Monday, March 7, 2011

The Rush of Spring and the Year of Travel


Spring has peeked its friendly face here by way of a few days in the mid-60's last week.  But she quickly retreated when Old Man Winter blew back in to town.  The age old war of seasonal change goes on.  Daylight Savings Time is this weekend and the kids start Spring Break on Monday.  Signs of Spring are in abundance outdoors too as green shoots are appearing throughout the garden and I could swear the grass appears to have taken on a greenish hue.  Spring-like rain showers and a good old-fashioned Midwestern thunderstorm have also occurred in the last ten days.  It won't be long now.

As is customary for me, Spring brings a huge shift in gears.  Gone over the next month will be the leisurely after dinner nights of Winter spent watching television, reading or surfing the web.  Nope, I've already started to shift into a higher gear as our vacation to Mexico draws close.  Lots of preparations and last minute planning have been the work of the past week.

We decided to try having our groceries ordered in advance and delivered to our villa before our arrival in Akumal.  We debated on it last year, but being newbie tourists to the Riviera Maya we elected to not trust the sources we read online and arranged with our villa manager to get groceries once we were there.  The booking agency I used this year recommended the grocery service so I thought that was a plus and they really do have a lot of good press in the tourist forums.  I hope it works out as grocery shopping is not how I want to spend my vacation.

I'm really looking forward to this Mexico vacation because it was just so truly relaxing last year.  A week-long holiday in the tropics does have a way of getting you to unwind and relax.  In less than two weeks I'll be sitting here and having margaritas all day long while I read or spend time with the family having a good time on the beach and in the pool.

Ah! Villa in Akumal Sur, Mexico (the Riviera Maya)
This year we are planning to voyage into the interior of Mexico to visit Chichen Itza, the ancient Mayan ruins.  The trip, one-way, is three hours so it will be a long day.  But being one of the New Seven Wonders of the World we just feel it would be a travesty to not go visit it when we are so close. 

We'll also do an afternoon sailing on the large 45-foot catamaran similar to last year.  Instead of a full day sail with lunch on the beach and jungle ride in the back of a pick-up truck (gosh that was a tense moment or two), we all agreed to do a 4-hour sail with snorkeling and snacks provided by the sailing outfit.

Patrick and I are planning a trip to Vegas sometime in April courtesy of a nice windfall we came in to this past week.  So I have lots of planning to do there as well.  The windfall also allowed me to pick out some new carpet for the formal living room and dining room at last.  They come to measure this week and hopefully it will arrive while we are on vacation so that we can schedule installation shortly after our return.



Back in January we made the decision (finally! after years of telling everyone in the family I wanted to do it) to visit Washington, DC over the 4th of July this year.  We booked our airfare and hotel back then but I need to start looking at what we'll have time to visit and see while we're there.  I'm really excited to share this truly American and most-patriotic event with my girls.  Being in DC on the 4th is something that has stood out in my mind for years as one of the greatest things I've participated in.  I'm glad they'll finally get to experience it.  Maybe they in turn will make it a tradition by taking their children some day.

Fireworks over the National Mall, Washington DC
Somewhere amidst all this travel I have to find time for the gardening I have been planning this winter.  Plants and bulbs are ordered, planting and sowing schedules are committed to paper, and seeds have arrived.  There's no turning back now.  Onward towards Spring I march.  Eager for the faster pace, warmer weather, and higher spirits that come with it all.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Turning Thoughts Towards Spring

I can't believe it's been over a year since I last posted on my blog.  Surely any readers have long since thought I fell off the face of the earth.  Indeed rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.  I'm still breathing last I checked.

2010 was a whirlwind year and it came and went like nobody's business.  I have no idea where it went.  Life has a way of doing that....sneaking passed us quietly. Very unobtrusive at times and all subterfugean.  (Yeah I made up that word!) 


I find myself in the midst of winter when life has slowed its frantic pace.  My mind has begun to wander to old pursuits of interest and I've gone into planning mode.  Gardening may be my thing again this year as I've dusted off my manila folder entitled "Veggie Gardening" and taken a gander at some grand plans made long ago.  I went a step further though and ordered seeds of lettuce, radish, corn, cucumber, squash, and watermelon.  I plan to buy plants of tomatoes, peppers and select herbs and put out seed potatoes and onion sets in a few weeks.  The only thing I'm still trying to get my head around is timing.  I have this nifty planting schedule all worked out and my potato and onion planting needs to occur while I'm in Mexico with the family.  I figure I can do them when I get back as long as the weather is cooperative.

In addition to the vegetable gardening, I've started placing orders for some old favorite bloomers.  I have a frightening number of lily bulbs coming and some odds-n-ends like sedums, dicentras, and peonies.  These are all through the Yahoo gardening co-op and all look likely to happen except the peonies.  (Wasn't really sure where those would go anyways.)  I'm hoping to not go too overboard on ordering and just modestly plan to fill in some bare spots and work a little on the southern pool fence border.

So another year begins in earnest and I with well-laid plans begin a new gardening season.  Hope springs eternal during this time of year.  May I do it justice and reap the rewards of beauty and bounty this summer and fall.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Cut-Out Cookies

It was time to do the annual roll and cut-out of sugar cookies this holiday season. I was dreading it as I had tried a new recipe last week and when I went to roll out the dough I might as well have been trying to roll out and cut butter. The dough was way too soft.

I decided to go with the tried and true Better Homes and Gardens recipe and it proved difficult to work with on the re-roll out. I ended up tossing a bit of the dough as it was not cold enough anymore to be worked with. I think my house might have been a tad bit too warm yesterday.



But I ended up getting just over 2 dozen cookies baked.  The girls, Leah and Sarah, and I went to work decorating them right away and because I didn't have as many cookies as usual the decorating went quickly.  Lasted long enough for the three of us to have some fun and chuckle over our decoration of the cookies, but not so long that no one wanted to finish the last cookie. 

Above is a sample of the cookies we made.  They won't last long although we must save one or two for Santa since they are his favorites!

Happy Holidays to all my dear readers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Little Stitchery Magic

Made this little lace bookmark for Leah's 2nd grade teacher for Christmas this year. 





This makes my second actually finished piece of cross stitch.  The other was a bread cloth that I use regularly.

Along with this little piece I purchased a canvas tote bag with a cute saying about teachers and her name personalized on it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mmmmmm....mmmmmm.....good!

Today was snowy and really frigid with temps in the teens.  Was a perfect day to make White Chicken Chili and warm us from the inside.  A serving of cornbread completes the meal.




WHITE CHICKEN CHILI

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the ground chicken, 1 teaspoon salt, cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked through, about 8 minutes.

Stir the flour into the chicken mixture. Add the beans and chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Simmer for 55–60 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about half and the chili has thickened. Add the red pepper flakes and simmer for another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Doggie Treats

Today was scheduled to be a dreary sleety, snow-filled day, so I decided this morning to make dog treats. I elected to go with the Pumpkin Wows because the dogs had liked them so much before and I had leftover pumpkin to use up in the freezer.  This recipe is for a bread machine dough.  If no bread machine, mix by hand and let rise for 1 hour. 





PUMPKIN PIE WOW!

3/4 c chicken broth                      1/2 c cornmeal
1 c canned pumpkin                     3 tbsp oats, uncooked
1-1/2 tbsp canola oil                    2-1/2 tbsp brewer's yeast
1-1/2 tbsp maple syrup                1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt                                  1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 c whole wheat flour                1/3 c raisins
1/4 c wheat bran                          1 pkg instant or rapid yeast (2-1/4 tsp)

Place all ingredients in bread machine and set on dough cycle.  Check consistency in 5 to 15 minutes; dough should be a firm, round ball.  Add flour/liquid if necessary.

When cycle is over, roll out dough on a lightly dusted with flour area of countertop.  Dough should be rolled to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out treats with cookie cutter.  Re-roll dough until all is used.  Place treats on a nonstick cookie sheet (I use parchment paper). 

Bake in preheated 350° oven for 45 to 55 minutes.  Turn oven off and leave treats in oven for 2-4 hours before storing in airtight container.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Chocolatiest Birthday Cake Ever


Yesterday was my mother and sister's annual joint birthday party. As sister and daughter I volunteered to bake the cake. My aunt recommended Triple Layer Brownie Cake. Oh my! This is a supremely rich and decadent dessert. (You can't really call it just a cake.) Ice cream accompaniment is mandatory because it's just too rich and sweet without some ice cream to tone it down. Yes there is something sweeter than ice cream!

Triple Layer Brownie Cake



1-1/2 cups butter (NO SUBSTITUTES)
6 squares (1 ounce each) unsweetened chocolate
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt


FROSTING
2 packages ( 8ounces each) semisweet baking chocolate (16 oz total)

3 cups whipping cream
2 milk chocolate candy bars (1.55 ounces each), grated



In a microwave or double boiler, melt butter and chocolate.
Stir in sugar.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Stir in vanilla, flour and salt; mix well.
Pour into three greased and floured ( I also use wax paper on the bottom as just greasing and flouring doesn't prevent all sticking) 9-in round cake pans.
Bake at 350 for 20 to 23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack to cool completely. Don't be alarmed when the cake (brownie) falls apart a bit. Just stick it back together. The frosting hides all imperfections.


For frosting, melt chocolate in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Gradually stir in cream until well blended. Heat to a gentle boil; boil and stir for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and transfer to a mixing bowl. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours or until mixture reaches pudding-like consistency, stirring a few times. Beat until soft peaks form. Immediately spread between layers and over top and sides of cake.



Sprinkle with grated chocolate.



Store in refrigerator.



Yield 16-20 servings.