Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Reductionist Baking: Mixing, Pouring, and Waiting (TWD)

This week's TWD is the Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte, selected by Amy at Food, Family, and Fun. She calls it -- rightly so -- a "grown up ice cream cake." I call it -- also rightly so -- "an exercise in patience, perseverance, and hurrying through your photography so that the lights don't melt the product."

If you want to make this dessert, block off an entire afternoon and purchase the Season 1 DVD's of The Office. There's very little mixing involved, relatively speaking, but a lot of waiting around.

Here are the recipe Cliffs' Notes:

Mix, pour, wait. Spread, wait. Pour, wait. Spread. Curse because you didn't wait long enough and the chocolate isn't fully set (which is what caused the wave in the middle chocolate layer). Wait. Pour. Stick the thing in the back of the freezer for four hours (which is just fine because by now you're sick to death of it).

There you have it. Piece o' cake. Frozen cake.

This is a nice, elegant dessert, but I had a hell of a time serving it. Cutting a pretty slice was impossible. Cutting ANY slice was almost impossible -- mine was pretty hard (I had banished it to the freezer overnight.) I am convinced that the torte picture in the book was made in a special slice-shaped springform pan. I want one of those pans.

The Saint (my mom), who was the end-user of the torte, said it was a little easier after letting it sit out for a while, but then the chocolate layer slid around a bit.

To answer the question I know that someone will ask -- the Saint got the torte because I don't like chocolate desserts and the Golden Spouse doesn't like raspberry I am a wonderful, thoughtful, generous daughter.

(I don't know how the Golden Child feels about this dessert. And it really doesn't matter -- but he wants me to mention him in every post possible, so here he is. The Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte, guest-starring the Golden Child.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Analysis of Feline Behavior Patterns in the Standard Household

song chart memes
more graph humor and song chart memes

Sorry about the crappy reproduction. I tried to fix it, but I gave up when pounding on my keyboard didn't work.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Puppy Rite of Passage

Or, "How Many Times Is She Going to Use That Picture in One Blog?!"

Sue me. I think it's cute.

BONUS: And then there's this ad that was on Facebook today:

Reading is fundamental. Apparently, to the exclusion of spelling.

Special thanks to MacDuff for turning me on to the new poster toy (she credits Clara).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Another Tuesday, Another Baking Adventure

I am very tired. So let's make this quick.

I made the granola grabbers, selected as this week's Tuesdays With Dorie task by Michelle of Bad Girl Baking. I've never tried a cookie recipe that had this much STUFF in it. The Golden Spouse called them "Power Cookies."

They were pretty good right out of the oven -- if you like the texture of oatmeal cookies. I do -- but I know lots of heathens discerning people who don't. Mine were a little dry, which is contrary to some of the other posts I've already read by people whose cookies were moist. They were even drier the next day -- and crumbly, too.

And in spite of my VERY careful measuring, I only got 38 cookies out of the batch (instead of 40). I have no idea what I did wrong. The batch of dough came in at a convenient 40 ounces; I measured out 1 ounce cookies; I got 38 cookies. No idea where the extra dough went. (Oh wait... surely I didn't nibble away two cookies' worth of dough....)

I doubt that I'll make these again. It was a decent cookie, but not a mind-blowing, knock-your-socks-off, grab-the-headboard kind of cookie. If I'm going to bake, I want the earth to move - else what's a heaven for?

Next week: Chocolate Banded Ice Cream Torte. I'll let you in on a little secret: I made this one this past weekend, too. I'm going to be out of town next week and didn't want to miss an assignment.

That means that I had to make it before getting the usual P & Q hints from my fellow bakers -- and I rely heavily on those. (If anyone can tell me how to easily cut and serve this &^%$ dessert, I'll be forever grateful. I tried the hot knife trick -- FAIL.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Be My Tim Gunn

I need your help.

I am painfully fashion-challenged, and I hate shopping. (Seriously -- if I have to go to a store to buy clothes, the Golden Spouse has to go with me so he can pick things out and hand them to me. Otherwise, I come perilously close to panic attacks.)

But I have also progressed professionally to the point where I can no longer get away with my standard wardrobe of linen pants, knit top, and Lands' End comfort mocs. (I call the look "slovenly-cute." GS thinks the "cute" part is a stretch.)

I'm getting better, but I have a real blind spot when it comes to shoes (as evidenced by the comfort mocs). That's where YOU come in.

I need a good pair of professional-looking shoes to wear with slacks. Tell me what to buy.

Of course it's not that simple. Here are the caveats:
  1. Must be comfortable -- I travel a lot, so I need shoes that I can wear when I get on the 6:00 am flight that don't make me want to kill people when my day ends at 9:00 pm.
  2. Must be versatile -- I don't think I'll ever be the 100-pairs-of-shoes gal. I need to be able to wear them with multiple outfits across as many seasons as possible.
  3. Can't have heels that are too high -- in my bare feet, I am 6' tall. (No, I don't play basketball.) My primary client is 5'2". I don't want to tower over people any more than I already do. And the likelihood that I fall on my ass increases exponentially with the height of my heel because I am a huge klutz (which is why I don't play basketball).
Let's start with a good pair of brown shoes. Here's what I've come up with on my own. Tell me which pair you like and why -- or point me to even better ones:

Think this through carefully, because your next assignment will be tougher. Oh, and I need to know SOON... got a flurry of trips coming up. So hop to it.

Thank you for your support.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

For Gina

My friend Gina is about to deliver the last of her children to college. There really is no adequate preparation for that moment -- you think you've got it all together, you're proud, you're ready, then you get kicked in the ass by this overwhelming need for him to be small again. You may even buy him construction paper, Kleenex, and safety scissors, but you know it's too late.

So for Gina -- I'm re-running a post I put up on a previous blog after taking my own baby boy to college for the first time (shut up, I was a child bride).

I hope it brings a smile.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Do You CUT the Umbilical Cord, or Carve It Away Slowly?

I hit a profound turning point in my life a couple of weeks ago. I delivered my baby boy (the Golden Child) to Indiana University to begin his freshman year. (It was probably a huge turning point for him, too, but this is all about ME.)

The actual day of the move was well-organized on the part of the school, given that 35,000 students were moving in at the same time, but it was hectic nonetheless. I had tried to structure the day so that we would have some quiet time at the end before I left him, but I underestimated the number of MEETINGS he'd have to attend well into the evening.

This was probably for the best -- I had been dreading the painful good-bye, anticipating another cut of a metaphoric umbilical chord, this time sans anesthesia.

The dramatic parting didn't happen -- we ran out of time. GC walked me to the car, obviously anxious about being late to his next meeting and eager to get there. He hugged me, gave a little wave, and headed off.

It wasn't at all satisfying. Here was this monumental moment, passing with just a squeeze and a wave.

"Bye, Punkin!" I called after him.

"Bye, Mom," he replied with impatient affection, still walking away.

"I love you!"

"I love you, too, Mom."

One more turn of the sidewalk and he'd be out of sight. I was desperate for adequate closure.



And he was gone.

At first, I found "good" reasons to call him often. I called him to let him know I was headed to the airport to fly home. I called him to let him know I made it home safely. I called him to make sure he had gotten everything unpacked and to see if he needed anything else. I called him to let him know the Season 2 "Lost" DVDs would be out on Sept. 5. And that was the first two days.

I was shocked out of my hovering ways on Day Three by a stunning realization: almost overnight, GC had become a Mumbler.

We managed to get all the way through his high school years without seeing the symptoms. Before getting off the phone with him, I would always say, "I love you." He would always say back, clear as day, "I love you, too, Mom." Regardless of who was with him.

Three days into his college career, that response became, "loveyoutoomombye."

Since then, I have resisted the urge to call every day, every hour, and it's been very, very hard. He's my child -- when he's not WITH ME, he's IN DANGER. He's going to be faced with new challenges and new decisions, and he can't possibly manage without the benefit of my experience and wisdom.

But I couldn't keep calling. No, that would be intrusive. So I hacked into his computer account at the university.

I just wanted to make sure his meal points had been posted!! Really!! After all, he was going to have to figure out how get his own meals, it was going to be hard enough for him without the added burden of having to straighten out an accounting error with the Bursar's office.

Not only had the points been posted appropriately -- he had already purchased food. He was eating at college without my help. A few days later, the knife in my heart got an additional twist: he had used his campus access card with its associated funds to do laundry. LAUNDRY!! BY HIMSELF!!

I was devastated. First, the Mumbler appeared; now, this. It was almost too much to bear.

After holding out for five whole days (a perfectly respectable phone hiatus), I called on the weekend to see how his first full week of classes had gone. He mentioned in passing that he had injured his wrist.

"What happened?!" I asked.

"I was playing soccer and tripped on the ball. I landed on my wrist wrong."

I was appalled. "Punkin!!!"

"It's okay, Mom. It doesn't hurt as much anymore, and most of the swelling has gone down."

"You played SOCCER???!!!"

Every day, someone asks how GC is doing at college. I force a smile and say, "He's doing really well." That INGRATE.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

TWD Hit and Run: Blueberry Sour Ice Cream

YES, I did the TWD task this week. Stop yelling at me.

This week's recipe was selected by Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity: Blueberry Sour Ice Cream.

When I first read the name of the recipe, I fixated on the "blueberry sour" part to the exclusion of the "ice cream" part and then totally dropped the context of baking. "WOOHOO!" I thought. "I love WHISKEY sours. BLUEBERRY sours must ROCK!! I wonder what the liquor is... blueberry vodka?"


Like many other TWD'ers, I have never made ice cream with sour cream before. And like many other TWD'ers, I found the sour cream flavor to be pretty strong. UNlike other TWD'ers, I LIKED it that way.

And so easy... as I watched the lovely pink-purple mix swirling around the ice cream maker, I started to panic. I still had to blog... but nothing had gone wrong. No missed ingredients. No failed flames. No evidence of ineptitude whatsoever.

How could I blog without stories of averted disaster? It's like Mario Batali without the orange clogs! Julia Child without the drinking! Emeril without a list of 10,000 ingredients!

I stared. I fretted. I whimpered. And while I worried, I left it in the ice cream maker too long.

Failure at last! What a relief.

Do you remember astronaut ice cream? It was quite the fad when I was a kid (granted, I was a military brat, which sort of skews the repertoire of childhood experiences). Freeze dried ice cream -- that's what my blueberry sour ice cream reminded me of.

Fortunately, the texture improved as it melted. And the taste, as I mentioned before, was lovely. The sour cream added a flavor that wasn't really "sour" but softened the sweet edge a bit. (Maybe a TAD less sour cream would be appropriate -- it did sort of overpower the blueberries.)

Next week: Granola Grabbers, selected by Michelle at Bad Girl Baking.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Marbling, Schmarbling (TWD)

The Golden Child is in town this week, which certainly warrants taking some time off from work. However, since he is a teenager, there was no point in taking MORNINGS off, so I'm working half-days. This means that I have to cram a week's worth of meetings into 20 hours, which is making me tear my hair out.

So my TWD post this week is going to have to be a quickie.

This week's task was Black and White Banana Loaf, selected by Ashlee at A Year in the Kitchen. In theory, this is a tidy, elegant, coffee-cake type loaf with a beautiful marbled presentation. In practice -- not so much.

My marbling totally failed.

Ashlee had the same issues I had, but she persevered. She adjusted the recipe a bit and tried again, with beautiful results. I, on the other hand, slammed the book shut, poured up a double bourbon on the rocks, and spent the next hour mumbling passive-aggressive epithets about how baking isn't real cooking anyway. (This may help explain many, if not all, of the dating traumas in my pre-married life. At the very least, it gives you a new appreciation for what the Golden Spouse must endure and what a kindly soul he must be.)

Thanks to Ashlee, I know what to do differently with the next boyfriend loaf.

Honestly, though, I don't know that there will be a next loaf. I just wasn't that wild about it. Part of it is the chocolate thing (I don't like chocolate desserts), part of it was the texture (like a wet sponge). But the Golden Spouse said it best when he described it as a "dessert with an identity crisis" -- it didn't know whether it was a banana dessert with a complement of chocolate, or vice versa. It didn't balance well.

I bet Ashlee's balances well. I'm sure Ashlee's loaf is perfect. It's the Homecoming Queen of Black and White Loaves. Mine was the flute player loaf in the marching band who is also on the newspaper staff and in the math club, but is really a great loaf if you just take the time to get to know it.

Uh. Sorry.

Two side notes: There was one deviation from the recipe, of course. I didn't have dark rum -- so I added some molasses to gold rum and used that instead. It was fine. It is also now moot, since omitting the rum was one of the changes Ashlee made to her perfect loaf.

Second -- a lot of bloggers have lessened (or even eliminated) the nutmeg. I am horrified by this. I could never endorse such a practice. I love fresh nutmeg.

BONUS!! As promised, I did go back and try the Summer Fruit Galette, using Farmer's Market peaches, and it really was delicious. The custard makes all the difference in the world. For the jam layer, I used a fig spread that I made with figs from my very own tree, and the flavors paired beautifully.

My crust dough was a bit too wet, though, so folding the edges over was a gooey mess. I will definitely do this one again (but with drier dough next time). And Dorie's pie crust recipe continues to be a huge hit with the GS.

Next week: Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity has selected Blueberry Sour Ice Cream. YAYAYAY!!!!! Too bad blueberry season has passed here... the first picking was amazing.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Those Were the Days

Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures

I recently attended a workshop on bicycle commuting. Lots of great stuff, but I didn't get the one piece of information I need before I take the plunge -- how to get over the fear of being mangled in traffic.

I wonder how expensive gas has to be in order to outweigh my fear of death?