Monday, September 29, 2008

Cheer, Cheer for...Oh my God, it's hot.

So the game on Saturday was great. ND beat the pants off Purdue. Well, that might be a stretch, but they did win handily (38-21) and had some awesome plays along the way. I mis-remebered how long it had been since I'd been to a game. Dwight was still working at Ave at the time, so it's been at least 9 years. My how time flies.

Generally heat is not an issue at a football game, especially in northern Indiana at the end of September. But there seems to be a least one each season, and we managed to hit the scorcher this year. I wish I knew what the temp was in the stadium. The regular temp was supposed to hit about 80, but it felt about 10 degrees warmer in there. Thank goodness for sunglasses, visors, sunscreen and water.

Full House

Unfortunately, some people weren't as prepared. During the first quarter, a woman passed out as she was trying to walk down the stadium steps, presumably to take a break in the shade and coolness under the stadium. Our seats were right on the aisle so we saw it all first hand. Fortunately, she was caught before she fell and many people rushed to help. Dwight and I both grabbed a water on one of our breaks below deck, so I thrust one into her friend's hands. She was convulsing slightly as she was unconscious, which was pretty frightening. A woman from across the aisle quickly came over, took the other woman's pulse, asked her questions and generally tried to get the poor girl to respond. She did revive and drank the water that was left after the'd poured some over her head. The first aid guy arrived along with a cop and between them and her friends, she made it safely down. I hope she was OK. She was so pale and clearly in serious distress. It was just so damn hot.

Interior of Main Building

But the campus was beautiful and the game was fun—the students totally crack me up when ND scores. A BUNCH of them get hoisted in the air and do "push ups" with other students holding them up. It was quite a sight.

Student Section - Click to enlarge to see all of them doing push ups

Oh, and someone in our section had a leprechaun puppet that they waved around after a score or good play. They had it doing push ups, too—hilarious.

I was really glad we got to go.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Hey! It's Friday. Hooray! It's been a long week and I'm looking forward to some down time. Or more to the point, some "not at work" time. 

This week, I had to deal with the ramifications of my hard drive failing. The drive started making noises on Thursday of last week, so we ordered a new drive right away. The drive arrived on Friday so the first thing on the agenda for Saturday was installing the drive and running the cloning program to copy all of the files. The intense activity of the copy was just too much for the drive and it went "Ka-BLAM". Figuratively, of course.

The contents copied in order, so my applications and archive files made it, but my "users" folder did not, and that's where all of my "in progress" work lived, along with all of my preferences and my mail. I was in a bit of a panic regarding the in progress work, but we have an offsite back up for those files. I was just hoping they had them. We tried to get files before and ran into some problems.

Dwight had to reinstall some software and I lost all of my font program sets, so it was back to the drawing board on a lot of things. You forget how much customization you build into applications until you have to recreate them all. 

But one of the more frustrating things was losing my email. I kept folders for clients, important receipts, template emails—the works (and this includes my personal email account, but I have redundancy on that since I get that mail on my home laptop as well). So I can't refer back to emails for current jobs or digging up email archives for old ones.

One thing I will say, though, is that when push comes to shove (or when your hard drive takes a dump) you find you don't need a bunch of the random crap you think you have to keep. 

I was able to get my "in progress" folder back, so that was a huge relief. All of the other inconveniences are easier to deal with. Having to recreate weeks and weeks of work, on the other hand, would have been a nightmare. 

Monday and Tuesday were greatly impacted by the computer woes and I ended up staying until about 8:30 pm both nights. That sucked. Wednesday was tap night, so I got out of work at a good time and yesterday, I just decided I'd had enough and that work could wait until today. I took advantage of the time home and did some baking and cooking. I'm hoping post about that tonight once I have a chance to go through the pics I took.

It wasn't the worst week on record, by any stretch, but the stress of the hard drive crud and long hours took their toll and I'm ready for a break. My hips and back have been bothering me, too, so I need to take some time to redeem the massage gift certificate I've had in my possession for probably 6 months. 

I'm not sure what's on the agenda for Sunday, but Saturday is booked. Dwight and I are going to the ND v Purdue game with my parents. Dad's ND connections came through and were able to procure 4 tickets together. They weren't gratis (darn) but we haven't been in probably 6 years, so we're looking forward to it. The weather is going to be downright beautiful. It's supposed to be almost 80 degrees tomorrow and it always feels warmer in the stadium, so it'll be toasty. Better load up on the sunscreen or I'll look like this:


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Chalk it up to a learning experience—Birthday Cake

As I posted earlier, it was my mother-in-law's 70th birthday last week. I wanted to make a cake from scratch seeing as it was a rather milestone-ish birthday and also because she's pre-diabetic and wanted to make her something she could enjoy.

I found a recipe on Splenda's website that looked promising, so I went to the store to pick up any ingredients I didn't have on hand, mainly the Splenda Sugar Blend (half sugar, half Splenda) and cake flour. Plus I needed the ingredients for the frosting. I wanted to make a whipped cream frosting recipe I stumbled upon, but I'm not in the habit of keeping 2 cups of whipping cream handy!

I mixed the ingredients as directed and the batter looked perfect and tasted great.

I carefully cut out parchment paper liners for the pans, greased and floured them as I'd read about in other recipes. Shiny Distraction post tangent: I love parchment paper. I honestly don't recall how I "discovered" it, but ever since that day, I haven't baked without it. It's the greatest thing since sliced bread and is perfect for cookies, bread, and as I've now learned, for lining cake pans.
They baked very quickly—in 20 minutes and I probably could have taken them out a few minutes before that. As you can see below, they didn't rise very much. Hm.

I took them out of the pans and let them cool on the counter until I went to bed, at which time I put them in the refrigerator. I wanted them completely cooled before icing.

The next morning, I set out the cream cheese to get to room temp while I exercised and get ready for work. I decided to whip up (literally) the icing and frost the cake before heading into work.

Making the frosting was a cinch. The only problem was that it was a bit thin for the filling especially after mixing in the preserves (I wanted the center filling to be a berry-flavored cream, similar to one a co-worker makes for her amazing cakes).

Unfortunately, mine didn't work the way I wanted. It oozed out all down the sides - crap! (Check out the first picture in this post. You can see the pink filling all along the bottom edge.) I propped up the top layer with tooth picks, slathered on the plain (and OH so delicious) whipped icing to stem the flow, and popped it back in the fridge.

I was disappointed with how the frosting behaved, but was more disappointed with how the cake tasted. More to the point, I was surprised—and disappointed—by the texture. It was very dense. Not even remotely light and fluffy. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, given how little they rose during baking. It was very similar to pound cake, really. I won't be making that one again, but am chalking this up to a learning experience. Gotta start somewhere.

The recipe for the cake can be found here. Below is the frosting recipe, which was NOT disappointing. If your heart can take it, here's the recipe:

Whipped Cream Frosting
2 cups heavy whipping cream
8 oz. cream cheese - regular NOT whipped
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Whip cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together in stand mixer or use hand mixer. Add cream in a slow stream, scraping sides of bowl as necessary. Whip until stiff peaks form. (The preserves was an alteration I made, and despite the fact that it made the frosting rather runny, it was delicious!)

Birthday Celebration

My mother-in-law's birthday was last Friday, the 12th. We'd planned on taking her out to dinner that evening, but she fell ill, so we postponed the celebration until the following Friday. Yesterday, to be exact.

Dwight and I were expecting his mom and her new housemate (a recently divorced relative and a good companion for MIL), along with Dwight's brother and wife. When we got to Texas Roadhouse, we saw that Scott and Val's kids and significant others were coming along. We ended up being a party of 12 and a lively one at that. We were seated at two booths, the "kids" in one and the original 6 in the other.

Dinner was delicious, as it always is at the Roadhouse. For a chain restaurant, it's mighty tasty. Dwight really enjoys their stakes and I love their burgers and pulled pork sandwiches. Oh, and their stake fries are to die for. Not exactly health food (no kidding!) but we only go there a handful of times a year so I don't get too hung up about it.

We had extended an invitation to come to our house for cake and coffee after dinner, but hadn't figured on 12 guests. We thought we'd need more dessert, so as soon as we paid, Dwight and I made a mad dash to the grocery store for sweet provisions.

I'd already made a cake (see following post for details) but didn't think it would be enough. Turns out that it was more than enough since a few guests were so full from dinner that they didn't have any. I had no such problem.

I picked up some fun twisty candles at the store, so I put them in the cake and we all joined in singing Happy Birthday to my mother-in-law. We enjoyed the coffee and dessert and chatted for a while. We had a nice time and I was glad that the whole clan was able to get together.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The best-laid plans

Well, so much for taking off work today. To add insult to injury, I'll have to work at least part of the weekend as well. I should be and am grateful for a job, though, seeing as my place of employment is experiencing the same economic woes as so many others. They laid off four people yesterday, something I've never seen in the 11-1/2 years I've worked here. People have been let go for poor performance, but never just to downsize. It makes for jittery times, especially thinking about the possibility of a different job.

I don't anticipate being let go. I've been here almost since the beginning and would probably only lose my job if the company itself went down. I just know that nothing is forever and nothing is guaranteed. So being prepared is important. 

But it's also important to have a bit of a life, and to that end, I'm planning to attend the annual Showcase of Art in downtown Elkhart. I haven't been for a good 6 or 7 years, so I'm way past due. I'm looking forward to it, and the weather is supposed to be picture perfect.

Work can wait, I think, while I enjoy some great art from regional artists. 

Illustration shown is the Showcase of Art logo

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


iTunes recently released version 8 and my husband, being the techno savvy guy that he is, immediately took advantage of its new features. One of the coolest and most hyped is something called "Genius". With it, you have a new sidebar that suggest songs you don't own based on the one you're playing at the moment, under the guise of "introducing you to new music" when we all know they're really "wanting you to buy a bunch of new songs."

The best part though, is the "Genius Playlist". You pick a song and click on the Genius button—it's in the bottom right corner and looks like an atom illustration. Genius looks through your library of music and grabs songs that are similar to the one selected. Obviously the larger your library, the more varied your Genius lists will be.

Dwight has a lot of songs in his library. And by "a lot" I mean like A LOT a lot. To put it mildly. He loves music and is constantly picking up new songs, making playlists for parties, for running or just hanging out. What prompted me to post about this, though, is the list playing right now.

It's awesome.

He picked Witchy Woman (or "Witchaay Woman" if you prefer) and let Genius put together a playlist. OMG, it's so great! More Eagles songs of course, like Heartache Tonight, but also Fat Bottomed Girls, Hungry Like the Wolf and Rosanna.

When Rosanna came on, I said (yelled, really), "THIS IS AWESOME!"
Dwight called from the basement, "What?"
Me: "Rosanna!"
D: "I know!"

It's got Eric Clapton, CCR, Elton John, Blondie, Alanis Morissette, Matchbox 20, Police and Fleetwood Mac, among others. He is SO burning me a copy of this playlist!

You're gonna hafta face it, you're addicted to love.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday Monday

Every other day of the week is fiiiiine, yeah.

It's a soggy Monday, that's for sure. According to the news this morning, we received 7-9 inches of rain from Friday through Sunday. We started to wonder if someone should be building an ark somewhere. We can't complain too loudly seeing as Ike has wreaked far greater havoc elsewhere.

It felt like a laze-about-the-house kind of weekend, and I was able to do a bit of that yesterday. A good deal of Saturday was spent at work but Sunday was a free day. I mostly puttered around, worked on some illustrations and an invitation for an upcoming party I need to finish planning.

Dwight and I also braved the outdoors and took a short trip to the grocery store. Dwight had a hankerin' for gumbo so we needed some fixins. Aside from soaked shoes and jean hems, I managed not to melt despite my reputation that would suggest otherwise. We capped the day with a soak in the new hot tub—which completely rocks, by the way. I'm sure I'll be dedicating an entire post to it in the near future.

Not a terrible weekend, by any stretch, but I'm sure not feeling all fired up about being back at work, especially since email has been down all morning. I like that it's been a whole lot quieter than usual, but once it does come back up, it's going to be ugly.

Even though it's only Monday, I'm already thinking ahead to the weekend. Maybe I can talk D-Town into taking Friday off. I'll give it a shot, anyway!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Last Hoorah

Click on image for larger view

It's time to go back to the library. I'll probably check out a few new books, but these are on their way back, ready for another eager baker.

I've already posted about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I made a total of three recipes from this book, and my favorite by far, was the challah. My latest recipe is sitting in the fridge right now.

It's a combination of a couple of recipes, incorporating whole wheat flour and wheat bran. The dough is drier than I expected and it is very dense. I think I need to let it rise longer than normal after shaping. After almost 2 hours, my first loaf didn't double in size as I'd hoped. Hopefully I'll have better luck with the next batch.

Unfortunately, I only made one recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours
Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters
They're "three great cookies rolled into one" and sounded darn good. In fact, they were a recent Tuesdays with Dorie recipe selection.

I mixed them up on Sunday and popped the dough in the fridge to chill per the directions. I was telling my husband about them, describing all of the yummy ingredients, and it hit me. "I think I added too much butter," I said.

Too much butter — I'm pretty sure those words shouldn't be used in the same sentence, unless they're proceeded by "There's no such thing as".

On Thursday, I was finally home in time to bake the cookies. I was a little unsure how they'd bake up given the *ahem* enhancement I'd made to the recipe. It was both predictable and surprising. They spread out quite a bit, which was the predictable part, but I hadn't counted on the change in taste. I guess I should have, given the ingredients. Butter + sugar + heat = caramel. In this case, an almost toffee-like flavor. YUM!

The additional surprise discovery was made the next day. The cookies were soft and chewy, not crispy as I expected. My guess is that, since butter isn't the only fat in the recipe (there's 1 cup of peanut butter, too) the chemistry changes, in turn changing the consistency.

Now for the REAL issue—how do they taste?

DUH, they're loaded with butter. Of COURSE they taste great.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Camera Envy

I want a DLSR camera. This one.

I don't need one, I just want one. And for now, that's not a good enough reason. As with any talent, having the best equipment doesn't automatically make you better.

I have $60 tap shoes. I've looked at the custom-made $250+ ones, but what would they do for me? They're certainly not going to tap themselves, so until MY technique improves, I'll stick with the perfectly fine $60 ones.

I see gorgeous photography taken with DLSRs and I think, "Oh, man. If only I had one of those, I could take pictures like that."

Weeellll, not necessarily. Good photography involves a whole lot more than what camera you use. Composition, lighting, controlling depth of field and mastering the basic camera settings are the only ways to get really great images. And you don't need a fancy camera to do that. Sure, you don't have the same kinds of controls with a point and shoot as you do with a DSLR, but the one I have is sophisticated enough to get me by. I just need to take the time to practice those things I listed before.

I've been through flickr admiring so many good images, and have been stunned on more than one occasion to learn that they used a P&S to get the capture. Just goes to show that you can stick a $3000 camera in someone's hands and still get crappy pictures, but put a $300 one in a skilled photographer's hands and you can get gorgeous images.

I can still want one, which I do (the new Nikon D90s just came out so I'm hoping the D80s will go down in price) but I need to pound into my brain that when/if I do get one, I won't magically become a great photographer. Just like the $250 tap shoes won't make me a great dancer. Only practice will do that.

Guess I should go practice both - just not at the same time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Cranberries - Not Just for Thanksgiving

I'm not sure why I decided to make fresh cranberry relish in the middle of the summer, but I like to think it was a sign of my peculiar brand of genius. That is, random and all in my head.

But I did make it and instantly declared it a new favorite. I've made it three times since that first random inspiration and have decided that it's perfect for the summer—or early fall, as the case may be. Bright, sharp, refreshing—delicious.

So I was rifling through the freezer looking for some ground beef to thaw and saw the two bags of cranberries I'd picked up when they were on sale a few weeks ago and decided to chop up a batch of relish for the coming week. I love it plain but it's perfect in yogurt. I also like to add half a scoop of vanilla flavored protein powder to the yogurt for extra nutritional oomph and awesome flavor.

Here's the recipe, and I use that term very loosely:

2 small apples of choice (I use galas)
1 bag of cranberries
teaspoon of lemon juice
1/3 cup Splenda or sugar — more or less to taste
1 small can mandarin oranges (One time I added mandarin oranges and it was absolutely perfect. It's too bad I keep forgetting to pick up more cans so I can add them each time. Note to self: add mandarin oranges to shopping list.)

Quarter and seed apples and shred in a food processor. Rinse and drain cranberries; change to the chopping blade and process for about 15 - 20 seconds. Combine fruit in medium bowl; add juice and Splenda/Sugar. Drain oranges and roughly chop by hand or quickly pulse in the food processor. Mix all together and enjoy. I would assume this would keep in the fridge for a while, but it's never lasted more than a few days for me - I eat it way too quickly.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fall is Knocking

To paraphrase Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, "My! Seasons come and go so quickly here."

Just a week ago we were enjoying some unseasonably hot weather. Summer still seemed in full swing. But as often happens here, mother nature decided to pull back the curtain and reveal that, yes indeed, Dorothy—I mean, Kelly—summer is at an end.

It's not like it's suddenly 60 degrees and we're busting out jackets and sweaters. We're enjoying gorgeous weather. It's just that feeling, like a switch has flipped and things are changing.

Don't get me wrong—I love the fall. Cooler temps, opening the windows and abandoning the AC; the turning of the leaves and the glorious scents associated with it—spice, warmth, apples. But it's so painfully short. Summer might seem like it passes in the blink of an eye, but fall often does. It quickly gives way to the pall of winter—bare, cold, dark.

But let's not think about that right now. No sense borrowing trouble, as they say. For now, I'll relish the present and enjoy this changing of the guard.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Adventures with Challah Dough

I keep seeing recipes and references to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François as I wander through the foodie blogosphere. I'd put it on my mental "must read" list and finally remembered to pick it up on my latest visit to the library.

I decided to make the challah recipe found on page 180. As written, the recipe makes four loaves (which is what I did), but you can halve or double as needed. The dough was a cinch to make. I whipped it up in just a few minutes on a Thursday night, letting it go through the first rise as I went about my business. Right before heading to bed, I popped the container in the fridge, ready for shaping and baking at my next whim.

For my first of four recipes, I decided to make cinnamon rolls, assembled Friday night, ready to bake for Saturday morning breakfast. I pulled them out of the fridge when I got up to make my first cup of coffee. Once they came out of the oven—and infused the whole house with cinnamony-goodness—I made a simple glaze of powdered sugar, milk, melted butter and maple flavoring, and it added a nice flavor and bit of extra sweetness.

They were fantastic. I promise any future house guests that these will be on the menu during their stay. But you'd better hurry...they're going fast!

My second and third recipes were actual challah loaves, one traditional, the other with dried cranberries and chopped walnuts.

Here are the two loaves after the second rise, ready for the egg wash.

Here they are about 15 seconds out of the oven. Gorgeous.

Not only do they look—and smell—good, they taste phenomenal. I've made challah before, but these blew my previous attempts out of the water.

I have one last portion of the dough, full of potential, waiting in the fridge. I wonder that I should do with it?

Addendum: I ended up making an apple spice challah that was absolutely delicious. I left my camera at my parent's house, so I couldn't document it, but here's the scoop.

I diced up half of a small gala apple, to which I added a copious amount of Penzey's Cake Spice (which is heavenly). I kneaded the spice coated apples into the dough, divided into thirds, braided and followed the rest of the bread process. So good.

I see myself making this challah dough on a regular basis and using it in many ways!
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