Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Alfredo's Creme Caramel

Not sure what got into my husband tonight.  Felt compelled to share with me what he always has at his favorite Trattoria, "La Sora Pia" in Rome, Italy.  The Italian Creme Caramel (actually a French version served in Rome),  is slightly different than any version I have ever seen or had here in the States.  This version uses eggs and whipping creme as its base. I went to bed and left my husband in the kitchen.  I should have taken a picture of this in progress, but didn't want to scare anyone.  The kitchen was covered in sugar. I went to bed.  Not sure what exactly happened, but it turned out delicious.  Some things are better left a mystery.  Woke up to a clean kitchen!  Not a bad idea on occasion, right?
6 ramekins
large baking dish to hold the 6 ramekins in a water bath while baking
1 plus 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces of whipping cream
16 ounces  of fresh whole milk
4 eggs plus one egg yolk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons  of sugar for the liquid
4/5 of a cup of sugar  for the Caramel

Melt the sugar under low heat and stir.  It will slowly become clear and light golden.  Pour into ramekins, and swirl and set aside.  Coat the ramekins completely on the bottom. Set aside. Make sure you do not burn the sugar.  You must be patient. ( If you burn it, throw it away outside as it will harden in your pipes if you pour it down your kitchen drain).
Into a saucepan on medium heat combine your whipping cream and milk to almost a boil.  Turn it off and set aside. Remove any film you see buy spooning it off, or passing it through a sieve.  Add your vanilla.  Slowly mix into another bowl your remaining sugar and eggs.   Mix the milk and egg mixture together.  Pour into your prepared ramekins. Pour hot water into the base of your baking dish about 1/3 high. This will ensure even cooking.  Place in the oven at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool. Refrigerate.  When you are getting ready to serve, dip the base of the ramekin in hot water for just a few seconds.  Cut them around the edge and invert them onto a plate and serve.  They should slip out.  Your caramel should drip out on top of you Creme Caramel.   Buon Appetito~

Explore. Dream. Discover.

Quote of the Day:  Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. - Mark Twain

Happy Birthday to the great American writer, Mark Twain!
Thank you, Google, for your Google doodle and link to Twain quotes. The above quote is my favorite from their top ten list.

When self-doubts start to creep in,
When the mountain of "real life" work clouds your dreams,
When you aren't sure why you're even here,
Remember, you might be the one to shed light on the world today.
Your words, your art, your voice might be the one that people cling to.

The path is calling you to...
Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What does your ideal day look like?

Go to The Writer's Almanac today to hear more about Mark Twain and other authors who share his birthday.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Classic Minestrone Soup

Monday night Minestrone Soup was always popular growing up. My Mom's Minestrone would cure anything. Given the pain my husband was in after having his wisdom teeth extracted, he needed something soft and nutritious.  Just how much pudding can one man eat anyway?  
After a weekend of eating, this is just what the doctor ordered.   Who does not have a few fresh vegetables left in the refrigerator drawer we just can't think what to do with?
  What a great excuse for this soup.  A few of each is all you need.  I always have homemade chicken stock in the freezer ready to go. The more flavorful stock, the better your end result.  You may use vegetable or beef stock too.  So easy to make.

4 medium carrots cleaned/trimmed and diced.
4 medium zucchini / diced
4 red potatoes/ diced
(everything diced the same size into small cubes)
2 tablespoons celery diced
1 clove of garlic/ cleaned and diced/ or 2 tablespoons of red onion diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
One large enough tall pot to hold all your ingredients
8 cups of chicken stock or any stock or you may use plain water.  Using stock will intensify the flavor.
(Optional tomato paste/ one teaspoon to add while garlic/onion is cooking in pan.  This will add color to your soup and great flavor).
1 pinch  salt/ one for the garlic/ one teaspoon for the vegetables once added to the pot.
Parsley for Garnish
Some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

In the bottom of your pan add your olive oil and heat on medium. Add your garlic or onion.  Saute until fragrant. (You can add your tomato paste option here and mix for a few seconds).  
 Add a pinch of salt.  Add your cut up/diced potatoes, diced carrots/ 2 tablespoons celery, diced zucchini and mix.  Let your mixture heat up and add one teaspoon salt and mix again.  After about 5 minutes of heating, add your heated stock until all your vegetables are completely covered.  Add some parsley and set your lid ajar.  Let boil, then simmer for one hour.  Your vegetables will soften and cook. 

 Remove your lid and check your vegetables.  They should be very soft but still in tact.  At this point remove your soup from the heat and let cool.  Wait 30 minutes, and puree in your blender, a little at a time.  Garnish with parsley and serve with some grated Parmigiano cheese if you like.  Even drizzle a little olive oil if you like.   We added a little cooked elbow macaroni to the hot soup as my Mom often does even today.    Just another way to serve this delicious Minestrone Soup that is so good for you too. If you are lucky, you might even have some leftover for the next days lunch. Enjoy!  Buon Appetito.

1/2 Pound of elbow macaroni cooked until right before al dente and set aside (the pasta will continue to cook in the hot puree at the end)

You can also Puree it some, saving some of the cooked vegetable pieces.  Add some red pepper or unsmoked paprika before serving with focaccia croutons or just pieces of bread.

Triple Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake . . . (What You Really Want for Christmas)

I have, for weeks now, been in the throes of cleaning out my late parents' house in preparation for putting it on the market. I'm finally very close to being done, and I look forward to having more free time for holiday baking before Christmas is upon us. When you're sorting through the household miscellany, memorabilia, and detritus of a household that was occupied for 56 years by the same folks, you tend to encounter a few surprises--some extraordinarily wonderful, and others of the sort that will just have you scratching your head.

On the delightful side, I found a shoe-box sized container, tucked away in a seldom-visited closet, that was chock full of love notes from my father to my mother, most of them written in the months preceding their wedding day. Penned or typewritten on yellowed sheets of office scrap paper (they'd worked for the same company), the notes are without exception idealistic, funny, tender, and adoring. I can see why my mom saved every single one.

Toward the odder end of the spectrum, I found more springform pans than any one woman could use or destroy in a lifetime. I knew there were several stashed here and there in that house, having already adopted a couple of them when my mom first passed away, but I don't think I ever realized the true profusion that she'd accumulated over the years. She'd clearly been on a decades-long hunt for the perfect springform pan, relegating her cast-offs to the basement as she procured new and improved versions.

Some women of her era collected figurines and knick-knacks. She collected baking paraphernalia. And she did have a solid reputation for making truly fine cheesecakes--no doubt about that--so I guess she invested wisely.

About this recipe . . .

In celebration of that multitude of springform pans, I offer up this dark, dense, chocolate espresso cheesecake recipe. Where is it from? Well, you may laugh when I tell you that I adapted it from a recipe printed on a promotional wall calendar that came from an old-fashioned Italian bakery, in this neck of the woods, called Julian Bros. It turned out exceptionally well and I served it as one of the dessert options on Thanksgiving. If you love dark chocolate and coffee, you'll undoubtedly enjoy this cheesecake. If you prefer sweeter chocolate and don't care for coffee, make it exclusively with semi-sweet chocolate and omit the espresso powder altogether.

Triple Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake

(For a printable version of of this recipe, click here!)

Have ready one 9" x 3" springform pan. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees if you're using a dark-surfaced pan, and to 325 if you're not.

2 and 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham-cracker crumbs
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. malted butter (I used unsalted.)
1 scant pinch of kosher salt
8 oz. of good quality dark chocolate (Avoid using chocolate chips.)
4 oz. of good quality semi-sweet baking chocolate (Again, avoid using chocolate chips.)

4 eight-oz. packages (2 lbs. total) of cream cheese, softened and no cooler than room temperature (Use a thick, reliable cream cheese like Philadelphia brand.)
3 large eggs, at room temperature (Important that they're not at all cold; you can warm them quickly from the fridge, in their shells, by placing them in a bowl of very warm water for a few minutes.)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. fine espresso powder (Or more, but only if you're completely crazy about this stuff.)
3 Tbsp. heavy cream (at room temperature)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

One 2 to 3 oz. chunk of milk chocolate, if you'd like to decorate the top of the baked cake with curls.

In a medium size bowl, toss the chocolate graham cracker crumbs with the salt; add in the melted butter and the almond extract, mixing with a fork until the crumbs are all moistened. Dump the mixture into your springform pan and press it firmly and evenly onto the bottom of the pan and an inch or so up the sides (don't worry if the sides aren't of even height all around). Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and the espresso powder. Set aside.

Slowly melt the dark and semi-sweet chocolate together. This can be done in the microwave if you're very watchful and careful, heating for several seconds, then checking and stirring, repeatedly. Or, melt the chocolate in a double boiler on the stove top over low heat, being vigilant that not a single drop of water gets into the chocolate. Keep the melted chocolate slightly warm; it needs to be fluid but not hot when it's eventually added into the cheesecake batter.

In the large bowl of your mixer, on low speed, beat the cream cheese for a few minutes until smooth. If it still feels at all cold, keep slowly beating until it's truly room temperature. Into this, add the melted chocolate, still on low speed. Pour in the sugar mixture and the heavy cream, beating now on low-medium speed until well blended (you don't want to beat so quickly that you add air into the batter). One at a time, add in the eggs on low speed, beating until they're completely incorporated (perhaps a minute for each egg). Add in the vanilla extract.

Pour the batter into the springform pan over the crust. Bake in the middle of the oven, uncovered and without a water bath (believe it or not!), for approximately 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven when the surface looks slightly dry and the cake still visibly jiggles in the center; don't overbake. Remove the cake from the oven carefully and let it first start to cool in a fairly warm spot, like atop the stove, on a rack. Leave it there to cool for at least an hour before moving it to a cooler spot to cool completely. Refrigerate the cake for at least several hours or overnight, still in its springform pan. Before removing the sides of the pan from the cake, run an extremely thin metal spatula around the upper half of the sides to help loosen it.

Decorate the cake top before serving with milk chocolate curls. Make the curls using a vegetable peeler and a chunk of chocolate that's room temperate or slightly warmer. The curls are very delicate, so don't touch them with your fingers if you can help it. Lift them onto the cake with a thin metal spatula, or something equally unlikely to break them.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Happiness is...

Quote of the Day:  lyrics from the musical You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, the Happiness Song:
Happiness is finding a pencil
Pizza with sausage
telling the time

Happiness is learning to whistle
tying your shoe for the very first time

Happiness is playing the drum in your own school band
And Happiness is walking hand in hand

Happiness is two kinds of ice cream
Knowing a secret
Climbing a tree

Happiness is five different crayons
Catching a firefly
Setting him free

Happiness is being alone every now and then
And, happiness is coming home again

Happiness is morning and evening
Daytime and nighttime too

For happiness is anyone and anything at all
that's loved by you

How was your Thanksgiving weekend? Mine left me singing this song. Here are a few things that I'd add to that list:

Happiness is dinner with family
Bobby and Zachary,
Charlie and Eric, too.

Happiness is Leo on my lap
A long winter's nap
A hot cup of brew!

Happiness is a brand new drum
A song to hum
Sharing them with you!

Happiness is being at home
Being an artist
Living the dream!
I started this blog post at 6:00 a.m.
Then, I had an idea for the photo.
I had to wait for the sun to rise.
Tried a few shots indoors.
Didn't turn out.
I had three takes outside.
This one is the winner.
The slightly pinkish glow is from the the sunrise.
Happiness is waiting for the sunrise,
pausing to enjoy it,
and capturing a great photo.

If I had shopped at all this weekend, it would have been on Small Business Saturday. All I got that day was a cup of coffee at a locally owned shop. Mint mocha....mmm. Love the owners there! I bought the drum, a djembe, from the downtown music store last week.  I need it for music at my church. Love chatting about music with Don at Bridge of Harmony! Then, I slipped over to Downtown Art & Frame where I bought paint and drooled over the fancy fibrous and textured paper. I used some of the paper I already had for my nieces' Christmas journal. Our family is passing journals around this fall, writing in them, or making an art page as in my case, then, the last person to have the journal wraps it up and gives it to the owner at Christmas. It's the best gift ever!

How's your shopping going?

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What's on your 'Happiness' list?

Pumpkin Pound Cake

Secret Recipe Club 

It is Secret Recipe Club time again!  This month I was assigned the blog, Savannah's Savory Bites.  It is a fun blog full of recipes that are tasty, easy on the budget, and easy to prepare.  Yes, it is right up my alley!  Because this Secret Recipe Club posting is during the holiday season, I decided to make a Pumpkin Pound Cake.  We love pumpkin year round in this house so I always have a can of it in the pantry ready for a delicious treat.

This recipe is exactly what holiday desserts should be in my opinion.  Warm and delicious full of sweet spices and moist from the canned pumpkin.  We topped ours with fresh whipped cream, oh yes it was a delicious dessert, but it also makes a great breakfast treat too!  Enjoy!

Pumpkin Pound Cake
Recipe Source: Savannah's Savory Bites

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). 

Grease and flour a Bundt pan.

Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together sugar and oil until foamy.  Add eggs one at a time beating thoroughly after each. Mix in  pumpkin. 

Stir in flour mixture alternately with milk.

Pour batter into prepared pan.Bake in the preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Add small cup of water to oven in heat proof pyrex while the cake cooks for a moist texture.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

There is nothing more inviting on Thanksgiving day then the smell of Turkey cooking in the oven.  This year, with no particular plans, we decided on a quick trip to Orlando, Florida, about a 10 hour car ride from Tupelo, Mississippi.  Not wanting to miss out on the day, we decided to celebrate last night, with good friends here at home.  What a wonderful night.
I cooked the Turkey to be ready early afternoon. The trick to a great turkey is sufficient rest time.  I can remember sneaking a taste of it hot out of the oven growing up, but why spoil the surprise. 
My mother, being Italian, had to put an Italian spin on an American Classic.  So why not? The cavity was filled with sausage and bread stuffing and we all lived to tell about it.  This year, I elected to make two stuffing's.  To satisfy every one's palate.  What transpired was a succulent Turkey, filled with flavor.  Just couldn't wait to get to the table. 
Ingredients for the Turkey.
One 12 pound turkey, cleaned, giblets removed, neck saved for stock
Rub your fresh or defrosted Turkey with lemon, inside and out.  Pat dry with paper towels and set aside. In a small stock pot, place your onion, 3 small carrots, 3 small stalks of celery, handful of parsley and a pinch of salt. Cover with water, about 2 liters.   When the water boils add you neck bone.  Simmer for one hour.

In a large skillet add 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat to medium.  Add about 12 ounces of ground sausage.  You may use chicken sausage if you like.  My mother always used pork. Cook until nicely browned. Add a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of ground or some chopped fresh sage, 2 tablespoons fresh Rosemary.   Add one cup of white wine and let simmer away.  Add a pinch of salt while cooking and a pinch of pepper.  Set aside to cool.

Part 2/ Stuffing/ inside the cavity
For this you will need 3 cups of focaccia bread crumbs, coarsely chopped.  Leave the pieces rather crumbly if you can rather than fine.  It will continue to break down when you add your ingredients.
Into a bowl:
Bread crumbs
1/2 your sausage (other half for the baking dish version)
handful of parsley
two cloves of garlic chopped
handful of cooked chestnuts (optional)
4 ounces of prosciutto  chopped into pieces
One tablespoon each of ground sage and Rosemary
Mix/ add your stock a little at a time.  About 1-1/2 cups.  Your mixture should be soft.  Add teaspoon of salt and pepper  and mix. Salt and pepper your bird top and bottom.  About a teaspoon of each.
Fill the inside of your Turkey cavity with the mixture.   Tie your bird shut to avoid it spilling out while cooking.  Cover your bird with 6 slices of  prosciutto. Place in a large baking Pan. Do not place your Turkey flat on your pan.  It should be elevated. This will ensure even cooking.  Add one cup of  Turkey stock to the bottom of your pan.  Loosely cover your bird and place in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.  I like to pinch back the wings with metal skewers to avoid burning those wings.  Toothpicks are not a good idea as they break down and there is nothing worse than finding a piece of wood in your food.   Turn down your heat to 375 and bake for approximately 4 hours plus 1/2 hour.  Baste your turkey with your remaining stock plus a 1/4 cup white wine mixed into the stock on the hour. (3/4 cup stock, 1/4 cup white wine).  You can pour it right over the bird.  This addition creates a steam in your oven to help the bird remain moist.   If you don't think you have enough stock remaining, simply add more water to your stock and simmer again.  Plenty of flavor remaining that neck bone. Or you can add chicken stock while cooking.  Discard your crisped prosciutto before carving.  Or you can place it in food processor to chop and serve it over your salad.  Let your bird rest at least One hour before serving.
Version number 2 / baking dish method
One medium size baking dish buttered and set aside
In a small skillet heat 3 ounces of diced pancetta and cook.
Into a bowl place 3 cups of focaccia bread crumbs
handful of chopped parsley, sausage, pinch of pepper. (No salt here as the pancetta is already salty).
Fresh rosemary chopped/ about 3 tablespoons
Add you stock, a little at a time. Until all is combined and softened.  spread evenly in your baking dish.  Your mixture should be about 2 inches tall in your baking dish. Heat one tablespoon of butter in your pan and add 2/3 cup fine bread crumbs.  Mix and toast.  Spread evenly on the top of your mixture.  This will form a nice crust on top.   Bake for 25 minutes at 375 degrees. Cut into squares and serve.

To all of my wonderful friends and family,  I give thanks for each and every one of you, each and every day.~ Buon Appetito~

(If you prefer, you can try this with Capon too. Just remember to make appropriate cooking time adjustments).

Friday, November 25, 2011


Favorite Photos Friday

Quote of the Day:  Let's do a "Ferris Bueller" pose. Said by my boys as they stood at the window on the 9th floor of The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. We had a few minutes to look around, and found this view to be spectacular.

Shot with flash

Tried again and turned off the flash.
Even though Charlie looks a little distorted, I like this shot better.
More reflection and color.

I took these two while standing out on the deck of the 4th floor with the boys. I think we're looking at the "Endless Bridge."
We didn't quite understand the "endless" part, but it was dark and a little cold, so they didn't explore very far.

This shot is pretty, in a mystical kind of way.
I think the blues are beautiful.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving (in the USA), and a great weekend with friends or family, wherever you are!

Journaling Prompt:  What's your favorite part of a big feast like Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pasta al Forno (Pasta baked in the oven with Ham, Bechamel, Asparagus and Mozzarella)

This baked pasta is so delicious you will find yourself making excuse's to cook again.  Pasta is pre-cooked for several minutes, drained and added to bowl where bechamel, mozzarella, parmigiano, cooked ham and cut up asparagus are added and mixed.  Poured into baking dish and baked in the oven.  This beautiful dish serves up perfect every time.  The tricky part is the bechamel but with a little practice and patience you can do it too.  A meal in a pasta bowl.  Buon Appetito

Preheat your oven at bake 350 degrees
One baking dish large enough to accomodate your assembled ingredients.
1 pound of cooked ham, sliced thick. You should be able to get pieces.  Cube into small pieces and set aside.
1 cup Parmigiana Cheese
8 oz of Mozzarella sliced thin
1 pound of asparagus, trimmed (woodsy bottoms thrown away), blanched in salted water with a pinch of baking soda. *The baking soda will help the asparagus retain it's bright green color after it's baked.  Cut into small pieces and set aside the tips for serving later. Set aside.
Additional tablespoon of butter/ cut into tiny pieces for the top

For the Bechamel: 
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
2 plus 1/2 cups whole milk scalded (until bubbles form around the sides while heated)
Pinch of salt
Pinch of nutmeg
One pound tubular pasta such as Rigatoni or Mostaccioli
Heat your milk in a pan.  In a 3 quart pan place your butter and heat on low. Let it melt slowly. When you butter is melted add your flour one spoon at a time and combine, stirring constantly.  Do not let you flour turn dark. If you see this happening, you will have to start again.  The idea here is to form a Roux that will act as a thickening base for your cream.  At this point, turn your heat off and begin adding your milk a little at time and combine.  You will notice as you stir that your cream will thicken.  Keep adding your liquid until finished.  Your result should be a creamy consistency that should coat the sides of the pan.  Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of nutmeg and set aside to cool slightly
Cook your pasta for 5 minutes in boiling water.  You do not want to cook any further as your pasta will cook while being baked in the oven.  Do not overcook.  Drain and set aside.
Into a bowl: Ham, asparagus pieces,  3/4 cup Parmigiano and half the mozzarella slices. Add your drained pasta (still hot), and mix.  Add 1/4 cup of your Bechamel in the botttom of your baking dish and spread.  Add your reserved Bechamel to your bowl with your pasta and mix gently.  Pour into your baking dish.  Spread evenly and add sprinkle of  your reserved Parmigiano, evenly distribute  mozzarella cheese across the top and dab with your butter pieces across the top.  Bake in the oven covered for 25 minutes on 350.  Remove the cover and bake for 10 minutes more. Look for the top to turn golden. Be careful not to burn.  (The steam from the covered baking dish will cook your pasta).  Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving in pasta bowls.  The dish is hearty and goes a long way. Add your reserved Asparagus tips and serve.   Buon Appetito.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Article on Alzheimer's

Quote of the Day:  A friend knows the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails. - Donna Roberts

Photos from the Walk to End Alzheimer's

I write for our local women's magazine, Her Voice. Click over there to read my most recent article on Alzheimer's disease and a mother-daughter relationship, starts on p. 20. Another article by Deb Cranny, Being the Daughter, describes how she is moving through the aging process with her own mother.

This is an excellent edition of Her Voice with so many stories that feature local residents, but have global appeal.

As the holidays approach, be aware that you might see changes in your loved one or their home which may raise concern. Always approach the subject with respect and express your love for that person.

Click over to the LAMAA blog for more info on the Lakes Area Memory Advocates.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving and be sure to share your memories.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  What songs remind you of your parents, grandparents, or other family members?

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Christmas Carol at The Guthrie Theater Review

Quote of the Day:  I promise to keep Christmas in my heart, year round. I promise to remember the lessons the Spirits have taught me. spoken by Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, heard last night on the Wurtele Thrust Stage at The Guthrie Theater.

Two thumbs up for the Guthrie and we hadn't even seen the show, yet!
It was a mighty fine hamburger at the "fancy" restuarant -
The Level Five Cafe'

I had a date with four handsome young men for this year's production of A Christmas Carol.

 A production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a tradition at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. This was the first year that I've gone to the show. I brought my four sons with me, and I'm so glad that I did. I can understand why families make this part of their holiday tradition as well. The night was truly magical.

We entered the Wurtele Thrust Stage and our eyes were immediately drawn to the set. It was like looking at a painting of Dickensian London with the street lamps, the cobbled street, the buildings with their windows lit up, and what looked like snow on the edges of buildings and the stage. Charlie leaned over and asked, "I wonder how they made that snow," and "What do you think the buildings are made out of?" The boys tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Look up. I see props up there in the cat walk."

"I wonder when they'll come down and what else is up there," I said.

Then, the music started and the house lights went down. Tiny Tim was on the stage, leaning on his crutch.  The snow falling on him glowed from the spotlight, and he sang, "Lul-lay thou little tiny child. By, by lul-ly lul-lay." Oh, my heart was already pulled into the show for "This poor youngling for whom we sing. By by Lul-ly, lul-lay." The townspeople entered from the aisles and behind the set. The stage filled with light and sound and I was transported to another time and place.

Like a colorfully wrapped Christmas present, many surprises await you during this performance. The Wurtele Stage has many hiding places, above and below, behind and within. We oohed and ahhed at the dramatic entrances of the ghosts. They are a bit scary, though, and I would not recommend this show for preschoolers. My 11-year-old sons said they think you should be in at least first grade.

My oldest son, Bobby, pointed out the political statements that were made. I already knew that the themes of A Christmas Carol are just as true today as they were in Dickens' times. Power and greed rule the day. The rich hoard their wealth and blame the poor for their own predicament. Old Scrooge isn't the only one to say, "If they can't work, they don't need to eat." Bobby noted the large prop and scene of the London Stock Exchange - a giant abacus - and how Scrooges' business acquaintance (remember, he had no friends) said they were going to ban the word "rich" at his office and replace it, instead, with "job creators."

Notice, too, that we're in the scenes of the Ghost of Christmas Past the longest. We see Scrooge as a lonely and abused boy. We meet his funny Uncle Fezziwig (this scene is so colorful, like one of Dr. Seuss' stories with bright colors and crazy hair which reminded me of the Who's down in Whoville), and we meet his fiance'. He never marries her, though, as she sees that his true love is money.

I felt drawn to the character of Bob Cratchet even more than usual during this performance. I've always had a soft spot for him, as most people do. He works hard, endures a cold office - both physically and emotionally, and he loves his family, and more than anything he wants to protect his young son, Tiny Tim, from his aweful fate. Kris L. Nelson plays the part with such tenderness that I found myself getting teary during the scene of Tiny Tim's funeral, and again, at the end when they all wish us a Merry Christmas.

One more surprise, before I go, Angela Timberman, who played Scrooge's housekeeper Merriweather, was fantastic. Such great comic relief in this play. Amidst themes of greed, despair, death, and loneliness, we have Merriweather's quips and actions, dreary, yet comical, words to songs like "We wish you a horrible Christmas" or something like that.

Alright, enough raving for now. But, check back this week. I hope to post a few photos from The Guthrie's collection of the show, and tell you more about my Christmas gift with my boys. I do hope that a visit to the Guthrie and Dickens' London and all his colorful characters becomes our holiday tradition, too.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Describe a time when you were surprised by a performance, or art experience.

Nutella Cupcakes~

This is a very rich and dense cupcake~Enjoy!  Once again, you can never have enough Nutella~ Buon Appetito~

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1  cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (one stick),  unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons Nutella

Preheat your oven to 350/bake
Sift together all your dry ingredients and set aside.  In another bowl combine your butter and sugar.  Beat with an electric mixer for a few minutes to combine.   Add your eggs one at a time, then your vanilla extract.   Add  half of your dry ingredients  and mix, a little at a time with your electric beater or mixer until everything is soft and combined.   Add your sour cream and Nutella last and beat until all is combined and very creamy.
Pour into prepared cupcake pan lined with papercups.  Cook for 16-18  minutes.  Oven times and temperatures will vary some.  Be sure and always insert a toothpick in your cupcake to check and see if it's done.    Make appropriate adjustments for convection ovens.  Let cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Cool completely before frosting your cupcake.

Simple cupcake white frosting:
2 ounces butter softened to room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners sugar

Into a bowl combine your softened butter, cream cheese.  Add your sugar and then your Vanilla extract.  Refrigerate until your are ready to frost your cupcakes. 
You can even add some Nutella in the frosting. Your frosting will turn darker in color but be very good. 
I added broken chocolate chip pieces on top of the cupcake to add more texture. 
I piped Nutella into the bottom of the cupcake for a creamy center surprise.  You can do this by simply turning it over, and inserting your tip of your pastry bag into the bottom. Takes some practice.

Special hint:  The texture of this cupcake is not your typical "cake like" cupcake.  You will need a big glass of milk for sure~

Friday, November 18, 2011

Holding onto Beauty

Favorite Friday Photos

Quote of the Day:  Two quotes by Robert Frost
Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.

I never write except with a writing board. I've never had a table in my life. And I use all sorts of things. Write on the sole of my shoe.

The sole of my shoe, now THAT'S a unique place to journal! Here are a few more shots from my trip up North, beauty along the Pembina Gorge.

A Path

Lingering beauty as the Earth goes dormant.

Preparing for Winter

Stark Beauty

Watching the sun set.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Take some time this weekend to examine the simple beauty in your world. Take photos, write notes or a poem, create a setting, reflect, breath, paint, enjoy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Support your local Farmer~ NATIVE SON FARM, Tupelo, Mississippi

Who knew $25.00 could buy all this Fresh, local, Organic, Produce.  Support your local farmer in your area.  Thank you to Native Son Farm for my Delivery of Bok Choy, turnips, Broccoli, Kale, spring Mix,  Arugula and even a few tomatoes.   If you live in the Northeast Mississippi area, check with Native Son about pick-up at the Farm stand.  Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Journal where you are

Quote of the Day:  Writing is an escape from a world that crowds me.  I like being alone in a room. It's almost always a form of meditation - an investigation of my own life. Neil Simon

I write to bring back what is gone, to relive what is lost, to make a mosaic of fragments. - Minfong Ho

Journal where you are.
Make your mark.
Archive your life.
Live, Record, Remember

Do you journal with paper and pen or pencil? Do you type your journals and keep a file on your computer? Is your blog your personal archive? Do you, like me, have scraps and bits of paper scattered throughout the house, car, and your purse, full of notes and ideas?  Where is the most unique place that you've written something down? I once used a church bulletin (yes, during the sermon). My Uncle David appears to be journaling on the inside of his walls. I love it. I journeyed far and wide to see his home. It's a process for me to get there, and with my family, it is an idea that keeps building.

It all started with my sister Nancy saying that she had Friday off of work so she thought she'd bring Mom up North to visit her brother.  (He lives about seven miles from the Canadian border in North Dakota. I'm in central Minnesota.) Mom said, "I don't suppose Mary can get away." (It wasn't easy, but I did. I was glad to be invited along and I hadn't visited my uncle's home before.) By Thursday, Nancy called to say that our oldest brother Nathan wanted to go, too. By the time we met up at 2nd brother Phil's house, Mom and Dad got into the van. Nathan drives a modified van because he's in a wheelchair, with a lift where the middle seats are. We were quite cozy in the back seat.

The process was worth it. It was a cool and sunny November day. Dry roads, good company, a thermos of coffee, donut holes, homemade granola (by me), and great family stories. Not to mention my Aunt Sharon's delicious food and creative connection with church music.

If I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have known about the journaling on the walls, or seen my uncle's great craftsmanship at the place, nor experienced the sun setting over the Pembina Gorge with a cool November sky.

And, the full moon kept me company all the way back.

Journaling Prompt:  Where do you leave your mark on the world? What kind of journaling do you do? 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

1940's Radio Hour Review

Quote of the Day:  Radio can be like that - people adopt you - and he became friend and family to so many people. from the obituary of Tom Keith in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a quote by his friend and co-worker Dale Connelly

C.J. Anderson playing Lou Cohn in the GLAPA production of
1940's Radio Hour.
He dedicated his performance to Tom Keith, sound guy extraordinaire for Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion, a man he met and admired.
I admired and marveled at the sound effects table, and artist, in this show.

That toilet plunger was too much.
I was cackling at this scene!
I think he's making a storm.

Doesn't this look like fun?!
I want to be the sound "guy" some day.

The 1940's Radio Hour was community theatre at its finest up in Pequot Lakes this weekend. I attended the Sunday afternoon show, which can be more subdued than an evening performance, but it wasn't. It was full of life and energy, beautiful costumes, and interesting scenery. I love it when the band is on stage, as in this show, so that they are part of the effect. They are cast members. Three cheers and a hand massage for the pianist. I know how hard you had to work! The music and musicians were phenomenal.

I don't care how old you are or what era you grew up in, this show has something for everyone from sentimental songs to ridiculous sight gags that the "radio" audience couldn't see. It felt like we got a behind the scenes look at live radio, with the wit and whimsey like in Noises Off, and the lively pace of A Prairie Home Companion. You might blush as Ginger Brooks (Wendy DeGeest) delivers her ad for Eskimo Pies, oh my. One of the band members is playing his last show before going off to war (the setting is WWII). When he's about to exit, the stage manager asks if he wants to take his guitar. He says, "You take care of it for me until I get back." This, after songs like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and I'll Be Seeing You. (Goodness, I'm wiping a tear even as I type this.) Those were highly emotional times, portrayed accurately by this talented cast.

Some of these set pieces are real, some are made with styrofoam, by the talented "Mr. Syrofoam" Tim Leagjeld.  Can you tell which is which?

Don't miss your chance to support your local community theatre and watch your friends and neighbors in a new role.  When they aren't on stage, they're filling important roles in our community as teachers, students, business owners, employees, parents, and grandparents. They do all this work (and, it IS work, I burned calories just watching them) for the love of the art. The younger actors who played Connie Miller and B.J. Gibson were so cute.  They danced together like Bobby and Sissy on the old Lawrence Welk Shows (grandparents, please explain this to the youngsters).

The best part about community theatre is that people are out there having a good time. They get to do their art for a while and leave those other roles at the stage door. They're escape is our entertainment. Thank you, GLAPA, and all the people behind the scenes. I had a lovely afternoon in your company.

Click here for more info on GLAPA and next week's performance schedule of The 1940's Radio Hour.  You'll be glad you went.

I'd love to get my fingers on this typewriter and start clacking away.
My grandma had one like this.
I loved the sound of it and how the keys would stick together if you pushed more than one at a time.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt:  Plan out the sound effects to something you're writing or creating. Look around your house. What could you use? Make a sound effect recording, just for fun.