Sunday, October 7, 2018

Let This Bread Tell Your Fortune ... and Other Things I've Baked

I like to bake but I'm not always successful at it. I am successful at watching The Great British Baking Show and being inspired to get better at baking. In September, I felt inspired to try a few recipes. Some worked out well, some were not so great. 

My best results came from barmbrack or (bairin breac), a traditional Irish holiday cake. I followed a recipe from Allrecipes that does not use yeast. 

Barmbrack is a fortune telling cake. Items are baked in the cake and when you find an item in your slice, that's your fortune. If you find a ring, you'll be married in a year. Find a thimble or button and you'll never marry. Find a pea and you'll go hungry, find a cloth and you'll be poor. Find a coin and you'll be wealthy, find a matchstick and you'll be beaten. So there's a mix of good and bad results. 

Since this was to be a family cake and our first barmbrack, I didn't really want anyone to get a matchstick or think they'd be hungry. I worked with my husband to substitute some items. We used the ring and the coin, but we also put in a key for luck and a knot to symbolize that you'd solve a problem.  

I also substituted orange marmalade for the lemon marmalade but I think the family liked that flavor better.

Cakes like barmbrack are winter holiday cakes and include a lot of dried fruit that would be a real treat in the winter. 

I used orange essence prunes and sultanas (golden raisins) in this cake.

The dried fruits are soaked in tea. I used Bewley's Irish.

It was really aromatic.

Mixing this cake was easy and it baked quickly in the ring pan.

It's quite a moist cake and very fruity. My kids said it reminded them of stollen, another one of my favorite cakes. I love stollen, and I love that my kids know what stollen is. We usually buy it from Black Cat Bake Shop.

We usually enjoyed a slice with a nice slab of salted Kerrygold butter. You can use American butter, but why would you?

Since I zested an orange for the barmbrack, I decided to try to make candied orange slices. Yes, I saw them on GBBS and it seemed easy. I should have known it required more skill than I have right now, but also it required orange juice and I didn't have that either. I wouldn't call these a success, just a good learning experience.

While I was rummaging in our cabinet, I found the bag of masa flour and thought about trying to make tortillas. AGAIN.  Months ago I finally found a tortilla press and bought it but never used it.

Also, we had a friend sleeping over who is gluten free and I thought, corn tortillas are gluten free! And so is taco meat!

So I decided break in our tortilla press and make some corn tortillas. They were OK.

I mean, we still ate them. 

But I just can't figure out the right wetness to make the tortilla balls so that they flatten out nice and thin in the press AND slide off the paper easily onto the grill AND cook without tearing and breaking. 

Maybe I'm not grilling them long enough? Or hot enough?

We fried some up in the pan after grilling them to see how that tasted, and it was good. But I still haven't come anywhere close to making tortillas that taste like restaurant ones. 

Coming up this month? I'm thinking of attempting a trifle and maybe a swiss roll. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Word Search Battle 2 and Word Search Battle 3

The second word search battle was between me and the clock. I think I went slower than normal because I didn't have a physical opponent circling words right next to me, forcing me to scan quicker, find words faster..

Word Search Battle 2 is now live.

Word Search Battle 3…well, it was a whole new game.
I thought I was so good at this.
I was wrong.

Over labor day weekend we traveled to Delaware to be with family. While we had a classic delaware shore lunch at Grotto Pizza, I challenged my lifelong competition partner -  my husband - to a kids' menu word search. He won. Quickly. So the next week we were both up early-ish and I quickly set up the word search battle arena and challenged him again.

The best I can say is…it was over fast.

It was decisive.

I now know how Apollo Creed felt, facing Drago.

Word Search Battle 3 is also live, if you're ready.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Cooking with Cast Iron

If you have followed my blog for anytime at all, you already know I'm not any kind of "genius chef." In fact, I struggle a lot with cooking.
It's probably because I'm easily distracted and a little forgetful.
But I don't like giving up.
And I like to eat.
And I like trying new things!

So when I saw a hefty, powerful cast iron skillet at the store, I thought, "I'll get that and try using it!"

Then when I came home, I realized we already had one…same brand….same size…in the same drawer. Which I had never used.

I used the skillet once. My husband asked if I had seasoned it. I said "What do you mean?"

Both skillets sat in the drawer for awhile, then I decided me and my vegetarian son needed more iron in our diets and I read cooking with cast iron is a great way to add iron. I pulled out the skillet(s) and gave a frittata a try. It went OK.

Then I picked up the Will It Skillet? cookbook at Half Price Books and found a handy guide with easy recipes. I've tackled several, jotted down notes in the cookbook, and enjoyed some tasty results.

Here's a sideway photo of the potatoes I cooked for a spanish version of a frittata. I was surprised all those potatoes fit in the skillet. 

Next I tried making the parmesan tulies, but because I wasn't using store-shredded cheese, I think I didn't have much luck.

After gaining some confidence with the skillet, I set out my own to make a pepper, sausage and cheese frittata. This was so tasty even my non-egg-loving husband liked this.

Next, the middle and I tried some skillet mac-n-cheese. Again, the amount of pasta that fit in there was surprising. I need to increase the cheese, milk and salt levels next time for more flavor.

For my husband's birthday, we did our first dessert skillet experiment and made a chocolate chip cookie in the skillet. It was surprisingly easy and really tasty, except for one large note we wrote in the cookbook:


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Word Search Battle #1

Our family is slightly competitive. So when I bought a word search book at Half Price Books and brought it home, of course we turned it into a game.


My oldest and I got comfy on the deck and raced each other to find the most words in the puzzle.

In the first match-up, we tied.

In the second match-up, we tied!

In the third match-up, we tied!!!!

Finally, in the fourth match-up, I beat him by one word.

We had to keep playing until he won, and in the fifth match-up, he finally beat me by one word.

We had such fun we decided to race each other to complete a full word search. So the middle made copies of the same word search, we set up the phones to record videos, got our pens, and the middle said "3, 2, 1 GO!"

We call this Word Search Battle #1.

It's a video on YouTube, and it's less than 6 minutes.

My pen started failing right away, but I switched and persevered…until… well, you can watch the video and find out. Our plan was to have two videos side by side showing us each completing the puzzle, but unfortunately his video only shows the back of his head.

Now, if you want to join in the competition, you can print out your own copy of Word Search Battle #1, go to our Word Search Battle 1 video on Youtube, get your pen ready, then hit start and compete against us. But you better be fast!!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Summer of 2018

The Summer of 2018 isn't over yet but it's been a busy one so far! We traveled up and down the east coast exploring and having adventures. Here are some of the highlights and a few photos of our fun.

Orlando, Florida and Amelia Island, Florida

  • Our condo had a little backyard pool
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom - safaris and okapi and  Expedition Everest
  • Disney's Hollywood Studios -  Jedis, Storm troopers, Muppets
  • Universal Studios - Super heroes, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter!
  • Gatorland - feeding the gators (Mayonnaise…) 
  • Amelia Island - playing in the waves, another pool with lots of raccoons, palmetto bugs, miniature golf and amazing shells

New York City and the Catskills
  • Visiting friends
  • Our flat with a terrace
  • Central Park Zoo
  • Bronx Zoo (meeting JP!)
  • School of Rock on Broadway (Stick it to the Man)
  • dumplings!
  • Ice cream!
  • Museum of Modern Art and a powerful thunderstorm 
  • Yankee Stadium
  • Salamanders, frogs, bees, butterflies, birds
  • Hiking and swimming in the lake

Easton, Maryland and Rehoboth, Delaware 
  • Visiting family like godmothers and great-grandmothers!
  • Oysters and crabs
  • Frog patrol
  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Funland and the Boardwalk 
  • Sailing 
  • Gameshows with grandparents

Monday, July 9, 2018

Summer Goals 2018

I never stop learning. Here are my summer goals for 2018.

Off-list achievement: I made my first gin and tonic at a Highlights Foundation workshop at the end of June 2018. It was kind of a magical evening in my cabin, reading, listening to some Irma Thomas, sipping my very own handmade cocktail. I didn't have lime, but I got along just fine. 

I know the world is dealing with some horrible stuff right now, and me learning to grill isn't going to save it. But me learning to make a margarita can help me relax, refuel, and get back out there. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Trying New Beauty Products

I'm not really good at trying new beauty products. But every once in a while I embark on an adventure to try some new things.

Item 1

One of the new things I'm trying right now is Bar Shampoo. I'm not sure exactly why I decided to try this as I really can't use bar soaps, but sometimes I make impulsive decisions. I was in Chicago staying at the Palmer House and on the basement floor was a really cool beauty products store with all kinds of fun things, including my favorite Mervis toothpaste. The ingredients on this bar shampoo looked pretty good so I shelled out the cash. It wasn't cheap.

I used it for the first time yesterday, and it did feel waxy in the shower, but not the rest of the day. And I'm not having any scalp irritation (I have a dry scalp and usually use a tea tree oil shampoo) so I'm fairly satisfied.

What I didn't realize until after I tried this bar for the first time is that this month is Plastic Free July! Maybe I'm psychic. On the Plastic Free July site, there's a pesky plastics quiz. I found out about Plastic Free July when a friend shared a Buzzfeed article that includes 39 ways to reduce plastic. I'm already doing 1-7, 10, 14, 18, 19 (Bar shampoo!), 22, 26, 29, 31, 37, 38.

Here are some that I plan to try. They are going to be interesting and tough:
8. Shop in the bulk food section of your grocer rather than buying pre-packaged staples.

11. Take your own reusable container to the deli or butcher when buying meat or fish that’s normally wrapped in plastic before being sold.

12. And take your own container to restaurants if you think it’s likely that you’ll have leftovers.

Item 2

I have to be super careful with what I use to wash my face. I have rosacea and really dry skin, so no retinol (I had the worst experience after using it in 2014). I like exfoliating every once in awhile and I like having smooth skin. So I got this weird natural sponge.

It was kind of strange, because it was wet inside the package. I think that's the special collagen. I don't know. I'm pretty sure collagen isn't being absorbed into my skin, but it's a nice soft scrubber (not at all like a dish sponge) so I will use it for two months and then recycle - or maybe COMPOST it. It's a vegetable, right?

Item 3

The third new product was something I picked up at Ulta in Pittsburgh. I was roaming the store looking for who-knows-what, and I spotted this product.

I think it did a decent job even after my run yesterday in some very hot Pittsburgh weather, so I'm happy. Ulta claims I can return it even I don't like it, which surprises me, but I don't think I will be returning it.

It smells good - Lavanilla seems to work for both deodorant AND creme brûlée.