Wish I was there . .
My passport is ready and I can be packed in minutes.

30 November 2008

Only in Florida

We're having a tornado warning for the day. I'll check back tomorrow provided I haven't been blown to Oz.

29 November 2008

BEWARE - Sweet Stuff Ahead

This Daring Baker is back, after a month off. This month . . .
Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting
The recipe is courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater (http://eggbeater.typepad.com/) and was hosted by The Chronicles of Culinary Curiosity. Assisting her this month was Alex at Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo, Jenny of Foray into Food , and Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go .

This cake could bring on sugar shock. That said, I made this while my Mom was visiting a few weeks back and we finished it in three days! Everyone liked it - Hubby, kids, Mom. It was a crowd pleaser. The cake is moist and although it is quite sweet, it is a great cake for coffee. A little slice of sugar to counter the bitter, hot coffee. YUM!

In order to counter the sweetness of the frosting, I did add a bit of bitter sweet chocolate frosting on the top layer. I frosted the entire cake in the carmel butter frosting. I meant to only swirl in the bitter sweet chocolate frosting, but I accidentally made the chocolate swirl too thick. Not wanting to start over, I just blended the chocolate frosting in with the carmel. The result was just a hint of dark chocolate in a sea of carmel. I also coated the sides with crushed walnuts which gave a nutty carmel taste to the edges. I can say this is a recipe I will use again (already did for Thanksgiving, but didn't have time for photos). The recipe is below for anyone to try.

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy. Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. S crape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform. Sift flour and baking powder. Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.} Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan. Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it. Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber. When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back. Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.
****It took me two tries to get the syrup right - I burnt it the first time. It didn't look burnt, which is why you need to taste it. There was no fixing it once it had the burnt taste.
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste (****careful not to oversalt)
Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool. Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste. Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month. To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.
(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

28 November 2008

It's All Over

Another Thanksgiving has passed. Eighteen for dinner and and another three people for dessert. Much turkey was consumed, along with ham, veggies, stuffing, mashed potato, pumpkin bread, rolls, and a plethora of desserts. My kids had a wonderful day, playing with their cousins. That's what I keep trying to remind myself - I do this holiday for them. If I didn't have them, I would have stopped this years ago.

I have tried not to be angry, and some years I am quite successful - this was not one of those years. I am sick, my husband is preparing for trial - life is just busy. Of the 18 people who came for the meal, two were my grandparents and the rest are Hubby's family. Hubby's family does not help - no one brings a dish and yet there is an expectation that not only will I serve a meal but there will be left-overs for them to take home. In years past when there have not been sufficient left-overs, my MIL bagged up what there was and distributed it to her family, leaving no turkey or trimming for us.

Hubby's family does not help with clean up. There was a new girlfriend this year who actually helped to clear the table - I can not tell you the number of times I thanked her. We have tried hints and handing things to people - the response is "Oh, you guys are just a well oiled machine." My 84 year old grandmother who uses a cane to walk insisted on drying dishes and nearly fell. I tried to insist that Gram sit down, but Gram had eight kids and she knows how hard it is to put together these events. The difference between Gram's Thanksgiving and mine, is that every family brought an actual dish of food, and after the meal, Gram was shooed out of the kitchen and the rest of the family cleaned up. Even seeing my limping Grandmother wiping dishes did not bring an offer of assistance from Hubby's family. My resentment becomes harder and harder to swallow.

There is no reciprocity - no one else volunteers to host the meal, and they do not get together for any other holiday. They do thank me, but preparing a meal and left-overs for 18 people takes a good three days. I barely see my own children on Thanksgiving as I am busy cooking, serving, and cleaning up. My MIL actually asked me for a cup of coffee when the carafe was on the table in the other room. I walked to the next room, poured the coffee in a cup, set the cup next to the carafe, walked back to the other room, and told her it was on the table waiting for her to add her cream and sugar. I know that was petty, but for God's sake, it was less than twenty feet to the table and she is perfectly capable of walking.

I am grateful that I have the means to have such a bountiful dinner. I'm grateful to my husband who helps to set up and clean up. I'm grateful my children love their family and think it's wonderful to have time with them. I'm grateful for my grand parents who show me how much they love me, by showing up just to support me, and who always tell me that I make a wonderful meal and how appreciative they are for their "food gift" so they don't have to cook for a meal or two. I understand I can not change anyone, and that I have a choice in preparing this meal. I will continue to host the holiday, so that my children (and their cousins) will have the wonderful memories of Thanksgiving with their big family. I do wish that I felt less like a servant to my husband's family. Maybe next year, I'll find peace with this as I have before. For this year, it's done.

******Oh, and I am grateful for this blog, where I can actually voice this frustration and not finally boil over and tell my MIL to get off her a** and get her own cup of coffee :) Yes, still feeling the need to act a bit petty . . .

21 November 2008

Question of the Morning

"Do trolls have tails?"
- posed by Hew before coffee this morning.

Visit the history of trolls for the answer.

20 November 2008

Thanksgiving Crisis Numbere One

My husband is one of seven children (six boys - shudder!). Also, my father-in-law, after divorcing my mother-in-law (MIL) has gone on to marry three more times (wives two and three died - and yes, this family is like a bad Friday night made for television movie). Anyways, these additional marriages have all added step/adopted children to the clan. While not everyone lives close by, there are enough people so that family get togethers are a bit . . . shall we say . . . INSANE.

For a number of years, I have hosted Thanksgiving - the rule is everyone gets invited. The numbers range from 20-30 people for the meal every year. Initially, the preparation and cooking of this meal was stressful. However, after many years of practice, including a year where I set the turkey on fire, a year where the oven door broke and I had to use a bungee cord to close the oven, and a year where the a/c unit died and it was 90+, I have come to enjoy the actual preparation ( or I will once my chemistry test is done tonight!).

What I dislike is the drama that leads up to the actual day. My MIL is the Olympic World Champion of Passive Aggressive Behavior. Unfortunately, PH's sister is a manipulative con artist who could star in her own Jerry Springer show. My Sis in law is 32, has never held a job, never completed high school, and is currently sponging off mother in law. Their relationship is beyond bizarre and while the other siblings think and have told MIL that Sis is taking advantage of her, MIL continues to try exert her "authority" over Sis.

Things with the family came to a head this summer when Sis moved her new "boyfriend" into MIL's house and then brought the guy over to a family gathering. New boyfriend who is nearing 50 years of age and had no job proceeded to get inebriated. When MIL tried to throw him out, he threatened her with bodily harm if she called the police. It is only then that Sis admitted her "boyfriend" recently got out of jail. One of my brother in laws pulled his records and "boyfriend" has a bunch of felony convictions for drugs, violence, and burglary. When this jerk called to get his stuff from MIL's house, brother-in-law met him at the door and told him that if he sets foot near MIL or anyone else, we will make sure the police arrest him, and family members who are attorneys (us) will help the prosecutor obtain a maximum sentence. Thankfully, the guy disappeared once the free ride was no longer available.

So back to the recent drama - I get an email from MIL about Thanksgiving. She is disappointed she won't be able to stay long this year because Sis is refusing to come to our house because we won't allow her dog to come, and therefore after the meal she will have to rush home to be with Sis. The dog is an untrained Rottweiler, Sis got at the pound. When Sis got the dog, Hubby told her that she was to never bring the dog to our house. Sis threw a fit and has refused to talk to Hubby since then. Now MIL has decided to make this her issue. On Thanksgiving, besides my own kids, there will be other young cousins, including a niece who has Down Syndrome. I'm sorry - No dog with a reputation for mauling children will be allowed.

Before Hubby even saw the email, I wrote back to MIL and told her we looked forward to seeing her for whatever time she was available. I NEVER MENTIONED THE DOG OR SISTER IN LAW'S REFUSAL TO COME. MIL has not responded. So was that the right call? Should I have made PH deal with his mother? Can you avoid passive aggressive behavior with intentional ignorance? I guess I'll know by next Thursday . . .

18 November 2008

A List

Regarding my blogging, it seems that I have slipped into the apathy felt by a few others this time of year. There is nothing wrong - life is just life at this point, and reflecting and discussing are unnecessary. Here are the happening, nothing earth shattering . . .
  • Hew had a cold and stayed home with me yesterday. We started cleaning the house for Thanksgiving next week. Even with a runny nose, Hew is a worker bee and was especially thrilled when I gave him the furniture polish and a rag and let him go to town on the coffee table and end tables.
  • KK has a field trip to the Aquarium tomorrow. I will be supervising her and a couple of other kids. I just pray I don't get "the runner" who I spent four hours chasing on the last field trip.
  • I have test in chemistry Thursday. Even after the review problems, I still don't understand the last two sections of chapter 14.
  • Friday, some friends from "the school" are coming for appetizers, alcohol, and gossip. I'm supplying the first two and they're bringing the third.
  • The kids have next week off from school.
  • Thus far, the count for Thanksgiving is 19 for dinner and 23 for dessert, but we are still waiting to hear from the last 8. I have already found a 22.7 lbs turkey and 11 lbs ham. The kids and I will make desserts and breads next week and then I'll do the veggies, turkey and ham on Thanksgiving. So far, one guest is bringing soda and another cheese balls.
  • We leave for Colorado so PH can attend a legal seminar in about three weeks. From Colorado, we fly to Boston for a weekend with the kids and then drive to Maine for Christmas with my family. I think I have all the reservation made, but need to check on the cost of luggage as each flight is a different carrier.

That's it people, nothing to see here besides a bunch of cleaning, cooking, and a bit of studying thrown in.

14 November 2008

When Did I Get Old

Since returning from Italy, I haven't found my way back to the gym or any sort of exercise. My mother in law was here, then my Mom came down for a visit, anniversary, birthdays, field trips - I have a million excuses.

So I decide that enough is enough and Wednesday I go jog/run three miles. A hundred years ago I ran cross-country and track. I understand about pacing and while I am no longer a speed demon, I have always been able to pace out a couple miles. Except now it comes with consequences. Yesterday I wake up sore - not just sore, but I can't walk without looking like I have a stick up my behind sore. I shuffle to my daughter's Battle of the Books in the morning and then back home. I kept telling myself that I would loosen up once I ran again - yeah right. Half-way through the three mile loop yesterday, my legs have seized up and I have to goose step back. Last night when I went to class, I nearly cried when I had to walk down a flight of stairs. I know I should run again today, but I'm thinking a long swim might be a better choice. I know forty is knocking on the door, but I still want to be able to hike these . . .

The Italian Alps

The Austrian Alps

when I am eighty years old. Guess I better get moving!

These pictures are some of my favorite from the trip last month. My photos certainly don't do the mountains justice, but they remind me of the awe I feel whenever I return to the Alps. Join me in playing Friday Foto Finish Fiesta. A great way to start the weekend.

07 November 2008

A View From My (Borrowed) Window

Merano Italy, October 2008
Every morning and evening, I would fling open the drapes

And step out onto the deck and just stare.

I would wonder

if the people who lived here,

the people who had this view all the time,

ever tired of it?

I would wonder if

in their daily hustle and bustle,

they forgot to look around

in awe

and appreciation

and contentment.
Photos taken from the balcony of my room at Hotel Pienzenau in Merano, Italy.

05 November 2008

Happy Birthday and Anniversary to my Grands

Today I am running around cleaning house and cooking seafood newburgh. My mother is arriving tomorrow to visit my Grandma who turns 85 this weekend. On the way to the airport, I am making a detour to visit my father's parents who arrived in Florida last week. Tomorrow they celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. The seafood newburgh and a couple other dinners are for them. As they are also both in their mid 80s, a wild night out is not their cup of tea any longer.

65 years just astounds me. When I called them to say I would be by on Thursday, Gram said she was passing the torch to me. I reminded her that when I married I was a decade and a few years older than she was. So to beat her 65 years, I need to live into my mid 90s. She told me I was up for the challenge!

In the past few years, my family has seen some significant decline in the health of my grandparents. I know that it is frustrating to see your body fail and for my grandfather, to see his mind lose touch with reality. There have been a number of scares this past year and yet they are here still celebrating their lives.

My children have had the benefit of great grandparents that they know and love, and who love them beyond measure. The memories of showing my children Grandpa's farm and having them climb up on the tractor as I did as a kid are priceless. Seeing my daughter read to my Grandma who is losing her sight, stops me mid sentence.

How lucky I am.

04 November 2008

Hope for a Better World

Senator Barack Obama stood on the brink of an historic victory Tuesday after he appeared to have won enough electoral votes to defeat Senator John McCain for president and to become the first African-American to serve as the nation’s chief executive.
CNN and ABC projected at 11 p.m. Eastern time that Mr. Obama had won the election.

-The New York Times, November 4, 2008

Why I'm Scared

I want to believe we are past this type of discrimination, but I would be naive to do so. Recent incidents, such as this and this, rudely remind me that out there are people who hate based on skin color.

The problem is that it isn't just "out there." It's my mother in Maine saying that when she talked to her friends, some admitted that they could never vote for anyone non-white. It's knowing that other family in Maine agree with this, but wouldn't dare say it to me. It's my neighbor three doors down, who saw me on Halloween and expressed admiration for our yard signs and then said her husband could never vote for someone black. My kids were standing right there and I could only hope they were so caught up in the excitement that they didn't hear her. It's a friends, who is an attorney, who admits she doesn't support McCain but she'll vote for him because "you know."

When I taught, a student in my AP class made a racist comment. I went off - explaining why racism is wrong and why we have laws preventing discrimination and why I would NEVER tolerate it my classroom. Later in the day, the only black student from that class came to see me. She explained that as a minority in a nearly all white school, she had come to learn that some people were just ignorant and it was a waste of time to argue with them. She had better things to do than waste time on someone so ignorant. I understood her point, but I couldn't agree because I think discussion can help some people learn; if nothing else that class understood that I found their prejudice abhorrent and it would not be tolerated there. They learned that an authority figure had a different opinion from what they may be learning at home.

But here in the real world, people can not only believe in racial discrimination, they can vocalize their position. And they can vote their beliefs, ignoring the real issues of economy, war, foreign relations, and the environment. And that's why I scared.

03 November 2008

Halloween and Austria

The holidays arrive and as usually we get sick. This time it was me - fever, aches, lingering cough (still!). I didn't even have the energy to write my annual Halloween post about the trick or treaters past their prime (2007 - here and 2006 - here). The kids had a great time and were so in love with their costumes, they wore all weekend. I can just imagine the neighbor's thoughts as they saw Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book and Wonder Women running through the yard on Sunday.

Although I have told my body there is not time for illness between now and January 1, 2009, it is ignoring me. So instead of Halloween photos, how about some pictures of Innsbruck and the surrounding area. Even after seeing Northern Italy and Milan, Austria is still my favorite country. I think I'll make a cup of tea, wrap up in a blanket with my tissues and reminisce about the mountain (obviously the cold medicine has taken over).

These photos were taken after a ride on the Hungerburgbahn funicular from the city of Innsbruck. After reaching the Hungerburgbahn station, you can take the Nordkettenbahn funicular up 2,269 metres to the peak of Hafelekar Mountain. By using the funiculars, you can leave city center and be high in the mountains in under thirty minutes. While Mom and I also did a guided hike in the mountains outside of Innsbruck, I think my mother enjoyed the funicular ride more than three hours of hiking