps everyday because I could not cope. I tend to have some form of headache around 4 out of every 7 days, I’m told that’s pretty typical, so everyday all day was a lot. And pain meds wouldn’t touch it at all. I actually cried about it a couple times, and I don’t generally cry about medical stuff. On a whim I started cutting things out of my diet and, long story slightly shorter, it was coffee. Not caffeine mind you, I can still drink soda, but specifically an intolerance to the bean. Doc says it’s probably because I lived on coffee for so long my system finally just said no. He also thinks that with time, and a lot more moderation, I can probably go back to coffee eventually. But for now it’s a special planned treat. For example, I really wanted to try the mint chocolate coffee at the candy store, so I got it on a day I knew I could go straight to bed if needed. It was absolutely delicious by the way.

Most days I’ve switched out coffee for warm broths. I’m not much of a tea person but I have a couple I like. But broths also can have a nice little nutritional kick so I tend to reach for them. And I don’t reach for them first thing in the morning, I wait until others are up, so I’ve also kicked the morning march to the coffee maker habit. 

It wasn’t such a big deal over the summer, but as we are going into fall and winter, I am missing my coffee a little more now. There’s nothing quite like a warm cup on a frosty morning.

In any case, I think I’ll survive, pretty sure there are worse fates.

Until we chat again my friends. 

A Little Different

Hello friends!

So! I changed up my work schedule a few weeks ago. I swapped to a 4 10s* schedule

(*Realistically I’m still never really off work, but that’s the danger of remote work, some people are just boundary stompers). I am loving it! I have chosen Fridays as my extra day off because that way I can still benefit from the Monday holidays and such.

I really enjoy it because, well, first of all, I was regularly working 5 10s, or 5 12s, and getting super burnt out and resentful by Friday. I know people do that all the time, and sometimes willingly, but I was not built to sit in front of a computer and do math for 12 straight hours. Heck, I’m currently typing this on my phone sitting under the trees in the pasture, because I couldn’t stand to be inside any longer. And also we don’t get overtime at all, nor do we earn any extra PTO, so it’s legitimately just free labor built on guilt. And making a big, team facing schedule change has allowed me to stick to my hours a little more diligently, because “I’ve already been here 10” sounds more convincing. I also don’t answer anything that isn’t dire or blocking on Fridays. Proud of myself for working on those boundaries.

It also means I get a little more sleep. I average 4 to 6 hours of sleep on a work night, and about 7 on weekend nights, so swapping one for the other is ideal. I get to sleep in a little, am much happier when I get up, and have more energy for Friday activities, like grocery shopping and little kiddo riding lessons. It also gives me an extra couple hours to work on hobbies. I’ve had an issue for a while with people needing “one more thing” after work, that hobbies in general got pushed to the side. I joke that my boss has a sixth sense for when I’d settle in to draw or write or whatever, and suddenly there’d be a slack message. It was uncanny. Now, I don’t stress about it so much, because I have more protected time on Fridays (unless I’m on call, which is a whole thing that I shouldn’t get started on because I have OPINIONS. Anyways).

Christopher has been really enjoying it because I’ve been doing a little extra baking. We’ve had another tres leches cake, some cookies, parfaits, and pumpkin breads are in the works. Let’s just say Fridays smell good in our house. It also makes me more likely to experiment with dinner, which has mixed results. But you never know until you try. You can blame the fact that I rewatched Ratatouille recently.

My mom has been liking the schedule because on Fridays she doesn’t have to wait for me to get off work to ask for help with projects. To be honest, I often pop out when I have a few minutes break to check on her, but we’ve tried to enforce the idea that at my desk is no different than at the office. But, for example, when we were in tears because we dropped one of our little knick knacks while cleaning, I found a little time while running a test suite to bust out the gorilla glue. But now she very cutely saves things like winding yarn balls, things that are still a little hard or frustrating, for us to do on Friday mornings over breakfast together.

Dad likes having another day where I can help on the farm earlier. Really good timing for all the winterizing happening. Plus it’s a nice way to kick off the weekend productively. And it means if we are rained out or stormed out Saturday it’s not the end of the world.

The horses and dogs like it because they aren’t battling work for my attention and I am not carrying around the annoying black box that beeps and buzzes. They don’t have to listen in as I answer a quick slack huddle or google hangouts call.

Can you tell the 4 10s is a big ol’ game changer? Can you tell I’m really excited about it? I worked 4 10s at my very first big kid job and I adored it and haven’t been able to get that schedule since. I was honestly shocked when my boss not only signed off on it but said he hoped others would also be interested. I did a happy dance. Much needed after a hard few months at work with lots of frustration and growing pains. I know 4 10s doesn’t solve everything but somehow being frustrated 4 days a week is a lot easier than 5. Go figure.

Anyways, we will be back to our regularly scheduled farm content next week. I just wanted to gush a little today, and I think sometimes a little real life context helps understand why this blog is the way it is.

Until we chat again my friends!

**For those who maybe haven’t seen that terminology 4 10s is common slang, at least in my field, for 4 days a week, 10 hours a day, whereas the usual salary work schedule in a large portion of America is 5 days a week, at 8 hours a day. Sorry for the potential confusion.