Thursday, December 31, 2009

Update on Thursday 13 New Year's Edition 2008

Here's what I said I'd do last year on New Year's Eve, mostly relative to cooking and blogging.

How did I do? Hmmm, not too badly. Not stellar, rock-star, spot on, but somewhere in the acceptable range. (I can just hear Seth parroting back to me my little Yoda mantra: "There is no try. There is only do or do not." Or some such nonsense that sounds like it would come from me. Ha.)

1. Continue to blog about food, but get healthier along the way. Gradual steps toward whole foods, less processed, for the whole family. Check. Some weeks have been a little light, but I'm still here!

2. Be experimental in the kitchen. Perfect the omelette--either using Bittman's method or Pepin's, or maybe I'll come up with something all my own... Finally make my own marshmallows. And madeleines. And lavender lemonade (with my own lavendar). Did the omelette thing, did the lavendar lemonade. Experimented a bunch... didn't always blog about it. Sigh.

3. Find more local sources for foods and ingredients. Shop where local sources are promoted. Yep. Eggs, produce, meat. Thankfully we have more sources now than ever.

4. Make a grocery budget and stick to it. Stop the spontaneous and impulse purchases, which are rarely worth it. This one I did better in the first half of the year. Then I relaxed a wee tad. Need to step up the awareness again.

5. Expand the repertoire of foods Seth can cook on his own. He will have input on this, of course, but it's time to move beyond scrambled eggs and pesto to some of his more ambitious tastes like choux pastry (cream puffs!) and gelato (those were his two first requests). Note the sweet tooth; this apple did not fall far from the tree! But I'm also looking for him to be more self-sufficient in the kitchen, less dependant on "Mom, I'm hungry, what is there to eat?" This one needs to stay on the list. We kinda fell down on this one...

6. More and improved home gardening to expand our local food sources! I need to be more consistent in the care of the garden all the way through the season and preserve the overflow. (I have a tendency toward giving up around the middle of July--pathetic I know--when it hits 105 degrees in Walla Walla and I'm all about shade and air conditioning.) This was the best year yet for the garden. Produced more, and preserved more. Onward and upward for next summer!

7. Get recipes posted to foodgawker and/or tastespotting. Join foodbuzz. Be a part of the food blogging community. Um, yeah. Tried once with tastespotting, got rejected and promptly went to sleep on this goal. Ready to hit it again. Did join foodbuzz, however, just not very active...

8. Figure out a way to get the fig trees growing/living/thriving and not eaten by Ruby. This may prove to be the most challenging goal of 2009! Check. Put one outside the fence. Genius, eh? Here's hoping it makes it through the cold...

9. Continue to work on recipes that are in my head (from catering days) and get them out on paper, tested and scaled for normal proportions (as in, who needs chickpea salad for 50? Not most people, and not me, anymore!). Sort of... it will continue, as this is an ongoing thing.

10. Pare down my recipe books and food magazines, decide what's really important and what will never be used and finally break the cord and get rid of them... even though it feels pretty painful to think about. I gave away two cookbooks! Well, maybe a few more than that. And now I have at least a half-dozen new ones between my birthday and Christmas, so I will take out a few more oldies (speak up if you are interested) to make room for the new! I am committed to not outgrowing my two full bookcases of cookbooks.

11. Food photography. While tangential to food itself, and more related to the blogging, I feel keenly about improving the quality of photos on my blog. I have some ideas on how to do that, and fellow food bloggers have been good about posting their tips, so I will take advantage of that. And then there's just practice, practice, practice! OK, just made progress on this one within the past couple of weeks when husband bequeathed me his Nikon as he upgraded. I am ready to rock the photog world. Well, with baby steps...

12. Embrace Michael Pollan's mantra of: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. (Sher's version: Eat REAL food, not plastic-corn-chemically food. Portion control, please! And a steak every once in awhile is fine, just keep it local.) This one is a good reminder. Still need to work on fewer processed items coming into the house.

13. Exercise more. I'd say "daily," but that might be a little too ambitious. But almost any exercise will be more than what I'm doing right now! Ditto to this one. Ever onward!

Tomorrow I will post my resolutions for 2010. I'm doing it a little differently this year... fewer goals, more tenacity in hitting them! That's the theory, anyway.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Experimenting with almond flour: Banana bread

We came home to some super-ripe bananas in the fruit bowl... forgot to freeze those before we took off on vacation! My first thought with ripe bananas is banana bread, of course. I have a tried and true basic banana bread recipe in Fanny Farmer that I've used forever, but lately I've been wanting to experiment with almond flour as an ingredient, and that's something I don't think dear Fanny knew anything about. A blog about gluten-free cooking that I look in on occasionally, Elena's Pantry, advocates almond flour, and even though I don't need to avoid gluten (that I know of...), it just sounds good to me. Nutty and yummy and all that.

Of course, when I looked at the fat content of almond flour, I did a little quick breath intake and thought, "Oh my, well, at least it's the GOOD fat." Since I've been eating pretty much non-stop on the BAD fat lately, might as well do a bit of battle with the good... So I took Elena's recipe and fiddled with it--added back a bit of the Fanny--and it turned out wonderfully. Next time I might just make it with just the almond flour and skip the whole wheat entirely... we'll see.

Sher's experimental banana bread
2 cups blanched almond flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup canola oil
3 eggs, whisked
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 bananas, mashed

In a large bowl, mix together whole wheat flour, almond flour, salt and baking soda. In a smaller bowl, combine mashed bananas, brown sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into dry. Place batter in two greased/sprayed loaf pans. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes, or until skewer inserted into the bread comes out dry. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

I especially like the texture of the bread, and the feel as you're chewing; it's just less wheaty. It's hard to know how to describe it, exactly... you'll just have to try baking with almond flour. I think this ingredient is going to find its way into more of my recipes in the future...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

Wow, Christmas on a Friday, just in time for a grateful list? That doesn't happen every year, eh? Yep, that would be me, full of turkey and stating the obvious. Ah. That Perfect Bite, it does really exist.

This week I'm grateful for:
*A lovely Christmas with husband and the parents. It has been a wonderfully mellow day, nobody doing anything too strenuous. Well, lifting those stockings off the fireplace took a little doing, but Ma handled that job quite beautifully.

Ma also cooked an amazing Christmas dinner, which has turned me into a turkey-coma sofa blob, quite happily. See evidence of said dinner below.

*I'm grateful for my Christmas presents, of which there are probably too many to mention. I am indeed an indulged girl. Christmas so far has been broken up in to pieces--with brother and family, with husband's family, now with my mom and dad, and we still have a chunk to do with Seth when we see him at the first of the year--many fun and ribbon-shredding moments!

*A pre-Christmas visit with my Grandma and Aunt Bobbie in Kelowna. I had been hoping for snow, what with it being *Canada* and all, but apparently that was not to be. Sigh. But it was lovely, as always, to see them, and we had some good games of Scrabble. Uncle Ben, my grandmother's brother-in-law, came in for an afternoon visit too, and he roundly trounced us at Rummicube.

*The sound of the ferries. Love that horn (when it's not right overhead!).

*The sunrises and sunsets here on the island. It's been spectacular. If it can't snow (yes, that again), I guess I'll take the sunshine.

See this:
This is what I've been wishing for. I think I will be wishing awhile...

*My new stack of blank books, journals, daybooks. There will be NO excuse for me not being completely on top of it, in line, on task, meeting deadlines, achieving goals, blah blah blah in 2010. I am well equipped to take on the world!

*Meeting up with old friends. I had breakfast and a wild pile of coffee with an old friend from elementary school this week, one of the days I was in Kelowna. Well, we went to the same school, but as you might remember from those days yourself, you aren't often friends with those in the grades above you... and she was TWO above mine. Oh wow. To me in those days she was larger than life, full of spunk and verve, and we agreed after our breakfast that this was the longest we'd chatted, ever (all two hours of our catching up!), even though we've probably known each other since 1977 or thereabouts. Once again, thanks to the power of Facebook.

*Philopena. I think we have about a half-dozen games going right now in the house, every different permutation possible. Wish me luck in the morning. I want to collect lots of prizes at Butchart Gardens tomorrow. We are going to take a little day trip to the big island tomorrow, to see the Christmas displays at Butchart... very much looking forward to that.

*Peace and quiet on the island. So quiet. Other than those ferry horns...

*To have had some really great times with Seth at Thanksgiving and these weeks leading up to Christmas, so not being with him today was pretty much OK. Not great. Not wonderful. But workable. And when I remembered that by mutually-agreed-upon negotiation, we have had him with us for three out of the last four Christmases, I had to smile to myself. I'm a greedy mom, tis true. I would never argue with that statement.

*Chocolate. I am not quite the chocolate freak I once was, but this time of year my choco-tolerance goes up and I'm a happy chocolate eater. Hedgehogs especially!

*I'm especially grateful for the entire season Christmas and the pause it provides to reflect on all we have to be grateful for, from the micro to the macro, and most of all for the Symbol of the Season. Tucked in between all the baking and the gift giving, there's a real opportunity to reflect on the bigger picture. Can't say I've paused and reflected as much as I should have or could have this season, but I have been contemplating ways to get more of that in the schedule for next year, and am ready to roll with that for 2010!

*Also grateful that holidays with the husband extend another week. Looking forward to kicking back and relaxing a bit, as well as doing some planning for 2010 and maybe even bringing some order to nooks and crannies of the house that have been sorely neglected in the holiday hubbub. And I do love the blank slate of a new year, even if I can't quite believe that 2009 has gone by so quickly. Whoosh.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night! Oh, and I finally watched Miracle on 34th Street last night for the first time ever. It was quite sweet and I can't believe I made it to 41 without a viewing. Maybe next year I'll even watch White Christmas!

Christmas breakfast cheese blintz puff

I can't remember the first time we made this fabulous but easy breakfast casserole... I think it was sometime in the '90s. The recipe is from the Moosewood book Sundays at Moosewood, which is one of my old favorites. Every time I open it, I am reminded that I should browse it more often! This has been a family Christmas breakfast standby more Christmases than not, and I had almost forgotten about it when Ma mentioned making it yesterday! Yeah for her memory, not so much for mine...

This happy and sunny Christmas morning we made a half-recipe. Having only four adults to partake, a 9x13 pan seemed like a bit of overkill. And the recipe halved quite nicely.

Here is the full recipe, as written in Moosewood:

Easy Cheese Blintz Puff
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
2 Tbsp sour cream or plain yogurt
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cups flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/4 Tbsp baking powder

about 1 pound farmer cheese
1 pound ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a blender, combine the batter ingredients until very smooth. Pour half of the batter into a buttered 9x13 pan. Bake for about 10 minutes or until set.

Meanwhile, combine the filling ingredients and mix well.

When the bottom layer of batter has set, remove the baking pan from the oven and smoothly spread the cheese filling over it. Briefly remix the remaining batter and then gently pour it over the filling, covering it completely. Return the pan to the oven and continue to bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the top is puffed, set and browned.

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting it into squares. Serve immediately--either plain or with toppings.

The bottom layer, prior to baking

The finished puff, just out of the oven

It makes for a lovely breakfast, one I highly recommend for you and yours! We opened stockings before we ate, of course, and now the turkey's (this one Ma has named Annabelle, mine from Thanksgiving was Harold, just a bit of info for you there) in the oven and we'll get started on the rest of Christmas dinner a bit later. It's a beautiful morning on Mayne Island and hardly feels like Christmas at all, but every time I suggest a bit of snow, I get booed down by the rest of the room. Sigh.

Merry Christmas to all from our peaceful island hideaway!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas meme frivolity

A quiet afternoon by the fire, by the tree... what could be better? Not much. The house is quiet. The oven is OFF. Goody boxes to be assembled... a bit later...

I grabbed this meme from a blog I read daily, noodleroux... well, I read as often as Cha-Cha posts, anyway. A clever writer with many good stories to be told! She got the meme from another blogger who got it from another blogger, and so on. Like that old shampoo ad... yeah, that one.

Here we go!

1. Have you started your Christmas shopping? Oh my, yes. I'd say it's almost done. A couple more tidbits to go, but nothing major. I have a few kinks to work out on both the boys, but since we're not ripping the wrapping, as it were, until we're all back together the first of the year, I have a moment to pause and ponder.

2. Tell me about your special traditions. When I was a kid we played a game called philopena. You must go look that up, it's a hoot. I haven't played in years, but I think I associate it with Christmas because there were so many whole nuts around the house, with a nutcracker. My mom rocks at philopena. Just try to beat her. For some reason I think I always kind of thought it was a racist game, called "Philipino." Now I feel ashamed I thought badly of my family for playing such a game...

3. When do you put up your tree? As soon as possible after Thanksgiving.

4. Are you a Black Friday shopper? Not much. Certainly not in the 4 a.m. style. If I wander out later, I wander. But the bargains, while I do love a bargain, don't really seem to be aimed at me on Black Friday...

5. Do you travel at Christmas or stay home? Seems like we travel a lot at Christmas. I'm hoping to be here next year and have people come to us. Hear that, people?!

6. What is your funniest Christmas memory? Maybe the year Shelby sliced his finger with the exacto-blade while making a model? No. Not that one. Funny and Christmas don't really seem to go together for me... not that it's NOT a funny time of year, but nothing really pops to mind. I have many lovely memories of skiing on Christmas day, the years we lived practically next door to a small ski hill... and I have a real strange fondness for going to movies on Christmas day, but I can't think I've done that more than once or twice... Now, the Christmas we were on Majuro, when I was 11 or so, and my parents were helping rebuild a school after a tidal wave went over the island... that was a "funny" Christmas, in that we ate all kinds of odd things the Red Cross dropped off for all the islanders--corned beef hash, dry-flake mashed potatoes, Apple Jacks (I had never eaten those before, and frankly haven't since!), and went snorkling on Christmas Day... OK, still not funny in the traditional sense...

7. What is your favorite Christmas movie of all time? Elf. I also like Home Alone. A little Christmas Story is good too. But don't get me started on Love, Actually. Really, don't. I know everyone just loves that movie, but ugh. No thanks, even though there are a couple of cute story lines, the infidelity and crushing on your best friend's wife... not so much my cup of tea. Husband is going to be appalled that I don't mention White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, Holiday Inn... but I just wasn't raised with those... that's why he's around, to educate me!

8. Do you do your own Christmas baking? What is your favorite treat? That's a funny one! Ha. Do I do my own baking... hmmm. Just a little. My favorite treats can vary over the years, but the few that really stand out, still, are butter tarts of the Canadian/Grandma Kandt variety, Florentine shortbreads, and this year I made some coconut cake snowballs that I am in love with. All to come in later posts...

9. Fake or real tree? We need a biggun with the living room we have right now, and, well, after the first year where the tree died within a week (I bought a cheapo) and the replacement cost about $150, we decided to go for the fake-o. It's big a beautiful and really doesn't look fake, I swear. I have a great appreciation for the smell of Christmas trees, but I also have a great appreciation for not contributing to the death of more trees and also not burning down the house.

10. What day does the actual panic set in to get it all done? Right around when the tree goes up. I like to get my panic out of the way early.

11. Are you still wrapping presents on Christmas Eve? Usually, yes. It's surprising why I wait (procrastinate), since I really enjoy the activity of wrapping...

12. What is your favorite family fun time at Christmas? Mexican train dominoes. Stuffing stockings at midnight with my mom and sister-in-law (and piling up the stuff that doesn't fit into the stocking somewhere under the stocking!). Undoing the stockings in the morning. Christmas breakfast. The whole day.

13. What Christmas craft do you like best? Coming up with new trimmings... wreaths, stockings, that sort of thing.

14. Christmas music, yes or no? And if yes, what is your favorite song? Oh my yes. iTunes says I have more than 500 holiday songs, which is kind of shocking. I make a Christmas mix every year, as do several of my friends, so there is a lot of music swapping going on and new music to be enjoyed. I do have a few favorites... of the sacred variety I am extremely partial to almost anyone singing "Mary, Did You Know?" and of the merry secular variety I adore Michael Buble's "Grown Up Christmas List" and Alison Krauss' "Only You Can Bring Me Cheer," and of course Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Barielles singing "Winter Song"... the list is quite long.

15. When do you plan to finish all your shopping? Sometime next week, obviously. By Wednesday, I'd say, since Wednesday night I will arrive somewhere fairly remote.

16. Do you know the names of all of Santa’s reindeer {without googling it}? Comet and Cupid and Donder and Blitzen, Dasher and Dancer... Vixen? I was informed by husband that Rudolph wasn't part of the gang, but what about the song? I'm confused and frustrated not to be able to google it.

17. When do you take down your Christmas tree? Sometime the first week of January, depending on schedule and mood.

18. Hardest person to buy for? Husband, brother, father. Men in general. 'Cept Seth. He's easy peasy, mostly.

19. Easiest person to buy for? My mom. We have similar enough tastes and interests.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Nothing right now. Isn't that shocking? We need something that signifies this family... not sure that's an angel. Probably a star!

21. Most annoying thing about this time of year? The busy-ness.

22. What do you want for Christmas? My two front teeth. Seriously, not much. Just a relaxing time with husband, safe travels for my family, a peaceful time for everyone... and if a few shiny, pretty things find their way into my stocking, well, that's fine too.

Here's the blog that started it all: Top 10 Christmas. If you're so inclined, play along on your blog--or post your response in the comments--and link back to her. The more the merrier!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

Ah well, could have called that one, eh? In fact, you probably did. No postings this week... zippo, zada, zilch. And the baked goods flying out of the kitchen? Like bats, I say. Yes. Bats. It was a truly wild and crazy week, filled with all kinds of curve balls and crazy circumstances, but yeah yeah yeah for Friday night.

Tonight I'm most grateful for:
* A great visit last weekend with my brother's family. That is always a great way to kick off the holidays for us.

* An extra weekend with Seth to further stretch our holiday time out with him. We will enjoy every minute of it and Mom promises not to be grumpy anymore, I do so solemnly swear (last night I was tired and rather grumpy).

* A sweet husband who has accommodated all my baking fits, forgotten items at home (yes, he went and got them for me, what a gem) when I've been in the throes of food set up, and odd random crying spells (did I mention I was grumpy last night?). I've been a real peach this week, I tell you. A handful, yes, but all the good ones are.

* Sweet girlfriends who tell me that while I might still look tired, I don't look AS tired as I did earlier in the week. Just wait until after the weekend. I plan to look entirely rested!

* An amazing lunch today--might be the fact that I didn't have to cook it? But still, really heavenly. A cup of roasted cauliflower soup (creamy goodness!), a pear/parmesan/pinenut salad, and a piece of my friend Sara's grilled cheese sandwich (to dip in my cauliflower soup!). All at one of our favorite lunch spots, T. Maccarone's. It was de-lightful. De-licious. And the company was de-lovely as well!

* The fact that I'm done with holiday baking and catering and all those fun things. Now the hard part is packing up a few goody boxes and getting them delivered over the weekend. Oh joy. And getting a few goody boxes into the mail as well...

* All the fun and happy ingredients of Christmas, aside from the edible ones. The joy, the festive atmosphere, the snow that didn't last as long as I'd have liked...

* For a snow (ice!) day with Seth at home on Tuesday. We didn't leave the house all day and loved it. Chopped and prepped and cooked and baked; when I needed things from the store, husband brought them to me. How handy!

* For a beautiful wooden comb that feels like butter in my hair. Check out this sweet early Christmas gift from my lovely friend Suzanne:

* For Christmas laughs like this one:

And this one:

And of course my favorite one, the angry elf scene:

I had forgotten how much I just love Elf!

* For an extended family that I've gotten to know better over the years, and especially more since the advent of Facebook. The past couple of weeks we've gotten many beautiful cards and letters--I've been especially tickled to get so many via email... I may just have to make that transition myself one of these years! Today we received a Christmas card from my mom's cousin Jeanne, and the sentiments it held were quite thoughtful and inspiring. She included a quote from Ralph Marston, a motivational author:

Live today, and live it fully. Start out by reminding yourself how truly precious life is, and move forward with that in mind.

See the beauty and take time to enjoy it. See the possibilities and make the effort to bring them into reality.

You can do things today that will forever change life for the better. Focus on your own special way to create value, and make it happen.

Pay attention to those things that truly matter. Give your love, your energy and your time to them, and your blessings will grow even more abundant.

No matter what the outside circumstances may be, let joy flow from inside you. And watch as it changes the world around you.

This is a day to be filled with beauty, with loving effort, with the wonder, joy and positive energy of being alive. Live this day fully while it is here, and its joys will be with you always.

Love those sentiments. Good words to live by. Thanks for the reminder, Jeanne.

I also just love this flower arrangement for Christmas, from an online shop called Nettleton Hollow. How beautiful.

Hard to believe we're a week away from Christmas. Seems like it has snuck up so quickly, in spite of those ridiculously early Christmas displays in some stores... but here we are, and there we'll be, and there will be plenty to be thankful for then, too.

Have a great Christmas countdown everyone! Now that the cooking's done, the posting can begin. Famous last words!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

Feels like Christmas, it really does. Biggest sign is that family is here... that always helps move me rapidly in the Christmas direction. And having a deadline to get the house un-sugar-crusted and un-flour-coated? Priceless. Thank goodness I do enjoy a deadline! (Just don't open the closet in the guestroom, please!)

This week I was reminded of many things to be thankful for, not the least of which is:

* A warm, clean house. The warm part I'm grateful for. The clean part I'm proud of! (Must do that more often, truly. It just feels so good to relax in a tidy, clean space. Ah.)

* A loving, thoughtful spouse.

* A cheerful, happy and affectionate kid.

* The beautiful alchemy of flour and sugar and butter and all the many variations available from those ingredients... and a few more ingredients (hazelnuts, chocolate, fruit, nuts...) tossed in for good measure too, I suppose.

* The cheer of Christmas music. And those great merry mixes from friends!

* The peace of a quiet day, just me and my baking, and my audiobooks.

* The generous spirit of friends, their kindness and laughter.

* The diversity of people and their backgrounds.

* Cookies, candy and cake. Isn't that what Vitamin C is all about? Ha. And then there's chocolate. (I think my sweet tooth is back, at least temporarily!)

* Knowing that my immediate family is safe and well and healthy. I don't take that for granted.

* The glow of the Christmas tree, and the multicolored bliss of our many and varied ornaments.

* The anticipation of snow.

* The laughter of my neices. Love those gutteral giggles. So glad they all made the trek over the mountains to see us this weekend!

* The fact that the whole house smells so good with all the Christmas baking--I go to sleep and it smells good and the scent is still there in the morning! Heavenly.

* That my arm/shoulder thing healed up quickly--really almost within 24 hours--and I was able to continue on with my week relatively unscathed.

* For hope and the spark that it brings, however faint for some. It is truly a powerful force... hope. For love and the warmth that it adds to our lives. For faith and the strength and courage it both gives and requires. For peace, wherever we can find it, however long we can hold on to it.

* For the multitude of lights around town, making these early evenings so much more bearble. My first choice after dark: home. But if I have to be out and about, hermit that I am (not usually), I appreciate seeing everyone's hard work in their festive outdoor lighting. And I'll keep the Griswold jokes to a minimum!

* For technology and all that it adds to our lives (no Luddites here, no sir!). I couldn't get a good picture of the tree with my point-and-shoot, and Kim was able to get the picture you see at the top on her iPhone and quickly emailed it to me--how handy! Things that we wouldn't have dreamt of 10 years ago we now take for granted... wonder where we'll be 10 years from now...

Here's a sweet video of a talented little ukelele player, riffing on Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours." I apologize for not being able to find the "real" version so you can see how the lyrics really go, but, frankly, I gave up after finding only covers or nonsense versions on YouTube... maybe when I'm a little more awake I'll find it!

Peace to all on this cold and frosty weekend!

Monday, December 7, 2009

That smarts!

So guess who took a face plant in the garage last night? Ouch.

I was carrying four FULL bowls of dog food and was distributing them around the garage per usual so that the animals can all have their dinner in relative peace and I think I snagged my foot on the corner of a dog bed.

Weird thing is I thought I'd only hurt my knee--came down hard on my right knee. But after I got up and in the house, after yelling expletives at the poor doggies who were quite confused by Mommy's spastic flail, I noticed my left arm/shoulder hurting quite badly too. I really have no idea how that happened except that was the arm holding all the bowls and I am sure I clenched up quite mightily to try and diminish the spray of dog food chunks flying about. It sort of worked... I had about three full bowls left to leave with them, and they happily snarfed up the stray food too.

So why am I telling you this? No particular reason other than I am in a constant state of, "Oh, I guess I need my arm to do that" right now--everything from reaching up into a kitchen cabinet to putting my hair into a ponytail, which I neglected to ask husband's help with before he left for work. So now I'm the scarecrow-haired woman who will go through the day with half of her makeup on. How fun for anyone I happen to see. And, I do have to leave the house for a meeting later today, otherwise I'd spare the world that particular treat. I'm thinking I'll put off things like finishing the Christmas tree and anything else that requires full mobility for a few days--Kim, you really might get to help me with it this weekend! I should be able to make the list of "things I can't do" quite long if I really work on it...

But I'm off to see what cracking eggs and beating flourless chocolate cake batter is like one armed. I am SO glad it's my left arm that's dangling limp and loose, not my right! Whew for that.

Oh, and this. I'm pretty sure I won't be doing anything like this today:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

Oh dear, it's been one of THOSE weeks again, when I look at the blog and reflect that while things certainly have happened since last Friday night, the translation of that activity that to "paper," alas, has not transpired. Sigh.

Still, grateful list on tap, many things to be thankful for:
* So grateful for a weekend, though there are many things to be done, not the least to clean up the tumbleweed-strewn yard (even though it's supposed to be pathetically cold out) and get the final touches on the tree. Rest will happen, and then work will happen. I swear it.

* Grateful we had extra scheduled time with the young lad Seth this week. It was a joy, even the homework hounding part.

* Seth had a band concert last night (no, I'm not grateful for THAT) and got to play his new (to him) trumpet and had a blast. He really enjoyed being able to provide inspiration to the 5th and 6th graders who watched the jazz band with wide eyes. That was him last year! And I'm grateful he's such a thankful kid for his newish shiny trumpet. It's a pretty one.

* I'm thankful for girlfriends and pierogies. A couple of my Canadian gal pals and I have a seven-year tradition of making pierogies and we spontaneously decided that THIS was the week--we usually do it sometime around the holidays. We made some lovely dumplings that I will post later this weekend. And my tummy is currently happily full with them too. Oh joy.

* I'm thankful for girlfriends and music. I did one of our bi-monthly swaps today with a couple of friends and it was happy, happy, happy. I have some fun new tunes (Christmas and otherwise) to explore. And it's always wonderful to catch up with the music-bearers, as well. Wonderful women to have in my life.

Remember these guys from last year? Here's their latest fun song, "The Christmas Can-Can."

* Took a quick jaunt over to TriCities with a good friend this week--I went to get all full-up on Christmas baking supplies for company events and my own little gifting indulgences, and she went to get a leg-up on holiday shopping. We both accomplished most of what we wanted to, and spent more time than we should have at TJ Maxx as well... well, a girl's gotta get a little Christmas for her too, don't you think? I'm grateful for our conversation (which is always interesting!), our PF Chang's lunch, and our efficient shopping methods!

Check out these wonderful cookie cutters I saw this week on a fun style blog I follow:

* Grateful for my dear friend Jen, who started chemotherapy this week, that she is surrounded by love and support and more friends (funny ones too) than you can shake a stick at. It's a good thing, and I know it will help sustain her through many a long chemo treatment.

* Thankful for carmel corn. Even though my sweet tooth is being a bit of a Mr. Grinch lately--I look at all my Christmas recipes and just say "meh" to most of them--there is nothing that gets me quite as happy as a bag of Bright's carmel corn, or Harry and David's moose munch, or... homemade! And the holiday gift baskets have started arriving at work, so I'm looking forward to the ones that make the cut to take the trip home--most end up being munched on at work...

* Grateful for my husband and our quiet weekend plans tomorrow. I am hoping to see snow! Maybe even touch snow!

* Grateful for all the fun and pretty things that make this season special. All the Christmas lights, all the "candles" in the windows, all the fun decorations and music. It's fluff and not central to what makes Christmas special to me, but it certainly is frosting on the cake!

And in case you haven't heard this lately, I think Linus says it pretty well:

Don't you just want to give him a big hug? That voice...

Peace to all on this very wintery weekend. Stay warm!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

Oh that all weeks could be so filled with the things you want to do, not the things you need to do... vacation weeks do seem to be stacked toward the former, don't they? This one was no exception. And given that it was a week that celebrates thankfulness, you'd think I could rummage up a bit of it? No problemo with that.

*Tonight my thoughts are especially with a friend I'm grateful to have reconnected with this past year or so, through Facebook. We were tight our first year of college and then not so much, and lost track of each other in the intervening decades... but it's been a true joy to be back in touch. She got a diagnosis just today that will take more of her time and energy in the coming weeks and months than any already busy wife and mother should have to give, but I know she'll kick butt on this illness and do what's needed to continue on with her life. I love you bunches, Jen, and I'm here, whatever you need, whenever you need it. Thanks for the fun visit this week in Portland and for accommodating my spastic ADHD shopping style (and inability to leave The Container Store without a truckload of wrapping paper!). You're a true pal.

*I'm grateful my parents came to be with us for Thanksgiving, and that my mom and I have an enjoyable time together in the kitchen. When you're working with close spaces, it's nice to get along, as the hips bump!

*I'm grateful we've had good weather here at the coast, so we could get out for walks. Nothing helps with the oh-my-did-I-eat-too-much-again feeling like an afternoon constitutional!

*I'm grateful for a lovely four years of marriage, and for a wonderful time of year to have our anniversary. Everyone should plan their anniversary around a national holiday, I say. And everyone should try and marry someone as wonderful as I did! (That last one might be more difficult. I'm speaking from experience here...)

*I'm grateful for warm fires.

*I'm grateful for pomegranate seeds, especially when my dad does the mining for them! Thanks, Pa.

*I'm grateful my brother and sister-in-law and family got back safely from vacation, and for the yummy treats they brought back too! Anything macadamia nut goes over big around here.

*I'm grateful for the season that is upon us, and for the opportunities it gives us to reach outside ourselves just a little bit more than we might the rest of the year. To think about those who could use a little cheer, warmth or smile, and remember that the symbols of the season mean so much more than the 30% off signs at whatever retail purveyor you may frequent (for me today, it was Eddie Bauer, and yes, I did get a sweater that I'm pretty grateful for too!).

*I'm grateful that I can finally put up the Christmas tree without feeling like I'm rushing the holiday, and listen to all my favorite Christmas music too.

*I'm grateful for Thanksgiving leftovers. To fill my plate on day 2 with all the same stuff as the day before--and not have been in the kitchen all day! How great is that? It was very great, indeed. Next year I'm going to see if I can get to day 2 without having to do day 1... not sure that's entirely doable, but hey, it's worth a whirl.

*I'm grateful for the little discount bookstore we frequent when we come to the coast. It is filled with recent-run books at amazing prices! We all stock up and Seth's already read 4 books this trip, so it takes the sting out of shelling out for them, just a bit. I hit biographies and cookbooks today... yee-haw! Now let the reading begin.

*Especially grateful for laughter. We watched a couple of movies over the break and I have to say that "Four Christmases" with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon brought out the chuckles (and a few true laugh-out-loud moments) in all of us. The story might be lacking a bit, but the physical comedy makes up for it. And you'll be oh-so-thankful for YOUR family instead of any of their four, too. Truly.

A little Alison Krauss for your weekend... her music brings back happy memories for me.

Have a blessed weekend.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pumpkin spice cake the eeeaaasy way

So I wanted an alternative to pumpkin or pecan pie this Thanksgiving. Really, only for myself. I'm picky like that--everyone else at our table would be just fine with the pies. But I've never been into pumpkin pie, and pecan pie is so rich I can only do a sliver of a slice maybe every other year or so... (Side note: I feel like my sweet tooth has seriously diminished the past year or so. Is this a sign of old age? I mean, I can still polish off a bag of carmel corn or a box of Junior Mints with popcorn at the movies every once in awhile, but when faced with a number of dessert options, I don't get nearly as excited as, say, I did in my 20s. So what's up with that? I'd say it would be a good thing for my jeans, but alas my fat tooth and my salty tooth have not diminished at all, so things are what they always are...)

OK, back to regularly scheduled programming... dessert. Usually by the time I'm done with my fixation on the Perfect Bite, and have sufficiently carved a dent in the Thanksgiving feast, dessert is something I think about an hour or two later... but still, when I get there, I want something I really want. So what was it going to be? I got quite a few suggestions from various peanut galleries, but when push came to shove, I still wanted a bit of a pumpkin fix, and seeing as how this Thanksgiving happened out of a less-outfitted kitchen than home, I wanted something I could throw together pretty easily. Yeah, that's my excuse for fiddling with a cake mix, right? Well, truth be told I'm not really a cake snob that way anyway. I get the concept of homemade cakes and all, but really? Betty figured out how to make a cake years ago, and I don't mind using her expertise to guide me along the way, not one bit.

So here's how it fell out: These little babies smelled so good, right out of the oven in the morning. They were of immediate interest to the whole household, and other than one little sliver of pumpkin and pecan pies that Pa had during the evening round of Mexican train dominoes, they were the dessert of choice for our turkey-coma crowd. The little acorn ones were especially popable.

Pumpkin spice cake
1 package spice cake
1 can pumpkin (28 oz.)
1/2 cup oil
1 package vanilla instant pudding
3 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients at medium speed for 5 minutes. Pour into greased and floured pan (recipe calls for bundt pan, but I used one of Williams-Sonoma's mini pumpkin pans, and one of the acorn cakelet pans as well). Bake 45 minutes (check after 35 minutes): this instruction is for the bundt pan--my mini pans took 15 minutes, tops. Let cool 10 minutes in pan. Cool completely. Frost as you will!

OK, not the best frosting job I've done, but quite yummy. Very. I will haul out this cake recipe again soon.

Thursday 13: 13 advent calendars... 1 for Thanksgiving and a dozen fun ideas for Christmas

I have always wanted an advent calendar, and yet, I've never bought one, made one, been given one... what's up with that? I hadn't thought of it much this year, and then happened upon the following countdown-to-Thanksgiving idea below (#1), and it got me thinking about other ways to count down to the holidays. I didn't run across any other Thanksgiving ideas, but the Christmas ones abound once you start looking!

Here are thirteen fun ways to look forward to the holidays. Mostly homemade, but if you need to purchase, #3 and #11 can accommodate:

1. This fun Thanksgiving advent calendar came from a fun craft web site/blog, Store & Style. I am definitely putting this on the craft calendar for next year!

2. Here's a fun advent calendar from another crafty blog I found recently. I would love opening up those little presents each day!

3. Paper Source has a fun option a la gingerbread house. I imagine that would be pretty easy to put together.

4. A homemade spool advent calendar, clever!

5. The list wouldn't be complete without a craft from Martha Stewart, would it? Here's her take on a photo advent calendar. I think it would be a lot prettier once you started adding the photos as the days go by. But a fun way to mark the holidays with remembering loved ones.

6. A pretty hanging calendar from a creative craft blogger.

7. From a dad's blog about parenting, here's a fun wall advent calendar. Something you can make with your kids...

8. Here's one I think I could manage--an envelope-style advent calendar. That's just about my speed!

And here's a colorful version of the envelope approach. Very pretty!

9. From a fun Scandinavian blog, here's a fun idea with lots of room for treats: the advent cones.

10. You know how handmade is all the rage right now? This advent calendar has a lovely homespun look to it. I love it!

11. If making it from scratch is not your bag, then let Garnet Hill take care of it for you! Here's an adorable way to countdown December: little hats or little buckets!

12. I found a fun photo gallery on Flickr of advent calendars that a young husband and wife made for each other over the years. Very cute. I think the coffee cup one is my favorite, though there are some other creative ones, too. I think you could fit some sweet love notes or trinkets and treats in those cups! A Starbucks gift card wouldn't hurt, either...

13. I think this one just might be my favorite. I love color, felt, embroidery and little stockings... this one has them all!

I hope these ideas have inspired you! May your countdown to the holidays be filled with fun and a little creativity.

For more Thursday 13s, visit here. Happy TT!

And a very happy Thanksgiving to you all! May your blessings be many in the coming year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy anniversary, husband!

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persevere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Anne Bradstreet

Monday, November 23, 2009

Countdown to Thanksgiving!

Oh the anticipation! Thanksgiving dinner is absolutely my favorite meal of the year. Hands down. And the fact that husband and I got married on Thanksgiving Day four years ago only adds gravy to my already happy mashed potatoes. Ah, tis true. Or as some would say, true story.
So what's on the menu this year? Well, the usual suspects, with maybe a surprise showing or two. We'll see. I like to keep a few things up my sleeve for the day of, but by and large it will look a lot like this:

*Turkey (we picked him up yesterday from Whole Foods, and he's a beaut. I have been told not to name him, but it's awfully tempting...)
*Mom's turkey loaf. Yum-o. Thanks for making and bringing, Ma.
*Mashed potatoes and gravy. Pretty standard, but heavenly. We're ricers around here, so the texture is To. Die. For.
*Roasted butternut squash
*Brussels sprouts. Going to try something new this year, which sounds absolutely amazing to me: Brussels sprouts hash with caramelized shallots.
*Green salad. We will probably customize this for each person, given that we have some people (the men that I love) who are not so into the fruity aspect of an autumn salad (apples! pears! pomegranate seeds!) and others of us who definitely are.
*Rolls. No other meal of the year needs rolls (for me). Thanksgiving dinner definitely does. How else do you sop up all the gravy?
*Cranberry sauce. Homemade, none of that gelled stuff. I almost forgot this little gem as I was writing--well, technically I DID forget it and had to come back and add it. How could I forget the item that helps make the Perfect Bite possible? Sigh.
*Pumpkin pie. For those who feel the need (not me).
*Some other dessert I haven't thought of yet... It could be cranberry in nature, it could be chocolate, it could also easily be custard-y... can't quite put my finger on it. But I'll know it when I see the recipe... Guess I better see it soon. If you have any ideas for me, please let me know! ASAP!

So after I was feeling quite pleased with myself for buying an organic, free-range, vegetarian-fed turkey yesterday, I made the mistake of reading this article in the NYTimes about the cruelty of eating animals, period... sigh. Not sure I'm with this guy on the whole completely-and-totally vegan thing, but he makes a point or two worth considering. I'll give it some more thought AFTER Thursday...

Off to make my grocery lists! Oh joy. It's the most wonderful time of the year... or very close to it!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

Peace. Quiet. No wind. Friday night... ahh.

What a week it has been! Sleepless nights with gale-force winds, then a little lull of quiet before, wham, the wind came back. But, we blew out of town (thankfully!) as the storm thundered on... Here's hoping the home-front is still standing when we return!

Tonight I'm grateful for my guys, that they can spend a day happily together while I'm in meetings, doing their "guy" things (ie. computers, book stores) and just hanging.

I'm thankful for the rain.

I'm especially grateful for good friends and the great laughs, stories and the camraderie we share. And to our teensy weensy writing group, I say: We did it! Month 1 and we all wrote somethin'. Whew. Now we can move past the fear of putting it out there, and maybe someday I'll even move past the autobiographical poem. Well, maybe.

I'm grateful to be on vacation with my guys, to look out at the week ahead and know that while it will be full of this and that, we'll be away, together, oh yeah!

This week brought my Pa's birthday and reminded me how grateful I am for him. I have learned so very much from him in my life, and I have a feeling I'm not done learning yet. I am thankful for all that he's taught me relative to work ethic, and how to make good work look beautiful too; he's especially artful at that. He's my role model on goal setting and determination and grit. Happy birthday, Pa. We're glad you're coming down to celebrate a good ol' U.S. Thanksgiving with us!

I spent the day today with one of the volunteer boards I'm on--this time with a state-wide group--and it was inspiring. I'm grateful for people who give of their time and resources in such a focused and dedicated way, bringing their work and life experience to the table for the betterment of children and families. The staff also inspire me with their passion and zeal, so consistently... glad to be involved.

I'm grateful for my iPhone, and the pictures I get from Hawaii right now. I'm jealous that I'm not there, just a little, but thanks for the laughs and the texts, dear Kim. And sick as it might be, I just love being able to check my email ANYwhere, ANYtime... mostly. So I can communicate with my other lovely sister-in-law about what medications which dogs need... sad, but true. I'm grateful for her, and the care she shows to all of us. I am blessed in the sister department, tis true.

I'm thankful for community, and the warm blanket of love that I see surround those in need, in times of great pain and sorrow. We have a local family who are dealing with a special dose of sadness right now, and though I'm not personally connected, I see enough to realize that they are loved and prayed for and with during this time--unlike anything I've ever witnessed before. It's beautiful and touching, and I can't help but believe they have found through their faith a way to make the best of a really horrible situation.

I'm thankful for sleep. Those nights of gale-force wind? Not so fun. But the peaceful nights without wind are precious, and lovely, and I intend to enjoy one of them tonight, yes I do!
I'm thankful for cheese. No kidding. I really am.
I'm grateful for my health, and the health of those closest to me. I don't take it for granted.
I'm very much grateful and thankful and cognizant of the season we are entering, and the symbolism it conjures. I love the magical qualities of Thanksgiving and Christmas and the idea that things can happen during this season that wouldn't be possible at other times of year: forgiveness, reconciliation, fence-mending, falling in love... Maybe I just remember fondly this season six (yes, count 'em SIX) years ago when a certain someone came to visit me at the catering kitchen... What's possible this year? Who can say... but I'm primed and ready for a miracle!

Sleep tight, all. Hope your weekend is as lovely as I intend for mine to be!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lime mousse for a friend

I pulled out an old favorite today: Lime mousse. This is a standby from the old catering days--a bucket of this stuff in little tart shells went a long way on a dessert buffet. And it was quite popular too... especially with my co-tenent in the building where my catering kitchen was housed.

So, today, thinking of Susan and her recent birthday and various work-related challenges, I busted out the white chocolate and limes and looked up the recipe on epicurious: Strawberry-Topped Lime Mousse Tart. 'Cept I skipped the strawberries and the tart... Susan likes the fluffy lime part best! This way it's just her and her spoon!

Lime mousse
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup chilled whipping cream
5 ounces good-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Baker's), chopped
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream

Place lime juice in small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand 10 minutes to soften. Bring 1/4 cup cream to simmer in medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low. Add white chocolate; stir until melted and smooth. Add gelatin mixture; stir to dissolve. Mix in peel. Chill until cold and beginning to thicken but not set, stirring often, about 45 minutes. Beat sugar, sour cream and remaining 1/2 cup cream to medium-stiff peaks in medium bowl. Fold whipped cream mixture into white chocolate mixture. Spoon into whatever bowls you'd like to serve in (this would make about 4-6 decent sized servings)--or tart shells! Chill until mousse sets, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Gelatin, gellin'

I spread the mixture out in a shallow bowl to chill faster!

Lime mousse, ready for transport to its proper home. I very much enjoyed licking the bowl... I may have to bust that recipe out again soon. I am not much of a white chocolate fan most days, but it is disguised enough in this recipe that the lime can shine through.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

Ah the sweet, dark bliss of Friday night. Ready for a bit of relaxing, yessiree.

This week was one of the good ones, in the Seth sense especially. Lots going on in his world, but I'm grateful for his fairly persistent cheer through good times and challenges. He got more than his fair share of "lectures" (what he calls them, I call them "Mom's wisdom, which she is happy to share") this week, on everything from friendship to good sportsmanship to finishing homework before hopping on the computer. I think it's time to start writing these down so I have a good workable script for the next few years... will save me time and energy in the long run, don't you think? But I'm grateful too that he (so far) takes these things to heart and works to do better next time. Knock. On. Wood. Pray. Daily.

Breakfast for the work gang went well Thursday morning. I am grateful for the ability to catch a few zzzzs when I was done--woke up at an ungodly hour (not when I needed to, but EARLIER!) and will probably play catch up all weekend. And, I'm grateful for the opportunity to still get to cook for a large crowd on occasion. It's fun to do. Sometimes, when you're running really close to the wire (not yesterday, but I do have memories...) it can really get the adrenaline going.

Spent the afternoon with fellow volunteers and staff members for a state-wide board I'm on, and came away grateful for the opportunity to be involved with those who choose such an overt service for others as their life's work. I know we can all help people wherever we are, whatever we're doing, and I'm all for that. But there's something significant about making the choice to do the daily, hard work of attempting to break the cycle of poverty, child abuse and neglect that really inspires me.

I'm grateful for a quiet (sort of) weekend ahead, and a great guy to spend it with.

I'm grateful that the hot tub is calling my name. It's the perfect crisp night to enjoy it.

I'm grateful for pears and brie. Together.

I'm grateful that for THE VERY FIRST TIME EVER, I said, "I'm so sorry, officer," and I didn't get a ticket. That has never happened before, and sadly, there have been many colorful lights flashing in my rearview mirror over the years.

I'm grateful that I had a chance to reconnect with a childhood friend who is headed in to some tricky neurosurgery on Monday morning. It was good to hear her voice and just briefly catch each other up on our lives and the blessings that we both have, in spite of her current health challenges. She'll be in my prayers Monday morning.

I'm grateful for sweet little toddlers that I get to spend time with and then go home and away from! I volunteered with a bunch of cherubs this past week and was struck by the variety of personalities and dispositions. I can't help but look at them and wonder what they'll be like in a decade, and will Little Miss X ever learn to use her inside voice? I hope so.

I'm grateful for laughter.

I'm grateful for sleep. Did I mention that one already? Well, it deserves a second go-around. I'm doubly grateful!!

I discovered a fun new calligrapher this week: Lisa Ridgely. That's her work at the top of this post, as well as below. I just couldn't save the October one for NEXT fall, I had to share it now! I'm grateful for people like her, who post their work to inspire the rest of us!

And here's a fun new musical gal I discovered this week. I had this song going round and round my brain quite a bit, quite happily.

Good weekend, all! May the peace and rest renew you and carry you on to another week!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cinnamon roll coffee cake

There's a company-wide breakfast this coming week and I've been looking for a cinnamon roll or a coffee cake that I could make in advance so that I don't have to turn the ovens on at 3 a.m. to have it all hot and ready in time--you know, something I could make a wee bit in advance... When I saw this recipe for cinnamon roll coffee cake in one of my holiday baking magazines, I thought, "This could be the answer to my dreams!" And I do believe it is. I decided to make it one day (yesterday) and then warm it up the following morning (today!) and see how it fared... it performed quite nicely, and judging by the sizeable dent we made in in for breakfast, I think it's a keeper.

Cinnamon roll coffee cake
Makes one 9-inch cake, 8-10 servings

For the caramel topping
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
Pinch of table salt
1 cup chopped toasted pecans (as you can see from the picture above, I used sliced almonds I had on hand. It was yummy enough, but I think I will use pecans for the real deal this week.)

For the streusel
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. table salt

For the cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt
2 eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350°; coat a 9-inch-round, 2-inch-deep cake pan with nonstick spray. Stir together the 3/4 cup brown sugar, cream and the pinch of salt for the caramel topping in a measuring cup. Pour caramel into the prepared pan, spreading to coat bottom of the pan. Sprinkle pecans over caramel. Process the 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup fIour, the 1/2 stick butter, cinnamon, and the 1/4 tsp. salt for the streusel in a food processor, pulsing until mixture is sandy but without clumps; set streusel aside.

Whisk the 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/2 tsp. table salt for the cake in a bowl; set dry ingredients aside, whisk together buttermilk, yogurt and eggs in a measuring cup with a pouring spout; set aside. Using a hand mixer, cream together the 1 stick butter and the 3/4 cup granulated sugar in a bowl only until combined. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture to the creamed mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Blend only enough to incorporate the dry ingredients into the batter. Spread half of the batter over the caramel in the cake pan, then sprinkle with half of the streusel. Carefully spread remaining batter over streusel in cake pan and top with the remaining streusel.

Bake coffee cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50-60 minutes. Cool cake for 5 minutes on a rack, then run a paring knife around the sides to loosen cake. Invert cake onto a serving plate while hot. Let coffee cake cool slightly before serving.

So as I learned today, it is possible to make the cake in advance and then rewarm (I did about 20 minutes in a 250 degree oven) and proceed with then turning it out onto a plate. I also used a springform pan rather than a regular cake pan, not being sure how it would "turn out" onto the plate... I think I'm glad I did, though it's hard to know. I probably won't risk having cakes breaking all over the place in the future, and will just stick to the springform, where it's so easy to flip it and then gently pry off the pan's bottom.

The one thing I think I might add to the cake on Thursday morning--to give it the full cinnamon roll effect--is to drizzle a little cream cheese icing over the top for good measure. I'll let you know how that goes!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

Hmmm. I may have brought it on myself by referencing the occasional non-sunshiney day last Friday night. These things happen… So there was a midweek bump of grumpiness that has since been rectified by a spontaneous road trip and the arrival of the lad Seth. Oh joy.

This week I am especially grateful for the space and time to recover from a sleepless night. A day of sifting through holiday recipes and magazines (and not much else) is a gift that I don’t take for granted.

I’m grateful for my Seattle sister-in-law and our check-ins on all things exercise and nutrition oriented… and even a little adult conversation every now and again… (no, not THAT kind of adult conversation, really, just grown up topics, you know).

Grateful that Seth has so many people who love him. He played in a jazz recital this week and there were lots of people there clapping just for him. Well, they clapped when other kids played too, just to be polite, of course.

This week I was reminded, as I am every week, that I am blessed in the husband department.

I have not stopped being grateful that the growing season is over, but I am already missing REAL tomatoes and REAL basil and REAL fresh fruit. I was putting together a fruit platter for a small catering this week and it was quite obvious that we’re already back to melons and grapes and… more melons and grapes. You can throw in a pale strawberry from California if you want, but I didn’t want… Be that as it may, I am still grateful to not be out harvesting daily in the garden. Sort of.

I am grateful for the time change. The mornings have been particularly lovely this week with sunshine peeking through the clouds, and it’s nice to see that all an hour earlier! On the flip side I am not so down with the darkness descending an hour earlier… but as with most things, it seems, you gotta take the flip side too. Shucks.

Grateful for sunshine. I sat with my back in the sun and positively baked as I was looking at holiday menus, refining my lists of "must makes." It was fantastic! I felt like a cat! (No licking, though. Are you relived?)

Grateful for good reads. I finished The Lovely Bones this week and was sad that it ended, I enjoyed it so thoroughly. I will probably read (listen) to it again before too long, and I will now definitely see the movie. I know it will be sad and I will have a hard time with pieces of it, but if they can capture the tone of the book and the beautiful writing, I’ll be good. I’ll be the one sobbing in the back of the theater. Just look away and ignore me. I also finished Columbine within the last week or so, and it’s a whole 'nother read… intense and sad, but not in a fantastic-imaginary way at all. So real, so hard, but very compelling to me. So now on to new reads… maybe a bit lighter? We’ll see. The stack is high… we’ll see what leaps off next.

Grateful for good friends, for support, encouragement, ideas, green gloves and coffee.

Grateful for boots. I love boots! It is SO boot weather. One caveat: I do NOT like those ankle boots with heels that people are wearing with dresses. I just don’t. Sorry, can’t help it. Carry on, and I’ll try not to stare.

Grateful for sweaters. I am such a sweater gal. No, not in that va-va-va-voom 50s kind of way, just in the “let’s wrap up and be cozy since it’s cold outside” kind of way... I’m a fine candidate for a Slanket, don’t you think. Or a Snuggie? Hard to say, so many options...

Grateful for the creative spark, in whatever form it comes. For me, it's downstairs in the (messy) basement in a just-finished embroidery project, a couple of in-the-works calligraphy projects, some half-baked applique jobs, two oh-so-close-to-done patchwork projects and a myraid of other snips and clips and threads. For my dear friend Corinne it's her weekly (sometimes thrice-weekly!) wedding flowers that thrill brides. Check out this great photographer I found this week; not only is his wedding photography great, but check out the food shots too! Holy cow, he's something.

So my friend Megan got me hooked on the new Michael Buble album this week… with the following video.(I had downloaded the songs but not even listened to the album yet!) And then I kind of clued in that he’s doing press for the album right now and he’s EVERYwhere… on Letterman singing the Top 10 list, sticking his foot in his mouth on Rachael Ray, singing on Oprah (which made his mom very happy), you name it, he’s been doing the dog and pony show. And I’ve always been a fan, but watching him this week I became not just a fan of his music, but of him—his style, his cheekiness, his Argentinian girlfriend (she’s the girl in the video), his real-ness. He IS Canadian, after all. He MUST be real. Well, believe it or not, naive me thinks he really is really real. So there.

And of course, if we're talking Michael, I had to go back to his previous albums... and this video, which I also love:

So yes, I'm grateful for Michael Buble. He makes me happy. I imagine he makes a lot of people happy... happy music!

Happy weekend, everyone. I plan to enjoy mine to the fullest. Many hugs all around.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

In need of perspective? Me too.

I had forgotten how much I like to hear Carl Sagan's voice. This video was just the shot of perspective I have been in need of this week. Carl and I may not agree on everything, but I appreciate his thoughtful way of stating his case and allowing others their beliefs as well.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday matinee recommend: Bright Star

Warning: This review is much more entertaining if read in a British accent. Just saying.

It was a lovely sunny Sunday here, one of those last perfect days that nudges you toward denial that winter will ever arrive. It will not come. It will not come. (Then, wham, snow flies next week. Stranger things have happened...)

Befitting such a day, I took to the theater with a girlfriend for a matinee. We saw "Bright Star," Jane Campion's take on the love affair of John Keats and Fanny Brawn. It was an extraordinarily beautiful movie, shot with all the right angles and light to make even the muddiest and muckiest scenes of England circa 1819 look romantic. And the summer scenes--picnicking and flower sniffing, catching butterflies, cavorting in the meadows... yup, romantic as can be. Quite swoonable. Also quite slow, however. I kept waiting for something to happen. But as there really wasn't much of a plot outside some drama about the couple not being an appropriate match (he's broke, she'll need to marry someone with money) until he falls ill, I had to be satisfied with the beauty of the surroundings, and some recitations of Keats' poetry. And I was satisfied, mostly.

Abbie Cornish was convincing as the lovestruck Fanny and Ben Whishaw as Keats was suitably anemic enough as to plausibly be fallen by TB. The uber-annoying and persistently plaid-clad Mr. Brown (Keats' best friend and sometime benefactor, played by Charles Schneider) provides a bit of acid to this otherwise sweet froth. However, it is never explained what on earth is compelling enough about Brown that Keats' would chose to spend any time whatsoever with him; he's really quite the pill--it's obvious that Brown wishes he had an ounce of Keats' talent, and mightily resents any attention Keats shows toward Fanny. Tiresome.

Some of the details I enjoyed were of the Brawn family's life together--Christmas dinner by the fire; the men of Hamstead Heath singing a classical composition all together, voices taking on the parts of strings; sweet little sister Toots (she stole a lot of scenes) showing off her sewing to big sister Fanny... really, just about any scene with Toots in it was fine with me. She's a delightful little actress, Edie Martin. The attention to detail throughout the film was evident, and did a lot to carry it past the somewhat superficial character development and set the picture apart from other similar Austenesque movies.

Being old and crotchety as I am (!), the rather rapturous romance was at times worthy of a chuckle. It was all a bit overwrought... I can't breathe if I'm away from you for too long... Really? I want to commit suicide when a short love letter arrives, rather than a long one... Seriously? I guess if you're aiming to be known as one of the greatest romantic poets of all time, it's best to shoot for the flowery and angst-filled end of the spectrum. And even though a few of the reviews I read claimed the movie would do nothing to pull people toward Keats' poetry, I beg to differ. There was plenty in the movie to compel toward his work, I thought.

So I have no number to assign... I'll need to think about that whole numbers and stars thing if I ever review another movie (was this even a review? Maybe, sort of.), but for now I'd say it's a lovely little Sunday afternoon film. For girls. And maybe, just maybe, the men who love them, if they're needing a few woo points...

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