Monday, August 31, 2009

It's Not All About Food . . .

When I first started this blog, I didn't intend for it to be all about food, but it is becoming that way. It's just that I love food, the creation of it and the eating of it. Baking relaxes me and has become my retreat lately after I put the kids to bed. However, I do think about other things, (sometimes). It's just that I keep my laptop in the middle of my kitchen, and though I could take it anywhere, I stand here, next to the oven as I shop, plan trips, look at recipes, facebook, email and blog my day away.

If I do take a break from reading my computer screen, it is usually to read on my kindle. Lately, between the two, the dozens of magazines that I subscribe to have just been piling up. I usually love my magazines and fold down or rip out pages of what interests me. Sometimes, though, something interests me so much that I have to go straight back to the computer to look it up.

Case in point, a sweater I saw a couple of months ago in Conde Nast Traveler. It was so beautiful, a pink cardigan with huge flowers on the collar and down the front. For some reason, I can't resist anything that has three dimensional flowers on it, so I saw this and right away knew that I had to procure it. So, I looked up the designer, Katelyn Aslett to order one. Well, it turns out that Katelyn is in Australia and that she makes each of her beautiful pieces to order from hand-dyed, hand-made wool and felt. I gave her my size and color specifications, paid via PayPal, and, a few weeks later, this gorgeous confection of a sweater arrived at my house, Airmail from Austrailia.

It's a little bit funky, a little bit hippie, a little bit rock and roll, and a whole lot of pretty! Plus, it fits me perfectly and is very stylish for the coming season as peplum jackets are huge for the fall. I just hope that our weather cools off enough to wear it. So far, I have only gotten a chance to do so in Stowe.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dorie the Great!

My next door neighbor is one of my dearest friends, and we share many things, including a passion for baking. So, a couple of days ago she gave me my "birthday" present. (I am a firm believer that it is best to give the right gift whenever you find it rather than buy just anything just to give it by a certain date. This is why you have up to a year to give a wedding gift, right?) This gift was a book (for me, always a good choice), but not just any book, a cookbook, even better a baking book! Dorie Greenspan's gorgeous, gigantic volume, Baking, From My Home to Yours. This book could be a coffee table book, it is so big and beautiful.

Dorie (as I will call her, since her style of writing is so chatty that I feel we are friends and because I now know we will be spending A LOT of time together), won a James Beard award for this tome. Not only this, but she wrote the best-selling, Baking with Julia [Childs] among others. She claims to bake at home every day, and this book is for the home baker. It feels like Dorie is right there in my kitchen, explaining the story behind every recipe and giving step by step instructions. In the past few days I have read this cover to cover and plastered the book with sticky notes. I cannot wait to try each and every recipe in the book. (I am "back on the sauce." The wheat free/dairy free diet didn't seem to help so I am trying some other remedies to my tummy troubles and, in the meantime, am back to eating some wheat and dairy. )

Tonight we are going to a friend's 40th birthday party. This great guy is so appreciative of my baking skills every time he gets to sample something that I knew that I had to make something to bring to him for his big day. (Plus, let's face it, I relish every excuse to bake.) Because we are going out for dinner before the party, a cake didn't seem like a good idea because it might get destroyed sitting in the car. Cookies seemed eminently more transportable, and just more easy going.

There are so many great sounding and looking recipes in the book, but I decided to go with Dorie's "World Peace" cookies. Apparently these are famous cookies, the recipe from which came from Pierre Hermé in Paris and were dubbed with their current name when her neighbor said that they are all "that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness". Well, we could all use a little peace and happiness, some days more than others.

So, last night, after the kids went to bed and I was ready for some peace, I got started. Then, I almost got stopped before I began because I was down to my last 5 Tbsp of butter, but I found a stick hiding in the freezer. (Note to self: If you are going to be baking with Dorie, by butter by the truckload, oh and lots and lots of good quality chocolate!) Crisis averted, I made this dough quickly and easily, rolled it into logs and put it into the fridge. Wait! I forgot that I would have to refrigerate for hours before baking! And, here I was all geared up to have a tasty bite to eat!

Luckily MrRuckus was happily ensconced on the couch and not going anywhere, so I decided to proceed with another project from the book. Having only 2 Tbsp of butter left in the house (minus some truffle butter, but you can't really bake with that), I needed a recipe without butter. I know that earlier in the week, I was all about dairy free, but now I wanted a Dorie recipe that fit the bill. Soufflé! Hey, why not? I don't own a soufflé pan, but found a china serving bowl with straight sides and decided to use that. Following Dorie's directions, it was actually pretty easy, rose gorgeously in its vessel and tasted divine. I only wish that I had a sauce or melted ice cream to go on top, but I was quite pleased with my effort. It was crusty on top but rich and fudgey on the inside. It is supposed to still be very good leftover, but my rule is that I only have a little taste of whatever I make and then send it on its way, usually to work with MrRuckus.

Anyways, back to my World Peace-ers . . . I got back from the gym, put the Ladybug down for her nap, and turned on the oven. I was all prepared for the cookies to be difficult to slice and keep together, but mine sliced perfectly. Maybe the secret is having them in the fridge for 15 hours and not the 3 called for in the recipe?

I think that I made them smaller than I was supposed to, though I followed the measurements in the recipe with an actual measuring tape. The recipe says that it makes 36 cookies, but I ended up with 58, which is fine with me since at that size they are only 1 WW point each! True to Dorie's instructions, they do not look done when they come out, but should come out anyways.

Now cool, they have a rich, buttery, sandy crumb like shortbread. The chocolate is rich and deep. Plus, the little bit of fleur de sel with the chocolate adds just the right bit of sophistication and oomph! I am loving these cookies. Our friend is one lucky birthday boy! (Though he will not be getting all 58 since we have people here installing my new plantation shutters and I have promised them milk and cookies when they are done. That and my family should be able to have a few, right?)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Catching Up . . .

Despite the completely NON luxury house that we rented from Our Rental Paradise (Ha!) at 911 Notchbrook, our trip to Stowe was pretty fabulous.

Yes, though the house had such features as this {attractive and safe} pool deck

and this {beautiful} window,

it did have absolutely amazing views of Mt. Mansfield and was in a gorgeous location.

Vermont is great, but there is something magical about Stowe.

Mt. Mansfield stands over the top of town, beckoning you up the road. As you make your way through town and up the mountain road, you find that there is so much to see, do and explore. Stowe has the 5.5 mile rec path, on which you wind your way through fields, trees, over bridges, and up towards the mountain. There are good restaurants, good shopping, tons of outdoor activities, lots of places to stay and enough to keep you busy for weeks on end. It can be totally relaxin or totally active, though I prefer a mix of both.

It was so great to get out of the oppressive heat and humidity of Houston, and to be in a place where mornings and evenings were cool enough for sweaters. Even the heat of the afternoon was bearable (as long as you were not sitting in the kitchen of the NON luxury house with it's lack of airflow). We had a fantastic time running, biking, swimming, cooking, eating and drinking wine. Friends and family came and went and we enjoyed having long days to catch up and relax with people we love. Z Man and Little Ladybug had a blast being loved and adored by their aunts and grandparents (okay well, that was sort of an issue for a few days for LL and Grandma) and had so much fun with their cousins and friend Sam.

I really loved having the time (and the climate) to challenge myself to go faster and farther, even running the path round trip one day (11 miles). I also amazed myself with how much I enjoyed biking, something I never do, and how I was strong enough to bike one mile up hill to the house.

We spent two Sunday afternoons at the wonderful Farmers Market, which is like a big community festival, complete with live music and face painting, in addition to food and crafts.

There an incredible array of food to picnic on there and to bring home to make marvelous meals (such as huge fresh veggie frittatas with farm fresh eggs and steel cut oatmeal risotto with beets and fresh goat cheese).

MrRuckus and I also had a chance to get away by ourselves for one perfect meal at Hen of The Wood in Waterbury. Everything about this restaurant was exquisite. The location at the bottom of a waterfall in an old grist mill. Inside is warm and rustic, with an open kitchen, while still being completely modern. The food was divine - fresh, simple, perfectly prepared. I had been dying to go here for over a year and am now dying to go back.

Speaking of restaurants, we left the kids with a sitter one night and went to my favorite restaurant IN THE WORLD, American Flatbread, in Waitsfield, a place so yummy, laid back, fresh, creative, innovative, fun, unique and just plain Vermonty, that I will might have to devote an entire blog entry to how much I love it.

Our trip to Stowe was wonderful. Being there made us want to move there. It is just that great. Maybe someday!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tolerant Dessert #2

I still have to catch up on other things, but again, FOOD! I am really trying to be wheat and dairy free for a while longer as I try to heal my tummy and figure out what is distressing it, but I need sweets!

Tonight we took the kids over to Waterway Square where, on Friday and Saturday nights, they have entertainment for the little ones and their parents. Today there was live music, a caricature artist, and a face painting clown. Plus, both kids actually enjoyed the dancing fountains! (Of course, it was 95 degrees at 7 p.m. Hell, I wanted to jump in fully clothed myself!) Z Man has never been all that into the fountains before but was all over it tonight, smearing his face paint two seconds after the clown had finished. Ladybug delighted in sitting in the spray in her sodden diaper. Then, of course, Z man had to sit observing the fountains and figuring out the water patterns and determine from where the water would come next. My little genius!

Afterwards we all wanted dessert. I had to forgo my beloved Berripop where the rest of them got frozen yogurt delicousness but figured that Hubbell and Hudson across the street would have some sorbetto amongst its incredible gelato selections. Alas, all contained dairy. So, I perused the market but didn't buy knowing that my Tolerant Cookies from yesterday were at home. However, on my way out, near the fruit, I spied some fresh juices and I saw one that caught my eye due to its hot pink color: beet, watermelon, basil juice. Yum, three of my favorite flavors. Plus, I just happened to have roasted my two bunches of beets today so that I would have those ruby jewels ready for a variety of uses over the next few days and a watermelon that I had cut up this afternoon. On the way, home, I decided that I would try to make that juice into a sorbet.

Unfortunately, I forgot that I was out of basil, but I still made a gorgeous and delicious sorbet.

Watermelon and Beet Sorbet

1 Medium Roasted Beet
1 cup watermelon
2/3 cups water with 1/3 cup sugar cooked into simple syrup
zest and juice of one small lime
pinch of sea salt
1 TBSP of Cointreau (homemade sorbet and ice cream freeze better with a little bit of alcohol added. You can use vanilla or vodka but I thought that the citrusy Cointreau would be a good addition here)

Put it all in the blender. Chill until very cold (I forgot this step and mine was not quite scoopable, though still cold and spoonable) and then put in the ice cream maker and let it whir. Well, mine doesn't whir as much as make a deafening whine so I do it in the laundry room. Came out a gorgeous purply pink color, with a sweet but earthy flavor. If I had the basil, I would have just thrown some sprigs in the blender and I think it would have been a perfect addition.

Oh, but I still had one of those Tolerant Cookies and am thinking of grabbing another right now!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tolerant Cookies

I know, I know, I have lots of blogging to catch up on! There is much to share, and it is all coming, I promise! Despite the NOT luxury house, we had a fabulous time in Vermont and I will share more details and photos soon. However, coming home is always hard because not only is the vacation over, but catching up and getting back to normal takes me a few days.

Anyways, front of mind first. For me, that is, as usual, food! Lately I have been having a great deal of "tummy" trouble and it seemed to get much worse over the past few weeks. In researching my problem, I found that two likely culprits are dairy and wheat. So, for a while I am going to cut both out of my diet and try to see if I do better. I have also added some digestive enzymes to my regular probiotic supplements. I am seeing some relief of my symptoms, so I will continue this for a few more days and then re-evaluate and try to slowly re-introduce the foods I have cut out. Meanwhile, the biggest challenge for me is finding a way to satisfy my need for a chocolate treat every day.

So, of course, enter google (my very best friend). I searched "wheat free dairy free desserts" and saw something about fudge and oatmeal, two of my favorite things. I knew that it was only 9 in the morning and I had lots to do today, but these were so easy that I tried them right away!

Serves: 18


2/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


In a saucepan over medium heat combine the maple syrup, oil, cocoa and cinnamon. Boil for three minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter, rolled oats and vanilla until well blended. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto waxed paper and chill to set, about 30 minutes.

First of all, maple syrup is definitely on my list of kitchen staples. I put it in everything from salad dressing to sauces for a deep, rich, sweet taste. Oatmeal is my best friend; it has branched out from my daily breakfast to be my go to grain even before cutting out wheat. But, chocolate and peanut butter together!!!! Need I say more? (BTW, I am sure that you could substitute Sunbutter, almond butter, etc if you wanted or had a peanut allergy.)

I used reduced fat peanut butter but otherwise followed the recipe to a "T". With that substitution, each one is just about 150 calories and only 2 weight watcher points (how very Hungry Girl of me!)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Laundry List

Readers, I am on vacation in one of my favorite places on Earth, Stowe, VT. It is so gorgeous here and I am so happy to be back in The Green Mountain State. MrRuckus and I are here with the kids and with my family, and we are excited to have friends and family come join us here. We will be running, biking, sunning, golfing, eating and just all around enjoying ourselves here in this mountain paradise. We rented a great big house to accommodate everyone so that all of our guests would be comfortable. The house is huge. There is plenty of space, and many toys to play with. The views of Mt. Mansfield are incredible, but . . . Well, here is a copy of the letter I just wrote to the management company.

Dear Managment,

We checked in today to the house at 911 Notchbrook Rd. We are thrilled to be back in Stowe. Over the years we have been here many times and our family owned a home here until three years ago. It is great to be back in our favorite place.

However, we are currently very disappointed in the conditions of this "luxury" home. There are a number of issues that require some resolution:
- About half of the window cranks are broken. They do not open or close and many of the cranks are missing.
- Light switches are pulled out of the wall. Light bulbs are out all over the house. We would not even know where to start in fixing these situations ourselves.
- One of the major features you sell about the house is the 10 foot tv/home theater. Well, it doesn't work at all. This needs to be rectified ASAP.
- Speaking of the TV, there are remotes all over the house and none of them has any batteries in it. Not one.
- The clutter is appalling. Everything is disorganized, piled everywhere, no rhyme or reason to where things are located, and no storage because there are boxes and junk everywhere.
- The house is not clean, but the cleaning service has notes all over the house saying that tips are appreciated. Here is a tip: clean the house! It is musty, dusty, and just feels dirty.
- Sheets were left in the dryer. We do not know where these go, though I guess they can go anywhere, just like everything else in the house. Meanwhile, we have to put them somewhere because we need to do laundry.
- Speaking of laundry, we were told that there would be laundry soap. There is none.
- We were also told that there would be cleaning supplies. One basic cleaning supply is paper towels, and there were none to be found.
- The lawn is overgrown and full of weeds, as if it has not been maintained in years.
- Another selling points to the house was the keg of beer. This was changed and we were not told until after signing the contract.
- The whole coffee thing: a big point was made about leaving a big bag of coffee. There are about 10 bags with some dregs of coffee instead.

Also, you had instructed me to have things sent to the house. While we did receive the boxes sent via UPS, I had two packages sent via USPS that should be in the mailbox. These are gifts for my father's birthday. I need to get them by Monday.

Thank you so much for your prompt attention to these matters. I will call you and John to follow up tomorrow.


This is still going to be a great vacation, but I hope that they can fix some of these matters!

Monday, August 3, 2009

More Ladybug Feeding

I love the baby aisle at the grocery store. Whenever I am there I find something to buy. A new sippy cup, some type of lavender lotion, travel containers, and, of course, food! A few months ago, when the Ladybug first started on solids, I discovered Sprout baby food at HEB. This might have been one of my best finds ever. We bought some and were hooked immediately. Amazon doesn't sell them. You have to go to HEB, but if you want to buy them in bulk, like we do, you have to go to the source. (And use the coupon code JS15 for 15% off your order!)

I know a lot of people who make their own baby food. Good for you! I just can't be bothered on a regular basis. Sure, I smash up avocados, sweet potatoes and bananas. I might grind up the occasional meal if the mood strikes me. But, I believe in making my life as easy as possible. Sprout does that. And, not only do they have amazing baby food, but they have all sorts of great green baby products and are adding more every week.

Sprout was started by Tyler Florence, the cute, personable Food Network Chef. They are 100% organic, which makes me feel good about giving them to LL. But, unlike Earth's Best and some of the others, they are really fresh. The foods are packaged in small, CD size vacuum pouches. They are really easy to throw in a diaper bag, in a purse, in your pool bag, etc. And, they are re-sealable. But, that is not the best part. The best part is that that they taste really good! I have tasted them. I would eat them. Hell, I have eaten some of them. (Peach Rice Pudding is my favorite - peaches, brown rice, cardamon, cinnamon, nutmeg are the only ingredients.)

Though I can get them at HEB, as I have said before, I prefer the convenience of delivery. Especially if I can save money. So, with Sprout I joined their club and received a regular shipment. The company has been so friendly and accommodating. They will customize my order for me with the quantities that I want and makes sure that I get them quickly. We travel frequently, and they have sent me packages of food overnight to where ever I am because I have forgotten to bring. When I asked for a coupon code for my blog readers and my facebook friends, they gave me one. I can't say enough about the customer service.

Unfortunately, Sprout only makes mashed baby food right now. Now the Ladybug is eating more table food and I am not spoon feeding her very much. I am proud of LL for growing up and being more independent. However, it is sort of a bummer. First, because she is going to be one in a month and I am NOT having any more babies, and she won't be one soon. But, the bigger bummer is because spoon feeding is so much easier! It is neater, cleaner, and quicker to feed her. Now, with her bite size pieces of everything, she takes forever, makes a mess and makes the dog sick with all of the table scraps.

I will miss Sprout's food, but I hope that some of you will love it as much as we have!