Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
The special ingredient in this cake is Fluer de sel, a sea salt harvested from France. I bought mine at Williams Sonoma. You could probably substitute regular sea salt but I wouldn't suggest it; the Fluer de sel has a very unique flavor and really makes the cake special.
One thing I found with this recipe is that it has to be followed precisely. It requires making two batches of caramel, one salted and one not. I'm pretty much a veteran when it comes to making homemade caramel and wasn't intimidated about making the two different kinds, but I ended up throwing out my second batch. I ruined it when I waited a just a little longer than 1 minute to add the cream to the sugar mixture. The directions were to remove the sugar mixture from the heat and wait one minute before adding the cream, and I discovered that they mean exactly one minute, not two.
Aside from my caramel snafu, the rest went pretty smoothly. However, the process was quite time consuming as there are several steps. It took me most of the afternoon to make the caramel, the ganache, and to assemble the cake. That of course doesn't include the baking of the cake which I had done ahead of time.
All in all, I think the cake was delicious and well worth the effort. I will be making it again this week for a friend's birthday. I'm hoping the second attempt will prove to go a little more smoothly then the first.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Below is a picture of the kids on Halloween. As you can probably tell, my sister Photoshoped the missing little ladybug, Madelyn, into the photo. Pictured along with the ladybug is a mad scientist, police officer, owl, and Disney's Mulan.Instead of having fun with her cousins, Madelyn (along with her mom and dad) spent the afternoon in the doctor's office. Poor baby!
Below is a preview of some of the holiday treats my mom, sister and I baked all in one day......hundreds of cookies and some candy too. The baking was the fun part, hauling it all home on the airplane, not so fun.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
Our favorite music teacher is having a baby girl, and I wanted to make something special for her. I fell in love with this floral fabric from Hobby Lobby and thought it would make the perfect blanket for a little girl.
I washed all the fabrics before sewing and was pleased how soft the cotton came out. The pattern for the blanket came from the Purl Bee. I made it 42 inches square with a soft cotton floral and a coordinating pink flannel. I embroidered a running stitch along the outside of the blanket.
I also made some matching burp cloths out of coordinating fabrics. I've made these before and loved how they turned out so I knew I wanted to make them again. You can find a great tutorial here.
Lastly, I added fun sayings to some onesies. I also cutout and fused a butterfly and flower from the fabric to two of the onesies, and I added a running stitch to the outside of the cutouts.
Monday, September 28, 2009
If you enjoy making cupcakes this is by far the best cupcake cookbook out there. I have many cupcake cookbooks, and this is the one I continually go back to again and again. I haven't been disappointed by any of the recipes.
The first cupcake is a snickerdoodle cupcake. I was attracted to this recipe because my kids love snickerdoodle cookies so I figured a snickerdoodle cupcake would be just as yummy....and it was a big hit with my family.
The cake is basically a vanilla cake with lots of cinnamon. The recipe recommended using Seven Minute frosting but I chose to use my Marshmallow Buttercream recipe that I used in the S'more Cupcakes instead. I like the Seven Minute frosting but it doesn't last long and has to be eaten the same day that it's made, so it wasn't a practical choice for me.
Pictured above is a mini raspberry cheesecake cupcake. Our raspberry bushes are producing their second round of raspberries for the season so I was looking for something to use them in when I came across this recipe. These mini cakes are the perfect size to indulge in with out feeling guilty. Fresh raspberries are pureed in the food processor, strained through a fine sieve, and marbled through the cheesecake. I added my own touch of whipped cream and a raspberry on top.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
So whether your a football fan or not, I thought you'd enjoy seeing these pictures of the cutest little Packer fan, even though she might not know it yet! Too see more Madelyn pics click here.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
I am not a pie-loving person so I don't make as many pies as I do cakes and other pastries. My kids are not too fond of pies either, except for apple pie which Ethan claims to be the only kind of pie that he likes.
So, Esme here is my proof that I really do make pies. I've averaged a pie a month for the last couple of months, not bad when you consider all the other baking that happens in my kitchen.
In early August I made a blackberry-peach pie (above) out of fresh blackberries and peaches from the farmer's market.
And now that local apples are in season again, Ethan has been bugging me to make him an apple pie. I finally got around to it, and I enjoyed baking it in my new Cuisinart convection oven that I received from Keith and the boys for my birthday. It turned out perfectly golden brown and the aroma in the kitchen was heavenly. Keith and Ethan gave it two thumbs up!
Thank you Esme for your thoughtful pie-giving self, and for inspiring me to make more pies!
Sunday, September 6, 2009
The cake was a honey glazed spice cake and the recipe came from Martha Stewart . I first fell in love with the cake and mold when it was featured on the cover of Martha Stewart Living magazine over a year ago. I had completely forgotten about it until a couple of days ago when Steph surprised me with it. Thanks, Steph for making me such a special birthday cake!
This is what the Nordic Ware mold looks like.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
About a month ago we adopted Pongo from our local animal shelter and joyfully welcomed him into our home. I finally caved into the boys who had been begging me for a few days to take them to the shelter to look at dogs. Little did we know that we would all fall in love with Pongo, an energetic beagle mix puppy. Pongo got his name from the shelter and we felt like it suited him well. We don't know what he's mixed with because the shelter didn't have much information on him. However when the boys and I took him out to the playroom so we could get to know him, he stole all our hearts.
The bottom of the Charlotte is a homemade butter cake that I baked in 10" x 15" pan and then cut into 2 inch rounds. The rounds are surrounded by lady fingers and a bow holds them together. The Charlotte is filled with a heavy cream mixed with raspberry preserves and cream cheese, and then topped with fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
I have completed the ride twice on my own for the past two years. To my surprise, Mac told me in the spring that he wanted to do the RAIN with me this year. He agreed to train with me on the tandem and on his own bike as often as possible, and we put in hundreds of training miles over the past several weeks. I told Mac that if we could complete a century ride in hilly Southern Indiana, then we’d know we were strong enough to complete the much flatter RAIN route, most of which uses U.S. Highway 40. The weekend before RAIN, we completed the very hilly Nashville 90, riding through thundershowers in the process, and so we felt reasonably well prepared for the grueling trek across the state. Here we are departing for the Nashville 90:
Kim drove us and our bike to Terre Haute Friday afternoon, where we checked into a hotel room. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening helping to process riders through registration. We needed a good night’s sleep, and headed back to our hotel room around 8:30. After a while, I discovered that the asthma inhaler we packed for Mac was empty and called Kim to find out how we could get a replacement inhaler—it would not be wise to embark on a long bike ride without this emergency medicine. After a flurry of phone calls from Kim, a dedicated CVS pharmacy technician, and a nurse who had once treated Mac, we hopped on our bike and sprinted to the nearest CVS pharmacy and arrived just minutes before closing time. We had our medicine, but now the hour was late and we really needed our sleep.
The starting line was about 9 miles from our hotel, so Mac and I planned to depart early so that we could be at the line for the 7:00AM starting time. We were running late, but got to the line with a few minutes to spare. The start of the RAIN is very exciting—and a bit dangerous—as hundreds of tightly packed cyclists jockey for space and position. Terre Haute police normally escort the riders out of town at about a 20 mph pace, but for some reason, they didn’t show up this year. Thus, the starting pace was unusually fast, with bikes flying through town. We kept up, for the most part, averaging 19 mph through the city, until some of the hills outside of town slowed our pace. Here's a picture sent by a friend (Klaus Rothe) of the starting line:
At about 32 miles, our front derailleur broke. I pulled over to assess the damage, and decided to just remove the part from the bike so that we could continue the ride. Earlier in the ride, we had stopped to lend a tool to a rider who needed to tighten his saddle, and now, we were in need of a tool that I could use to cut my shifter cable. Many riders offered help, but none had the right tool, so I decided just to tie the cable out of the way and fixed the chain onto the middle chain ring. From this point on, our ride would be slower because we lacked the ability to use our hill-climbing small ring and our big downhill ring.
The unseasonably cool weather was welcome, from my perspective, but Mac was a bit cold most of the day, and we neglected to bring along a windbreaker. I began to think about where along the route we could acquire a windbreaker. There weren’t many shopping centers along the largely rural route, but fortunately, there were yard sales. I noticed one with several tables full of clothes and a collection of children’s bikes, so I pulled over. The proprietor was really surprised to see any of the hundreds of cyclists that had been steadily streaming by all day actually stop to shop! For a dollar, we picked up a light jacket that fit Mac well enough to keep him comfortable the rest of the way. We even felt a few rain drops shortly thereafter, so the short delay was worthwhile.
At around the 50 mile mark, Mac became curious about the purpose of the mile markers along the side of the road. Because I had recently changed tire sizes, and forgot to re-calibrate the tandem’s cycling computer accordingly, we decided to use the mile posts to check our computer’s accuracy. We discovered our computer logged slightly over 1/100th of a mile more with each mile, which meant that by the time we arrived at the finish line, we expected our computer to show an extra 1.6 to 2 miles. Not a huge error, but one that would certainly add up over time. Here's a view from the road as a group of riders head toward Indianapolis (photo by Klaus Rothe):
The volunteer fire station in Dunreith was our last rest stop, and one of my favorites. The volunteers there are always very nice and provide frozen treats and plenty of encouragement to weary riders. With only about 28 miles left, why would we want to quit now? Mac declined every opportunity I gave him to just call it a day and have Kim pick us up. He would tell me, “Just go!” Other riders were impressed with his tenacity and endurance, and helped to keep us motivated. We especially enjoyed being cheered on by groups of kids along the way, some of whom would give us high-fives. Another group had fun handing out cups of water to riders as they zoomed by.
Finally, we were nearing the finish line. By this point, our overall speed had ratcheted down to a 15 mph average, but our pace picked up during our last 10 miles, and we finished strong, at a little over 13 hours. Of the over 1300 riders that were expected to start, we placed 1107 and 1108. It’s not clear how many of those actually started the ride, but we were proud to have finished. Mac kept saying he wanted to ride a few more miles to actually cross into Ohio, but I was exhausted, and I know he was, too. Our butts were sore, my knees ached, and I was famished from the calorie deficit. We were grateful that Kim and Ethan met us at the finish line with dinner. We showered, and ate our dinner in the car while Kim made the long drive back to Bloomington. Maybe next year, Mac can try the ride on his own bike?
Thanks to Jim Lang for the above finish line photo, and to Ethan and Kim for the others.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
We are sad today because we miss our friend.
He was a hound dog—a mixed-breed beagle with a coat of white, black, and plenty of auburn brown. Highway was his name, but he answered to most anything, especially if the call promised food, pets, or walks.
Highway LOVED food, and would gladly steal any morsel left unattended. His favorite was butter or leftover butter wrappers, which were always plentiful in our house. If there were any wrappers left unattended or in the trash, we would often find a tipped-over trash can with a trail of wrappers leading into the living room. Chairs and tables were rarely good defenses against this hungry hound dog, as he would climb and leap with amazing agility to follow his nose. If you turned your back to food set on the counter it would be gone in seconds, even including a cooling cake. One of Highway’s care-takers lovingly referred to him as Houdini.
Highway’s poor table manners were one of the first things we learned about him when we adopted him about five years ago. We were his second or third family—no one is really sure as he was abandoned as a puppy along State Route 37. Highway was already an old dog when we adopted him, and was not interested in learning too many new tricks.
Highway also loved his comfort, and would help himself to whatever vacant spot could be found on the furniture.
We caved to his demands for comfort and tried to restrict him to just using one sofa in the family room. But Highway wanted access to all the furniture he could reach or climb upon. He was not allowed on our blue, sleeper sofa, and when discovered on it, he would humor us by getting down—sometimes. He knew that all he had to do was wait until we left the room.
He especially loved to be near people, and rest his head on someone’s lap while they watched a video or read a book. As a beagle, Highway loved to track and chase rabbits. He never caught any, as far as we know, but his nose could usually detect them long before his eyes, and he would plunge his head into any suspected burrow, and dig enthusiastically for his prey.
Highway inspired stories and art projects for the kids. When in 4th grade, Mac wrote a story that won third place in a Humane Society Essay Contest. Here’s an excerpt:
There’s an interesting story of how Highway got his name, and how he came to live with us. One day a woman was driving along State Road 37, when something caught her eye. It was a straggly, little, beagle puppy sitting on the side of the highway. She pulled over to help him. She decided to take him home. She gave him the name Highway, because she found him on the highway. She kept him for five years, and during that time she had a baby. With two dogs, her baby and her husband, their small house was very crowded. So they decided to move to Indianapolis. They couldn’t bring two dogs with them so they put Highway up for adoption. We heard about Highway from our friends, and after we spent a lot of time thinking about it, we decided to adopt him.
Highway is really cute and fun to have around. He’s especially cute when he begs for food, because his ears perk up. He also likes to play, not with toys, but with humans. Sometimes Highway and I play chase. I know he wants to play, when he starts running around the house like crazy. I chase him into a room so he thinks he’s safe, but when I come charging in, he ZOOMS out like a race car. He also enjoys being petted and having his belly scratched. When you stop petting him, he’ll put his snout under your hand and push on it until you start petting him again. I’m really glad we adopted Highway. He is a true friend.
Ethan also wrote a poem titled A Beagle in the Fridge. Here it is:
A Beagle in the Fridge
There is a beagle in my fridge
With his butt in the hot sauce
And his nose in the chicken
And his paw in the mashed potatoes.
His tail is frozen and solid
While he’s slurping the milk
With cracked egg shells on his back.
And when you open the door
He only whines for MORE!
Highway taught us what it means to be a hound. He would hound us for walks, hound us for snacks, and hound us for pets and affection. Highway had no interest in toys, and quickly lost interest in other dogs once he exchanged sniffs. He would bark and bay at the neighborhood dogs he could see walking by our house, but only whine gently when he saw Sammie, his dog friend from across the street.
We are grateful for the all things Highway taught us, including patience, diligence, commitment, loyalty and compassion. Beagles tend to be independent thinkers due to their breeding history, and as such, he had little use for blind obedience. While this trait can be frustrating to impatient humans, upon reflection, we can appreciate the benefits of not following the herd. We have even become more open minded about the virtues of sniffing butts.
Friday, July 10, 2009
The idiom "in a pickle" refers to being in a disagreeable situation. It's kind of a mysterious figure of speech because "pickle" usually means something preserved in a brine or vinegar solution. So metaphorically you could conjure up the image of sitting in a sour, vinegar bath. Hmm.....sounds about right.....in a pickle.
However, explaining how I got my cucumbers "in a pickle" is a lot more interesting than explaining how I got myself "in a pickle."
This was my first attempt at making pickles. When I brought the pickling cucumber plants home from the Farmer's Market, I think Keith was worried that there wasn't enough space to plant them. But being the nice accommodating husband that he is, he found room for all four plants and this week we harvested the first bunch of cucumbers.
As a child, homemade pickles were one of my fondest memories of my Grandma Smith, who died recently. She canned so many things but the little baby pickles were one of my favorites. Her pickles were in high demand by everyone who tried them. I even remember a time that my parents transported a gallon ice cream tub full of them home on an airplane for one of their friends. Of course that was before the 3 ounce liquid rule. I can still picture the plastic tub sloshing with pickle juice as they carried it through the terminal.
I didn't have my grandmother's recipe so I "loosely" followed one from the Martha Stewart website. Nor did I have all the ingredients that the recipe called for so I just left them out and added a few of my own.
After sterilizing my jars, and preparing the cucs, I filled each 12 ounce jar with a dill flower from our garden. I also added some peppercorns to the jars as well. I think you could add just about anything you wanted to, garlic, spicy peppers, onions, all of which would enhance the flavor. But this was my first try and I wanted to start out simple. The brine that I made consisted of vinegar, water, salt and cumin. Once the cucs were packed in the jars, I poured the brine over them, put on the lids and processed them in a water bath. The hard part is having to wait to eat them. They need a good two weeks before opening so that flavors can mingle. Yum! They might not be as good as my grandma's but I can't wait to try them!
Thursday, July 9, 2009
I'm so lucky to be married to a man whose passion is sustainable gardening. My husband painstakingly turned our yard into a chef's dream. He has provided me, the chef (and my family), with a wonderful array of fruits and vegetables that are at my disposal day and night.
Our gardens have made cooking a delight, when all I have to do is walk out into my yard to clip some fresh herbs, or veggies for our dinner. I find myself planning our meals around what's available in our garden, like eating a big salad almost every night. There's nothing better then freshly picked greens and herbs topped with spicy peppers, cucumbers, green beans, snap peas, and cherry tomatoes -- all from our garden!
In May we took pleasure in eating strawberries from the planter below. We also have several young blueberry plants that have provided us with a handful of berries every other day for the past couple of weeks.
Some of the other produce that Keith has planted, and that we can look forward to eating later this summer and in early fall, are sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, squash, several varieties of peppers and tomatoes, broccoli, beets, onions, and garlic.
We also have some newly planted raspberry and blackberry bushes that will hopefully produce berries for us by next summer, along with about 100 asparagus plants that should be ready for picking by next spring.
I know how lucky I am to be able to access fresh, pesticide-free produce right from my yard, and I count my blessings every day for my sweet, sustainable-gardener-husband who provides it for me.