In Which I Ponder Dreams and Cupcakes

I’ve been dreaming more lately. Or maybe it’s that I’m remembering my dreams more. I used to only remember bad dreams, and only the ones I had when it was actually already morning. There was one memorable morning where I woke up from a nightmare in which an unseen monster was terrorizing me. Joe turned over as I woke up, still half-asleep himself, and I told him the bare bones of the dream I’ve just related here. He sleepily mumbled, “It’s ok, babe, it wasn’t a monster, it was just Parker” and rolled over and went back to sleep. Poor maligned little Parker, hahaha!

How can this little cutie be a monster in a dream?

Anyway, I’ve been remembering more. I used to only remember one or two every few months, now I’ve had 3 or 4 in the past 2 weeks I’ve remembered. I dreamed of my Auntie Claire the other night. I suppose that’s because we’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of her passing, and she’s on my mind. She was with me in Disney World, and we were both pissed because we wanted a Starring Rolls cupcake, and the store closed for the day before we could get one.

Have you seen a Starring Rolls cupcake? These things are obscene and I want one BADLY. I didn’t make it to the cafe in time on this Disney trip, so I’ve already informed Joe that when he and I go, it’s a High Priority Item on our to-do list. I saw them on The Disney Food Blog and oh my do I want one. Here’s one of the many blog entries about them. I’m definitely getting the Disney Itch again. It’s going to be a couple of years until I can go back, but I’m already fantasizing about the day I do!

Anyway, this post really didn’t have a point beyond cute pictures of kitties and obscenely large and decadent cupcakes. But really, isn’t that all I need in life anyway? 😉

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In Which I Contemplate 100 Books in a Year

It’s a lofty goal to say the least. I set the same goal for last year, and fell short. It’s understandable – I was much busier last year than ever before, and I was hampered by book choices. (Note to self – make sure to put some shorter books in this year!) This year though, it’s personal. Yes, Joe has decided that he thinks he can read more books than me in a year. Me, the same girl who pretty much has a personal book store in the lower level of her home. So this is a pride issue now. I must complete 100 books. In order to achieve this goal, I need to average at least 9 per month. So far, I’m doing ok on that. It’s March, and I’ve finished 25. I need to keep this level of reading up, or he will catch me though. In that spirit, I though I’d take a few minutes to contemplate my journey thus far.

  1. The Gift by James Patterson – This is the sequel to Witch and Wizard, the last book I read in 2010. It was one of Joe’s Christmas gifts, and we’ll both probably read the next book in the series when Patterson and his latest assistant writer churn the next one out sometime late this year. Formulaic, but an incredibly fast and easy read.
  2. In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark – Half cookbook, half food memoir, I enjoyed it, even if I felt that it fell prey to some of the typical New York Food Writer’s pitfalls – focus on organics, slight disdain for non-fresh non-local pre-packaged ingredients. It was a good book, even if I haven’t actually cooked anything from it yet.
  3. Eggs Benedict Arnold by Laura Childs – I do love me some cozy mysteries. Laura Childs serves up some lovely charming cozies. I actually prefer this series to her Tea series, mostly because I find this heroine more approachable and likeable.
  4. Fundraising the Dead by Sheila Connolly – Really enjoyed this one. It was a great choice to have the heroine be a museum fundraiser. It’s so unique, and allows for plot exposition like crazy, since most fundraisers have limited grasp of what they’re actually raising money for. And I was in the fundraising world, so I know, haha.
  5. Meet Me in Saint Louis by Sally Benson – The book that the classic film is based on. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, and finding out how true it was to the book was heartwarming.
  6. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett – The peril of epic fantasy series is that if you’re reading them in a serialized format, as they’re published, you forget almost all of those small details that turn out to be crucial when you go to read the next book in the series. Therefore, I re-read before I read the sequel. Now, to actually read the sequel before I re-forget.
  7. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder – I do love the Little House books. I’m on a quest to re-read them all.
  8. Homicide in Hardcover by Kate Carlisle – This cozy about a rare book restorer started a bit slow, but it did pick itself up towards the middle. I’m definitely planning on continuing in this series.
  9. One From the Hart by Stefanie Powers – I admit it. I’m a total Hart to Hart fan. Stefanie Powers is also in 2 of my all-time favorite old movies, McLintock! and If a Man Answers. I was unable to resist this memoir, especially since it was discounted so nicely. A very fun read.
  10. The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig – I tried to read this on my Thanksgiving trip to Disney but was thwarted by the tropical-in-comparison temperatures. It just felt wrong to be reading about sub-zero England. In any event, it was a lovely romp, and a fitting love story for a beloved vegetable.
  11. The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig – It’s not my Very Favorite Willig, but it’s solid and well done. She’s doing a fantastic job at keeping her series fresh and fun, not at all formulaic and rote. Kudos.
  12. Dirty Sexy Politics by Meghan McCain – I felt almost dirty buying this. As we drove away from Barnes & Noble, I found myself justifying my purchase to Joe. He pointed out that I didn’t need to do that, and he was right. Despite McCain’s political lean, I enjoyed her account of her time on her father’s failed (thankfully) Presidential campaign. I came away from this book feeling like the best man won the 2008 election, since it seemed like many of McCain’s problems were at the root caused by bad advisors, and these are the same people he would have brought with him to the WH. I think Meghan is a force to be reckoned with in the political world, and someone to watch for the future.
  13. My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler – Handler is a funny writer, but this one was much funnier than her second book (which I read previously) Are You There Vodka. I had laugh-out-loud moments on this one that Vodka just never gave me.
  14. Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond – The Pioneer Woman’s account of her love story with Marlboro Man and the story of their first year of marriage. It’s been alluded to on the blog, but it was still a great read. I loved the new material, and found much to contemplate.
  15. Death at Gallow’s Green by Robin Paige – Another cozy series. Love the characters, and the bucolic English setting.
  16. Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie – I was a late Crusie convert. Her praises were sung all over the blogosphere, and yet I resisted. I attempted the first chapter of Bet Me, and was unimpressed. Put it down, tried it again, and loved it. Am working my way through her backlist now. Smart, witty, sexy, funny, with characters who aren’t brought together then wrenched apart by A Horrible Problem That Turns Out to Not Really Be a Problem After All. Love it.
  17. Wit’ch Fire by James Clemens – This is my new gym series for my Kindle. Way too dark for me to be reading at night by myself. Much better to read in a well-lit gym, with my boyfriend on the elliptical beside me. It’s going to take me longer to finish it, but my psyche will thank me for the lack of nightmares.
  18. Fannie’s Last Supper by Chris Kimball – I wish to God I’d never read the chapter about turtle soup and mock turtle soup. The rest of it was nice, and interesting to read about the social and culinary history of Boston. Don’t read if you have a weak stomach, and don’t read it with lunch.
  19. Carney’s House Party by Maud Hart Lovelace – One of her stand-alone books set in the Betsy-Tacy universe. Loved it, it was like a visit with old friends. My daughter will definitely read these books one day.
  20. Winona’s Pony Cart by Maud Hart Lovelace – Another Betsy-Tacy stand-alone. This time they’re still young, and it was charming to revisit simpler times for the girls, when boys were just friends not beaux.
  21. Death at Daisy’s Folly by Robin Paige – another Sir Charles and Lady Katherine cozy, another solid one as well.
  22. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – a classic. I felt a re-read was in order since they’re making it into a film again. It was interesting to re-read it as an adult with different perspectives. I no longer found Gatsby charming and romantic. I found him sad and obsessive. Honestly, he was basically stalking Daisy, and for myself, if given the choice between living as an icon or living as a flesh-and-blood wife, I’d choose reality.
  23. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald – continuing with the Fitzgerald theme. I liked this book better as an adult as well, and saw Nicole’s side of things more this time. Again, Dick Diver was not the romantic figure he once was.
  24. Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie – if a romance novel that features ghosts and supernatural stuff can scare the pants off of me, I have clearly made the right choice to read the Wit’ch books by James Clemens in broad daylight and in public. It was definitely a fun book though, and I’m glad I read it. Don’t know if I’ll re-read though haha.
  25. The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke – Loved this cozy mystery. I even made the titular cookie recipe – they were delicious btw and I will totally blog about them soon! I’ve decided to bake my way through the series. Each book has several recipes in it, and I want to try at least 1 from each book I read. I definitely need to find somewhere to give my baked goods to though – my waistline just won’t take it otherwise haha.

So that’s where I am as of right now. It’s a daunting task, but I feel up to the challenge. It’s going to be a great year!

In Which I Make Lunch

I’m still focusing on my Weight Watchers and trying to stay On Plan. It’s a constant process. I’m also trying to be really productive and work from home, so lunches need to be fast and easy, and most of all yummy. Anyone who knows me knows that when given a recipe, 9 times out of 10, I can rock it. Coming up with something on my own on the fly? Is definitely a skill I’m working on. Joe’s the person in our relationship who’s more likely to say “Why don’t we try cooking chicken a different way”, which is great because I fall prey to food ruts more often without that impetus. I am That Girl, the one who can and will cheerfully eat the exact same lunch every day for 16 years. (Me and PB&J? We were tight.)

When I do try an experiment and it turns out well, it’s always a celebration for me, and today was another one of those moments. I made a super-yummy and super-filling bowl lunch today. It was a teeny bit high in Points Plus for an average weekday lunch, but I can work on trimming it down. It was warm, fruity, starchy, and a bit sweet, which was perfect for a snowy day.

Here’s what I did:

Yummy!

I took a cup of leftover steamed white rice from the local Chinese place, heated it up in a bowl in the microwave. I took out a couple of frozen pre-made meatballs (you know you have them too!), heated them up for a few in the microwave, then added the meatballs and a couple of tablespoons of orange marmalade to the rice. Put it all in the microwave for another minute, and lunch was ready! It worked out to be 13 Points Plus for the meal, which was fine for today. Dinner is going to be grilled chicken and salad anyway, so I’m all set.

Orange Meatballs and Rice.... ok, so the name needs work.

Look out for tomorrow – Joe and I are going to be trying a Turkey Taco Bake we found by Jasmine of Eat Move Write.

In Which I Bake Easter Eggs

The BFF and I took a trip to the outlet mall a few weeks ago, on quite possibly the coldest and windiest day of the month as a side note haha. One of my scores on that day (besides a vintage-style Valentine’s wreath for $4) was a new Nordic Ware pan.  Heavy-duty, awesome, and shaped like Easter Eggs! Total win! I justified my purchase by telling myself that as long as I got use out of the pan, it was worth it.

Since I’m trying to be a good girl and watch my Points Plus, I decided to challenge myself to see if I could make them more WW-friendly. I had always heard that one could alter a basic cake mix and make it “healthier” by substituting applesauce for oil and egg whites for whole eggs, so I decided to give it the old college try. They were awesome! The cakelets worked out to be 4 Points Plus un-glazed, and 6 Points Plus glazed, so they’re a great treat. I mixed up a batch (or 3) for a party we went to on Saturday. It was a day-long beer pong tournament – I was eliminated quickly haha, but Joe and his brother made it through a few games in the loser’s bracket. All in all, a good day.

Here’s my basic Low-Fat Cake recipe:

  1. 1 box of any flavor cake mix (be sure NOT to get a butter flavor – I kinda doubt applesauce could go in place of a whole stick of butter haha)
  2. Natural applesauce (use the amount that the mix calls for in oil)
  3. Egg Whites (however many eggs the mix calls for, use whites instead)
  4. 1 Tablespoon of flour

Mix it all together according to instructions, place it in your greased pan, and away you go! Follow your mix instructions for time. Since I was using a specialty pan, I just guessed 30 minutes, and watched it carefully for the first batch or two. I only have one Easter Egg pan, so I had to flip the cakelets out onto a rack, and then run the pan under cold water to wash it out and cool it down so I could start the next batch of cakelets. It worked out well, even if Joe and I ended up staying up until almost 2 am to finish them for the party.

Easter Eggs!

I just used a basic powdered-sugar glaze (2 cups of powdered sugar with 3 tablespoons of water mixed together). I made a batch and a half of that to cover my 3 mixes’ worth of cakelets. The icing was great, even if Joe does think the cakelets look like footballs haha!

In Which I Simply Update Life

I’m definitely trying to make an effort to blog more often. I feel like this synthesis of the blogging process is good for me. I’m also exploring ways to expand my blogs – maybe a knitting tutorial or twelve? 😉

We had a great weekend! On Friday, Joe took himself down to the local Best Buy to sit in line for 3 hours with a bunch of other dudes to acquire himself an iPad. He got there shortly before 2, so he was the second guy in line. The first guy was PREPARED I am telling you! He had a backpack with food, a Nintendo DS, a pillow to sit on, and his girlfriend to wait in line with him for bathroom-break-line-holding. I rolled in at 4ish – dudes, I have a job and I have work that has to get done lol. I waited with Joe for the last hour, then we grabbed dinner (TGI Friday’s!) and headed home to his place so he could start playing with it.

One of the lovely features of the new iPad is that it has cameras – Joe has agreed to make me some knitting tutorial videos for the blog, so that will be super-fun! He’s been making movies and recording music ever since he bought it, so this will be good for him.

On Saturday, we held signs in Norwood Town Center for one of Joe and Bill’s friends, Joe Rich, who’s running for Norwood Housing Authority. After a 3-hour wait for an iPad, those 2 hours of sign-holding were nothing for Joe haha. We really did have fun though, and will probably do it again the next time Joe Rich needs us.

Joe and I holding our signs

On the way home, we stopped at the puppy store in Newton. Sigh. Amanda is right, that place is puppy heroin! I’m definitely feeling the itch. 😉

Saturday night we made our way back to my place, because Sunday morning we were attending The Chili Challenge! It’s an MDA event that I loved every year I was there, and let me tell you, it is WAY more fun not working it! We sampled almost all of the chilis. (We were told there were 3 to avoid, we took a chance and tried one of them, and decided that we’d best avoid the other 2 haha.) We definitely had a clear favorite, so look out for a nacho recipe with a barbecue chili on it! We’re going to start working on a recipe for that!

All in all, it was a great weekend!

In Which I Detail My Plan

It’s no secret my wheels have been spinning for a while now. Sometimes I realize I’m only 20 pounds lighter than last year and that does not make me happy. I wanted to be on my way to goal by now, and I’m still hovering around that blasted 90 pound mark.

I know this is all entirely my own mental block. I’m at a place where I’ve lost so much that I’ve also lost the initial impetus to keep my weight loss going. I can shop at “normal” stores now (albeit for the largest size in the store) and I’m way more active and I’m just all-around a happier person than I was 2 years ago when I started this. I’m also experiencing so much more stress lately with my mom being sick. Honestly, working out has been saving my sanity.

But here’s the deal. I have a wedding coming up. And I need to look cute for it and all of the various family events leading up to it. I have at least 3 dresses that I’m going to need to purchase and wear for this wedding within the next 6 months. Additionally, I have my BFF’s bday party, my anniversary dinner at a fancy restaurant, my own birthday, and Joe’s birthday in that time frame. In short, it’s long past time to cut the crap and shape up. Here’s my plan.

1. I need to maintain a more normal eating schedule. Telecommuting is beyond amazing and allows me the freedom to work out at 1pm and also maintain my mother’s seemingly never-ending string of medical appointments. However, it also means I am surrounded by my food in my house and I can get up and get it whenever I want. When I worked at MDA I had Melissa right across from me, I wasn’t going to stuff my face all day. When I went into the PMG offices every day, there was a no-food-outside-of-the-lunch-room rule. Ergo, also no all-day face-stuffage. I’m going to make an effort to stop the mindless snacking. To that end, I’m drinking more daily water. I’m also instituting a fruit-only snack rule for a while. If I’m not hungry for a 0 Point Plus apple, I’m not hungry.

2. I need to cook more again. I’ve been a basketfull of excuses on this front too. The dishes are dirty, I don’t want to clean the kitchen, I don’t have any chicken in the house. I cannot order as much as I have been, make the choices I have been, and still lose the weight I want to lose. End of story.

3. I need to keep making my workouts a priority. So far, I’ve been successful on this front. I’ve been making my workouts longer and that has helped me immeasurably. I do take heart in the fact that although the scale may not have had a lot to say this year, my body has. When I went to my former boss’ retirement party, everyone thought I had lost more weight, even though I really hadn’t. Clearly, all of this working out is doing *something*.

4. I need to keep tracking. When I slack off on this, I don’t lose the weight I want to lose. I’m making an effort to keep my Weight Watchers online tracker up on my laptop at all times, because that was a habit I had when I was successful on the plan. This is obviously a work in progress. As I assume it will be for the rest of my life, haha.

So this is my master plan. I’ve lost 5 pounds since February, so hopefully I can keep this momentum going and finally, once and for all, break my mental plateau. I’ll try to be a better blogger and keep myself going on this. Here’s hoping haha.

In Which We Go Rogue on Baked Alaska

There has been some internal debate as to whether it should be “go rogue on” or “go rogue with” Baked Alaska. I’m going to go with “on”, but that’s a personal preference.

In any event. It’s the end of August, which means it’s time for my Daring Bakers Challenge!

The August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking. For the first time, The Daring Bakers partnered with Sugar High Fridays for a co-event and Elissa was the gracious hostess of both. Using the theme of beurre noisette, or browned butter, Elissa chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make a pound cake to be used in either a Baked Alaska or in Ice Cream Petit Fours. The sources for Elissa’s challenge were Gourmet magazine and David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop”.

I was, in a word, excited to try this month’s challenge. I’ve always loved ice cream desserts, and the idea of using my blowtorch practically sent me into a whirl of happiness. I’ve dubbed this month’s challenge, “Fun with Blowtorches,” and have been eagerly anticipating it. My BFF, the inimitable Rachel of The Seaside Eatery is a Daring Cook, and one major difference I’ve noticed is that my Daring Baker challenges tend to have longer periods of inactive time. All of my desserts have required long intervals of “rest” time, and are best completed over several days. With such a busy life, it’s definitely a challenge in and of itself to carve out multiple evenings in a week to work on my challenges.

But not only did I carve out time to make my Baked Alaska, I even coordinated social schedules so Rachel and Jim could come over and enjoy the dessert with Joe and me! (As a bonus, I got a sous-chef and 2 photographers out of the deal. Not to mention a very cute Worried Kraken.)

So, a quick Baked Alaska tutorial. When I first undertook this Challenge, even I wasn’t entirely clear on exactly what Baked Alaska is. In essence, it’s pound cake, layered with ice cream, covered in meringue, and blowtorched. The meringue covers and protects the ice cream, so it retains its chilly deliciousness. This is DEFINITELY a make-again dessert. It’s downright impressive!

In addition to its impressive appearance, it was just delicious. The brown butter pound cake was amazing. I saved the scraps! Joe and I definitely snacked on them later, haha! I conquered my slight problem with iciness in my vanilla ice cream, and that was so lovely and creamy. Sunita’s recipe from the last challenge is definitely my go-to recipe now! Words can’t truly describe how delicious this was. My BFF’s husband was full, and he literally made himself ill by forcing himself to finish it, it was so good.

I would not try to attempt this dessert without an extra set of hands, at least at this point. With ice cream, meringue, and my naturally hot hands, time was not on my side (If I had properly read the instructions though this would not have been a problem. I forgot to freeze the piped Alaskas. But oh well.). If I hadn’t had Rachel’s capable assistance, I would have been very stressed. The ultimate product was totally worth it though! Here’s some pictures!

The Bansh Meets The Kraken. Is true wuv. They just don't know it yet.

Ooooooh!

I can has baked alaska? No? 😦

Pre-Torching

Good Krakens get Ice Cream Puppy Treats.

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