Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Tonight D and I ate homemade chicken soup and carved our pumpkins for tomorrow's trick-or-treaters. Then I finished my package for the Fall Swap. I'll post pictures of my swap items once my partner receives the package (I don't want to spoil her fun by posting before she opens it.
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A Happy Ending!

This is the continuation of the "wedding gown saga" I wrote about last week. So there I was, 100 days before the big event, with no gown! And, to top it off, my mom was in San Diego so she couldn't help me with shopping, and my sister has 2 little boys so she couldn't really help either. The internet saved the day...with all of my wedding-related internet searches, I remembered that there were a couple of stores in the area that sell designer wedding gowns off the rack.

First I called a store named Designer Bridal Outlet in Wellesley. The woman I spoke to, Joanie, was very sympathetic and made me an appointment for the next day. When I walked into the store I felt comfortable with Joanie right away. She's about the same age as my mom and was dressed in an outfit that was very much like one my mom would wear. Because I'm not a size 8, Joanie started pulling out any gowns that were in (approximately) my size. She pulled out some gowns that were not at all the style I was going for, but she urged me to try them on. It's a good thing, because the gown I decided on was one that I wouldn't have considered, mostly because it was strapless.

I tried on a number of gowns and narrowed it down to 2. Because my mom was in San Diego, Joanie went against the store policies and took a couple of digital photos of me in the gowns so my mom could help me decide. Here's one of the photos she took:
The gown fit like a glove and hugged all of the right curves of my body. I never thought I wanted a chapel train or a full length veil, but this gown definitely made me feel like a princess. This would be my only chance to wear layers of organza, so why not go for it! Plus, was completely unlike that other gown. My mom loved the pictures, so I called Joanie the next day and put down my deposit. Believe it or not, this gown was the same price as the other one, but far more stunning. Here's a close-up of the fabric from my actual wedding day:
And here's what my gown looked like bustled (a French bustle) with the veil bustled too. The bustling and alterations were done by Sienna at Bridal Fashion and Alterations (she's wonderful).

The photo above is by Krzystyna Harber Photography in Providence, RI--Krzystyna a terrific photographer and a joy to work with. D and I loved her from our very first meeting with her. This isn't one of the best of the photos she took, but it shows off the back of my gown (and hides D's face...he's shy about being on my blog).

Over the next few months I'll continue to post memories, reviews, and photos leading up to my wedding last May.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Daring Bakers October Challenge -- Bostini Cream Pie

I belong to an online learning community called Daring Bakers. The deal is that we are assigned a recipe at the beginning of the month which we have to make exactly as the recipe states, and then post the results on our blogs. The recipe for October (my first month) is a "Bostini Cream Pie" A variation on the classic Boston Cream pie. The recipe appears at the bottom of my post.

First off, I halved the recipe since there's just D and I to eat it. I started by separating the eggs and realized I had separated too many. This was when I decided that when halving a recipe it's best to do all of the conversions first and write them down next to the name of the ingredient. This recipe was a bit of a pain to halve since there are a lot of 3/4 cups/tablespoons in it. Luckily, I remembered that my cookbook holder has all of the conversions written on it, such as how many tablespoons per cup for liquids and solid measures. This is why I wish we used the metric system in the U.S.-- it's so much easier for conversions of all kinds!

I had a little mishap when adding the beaten egg to the milk and egg yolk mixture. My hands were slippery and I accidentally dropped the beaten egg and the bowl it was in into the mixing bowl. I had my cream, vanilla bean, and sugar in a saucepan, brought it to a boil, turned the heat down, and then took some of the hot cream to temper the eggs. As soon as I put the egg mixture into the cream it started to curdle--fast. My pans retain so much heat! Luckily I had the spoon in hand and was able to start stirring right away so not too much curdle (and that's what the straining is for, right?).

Next little mishap was in straining the custard. When straining custard I recommend that you strain it into a bowl and then fill the custard cups from the bowl. Well, on Saturday I didn't do this--I strained straight from the hot and heavy saucepan right into the custard cups. Very messy--but I got to sample a lot of custard that fell onto the counter and the outside of the custard cups.

Third mishap is really a shame because it resulted in wasted custard. I didn't have enough custard cups, so I used a Pyrex bowl with lid for the last bit of custard. Unfortunately I didn't sniff the bowl before using it. All I can say is that I have one bowl of vanilla-onion infused custard. (We specifically store things in glass to avoid the smelly containers issue, but I guess this particular one didn't go through the dishwasher and wasn't washed with enough dish soap).

Now the cake pretty much went off without a hitch. The only issue was that I had neglected to buy the cake flour so I had to use all-purpose. The orange mixture smelled heavenly and reminded me of the smell of cranberry orange bread batter. The egg whites whipped up fabulously and the batter was so light once I folded it in. I spooned it into custard cups that I had wiped with a paper towel dipped in canola oil (I don't like cooking spray). Again, I was short a custard cup so I used another one of the Pyrex bowls, but this time I was smart enough to sniff it first.

The cakes came out of the oven all puffy and lightly browned. Beautiful! I waited until thay were cool and then used a knife to loosen the edges and popped the cakes out onto a cooling rack.

Fast forward about 24 hours to Sunday evening. I made the glaze in the double boiler and then just had to plate the Bostini. I did 3 different platings.

First, a footed glass dessert dish with the custard in the bottom, a round cake on top, chocolate glaze drizzled over the cake, and a raspberry and mint leaves to garnish. The second plating I drizzled the glaze on a dessert plate, spooned the custard to one side of the plate, and then cut a triangular piece of cake which rested partway on the custard. I finished by drizzling the cake with glaze and again garnished with raspberries and mint leaves. The third plating used a china dessert dish and cup which I received as a wedding gift. I put the custard in the bottom of the cup, added a round piece of cake on top, and then covered the whole thing with chocolate glaze. i topped it off by inserting a square of chocolate in the center. On the plate I stacked raspberries and a mint leaf.

While all of the platings looked good, the one that I had a best photograph of is the footed dessert dish. This is my "official" Bostini Cream Pie!
So, below is the half recipe I followed:

Bostini Cream Pie (adapted from Donna Scala & Curtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and Scala's Bistro)
makes 5 servings

6Tbsp whole milk
4 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 egg (minus some of the white), beaten
4 egg yolks
1 3/4 cup + 2Tbsp heavy cream
1/4 vanilla bean
1/4 cup + 1 1/3 tsp sugar

Chiffon Cake:
3/4 cup cake flour
1/4 cup + 2Tbsp superfine sugar
1/2 tsp + smidge baking powder

To prepare the custard:

Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.

To prepare the chiffon cakes:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray 8 molds/custard cups with nonstick cooking spray.

Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not overbeat.

Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.

Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.

To prepare the glaze:

Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.

To assemble:

Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.

To check out how the other Daring Bakers plated their Bostini Cream Pie, or to read about their experiences, you can visit their blogs. Check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll: http://daringbakersblogroll.blogspot.com/.

Red Sox Win!

Red Sox are 2007 World Series Champions! Yippee! (Not quite the same kind of excitement as 2004 though).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Weekend Happenings!

The weekend started out on Friday night with some organizing of my office/craft room. Anyone who has lived with me knows that "neat" and "organized" do not typically describe the rooms I inhabit. This is most certainly true of the craft room/office. The room contains my old desk from when I was a kid (but painted black with glass pulls), D's old filing cabinet, a gate-leg extension table that used to be in my grandparents' house, a chair I pulled out of someone's garbage and painted and recovered, and 3 additional chairs of various origins. In addition to the furniture, there are a bunch of boxes containing wedding gifts that haven't yet been put away, various shopping bags full of stuff that I have to return to the store or out away somewhere, a shopping bag containing gifts I'll be giving for Christmas, about 5 bags of yarn, a huge stack of photographs to sort, a huge box of sorted photographs, and 2 bags, a box, and a stack of scrapbooking stuff. On Friday night I did manage to put some of the stuff away, and I'll put more away once I move a chest down that's currently in the master bedroom.

On Saturday am I headed to a Friends and Newcomers new member coffee. I met some more nice women and learned a few more of the ins and outs of my new town (and the surrounding area). One thing that has been very reassuring about meeting these women is finding out that I'm not the only one who loathes the grocery store in our town. While the prices at the Market Basket are very good, the aisles are narrow, the lines are long, the parking lot is too small, and the produce goes bad too quickly. Everyone seems to shop in neighboring towns either at the Shaws, Hannaford, Stop and Shop, or Donelans. Typically, I do as much shopping as possible at Trader Joe's and then head to Market Basket for whatever I can't find. It drives me nuts every time I go there, but it is much less expensive than the really nice Donelans that is also close to our house.

One of the women at the Newcomers coffee told me about a place called Idylwilde Farms in Acton. She said it was similar to Wilson Farms in Lexington and that they had terrific produce and meats. I knew I had to check it out, so I headed over on Saturday afternoon. Basically, it looks like a big barn, and outside they have stacks of fresh local produce. This week they had tons of different kinds of pumpkins, squash, applies, and multi-colored cauliflower. I picked up a sugar pumpkin and some purple cauliflower. Inside it was a mix of Wilson Farms and Russo's in Watertown. Perfect stacks of fresh and colorful produce, fresh baked goods, a huge cheese section, and a perimeter of staple and gourmet foods. I was able to find all of what I needed for my Daring Bakers challenge, including a vanilla bean and superfine sugar. They also had fresh raspberries which I knew would make the perfect garnish. I also picked up a fresh, natural roasting chicken for Sunday dinner.

Upon coming home from Idylwilde, I started in on my Daring Bakers challenge (you can read about the details of that in my previous post). Meanwhile, D put together 2 more storage shelves in the basement and started tearing up the carpet in the master bedroom so we can get started on our demolition/construction. We're demoing the existing closet and building a walk-in because I have way too much stuff! Were also going to lay down hardwood flooring in the master bedroom and upstairs hall. I can't wait until the room is done and we can start sleeping on the beautiful sheets that my mom gave us for our shower. The colors are so soothing.

Saturday night we went to the Gibbet Hill Grille for dinner to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of our engagement. We had heard about Gibbet Hill from D's cousins, and then saw it on TV Diner where it won the "Platinum Plate" award. Luckily I had called 2 weeks earlier for a reservation because it was parents' weekend at the local prep school and the restaurant was very busy. Gibbet Hill Grille is located in a beautiful refurbished barn on a farm in Groton, MA. There's a fireplace by the bar making it very cosy, and they serve a nice variety of wines by the glass. I had a very nice Pinot Noir and D had the house beer--Gibbet Hill Brew. We were ushered into the dining room promptly at 8pm and started perusing the menu.

There were many fabulous-sounding choices--from gourmet sandwiches to roasted beet salad to all kinds of steaks. We started with PEI mussels which were served in a delicious better/herb broth with a piece of toast to soak up the juices. Being a huge lamb lover (I eat it probably 1 out of every 3 times we go out to dinner), I was happy to hear that they had a rack of lamb special served with braised cabbage and brussels sprouts and roasted sweet potatoes. D had the Arctic Char (he loves all things Icelandic/Scandinavian). My lamb was delicious and I think D was a bit embarrassed when I separated the bones and started gnawing on them after I had finished most of the meat. I had a Malbec that was specially selected to pair with the lamb. After dinner we had port and coffee, during which time we watched and listened as others in the restaurant ran up to the bar to check out what was happening in the Red Sox World Series game.

Sunday was also a moderately busy day for me. D and I organized some things on the shelves in the basement and decided there were some more items we could part with. I also went through my closets and pulled out some stuff to try to consign and some to donate. D mowed the lawn while I worked on a project handblock printing onesies and dish towels (I'll post on this later). Then D and I spent about 1/2 hour laying in the hammock in the warm sun (until the sun went behind the trees and the breeze became too cool).

After "hammock time" I set to work making dinner--chicken with 40 cloves of garlic from the Joy of Cooking. I originally consulted Joy just for the minutes per pound for a roast chicken, but found the garlic recipe which called for lots of dried herbs and garlic. I have a whole deck covered in fresh herbs that we need to eat up so I thought this would be a perfect recipe. Basically, I basted the chicken with olive oil, rubbed under the skin with fresh chopped herbs and salt and pepper, seasoned the cavity and stuffed it with whole fresh herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme) and a quartered lemon. Then I put the chicken in a covered casserole, added some chicken broth and white wine, and all of the peeled cloves of garlic from 3 heads! The covered casserole went in a 375 oven for 25 minutes, then the cover was removed, the temp increased to 450 and the timer set for 35 more minutes of cooking.

While the chicken was cooking I boiled potatoes for garlic mashed potatoes (with the garlic from the chicken). I also cut open 2 sugar pumpkins, saved the seeds on a cookie sheet for roasting later, and roasted the pumpkin pieces. Not sure yet what I'm going to do with the roasted pumpkin. A few weeks ago I made roasted pumpkin risotto which was quite good. I may make that again, or pumpkin soup.

When the chicken was done it smelled heavenly. I removed it onto a platter and added the garlic to the mashed potatoes. I then strained the cooking liquid into a bowl and added some hot chicken broth to thin the sauce down a little. The flavor was great. After dinner I picked all of the remaining meat off the chicken and then put all of the carcass pieces into the slow cooker along with a quartered onion, 3 celery stalks, 2 carrots, the herbs that were in the chicken cavity, and a handful of fresh parsley. This morning I strained that and will make soup with it tomorrow night for dinner.

It was a full weekend that also included watching the Red Sox win the World Series for the 2nd time in 3 years. While I watched the Sox I finished my knitting project for my swap partner. Hopefully I'll get the box in the mail to her tomorrow.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Swap projects almost done!

I'm almost finished with my projects for my fall swap partner. Last night I went to a scapbooking night for the newcomers' club I belong to and I was able to finish one part of my swap goodies. The other women at the event last night were terrific and I'm so happy to be meeting people who live in my town (up until now I only knew the people at the end of my cul de sac).
I've also been knitting quite a lot with the Red Sox games. If they win it in 6 or 7 as I predict, I'll be able to finish at least one more Christmas gift and some more "knitty kitties." The knitty kitties are easy little knit stuffed animals that I learned to make from a free pattern in the Knitting Daily newsletter. The first one I made using the candy corn colored yarn I purchased about a month ago. Here are my first 2 knitty kitties along with my real kitty.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Buyer Beware

D called me yesterday afternoon after he'd had a call from Laura at Bassett. The fabric for our furniture was discontinued. I started having flashbacks to what happened with my wedding gown (which I'll blog about sometime, maybe at the end of this post) ... I had visions of having to go back and come up with a totally different look for the room. As it turns out, only the throw pillow fabric was discontinued. D and I decided to go pick out new fabric last night.

So, I met Laura at the store and she and I went through some different fabric choices--some of which we had considered on Saturday. I was deciding between fabric that was bold had a lot of colors in it (like the original), fabric that had a lot of colors in it but was more subtle, and fabric that had fewer colors but was bold. D helped us make the final decision which is below:

Not as many colors, but really warm and fairly bold. I can tie in more colors with an area rug if I want. And, they're only throw pillows...I can switch them out any time I want (like in summer when I want something more summery).

On to the wedding gown story, since I should blog it for posterity sometime, why not now. The story begins a little less than a year ago. My friend Wendy's baby shower was on a Saturday about 2 weeks after D and I got engaged (the anniversary of which is this weekend). My mom was coming up for the shower so we decided to look at wedding gowns near where Wendy lives. I looked online and came up with one in the area called Chryssies. Mom and I met there and were helped by a really nice lady named Nancy. The bridal shop itself and most of the people there were fairly cheesy, but Nancy was really helpful. After trying on a bunch of dresses, we had her write down the info for one I really liked. Now this is one of those bridal shops where they don't keep the tag in the dress so you have no idea who the designer/manufacturer is, but I went online and searched and searched and I decided that it was Blu by Madeline Gardner and that it was this gown:
I was all about business in the beginning of planning my wedding and I wanted to get all of the big decisions done early, so I went to look at gowns by myself the following weekend. I only liked one, but it was out of my price range. I called my mom and we talked about the gown at Chryssie's and I decided to go there that afternoon and buy it. I called my friend Darci and she met me at the shop. I tried on the gown again, loved it as much as I did the first time, and ordered it. I was told it would arrive in January. Here's a picture that Darci took of me wearing the gown that day and a close up of the fabric (yes, those are sequins and beads, I don't know what I was thinking):
Fast forward to January. The call comes and my gown is in! I make a date with my sister to meet at the store because she hasn't seen my gown (when we ordered the bridesmaid dresses I couldn't try on the sample because it had been sold). We meet at the store and they show me to a dressing room to try on my gown. Well...it wasn't my gown! It was a gown that was ivory with an organza and lace overlay, but it was strapless! I came out and said, "that's not my gown" and the woman in the store said, "let me get George, the owner, and we'll figure this out." George came out and said, "Are you sure this isn't your gown? It matches the number on the order form." I said "I know my gown and this is definitely not it." I was extremely calm. My sister thinks I was in shock because I didn't get angry at all. George tells me that he'll call the manufacturer on Tuesday and then call me back. He wasn't apologetic or anything. I figured the manufacturer just sent the wrong gown by mistake and everything would be fine.

Fast forward to Tuesday. No call from George, so I call the store in the afternoon and ask to talk to him. He's not available, so I end up talking to Nancy, the person who originally helped me. She told me that my gown had been discontinued and that the manufacturer had designed a new similar gown with the same style number and that's what they had shown me when I was in. She said they could do 1 of 4 things for me: I could buy the new gown, I could buy the sample of the original gown for 1/2 price and have them alter it to fit me, I could order any other gown in the store for 20% off, or I could get a refund of my deposit. I was very surprised they mentioned the sample since I had been told in December that it had been sold. I was definitely feeling some dishonesty and dirty bridal shop tactics at this point. I told nancy how upset I was about the whole situation and especially about the way I had been treated in the store when the gown was the wrong one. They should have apologized to me then. Nancy was really apologetic over the phone and I actually felt bad for her because it seemed like she had had this conversation with other brides that the store had pulled this crap on before. (Later I checked the Better Business Bureau website and lo and behold there were claims against Chryssie's regarding their sales practices).

So, there I was 100 days before my wedding without a gown. What's a girl to do? All I can say is thank God for the Internet!!! Stay tuned for the rest of the story (and yes, it has a happy ending) .

Monday, October 22, 2007

More New Furniture!

A few weeks ago I received a catalog from Bassett Furniture--Pottery Barn-like styles, but fully customizable and with a lot more fabric choices. In the catalog was a 20% coupon. Who doesn't love 20% off furniture!!! D and I took a drive out to where I used to work to visit the showroom and check it out. On the way we stopped at Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams furniture which we liked, but it was out of our budget.

So, we went to Bassett and were greeted right away by this woman Laura. She had asked what we were looking for and what styles we liked and then set us to work sketching out the room. D sketched out the room (we have the dimensions to memory now) and Laura guessed immediately that D is an engineer. Laura gave me some nice ideas about the room (like putting a runner in front of the sliding glass door for the winter), and then we sat on some different pieces of furniture to get a sense of scale and comfort. First we tried their "Estate" collection sofa. The thing was huge! It would look great in our room, but we looked like Baby Bears sitting in Papa Bear's chair. Then we tried the "Manor" collection which was much more scaled to us. The sofa is 92" long, so it's big, but the depth of the cushions and overall proportions are better.

D and I have been trying to decide between a sectional or a sofa and loveseat. After Laura put both options into the room plan, we decided a sofa and loveseat and a chair was the way to go. The other thing I had been trying to decide on was whether to do a coffee table or an ottoman. We decided to go with a storage ottoman--today it'll be a place to store magazines, knitting, etc. and someday it will store some of the kids' toys. Another plus is that the future kids won't crack their heads open banging against the edges of a coffee table.

Our future kids were a big impact on the furniture we decided to buy. It had to be durable in construction, and it had to have fabric that would stand up to lots of wear. We decided on a light brown/tan corduroy-like fabric. Very durable, but also very soft. We purcased the sofa, loveseat, chair, and ottoman all in the same fabric. It's matchy-matchy and boring, but I think from a longevity standpoint it will work well. The fun was picking the fabric for the throw pillows. I'm a big believer in neutral furniture that can adapt to my changing tastes just by changing the throw pillows. The throw pillows I chose are not what I would have expected--they're sort of Kilim inspired. They have a bunch of different colors in them (burnt orange, sage, brick red, denim blue) which I think will work really well with different seasonal accents (e.g., pumpkins in the fall and evergreens in the winter). They're very warm looking, so I think during the spring and summer I will switch them out for something lighter. Here's the website's rendering of our sofa with the throw pillows (the sofa color is darker in the picture than in real life).
Now I'm going to be on the lookout for lamps, an area rug and runner, and accessories! I'm thinking wrought iron or dark bronze for lamps and curtain rods. We're also going to move the mission-style revolving bookcase Dad built for me into the family room. I'm going to try to find an adjustable-arm desk-style lamp to put on top of it so it will be a good task light for reading/knitting on the couch. I also need to find an end table for between the sofa and the chair, and a lamp to go on it. For the short term, I'm sure one of the 5 end tables D and I own (all hand-me-downs) will work. We've also got to decide on some sort of entertainment center, but in the meantime we'll keep using the awesome oak armoire that D's friend Jim made. Who knows--maybe it'll be a permanent fixture stained to match the revolving bookcase. Would be nice to have additional storage though...

Now D and I just have to wait for the furniture to arrive. Laura said it would arrive before Thanksgiving, but I'm not counting on it. Of course it would be great if it did since we'll have 9-12 people at our house for Turkey Day and currently have family room seating for 4!

Stay tuned for postings of different accessories, lamps, rugs, etc. that I'll be looking at! I'll also be posting bedroom decorating ideas too as time goes on.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Little Earthquakes

The Sox live on for yet another playoff game against the Indians! I was worried that it was going to be all over after last night, but true to Red Sox form, they just don't die that easily! I watched until 11pm (while knitting) and then flipped over to ER because I couldn't stand to watch the pain of them losing. I flipped back to the game at 11pm and they were still winning yeah! I watched the 7th inning and then fell asleep on the sofa sometime during the 8th. I woke up to the news at 1 am that they had won the game!

I got into bed around 1:15. D was asleep and had been for at least 2 1/2 hours, but he was lucid enough to ask me about the game. About 10 minutes later I heard and felt a few seconds of rumbling. I asked D, "What the hell was that"? I thought maybe a tree had fallen in the yard. D immediately thought it was the furnace, water heater, propane tank, or septic blowing up. Turns out, it was a 2.5 earthquake with an epicenter only 2.9 miles from our house! Here's a link to the article in the Boston Globe.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

How can you not love this face?

Boobie Bake Off!

"What to make for the Boobie Bake Off?" This is a question that has been floating around in my mind for the past few days. The only restriction is that it has to be pink, so...something berry-based? something dyed with pink food coloring? something dyed with beet juice or other red food so it would be more natural than food coloring? what can I make that's chocolate and pink? The answer ended up being somewhat of a compromise...it's cranberry, chocolate, and contains an ingredient that's been dyed pink....Oatmeal Cranberry M&M Cookies!

I took my Grandma Arnold's recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies and adapted it by adding dried cranberries instead of raisins and some special pink breast cancer M&Ms. The result isn't really all that pink, but they sure taste good! The idea of the dried cranberries and chocolate came from some dark chocolate covered cranberries D and I bought in Rockport this summer (in a fudge shop where the guy at the counter surely thought I was nuts because I was vigorously scratching my leg--turns out I had a fierce case of posion ivy...but I digress).

Here's the (approximate) recipe for Oatmeal Cranberry M&M Cookies:

1/2 c. softened unsalted butter
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 c. water
a generous pour of vanilla extract
1 c. all purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 c. quick oats
1 1/4 c. dried sweetened cranberries
1 c. pink M&Ms
3/4 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter with sugar. Add egg, water, and vanilla and beat until blended. Add flour, baking soda, and salt and mix until smooth. Add oatmeal and cranberries and beat until combined. Fold in M&Ms and chopped nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake 15 minutes. Allow to cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes before removing to cool on wire cooling rack. Makes about 2 dozen (depending on how much dough you eat). Note: I used light and dark brown sugar because I ran out of light brown sugar. 1 cup of either light or dark will suffice.

Now, to make them more pink you just use the power of Picassa:

To see the other entries in the Boobie Bake Off and vote for my entry (by making a $1 donation to the National Breast Cancer Research Foundation) just go to Baking Delights or Apron Strings and Simmering Things on November 2nd!

Here's the original recipe for my Grandma Arnold's Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (the best you've ever had):

1/2 c. softened butter (or corn oil margarine)
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 c. water
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. all purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves (or allspice)
3 c. quick oats
1 1/4 c. raisins
1 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven tom 350. Cream butter and sugar. Mix in egg, water, and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop by tablespoonful onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 12-15 minutes. Wait a minute or 2 before removing from pan.

A side note: I can tell that my grandmother wrote out this recipe after my grandfather had bypass surgery---she restricted all butter from his diet and henceforth most of her recipes called for "Promise" (corn oil margarine) instead of butter!!

Channeling a 50s mom...

When we first moved into our house we received a lot of catalogs and junk mail for the previous owners--a family with 3 little girls. In addition to kids clothing catalogs and double and triple copies of Lands End and Pottery Barn, we received a "magazine" called Kraft Food and Family. Basically, it's a glossy marketing piece from Kraft with recipes using Kraft products like Oreos, Jello, Cool-Whip, Philly cream cheese, etc. For my nephew's birthday I actually made one of the recipes and bought a tub of Cool-Whip for the first time in my life. The recipe was an easy ice cream cake made with layers of ice cream sandwiches (which I love) and a filling made from Jello chocolate pudding, cool-whip, hot fudge sauce, and crushed oreos (which I also love). The whole thing was covered with Cool-Whip as icing, and then as a special touch I coated the entire thing with chocolate jimmies. It was a hit on Tim's birthday (he's 5), but the Cool-Whip kind of grossed me out and the filling had a weird nougaty texture after a couple of days in the freezer.

I received another one of these Kraft Food and Family magazines this weekend and perused it before going grocery shopping on Sunday night. I saw a few recipes that looked interesting and so I bought the ingredients. I think it was the first time I bought Jello for something other than Jello shots in a very long time. Last night I made the first recipe for dinner. "Chinese Take-Out" Lemon Chicken. The ingredients were all pretty mundane for a stir fry--chicken, red pepper, green beans, chicken broth, garlic, corn starch--except for the 2 magic Kraft ingredients. Those magic ingredients? Zesty Italian salad dressing and....drumroll please...lemon Jello! Now, usually I shy away from cooking with artificial colors and artificial flavors, but I was really intrigued by putting Jello in a stir fry, so I tried it. I served it to D and asked him if he could guess the magic ingredient. He couldn't. Overall the recipe wasn't bad, but it was definitely too sweet, yellow, and artificial tasting for my liking. I think kids would probably dig it (and my brother-in-law Michael would probably dig it too). It did get me thinking though about making a General Tsao style chicken with orange jello...

When I was a kid my mom had the Campbell's Soup cookbook and some of the recipes in there became staples of my childhood--like pork chops and rice, beef stroganoff, and Swedish meatballs all made with cream of mushroom soup. I also really like the tuna noodle casserole my mom used to make occasionally (and, when dining services served it for lunch at Middlebury I always took a heaping helping), but I wasn't a big fan of the meatloaf with tomato soup sauce. Now, don't get me wrong and start thinking that my mom wasn't a good cook and so had to rely on these recipes--actually completely the opposite--but when you have to come up with dinner for your husband and kids every day for 21 years+ easy recipes that can be made from staples on hand are a real plus! Something tells me I'll be asking my mom for those recipes once I have kids--and maybe, just maybe, they'll get Jello chicken once in a while just for kicks!

There's a great website that features all of these "brand" recipes from the 40s-60s and it is so hysterically funny! Check it out: The Gallery of Regrettable Food. A few examples of the "cookbooks" on this site are below (click to link to the actual picture and hilarius descriptions).And, while you're looking at funny retro stuff, check out Stitchy McYarnpants for vintage knitting patterns with fabulous commentary (her first post is on vintage recipes right now, but scroll down to get to the knitting patterns).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sweet and pink? What could be better!

Because I never have enough to do, I'm going to be participating in a blog challenge this month. It's the "Boobie Bake Off" sponsored by the Baking Delights blog. This bake off benefits the National Breast Cancer Foundation. I'll post my creation later this month and then you can vote for my pink recipe!

This month I'm also participating in a Fall-themed swap from another blog. My swap partner is a woman from Cape Elizabeth, ME which is ironic because my sister-in-law and her family spent a week there this summer.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Very Busy October! Part 2

Fast forward one week from D's sister's visit and we have another house full of family! My sister Beth and her family came up from Rhode Island for Columbus Day weekend. On Saturday D and I met Beth, my brother-in-law Michael, and their sons Timothy and Matthew in Sterling, MA to spend the afternoon at Davis' Farmland which is basically a big petting zoo. My sister and I really enjoyed the animals, but the boys preferred the playground and the go carts.

Here I am with a baby goat. He was awfully cute!

And this is my sister Beth with a sheep.

This is my 3 year old nephew Matthew brushing a goat. Two years ago I gave him a My Little Pony for Christmas--he likes brushing animals.

And, here's my 5 year old nephew Tim on a go cart.

They also had a bunch of alpacas, all of which had wacky haircuts. As I was petting the sheep and alpacas I couldn't help but think what nice yarn they would make!

After the Farmland, we returned to our house for dinner and watched Jungle Book. Here's the thing with Jungle Book---are there wolf packs and bears in India?

On Sunday my sister and I took the kids to the Discovery Museum in Acton, MA. This is a terrific little children's museum specifically geared toward the under 6 set. It's in an old 3-story house and each room is a different theme. My favorite is the diner. The boys' favorites are the ball room (where they have a Rube Goldberg-like ball maze set up) and the ship room. They love the ship room where there's a ship's wheel, engine room, navigation room, dory, lobster trap, and a submarine. The boys are "experts" at lobstering from watching a fabulous video called "Let's Go Lobstering."

By Monday we were all pretty tired out, but D and I went to his parent's house to see our other nephew Benjamin who was visiting with D's sister Allison while her husband was at a medical conference. We saw all 5 nephews in the course of 2 weekends! Now we have a couple of weekends off before we see them all again, first at my Grandma's 90th birthday party, and then 1 week later at D's Grandma's 90th birthday party. Yup, both grandma's are turning 90--they were born 2 days apart and are both named Ruth!

As a side note, I'll be watching the ALCS tonight. Go Red Sox!

A Very Busy October! Part 1

It's been a very busy October at our house. First, we had a visit from D's sister and family up from New York. Andrea and David left the kids with D's parents on Saturday night so that we could have an adults night out. I was planning to cook a great dinner for them, but it was a crazy week at work and I just didn't have time. Instead we went to our new favorite restaurant, Belle's Bistro. Belle's is a tiny little place that has really fabulous food and is a gem in a town where the other dining options are pretty much limited to Chili's, The 99, Applebees, and some pizza places. I had the pan seared duck breast with pumpkin sage ravioli and roasted brussels spouts and cranberries. It was unbelieveably good!

Unfortunately, because we closed the restaurant down, we didn't have time for a Trivial Pursuit rematch. When we were in New York for Easter we played girls against guys and Andrea and I were victorious (of course). I get a little too in to Trivial Pursuit because it's a game I'm actually good at (as opposed to Monopoly which I don't play anymore since I used to throw a hissy fit everytime I lost to my sister and cousins when i was a kid--of course, they were all at least 3 years older, so it really wasn't a fair match up).

Sunday we hosted a family brunch before Andrea and David and the kids headed home. My in-laws brought the boys up to the house and we ate our first family meal on the new dining room table. I served home fries (from Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook), a monterey jack and french bread strata, bacon, maple glazed sausages, banana bread, and Mary's sticky buns.

After brunch we headed outside and the kids rode their bikes aound the cul de sac and then Avery and I went on an "apple hunt." Our neighbors have 2 apple trees that abut our property and each has tons of apples, but they haven't been treated with any pesticides and so the apples are riddled with bug and worm holes (next spring D and I are going to approach out neighbors about spraying with some sort of organic orchard pesticide). I gave Avery a bucket and had him pick up the dropped apples--we made a game out of lobbing them into the bucket.

With the apple hunting finished, Avery wanted to go on a kitty hunt. We called Mercury, but she didn't want to come out of the woods (she's terrified of unfamiliar people, especially kids). Aparently she came out of the woods eventually because Avery spied her under the deck. He was so happy to have seen her, but unfortunately Ethan didn't get a peek at her before she scooted back into the woods. I went into the swamp to try to lure her out, but to no avail. Instead, I came back with cat-a-nine tails for the kids. While they were no substitute for a real cat, the boys did enjoy using them as light sabers!

Eventually Mercury did come out of the woods and she and I had a nice time cuddling on the sofa for an afternoon nap! She also played with the new catnip mouse that the boys had brought for her...I'll post a picture of that...

Monday, October 1, 2007

Got Grubs?

We've got grubs! I came home from work on Thursday and D was pulling chunks of grass from the lawn until he had a bare spot of about 2 sq ft. He said the gras just came out like it had no roots at all. The culprit...Grubs! I guess we should have ordered the beneficial nematodes earlier this summer. D called Scotts to see if we could put GrubEx on this weekend along with the Winterguard fertilizer, but they said it was too late. Oh well...next year, we're definitely ordering those nematodes!!!

More bugs in my backyard!

Check out this bug from my backyard. As best as I can tell it's an American Dagger Moth caterpillar. I think I prefer the Eastern Swallowtail caterpillar I saw earlier this summer.
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