Comfort Food Cupcakes

What is comfort food?  In my case, these oooey, gooey cupcakes so fattening you have to lie down after you look at them, and then you have to nap after eating one.

Lately, during another personal crisis in this recession (will it never end?) my ego more than a little bruised by the turn of events, I decided to look for some comfort food.

I went straight for my recipe for Black Bottom Cupcakes.

Oh yes they DO taste as good as they look in these pictures and they are so simple.  I actually always have these ingredients in my home so it’s never like I have to plan for it.  And that afternoon, on a day of spending way too much time in a state of terrorized worrying about our future, I knew I needed these cupcakes.

There are two parts to this recipe.  The first ingredients are:

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup cocoa*

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup water

5 Tbls vegetable oil

1 Tbls apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 tsps vanilla

Ok, now you have all those ingredients in your house, don’t you?

In a large bowl whisk together the flour and 1 cup sugar , cocoa, soda and salt.  Then add (I make a well) all the wet ingredients; water, oil, apple cider vinegar and vanilla.

Whisk until well blended.  Take a lick.  Yum!

Fill 12 paper lined cup-cake cups 2/3 full.  Sit to relax and using your finger, swoop up leftover batter and suck.  Oooh la la!  Do this until the bowl is clean.

Next ingredients:

8 oz package cream cheese, softened

1 egg

1/3 cup sugar

6 oz package of chocolate chips (although it never hurts to add more!)

In a clean bowl, beat the softened cream cheese, sugar and egg until smooth.  (sometimes it gets too runny with an actual beater, so I hand beat)   While hand beating, think of who is really pissing you off and smack that batter around.  Get our your aggressions.  Oh yeah!

Now, stir in the chocolate chips.  YUM!

Spoon several tablespoons of cream cheese mixture into each cupcake.  (Now, while there is raw egg involved, it has never hurt me, so I lick this bowl clean too.  I mean, this IS my comfort food, right?)

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minute or until tops gently spring back.

AHHHHHHHH!!!  Delicious!

You may wonder where I originally got this recipe.  Well, WAAAAYYYYY before Food Network or the Web existed, people cooked and wrote down their recipes to share on little 3×5 cards.  Archaic, huh?  I still have this little card.   It is beat up, but still easy to read after 30 years.  I was director of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program in Visalia, CA and a volunteer named Annabelle made these to bring to the office.  I begged for her recipe and the above is exactly it!  Except she liked to add a tiny sprinkling of finely chopped walnuts on each cupcake before baking too.

Ah yes.  Comfort food, through and through.

I am happy.  sigh…….what worries?

* Hershey’s makes a brand new dark chocolate cocoa!  Perfect!


Green Knees

I used to show up for junior high and high school with green hands and green knees.  But not because I chose to.

Now this was the mini skirt era, making it especially tragic for me to have green knees!  Then top that with the fact my mom swore up and down we would thank her later if we did not ever start shaving our legs above our knee and you begin to get the picture of where I completely lost all self-esteem.  ‘Cause when you are wearing pantyhose under that 12 inch mini-skirt, it smooshes down all your long hairs above your knee and you look like a creature from another planet.

Yep, that was me walking onto campus at Hanford High School.  Green knees, hairy legs.  But, as it turns out,  I learned something that would affect my life forever from those events.

My mother was something of an anomaly.  At the time I thought everyones mother was like her.  But eventually I saw the differences.  She worked 8 or more hours a day as a bookkeeper at Turners Feed Mill.  Most other kids mother did not have a job in those days.  She was therefore always tired.  She slept alot.  She frowned upon us having friends over after school because, well, she was tired.  Her interests were in entertaining and reading.  And she taught me both well!

But let me get back to those green knees.

Along about Jr. High, my mother met a walnut farmer at Turner’s Feed Mill.  I can only imagine that conversation.  We must have done something at home that caused my mom to express that my sister, Toni, and I were growing up spoiled or not understanding the value of money.  As a matter of fact, my father used to say that ALOT to us.  “You kids just do not understand the value of money.  You think it grows on trees?”

So, back to the walnut farmer, who was probably just being conversational, so he must have said something like, “bring them over to the farm and make them pick walnuts for a day. That’ll teach them how hard it is to earn a buck.”   And my mom must have thought that was a hell of an idea.  She probably said, “what time and where?” to a very shocked walnut farmer.

So one night at dinner, out of the blue, my mom announced that we were going to pick walnuts to earn our Christmas money that year.  My sister and I looked at each other over the roast beef, brown eyes wide and wondered what that meant.  My father, being the constant spin doctor in our house, told us this was fantastic news, because we could earn far more money picking walnuts than babysitting and ironing his handkerchiefs.  (I earned 1 penny for every handkerchief of my Dad’s that I ironed, as a way to earn my way to YMCA camp. This was not, of course, real money, as it was just a way to make us do chores and “think” we were earning money.  But we never saw that money. It was all on paper til it added up to the cost of camp.  Then suddenly that little chore did not make money anymore.)  The sky was the limit in his mind.  His version of how much money we would have after picking walnuts was pretty motivating.  And then my mother told us how early we had to be up, and I was not so excited again.

Despite our non-enthusiasm, my mother awakened us at 5 AM on a Saturday morning and we took our picnic basket and hats, sunglasses and water in a plaid thermos and drove what seemed like miles and miles to the walnut farm.  The sun was already up and a large Mexican family was already working furiously picking walnuts.

Now, here is how it works.  You are given small buckets to fill up, and then a HUGEMONGOUS bucket that equaled about 3 of the smaller ones.  It took 3 of the giant buckets to fill a burlap sack.  For every burlap sack that was filled, we would earn 75 cents.  One tree would produce about 4-6 burlap sacks.  Since my mother was friends with the walnut farmer, we had to fill our buckets extra full so we would not be abusing his generosity.  On top of that, we had to pick up every single walnut on the ground around a tree before moving onto the next tree.  We had to be the ultimate worker for him, since he was doing us a favor.

We were given all our supplies and a row of about 6 walnut trees to start with.  In the row next to us was the Mexican family.  They had the technique down perfectly.  They surrounded a tree and crawled into the trunk, their hands lightening fast as they picked walnuts.  This was their livelihood.  This was no game to teach the value of money.  This was their rent, food and clothing they had to earn.  Looking back, they were very nice to us since we were actually taking a row of work away from them.  They had lively Mexican music on a small transitor playing and they talked loudly in their native language.  They were working hard, moving fast and taking their job very seriously.

Meanwhile, we got on our hands and knees and began tossing walnuts, still in their wet green coats, into the buckets.  At first we thought this was pretty fun. No problem.  We crawled around fast and tried to work as fast as the Mexican family, but they were just too experienced.  Nonetheless, we picked and picked.  A walnut still in it’s hull is pretty large and in our small hands we were only able to pick up one, at the most two in each hand.

I  had started on my hands and knees, holding up all my weight on one arm, while the other threw the walnuts into the bucket, this grew quite tiring quickly.  So next I sat up on my legs, but this position really hurt my back and killed my knees.  I was in no shape for this kind of work.  I tried one knee bent up and only one knee on the dirt.  I spent more time trying to think up an intricate system of sitting on my knees or crawling around than actually doing the work.  I began to do each of the positions back and forth trying to keep myself moving.   One thing – I was always a creative sole.

After about an hour we asked when our first break was.  My mother, down on her hands and knees with us, scoffed at us and told us to keep moving.  When we learned she expected us to actually finish this entire row of trees we knew the day was going to be long and horrible.  Meanwhile, the Mexican family had moved onto the next tree in their row.  We hadn’t even filled a burlap sack yet.

Now, this sounds like an easy task, but the ground around the tree trunk was full of leaves, limbs and anything else that had fallen from the tree when it was mechanically shaken that early morning.  You have to dig through all kinds of stuff including any earthworms who have crawled up to see what all the comotion was about.  Many hulls have already broken open and they are oozing their juices.  There is really nothing hard about this work except that it is truly back breaking.  And painful for your knees as you crawl around on twigs and remaining hulls beneath you.

That was one of the longest days of my life.  Probably for my mom too.  Who felt uber responsible to pick ever single walnut and get this job done right for the farmer.  It must have been terrible for her, as her two spoiled daughters complained about everything.  Our knees hurt.  It was hot.  We were hungry.  We were thirsty.  Did we have to split our earnings with her? Finally, we finished up one tree and moved onto the next.  We begged for a lunch break.  It might have seemed like we had worked for half a day, but it had only been two hours so far.  At this rate, 6 trees would take us 12 hours.  Even my mother knew this was not going to happen.  She tried to motivate us by saying we could have lunch after the second tree was done.  But now we were moving much slower.  The Mexican music was so far away now we couldn’t hear it.

Eventually we did have our lunch.  Which turned out to be a big mistake.  Because following lunch we slowed tremendously and actually sat on our butts scooting around in the dirt to pick walnuts.  We were pathetic.  My mother was having none of it.  She cracked her temper which was better than a whip.  We crawled back onto our aching green knees and picked and picked walnuts.

At some point in the late afternoon, when the heat finally got to us, probably about the 4th or 5th tree, my mother called it quits.  We received $20.00 for our days work, $10.00 for each Toni and I for our Christmas expenses that year.  This was in fact, a nice sum of money for us at the time.  But as I remember that amount of pay, I think of that Hispanic family having to earn a living that way and how many walnuts they had to pick just to pay the rent or get groceries.

We picked walnuts for three years.  We learned to bring music and plenty of water and knee pads.  But nothing kept our knees from turning green or the exhaustion after only a frew trees or the aching back.

Did my mother teach us that we should grow up to work hard for our money, no matter how difficult the work?  She absolutely did.  In fact, I think every single parent should use this type of labor intensive lesson for their kids as they grow up. It was brilliant.

But did she also teach us about another culture and how hard those people were willing to work for so little.  She did, without knowing it.  I will never, ever in my life forget those Mexican families and how incredibly hard they worked as a family unit.  I find it difficult to imagine that we have any Americans growing up (besides farmers kids) who would be willing to actually work this hard for their spending money.  We are spoiled rotten as a country.  It’s sad to see it that way.  But I’ve been there.  Down on my hands and knees.  And if there is anyone who wants to do that work for me for what is way beneath minimum wage, then I say, let them.  No, beg them to please, please do it for us.

I didn’t write this to become a political statement.  I really didn’t.  But it turns out, the thing my mother taught me the most from 3 years of picking walnuts was how to be respectful, understanding, and insist on civil rights for those that put food on my plate every day.