All of Us!

All of Us!
Finally! All together with enough time to spare (??) to capture a picture of all six of us in the same spot, same time. Now this is a precious photo! I tried to get one last year for our Christmas card and didn't succeed. So when I had the chance I threw out the lasso and rounded everyone up (at my niece's graduation party) to grab a couple snapshots. My oldest son, Casey, and his girlfriend Nika are on the left; and my youngest son, Brady, and his girlfriend Jenne on the right; that leaves Bob and I in the center. (Bob is the one who doesn't look very happy about having his picture taken!!)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Big Apple: Day 5, Leaving NYC --There's No Place Like Home

[Sidenote:  As you know, it was almost a year ago -- October 2011 -- that I went on this trip, so I figured with the one-year anniversary coming up, I'd better darn tooting get my butt in gear and get this posted.  So here it is.  The last stop in my big adventure.]

I can't believe it!  It is actually Day 5 and it is time to go home.  This has been such a wonderful, memorable trip for me, that it is almost too hard to put into words -- oops -- except for the (probably) thousands that I have already shared with you already! LOL!

Well, what would this journey be if I didn't include one more post -- so let's giddy-up and take it home, folks!

Getting up what we thought was early enough to catch an 8:00 flight sometimes isn't necessarily early enough.  Did I mention I went to bed at 2:00 last night (this morning)?  I got up at 4:30 and laid there for a few minutes. Then by 5:00 figured I had better hit the shower.  I was going to try to do some packing last night - well, we all were but we were just too plain tired.  It has been a wearing week.  I have kept everyone up late at night by me just being up; I got everyone up earlier than they are accustomed to by getting up early and turning on the light (even if just to read) or go on my computer; and, poor Casey, has had to work through all this, too!  Not to mention that Nika is probably sick of being confined with me in the gotta-keep-going mode that I shifted into once we landed in NY.  Good thing when we got home last night that I had Casey run and get me some OJ to have by my bed.  I certainly didn't want to have to hit our wetbar -- too expensive!  But I suffered another low this morning -- not good timing, but, I'm sorry, sh_t happens!

Yep, and it sure did this morning.  I was running around trying to pack and get everything together, making sure we (I) didn't leave anything behind ... chargers, clothes, shoes, shoes, (did I mention shoes?).   When I finished getting ready in the bathroom, I literally pushed everything into my toiletries bag and then we were shoving shoes into anything that would hold them.  Ugh!@!

We loaded up (yes, I am not being slight here when I say loaded up --- Casey and Nika will attest to that -- poor things).  We are headed downstairs to catch a cab and drat, I'm afraid I'm going into a low again.  I told Casey to run across the street quickly while we hailed a cab -- okay, we had to have a SUV cab -- so he could grab me some orange juice.  I was extremely afraid that during our ride to the airport, we would get stuck in traffic and I would start to bottom out.  So we needed to take the time now.

The cab ride to the airport seemed to go quickly.  We paid the cabbie, jumped out, unloaded and here is where I get extremely lost. Once we enter the airport terminal, I’m not sure where to go.  Casey and Nika have been here dozens of times, so I’m leaving this part up to them.  I’m just following behind.  Earlier this week, Casey did some finagling with our seats, so we ended up with seats in the emergency exit section.  I didn’t quite know what that meant but they seemed happy, so I was, too. 

Next, we bolted off to the TSA checkpoints.  At O’Hare, I had sailed through with flying colors.  I was hoping for the same this time through, too.  As we got in line, I realized that I hadn’t pulled out all my diabetic supplies which I had done in O’Hare.  I was starting to panic a little thinking I was going to cause a problem and delay us.  Casey started saying quickly take off your shoes and put them in the bins, give me your IPad and laptop and we’ll put those in here, too.  Nika and Casey both said don’t worry about your jewelry because Nika never takes her’s off and she never gets stopped.  Okay, again, I am just here to listen and keep moving the line forward, especially when we had a group of big guys behind us who looked (and sounded) like they were off to a weekend trip to Vegas.  I didn’t want to be stomping on their parade. 

Everything went through fine ... that is until I started walking through.  Beep!  “Step back ma’am and walk through again.” Beep!  Oh crap! “Ma’am, please come over here so we can give you a full body cavity search.” Okay, no, they didn’t quite put it that way, but that was what was rolling around in my mind.  Casey and Nika were quickly slipping their shoes back on, gathering up our stuff (again, mostly MY stuff), snickering a little while watching me beginning the pat down.  All the time I was thinking the underwires in my bra and imagining having to strip that off in front of everyone – yes, I know, wild imagination.  I was sure they would make me go behind some x-ray machine while I was taking it off and so all the world could watch from the other side ... yep, still wild imagination.  A very nice, female TSA worker started working her way down through, carefully patting me down.  After she was done and while I was explaining to her that this was my second flight on a first-time flying experience, she whispered to me “I thought I would tell you that it was your necklace that set it off.”  Couldn’t help it but my evil eye popped out and immediately went to my traveling companions!  They, of course, thought it was funny.  Not funny enough, though, if we were going to miss our flight.  So off we flew with our luggage weighing us down (okay, again, yes, mostly my luggage as we each had a carry-on bag).  That doesn’t include, of course, the three checked bags which were all mine. 

Once we were on the airplane, Casey and Nika settled in for sleepy time.  Not me.  I was going to savor these moments as best I could.  And, on this return trip, I was doing it with plenty of leg room.  Now, heaven forbid that something would happen, and I would have to be “in charge” of the emergency exit.  But the leg room sure was nice.  I was able to twist and turn, and stretch the whole trip.  The return trip did, however, have another first for me.  Using the airplane bathroom.  I drank quite a bit of coffee which I was afraid of doing because my bladder does not bode well with coffee but it is a necessity so we ... pardon the pun ... go with the flow.  This meant I now had to "pay the piper" and witness first-hand the horrors of what I was told from others about “don’t use the airplane bathroom!”  From “it’s too cramped,” “you’ll get claustrophobic,” to imagining getting sucked into and stuck on the toilet – yes, I was a little phobic about this next adventure.  Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.  I didn’t get stuck, I didn’t get sucked in and I didn’t go manic from being enclosed in a broom closet big enough for a mop and two brooms. 

All in all, the flight back just wasn’t too bad.  I got “felt up” in front of God and everyone, had a potty break that didn’t go terribly wrong and was able to stretch out and nod off for a couple minutes, too, all the while taking in the scenery from down below and up above whenever there was some. 

Once we landed at O’Hare, we caught a cab, loaded it up and headed back to Casey and Nika’s apartment where my car had sat for a few lonely days.  The kids were tired and I know longing for another nap and I, too, just wanted to get home.  So, I said my good-byes, thank you’s and love you’s, jumped in my car, hooked up my GPS and set out for the Wisconsin countryside.  Getting to Casey’s apartment always seems like it takes longer than when I leave.  Chicago was kind to me on my return trip and didn’t make me wait on the freeways.  I made it as far as the Belvidere Oasis rest stop and knew it was time to fuel up the car and my body.  I am one who usually only drinks coffee in the morning.  (Remember my mention earlier that it goes right thru me!)  But I needed caffeine, so I went inside and got a large Starbucks to go.  I knew it would last me quite awhile which was good to keep me awake.  But no matter how much caffeine you have, sometimes you just need to move around a little more or the stagnant position you are sitting in makes you sleepy.  When I realized that I had missed my turnoff at Rockford, I took the next one at South Beloit.  Once I had driven through that burb and was in the country, I pulled over, got out and walked around the car a couple times.  Yes, it was 2:00 in the afternoon and I was tired.  I jumped back in and got to the other side of Monroe before I had to repeat the same act.

Here, is when I clicked my shiny red shoes (okay, not shiny, but they were red slip-on tennis shoes!), and repeated, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”  Before I knew it, I was pulling in the driveway.  I was tickled to see Bob, Pongo, Wolfie and the cats and they all greeted me graciously, too.  Bob, of course, was wondering what foreign country I had traveled to and it seemed like I had only been gone a few days so how could I come home with all this luggage.  Men -- they just don't understand what women need to have with them so they are prepared at all times. 

I have to say -- it is fun to travel, it’s fun to fly, it’s fun to see and experience new adventures, but yes, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home. 

The Big Apple: Day 4, Part 6: SoHo Shopping and Dinner in Little Italy

Nika, me and Casey at Il Picolo Bufalo in Little Italy
The final part of my last day in New York City is about to come to a close.  What better way to top it off than shopping and Italian dining.  

After leaving the American Museum of Natural History, Nika and I hopped back on the subway and headed back to the hotel to freshen up.  There we met Casey, just finished with work, and off we went to my next big adventure – shopping at Soho and 5th Avenue – and then dining in Little Italy.  

I have to say that Casey was certainly right when he kept instructing me to not, not, not pack much for clothes, etc.,  when I made my trip to New York.  He said the shopping was out of this world.  I strongly (in my mind) disagreed, thinking that the prices would be "out of this world" and that I would find nothing.  Huh! Well, let me be the first to confess -- I was wrong, wrong, wrong!!! He kept telling me that we would head out to Soho to do some shopping and that I would be fascinated with what I would find.  Okay, again, I was wrong, he was right!

When we stepped off the subway at Spring Street I immediately fell in love.

Trendy shopping, it's cobblestone streets and cast iron buildings.  SoHo is called the heart and soul of New York City.  And with its prominent place in being the backdrop for many movie locations, fashion shoots, and one of the best places in the city to catch a glimpse of famous stars, many of whom live in SoHo, I can certainly see why.  

SoHo is shorthand for south of Houston (pronounced "how-stun"). It is the first official acronym given to a neighborhood in NYC.  The official historical district from 1973 together with Houston to the north, is north of Canal Street, and between West Broadway and Crosby Streets.  The history of SoHo dates back to the early 1600's when it was just grassy meadows where Indian Tribes settled.  This neighborhood has gone through many drastic changes over the years to get to what it is today.  

Nika and I
We strolled down the streets of SoHo taking in the many shops and storefronts while browsing about inside to find some great deals.  We did some haggling with street vendors and with ethnic shop owners.  I snagged a Coach purse, some (5) shoes, some gifts, some clothes.  While we were “negotiating” on a price for my Coach purse and a Louie Vitton purse for Nika, a group of guys gathered close by to anther street vendor located next to our salesman.  I think he was thinking the same thing we were – something might be brewing and neither he nor us wanted to be witness to or in the middle of whatever transpired.  It worked out well in our favor, as his expression was continuously, “hey, you are killing me here” all the while aware that a storm might be brewing to his right.  But, he has never dealt with a Wisconsin girl who has learned Garage Sale Haggling 101 from her mother.  They have never published the book, but it is lessons you pick up when you are young and handed down from generation to generation – you might be embarrassed to see your mom do it, pledge you would never, ever do the same thing, would never, ever attend a garage sale, let alone be caught dead “bargaining” on a price – but yet that day comes and the next thing you know, you look in the mirror and, yes, you've grown up and you are looking, acting and sounding just like your mom trying to snag a deal.  Man, those genes certainly don’t fall far from that family tree, do they!

My new short rainboots

Casey and Nika had both forewarned me that haggling was allowed.  I told them to step back and let Momma into the front line with her assault rifle.  I was going to snag a deal, come hell or high water.  In this case, it might be a neighborhood (or gang, for that matter) brawl, so either the vendor or I was going to have to kneel down to the other.  I was determined it was not going to be me, and I triumphantly walked away the victor for both Nika and myself.  The guy didn’t know what hit him! Huh!  I am told that is may be why they pack up shop and go running when they see (or hear) a Wisconsin girl coming down the street!  Hah!

Having pulled off enough deals to satisfy my shopping craving (well, that and I was being told we were going to have to start shipping things home if I didn’t stop), and the fact that my feet were starting to hurt for all the walking that day, a mutual decision was made that it was time to get some grub. 

Loaded down with packages, we strolled off to Little Italy to have dinner. Eccentric Little Italy in New York City was once the energetic home of most of NYC’s Italian population.  Now it is the top tourist destination in Manhattan.  The narrow cobblestone streets, located on Mulberry Street between Broome and Canal Streets, lay beneath decades-old fire escapes lined with Italian restaurants.  It is said that these cosy restaurants serve up some of the best Italian food outside of Italy.

Two pairs of brown heels, my black/white shoes and my furry (ugg-like) boots.

We were headed for Il Picolo Bufalo - a quaint, little Italian restaurant with fantastic food, where Casey had eaten before a few times and remarked at the start of my visit that we had to go there.  This place labels itself as the "Taste of Naples in New York -- in the Heart of Little Italy."  And it certainly did not disappoint.  It truly was fine authentic Italian cuisine. 

After stuffing our bellies, it was time to think about heading back.  Since my feet were now thinking they needed a vacation and, as I said, we were loaded down with packages from our shopping excursion, I made the executive decision that we were not going to try to take and juggle all this stuff on the subway (okay, maybe I was a little frightened about taking all my "priceless" treasures on the subway), so we hailed a cab and off we went back to our hotel.  The original plan, of course, was that we would try to do one of two things at this point -- go up the Empire State Building (too many packages to carry up that) and/or carriage ride in Central Park (it was raining, so we nixed that idea, too).  Life is so hard when you have so many options, but dang it, my feet were hurting from so much walking, and since they were protesting (quite loudly, I might add), we figured it best to head for home (or, in this case, our hotel).
Some chocolates I picked up for Bob at the Willy Wonka store in Times Square.

We arrived back at the hotel, saved from the rain by taking the cab ride, and I began unpacking my "finds" for the evening.  As we got ready for bed and I rummaged through my purchases, then crawled into bed with my laptop to download the pictures I had taken that day plus make notes of the adventures we had taken, too, that day, I reminisced about the day. I got to do a lot of shopping. I got to do a little wheeling and dealing on prices.  This was fun.  It was almost like not even being away from home – somewhat akin to garage saleing in Wisconsin! Ha!  You can take the girl out of Wisconsin, but ... you can't take Wisconsin out of the girl.

So, here we are.  The last night of my big adventure.  I have to say it -- what a perfect ending to a perfect trip.  

But now it is time to get some ZZZZZs because in the morning "I'm Leaving On A Jet Plane."

Banana and Chocolate Chip Muffins: A Whole Lot of Goodness

Times have been tough as of late.  The world around us seems to have fallen into a deep, deep hole of despair.  With the recent nearby fire claiming lives, the aftermath of truth spilling out of the depths of hell from that, the bombings overseas, all the unnecessary killings, sometimes we need to seek the comfort of something more familiar.  I am not saying that we need to replace it with food, but sometimes a little sweetness never hurts.  So I say, let’s try to kill off the iniquities of this world with one bite of savory sweetness at a time.  I’m going to start with these banana and chocolate chip muffins. 

When my son, Brady, had his recent ACL surgery, I stopped in to sit with him while his girlfriend Jenne was at work.  On the second day after surgery, she had made some banana and chocolate chip muffins for him to eat since he had to take all these pain meds and needed something in his stomach.  Brady offered one to me and I have to say that I was totally pleased at how moist and delicious they were.  I asked Jenne for the recipe which she gave me with a little sidenote -- that she changed up the recipe a little by adding in some whole wheat flour and flaxseed. 

When I pulled out the recipe the other day, I decided to change it up even more using all whole wheat flour and flaxseed. All in all, I think it would be great either way.  

The ingredients

Hmmm, you're saying, did she just say flaxseed?  Yes, flaxseed.  It has been titled one of the most effective plant foods on Earth as there is some evidence it may help decrease the risk of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes and may reduce the inflammation that accompanies certain illnesses (such as Parkinson's disease and asthma) by helping to block the release of certain pro-inflammatory agents. Studies have indicated that flaxseed may have a protective effect against breast, prostate and colon cancers. But, it should be used in the form of ground or milled flaxseed as your body is better able to digest it versus whole flaxseed which passes through your intestines undigested and hence provides no health benefits. 

Flaxseed is high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and lignans (which act as antioxidants).  The Institute of Medicine has established that an adequate adult daily intake for omega-3 fatty acids would be between 1.1 to 1.6 grams a day. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed provides 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.  You can use flaxseed in baking, such as cookies, muffins and other baked goods by substituting it for the eggs and/or oils/butter; or you can add a teaspoon to hot/cold breakfast cereal, a teaspoon to mayo or mustard for sandwiches or a teaspoon to an 8-oz. yogurt.  However, it should be noted that it’s use is not recommended for pregnant and/or breast-feeding women.

Mixing the Batter
As I mentioned above, I ended up using all whole wheat flour instead of white.  Now, don’t be confused here, as I am saying I used whole wheat flour not wheat flour.  The difference - wheat flour (or white flour, enriched flour, etc.) is the when the whole wheat is harvested, all the nutrients are removed, and then a few are added back in.  Fundamentally, wheat flour is white flour.  Whole wheat flour, on the other hand, is just as it states –  whole wheat with all the nutrients left in.  

In this recipe you can use some of each if you like, or all white or all whole wheat. In some recipes the 1:1 ratio doesn't quite hold up as you may have to add some more liquid for whole wheat substitutions.  Items baked with whole wheat flour tend to be denser and healthier.  The good news is that ¼ cup of whole wheat flour counts as 1 ounce in the Grains Group.  For a 2,000-calorie diet, the daily recommendation is about 6 ounces; ¼ cup of whole wheat flour has 15% of the daily recommended amount of fiber.

When you consider whole wheat flour vs. white flour, the major difference is the nutritional value. Most of the essential fibers and nutrients are absent in white flour while whole wheat flour has more fiber and more nutrients. The bottom line is that whole wheat flour is healthier than white flour and should be integrated into your regular diet. 

But if you want to "come over to the dark side" a little at a time, a good rule of thumb would be to use 1 part whole wheat flour for every 3 parts white flour.  For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of flour, use ¼ cup whole wheat flour and ¾ cup white flour.  Then once you have adjusted to using whole wheat, you can increase the ratio as time goes on.

I used my tablespoon scoop for just the right amount of batter in each muffin hole.

Whichever way you decide to go -- with the flaxseed or without -- whole wheat flour or white flour -- this recipe is delicious either way.

I do need to give some kudos, though, to Jenne's Aunt Marsha.  The original recipe appeared in the latest Primrose Church Cookbook as Banana Bread.  The banana bread, as is, I have to believe would be just as fantastic.  So, there you have it -- you can have your bananas with your chocolate and still be eating healthy!

The delicious end product!
Below you will find the original recipe.  If you substitute ground or milled flaxseed, make sure you read the label on the package.  It will direct you on how to do the substitution.  For the directions below, I yielded a dozen muffins that were decent size (not overly huge, and not small, but just right).  Enjoy!

The original recipe:

Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1-1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup mashed bananas
3/4 tsp. baking soda
Optional: Nuts or chocolate chips (mini’s are good too)

Mix all ingredients together well.  Add nuts or chocolate chips at the end.  Pour into a sprayed loaf pan or muffin tins.  Bake at 350 degrees F.

**If you double the batch and put in muffin tins, you will yield about 30.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Big Apple: Day 4, Part 5, 3rd Portion of AMNH - Dinosaurs

This portion of our little adventure into the museum was absolutely dynamite!! It was so neat to be able to get up close and personal with the remains of so many historic pieces of past.  Let's not dawdle.  Keep the line moving ... as our next stop will be in the fourth-floor halls which include the Hall of Vertebrate Origins, Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs (recognized by their grasping hand, long mobile neck, and the downward/forward position of the pubis bone, they are forerunners of the modern bird), Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs (defined for a pubic bone that points toward the back), Hall of Primitive Mammals, and Hall of Advanced Mammals.  These you will find just as interesting, too.  So, if you are not yet bored, next up . . . dinosaurs.  

Mammut:  This particular skeleton is one of the most complete mastodon skeletons ever found in North America.  It was discovered by workers digging for peat fuel near Newburgh, New York.  After uncovering the skull, they dug further and found the rest of the skeleton standing upright, just as it must have sunk into the bog centuries ago.

Gomphoterium: An early relative of the elephant that lived in Texas about 10 million years ago, and like others in this tall, short-necked group of mammals, it probably used its tusks to protect itself and to reach for food.

Irish Elk

Irish Elk:  This Irish Elk display was so cool. The antlers were huge and simply amazing! For your information, during the last Ice Age, the Irish elk (related to the living red deer) was widely diffused in Europe as far east as southern Siberia but it survived the peak cold period which occurred around 20,000 years ago.  Following that, the Irish elk slowly became restricted to Europe, and ultimately to Ireland, 11,000 to 10,000 years ago. Representing the last populations of this breed of deer, abundant remains of this species have been found in the peat bogs in Ireland.
Megalonyx Wheatleyi

Megalonyx wheatleyi ("great claw"): About 9 million years ago, before the Isthmus of Panama had formed, megalonychid ground sloths crossed from South America to North America. Megalonyx wheatleyi was the result of almost 8 million years of sloth evolution on this continent.

Smilodon: The enormous canine teeth of the saber-toothed cat are its most obvious feature, but not all carnivores have them.  The most distinguishing evolutionary feature of this group of mammals is found further back in its mouth -- a pair of scissorlike teeth on each side that are used for slicing meat.

What's a trip to someplace special without having your picture taken with your newest friend!!


Triceratops:  Triceratops, which literally means "three-horned face",  is one of the most recognizable of all dinosaurs.  It bears a large bony frill and three horns on its large four-legged body, and imploring resemblances with what we now know as the rhinoceros.

I have to say that you gotta love the triceratops -- think Cera, the little triceratops in The Land Before Time.  I loved to watch this movie with my sons when they were little and to this day, I still enjoy it immensely and could watch it over and over again.  Thus, possibly began my love of and curiosity with dinosaurs.  Do you remember it?  The scheme concerns a young orphaned Apatosaurus (Longneck) named Littlefoot whose mother was killed by a Tyrannosaurus (Sharptooth).  He goes on a journey in search of an oasis, the Great Valley, to escape the impending drought.  Along his way he accumulates four juvenile companions.  And how can we forget them!  There is Cera the Triceratops (Three Horn) who always seems to hold a chip on her shoulder, feels a need to prove herself and is in search of her own kind; Ducky the Saurolophus (Big Mouth/Swimmer) who is quite the blabbermouth and also the depressed child of the bunch but soon is able to abort the funk he has fallen into; Petrie the Pteranodon (Flyer) who suffers from a fear of flying; and Spike the Stegosaurus (Spiketail) who they happen upon when he is hatching.  A tale of determination sprinkled with danger, bravery, tears, joy and fortitude, it is a definite much-watch flick, if you haven't seen it!


Tyrannosaurus:  Also known as T. Rex, the Tyrannosaurus was by far the largest carnivore of its time.  A carnivore, T. Rex was one of the largest known land predators, measuring up to 40 feet in length, up to 13 feet tall at the hips, and up to 7.5 tons in weight.   They possessed large and powerful hindlimbs, but their forelimbs were small, although remarkably strong for their size. 

As long as we are mentioning flicks, once again I ask you -- do you remember the movie, Night at the Museum? (Well, duh, I've talked about it a lot in my NY posts since that is where are at and the Museum of Natural History is where that movie takes place.)  Anyway, now do you remember the Tyrannosaurus skeleton nicknamed Rexy who behaves like a dog? Meet Rexy, above.  I loved that character -- he was ferocious until Ben Stiller would throw something for Rexy to fetch.

Unfortunately, we didn't go through every display, which if you will recall in the movie there was GumGum (Easter Island Head display voiced by Brad Garrett), and Teddy Rossevelt played by Robin Wiliams, among many others.  

And for good measure ... here is one more ...

Stegosaurus:  It was noted on a board at the Museum that there is still a continuing debate about the Stegosaurus in that scientists' opinions differ on whether its front legs splayed out to the side or were held straight up and down when the animal walked.  To illustrate these two possibilities, the adult skeleton is show with the front limbs sprawled out and the juvenile is mounted with the legs more erect.  

Now the funny story about our trip to the museum, or at least this specific part of the museum. 

Nika and I were taking a long peek at a display beside Rexy, with our backs to Rexy.  As we turned to start walking past Rexy, we both heard quite a loud escape of ... gas ... yes, a fart!  Unfortunately, we both thought the same thing – the other person did it.  We glanced at each other quickly and realized, hysterically, that it wasn’t the other and then immediately turned to the side to see a man standing next to Rexy appearing quite pompous and totally unaware that we had heard his little flatulence escapade which at the time seemed to ring throughout the hall.  In essence, I am sure that it wasn’t that loud; just loud enough for our ears and enough for the two of us who by now were getting a little tired from the day trip thus far, that we were tickled to the bone with laughter.  We hastily retreated from this end of the hall. 

Now if you think I may be turning this into a little bit of a vulgar ending to this post, please first consider a couple things.  The English word fart is one of the oldest words in the English vocabulary.  The word is also used as an endearment.  But what may be most telling of what we heard is akin to the fact that in 1929 Thomas Wolfe had the phrase “a fizzing and sulphuric fart” cut out of his book, Look Homeward, Angel, by his publisher. 

Yes, in this case, too, it that may describe it very well ... fizzing and sulphuric. 

Either way, it was too much for these two tired little spectators to handle and fearful of making a scene ourselves, unlike what our one-man band just accomplished, we did the only thing we could at the moment . . . we ran.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Texas Brownies -- Legal or Illegal?

Now that I am back from getting my oil changed and a little coffee time at the Viking CafĂ©, I think it is time for some baking. Bob has been complaining for the last two days that he has no chocolate in the house, so I’m thinking Texas Brownies with a little coffee. That will definitely quell his craving for chocolate, but as for the coffee, I’m not talking a cup of coffee to go with the brownies. I’m talking coffee in my brownies. 

Did you know that coffee enhances the flavor of chocolate? It does! If you really want to magnify the chocolate flavor in something, there is a simple trick you can use with almost any recipe. The secret ingredient is coffee (or espresso if you have that on hand). A few tablespoons of very dark coffee along with the liquids in your recipe will amplify the chocolate flavor without giving it a coffee taste. If your recipe does not call for coffee, just be sure to subtract the amount of coffee or espresso being used from the overall liquids in the recipe. But if you don't want to mess with proportions in the recipe, you can also dissolve one or two tablespoons of espresso powder into the liquids to get the same effect.  In this case, there is no second guessing on the proportions because it is part of the recipe. 

Now have you ever wondered why you crave coffee in the morning or a chocolate candy bar makes you feel good when your mood is melancholy? A 2010 study from Ohio University enlightens us on why certain foods affect your moods.  Different foods stimulate different regions of the brain, releasing chemicals like dopamine and serotonin that promote well-being. However, the radiance created by chocolate and coffee isn't just caused by caffeine, but also by a rush of dopamine that triggers the brain's pleasure receptors. Chocolate also releases a form of opiate that causes that relaxed feeling, along with a small amount of a substance kindred to marijuana. With all that pleasure jammed into a chocolate bar, it's a miracle the chocolate isn’t regulated by the federal government!

It is reported that the downside of the brain is that it always wants too much of what is bad for the body, like sugar, to articulate with other neurons and is apparently particularly ravenous for it in the morning.

With this recipe, you can help those greedy cravings.

First, let's get out our butter. You can use cold butter, because it has to be melted. While I drop two sticks in a pan, I'm heating up 1 cup of water in the microwave for about 60 seconds. Because of this recipe, I always have instant coffee on hand. Just a small jar to keep on hand will do you, unless, of course, you're an instant coffee drinker, then you should have some on hand. If not, brew some coffee or make these brownies in the morning while you are having your "cup of joe." 

Two teaspoons into the hot water and stir, then dump this into the melting butter and add 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (I will confess I use a heaping 1/4 cup).

In the meantime, I have placed two cups of flour and two cups of sugar into my mixing bowl. If not sifting my dry ingredients, I always try to aerate them. In this case, I am just taking my whisk beaters and whisking through the flour and sugar to place some air into them. Simple, fast and easy to do. With the butter melted and the rest of the ingredients coming to a boil, I take the pan off the burner and pour it into the flour/sugar mixture. Turning on the beaters, I then add my baking soda and vanilla. 

Next I prepare some buttermilk. I don’t keep buttermilk on hand, but if you do, it is 1/2 cup. For my substitute, I simply pour just shy of a 1/2 cup of milk into a measuring cup and then add about 2 T. of cider vinegar. (When  I was questioned once about whether you should use white vinegar or cider vinegar, my philosophy is if you are baking or cooking I always use cider vinegar. If cleaning, I use white.) Anyway, this creates the same effect as buttermilk. I dump that into the mixing bowl and now my batter has sufficiently cooled so that I can add in the eggs. Remember, never add eggs to a hot mixture or they will turn to scrambled eggs and, sorry, we are not serving them this morning! 

Mix on high speed until combined and then pour it into a greased jelly roll pan (17x11). Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until they test done in the center. I generally set my timer for around 16 minutes to make sure they don’t burn around the edges. 


Now, while the brownies are baking, it's time to prepare the frosting. This will be poured over the brownies as soon as you take them out of the oven so no need to cool the brownies first.

I use the same pot that I used for the first stage of the brownies – no need to dirty another pan if one does not have to. In it goes 1 stick of butter, 1/4 cup of cocoa and 2 (heaping) tablespoons of cocoa. Make sure to stir this often and once this comes to a boil, turn on low. Add in 3-1/2 cups of powdered sugar, whisking it as you go and then 1 tsp. vanilla. The frosting will show small lumps of powdered sugar but that is okay as it adds to the character of this delight. As soon as the brownies are done, immediately pour the hot frosting over the brownies and smooth out. It will set quickly.

There you go, simple, easy, and, once you take a bite or two or three, yes, I’m thinking – possibly illegal.  Hey, what can I say ... the brain wants what the brain wants!



2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup strong brewed coffee
1/4 cup dark, unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla

Frosting1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 T. dark, unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup milk
3-1/2 cups unsifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

(1) In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and sugar.
(2) In a heavy saucepan, combine butter, coffee and cocoa. Stir and heat to boiling.
(3) Pour boiling mixture over the flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla and eggs.
(4) Mix well on high speed.
(5) Pour into a greased 17x11 jelly roll pan.
(6) Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes or until the brownies test done in the center.
(7) While brownies bake, prepare the frosting. In a saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa and milk. Heat to boiling, stirring.
(8) Mix in the powdered sugar and vanilla until the frosting is smooth.
(9) Pour warm frosting over brownies as soon as you take them out of the oven. Cool.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Life Is...Succulent (so are these Baby Back Ribs!!)

[Side note:  I told you I had some posts waiting to be published, so here is one from Memorial Day -- the day our big walnut tree in the backyard blew over from the storm that came through late in the afternoon.  Enjoy!]

Speaking of downed tree ...

Walnut Tree Blown Over and Pulled Up By The Roots and All!

Life is what you make it.  This year on Monday, Memorial Day, I decided to make it ... succulent.  I am talking Slow Roasted Baby Back Ribs with a Bourbon Glaze.  My mouth starts to water every time I think about it.

This is not a recipe that you can throw together and eat an hour later.  We are talking a few hours here.  It is, however, easy to make, but patience has to be your virtue and I guarantee you the pay off is well worth it.
Dry Rub on the Ribs
At 7:00 a.m. I got the meat out of the refrigerator -- two whole slabs of pork baby back ribs -- rinsed them off, patted them dry and laid them each out on on a jelly roll pan that I had placed a long strip of aluminum foil on (long enough to have about two inches left on each end.  Next I began to put together the dry rub.  This is simple and easy to do.  Five minutes max and you are generously sprinkling it over one side, patting the dry rub in and turning each over to do the same on the other side.  Once the dry rub is on, I covered the top of each with aluminum foil and placed them in the refrigerator (on their pans) to rest and soak in the dry rub.
Putting on the braising liquid
Since I had lots of work to do outside, making the time go by in between pampering the ribs, was no problem.  

I pre-heated the oven to 250 degrees and started mixing up the braising liquid.  An hour later, I took the ribs out of the refrigerator and placed it on the counter.  I unfolded the top of the foil to expose the long slab of ribs.  Next, I took the braising liquid and poured half over each slab, carefully lifting up the ribs from the foil while doing it so that some went underneath the ribs, too.  Once this was done, I prudently folded up the foil to make packets to keep the liquid in and placed them in the oven to slow-roast for 2-1/2 hours.

Coming out of the oven after a slow roast and ready for the grill
I went back outside and tended to my gardens and planted some pots with annuals.  Time flew by and before I knew it, it was just about time to take the ribs out of the oven.  I went inside and washed up and started mixing up my bourbon glaze.  Once completed and my 2-1/2 hours of slow roast time were up, I took the ribs out of the oven and placed them on another pan.  I decided to cut each slab into two sections which was just easier to handle when placing on the grill, etc.  They already smelled delicious.  Now they needed a little extra special touch.
Putting them on the grill
Off to the grill we went.  I fired up my gas grill, lighting my front and back burners on a low to medium heat.  Next I took my brush and started swabbing the glaze on one side (a spoon can be used just as easily).  Once I had one side done on all, I placed each on the center part of the grill rack, glazed side down, and begin swabbing the top side.  I closed the grill and let them grill for a good 7-8 minutes, then turned them over to let the other side grill.
5-Cheese Creamy Garlic Baby Red Potatoes
In the meantime, I set the table, took out of the oven my 5-cheese creamy garlic baby red potatoes that had been baking for a couple hours to let them rest, grabbed my cut up fruit and a tortellini salad leftover from Sunday, some dinner rolls and everything was ready to go by the time I went out to take the ribs off the grill.  They had just the right grilled touch to them and I couldn't wait to get to it.  By the time I took them inside and let them rest for about 5 minutes, we were ready to plunge in.
Ready to come off the grill and into our mouths!!!
And believe me, these ribs did not disappoint.  They had just a nice tinge of of sweetness and spiciness.  My hubby does not go for spicy, and these are not.  Now, if you wanted to, you could definitely switch this a little bit and go for more of a barbecued flavor instead of the bourbon glaze.  Either way, these tender ribs are ready to be eaten however you want to serve them up.

I have included the recipe below, which is a combination of a few different recipes I found, all put together to my likes.  Enjoy!! 

Slow Roasted Baby Back Ribs with a Bourbon Glaze
2 whole slabs pork baby back ribs
8 T light brown sugar
3 T kosher salt
1 T chili powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp Caribbean Jerk Seasoning (if you don’t have–use 1 extra tsp chili powder)
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tsp ground thyme
1/2 tsp onion powder

1 cup white wine
2 T white wine vinegar
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T honey
2 cloves garlic, chopped
8 T honey
1/4 cup bourbon
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
1-1/2 T molasses
1-1/2 tsp soy sauce
1-1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients and mix well. Place each slab of baby back ribs on a piece of aluminum foil. Sprinkle each side generously with the dry rub. Pat the dry rub into the meat. Refrigerate the ribs for a minimum of 1 hour. In a microwavable container, combine all ingredients for the braising liquid. Microwave on high for 1 minute. 

Place the ribs on a baking sheet. Open one end of the foil on each slab and pour half of the braising liquid into each foil packet. Tilt the baking sheet in order to equally distribute the braising liquid. Fold up the aluminum foil around the ribs. Braise the ribs in the oven for 2 1/2 hours. Take out of oven after 2-1/2 hours and place on grill. Brush with bourbon glaze on both sides. Turn once to grill each side for total of 10-15 minutes. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Tipsy Chicken Breasts and Triple Cheese Bread

When I was growing up, Sunday dinner (lunch) was a big thing.  At home on my childhood farm, Sundays usually meant we may have visiting relatives from the city (Madison).  So we were always prepared, just in case, which meant a bigger than usual meal.  Sometimes, those old habits never die.

It is Sunday and I have to figure out what is on the menu for today.  After contemplating this early morning quagmire, I decided against beef and am going with chicken breasts.  Now to format my entire menu and decide what to do with the chicken breasts.   

At last year’s 1st Annual O’Connor Girls Luncheon, one of the breads we were treated to was a cheddar bread which came from Bake UR Own.  Since that time, I have been in search of a recipe similar to that or something I can make into my own to serve the same purpose.  This recipe popped up and now is the time to try it.  What I like to do with recipes which I find or maybe after tasting a particular food I adored, is to either take the recipe (or create a recipe) and create something similar and “make it my own” where I can twist and turn it a little, add this or that, more to my liking.  I have had a recipe for a couple weeks for Triple Cheese Bread which I wanted to try and thought this would be the most opportune time to jump in and see if it is what I am searching for.  
The ingredients are added to the bread machine
I pulled out the bread recipe and my bread maker and set off to get that started.  Since this isn’t exactly a one-hour prep-and-ready-to-eat type thing, it needs to be started early in order to be ready for lunch.  I have included the recipe below and shared some preparation pictures.  

The bread maker setting put to "Dough" and now we just let it do its job (for 1 hour and 20 minutes)!
We're out of the bread maker and onto a floured (glass) cutting board to start the hand-kneading process

When the bread maker had completed its initial mixing and kneading, I pulled the dough out and plopped it onto a floured cutting board.  The kneading by hand starts now. Time to roll up the sleeves!  Eight to ten minutes of hand-kneading may seem like a long time, but it is nothing compared to if we did it all by hand.  It is easy to wile away those small minutes once you get into a rhythm.

The dough is put in a bowl to rise some more
When I'm done kneading, into a greased bowl it goes and then gets covered with a warm, wet towel so it can raise some more.  Once doubled in size, I can take it out. 

Here we go to a parchment-lined baking sheet to raise some more before going into the oven

Setting the bowl of dough next to the stove/oven gives the rising process a little extra help.  As it is just about doubled in size, I am able to take it out of the bowl, deflate the mound, and cut it into quarters, then each quarter into thirds and fold them over into balls.  Placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet, it is then covered with a greased piece of wax paper and off to sit next to the stove/oven again to raise some more. 

Triple Cheese Bread (Rolls)
And here we have the final product! See the flecks of cheddar cheese!  It is ohhhhh, so good, but, I confess, not quite there for what I am searching for.  Oh, well, I guess, I'll have to keep searching and practicing!  (I enjoy practicing!)

Now, let's hop back to the rest of the Sunday's menu.  We are doing mashed potatoes, steamed veggies (broccoli, carrots and cauliflower which will be seasoned with some garlic powder and parsley) for a touch of color to our plate and Chicken Breasts in a Garlic White Wine Cream Sauce. 

The chicken breasts are fairly simple and (just for you) I have included that recipe below.  I've peeled the potatoes, put the veggies in the steamer basket/pot and both are placed on the stove to start their road to yumminess.  This also helps create a little more heat to give a little extra boost for the rolls in rising.  Let's now get started on those chicken breasts. 

Wine, Worcestershire Sauce and Butter -- a few of the chicken ingredients
I've placed four chicken breasts into a frying pan with a little extra virgin olive oil and seasoned them.  Once they have started to brown on both sides, I add in some butter and the diced onions and minced garlic. I have to confess (again!!!??!!) that I also added some Rotisserie Chicken seasoning to the chicken breasts.  (I can't help myself -- it is my new-found friend in the kitchen!)

Browning the chicken breasts and sauteing the garlic and onions
When they have browned slightly, I add the wine, let it reduce a little (or as I like to consider it, when I feel the chicky has enjoyed enough of its mid-morning cocktail hour), it is time to add the cream.  Because I want to keep this warm and yet cook them a little more, no more cook top; it is off to a 325 degrees oven but not before I top each off with some shredded Romano cheese.  (What!!! More cheese??!! Come on! I was born and raised on a dairy farm, and since my hubby and I still dairy farm -- did you expect anything less? haha!) 

Chicken Breasts Drunk with White Wine are Now Ready to Head to the Oven
As everything else comes together, I've tucked the rolls into a bread basket and finished the gravy.  I just have to take the chicken out of the oven, mash the potatoes, and pull the veggies out of the steamer.

Everything is all set to go . . .
The only thing left to do is plate it up and enjoy another Sunday dinner (lunch)!

Did you forget? I'm the butter gal; Bob gets the gravy.
I hope you get a chance to try these recipes and enjoy them as much as I did (and will some more in the very near future)!


Here are the recipes for the chicken and the rolls:

Chicken in Garlic White Wine Cream Sauce

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup onions, chopped
3 minced garlic cloves
5 -6 fresh mushrooms, sliced (I didn't have any mushrooms on hand so didn't use them)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup white wine
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1 pint cream ( heavy or light)
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon parsley

*Lightly brown both sides of chicken in olive oil.
*Add onion, garlic, mushrooms, and butter and saute about 4-5 minutes until onions start to become translucent.
*Add wine and Worcestershire sauce and cook an additional 2 minutes.
*Lower heat and add cream, salt, pepper, basil, and parsley.
*Too high of heat will cause the cream to curdle.
*Simmer on low 20-25 minutes until done.

Triple Cheese Bread

3/4 cup water
2 tsps. Yeast
3 cups flour
2 T. sugar
1-1/2 tsps. salt
2 T. butter, soft
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup cottage cheese (or if no cottage cheese on hand, use sour cream)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of the lukewarm water. Add the remaining ingredients and mix and knead by hand, in your mixer, or in your bread machine on the dough cycle to make a soft dough.

Turn onto a floured board and knead for 8-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. About 45 minutes.

Deflate the dough, form it into a 9" log and place it in a greased 9x5 loaf pan. Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until the bread domes an inch above the rim of the pan.

If making dinner rolls, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and shape into rolls. Place the rolls on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until almost doubled, about 30 minutes or so.

Bake the risen dough in a preheated 350 F oven for 20-25 minutes for rolls; 30-35 minutes for a loaf.