Sunday, July 27, 2008

Midwestern Tales

Have you been wondering where I have been? Tim and I have been enjoying our annual midwestern adventures. Our first stop was in Missouri where we spent time with our family and our sweet niece, Leah. Of course, no trip is complete to Missouri without taking in a St. Louis Cardinals game.

It was our first time to the new Busch Stadium. The Cards were playing the Brewers in one of the warmest games that I have ever been to. We avoided the beer and just had water. We lost, but it was still a great evening.

After Missouri, we took off for Iowa to see some of our friends from our three years in the state. Tim and I have enjoyed three-year old Caden. From Legos to Pirates, we have played a large variety of play themes. I am making stops at all of my favorite scrapbook stores since I haven't found any proper scrapbook stores in the east. Our next stop will be in Minneapolis where I will catch up with my high school and college friends.

Monday, July 21, 2008

On the Road Again

I am no longer in Philly. We have hit the wide open spaces that the United States Interstate system has to offer. Being educators, we have the perk of having our summers off. This allows us to travel for a month and see all of the friends and family along the way.

We took a new route through West Virginia and Kentucky. Although our lil' four cylinder Honda Accord may not agree, the hills of West Virginia are one of America's secret treasures. Beautiful. I kept pointing out the window to valleys and mountain tops and saying, "Look at that!" I am sure at some point, Tim didn't need my instruction to look. He was equally impressed with this untouched nature.

We have spent that last three days with Tim's brother, his wife, and our sweet little niece, Leah. She is 10 months old and keeps us entertained for hours. I am taking the opportunity to use my video capabilities on my camera. Tonight, we'll take in a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. It'll be hot, but I know Tim will love every minute of it. Go Cards!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I had no idea, but I guess I am a great bowler! Now, I realize that the wii controller is lighter and less cumbersome than an actual bowling ball, but I did have several strikes the other night at TC and Laura's place.

I can't say that I am a terrific driver in the land of wii. When I played Mario Kart, I drove off of cliffs and into the ocean. I can't forget that I also drove into the on-coming traffic. It didn't help that I was laughing hysterically at myself and my inability to stay on the road.

It's been a long time since we've hung out with a couple and felt so very comfortable, but that is how it is with TC and Laura. They are midwestern folk from Iowa and that is my favorite kind of folk. Good company, good food, and good gaming makes for a good night.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tastes Change, I Guess

Maybe I have already asked this...

Is it possible to love something that you once detested? This whole new way of thinking has taken me over. The other day, I grilled some portobella mushrooms with a balsamic and garlic sauce. I cook with mushrooms because I know other people like them even if I have never been a fan. Tim convinced me to try a piece because he thought they turned out very well. Sure enough, I liked it.

How could this be? I had spent 30 years thinking that I didn't like mushrooms. Maybe it was the canned version that I had a distaste for, but now, I like mushrooms.

Another example would be the band Journey. For years, I just couldn't stand listening to them. I think part of it was a childhood where the radio station played way too many monster ballads and hair bands. True, Journey is not a hair band but they definitely sang some fist pumping music. I just wanted to take a scissor to the whole bunch. However, now I am kind of smitten with Journey. It could be that I can sing to their songs in the privacy of my car and at my convenience rather than have them forced down my throat or it could be that my tastes are changing. The question is...are they changing for the better or worse.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Xponential Music Festival

Saturday was spent at the Xponential Music Festival in on the Camden Waterfront across the river from Philadelphia. It was hosted by my favorite radio station WXPN and had acts that are right up my folky alley.

Whenever I travel somewhere new, and this is especially true when I am traveling near downtown Philly, I have a detailed sheet of directions with even the smallest particular listed. These plans rarely steer me wrong.

I had packed a cooler with yummy fruits and snacks. Lots of beverages were cooled within the cooler to help us stay hydrated during this typical Philadelphia summer day...humid. So, we arrived without any problems, but as I pull into the parking lot and start to hand the parking attendant the money, I realize that I have forgotten the tickets to the concert! How could I have done that?

Basically, it was one of those moments when you are too planned and too organized so that you forget the most important thing that you need. So, we drove all of the way back to my house to get the tickets. It added another hour onto our drive and it annoyed me to know end.

Tickets in hand, we arrived back in Camden to enjoy an afternoon of music. The funny thing about music festivals is how many people break out their tie-dye just for these occasions. I don't think these people sport tie-dye on normal days, but there is something about jam bands and grassy knolls that call to pseudo-hippies.

I enjoyed Amos Lee and Teddy Thompson the most. The other bands included Railroad Earth and Nicole Atkins. There was more music today, but after a day in the sun, I realized that I am a one-day kind of music festival person.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Doing the Small Things

Summer is about half over for me. I feel like I have accomplished a lot, but why accomplish anything at all. Why do I have this sense to check things off of a list or spend time well. I guess that I am a doer.

I don't even know if doer is a word, but it describes me. For example, today, I will make some hummus. This hummus will be a great snack for the music festival that I am going to tomorrow. I will go to Target and get some of those low beach chairs too.

This is exactly why I am a doer. It makes things nice and organized to avoid chaos. It's not that I hate chaos. I just like to control what I can control. Oh. Now I am a doer and a controller. This is no surprise.

I never try to accomplish something that I won't enjoy. I try to spend my time well doing the things that bring joy to my life. Baking. Gardening. Music. Grocery Shopping. These are the simple pleasures in my life.

Sometimes, I will think about my late grandmother and think about the life that she led. She lived in the country and found joy in the simple things like birds, her family, her garden, and the nature that surrounded her. She also knew the importance of sitting down and just having long moments of peace. She found happiness in the simple pleasures in life.

Maybe being a doer is not such a bad thing. Maybe it is a good thing when you are doing the things you love. I tell Tim all of the time that we live a charmed life. We have these relaxing summers where we work about one third of the time. There is never a rush to our life. We get up and start the day in a leisurely fashion. We spend our days doing exactly what we want to be doing in the summer.

Midwestern Recipe: Caramel-Pecan Rolls

See...these are the moments when I wish I had some neighbors that were lifelong friends who I could invite over for a fresh, ooey-gooey caramel roll that was made from scratch. They'd come over and we'd sit down with a cup of coffee and their kids would be all sticky from the ooey-gooey caramel. And I would encourage seconds when their moms really just want them to have one.

After the yeast disaster earlier in the week, I had grand success with this batch. See, I can't shy away from failure. I can't let it beat me even in my baking world.

So, the picture to the left shows just how ooey-gooey they turned out to be! I found this recipe on the Taste of Home website. The caramel sauce was just how I liked it.

2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk (110° to 115°)
2 eggs
5 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup butter or margarine, cubed
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk. Add the eggs, butter, sugar, salt and 3 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, for sauce, melt butter in a large saucepan. Stir in the brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking dish. Sprinkle with pecans; set aside.

Punch the dough down. Turn onto a floured surface. Roll into a 17-in. x 15-in. rectangle. Spread butter to within 1/2 in. of edges. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over dough. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; inch seams to seal.

Cut into 15 slices. Place cut side down over caramel sauce. Cover; let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes; invert onto a serving platter.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Midwestern Recipe: Lemon Cake

The Midwestern Position is quickly becoming the place for recipes and that is just about it. I wish I had other adventures to share, but I seem to be spending lots of time baking and, of course, taking pictures of it.

Today's treat...Lemon Cake. This is a Barefoot Contessa recipe that I have wanted to try for some time. It is was really simple. The sugar syrup at the end of the baking process is very important so don't skip it. Also, don't feel the need to have 6 to 8 lemons on hand. I had three and was able to get the zest that I needed. I also used lemon juice from a bottle when I ran out of fresh lemon juice. No problem.

I think this is the perfect treat if you invited a friend over for coffee in the afternoon. Oh, how I wish I had a friend to invite over for a coffee, but that is for another post. For now, I will eat lemon cake by myself with coffee in the afternoon.

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. You may also line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired.

Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Fourth and More

Having the Fourth of July on a Friday is not very special since I have Fridays off during the summer. However, it is very special for Tim to take an entire weekday off to spend it together. For most holidays, we are traveling or hosting, so it was a nice change to have it be just the two of us.

Our plans were beautiful. We were going to go and spend the day at the Tyler Arboretum. Unfortunately, it started to rain as we drove to the arboretum. So, we quickly found the local movie house and saw the 10AM showing of Hancock. It is not as beautiful and nature-loving, but it was relaxing.

I am not sure if all of the stars were aligned or something was in the water, but we both got the organizing and cleaning urge after the movie. Tim worked in the basement while I worked in the rest of the house. It was perfect actually because we were not on any kind of time table or schedule. We took breaks when we wanted to and the house looks great. If were not for the rainy weather, we might have spent this energy outside, but the house is in order.

Oh, and I also tried to make some caramel rolls, but my dough did not rise. I am very unsuccessful with yeast. I think the water was too warm. It is new yeast. UGH. I will try again soon, but will need some baking successes in between so I do not get bakers low-self-esteem.

I realize as I reread this post, I seem like an old-fashioned girl. Cleaning. Baking. I like that. I am going to think more about that and maybe write more about the virtues of being an old-fashioned girl.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Midwestern Recipe: Homemade Nutter Butters

Okay, I think I might be going a little crazy with my new mixer. Usually, I shy away from cookies because they are so much work compared to a nice bar cookie, but the new mixer inspires me to do more. I found this recipe online and couldn't resist.

Don't worry though. I didn't eat all of the cookies. Just one. (It is really two cookies though because of the sandwich part!) I gave the rest away to our co-workers.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter, preferably Skippy
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup coarsely chopped peanuts
2½ cups quick-cooking oats

For the filling:
¼ pound (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
½ cup creamy peanut butter, preferably Skippy
1 2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar

1. For cookie dough: preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and baking soda; set aside. Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and peanut butter. Add sugars and beat at medium speed for 4 minutes, scraping down bowl twice.

2. At low speed, add eggs and vanilla. Add flour mixture and beat at low speed until well mixed, frequently scraping down bowl. Add peanuts and oats, and mix well. Using an ice cream scoop 2 inches in diameter, place balls of dough on parchment-lined baking sheets at least three inches apart. Bake until cookies have spread and turned very light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool and firm up, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely before filling.

3. For filling: using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, peanut butter and confectioners’ sugar until very smooth.

4. To assemble cookies, spread a thin layer (about 1/8 inch) on underside of a cookie. Sandwich with another cookie. Repeat.

Yield: 24 large cookies.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Living Biblically

I have been reading this book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs. Long book, short...this guy who lives in NYC decided to live his life according to all Biblical tenants and rules. It sounds sort of deep and overwhelming, but as a reader, it is fascinating how he follows obscure rules in this 20th century world
He is clever and witty so each page is filled with funny stories about his family or the religious intellectuals or scholars that he meets. I am always impressed with anyone who can do something out of the ordinary for a year. The only thing that I have done for a year is not eat McDonald's. I should do that for a lifetime.
Next on my nightstand is Julie and Julia:
My Year of Cooking Dangerously. It is the story of one woman's quest to complete all of the Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, in a period of 365 days. Again, the year is fascinating to me.