Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

This morning started out with an unexpected twist.  I couldn't get in to the Skidmore gym, which was supposed to be open despite the fact that the college is closed for the day.  So, plan B. I decided to drive over to the Saratoga Spa State Park and walk the loop that encirlces the Avenue of the Pines and the Gideon Putnam Hotel.  I parked in the hotel parking lot and, for the heck of it, decided to bring my camera along for the walk.  I thought I might see some pretty flowers to try the macro setting on, or some squirrels playing, who knows...  Anyway, the light was just beautiful this morning.  I walked at a quick pace (I thought, until I heard "behind  you" by a woman who quickly left me in her dust) but stopped every now and then when I was inspired to shoot. 

The walk along the Avenue was just beautiful.  The sun was pouring through the pines in ribbons of light, and I realized how glad I was that the gym doors were locked this morning.  I heard a lot of barking as I rounded the South Broadway end of the paved walkway, and wondered if I was coming upon a dog show.  Nope.  Today it was X-games for dogs.  There were many breeds, but Border Collies seemed to be cleaning up.  Vans were lined all along the walkway, all the doors open, as dogs waited in crates for their turn to compete. 

Headed back toward the Gideon Putnam Hotel, along the old Avenue of the Pines, couples on bikes passed by.  I think the hotel must rent out bikes because there were many.  I stopped to admire the golf course, and further up I was reminded of one of my first jobs as I passed the entrance to the Saratoga Tree Nursery.  I spent one spring break there pulling up and bundling pine tree yearlings.  It was as close to working in the fields as I ever want to get (probably because of that unfortunate fall off the back of a pick-up onto the gravel road).  Not my fondest memory. 

What I did enjoy about being out this morning was how friendly people are.  Most said "hello" or "good-morning" with a smile.  Compared to how much of my life is indoors -- at work, at home baking, even inside at the gym -- it just felt good to be outdoors and aware of how beautiful this area of the world is in the summer.  One such friendly walker was someone I recognized, not a friend, but a long-established anchor woman on local TV.  I've seen her out shopping on occasion and she is sometimes bothered by "fans" but today, she beamed a warm and welcoming smile.  I took her picture from behind but decided I wouldn't want anyone to post one of me, so I'm not posting it.

When I left the park, I stopped by St. Peter's Cemetary to visit my parents and to remember my dad for his service in the Army from 1941-1945.  As usual, I had a little conversation with my parents, telling them how much I miss them, how much I admire them and my gratitude for my father's service but more for his unabashed love for his wife and children, and overflowing adoration of his grandchildren.  I told them how much they'd have loved their great-grandchildren.  

 It's always emotional, my visit to the cemetary.  Selfishly, I asked for help with specific life challenges, saying "I know you have connections up there (I guarantee they are "up there").  I left telling them I love them.  The cemetary was really beautiful this morning, with Veterans' flags waving in the bright sunshine.  I'm so glad it is such a lovely day,  and that my camera came along with me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Easy, No Bake, Ice Cream Sandwich Cake!

The motivation for this recipe comes from my friend Judy Kennedy, who makes a version of this for her family.  This recipe is adapted from Judy's and from Taste of Home.  It's a simple, no-bake, freezer dessert, and perfect for a Memorial Day picnic (as long as you have a freezer nearby!).

ICE CREAM SANDWICH CAKE

19 ice cream sandwiches

1 jar (16 ounces) hot fudge ice cream topping
1-1/2 cups salted peanuts (omit if peanut allergy is a concern) OR cookie/candy topping of your choice
3 Heath candy bars (1.4 ounces each)
2 cartons (8 ounces each) frozen whipped topping, thawed

Directions

Cut one ice cream sandwich in half. Place one whole and one half sandwich along a short side of an ungreased 13-in. x 9-in. dish. Arrange eight sandwiches in opposite direction in the dish. Remove lid from fudge topping. Microwave 15-30 seconds to warm; stir. Spread one-half of fudge topping over ice cream sandwiches. Spread one container of whipped topping over top.

In a food processor, combine peanuts (or substitute) and candy bars. Cover and pulse until chopped. Sprinkle one-half of mixture over whipped topping layer. Repeat layer of ice cream sandwiches, fudge topping and whipped topping over top of cake. Sprinkle with remaining candy mixture.

Cover and freeze for up to 2 months. Remove from the freezer 20 minutes before serving. Cut into squares. Yield: 15 servings.
 


Photo credit: http://hostedmedia.reimanpub.com/TOH/Images/Photos/37/exps38499_THCS1115476D75.jpg

Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day and Hooray for Summer!

This summer is one very welcome season.  I hear people say that this past winter wasn't "that bad."  Well, if you drive a little Mazda with "specialty" tires and can't make it up an almost 1/8 mile driveway, I beg to differ.  Or, is it that I'm getting older and sprouting some snow-bird like feathers?  That may be.  Either way, bring on the longest days of the year, soaring temperatures, and cool, aquatic refreshment!  I love a beach, a pool, a kiddie pool, even a sprinkler!  I love it all!  I love the familiar scent of Coppertone, an icy slice of watermelon, driving with my sun roof open.  Summer is, simply, the best!

Memorial Day officially launches the summer season in this part of the world.  The calendar may want to wait a few weeks for that summer solstice business, but once Memorial Day hits, to me, it is summer.  Flowers are everywhere, in window boxes, hanging planters, and crocks.  Freshly-mowed lawns provide a scent that even Chanel No. 5 can't compete with.  Baseball games, from Little League to the big leauges, get people outside and rooting for the favorite team.  At day's end, a big orange setting sun reminds me of the old adage "Red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning."  (My mother used to say that!)

When winter takes up a good half of the year, summer is relished.  You notice the aroma of barbequed meat.  Even vegetarians probably can't help but primally notice the irresistible lure of seared beef!  (Sorry to offend, my vegan friends).  The crisp sound of an ear of corn being shucked, and later how delicious it is with butter and a little salt, is almost too much to anticipate!  It cannot be replicated through the rest of the year.  Corn has to be eaten fresh to be fully appreciated.  I love the bread and butter variety, with a mix of white and yellow kernels. 

One aspect of summer that I am not too thrilled with is the number of bug bites I have already fallen victim to.  Those no-see-ums have got me good, and my wrists and ankles have taken the brunt of it. If you see me, do not be alarmed.  Yes, they are bites.  No, it is not a pox-upon-me, though it feels like it at night when, in retrospect, I'd be better off wearing socks on my hands to keep from scratching!  If you see me in long sleeves, you'll know why.

I'm hoping to post a number of favorite summer recipes soon, and I'd like to ask you to send me your favorite.  What is it you just want to see on a picnic table in the summer?  What favorite memory do you have of summer time and the food that goes with it?  Let me know, and I'll showcase that recipe for you.  In the meantime, enjoy your weekend. 

And let's take time to remember that Memorial Day is not  just the official start of summer; it is, more importantly, the day to honor Veterans who have served to protect our freedoms.  Among them, I honor my father, Alfred J. (Val) O'Farrell, U.S. Army, who, along with my Uncles Bud McGeehan and Eddie Cella and countless others, served in World War II.  May they rest in honored peace.

One year ago today: http://adirondackbaker.blogspot.com/2009/05/once-in-airport-my-nose-followed.html




Photo credit: http://www.ci.windsor.ca.us/images/pages/N664/American%20Flag.jpg

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hearth and Harvest for Pizza

Last night Katie and Bill were out and about with Henry (looking for AC for their very warm upstairs) and called to see if I wanted to meet them for dinner.  I'd heard that Hearth and Harvest on the very northern tip of Saratoga Lake was a good place to go, so I met them there.  It's on Stafford's Bridge Road, across the bridge from the Skidmore Boat House.

When I pulled up, Bill and Henry had just been down to the water to look at fish.  The restaurant inhabits a very colorful spot, complete with a brightly painted kayak-rental hut.  The restaurant itself is painted in cheerful colors as well, with a lively green exterior (and a nice deck overlooking the docks).  Inside, it is clean and uncluttered, with yellow painted walls and simple wooden tables and chairs, which look like they might be from Ikea, very basic.  There are paintings on the walls of the main dining room, which is at the opposite end of an open room that houses a large pizza oven and the pizza-making station. It makes for interesting viewing while you wait.

The menu offers soups, salads, pizza, beer, wine, and desserts.  Bill and I shared a house salad with chipotle ranch dressing, and it was great.  It had a real kick, and we both liked it alot.  Katie had a house salad with balsamic dressing, and loved it.  She and Bill shared a barbequed chicken pizza, and raved about it.  I ordered a pizza with sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, and sausage.  It was also very good.  Henry didn't order a thing, but shared in the abundance of our dinners.  He and I had taken a few walks outside (because he's 2 and doesn't  understand why his apple juice order wasn't delivered immediately!).  We walked to the end of the docks and looked into the water at little sunfish.  We walked over to a glider swing under the trees and hung out there for a while.  We went back toward the water to check out kayaks and he sat in a kid-sized Adirondack Chair.  He was very busy.  We had a long conversation but I don't really know most of what he said.  I just kept saying "That's right.  You're such a smart boy!"

Pizza arrived and we rejoined Katie and Bill.  The pizzas are gorgeous, with crusts that are very, very thin, almost cracker-thin.  The toppings are portioned perfectly -- not too much and certainly not too little.  These are not hearty pizzas.  One large pizza (around $18.00) might feed two people who aren't terribly hungry.  The small pizza ($9 or so) might leave you wanting more.  The price might seem steep to those of us who are used to grabbing a $2.50 slice at other favorite pizza places, but here you are paying for all-organic, wood-fire grilled pizzas, and I think it's worth it once in a while.  If you want a mixed drink, you'll have to wait.  Right now, Hearth and Harvest serves only beer and wine, and soft drinks (and in Henry's case, apple juice). 

One year ago today: http://adirondackbaker.blogspot.com/2009/05/memories-of-strawberry-shortcake.html


Photo credit: http://blog.timesunion.com/tablehopping/files/2009/08/harvest-pizza.jpg

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

One Year Later

Adirondack Baker was born one year ago today.  With that first blog, I had a vision of what this blog would be.  While it has not been, so far, what I expected -- a repository for other peoples' recipes and stories -- it is a place that people like to visit.  What I want you to find here is a sense of home, where you'll read something that will spark a nostalgic memory, or where you find inspiration to make something you haven't tried before.

The initial vision of writing about recipes and stories hasn't veered too far from its origin.  Until those start pouring in from readers with more consistency, I will continute to find inspiration in my own memories and experiences, from as long ago as childhood and as recent as yesterday's dinner.  When it comes to food, there is always something to talk about, and it is usually not about the food specifically,  but also about the experience of sharing that food with people we love, the details of the setting, and the memory that shared experience evokes.  Whether it's a meal in a downtown restaurant or something whipped up at home, it's not the meal itself so much that I remember; it's the time with friends and family that resonates, long after.

Thank you for being part of Adirondack Baker.  On year later -- How sweet it is!

One year ago today: http://adirondackbaker.blogspot.com/2009/05/welcome-to-adirondack-baker.html


Image credit: http://wpgarage.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/bdaycake.jpg

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Heat Wave and Val O'Farrell's Tuna Salad

Upstate New York is experiencing a heat wave, and I will not complain.  It's hot, I'm hot, it's hard to sleep.  BUT...it's not snowing, and that's a good thing!  Days like this remind me of a summer-night dinner my father would often make.  It was a tuna salad.  He'd take a regular green salad (for us, iceberg lettuce, some sliced tomato, a radish or two), a scoop of tuna, and Good Season's Italian Dressing.  In the 60s and 70s, salad was iceberg lettuce, not just in the O'Farrell house, but in my friends' homes as well.  We never had Boston Bib, Red Leaf,  Arugula, or spring mix.  Nope, just plain old iceberg, its cold crunch very satisfying with whatever it was paired.  (When I was a little girl, I used to ask for a lettuce sandwich - just lettuce, a little mayo, some pepper, on white bread.  Everyone ate white bread then.)

My dinner tonight was not even that fancy.  I popped some light microwave popcorn and Katie later offered me a slice of Paul Newman frozen cheese pizza.  It's not the protein-packed dinner I've become used to since I started the exercise study four weeks ago.  There is no energy for cooking anything tonight!  I will drink my protein shake and sip some ice water, and fondly remember the summer tuna salad my father used to make.  I'll plan to make that another night, when the heat hasn't zapped all my energy!

Here's to a good night's sleep (let's hope!).

Val O'Farrell's Tuna Salad

1 head iceberg lettuce, cleaned and shredded
tomato slices
a few radishes, sliced
2 cans Chicken of the Sea Solid White Tuna
Hellman's Mayonnaise
Good Season's Italian Dressing, made according to package directions (use the free cruet!)

Assemble salad with lettuce, tomato, and radishes.  Divide into single servings.  Drain tuna and mix with desired amount of mayonnaise.  Divide in portions on top of salad . 

Mix up the Good Seasons.  Give it a shake.  Drizzle over scoops of tuna on top of salad mixture.

Welcome to summer!

Image: http://www.cool1055.com/articles/images/CHICKEN%20OF%20THE%20SEA.jpg

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Skidmore College's Commencement and a Special Celebration!

This has been a quiet Sunday, much needed after a very busy two days.  This morning I watched Henry so Katie could go to the grocery store.  Henry's dad Bill was playing with his tractor and moving giant rocks from point A to point B, building a rock garden. Katie has many sprouted seedlings waiting to be transplanted.  It's hard to tell when the danger of frost is truly over -- I think they're safe now.  I am glad for this quiet Sunday.  The first-half of the weekend was filled with a lot of happy activity which seems to have wiped me out! 

Yesterday was one of the most enjoyable days I've spent in a very long time.  My co-worker Mary and I attended Skidmore College's Commencement at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to honor our graduating student assistant, Ivan, who's worked in our office for four years.  He came to the United States from Croatia as a  basketball recruit for Kent School in Connecticut.  From Kent he came to Skidmore where he consistently earned Liberty League's all-academic men's basketball team designation for carrying a 3.2 gpa or higher.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to meet Ivan's mother, Inga (pictured with Ivan, above left), who came to the United States for the first time in her life to attend her son's college graduation.  It was an emotional time for her as she met so many people who have cared for and loved her son since he came to the U.S.  While she speaks very little English, Inga's sentiments were very clear--joy, gratitude, and overflowing love for Ivan and the life he has been able to experience here--all the while realizing how much she has missed.  What a sacrifice she's made in letting go so her son could realize his dreams.   Inga had special thanks for Mary (pictured with Ivan, right) who opened her home to Ivan at Christmas time during his early years at Skidmore, when he couldn't make the trip back home to Croatia. 

After the commencement ceremony, Mary and I joined Ivan, his mother, and his lovely girlfriend Kelli Quinn Sullivan (Skidmore '09) and her family at Prime, at Saratoga National Golfcourse.  It is a beautiful venue and we were seated outdoors where we dined casually while overlooking the ?-th hole (!) as golfers played through.  In a tent nearby, a wedding ceremony was taking place.  It was a sun-filled afternoon out on a beautiful patio.  Umbrellas provided shade while we sat, so relaxed, for what seemed to be too-short a time but was actually hours of easy and happy conversation. 

Also with us, celebrating Ivan's success, was George-Ann Gowan, widow of Don Gowan, Ivan's basketball coach at Kent.  She shared the story of how her husband (because of a dorm-space shortage) manipulated her into letting Ivan stay in their home for "a night or two, or maybe a week" which turned into many months.  It seems Ivan became a real part of their family during that time.  He fell in love with them and with their bull dog. When he came to Skidmore, he shared stories of time in their home, and played videos for us of the bull dog's antics.  For Ivan, the Gowan's home was truly home away from home.  Coach Gowan's sudden death two years ago was a shock and a very sad time for Ivan.  He has remained very close with George-Ann.

When it came time for Ivan to open a few gifts, George-Ann asked if I would take a photo of her and Ivan as she presented him his gift.  She quietly walked over to him, hugged him and whispered in his ear as she handed him something very small. There were quiet tears as she presented Ivan with her husband's whistle.  It was incredibly poingant and while it was a personal moment between the two of them, we all felt the significance of such a meaningful and cherished gift. 

Mary and I were so honored to be included in yesterday's celebration of Ivan's life, of his accomplishments.  He will continue to realize success, already having landed a terrific position in New York City, with plans to pursue his M.B.A. in a year or so.  I told Ivan's he's "the golden child" but really, he's earned every bit of success that's come his way.  He's worked, and played, so hard.  Without such perserverence, I doubt I'd be writing this today.

Here's an article from Scope Magazine, Skidmore's alumni publication, about Ivan and a fellow team-mate.  Please read and see for yourself why Mary and I are so grateful to have had this time with him: http://www.skidmore.edu/scope/spring2009/campus_scene/teammates.htm

Photos:  by me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Beautiful Day, A Gorgeous Sunset

As I was driving westward home this evening, the sun was setting.  It was one of those giant, blazing orange sunsets, and I caught it just as the sun was settling over hills in the distance. 

Today was a happy day.  I work at a college and we celebrated our graduates at a colleague's home.  We were blessed with a beautiful day, unlike other years when a deluge of rain sent the crowd packing indoors. 

I became aware, as I was talking with a student I don't know well, that it's too late.  I am just getting to know him and I just now realize how smart and interesting all these graduates are, and just as we become better acquainted, they're leaving!  I lamented that I don't work with these interesting people as they enter college; rather, I work with them as they devise and write their final projects.  I get to know them well during their last four months of college.  It's not enough time.

So I drove home thinking of tidbits of conversation, promises to keep in touch, and visions of all their beautiful faces in my mind.  We have candid shots and a group photo to remember them by, which will join group photos of previous graduating classes that hang  in my office.  Every now and then I just have to stop, look at a face, and try to remember how much I enjoyed that student.

I was waxing nostalgic on the way home, and when I stopped at Stewart's for gas, I came upon a parked truck.  It was in beautiful condition, a vintage-era Ford fuel truck.  It was magnificent.  I took a picture so you can see it too. 

I hope you all had a lovely day.

Photos by  me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Humpty Dumpty in Saratoga Springs

Sometimes I tell myself I'll skip dinner altogether and just have dessert.  Last night I stopped at Humpty Dumpty on my way home from work.  I had a small vanilla/chocolate twist dipped in chocolate and it was my dinner!  Here, small means small, not tiny.  For $2.25, it is a bargain compared to the price of ice cream at downtown ice cream shops.

Humpty Dumpty is an institution in Saratoga Springs.  Located on West Avenue, it has served families and baseball teams since my kids were little.  My own kids' baseball and softball teams often met there after a win, and sometimes, when necessary, after a disappointing loss. 

When she was tiny, my daughter Meghan used to ask "Can we go to  Humpity Dumpity?"  My kids loved it then, and still do.  It's a simple brick and wooden structure, all windows up front, with an awning overhead.  They always have the prettiest window boxes filled with lush petunias and ivy.  We don't go there for the simple charm, though.  We go for ice cream!  Ice cream orders are placed at the windows to the left, and submarine sandwiches at the window to the right.  Usually, I order a dole whip twist, which is half soft sorbet (flavors change regularly) twisted with Only-8, a low-calorie vanilla yogurt.  But for dinner last night, I was looking for something more substantial. I wanted some oomph, so ice cream it was.  I don't know what brand of ice cream mix comes out of the machines at Humpty Dumpty, but it is creamy and silky smooth.  The chocolate is dark and rich.  It is not typical ice-cream-stand fare. 

As I sat in my little Mazda eating my cone, I watched to see what people ordered.  (I come from a long line of "gapers," my mother having been the champ.) Families with children sat at a picnic table with various-sized cones dipped in sprinkles.  A tiny woman returned to her car (with a very impatient, very large barking dog) carrying a giant twist cone, so large it almost tipped over, and a little dish of vanilla, most likely for her noisy passenger.  A couple of teenagers ordered milkshakes.  Cars that don't stop at the stand slow down as they drive by, perhaps evaluating the length of the line or trying to decide, "should I?"  Yes, you should.

Like most ice cream stands, Humpty Dumpty has a menu complete with cones and a variety of toppings, sundaes, ice cream sodas, shakes, flurries and more.  I enjoy going there because an old friend from my kids' elementary school days, Bonnie Older, has worked there for years.  We catch up at the window.  She leans her tall self down to the screened opening, and we talk about what's going on in our lives, our kids, and now grandchildren. 

It's good that Humpty Dumpty is still here.  It's familiar, and people wait anxiously for it to open every spring.  Sometimes I regret that Saratoga Springs has taken on such an anonymously-urban feel.  Walking downtown, I miss the personal touch of the one-of-a-kind establishments that used to line Broadway, mostly owned for generations by one family.  My friend Ricky's parents owned Covkin's; our neighbors, the Alberts, owned Glickman's.  My own father-in-law had a TV repair store.  Though our main thoroughfare is indeed more sophisticated now, beautiful and home to lovely stores (Eddie Bauer, Gap, Ann Taylor Loft, Borders to name a few), it is certainly less personal.  So I take the short ride west of Broadway to West Avenue, and stop at Humpty Dumpty, and say hello to Bonnie.

Photo credit: http://profile.ak.fbcdn.net/object2/512/114/n72270847522_4731.jpg

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Key Lime Mousse

I've been thinking about desserts for Memorial Day.  I could come up with the standard red, white, and blue desserts that are present at every picnic from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and I will probably do that this summer, but today I'm thinking green.  Limes.  Limes mean summer to me.  They are fresh, juicy, tangy and tart.  Their citrus essence, sweetened and cooled with whipping cream and the nuttiness of graham crackers, is (for me) irresistible.  But I love lime-flavored anything, most especially key lime pie.  This mousse recipe,  from recipezaar.com, is a nice take on that famous dessert, but in an easy, less-structured, easy-to-serve form.


KEY LIME MOUSSE

    * 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
    * 3/4 cup key lime juice or lime juice
    * 1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
    * 1 1/2 cups sugar
    * 2 cups whipping cream
    * 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
    * 1/2 cup warm water
    * 1 lime
    * 6 eggs
    * 1/4 teaspoon salt
    * 12 honey graham crackers, finely crushed
    * 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
  • In a mixing bowl, soak the gelatin in warm water until it softens and dissolves, stirring occasionally. Gradually stir the lime juice and zest into the gelatin and set mixture aside.
  • In a large bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and salt at high speed until thick and foamy, 7-10 minutes. Reduce speed to low and beat in key lime mixture.
  • Cover bowl and refrigerate until mixture begins to set but is still liquidy- approx 1 hour.
  • Whip 1 cup of whipping cream until it forms soft peaks and fold into key lime mixture.
  • Pour half the key lime mixture into a large bowl and sprinkle a layer of crushed graham cracker crumbs on top, reserving 3 tablespoons. Fill bowl with remaining key lime mixture and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
  • Before serving, whip remaining cream with confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Pipe or spoon cream on mousse and sprinkle remaining graham cracker crumbs on top.
Garnish with sliced limes.


Recipe source: http://www.recipezaar.com/recipe/Key-Lime-Mousse-158038
Photo credit: http://bobzuck.com/KeyLime.jpg

Monday, May 17, 2010

Guilty Pleasure: Jewel Quest

Hello, my name is Jeannie, and I play Jewel Quest.  There, it's out.  I admit it.  It's a weakness, an obsession, an occasional escape.  I find it especially welcome during those occasions when a diversion is preferable to, let's say, reality.  I open up a session of Jewel Quest on Yahoo Games (it's free, online) and I go through a couple puzzles (each about five minutes) until I'm kicked out.  Perhaps its tropical essence is what attracts me.  There are calls of exotic birds and other jungle-like noises that sound off when a good move is made.  Or perhaps it's the adrenalin rush of beating the screen, until you don't.  The escape comes in the form of required undivided attention;  if you stop to think of anything else, you're done.  For saavy game players, JQ is probably considered entry-level or baby steps.  I have never been into digital games, so this relatively new behavior doesn't have me worried.  I can quit, any time. Really.  If I have to...

SO, if you do manage to get to 30,000 points (about six puzzles worth) you get to see the totem's head glow and all his teeth flash golden light.  It's really a beautiful sight.

Some people take coffee breaks.  I break for Jewel Quest.

Image source: http://games-mix.com/jewel-quest/screenshot-1.jpg

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hannah's First Communion

Yesterday I made a First Communion cake for my great-neice, Hannah.  Hannah is the daughter of my neice Sarah and her husband Bob, and she is the spitting image of her mom as a little girl.  She was beautiful in a gorgeous white dress, and on her head she wore a headband of white rosettes, made by her Grandma, my sister-in-law Lynn.  There was a small party at their home after the ceremony.  The afternoon was cool but sunny, and little cousins ran and played in the back yard.  Sarah and Bob served Giffy's barbequed chicken and pulled pork, potato salad (Lynn's, and it was delicous!) and a crisp tossed salad.  When it came time to serve the cake, Hannah's little sister Katie was very excited.  She actually moved "cake time" up a bit!  After cake, Hannah opened her gifts.  She received lovely, appropriate gifts for such an occasion -- a children's Bible and a volume of Bible stories, a beautiful picture frame to hold memories of the day, earrings for her soon-to-be pierced ears, pearls from her grandmothers to add to her collection, an Irish music box, a pretty pendant, and from me -- a cupcake making kit! (not exactly spiritual but it was from the heart and something I know she will enjoy).

The weekend was off to a festive start, too, with a reception my friends Catherine and Michael hosted in honor of my recently-awarded masters degree.  I was humbled by the party, and tried to thank everyone but got a little emotional! This is a weekend of family, friends, celebration for milestones, and gratitude for all of it.  Henry, especially enjoyed the reception.  Catherine and Michael have two cats, and Henry tried tirelessly to make friends with Rose and Lee.  After a few attempts, they ran and hid!

God Bless Hannah, and here's to meaningful time together with people we love.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Spa, and I Don't Mean a Massage

This morning I was out early running errands and decided to head home through the state park.  The Spa, as it is referred to, is a vast park home to two golf courses, the Gideon Putnam Hotel, The Automobile Museum, the Victoria and Peerless Pools, The Spa Little Theater, tennis courts, natural geyser springs, and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC).  Driving the required 25 mph along the Avenue of the Pines, my mind is transported back to a time when I was a very little girl.  There was a previous Avenue of the Pines, now closed to traffic, a little farther south down Route 9, and it lead directly to the Gideon Putnam.  It was (and still is) a magical road, and when I was a very young child, neighbors Mary and Joe used to "borrow" me (they had no children and my parents had seven!) for occasional excursions here and there.  One of our regular stops was the Avenue of the Pines.  The reason it was so enchanting, for me, is that Mary and Joe told me that fairies and pixies lived in the trees.  I can still see those little figures in my imagination, Disney-esque miniatures that, in my mind, resembled Tinker Bell and the Lucky Charms leprechaun! 

Years later, episodes of my life replay as I take the short connection between Route 9 and Route 50.  In high school, my class (SSHS '72)  loved to gather at the Geysers.  We'd spend entire days there (some were senior skip days!) playing ball, walking barefoot in the stream, hiking through the woods, and cooking out.  Friends and I spent summer days at the elegant Victoria pool, sun bathing in the company of ballerinas from the New York City Ballet.  I remember thinking we had the best class ever, because everyone was welcome, we always had a great time, and it was so much fun just being with each other.  I can't drive through that area without thinking of the meaningful friendships that were formed and are still maintained despite years and distance that separate us from that time.

One of my first jobs was as a day camp counselor.  A few days every week, we took our little charges to the Spa Pool (formally called the Peerless Pool) for swimming lessons.  Then the campers and counselors would stay for the day.  I can still smell the french fries from the concession stand.  There was something about a hot sunny day, a cold pool, the faint smell of chlorine, the scent of Coppertone, and aroma of french fries just out of the hot oil that bring me right back!  It's an odd concoction of sensory memory, but I love it!

When my children were little, at first we lived in a couple of small apartments.  We loved the Spa Park for picnics and time outdoors.  We had no money, really, but happy memories were made there.  It was a great way to spend a day without having to spend a lot of money on entry fees.  Our water park was the Peerless Pool and the Geyser stream.  Our amusements were the playground and the natural surroundings.  Our food court was a picnic table and a basket filled with simple things -- a loaf of bread, jars of peanut butter and jelly, a pitcher of lemonade, and cookies.

Next time I drive through the park, I'm going to park my car, get out, take a long walk, and revisit some of the happiest memories of my life.

Photo credit: http://robynandgreg.com/images/avepines.jpg

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sophisticated Rice Krispie Treats? Yes!

One of my favorite food blogs, Smitten Kitchen, posted a recipe for Browned Butter Rice Krispie treats a while back.  SK's blogger, Deb, is a great cook and baker, and she has been at this blogging thing for much, much longer than me. I actually have a bit of blog-envy when I read her posts, but I also come away with inspiration and appreciation of her passion for food, her writing skill and lightning-quick wit.

Deb's version of the popular Kellogg's snack treat takes a different twist.  She uses more butter, and browns it to a dark nuttiness.  Then she yings and yangs the whole thing by garnishing the old standard with sea salt!  Other than those two unexpected turns, it is still the reliable Rice Krispie Treat, but with a sophistication that an adult can truly appreciate.

SALTED BROWNED BUTTER RICE KRISPIE TREATS from Smitten Kitchen

Deb says:

"What’s different about these? Oh, just a bit more (coughdouble) butter which you toast until it’s brown and nutty and help along with some coarse salt, just minor things. But it changes everything...

Makes 16 2-inch squares or 32 1- x 2-inch small bars

4 ounces (1/4 pound or 1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan
1 10-ounce bag marshmallows
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)

Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides.

In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.

As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on low until the marshmallows are smooth.

Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together. Quickly spread into prepared pan. I liked to use a piece of waxed or parchment paper that I’ve sprayed with oil to press it firmly and evenly into the edges and corners, though a silicon spatula works almost as well.

Let cool, cut into squares and get ready to make new friends."

Recipe credit: http://smittenkitchen.com/2009/11/salted-brown-butter-crispy-treats/

Photo credit: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_k9xR-pPrZMQ/S-10Dy6AW3I/AAAAAAAAA0A/HSha0d_GkhU/s1600/ricekrispietreats2.jpg

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Strawberry Brownie Shortcake and My Little Dipper

Last night my daughter Katie made dinner, a chicken-and-rice dish in the crock pot, which was great.  She asked me if I had any salad fixings, which I didn't (my fridge is currently host to three eggs, a bar of butter, expired milk, and some Colby cheese that really needs to be thrown out.  Time to go shopping!).  There was no lettuce (which is probably a good thing right now) so dinner was served with bright and fresh broccoli and cut up veggies -- tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots.  Katie also baked a great flatbread, made of pizza dough brushed with olive oil and seasonings.  Henry especially loves his veggies -- dipping, that is.  He loves to dip anything, especially in ranch dressing!  Not sure whether he actually ate any carrot, but it made a great dipper which he utilized with remarkable 2-year-old skill!

While we were enjoying dinner, Katie had a pan of brownies in the oven.  She had sliced up a bowl of beautiful strawberries.  After dinner, she served brownie squares (still warm) with strawberries and whipped cream.  I will have to do triple-duty in the gym tomorrow morning to make up for it!  BUT, this does not have to be such a dangerous dessert.  It can be made very calorie-friendly by using a low-fat/whole grain brownie (No-Pudge makes a good mix), the strawberries are fine, and a spritz of light whipped cream (Reddi-Whip).  This is just too good to pass by!

STRAWBERRY BROWNIE SHORTCAKE

  • Your favorite brownie recipe, baked and cooled for about 20 minutes
  • About a pint of sliced strawberries, macerated in about 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • Whipped cream

Bake a pan of brownies and let cool for about 20 minutes.  Plate brownies and cover with strawberries and a little bit of juice.  Top with whipped cream, and just try to go back to a standard strawberry shortcake after this!

Photo credit: http://www.landolakes.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/12560berry-delicious-brownie11-450x571.jpg

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Spicy Chicken Satay

In my position, I do a lot of event planning for different occasions each semester and especially at the end of the year.  This means I work with our Dining Services team to come up with the perfect menu.  One of my absolute favorite menu items is Spicy Chicken Satay, a delicious concoction of marinated chicken breast strips, laced onto skewers, and grilled to perfection.  Served with a spicy peanut satay sauce, these are a HUGE hit at every event.  This recipe, adapted from recipezaar.com, makes about 30 skewers or five servings.  The 78 people who reviewed this recipe raved about it, so you'll probably like it, too.


SPICY CHICKEN SATAY

    * 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
    * 1 cup coconut milk
    * 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    * 2 tablespoons soy sauce
    * 1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
    * 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    * 2 garlic cloves, chopped
    * 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (you can crush them)
    * 2 lbs. chicken cutlets
    * 30 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 mins

   1. Mix first 8 ingredients, remove 3/4 and refrigerate.
   2. Cut chicken into strips and marinate in remaining 1/4th of the sauce, in refrigerator, for 1-2 hours.
   3. Heat grill or grill pan, and cook strips for a total of six minutes (3 minutes per side)
   4. Gently warm refrigerated sauce and use as a dip for the chicken.

Recipe adapted from: http://www.recipezaar.com/recipe/Chicken-Satay-WPeanut-Coconut-Sauce-49181
Photo credit: http://www.peninsulamalaysiancuisine.com/images/fd02_satay_chicken.jpg

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Exercise and Egg on the Mountain

I've only been exercising for three weeks, but I feel better already.  The best thing about exercising in the early morning is that it is over with and you don't have to think about it for the rest of the day.  Done, check, off the to-do list.  No guilt. Nothing hanging over your head.  It is the only way I will ever be successful at getting fit, since the early morning schedule impacts my life minimally.  I love that at 8:30 a.m. I am sitting at my desk, ready to work, with an upper body workout and sprints behind me, or lower body workout and a slew of ab exercises completed, depending on the day.  The study I'm part of requires four days of weight resistance exercise a week, so it's Monday/Thursday, upper body, and Tuesday/Friday, lower body.  Wednesdays and weekends off!  This is psychological genius!  Knowing that I have two days of exercise, a day off, two more days, and a weekend off makes it all very manageable.  My personal goal, with this study, is to establish a life-long pattern for these four days of the week, and really, there's no reason why this can't become a regular part of my life.

You see, I HATE (not a strong enough word) exercise classes.  I am no good at keeping up the noon-time or after work schedule.  At noon, I want to sit with my friends and have a relaxed lunch.  I want to talk about nothing or everything and mentally regroup before returning to work.  I don't want to rush through a sweaty exercise session, shower, and deal with wet hair, only to return late to the office.  So that doesn't work for me.  And after work, well the last thing I want to do is exercise, especially in the winter when it's already dark leaving work.  I just want to stop, go home, see little Henry, and relax. 

When the study was announced, at first I thought, hell NO, I can't get up earlier than usual to go to a gym before work.  Then I thought about it, and realized that there's no better time of the day, that nothing will be disrupted, that the "I don't feel like it" can't kick in if I get out of bed and immediately put on my gym clothes and sneakers.  It's half done, then.  Dressed and ready to go, my work clothes are already packed.  That decision was made the night before.  No standing in front of the mirror, ten minutes late for work, switching blouses and sweaters because nothing looks good.  No, no time for that negativity.  Instead, I choose the outfit ahead of time, pack it up without a trial run, and wear it the next day sans the self-loathing analysis.  It's liberating, actually.

There's usually a half-hour gap between leaving the gym and opening up the office, and some mornings I choose to drive to McDonald's for an Egg McMuffin or a Yogurt Parfait (yogurt addiction!).  It's a little reward I give myself for a job well-done.  I know that exercising and McDonald's seem like they're 180-degrees apart, but I have to have protein within an hour of exercise, and getting myself out the door so early sometimes means there's no time for a proper breakfast.  Very soon we'll be provided whey supplements and I'll be packing every meal, but for now, Mickey D's has been making my occasional breakfast. I get my McMuffin, and take the longer drive to work, down Union Avenue and up East Avenue to North Broadway.  It's a lovely few minutes before my day begins in earnest.

When I do make breakfast, it's typically an egg sandwich with a veggie sausage patty on a Trader Joe's whole grain English muffin, with a slice of real American Cheese.  This fills me up, is satisfying, and gets me off to a good start.  My daughter Meghan used to make these when she worked as a ski instructor at West Mountain.  She called it "egg on the mountain." 

Eggs on the Mountain Breakfast Sandwich

One whole grain English Muffin, toasted
One egg, over medium, cooked with a spray of canola oil
One serving Veggie patty (I cook mine in the microwave) or a slice of Canadian bacon
One slice of cheese

Assemble and eat, or wrap up for later!

Photo image: http://spicylolo.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/egg-mcmuffin.jpg

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bullseye, Food on My Shirt!

I scraped frost off my windshield this morning at 7 a.m..  There was a hard frost last night and we're a little worried about the newly-planted fruit trees in the yard.  I'm glad that Katie hasn't yet transplanted her seedlings into the garden.  My son Joe says this is all due to global warming,  I don't know about that, but I do know that it's pretty darn cold for May, even for upstate New York!

Katie has a nice fire started in her wood stove, which is a good thing because the warmer April days meant our heating days were over until late fall.  The warm air from the wood stove doesn't quite make its way to my section of the house, so I am grateful for the down cover I hadn't yet put away. 

This morning's frigid start gave way to a chilly but sunny afternoon.  My  friend and fellow-blogger Anne and I had lunch at Fifty South on Route 50, leading into Ballston Spa.  I had suggested a bagel lunch in downtown Saratoga, but Anne said she was craving a really good burger.  I'd never been to Fifty South (formerly Leo's Diner) so we jumped in my little Mazda and headed, where else, south!  It was a working lunch as we have exciting plans in the works for our blogging lives, a collaboration of sorts.  (Details will be announced once plans are settled.)  Anne is a frequent diner at Fifty South, had been there the day before for brunch, and raved about the fare. She said they took all the standard brunch favorites and enhanced them with extra-special ingredients. My morning weight resistance sessions leave me craving protein, so I eagerly ordered one of the best burgers I've ever had, with sweet potato fries on the side.  It seemed a bit indulgent but I must admit, it was very, very good.  I loved it, but it was kind of messy, with lettuce and tomato and ketchup all sliding around in the roll.  I cut it in half to manage it better, but it got me.  I looked down and saw a blob of ketchup on my white shirt, dead center.

I love ketchup.  Russ says it's a food group for me, that it is my vegetable.  That's an extreme exaggeration, of course.  I do appreciate ketchup on some things, especially burgers or fries, or a meatloaf sandwich on toast, and some types of eggs.  There are, of course, many foods I won't put ketchup on, but when the match is right, it can't be beat.  It is not without cost, however.  I seem to be the person who always has food on her shirt.  No matter what I'm eating, a little bit seems to drop and land just where I don't want it to.  It's almost a joke with my family and friends.  They just wait for the inevitable moment, and then give me that knowing (obnoxious) look.  Salad dressing and ketchup always seem to find their mark.  Most of my white t-shirts are ruined because of it.  I used to carry a Tide stick with me wherever I went,  a diner's epi-pen for a clothing emergency.  I finally gave up and now just deal with the laundry.  I wear pretty scarves a lot, as accessories, and today I told Anne that my scarves serve two purposes -- they do double duty as pretty bibs, catching whatever descends toward my shirt.  The more colorful the scarf, the less anyone will realize the truth!

If anyone is thinking of the perfect gift for someone like me, it's a beautiful (and washable) scarf!

Photo credit: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_YI49M_jnHUg/SYEWPsDi-bI/AAAAAAAAA9s/Gds22E_zqAo/s320/bullseye.gif

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

Mother's Day evokes memories from so many different perspectives, and for many of us, primarily memories of our own mothers.  For women, whether we are or aren't mothers provides additional meaning.  How we first came to be mothers, or whether we never did adds significance.  Dreams, hopes, and choices along the way add to the weight of such significance.  My entry into motherhood was not something I had planned, and at first filled me with fear and apprehension.  Too young to handle the responsibility, I was not able to raise my first child, and for his growing-up life, another woman had that honor until Jeffrey lost her, sadly, much too soon.  For the past eight years, I have happily joined his life and am, what I lovingly refer to as, "Mom - second shift."  Every Mother's Day my thoughts turn to Rosemary and to my love and appreciation for her as Jeffrey's first Mom.  I wrote a little bit about this before, in the post linked here.

Being a mother is not a matter of biology.  It is a matter of commitment, of relationship, nurturing, providing for, and being there.  Being a mother is defined by the responsibility for another human being, making sure that child is loved and protected, and seeing that resonsibility through.  It's not easy; it is often impossibly difficult, but we take it on with faith, optimism, and high, high hopes.

For those of us who are "seasoned" mothers, today is an opportunity to reflect on the job we've done, taking note of the joys and successes, and acknowledging, but not dwelling on,  the situations we'd rather "do over."  Rather than focus on the inevitable wrong turns we may have taken along the way, let's look at the successes.  Let's focus on the incredible individuals we've mothered from point A to point Z, whether they followed our recommended path or chose their own, perhaps bumpy, route.  Let's take joy in the fact that we had a part in changing the world, even the littlest bit. 

I can not evaluate my own contribution as a mother without considering the guidance and wisdom I've gleaned from my own mother, Virginia McGeehan O'Farrell, and mother-in-law Mary Lou Cogan Eddy.  My experience of motherhood has been enhanced by memories of my grandmothers, Anna O'Farrell and Loretta McGeehan, and my Aunt Jeanne, and by witnessing my sisters, sisters-in-law, and friends as we raised our children together. 

Most personally, to me, motherhood is Jeffrey, Joe, Katie, Meghan, and Tricia.  It now means being Granny O to Henry and  soon, Henry's little brother or sister. 

Happy Mother's Day to all moms and grandmothers, and to every one who is remembering their own mother on this special day.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sunflower Birthday Cake and Thoughts on Mother's Day

This week's special cake is for Avery who is celebrating her 7th birthday today.  I made her a 2-layer white and chocolate marble cake with buttercream frosting.  Avery's special request was for a sunflower cake.  At first I was going to make the entire top of the 10-inch round cake one giant sunflower blossom, but as the cake evolved (designs often evolve in process), I decided to make a bunch of sunflowers instead.  They encircle the number "7" adorned with a trellis of leaves and blossoms.  The sunflowers are set against a sky-blue background and little bumble bees keep them company. 

It's very easy to create this same look.  I used a biscuit cutter to lightly outline the sunflower centers, piped golden yellow buttercream around the perimeter of the circles with a pastry bag fitted with a star tip, and filled the centers with mini-chocolate chips.  If you are interested in a beginners project for decorating your first cake, this cake could be a good way to start.  If you are inspired to start decorating yourself, let me know and I'll be happy to share some pointers.

The rest of the weekend is before me.  Rain is falling steadily, and it looks like we're going to have a soggy Mother's Day.  My own mother has been gone for eight years, and I miss her, especially, this weekend.  But there are bright moments ahead.  I plan to visit my Mother-in-Law Mary Lou.  Even though her son and I were divorced long ago, she remains a very important part of my life, and I love her.  I am so fortunate to remain a part of her family.  It is always struggle to find the appropriate way to remember her.  There are no cards post-divorce to adequately convey the significance of relationships that survive beyond the marriage.  So I'll find the a card that most closely conveys my sentiment, stop by, and visit.  Marylou, mother of six sons, grandmother of sixteen, wth the sixteenth and seventeenth great-grandchildren soon to arrive, is remembered well by many.  The only thing I can think to give her this Mother's Day is just a little bit of time.

It is very good, too, to celebrate Katie this weekend, to share the excitement and anticipation of baby # 2 , and to be Henry's "Granny  O" this  Mother's Day.  Yesterday when I got home from work, he wanted to explore the inside of my car.  When he got out and I started the car, the windshield wipers, emergency flashers, and overhead light were all on.  Remnants of his soft raisin cookie were smashed in the front seat.  With cheeks like that, I just had to smile.  My buddy...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day Dessert: Banana Pudding

Quite a while ago I read the book Friendship Cake by Lynne Hinton.  This novel tells the story of five women who come together to create a community cookbook.  It also tells the stories of their individual lives, and one interesting part, for me, is that each chapter begins with a recipe.  I've been trying to decide on a nice recipe for a Mother's Day dessert, and I took this book down from the shelves and found, right there on page 64, the perfect one: banana pudding.

Since I didn't grow up in a house with a lot of home-made desserts, I don't personally recall having had banana pudding, but I associate it with mothers for some reason.  I think of "mom" slowly stirring the vanilla custard, carefully slicing the bananas, and lovingly layering them with vanilla wafers.  Perhaps this association comes from always seeing the recipe on the back of the Vanilla Wafer box that was always in our cupboard!  Here's "Charlotte's Banana Pudding" from this lovely little novel.

Charlotte's Banana Pudding

1 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups scalded milk
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 stick margarine (I'd use butter)
3 to 4 ripe bananas
Vanilla wafers

Whipped cream for topping (my addition)

Combine flour and sugar.  Add to scalded milk and cook over low heat.  Add some hot mixture to egg, then add to mixture.  Cook over low heat until thick.  Stir constantly so mixture does not lump.  Stir in vanilla and margarine (butter).  Layer with bananas, sliced, and wafers.  Crumble vanilla wafers for topping.

Photo credit: http://www.listze.com/uploads/item-1380.jpg

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gym Day and Up and At 'Em Pancakes

Some mornings just start off, off-kilter. I had a hard time getting out of bed, listening to the rain on the metal roof above my head. Morning clouds kept the sun from shining in my windows, and I just didn't want to get up. Still, I had a 7 a.m. appointment with the gym, and since I'm participating in a study, missing a session isn't an option (which is a good thing because if I didn't have such accountability, I'd probably still be sleeping!). My bag was packed with work clothes, and I left this morning ready to go, gym clothes on, car keys-check, glasses-check, cell phone-check. Got in the car only to realize I'd left the back window open and, you know, it rained all night. Got to the gym, did my thing, and went to the locker room to dress. My water bottle had tipped over and apparently it wasn't sealed tightly. My clothes are soaking wet. I walked to my office wearing my gym clothes. In an attempt to dry things out, I now have my shirt hanging on a hanger on the door, my pants are draped over my computer tower under my desk, and my gauzey scarf adorning the back of my chair. I may not be well dressed today, but my office is.

I didn't have time to prepare a healthy breakfast this morning.That's a new habit I've yet to incorporate. But when I do, I'll be making these Up and At 'Em Pancakes, recipe courtesy of my friend Sue, who's a devoted morning exerciser. She says they're very good and they stick to your ribs. She's usually right about everything (seriously!) so I'll take her word for it!


Up and At ‘Em Pancakes
from Sue Valenti:


2 egg whites
¾ - 1 cup skim milk
1 tbsp oil
1 cup flour
¼ cup toasted wheat germ (I also use the untoasted kind)
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt (I omit the salt)
½ cup cottage cheese (not no fat, only low fat)

Whip egg whites with a fork until frothy; add ¾ cup milk and oil; stir liquids together. Mix dry ingredients together and add to liquid.Stir until well blended. Add cottage cheese and mix well. If the batter is too thick, thin with the skim milk (or, if you want thinner pancakes. Bake on hot griddle. I divide this batter into 4 pancakes.

Photo image: http://leelewis.co.uk/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/webassets/dumbbells.jpg

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cinco de Mayo and Banana Quesadillas!


Today is Cinco de Mayo!  Here's a little background on the significance of the day, from mexonline.com. "Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of the Mexican militia over the French army at The Battle Of Puebla in 1862. For the most part, the holiday of Cinco de Mayo is more of a regional holiday in Mexico, celebrated most vigorously in the state of Puebla. There is some limited recognition of the holiday throughout the country with different levels of enthusiasm, but it's nothing like that found in Puebla.Celebrating Cinco de Mayo has become increasingly popular along the U.S.-Mexico border and in parts of the U.S. that have a high population of people with a Mexican heritage. In these areas the holiday is a celebration of Mexican culture, of food, music, beverage and customs unique to Mexico...Commercial interests in the United States and Mexico have also had a hand in promoting the holiday, with products and services focused on Mexican food, beverages and festivities, with music playing a more visible role as well. Several cities throughout the U.S. hold parades and concerts during the week following up to May 5th, so that Cinco de Mayo has become a bigger holiday north of the border than it is to the south, and being adopted into the holiday calendar of more and more people every year."

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, here's a recipe for banana quesadillas.  It comes from the Food Network and Emeril Lagasse, and is a sweet dessert quesadilla with bananas and caramel sauce.


Ingredients

  • 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 ripe medium bananas, peeled
  • 10 flour tortillas (7 inches in diameter)
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 cups caramel sauce, warm, recipe follows
  • 4 medium bananas
  • Whipped cream
  • Fresh mint sprigs

Directions

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and bananas, continue to beat until smooth. Spread 1/4 cup of the filling over half of each tortilla. Fold the other half over the filling and press slightly. Place on a large plate and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until the filling sets, about 30 minutes. In a large saute pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Pan-fry the tortillas in batches, 3 at a time, until golden on each side, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat the above process with the remaining butter and filled tortillas. To serve, slice each filled tortilla into thirds. Arrange the slices in the center of each serving plate. Spoon a 1/4 cup of the warm caramel sauce over each plate. Peel the bananas and slice 1/4-inch thick. Garnish each plate with the sliced bananas, a dollop of whipped cream and a sprig of fresh mint.

CARAMEL SAUCE
(Recipe from Everyday Is A Party Cookbook, by Emeril Lagasse, with Marcelle Bienvenu and Felicia Willett, published by William Morrow, 1999)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil, stirring often. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is a deep caramel color and has the consistency of a thick syrup, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cream, return the saucepan to high heat, and boil the sauce until it regains the consistency of a thick syrup, about 2 minutes. Yield: about 3/4 cup

Recipe and photo at Food Network Website:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/cda/recipe_print/0,1946,FOOD_9936_10310_RECIPE-PRINT-FULL-PAGE-FORMATTER,00.html
More info at http//:mexonline.com

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Beautiful Lilacs and a Special Nephew

My friend Linda greeted me with such cheer first thing this morning as we were walking in to work, her arms laden with freshly cut branches of lilacs from her yard.  The gorgeous light-purple blooms graced my desk all day.  Students and faculty came by and were attracted to the beautiful bunch, their noses immediately drawn to the blossoms, breathing in the luscious scent with slow deliberation.  I'm usually sensitive and have a negative reaction to such things as overpowering perfumes and colognes, but the natural essence of lilac blossoms only made me feel better all day long. 

It seems that we have an early bounty of lilacs in bloom this spring.  I ususally notice them closer to the middle of the month, but every year is different.  I remember picking a bunch and presenting them to my sister Patsy when her son Adam was born, May 20, 1978.  I'd been at a soft-ball game that afternoon and there were lilac bushes in bloom all around the field.  Once I heard she was in labor, I rushed to the hospital.  I waited in excited anticipation while Patsy was in delivery, with lilacs to celebrate the birth of her third child, her third son.  Every time I think of the day Adam was born, I think of lilacs (as well as the fact that he had the longest, darkest eyelashes of any baby I'd ever seen!).  In fact, every time I see or smell lilacs, I think of Adam.  It's a happy memory. 

Photo image: http://whatdoiknow.typepad.com/photos/flowers/lilacs.jpg

Needing a Pina Colada!

Today I am craving an escape from my own reality.  Adirondack Baker is not always in a cheery mood.  While there are many good things to celebrate in my life, at times I tend to focus on those things that drive me insane.  I'm doing that today, and have to purposefully distract myself from persistent annoyances I seem to have no control over. On my Facebook page, I wrote something about needing a break -- nothing that a seaside and a pina colada wouldn't cure!  Actually, the seaside on its own would take care of what ails me, and while I do have a number of less-than-desireable habits, escape drinking isn't one of them (though I have been known to lose myself in a bowl of home-made chocolate pudding).  Still, the pina colada is calling my name, and once I AM seaside (not until August) I will consciously appreciate the restorative powers of both the sea and a good tropical concoction.  The pretty picture here is of artwork by artist Lisa Audit, which actually depicts the famous drink and the recipe!  I'm going to order a print of this because it is pretty, and delicious! 

Pina Colada

2 oz. light rum
3 oz. coconut milk
3 oz. pineapple juice
crushed ice

In a shaker, add the rum, coconut milk, pineapple juice, and crushed ice.  Shake well.  ENJOY!

Photo/artwork credit: http://artfiles.art.com/5/p/LRG/12/1291/YJ1O000Z/lisa-audit-pina-colada.jpg

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Creamsicle Pie

This past weekend's gloriously warm weather made me think of refreshing desserts to help cool us off on hot summer days.  As a kid, I loved Creamsicles.  They weren't the orange coated, vanilla centered frozen concoctions you find now.  Back then, the orange and vanilla were swirled together, and they were delightful.  I also remember raspberry Creamsicles, though orange were, by far, the most popular.  And in case I am the only person who remembers banana Fudgesicles -- they were incredible.  I ask people all the time if they remember them.  No one does.  Am I nuts?  Maybe.

Making a Creamsicle pie is easy as, well, pie.  You simple blend barely-softened vanilla ice cream with orange juice concentrate.  Pile it all in to a ready-made crust (graham or your own pie dough pie crust) and freeze a few hours until firm enough to slice.  Garnish with whipped cream and some orange slices, and be transported back to the taste you loved as a kid.

CREAMSICLE PIE

Ingredients

1 quart good-quality vanilla ice cream, softened but just barely (Philly Vanilla if you're near a Stewart's)
6 ounces frozen orange juice concentrate, melted

1 ready-made pie crust (graham cracker or your own).  Freeze for 10 minutes while you prepare filling, so it's cold when you're ready to fill it.

Whipped Cream

Orange slices

Directions

In large mixer bowl, blend softened vanilla ice cream and melted orange juice concentrate.  Mix until blended well but not melted.  Pile into cold pie crust and swirl to make a pretty design.  Place in freezer and let freeze until firm enough to slice, at least a few hours (4-5). 

When ready to serve, remove from freezer.  Let stand for about five minutes.  Slice and garnish with whipped cream and some fresh slices of orange.

Photo credit:  http://icecreamjournal.turkeyhill.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/frozen_orange_cream_pie.jpg

Winslow's and Coconut Cream Pie

Russ and I had dinner last night at Winslow's, just north of Saratoga Springs on Route 9.  We've been going there for years and have always enjoyed it.  We got there a little too late last night, though, because the chicken piccata special I ordered had run out.  Russ ordered their famous turkey dinner which is always consistently good.  My next choice was the smallest steak on the menu, a "junior" which was still about 13 ounces, and I ordered it "medium."  Paired with mashed potatoes and a broccoli/squash combo, it was a terrific meal.  Our waiter, Matt, was very apologetic because I didn't get my first choice, but I was happy.  In consolation, he told us that dessert was on the house.  I usually never order dessert, simply because after a salad and a meal, there's no way.  But last night I paced myself because I saw that coconut cream pie was on the menu.  I LOVE coconut, and in a creamy pie -- that's heaven.  We ordered our desserts and Matt came to me and said "You're not going to believe this..." to which I replied, "You're out of coconut cream pie."  Yep.  Matt said they felt bad about it so they were making one for me.  They made another coconut cream pie just so I could have my first choice.  Russ ordered a slice of peanut butter fudge pie. He really liked his dessert, but soon after we left the restaurant he had regret -- he'd eaten too much and was in pain!  (Russ is 6'4" and 175 lbs.  He can eat dessert every day and be just fine).  It was a matter of capacity, and he exceeded his own.

Anyway, in honor of attentive service if not inadequate supply of first-choice menu items, today I am posting a recipe for coconut cream pie from allrecipes.com.   My adaptation is to use real whipped cream for the topping, rather than the frozen, whipped stuff. (Original Recipe Yield 1 - 9 inch pie)

COCONUT CREAM PIE

Ingredients

3 cups half-and-half
2 eggs
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flaked coconut, toasted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (9 inch) pie shell, baked

1 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed (*Make it better:  use real heavy cream, whipped and sweetened)

Directions

1.In a medium saucepan, combine half-and-half, eggs, sugar, flour and salt. Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in 3/4 cup of the coconut and the vanilla extract. Pour into pie shell and chill 2 to 4 hours, or until firm.

2.Top with whipped topping (preference: real whipped cream), and with remaining 1/4 cup of coconut.

3.Note: To toast coconut, spread it in an ungreased pan and bake in a 350 degree F (175 degrees C) oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
Photo credit:  http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Old-Fashioned-Coconut-Cream-Pie/Detail.aspx

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Come Saturday Morning...

I really love Saturday mornings, especially when the sun is shining and the air is warm.  This morning I slept until 9 a.m.(in reaction, no doubt, to getting up at 6:05 a.m. during the work week!).  It's almost noon and already I've watched Henry play with his new water table.  Blueberry muffins have been pulled from the oven and cinnamon raisin  mini-scones are baking right now.  The afternoon is wide open, and I might take a ride with Katie and Henry to check out some antique shops.  She's looking for something very specific and it'll be like a scavenger hunt.

It's not often that I face a day with little to do.  I've become so accostomed to "the work day" that I'm always looking for the next thing to check off my to-do list, wherever I am.  Gotta shake that off, especially on the weekend.  Even at my age, it's never too late to learn to relax and go with the flow!

Photo credit: The Sandpipers record album, Come Saturday Morning, Soundtrack to the 1969 coming-of-age movie The Sterile Cukoo starring Liza Minelli (loved it!)...
http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_k9xR-pPrZMQ/S9xPJR9-l1I/AAAAAAAAAxA/jBVCz24JL_U/s1600/come+saturday+morning.jpg