Ramona the Spider-Slayer (in training)

Ramona loves food more than anything in the world.
It does more than keep her alive. It keeps her happy. It fulfills her. Every morning, she sits outside the kitchen window and watches me mournfully as I get my breakfast & lunch ready… it’s like she is trying to telepathically send me a message: “feedmefeedmefeedme.”

And when you take food to her, she jumps, and spins, and tries to hug you to convey just how happy she is that you are bringing her food. Then she runs into her doghouse, spins in a circle, comes back out and sits by her bowl, tongue hanging out, anxiously awaiting the moment when you pour the food into her bowl so that she can commence The Eating.

Usually, feeding her is Jonathan’s job. Partly because she respects him enough to not give him full-on bear hugs when she sees the cup of food in his hand. Partly because when she does give me bear hugs, she is big enough to knock me over and at this point, I’d never be able to get up. And partly because the only thing she might love almost as much as food is Jonathan, and I’d hate to deprive her of a visit from “her” man.

The other morning, though, her man had to leave for an early meeting, and he left the duty of feeding her to me… as long as the yard wasn’t flooded. It had rained the other night, and our yard has no drainage at all. As in none. When it rains, it turns into a swamp. Ramona doesn’t care… she’ll still prance right through it, spraying mud and rainwater all over you as she tells you just how happy she is that you’re bringing her food. But once I am dressed and ready for work, the last thing I feel like encountering is a Puppy of Unusual Size dancing through her own personal fire swamp (minus the fire) to celebrate the Food.

Luckily (or unluckily), the yard wasn’t too flooded on this morning. A little damp, but nothing me, my rolled up dress pants and Jonathan’s shoes couldn’t handle. I measured out her food, opened the gate, and was met with a giant pink tongue and the happiest puppy-smile ever. I could almost hear her saying “I love you! I love you! It’s breakfast time! I love you!”

I had to dump mud and leaves out of both of her bowls, and I knew a rinsing was necessary before I poured food into either one of them. I carried one over to the water spigot to do it, when I saw it.
(insert scary monster music here)
A green (yes, green), hairy (yes, hairy), spider the size of my head my fingernail. On the spigot. Right on top. Where my hand needed to go to turn on the water.

I turned to tell Ramona that I was sorry… mud-flavored food might be good after all, and who needs fresh water? But she was standing there with such anticipation in her eyes, being so good and not bear-hugging me… I knew I owed her mud-free food and water. So I used the only weapon I had around to slay the beast: I beat it to death with her water bowl.

The metal water bowl on the metal spigot was loud enough to give the spider a heart attack, even if I missed… which I did, the first 3 or 18 times. The little monster ran, climbed, dodged and ducked all over the water faucet as I banged the bowl down around him. Ramona spun in circles, barking her encouragement (or distress; those two barks sound so similar). Finally, it held still long enough for me to aim, pull back, and SMACK. He still didn’t fall, though; he just hung there from his little thread, dangling underneath the faucet, very still. Hoping he was defeated and not just playing dead so that I would put my hand near him, I rinsed out the dog bowl as fast as humanly possible. As Ramona planted her two front feet on either side of it and devoured her food, I rinsed and filled her other bowl (also as fast as humanly possible), and got far away from the (hopefully) dead spider.

“Ramona,” I said, “if you want to eat when Jonathan is gone, you’re going to have to learn to take care of these spiders yourself.”

She ignored me. She was eating.



Learning to follow recipes: The cake in a bowl.

It is my mom’s birthday today!

I won’t give away how old young she is… let’s just say she is still young and kickin’!We had a birthday party for her last night… family that live in this area graced us with their presence as we ate Haystacks and marveled over the youngest cousin’s growing vocabulary (he says my name now!).I was in charge of dessert… something I was extremely excited about. I carefully chose two brand new cake recipes to make (birthdays always call for something new and exciting!). I found an incredible looking chocolate caramel cheesecake recipe that caused me to gain 5 pounds just from looking at pictures of it. I decided the second cake needed to be something a little lighter… and maybe fruity. So I chose a yogurt lime cake with strawberry sauce. Yes, sauce. Not frosting. (make a note of this… it’s important later in the story).

I made the cheesecake on Thursday afternoon… my one free afternoon every week. I figured that making it three days ahead would be wise; if it fell to pieces, exploded, or otherwise failed, I would have time to make a backup plan.

Apart from burning my hand on the frying pan while caramelizing sugar and flinging it EVERYWHERE (I have super awesome reflexes), the cheesecake making went without a hitch. It. was. lovely. It didn’t even crack… a fact that caused me to invent a Hooray I Just Baked a Cheesecake And It Is So Beautiful I Could Die Dance right there in the kitchen. (Don’t ask what the dance looked like… I don’t know if I can ever re-enact it unless I make another cheesecake).
Saturday afternoon I tackled the yogurt lime cake. The recipe meant it to be a single layer 9″ round cake… but I wasn’t sure if that would be enough cake. So I made two layers. But, the recipe also called for a sauce to put over each piece just before you serve it… no frosting. And, my friends, two naked cake layers just stacked on top of each other is not very pretty. At all. And this was supposed to be a beautiful birthday cake, so frosting would have to be made.

I, however, had never made a yogurt cake before. I didn’t know what to expect… or what kind of frosting would be good.
I had discovered the recipe on a blog, so I went to the comments and searched for any indication that someone else felt the same way… and what their solution was. One lady did. She incorporated the sauce into cream cheese frosting. BRILLIANT, I thought.

So, I made cream cheese frosting. Then I made the sauce. Then I added the sauce TO the cream cheese frosting… and found what could only be described as a sugary pink liquid in my mixing bowl. It was nothing close to a frosting consistency. Hmm.

I added more powdered sugar. I Googled the problem, and found results saying to add cornstarch. I asked my mom’s opinion on this… she said it was a bad idea. I added more butter. I finished off ALL of the powdered sugar in my house. We now had a thick liquid… not as thin as water, but about as thick as my hair conditioner.

I put it in the fridge and prayed that it would thicken over time.

At 9:30, my husband announced that he was going to bed (we had had a youth group lock-in the night before, and we were both still sleep deprived). I told him I was going to frost my cake and follow him… it wouldn’t be more than 15 minutes, I said.

I put my first cake layer on a plate. I got the frosting out of the fridge, and shook the bowl. Still very runny… but just thick enough that I thought maybe, just maybe, I could drizzle it over the cake and it would just make a pretty runny pattern down the sides of the cake. I put some on the first layer, then added the second cake layer, and immediately knew I had a problem. The top cake was definitely not going to stay put. I quickly put it in the freezer, thinking maybe it would solidify… but since it was already almost 10:00 and I was super super tired, I only left it in there for about 4 minutes. I doubt it will be a big surprise when I tell you that that was not long enough.

I tried to spread pour more frosting over the top of the cake, slowly rotating the cake as I went. But by the time I made a full circle and got back to where I started, all of the frosting I had put on that side had simply fallen off the cake… and was spread out on the counter behind it.

A light bulb went on in my head, and I grabbed a container of Cool Whip and began stirring it into the frosting. In the process, my frosting had to graduate from a small mixing bowl to a very large one; after adding so many random things to it, I believe I about tripled the “recipe” in size.

Unfortunately, my plan was not as brilliant as I thought. It turned my frosting a couple shades lighter, and it was a smidge thicker, but definitely still not thick enough. Still, I tried to spread some of it over the older, very thin layer of frosting already on the cake.

I ended up with a droopy, runny, saggy, swirly pink pile of goop that looked like it could star in Monsters Inc. 2 (with a pair of eyes stuck on top, maybe).

I stood there for several minutes, watching my cake melt. The circle of frosting on the counter around it grew bigger as the layer of frosting on top grew thinner. I really wish I would have taken a picture of it… but I was a little too upset to think about it at the time.

I paced. I walked in circles around it. I prayed. I wailed a little bit. I woke Jonathan up and asked him to come look at it. He growled that he had JUST fallen asleep and that I’d been working on this cake for over an hour already and what had happened to fifteen minutes and that it’s just a cake, just let it go.

I informed him that it was supposed to be a beautiful cake and that the frosting was a disaster and I would never not follow a recipe again (knowing full well that that was completely untrue) and that I could really use some sympathy right now. He went back to bed.

The thought of leaving my cake looking like that upset me. The thought of tossing it and starting over upset me. Just as the top layer started to slide again and came dangerously close to slipping off completely and hitting the counter, it hit me: I needed to put the whole cake down IN something to keep the layers from sliding. I needed a bowl.
The thought of pressing my beautiful cake down into a bowl really, really upset me. But then the top layer slide further, and another glob of cream cheese-Cool Whip-strawberry goop hit the counter, and in a fit of frustration (and some anger), I grabbed a large bowl, crammed the first layer into the bottom, plopped the top layer on top, poured frosting over it and stuck it in the fridge.

Then I went into our bathroom and cried.

Half of me was fully aware at the time that I was overly tired and definitely overly attached to the vision of a beautiful pink birthday cake, and that my tears were completely irrational. But that knowledge did NOT help the other half of me that was completely distraught over my beautiful pink birthday cake that was IN A BOWL.

I crawled into bed.
“What is wrong with you?” mumbled Jonathan from underneath his pillow.
“My cake is in a bowl!” I wailed.
He didn’t say anything.

Five minute later, very unexpectadly, the hilarity of the situation hit.
I woke Jonathan up a third time by very suddenly laughing my head off.
“My cake is in a bowl!” I howled, more tears rolling down my cheeks.
It’s in a bowl!”

The next morning, I double checked.
“My cake is still in a bowl,” I sighed.
“I don’t know what you expected,” Jonathan told me. “It wasn’t going to fix itself overnight.”
I discussed the situation with my mother at church that morning, explaining to her that her would-be beautiful pink birthday cake was, in fact, now in a dark green fruit bowl. I told her that if she wanted me to, I would re-bake it, follow the recipe, and have a beautiful not-pink birthday cake with proper sauce rather than runny pink goop. She laughed at me- hard- and then told me she would be quite happy to eat a cake out of a bowl.
And so that is what we did.
The good news is that yogurt lime cake is delicious. Even out of a bowl. Everyone declared the frosting (I took along the extra frosting, since there was SO MUCH OF IT) good enough to eat plain. The cheesecake was amazing.
And mom had a birthday cake. Well… two, really.
And she got exciting presents. =)