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!!)

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.