Wednesday, December 23, 2009

George Bailey is My Kind of Man

It's the eve of Christmas Eve, and I'm not ready. This morning before work I baked 36 muffins and a pumpkin swirl cheesecake. While those were baking I emptied the dishwasher, folded two loads of towels, and organized my closet. I had intended to bake last night but Katie put Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" in the DVD player and I had to watch it. Even after seeing it countless times, I couldn't walk away. I must admit that know every dialogue, every physical nuance, every dramatic musical accompaniment. If I were to start playing that movie in my head, I could run through pretty much the whole thing.

George Bailey is the kind of person I want to be when the going gets rough. He is someone who sees no clear answer when every part of his life seems out of control. Only after wishing he'd never been born, saying that the world might be better off without him, does he realize that his life has had real impact and meaning. On that bridge, he has two revelations. The first is dire and desperate. The second is elated and joyful. Even facing jail time and a ruined reputation, the newly-aware George (through divine intervention in the form of Clarence) is deliriously happy in the reunion embrace of his wife and children, and at that moment, nothing else matters. It is then that he is additionally rewarded with an abundance of love and friendship from his friends and family, which he values much more than the money they've collected to solve his financial problems. He's always been there for them, and he never asked for or expected it, but they're there for him, too. Just love it.

Poster: Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" from http://www.impawards.com/1946/posters/its_a_wonderful_life.jpg

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Gingerbread House You Can Make!

We made a gingerbread house! Katie and I did it one night last week after Henry went to bed. We had a little help. We purchased a Wilton kit and used the already-baked wall and roof parts. The rest of the kit was discarded in favor of our own home-made royal icing and candies from Joanne’s Candy House in Wilton (no relation to the baking company), New York.

I was at first a little intimidated because gingerbread houses and I have had a checkered history. There was the initial attempt when my kids were young. We made an incredible mess making the tough, sturdy dough (and burned out a motor of my mixer!). We rolled, cut, and baked the gingerbread walls and roof. We assembled all parts with royal icing and set soup cans inside for support. I left the room for a moment and heard my kids yell “Oh noooo!” only to return to find the house of gingerbread had imploded, no possible way to reconstruct it. That was it. I was done with gingerbread and its houses. Then two years ago I garnered the courage to try, try again. Brave nephew Will and I attempted the kit, using its own parts, and we ended up with a cute but kindergarten-y version of our dream house. After all that work, I was disappointed.

This year is different. I took a deep breath and bought another kit. I figured, with the right attitude and a plan, it could work. No disappointment this time -- our house came out beautifully (see photo posted with this entry). These ready-made kits are a wonderful foundation for your own project. So, if you dare, buy a kit for under $10. Then go spend $20 on pretty candy, Wilton meringue powder for fail-proof royal icing, and a firm foam board for support. Your gingerbread house will take only an hour or two start to finish. It will be uniquely yours, and creating it with someone special will provide happy memories. Katie and I are thinking grand thoughts for next year's model. Two stories, wings, landscaping... It could get outa hand!

I bet Katie would say that, compared to the year and a half of building a long-awaited (and beautiful) post-and-beam home, gingerbread construction is a very attractive option!

Go on, give it a try!


Photo: Katie Eddy Hofmann of our 2009 Gingerbread House!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Home Made Marshmallows! Nothing jet-puffed about them!

Christmas is coming and there's no stopping it. Not that I manifest an inner Grinch -- I just need more time. As a last-second shopper, there's all that to do. And then there's the baking. I have a couple of cookie platters, a cheesecake, and a sugar-free lemon bundt cake to produce in the next few days. My Christmas cards are still unadressed and unstamped. Then for our Christmas dinners, I'm making Seafood Newburg for two houses! It'll be a mad dash, but I must like it this way, because this is my M.O. every year!

In the midst of all this dashing, I'll have to remember to take time out for a nice hot cup of Ovaltine (malted) topped with a melting marshmallow. For me, marshmallows will never be the same, not since I had one of Matt Kopans's home-made perfections. I dropped off a birthday cake to his house Saturday night, and before I got out the door he said, "Here, try one of these." Matt loves to bake and I keep up with his culinary adventures on his facebook page. Katie was with me, so I took two chocolate-dipped marshmallows out to the car. As we drove away, we immediately ate our marshmallows and, in unison said "OH MY GOD!" These were no jet-puffed, plastic-bagged pillows. These were big blocks of fluffy goodness, with a melt-in-your-mouth sweetness that we knew was a new standard. No longer will any packaged marshmallow do. Should you be interested in delving into the world of marshmallow-making, I'm providing a recipe from the queen of perfect recipes, Martha Stewart. It seems not so difficult, so think about making these, as unique gifts or for that next cold day when you're snowed in, and nothing but a cup of hot chocolate with a melting marshmallow will do!

Marhta Stewart's Marshmallows

Ingredients

Makes 24.

* Vegetable oil, for brushing
* 4 envelopes unflavored gelatin (3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons)
* 3 cups granulated sugar
* 1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

Directions

1. Brush a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with oil. Line with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overhang on the long sides. Brush parchment with oil; set aside.
2. Put granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cook, without stirring, until mixture registers 238 degrees.on a candy thermometer, about 9 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, put 3/4 cup cold water into the bowl of an electric mixer; sprinkle with gelatin. Let soften 5 minutes.
4. Attach bowl with gelatin to mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. With mixer on low speed, beat hot syrup into gelatin mixture. Gradually raise speed to high; beat until mixture is very stiff, about 12 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Pour into prepared dish, and smooth with an offset spatula. Set aside, uncovered, until firm, about 3 hours.
5. Sift 1 cup confectioners' sugar onto a work surface. Unmold marshmallow onto confectioners' sugar; remove parchment. Lightly brush a sharp knife with oil, then cut marshmallow into 2-inch squares. Sift remaining 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar into a small bowl, and roll each marshmallow in the sugar to coat. Marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://2.bp.blogspot.com/__hNugC9EAaw/SuXStkVg4JI/AAAAAAAABGU/87EPsKTq5_M/s320/marsh1.jpg&imgrefurl=http://mycousinscookbook.blogspot.com/2009/10/martha-stewarts-marshmallows.html&usg=__4UQdqEHkraC29mxgKo-h_zmYb5I=&h=293&w=320&sz=13&hl=en&start=2&sig2=Re1iq0qwruEx_MtPXIKQxw&tbnid=tQ7ST3OtqjK_3M:&tbnh=108&tbnw=118&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dmartha%2Bstewart%2Bmarshmallows%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG&ei=jaQvS4SVNobWlAeEj5CXBw

Friday, December 18, 2009

FUDGE!

One of the most popular non-cookie items on my Christmas cookie platter is fudge. I've made all kinds -- from the stuff you break your arm stirring to the short-cut version made in the microwave. I like the real thing. This recipe from Baker's Chocolate combines the best of both worlds -- the authenticity of real, cooked fudge, and the ease of simpler recipes by incorporating the use of marshmallow creme (basically already-cooked sugar).


FUDGE! (recipe adapted from Baker's Chocolate)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter or margarine
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk
3 (12 ounce) packages BAKER'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chunks
1 (7 ounce) jar JET-PUFFED MarshmallowCreme
3 cups PLANTERS Chopped Pecans (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

1. Place butter, sugar and milk in large, heavy 4-quart saucepan. Bring to full rolling boil on medium heat, stirring constantly (important). Boil 5 minutes (or on candy thermometer, 234 degrees), continuing to stir constantly to prevent scorching.
2. Remove from heat. Gradually add chocolate chunks, stirring until chocolate is completely melted after each addition. Add remaining ingredients; mix well.
3. Pour into greased 15x10x1-inch pan. Cool completely. Cut into 60 pieces.

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://enjoylifeandprosper.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/chocolate_fudge.jpg&imgrefurl=http://enjoylifeandprosper.wordpress.com/2009/02/18/breakfast-desserts-and-a-great-trip/&usg=__TCcl_l7st8YkkiujiHGYbYGflsQ=&h=400&w=400&sz=39&hl=en&start=8&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=2aD8hGpMw6-NxM:&tbnh=124&tbnw=124&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dfudge%26hl%3Den%26rls%3Dcom.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox%26rlz%3D1I7SUNA_en%26sa%3DG%26um%3D1

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

These are pretty and delicious, a perfect combination for a Christmas cookie! The outside is tender-crisp and the inside is almost creamy. They have earned their place on my Christmas cookie platter! My lovely friend Claire is a huge fan!



Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Baking)

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c cocoa
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
4 large eggs
2 c granulated sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 c chocolate chips (I like to use Ghiradelli bittersweet, but any semi-sweet will do)
1/2 c confectioners’ sugar


Melt the butter and chocolate on top of a double boiler, over simmering water, and stir often. Remove and set aside to cool a bit.

In a small bowl, stir together the dry ingredients — flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, granulated sugar, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture on low speed until blended. Add the dry ingredients and beat until incorporated. The dough will be stiff, but you must persevere: mix in the chocolate chips by hand.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a good long while, at least 2 hours. I sometimes leave the dough in the fridge overnight.

Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 325. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl.

Roll a rounded tablespoon of dough between your palms into a 1 1/2 inch ball, and toss it around in the powdered sugar. Place the cookies about 3 inches apart on the cookie sheet.Bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until the tops are puffed and crinkled and feel firm when lightly touched, about 13-17 mins. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.



Photo credit: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/wsimgs/rk/images/dp/recipe/200946/0023/img89l.jpg

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Big Birthday and a New Adventure

This is a busy baking week. The most important baking is for my daughter Meghan's birthday. She's coming for dinner tonight, and I've baked her 30th birthday cake (chocolate through and through). Of all the cakes I bake, those for my kids' birthdays are the most important. Meghan's actual birthday is December 20, but we're celebrating tonight. For years it seemed her birthday got lost in the holiday shuffle. For that reason, I usually baked something special for her. When she was five, I baked a cake with a gingerbread girl design and decorated the whole thing in M&Ms. For one of her recent birthdays, it was a cake decorated to look like a pine bough with snow, and it became one of my favorite winter designs (it's the photo posted with this blog entry).

Meghan's birthday this year is bittersweet. She and her boyfriend Mark are leaving that very day for Long Beach, California. They're packing up their van with minimal belongings, two dogs, and a cat and heading west early Sunday morning to try California living for a while. I am optimistic for Meghan for this opportunity. Selfishly, I will miss her, and will miss knowing she is nearby. I worry about them driving across country during the winter, though they have a good plan and are sensible. Still, I'm a mom. All in all, it's a good thing and a learning experience. Her father, on the other hand, is not thrilled at her being so far away, though he is trying to get comfortable with the idea.

What an advantage it is to be young, able to pick up your life and start over simply because you can. There's no other time in her life that she'll be able to do this, I expect. Once she settles in with a job, a family, perhaps children, such options for new beginnings are not so readily undertaken. So I say, "Enjoy the adventure. Do as much as you can. Take it all in, for everything you do is an education. And miss your mother. Definitely, miss your mother. Your father will be fine, but call him now and then. Just to let him know."

Bon voyage, my Meghan.

Photo: my very own

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Walmart, an Eggplant, and a Birthday Dinner

For the past two mornings, I've been walking around Walmart BEFORE work! I've realized that some of the mad-dashing and rushing that comes with this time of year can be alleviated if not totally banished by getting up earlier in the day and going to Walmart before the work day even begins. It's true that on occasion I have been a big-box store snob (when I can afford to be) but I do compromise my values when money is tight and I need things, lots of things all at once, and don't have the time or money to make fifteen stops. Today I needed a piece of Christmas fabric and an eggplant. Really, where can you buy both those things at once? As I entered Walmart, I was greeted by an older man wearing a Santa hat who looked very much like the jolly old elf. He nodded his head and, as I passed, I heard him greet the next customer, a "regular" I imagine by their conversation, "Hey Rita, how are you this morning?" in a familiar way, much like neighbors over a fence, or a small store owner and a life-long customer. Are these big-box stores really all that impersonal when a community forms within them, where the employees and customers become acquainted and care about each other? Now, I'm not so ignorant or blind to the fact that in some communities these stores displace smaller businesses, robbing jobs and customers from local employers. I also know that this is the way that a big segment of the retail world is evolving. It's good to know that, now and then, I can go in to pick up a few things and not feel that I'm supporting the downfall of the small business owner. It's a dilemma. And believe me, if you want the best Walmart experience, go very early in the morning, or very late at night to avoid the frustrated mother/screaming child--screaming mother/frustrated child scenario (hard to tell who's more mature). You know what I'm talking about!

Anyway...

With that Walmart eggplant, I'm making eggplant parmesan for my daughter Meghan's birthday dinner. She's a vegetarian and she loves it. I serve it with a salad and Italian bread. Cinchy. I make it the easy and convenient way, with Italian bread crumbs, jarred sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese. Here's the recipe:

EGGPLANT PARMESAN

2 eggplants, about a pound each
1 egg, beaten with about 1/2 cup milk
flour
Italian bread crumbs
olive oil
large jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
grated parmesan/romano cheeses

Wash and slice eggplant (with peel on) width-wise into about 3/8 inch slices (more than a quarter inch, not as big as a half inch).
Dry surface with paper towels.
Dredge slices in flour.
Dip in egg mixture.
Coat in bread crumbs.

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. When hot, cook one layer of eggplant rounds until nicely browned. Turn over to brown the other side. When both sides are browned, drain on brown paper or paper towels. Continue until all slices are done. Add olive oil and bring up to heat as needed between batches.

Pour 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce in bottom of large rectangular baking pan. Spread to cover. Layer eggplant, enough sauce to cover, 1 cup of mozzarella and a sprinkling of the parmesan/romano cheeses, repeating until everything is used up, ending with a final layer of the cheeses. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 15 additional minutes or until cheese begins to brown on edges.

Remove from oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes before cutting.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Quiet (?) Weekend with Henry

Due partly to the fact that my car doesn't have snow tires and it was semi-stranded out near the road, and that I needed a weekend "in," the past two days were spent hunkered down in my apartment. I did do a little baking -- scones and a birthday cake -- but nothing substantial. Christmas cookies are on the horizon, as well as my daughter Meghan's birthday cake.

Posted here is a recent photo of Henry, now 19 and a half months, and his best friend Oden. I was able to spend a lot of Grandma-time with Henry while his parents worked on finishing their part of the house. They've installed beautiful cherry countertops. The kitchen appliances are set to be installed. Their laundry room/bathroom floor is now in, and their Christmas tree is up. When Henry was napping yesterday I helped Katie hang many of her ornaments. They have quite a collection for being such a young family. There, in the otherwise-empty living room, their Christmas tree now stands, proud in the corner displaying ornaments that are now meaningful but will later be irreplaceable.

My sister Anne and her family have moved a number of times, and two Christmases ago she lost her family's ornaments. Many were made by her four boys when they were little guys. She was very sad at this loss and to try to make her feel better, her son Will and I got together one night and took a bunch of her family photos and made a trees-worth of new ornaments with all kinds of pretty papers and glitter. They were OK but could never replace the genuine articles. Anne was thrilled last Christmas when her husband discovered the lost ornaments. Many were hand-made by the boys with their photos on any given year, and it's lovely, again, to see them hanging on her tree, especially knowing how much they mean to her.

Back to Grandma-time with Henry: We watched "Merry Madagascar" a trillion times (he laughs out loud at the same point in the DVD, each time, when the poor little girl tumbles down the stairs!). Between "Babe," "Merry Madagascar," and "Stuart Little" we've been watching more than the recommended amount of TV. We do more than that. He loves his bath, and I enjoy getting soaked every time I give him one. That little guy now thinks that the back seat of my bathtub (my bathtub has a seat - my kids must think I'm 55 going on 85) is a slide. He climbs up all wet and slippery and slides down to a big splash with twisting and turning, his little legs going in all directions, his face submerged. He comes up all breathless and almost panicked, and then goes back for more. Of course, I'm holding both his hands and watching him like a hawk. It's a game that I think we don't need to play anymore. "Grandma's tub is not a slide." Then I grab his wriggling, slippery self and wrap him up in a towel while he protests the whole while. Then I bribe him with "Let's go jump on Grandma's bed!" which he loves almost as much as taking a bath. This scenario repeats itself often.

Did you know that the stars in Chicken and Stars soup can travel all the way across a room when the bowl is flung off a high-chair tray?

Thank God for Henry. He's so cute, and he smells so good!

Friday, December 11, 2009

SNICKERDOODLES!


It doesn't happen often that I'm at loss for words, spoken or written. Could it be because I have a sensory block from all the food around me? Professors have been dropping off (right next to my desk!) doughnuts, pastries, and other goodies not completely consumed by their students on this last day of classes. I had to slice off a little piece of some irresistible braided pastry filled with raspberry and iced with frosting, candied cherries on top. This thing just looks like Christmas. I went to a jewelry party at lunch and there were cookies and cheese and crackers, then I went to lunch (had a salad). I found myself stumped today, almost overwhelmed by the abundance of holiday recipes and not knowing where to go. I'm a culinary deer-in-the-headlights so I went for help. I asked my facebook friends to tell me which holiday food means the most to them. Tom mentioned a spiral ham, but I've written about ham before. Thank you to Megan Mercier who loudly proclaimed "SNICKERDOODLES!" ... I hope to get many more ideas so fb friends, give me what you've got!


OK, here we go. I have been suggested the penultimate Christmas Cookie, so I went to the mountain for the recipe. Believe it or not, these are not in my cookie repertoire (yet) so I had to look to the most trusted source: The Food Network's Gale Gand offers us this version, which rates five full stars (the highest honor possible) from the 135 cookie lovers who evaluated this recipe. Clearly, people are passionate about their food memories and the warm feelings these cookies elicit during the holiday season. I expect they'll take their place among my family's favorites. The same may happen for you.


SNICKERDOODLES (Gale Gand, The Food Network)


* 3 1/2 cups flour

* 1 tablespoon baking powder

* 2 teaspoons baking soda

* 1/4 teaspoon salt

* 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

* 1 cup butter

* 2 cups sugar

* 2 eggs

* 1 tablespoon light corn syrup

* 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Directions


In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon and set aside.


To make the cookie dough, stir together the dry ingredients.


In a bowl with a paddle attachment, cream the butter. Add the sugar and continue to mix, then add the eggs, corn syrup, and vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients and mix until blended. Chill dough 1 hour if it's sticky or difficult to handle.


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.


Roll balls of dough about the size of a walnut then roll them in the cinnamon sugar to coat. Place on an ungreased sheet pan 2 1/2 inches apart.


Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until puffed up and the surface is slightly cracked. Let cool on the sheet pan a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snowed In!

I can't get to work this morning because we are snowed in! There's about 9 inches of snow encasing my little Mazda 3, and our driveway is long! I have no idea what awaits me at the end of the driveway, where it meets the county road. The forecast is for a wintry mix after this snow falls. And I'm not prepared. Yes, I know the calendar says it's almost winter, and everyone my age should know by now to have snow brush and a pair of boots at the ready...but I don't. Can't find the brush - it's still packed away somewhere. I don't own a pair of boots. I have my favorite Merrill clogs that have seen me just fine through city winters, but now I'm living in the country and it's an entirely different snow experience. There's no landlord taking care of removing snow from the front steps. There's no clearing of parking spaces. No, we're on our own out here in Middle Grove, and while the scene from my living room window is breathtakingly beautiful, we are stuck! I'm hoping to get to work later today, but it's iffy.

Henry is very excited. His little L.L. Bean Flexible Flyer sled (made just for little ones with a cushioned red seat) is ready. He has a new snow suit and boots, and Oden the black lab has already been outside frolicking in the snow. We'll all be heading out to see what impact we can have on this massive first storm of the season. I have a feeling that mother nature has the upper hand!


Monday, December 7, 2009

New York City, All Dressed Up for the Holidays!

It's often said that there's no place like New York City at Christmas time, and I must agree. Yesterday, a bus-full of 53 passengers departed the Skidmore College campus early in the morning and enjoyed the snow covered landscape almost all the way down to the city. We arrived in New York around 10:30 a.m. and departed the bus near Bryant Park. We all took off in our own directions to do whatever it is that draws people to New York this time of year. My friends and I walked along Fifth Avenue and tucked into a number of stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue. As I entered through the turnstile, the vision of the store was breathtakingly beautiful. Garlands of white and silver pine bows arched overhead, while a waterfall of snowflakes was reflected in the distance. It was so beautiful that it almost distracted me from the reality of Saks's prices: $495 for a pair of thin red leather gloves; $295 for a classic Burberry scarf. There were stacks and stacks of such items, and I can only wonder what it IS that people do that affords them such luxuries, because clearly, they're selling. I watched as one older woman casually considered a number of pairs of gloves, the same way I did last week at Walmart, as if the price were no concern. Mine were $6.00 (and appear to be not so different!). She bought the gloves in black.


Our afternoon was spent on a backstage tour of the Metropolitan Opera. I was lucky enough, a few years ago, to see the opera Margaret Garner there (an operatic version of Toni Morrison's Beloved), and if only I had had the perspective of yesterday's tour then! As much as I enjoyed the performance, I would have had so much more regard for all the work and logisitics that go in to putting one opera in to place. Our guide told us that each performance of the New York City opera carries a $1,000,000 price tag. After seeing all the components and preparations necessary, I understand how that is so. If you have a chance to take this tour (only $14), do it.

After the tour we crossed the street and went in to Brooks Brothers. Again, the most beautiful clothing and accessories for people who can afford them (not me!). Yesterday, I walked around New York in jeans, a heavy sweater, nice black sneakers with patent-leather trim, a black down vest, and a purse slung over my shoulder. It seemed my persona screamed "bus tour" while I strolled by so many tall, skinny, expensively dressed and perfect-looking people! Even babies in strollers were more decked out than me! It makes me wonder if I'd have been one of them, had my parents not migrated north to upstate New York, and left our city roots behind. It's odd to think that my values and life perspective might be totally different had that not happened. But still, there's something there that draws me back, that reminds me of my family's generational association with this vibrant city, that makes me know that this place was home to both my parents' families. While it is not (I expect) like going back to the old sod, it is a place that is at the same time familiar and mysterious, and that I enjoy, very much.

Photo credit: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://newyorktours.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/rockefeller_center_christmas_tree.jpg&imgrefurl=http://newyorktours.wordpress.com/2009/10/12/the-rockefeller-christmas-tree-lighting-ceremony-2009/&usg=__aY-RM5-ZTf8zt2XS9lm6eqYMHew=&h=1600&w=1200&sz=1106&hl=en&start=1&tbnid=IlvuHlp4aTz-AM:&tbnh=150&tbnw=113&prev=/images%3Fq%3DRockefeller%2BCenter%2BChristmas%2Btree%2B2009%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Friday, December 4, 2009

Saratoga's Victorian Streetwalk and a Red Balloon


Last night Katie, Henry, and I enjoyed Saratoga's Victorian Streetwalk. She picked me up at Skidmore so we wouldn't have to deal with two cars, and we parked near my favorite hotel, Saratoga Arms. I'm never early for anything, but we were early last night. The streets were still empty and there weren't yet any sounds of caroling or jingling bells. We stopped at Bruegger's Bagels and had quick sandwiches. Henry had a pint-sized bagel and applesauce, and we were off to find Santa. We were so early Santa hadn't yet taken up residence in his little Alpine hut, but Mrs. Clause was eagerly greeting children. I heard one child say "I don't want you, I want Santa Claus!" Just in front of Santa's little house, in the middle of Broadway, we found actual reindeer chomping on bales of hay. They were beautiful and I must say those antlers are impressive! Henry was interested but much more enamored with the red balloon he'd just scored at a vendor's table. We tied it to his stroller which was a good move because we saw one little girl completely disintegrate when she let go of hers and it suddenly took off toward the moon-lit sky.

We strolled south and then north on Broadway, taking in the sights and sounds of this festive night. I told Katie the crowds reminded me of being at Disneyworld! Restaurants had sidewalk stands offering hot cider and soups, and Wheatfields was serving pasta with marinara and alfredo sauces. Celtic Treasures had an Irish band, and there were groups of carolers and performers all along the way. We watched one group of dancers in Renaissance garb performing with sticks. Nearby, a beautifully outfitted Father Christmas bent over to say hello to Henry. When Henry didn't respond too enthusiastically, Father Christmas said, "Well, maybe next year!" Katie and I decided to go in to Congress Park and take Henry on his first carousel ride. He loved it, and I couldn't believe it's only fifty cents! Nothing is fifty cents anymore, and we'll be taking him back there often.

We took our time strolling back to the car. It was a lovely night, though Henry's red balloon popped when we arrived home and Katie was taking him out of the car. There will be more Victorian Streetwalks, and there will be more red balloons.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake (and it's lowfat!)


My soon-to-retire friend Sue gave me this recipe. She served it to her family on Thanksgiving. Sue is very health-conscious. She exercises with commitment. She only eats one slice of Pope's pizza when I have to have two. She looks for healthier versions of favorite recipes, and this one for Chocolate Amaretto cheesecake is one of them. The fact that it is low-fat is just a bonus!



Chocolate Amaretto Cheesecake


6 chocolate wafers, finely crushed (I did use more than 6)

1 1/2 cups light cream chesse

1 cup sugar

1 cup 1% low-fat cottage cheese

1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup amaretto

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg

2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate mini morsels


Sprinkle wafers in bottom of 7 inch spring form pan. Process cottage cheese in food processer until smooth. Blend cream cheese, cottage cheese, cocoa, flour, sugar, amaretto, vanilla and salt until well blended and smooth. Add egg and blend well. Fold in mini chips.

Pour mixture over crumbs in pan. Bake at 300 for 65 to 70 minutes or until cheesecake is set. Let cool on wire rack. Cover and chill at least 8 hours. Remove sides of pan. Garnish with chocolate curls, if desired.


If you prefer, this can be baked in an 8 inch pan, just bake for less time.

Also, for chocolate mint cake, use 1/4 cup creame de menthe in place of amaretto


Photo credit: http://img.timeinc.net/recipes/i/recipes/ck/clce/chocolate-cheesecake-ck-226324-l.jpg

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pie Crust Cookies

One of the easiest and tastiest treats on my Christmas cookie platter is my piecrust cookie. It's so simple it's almost embarrassing! It is a beautiful little crescent of a cookie, oozing with cinnamon, and lightly glazed. I use a pre-made pie crust, particularly Pillsbury, but you can use your own favorite recipe if you're a pie crust purist. Part of the advantage of using the pre-made crust is the ease and quickness of the recipe, which is not lost on me during the hectic holiday baking season.




Pie Crust Cookies

Dough for 2-crust pie
Softened butter
Cinnamon and sugarGlaze (recipe follows)



Unroll dough (or roll your own into a round as if you were baking a pie).
Lightly brush top side of dough with softened butter.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar to cover.
Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut circle into 16 wedges.
Roll wedges crescent-roll style.

Place cookies on parchment-lined cookie sheet, turning edges just a bit to create crescent shape.
Bake at 375 degrees F until they begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Move to wire rack that sits in a pan or over a piece of foil which will catch the drippings from the glaze.

When cooled, drizzle with glaze.

Glaze recipe:
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 tablespoon water to start, add more a few drops at a time and continue to beat sugar with wooden spoon until it is a nice glaze consistency. Drizzle over cookies. Allow to set until glaze is hardened.

Photo Credit: http://creampuffsinvenice.ca/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/sugarbetweenthesheets2.jpg

A Moon-lit Vermont Drive

Last night I was driving back from Killington, Vermont, almost exactly 100 miles from my new home. I'd gone there after work, to lend a hand (and then some) to one of my grown children, which I do a lot of lately and which will be necessary for a while longer, until "he gets his feet" after a continued rough patch. Unfortunately, just as I was leaving to come home, his dog Hayden (Bloodhound) bounded out the front door and I tried to catch him, because if a Bloodhound gets loose it runs forever. I did manage to grab the dog but slipped on the ice-glazed porch and pulled my hamstring. I came in and sat for a while and Joe gave me some pain reliever, but I had to get going and drove all the way home in a lot of pain. Russ, my boyfriend-slash-chiropractor, told me to ice it, so when I got home I put a frozen bag of Brussels sprouts under my leg and sat on the couch. (That's about all Brussels sprouts are good for -- I try to like them, but I just can't. So, they served my purpose.)

Driving home over the moon-lit mountains and valleys from Killington through Rutland and Whitehall toward Lake George, I listened to a number of stations fading in and out from western Vermont to eastern New York. I settled on one clear station which aired the Delilah show (somewhat sentimental if not totally sappy) and listened to callers requesting songs for their loved ones, from a young girl fondly remembering her favorite Christmas when her single mother had no money for presents or dinner and secret "angels" showed up Christmas morning with all the goods, to a love-struck boy dedicating a song to his girlfriend, to a woman wanting to send out a song to a secret love. It's all too sweet but at the same time I couldn't stop listening. Their drama minimized my own in a way, and took my mind off my painful thigh for a while. For each request, Delilah played a Christmas song, and when the last request for "Christmas Shoes" came in, I had to turn off the radio. That song is just too sad and I knew it would do me in.

Today at work, I changed the calendar from November to December. When we looked out the window to see the first snowflakes of the season dancing outside our window, my friend Mary decided to remove the now-obsolete autumn decorations and replaced them with snow-flocked pine bows and large snowflakes. It seems, whether I'm ready or not, Christmas is right around the corner. Maybe that first batch of Christmas cookies will infuse me with holiday spirit, or maybe listening to the same Andy Williams Christmas album my Mom loved will do it. I'm not sure when or where, but I'm sure it will hit, and I hope it hits hard!

Photo credit: irishviews.com