December 25, 2009

Christmas reflections

Merry Christmas to one and all. I know it's common to say things like, "I hope we all remember Christ and the meaning of this time of year not just now, but all the year through", and I echo those sentiments. However, it's also good to know that because of what I know and believe, being grateful for my many many blessings comes easier all year. There is something special about this season, though, and this year, it was even more palpable.

Ted and I feel so blessed to be in North Carolina, even if only for a short time. We've often talked about how we've never lived with this much debt hanging over our heads (and it's only going to get worse over the next few years), but at the same time, it helps us communicate and realize all the things we do have and all the things we can really do without. (We used to go without cable, but now that we get it for free, I also have to include that I'm very grateful for the food channel.) This year, our budget was tighter than it's ever been for Christmas, and though I'd like to experience maybe just one year not buying one gift for anyone and instead reveling in the music and togetherness and traditions of the season, I'm a product of Christmas Consumerism, and I have to confess that along with many other things, it does bring joy.

This was Tessa's first Christmas, and though she woke up with her first present - a bad cold - she was the number one reason I enjoyed the day so much. To see a 10-month-old baby perfectly happy with ripping wrapping paper and shoving it in her mouth while looking adorable in a Christmas dress is sheer joy. We tried to think of little things that really would make her happy, so we bought her BIG bottles (she instantly tried to gnaw on the plastic-covered nipples) and wrapped a bow around a banana, and we just laughed at her reactions and thought everything coming out of her mouth was nothing but genius. Several of the presents we gave this year were homemade, and therefore, more personal and special (and, I found out, much more fulfilling than just picking something off a shelf and laying down money for it). Ted and I spent many hours working and talking together about the things we wanted to give to our loved ones, so we came away not only with fun trinkets and games, but a stronger relationship, which is a much better feeling than the stress and hullabaloo that often surrounds this time of year.

I remember being about 7 months pregnant this time last year, and every time we'd sing a carol about the sweet baby boy Jesus, I got teary and tried to blame it on the hormones. The truth was I couldn't wait to hold and swaddle my own little sweet baby, and every day, I feel grateful for that chance. Christmas is about love and giving and celebrating Our Savior coming into the world to give a gift only He could give. In so many ways, I know that gift of His Atonement was for me, and He shows me that mercy by blessing us with a sweet child to love and raise the best we can. We often reserve Christmas for His birth and Easter for remembering His death and Atonement, but I recall one Easter when a friend wore a bowtie to church to honor our Bishop who had recently passed away. Bowties were this Bishop's trademark. I smiled and complimented him on it, knowing why he had donned it that morning, and he grinned right back and said, "I'm celebrating the resurrection." I've never thought of the Atonement and His mission the same way since that day. Every day is a day to celebrate that gift, including Christmas day.

I always find it so interesting that those who claim they're atheist or agnostic have no problem buying up a frenzy of gifts for their friends and family members. What are they celebrating if they claim to not know, care about, or believe in Jesus Christ? Is Christmas just a day for passing expensive baubles around? A chance to get the latest gadget at 10% off? Do they sing carols about angels proclaiming the Savior's birth? Do they have an inkling of what that means? I'm so glad to say that I do. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I choose to know Him, to sing praises, to commune in prayer with the One who makes it possible for me to learn from my mistakes and improve on them. He makes up for my imperfections, and He deserves my gratitude daily.

Today I was reminded of all the reasons I am a happy person. To be with family, to recount memories, to laugh until your face hurts, to give without expecting anything in return, to bring joy to someone else, to sing your heart out, to remember all your friends who feel just like family - these are the things that make Christmas grand. I hope all of you were able to revel in such joys this season. Let us remember His gifts to us and give of ourselves as much as we can.

Merry Christmas!

December 17, 2009

Yum Day 6

I know I JUST did a post about food, so I wasn't going to do two in a row, except that there were extenuating circumstances. 1. this was too delicious to pass up, and 2. right after I made it, I watched an episode of Iron Chef and my favorite, Chef Bobbly Flay, busted out the SAME DISH to be devoured and judged. Of course, his was fancy and had some raw quail egg or something on top and a few drips of a roasted red pepper sauce (the man loves peppers), but the way he described making it was essentially the same. So here it is:

Risotto with Prosciutto and Peas
or, Bobby's name: Bacon Risotto
Makes 4 good-size servings

4 slices prosciutto
5 cups chicken broth
4 T. butter, divided
1/2 onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio or other short grain rice
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup frozen peas, blanched
fresh ground pepper

Cook up the bacon (or prosciutto, as it were) until crisp. Crumble or chop and set aside. Meanwhile, heat up the chicken broth on the stove or in the microwave until almost boiling.

In a large saute pan, melt butter over med-high heat and add onion and garlic until edges are brown - about 3 minutes. Add rice and toast a few minutes, making sure you stir enough so that it all gets buttery. Mmmm. Once it's toasted, add about 1 1/2 cups of the broth and stir until broth is absorbed. Repeat twice more until rice looks nice and creamy. Taste test to make sure it's not too al dente. If so, add a bit more broth, but 5 cups should do it. Remove from heat.

Add the other 2 T. butter, the parmesan, the peas, and the prosciutto. Stir until parmesan is melted and peas are hot. Serve immediately, and prepare to have your world rocked.

Tonight it was served alongside the Prosciutto-wrapped Tilapia with Sage that I blogged about earlier. Quick splash of lemon juice and olive oil on those bad boys, and my mouth was in flavor heaven. The picture also shows a sweet potato with brown sugar, but my daughter ate all of that, so I can't report on how it tasted. I spawned a piggy.

A quick word on the Iron Chef episode that seriously came on right after I finished making this: the secret ingredient was BACON! I've often wished I could be a judge on that show, but this was the first time I was ready to put a fist through that fat "man who ate everything" judge because he didn't need all those incredible-looking dishes to add to his huge belly. I did. And I know, I know. My anger only stems from jealousy. One day, one day...
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December 14, 2009

Yum Day!

I realized I haven't had one of these "yum day" entries in a long time, and I'm fully convinced I haven't been able to make the food look as good on camera as it tastes in my mouth. So I employed my friend to come over and take pictures with her shmancy camera - and she happily complied (for the small fee of two slices of pie).

So here it is: an Italian Three Cheeseburger with Roasted Rosemary Fries.

Inspiration came from the one and only Bobby Flay, who, since we now have cable, has become as much of an idol as that there Barefoot Contessa. The man is a master, further evidenced to me when I borrowed a cookbook from the library (should have added that to my "Living on a Budget" post) entitled "Burgers, Fries, and Shakes", written by none other than Bobby Flay himself. Well, the man owns a burger joint where he does nothing but, so I thought he knew his stuff.

And boy, does he. He's quite particular how a burger should be cooked, and until I gave it a whirl, I realized I'd been doing it all wrong. Here's a sum-up:

-Patties should start out at about 6 oz - a little more than 1/3 pound
-Make a nice indentation in the center on both sides of each patty - this prevents the "puffing up" in the center
-Salt and pepper both sides of the patty. Don't bother adding egg, bread crumbs, and what not. That's a meatloaf. This is a burger.
-Use a grill pan or outside grill - a little vegetable oil should just start to smoke over med-high to high heat. My stove runs pretty hot, so I keep it at medium high and get a nice little char on both sides.
-Cook about 3 1/2 minutes on each side, adding cheese during the last minute and covering it with a metal pan or lid to steam up and melt the cheese. According to Bobby, it's not a proper burger without melted cheese. Amen, brother.
-DO NOT SQUEEZE THE PATTY WITH YOUR SPATULA WHILE COOKING. If you do, congratulations, you've just cooked one of the world's driest burgers.

Seems simple, but I was making all the mistakes I just told you not to do. I made some burgers a couple weeks ago with tomato and gorgonzola... YUM. And I decided to do it again tonight in honor of Ted finishing one more final (one more to go). So tonight, we took a tastebud trip to Italy. It's much cheaper than actually going there.

I cooked the burger as above using mozzarella, parmesan, and asiago cheeses during the last minute. I then toasted the buns in the oven while the fries were roasting, transferred each patty to its bun, and topped with a slice of cooked prosciutto (Italian bacon - can't go wrong there), caramelized onions, roma tomato slices, and spinach. We THOROUGHLY enjoyed them. And then I spanked my little guido and told him to get upstairs and keep studying so that one day, he can bring home the prosciutto.

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December 13, 2009

Living on a Budget

Lately, I can't just buy something for our sweet morsel just because she looks like the cutest baby on the planet in it. Therefore, living on a budget means keeping your camera in your purse for moments like this in the store. I'm sure I looked like an idiot pulling out my camera while others were pulling out their wallets, but hey. Now I have more money for bacon.

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December 1, 2009

Giving Thanks

It's wonderful to know that no matter where you are, Thanksgiving is pretty awesome. I went to a meeting tonight and we all gabbed about what we did for the holiday. One woman hosted in her home. Another hosted in her home WITH two other families, and every year they pore over past issues of the Bon Appetit magazines to try new recipes to round out their dinner. Three different baked bries, a Clementine and citrus salt rubbed turkey, and streuseled sweet potatoes with a lemon gingersnap cheesecake. Yes, of course I remember all the food. And I wasn't even there. Another woman went to her parents' house for all the usual, another goes out to eat Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant every year with her family, then drive down to visit a local dam and drive back. (And for Christmas, they go to Cabo - EVERY YEAR!! I started considering family restructuring...)

This was the second Thanksgiving I spent in the South. The first was on my mission in Georgia, and I can remember the members who invited us over (I made an apple pie) for dinner, but mostly I remember the Turkey Bowl we played with the ward members that morning. I was new to the area, so it was a little surprising when, during a game of flag football, I lunged for the flags of the 17 yr-old Bishop's son and ended up ripping his pants off. Not just the drawstring coming undone - actually ripping them off his body. It was pretty embarrassing for both of us, and I gained a reputation really fast.

This second Southern Thanksgiving wasn't as naked. Ted's parents flew out from Utah to join us for a week, and during that week, we drove up to Virginia with 3 desserts and a big batch of Apples & Yams (though a couple nights before, we learned from the Food Lover's Companion - thank you, Christy - that they're actually sweet potatoes and that most yams are improperly named). For the fourth time in two months, I made the pie pictured above - Chocolate Butterscotch Pecan. I can't get enough of it. Literally. Every time I make it, it's for some sort of function or party, so I get maybe a sliver or one bite and then pine for more until I make it again. I think I'm sated now, at least for another month.

Ted's aunt put on a huge spread, which is pretty typical of a Thanksgiving "Feast", but everything tasted so GOOD, too! Lemon & Chive Carrots, Garlic & Sour Cream Potatoes, Herbed Turkey with homemade cranberry sauce, Grandma's homemade rolls, Frosted Pecans, Zucchini Bread, Cranberry & Orange Pull-apart, Stuffing, Green Beans, and the Rasmussen special - a Shrimp Cocktail to start things off. In addition to my three desserts, she had made a divine Key Lime Cheesecake and Pumpkin Pie, so once the whipped cream was whip-it-good, we gorged all over on those, including my Apple Cream Cheese Torte and Caramelized Cranberry Tart.

Excuse my drool.

I could make an extremely long list of things I'm thankful for, and it still wouldn't be exhaustive, so I'm going to focus on the six things I've been especially grateful for (and that I've been thinking about at a near-constant rate).

1. I'm grateful for my husband of two and a half years. He cleans up after my messes, all while being as studious and patient as any man could be. Plus, he's a most sweet and wonderful father to #6.
2. I'm grateful that I lucked out in the in-law department. Not all folks can say that (but my husband sure can - and he better.)
3. I'm grateful for Chocolate-covered Peanut Brittle. Yeah, you heard me. Williamsburg hooking me UP.
4. I'm grateful that Christ allows me to screw up and start afresh way more often than I would ever let my own kids. That's why He's perfect and I'm, well, less than.
5. I'm grateful for my mom's unwavering dedication to the greater good. It's hard, it's often a huge sacrifice, but her example is something I've looked to countless times.
6. I'm grateful for this little morsel who I get to hug and slobber over every day. Tessa, you are the frosting to my cupcake, the peanut butter to my chocolate (ha! you thought I was going to say "jelly", didn't you? No comparison), the pride to my joy, and soon, the Merry in my Christmas. I love you, my little pumpkin pie.

November 21, 2009

Miss Ririe Regrets

I've been feeling regrets lately. Not huge life-decision-making-gone-awry kinds of regrets - just things I wish I had done or said or handled better. This is not a very common thing for me to feel, since long ago I adopted the mantra "Live so you never have to look back and think, 'I wish I would have...'", but I admit I do reflect every now and again about what could have been different in my life (for better or worse) had I chosen a slightly different path.

These feelings began some weeks ago, but came to a head last weekend when I went back to California to help my wonderful mom with the final phase of their move. She's been working for the last two years clearing out the house they lived in for 43 1/2 years, selling, packing, sorting, delivering, tossing, donating, and deciding deciding deciding. During the weekend, Mom and I had a chance to have some really great heart-to-hearts about life, marriage, kids, futures, goals, and even dreams lost. My relationship with my mom has been especially strong the last decade or so, but this weekend I felt an even deeper sisterhood with this kindred spirit. We drew many parallels between our two lives, and are convinced we chose to be in the same family whenever our earthy time was supposed to begin. She said the conversation must have gone something like this:

Her: Hey, should we ask if we can be in the same family so we can talk to each other all the time?
Me: Totally. Do you think we should ask to be sisters?
Her: Nah. We need to learn more than that. Let's be mother and daughter! Which one do you want to be?
Me: Well, you're more bossy, so you should be the mom.
Her: It's not like you're going to do what I tell you anyway, so it doesn't matter, but okay, I'll go ask.

And that is how we came into the same family. Scout's honor. And as I was helping pack up memory after memory after memory, I got nostalgic and homesick and yes, even regretful about the times we had and the times we never did because I was too hard-headed and Miss Know-it-all to really know any better. And now I've been called to help in the Young Women program at church, so I find myself wanting to shake them and say "Do it this way!" so they don't fall into the same silly traps the rest of us did. Here were some of mine:

1. I'm sorry I didn't tell my dad about the oil light coming on in our 1984 Honda Civic hatchback before it was too late. Not only did I have to help pay to replace the entire engine because it had run dry, but I got busted because it broke down on my way back from my boyfriend's house, where I'd made an early morning visit instead of going to seminary.

2. I'm sorry I gave up sewing after I attempted one pair of pajama pants that a penguin would have been embarrassed to wear. It took me almost a decade to work up the courage again, and by then, it wasn't as easy to learn at my mother's knee.

3. I regret that I didn't keep a more consistent journal. We helped a couple move today, and I lugged a very heavy bin that had "all the journals" she's kept since she was 6. I have, count 'em, two journals other than my mission journal, and the second one isn't even half full. So all of you I've had conversations with over the years, recount to me what I said so I can write it all down and make this list longer. :)

4. I regret not following the incredibly strong prompting to send a Book of Mormon to my high school history teacher. Now I'll never know.

5. I'm sorry I was SO CLUELESS to so many friends who needed my help over the years. I shied away from tragedy because I never knew what to say or do, but working at a mortuary finally taught me that people just need someone to listen. I could have been that for so many, but was too insecure to realize it.

6. I regret never confronting Carol W. from high school about why she hated me so much. I still wonder about that. Maybe I made out with her crush or something - that's entirely possible.

7. I regret that I developed a bad habit of comparing myself to others for so many reasons. I know it's a cankerous way to live, but sometimes, I can't help myself. I make my jokes about hating them, but really, I'm just jealous. If you're reading this and I know you, go ahead and insert your name where you see "others". I'm positive it applies to you.

I need to stop there, or at least pause while I go find some Prozac somewhere.

To be fair, I have talents and happiness that I have fostered and nurtured through the years, so it's not like I'm that bad off. And one day, I will write about those. Today, though, I needed a little self-chiding to get myself back on a track I can look back on and think, "Well done." Mom, thanks for the inspiration. I think I'll start doing what you tell me to.

November 11, 2009


SOMEBODY is sporting a couple new teeth as of a few weeks ago. What may be more noticeable, though, is the boogie I can never seem to nab.

Update: she's working on #5 now. We'll be moving from Cheerios (or "Joe's O's", as it were) to steak shortly.

November 10, 2009

Farewell and Hello

I had to wait to write this post at a time when I wouldn't short out my computer keyboard from tear hyperactivity. It's been a huge transition for our little family (especially me) to leave a community in which I was born, grew up, left for college, got married, and had my first child, but I'm adjusting as well as I thought I would. I am discovering beauty every day, both in scenery and new friendships, so very soon, you just might be reading phrases like "I love it here!" and "I don't care if they don't have a See's within a 100-mile radius!". But for now, I'm still dying for a Rum Nougat (and a Double-Double, for that matter).

The Sunday before we pulled out of California, many many dear friends put together a fantastic open house to say their final farewells. It was a bittersweet night, because of course in my mind I was going through every memory with every person as they walked around and yapped and ate, unaware that though I was cackling and guffawing, inside I was a mess. Cackling is my coping mechanism. Now you know.

Stories in pictures:

Bruce, Elizabeth, Katie, and Sarah, holding our little Squeakpot. I was the exclusive babysitter for these girls when they were itty bitty. Well, really, since it was just Katie. I was 11 or 12, and for some reason, B&E entrusted their offspring to me for HOURS per week. Bruce is the only man besides Ted who wasn't afraid to come and rub my pregnant belly. I loved it, and somehow, he knew it (or didn't care).

Here's another lass I've known since she was a bump in mummy's tum. Amazing what an incredible young lady she's turned out to be - strong, clever, intelligent, mature, friendly, and the fastest fingers on a violin I think I've ever seen. She and her mom joined the church choir I directed for seven years, and as friends (basically family), we've been through a lot. Susie was my most recent visiting teacher, and for our visits, we went to go see plays! And to eat at restaurants! The culture and class just drips out of this woman, and her family mentoring hasn't stopped from my oldest brother to my youngest. She's such a giving, wonderful woman.

And here's Ted looking like he ditched his old wife for a new one. Tamar has been a long-time friend for, well, a long time. :) When I got my first teaching job, I went to her house, freaking out about how much I didn't know, and I gleaned as much wisdom from her teaching experience as I could. Ted and Tamar have known each other longer than I've known either, and after I dumped Ted the first time we dated, Tamar was a big part of Ted's support system. She's an active go-getter, and I only know a few people who have their hands in as many things as she does. And...she loves our kid, so she's way up there on our list.

This girl really belongs in the "scarecrow" position, but you know how blogger is. Shannon and I met at age 7 or so, and now we're, well, older. Words can't describe my deep-seated love for Shannon, because it comes from a place where you've had pretty great ups and pretty bad downs, and you've chosen to get through them all and keep being great friends. I realized while we lived together at college during our freshmen year (as the Hinckley Hall Hunnies, thank you) that we were as different as two women could be. It was a harsh realization, and I wasn't sure we would survive the ramifications, but I grew up and matured, and since then, we've been pretty inseparable. This girl plays a mean organ and game of basketball, whips up the best banana cream pie Ted and I have ever had, is more loyal than any yappy little puppy, and is one of the most devoted young moms I have the pleasure of knowing. She lives for her kids and has provided me with snippets of wisdom and goodness that I continue to use for my own life. Dawg, you know I love you. Here's to 25 more years together!

This next group is just a bunch of hooligans. Look at the mischief in their eyes! Four of the five folks pictured here raised children alongside my parents for 40 years, so I actually grew up with their kids (I've made out with two of the sons from the couple on the left - that's how tight I'm talkin' here), yet they have become my own friends. The secret is many many choir rehearsals with much raucous laughter. Music will do that - it is a timeless bond.

The two Allisons! Together I think we upped the naughty factor in RS significantly. She is a talented and very real piece of work. I've sought her advice on so many things, and was quite flabbergasted one day a few years ago when she wanted some acting tips for a show we were putting on. I couldn't believe she was actually nervous to perform! We laughed and laughed and she pulled everything off as if the audience were all her best friends and she was just being her usual unruly self. What a scream.

Ah, Jim and Carol. I would like to thank you both for looking so good that you actually made me look better. Here's another family I've known almost since time began, and I admit I feel lucky to have been a part of their history, even if only in the very smallest part. Jim and one of the hooligans in the above picture were dubbed the "two old muppets in the balcony" and certainly lived up to their nicknames every choir rehearsal. And the things Carol can do with paper are uncanny. The world is more enjoyable and beautiful because they exist.

Kim! My shoe-loving, tea-party-having, perfect-skinned princess! Can you believe this girl has a son who's my age? I STILL can't get over that! I've been dying to find out her secret for years, the little vixen. Her laugh is infectious, obviously.

Holy cow - where do I start with this next little group? Janet (Shannon/best friend's mom) is another one of those I-grew-up-with-your-kids-but-now-I'm-friends-with-you people, and we have been sharing a brain for several years now. I dubbed her my "other mother" because, well, she is. When a person spends almost every weekend at your house, playing your Monopoly, swimming (and peeing) in your pool, eating your blueberry muffins, and jacking Little Women off your bookshelf, and you just laugh and let them, you know it's love. I regret to inform everyone that little has changed, though I haven't jacked anything from their house in 20 years (but REALLY want to - have you seen this place??). The other family are the Moores. Kindred spirits, down to the core. Lilian is at your doorstep at the drop of a hat, doing anything and everything you never knew you needed. And I have never, nor will I ever, sing a better "Love Shack" than I do when I sing with Mike at Monday night karaoke, nor have I been as moved by an a capella version of any old hymn he chooses to sing. Mike, your voice is as golden as your wife and son.

Jean and Tim and little Weston are newer to my best friend scene, but no matter. Good food bonds people for life (like good music!) and the way these two dish it out, no wonder they have friends aplenty. I salute their love of Ghirardelli and M&Ms and bacon. Seriously.

And I salute your love of Diet Coke. Bless the consumption in your home. And nice jugs, Rebecca!

Ross and Tina - what a riot. When Ted and I were first married (I can say that now because it's been two and a half loooooong years already), these two invited us over for dinner and a game night. I brought dessert (can't remember what, so it must not have been memory-worthy), and Tina cooked up some awesome beef roast with potatoes and corn. We gorged and then got schooled by Tina as she stomped us all at Settlers. What an embarrassment. The thing is, she doesn't even look or sound like a fighter. She's got the same joie de vivre as Natalie from the Facts of Life, yet she'll pull the rug out from under you, and then giggle that she got your goat.
I really miss you guys.

Tawnie. The Tawn-Tawn. The Tawnster. A week before popping. Wish I could have looked that good. I guess you have to start out at 80 pounds, though. Gee whiz, she makes me look like I'm having another one, too. How depressing. Thanks, babe!

My best friend's husband of 6 1/2 years. I still got it, baby.

These three were all friends from our "single days". The two on the left are Heather and Andrew, a sassy meat-and-potatoes-and-disco sort of match-up, and the guy on the right is married to the 80-lb popper above (and has recently been joined by their poppee). I love that we all made our lives in the same spot, watched everyone date their honeys, get married, etc, and now we all get together and laugh about marriage. What a gas life is.

Few people have just marched into my life with no qualms or hesitations and wordlessly demanded my friendship, but Annette has, thank the Lord. And I was dying to give it to her.

What would a party for us have been without fabulous food? Janet, Shannon, Pam, Barbara, Susie, Carol, Annette, thank you for hosting the most wonderful send-off from a most wonderful place. We didn't deserve such lavish attention, but were grateful for it all the same.

Farewell to Pasadena, my old friend. I believe it is possible to keep all the best friends you have made through many years and to make even more in just a few. North Carolina, you have big shoes to fill, but already have a lot going for you. Hello and I love you to all my new friends and Farewell and I love you forever to all the old. Until I see you again...

November 6, 2009

Creation: Polka Dot Band

Tessa's little outfit was screaming for a new hair hoo-be-doo, so Mama came through so she could look adorable for our trip to the grocery store.

November 5, 2009

Halloween 09 - Parties and PeaPods

Ted came up with our family costume, which I thought was pretty remarkable considering the man hates dressing up. However, since we just stuck things on his normal clothes, he was pretty okay with it. Besides, we won "Best Couple Costume" and Tessa won "Best Overall Costume" at the party we went to. There weren't any other kids participating, so it was kind of a gimme, but she really was a cute little bugger.

Fabulous dancing from the men on the runway, but when it was the women's turn, I remarked how the only way to top theirs was to "get slutty." We made efforts, but they were lackluster compared to the men.

This is our neighbor, C. When the music turns on, he apparently gets dirty. I voted for him for best dancing. You don't have to ask why.

Squeakers was fascinated with these leaves all night, and I'm so glad I got a shot of her devilish concentration.

These are our new favorite neighbors, C&A. My mom and sister used to be, but since we moved away, we've had to improvise. The game was "Donuts on a String", and the spouses played against the other spouses, trying to eat as much of the hanging donut as possible without letting it fall on the ground. These guys lost because they were too busy posing.

We tried on a few different costume ideas before settling on the pea pod idea. Couldn't resist this one.

AND, the food. There are some talented women out here with a lot of time on their hands. These were chocolate mice with caramel tails,

peanut butter pumpkins,

my contribution: almond shortbread witch finger cookies with bloody guts dipping sauce,
severed hand punch,

and the winning dish, freaky-looking white chocolate-dipped Oreo eyeballs. These looked gross and tasted awesome. Perfect combination.

We're totally demanding a repeat invitation next year. Thanks, Doreen and Matt!

November 3, 2009

A feeling of accomplishment

I know this is going to be no big deal for a lot of you, but for several weeks now I've been working my way up the ladder and today, I reached a goal. I jogged for a whole mile without stopping. Considering that three months ago I was unable to move out of bed due to a back injury and two months ago I couldn't sit in a padded church pew without excruciating pain, I think today's accomplishment calls for a celebration. Now where's that chocolate??

Of course, goals are always easier to reach when you've got this to look at:

I have a feeling I'm going to love the next two autumns in Durham even more.

What's Cookin: Chocolates

This is what the winner received in the mail a couple weeks ago, although she reported it probably looked better on my end than it did on hers. I just happened to mail it during a not-uncommon October heatwave in Southern California. Not all of them melted, thankfully, and I believe she said she ate them all anyway. If you recall, this is the same girl who licked her knitted stocking clean after her dad lit a fire just underneath them for Christmas, not realizing there was chocolate in each one. For this story alone, Valerie, you are a bosom friend.

Here's a run-through of my first attempt at making chocolates.

Behold, the peanutty centers of the PB balls. I just love the name. I dipped these in semisweet and then milk chocolate. Next time I think I'll do just milk and reduce the powdered sugar in the filling, as they were a bit more crumbly than I'd like.

Next were the ganache truffles. I did some dark chocolate and some chocolate raspberry, but the method was pretty much the same. Melt the chocolate with warm cream, whisk until smooth, add any flavoring, then refrigerate. When cold enough, roll away. I think I let these get a little TOO cold, because the ganache broke my small Pampered Chef ice cream/cookie scoop. I'm still ticked about that one. But I guess you don't get great without a lot of mistakes, blah blah blah.

The rolling:

And the finished rough-looking balls. These are called truffles because when rolled in cocoa (which I did with just the dark chocolate), they resemble the mushroomy truffles that pigs find. The name now includes all sorts of chocolates that have a chocolate and cream base, but most are now dipped (which I did to the chocolate raspberry ones). And this particular pig is very good at finding these kinds of truffles, thank you.

These last ones were a favorite for Ted and some wonderfully obliging taste-testing neighbors, C&A. Melted caramel topped clusters of cashews and dried cranberries,

then were topped with melted milk chocolate.

Ted and I tried a similar confection after the chocolate exhibit at the Raleigh Natural Science Museum and loved them. The creator dubbed them "Bog Frogs" - a play on turtles and the fact that they contain cranberries, I imagine. We just called them scrumdiddlyumptious, and I was certainly not disappointed with my knock-off. Until next time, chocolate lovers!

The Cooling Rack

Baked goods are only half the story...