Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Operation Early Fingerprinting

I'm a rule follower, always have been.  I take great comfort in the order rules bring to this basically chaotic world.  Which is probably why I wanted to be a lawyer.  Of course, once in law school I saw that mostly the legal profession is about finding ways around the rules.  Which is probably why I ended up representing local governments, where I mainly help my clients write and enforce rules.

Anyway, my point is, it's always a bit of a stretch for me not to follow the rules.

Brad texted me last Friday to let me know we'd received our letter from the US Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) advising our appointment to have our biometric fingerprints taken was scheduled for April 10th at 8:00 a.m.  I replied "so we're going on Monday, right?"

I have one friend (and fellow adoptive parent) who told us the Denver USCIS office is very strict about the appointment times; don't come early, don't come late.  But several other adoptive parents, in Colorado and elsewhere, had said they'd been able to get their fingerprints done early.  And another said they went early, were fussed at, but after begging and pleading were able to get them done.

So based on this unscientific sample, I thought our odds were pretty good.  And if we could get them done a few weeks early, well, that would probably speed everything up by a few weeks:  USCIS approval, getting a court date, getting "L" out of the orphanage in his dangerous home region and transferred to our agency's care center in Addis, and, best of all, meeting "L" for the first time.

Although our odds were good, I was still nervous heading to the USCIS office yesterday morning.  Nervous that since I'm not a practiced rule breaker I'd be unable to adequately plead our case; you know, use just the right amount of whining that makes the person want to help us instead of wanting to toss us out of their office.  It may sound overly dramatic, but I felt as though this was another test of how well I could advocate for our child.

Well, my friends, the staff at our Denver USCIS office were awesome.  I'm not sure any of them even noticed we were there two weeks early; if so, none of them cared.

Operation Early Fingerprinting was a resounding success.

And when I emailed our caseworker copies of our USCIS letters, with the signed processing stamps showing we'd had our fingerprints taken, she gave us the best news of the day:  Our case may be ready to submit to the Ethiopian court in a few weeks.

Which means we may be able to meet "L" as early as the end of May.

So, so happy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Our Son Could Be Trayvon Martin

Like many people, I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about Trayvon Martin.  And I've been thinking about our son "L," our beautiful African boy.  And thinking about how completely unprepared I am to explain to our son why someone who looks like him could be considered "suspicious" simply because he's black.

In our adoption training classes we talk about race.  Our instructor told us to think about what we'll do when someone calls our child the N-word so that we're prepared.  Not if someone calls him that, but when.  I admit in my naivete I silently scoffed, thinking nobody's going to do that.  We have all, as a society, moved so far beyond that.  We have a black president, for crying out loud.

I also thought I had some perspective on what it feels like not to look like everyone else.  Growing up as a fair skinned, freckled kid in Ft. Lauderdale wasn't easy.  I tried spending days sunbathing with my friends, with disastrous blistery results.  Oh, and wound up with skin cancer to boot.  I turned myself orange with every self tanner out there, and even tried spot removing cream to get rid of my freckles.  I would've loved to have had dark skin as a kid; it took me many years into adulthood to appreciate and love my fair skin.  So I figured I would be able to empathize with our son when questions about skin color are raised.

I am an idiot.

I've never been feared or considered suspicious because I was wearing a hoodie while walking in the rain.  I have no clue, and feel so unprepared to explain to our child the inexplicable.  How do I instill in our child that he is valued exactly because of who he is and to be proud of his heritage, while warning him about what his black skin may provoke in some people?  It makes me sick just to think about it.

Because the tragic case of Trayvon Martin shows how we, as a society, certainly have not moved beyond race.  Most disturbing to me have been the commentaries, like this one from Time magazine, about how black families must raise their children to STAY ALIVE amidst the horrible racism that persists in this country, because it shows this problem goes way beyond one trigger-happy neighborhood watch racist.  The author gives talking points about "the potentially fatal condition of being black" and, in particular, being a black male.

Like our son, "L."

Another parent writes here how her twelve year old son knows he could be Trayvon Martin, and how in this land of liberty her son needs to understand he's only "free-ish."


How could I have not known this was happening?  That parents, as a matter of course, have been teaching their black children to anticipate and account for others' bigotry and possible violence.  As a matter of survival.

I chafe at the notion that we may have to teach our son not to run in the neighborhood, since somebody may think he's committed a crime and is trying to elude capture.  I can't even wrap my mind around that, but I know I must.

Our child's life may one day depend on it.

God, help us all.

UPDATE:  Once again, Jen Hatmaker wrote on her blog what I'm feeling so much better than I ever could.  It's like she has a direct line to my heart.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

German Double-Chocolate Cake

Every year I make a chocolate cake for Brad's birthday.  I've had varying degrees of success with his birthday cake, so I'm always more than a little nervous to get it right.

Our first year together, I spent about five hours on a beautiful cake that was completely inedible.  Sure, the newness of our relationship made him choke down a couple of bites, but that cake went straight in the trash.  Do you know the agony of throwing that much time and effort, and chocolate, into the alley dumpster?  I hope you don't.

The thing about baking, particularly at high altitude, is it takes practice.  And when I'm trying to make something special, it's hard to practice it first.  It's not like I could bake a practice cake the weekend before and get it out of the house without being eaten (by him or me!).

Well, I'm happy to report this year's cake was a stunning success.  It was an amped up German Chocolate Cake, with lots and lots of chocolate.

My apologies to the friends, neighbors and co-workers who usually get some of the baking bounty around here.  This cake was so good, it never made the rounds for sharing.

And, yes, I'll be running a few extra miles today.

We had the cake after another one of Brad's awesome Ethiopian meals (Doro Wat this time).

It was pretty much the perfect evening.

German Double-Chocolate Cake
The recipe I used was from one of my favorite web sites, Serious Eats.  Click here for the recipe.

Friday, March 9, 2012

And We're No Longer Waiting

Because we already received a REFERRAL!!!!

A beautiful 4 year old boy, "L," from the Gambella region of Ethiopia.  Our heads are spinning; if all goes well, we could have him home by fall.

I'm beyond saddened by the pain and grief that have befallen this boy and his birth family, but feel so grateful that God has given us the opportunity to provide a family for him.

Praying for a smooth process through court and Embassy so that we can bring our precious "L" home as soon as possible.

And now we can wear the t-shirts I bought when Brad and I first started this process:
Front:  147 Million Orphans

Back:  Minus 1
If you also have a heart for the world's orphans, they have great apparel and merchandise at 147 Million Orphans, and every purchase helps a child in need with food, water and medicine.  At checkout you can select for your purchase to benefit orphans in a particular country, including Ethiopia.

p.s.  Happy Birthday to the love of my life.  Brad, you're going to be an amazing dad.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chocolove Chip Cookies

For me, chocolate = love.  Fortunately I married a man who feels the same way.

And I love baking with chocolate; in particular, chocolate chip cookies.  Brad's a traditionalist when it comes to chocolate chip cookies, but I like to play around a bit.  And lately I've been playing around with cookies made with Chocolove chocolate bars.

Each Chocolove chocolate bar has a love poem inside the wrapper; this was inside one of the chocolate bars I used for these cookies:

from If Thou'lt Be Mine

If thou'lt be mine, the treasures of air,
Of earth, and sea, shall lie at thy feet;
Whatever in Fancy's eye looks fair,
Or in Hope's sweet music sounds most sweet,
Shall be ours--if thou wilt be mine, love!

Bright flowers shall bloom wherever we rove,
A voice divine shall talk in each stream;
The stars shall look like world of love,
And this earth be all one beautiful dream
In our eyes--if thou wilt be mine, love!...

Thomas Moore

Lovely, no?  We all need a little more "thou'lt" and "wilt" in our lives, don't you think?

Now, on to our cookies.

Chocolove Chip Cookies
I've made these cookies a few times, using different flavors of chocolate bars.  The Almonds and Sea Salt in 55% Dark chocolate bar makes a great cookie, as does the Salted Peanut in 33% Milk chocolate Bar.

The recipe below uses mostly Crystallized Ginger in 65% Dark chocolate, a little bit of milk chocolate for variety, and cardamom to give them some kick.

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
150 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
110 grams (1/2 cup firmly packed) light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon molasses
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
315 grams (2 1/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
6.4 oz (2 bars) Chocolove Crystallized Ginger in 65% Dark chocolate, roughly chopped
3.2 oz (1 bar) Chocolove Milk chocolate (33% cocoa), roughly chopped

In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, baking soda and salt (and cardamom, if using).  Set aside.

Beat half the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed until fairly smooth; add the rest of the butter, sugars and molasses and continue beating on medium speed until combined. Increase speed to medium-high and cream for a few minutes on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

Scrape down the bowl, then add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.  Add the vanilla and beat a minute or so on high to be sure everything is incorporated nicely.

Add the flour mixture, and mix on low speed until the flour is fully combined.  Add the chopped chocolate, and pulse on low speed a few times to incorporate.

For best results, chill the dough for a few hours (or overnight) before using.  Want or need cookies right away?  Then plow straight ahead.

Using a small ice cream scoop, form the cookie dough into balls and place a few inches apart on a baking sheet.  (You want about 2 Tablespoons of dough per cookie.)  Press down on each, to slightly flatten.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown around the edges, rotating the pan halfway through baking.  If you want softer cookies, mist the dough balls with water before baking.

Place the pans on wire racks for the cookies to cool a few minutes, then transfer the cookies to the wire racks to cool completely.

If you don't want to bake all the cookies, place the pans with the dough balls in the freezer for a few hours. Then transfer the dough balls to ziplock bags, and keep in the freezer for future use.  You can either defrost the dough and bake as usual, or pop them straight into the oven and bake a little longer.

Friday, March 2, 2012

We're Officially Waiting!

I just received an email from our caseworker at the adoption agency, with the following subject line:

"Waiting List!"

My heart stopped.  Already?  After being a bit disappointed last week that we weren't yet able to go on the wait lists, I'd made myself put it out of my mind.  Approval will come when it's time.

And now it has!

So here's where we stand, as of today, in our official wait to bring our child (or children) home from Ethiopia:

Infant Boy #25 (with 7 people on hold, making us really #18)
Toddler Boy #15 (5 on hold, so really #10)
Siblings #15 (also 5 on hold, so really #10)

After a bit of a slow period, referrals at our agency seem to be picking up a bit. I know this is all out of our hands, but I can't stop my mind from racing forward to those glorious days ahead.

When we receive a referral.

When we meet our child (or children) for the first time.

When we finally bring him (or them!  eek!  I can barely stand it!) home.

(and exhale. . . .)

Chocolate Guinness Cake

You got chocolate in my Guinness!  You got Guinness in my chocolate!  Two of my very favorite things come together to make one awesome cake.

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day.

You're welcome.

Chocolate Guinness Cake
This recipe is based on a Chocolate Stout Cake in the March 2012 issue of 5280, our local magazine that highlights everything great in and around Denver, compliments of Kim & Jake's Cakes in Boulder (check out their Vindalicious Cake--wow!).  There are many fantastic breweries in Colorado, and true to their local roots the recipe recommends Boulder's Avery Out of Bounds Stout.

The thing is, although I'm a proud Colorado girl, I will always be first and foremost an Irish girl.  And to an Irish girl the only stout is Guinness.

This cake was so incredibly moist and delicious.  And weighed about ten pounds; no joke!

For the Cake:
6 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups oil (I used Smart Balance Omega--is that like a diet Coke with a Big Mac?)
603 grams (3 cups) granulated sugar
120 grams (1 cup) dark cocoa powder
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
630 grams (4 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
3 cups (2 12 oz bottles) Guinness Extra Stout beer

Prepare two 9-inch cake pans (I used baking spray with flour, and lined the bottoms with parchment paper) and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the eggs, oil, sugar, cocoa, vanilla, salt, and baking soda until thoroughly combined.

Alternately add the flour and Guinness a small amount at a time, mixing on the lowest speed.  Oh, and I discovered this would be a good time to put on an apron, too.

Once all of the flour and Guinness have been incorporated, gradually increase the speed of the mixer to the highest speed you can use while still keeping the contents in the bowl (this recipe makes a lot of batter).  Beat on this higher speed for about 30 seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, and then drop the pans on the counter several times to release air bubbles.  There were a lot of bubbles in my batter; maybe next time I'll allow the Guinness to go flat before using it.

The recipe says to bake in a conventional oven at 300 degrees for about 50 minutes.  I used a convection oven at 275 degrees (the temp calculated by my oven's conversion), and it took 65 minutes.

Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then turn out onto the wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

For the Frosting:
The recipe calls for a Milk Chocolate Malt Frosting.  I wasn't pleased with the texture of the frosting as the recipe was written; it was pasty and kind of crumbly.  I added half and half by teasponfulls until it reached a consistency that was spreadable (milk would work, too).  I probably could've (and maybe should've) added more than two tablespoons of half and half.

1 pound (4 sticks) butter, softened
2 pounds powdered sugar
3/4 cup dark cocoa powder
1/2 cup malt powder (I used Carnation Malted Milk powder)
2 Tablespoons half and half or milk
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste (I used paste, my new fave)

Sift together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and malt powder.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter on medium high speed.  Add the powder sugar mixture in small amounts, and mix on low speed after each addition to combine.  Add the vanilla and milk (or half and half) and beat until all ingredients are incorporated and the frosting is light and fluffy.