Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas Lights Party Bus Tour

As a treat to the family, my mother took all of us on a Christmas Light tour in a party bus. We had a fun time.
We go down and see the City and County building every year. Here I am with Ethan and my mom.
Ellie's friend, Christy, came along, too.

I've passed this house many times during the year and never noticed it. You can tell that they love doing the displays.
This is another part of their yard.

The man who lives here has a lab named Daisy who rides in a cage attached to his Harley. They go to Sturgus together each year. Daisy and Bob were happy to greet everyone who came to see their display.

This family made a diorama or two every year. Each one represents some aspect of their lives. The husband is a carpenter and the wife collects dolls. They both seem to love the trains. They've been decorating like this for 29 years.
I think I liked this box best.

The trains were fun, too.

Here's his son's house just a half a block away.

And a little video to set off the day:

Friday, December 30, 2011

Zoo Lights - A Lovely Date with My Husband

Christmas lights are my favorite non-people part of Christmas. Last night my husband and I went to the Denver Zoo to take in the glow of the season. It was a perfect evening. Cool enough to feel like wintertime, with just a slight breeze, but not so cold as to be uncomfortable.

We arrived a bit early to see who would be out. Not a lot of animals were walking around. They were mostly interested in watching for the dinner time delivery. Many of the enclosures had Christmas trees. The Rhinos like to eat theirs.

The birds seemed the happiest. I had never noticed the giant swans before. We watched them for a long while. There was a goose who wanted to tell me all about it, even as its dinner sat untouched.
The penguins seemed pleased, too.

We were surprised at how many people were there. The zoo closed at 4:00 and the Zoo Lights started at 5:00. It was kind of magical to watch it all unfold and notice all of the glorious colors.
There were lighted arches where you could take your photo.
Many of the light sculptures had motion.
This was one of my favorites. There was a big tree dressed in a similar fashion. The lights faded from white to red. There was a clever display that looked like a Yeti was tromping through the trees, complete with the sound of foot steps in the hardpacked snow. The red eyes are the last thing to fade in that display.

A Small Hallway Enlightened

We have a small, pivotal hallway in our home where three rooms and a stairway intersect.

It had been left white - uncharacteristic for our house. For the last 19 years I have simply be uninspired to do something about it.

However, Ellie, my girl with creativity and drive, was inspired. So much so that she spent a few days before Christmas painting it. I think the colors she had in her head were different than what was in her head, but in the end we all love what she created. It feels so much more inviting now.

I wonder what her next project will be. The two of us have ideas for my bedroom, but they have not come together as of yet.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Lighted Headboard - a Special Gift For My Girl

Every year I try to make a special gift for each person in our family. As the kids get older, it has become more of a challenge to find the right thing to make. Ellie, being the teenage girl that she is, loves to redecorate her room. She has a talent for it, too. (It's true - I would say this even if she was not my daughter.) She has wanted a headboard for her bed for a long time and Christmas lights are one of her favorite things.
From: (very basic instructions)

When I stumbled upon this light up board, I was set on fire. I knew instantly that this was the direction I needed to go. I also knew that those kinds of things are always harder and more expensive than they look. In my excitement I drew up a sketch of what I wanted to do.

I tromped down to the wood shop teacher at my school and asked for his advice. John is wonderful that way. He never poop-poops my ideas, but gently grounds me in reality. He said that it would be an easy project. I would need to get a special drill bit to deal with putting holes in the Lexan. I would also need special screws called furrows so that they would look nice.

Next up, I went to our robotics teacher, Daryl, who is an equally wonderful guy. We had a chat about the virtues of plexiglass versus Lexan (polycarbonite).He invited me down to have lunch in the electronics room. In the interim he pulled out a small strip of each of the materials. He did a hand-on demonstration of the difference. Lexan is a wonderful, nearly shatter proof product. Plexiglass can be broken. Both can be easily treated with sandpaper to make it frosted. The catch was the cost. A sheet of plexiglass for my project, measuring 39" x 24" would be about $26 (I had a special birthday coupon from Ace Hardware and got it for half off.) whereas the Lexan would have been around $67. Since we had to buy not one, but two sets of snow tires and two dental crowns last month, I knew which option I had to take. It would be the plexiglass, but I was okay with that. No one would be sitting on or hammering the headboard; it would be a safe option. Daryl also demonstrated how I could take an orbital sander with 220 grit sandpaper and frost the surface. I could take out any patterns from that process by repeating the process with a much finer grit of sandpaper. Thank God for such great and helpful people in my life! These friends armed me with knowledge and the confidence that I needed to move forward.

Now, this new found knowledge is good, but I still needed more help. That help came in the form of my father-in-law, Don. He is a great woodworker. We have many lovely things that he has made for the kids over the years. I sent him the link I offered above. I also shared my sketch and away we went. Don, being the creative type that he is, redesigned it so that the plexiglass would not sit on the surface, but would sit in grooves instead. He sent me off to Jordan's Building Center with a list of what I needed: 2 2"x4"x8' pine boards, 1 piece heat temptered hardboard and a bunch of specific kinds of screws. We hauled that into the basement and away he went. When I returned the next time, Don had it mostly constructed and stained. Some of the measurements were off, so we had the plexiglass recut. I spent time frosting the plexiglass and then holding various parts together while he put in the screws. Originally we were going to install two verticl brace, but those did not work. He applied a small, wooden block to keep the plexiglass from bowing too much. I took three sets of special white Christmas lights with little faceted globes around each light and set to work attaching them with gluedots. (They are a wonderful, thick, sticky dot that was perfect for the application.)It was more challenging than I expected to make them random. My eyes and hands wanted to make them evenly spaced. In the end it took much longer to get done than we had expected, of course. (One should estimate the time for a given project and multiply that by 4 to get a real time estimate!) However, I am ever so pleased with the outcome. It felt really good to do that project. I needed that to help move away from the stress of getting everything ready for Christmas and tap into my creative side instead. I think it was good for Don, too. He seemed to enjoy having a special project to work on. I am thankful that I have such a great father-in- law who loves his grandchildren.

I was gitty with excitement to give her the gift. I had hoped that it would have been a complete surprise, but it was not. Ellie had started to move her bed into her loft when her dad stopped her. His remarks led her to guess what the big project that grandpa and I were doing was. I thought surely that she could not guess that it was a light up board, but somehow she guess that it involved lights, too. I don't know what she thought it might look like, but she is oh so clever and sly like that - kind of figuring out my surprise for her! Anyway, I dispensed with trying to hide it. The headboard was too large to stow away in my van without notice and it seemed silly to schlep it to the basement. Instead, we threw a blue sheet over it and called it good. Christmas morning Larr plugged it in and we waited the kids to stumble down the stairs to begin the holiday. Ellie seemed to like her present, thought I think I was way more excited than she was. I am an exuberant person, she is much more restrained. She installed it that very morning. One or two of the lights came free from its gluedot, but otherwise it traveled beautifully. She brought everyone up to her room to see her new stuff for her room. This included the lighted headboard, the new grey and white curtains I made for her windows and the cool light up Flamingo lamp that her dad got for her. My girl's room is stylin'!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Relaxing in the Post Christmas Glow

I have a small confession to make- as fun as Christmas is, I think I like it best once we have arrived at Christmas morning and begun the day. I might even enjoy the days after even more. I have a good time decorating, baking, making presents and going to parties, but I love the relaxation after it is all over. My house is mostly clean. The presents have been completed and there are less demands on my time. I have certain traditions, like listening to or seeing "The Christmas Carol" or reading "The Cat Who Came for Christmas" by Cleveland Amory, but they often have to wait until after Christmas so that there is time to focus on and enjoy them, instead of feeling like I am stealing time away from something else that I should be preparing.

We hosted the Christmas festivities at our house this year. It was a big change from the past. We used to have a special breakfast and open presents here at home, but then go to Don and Eleanor's house for Christmas Dinner and extended family time. I contributed several things to that dinner (usually rolls, a side dish and a bushe de noel for dessert) but the time there was very relaxing. After Eleanor died three years ago we kept a similar schedule, though I cooked much of the meal, the other families brought food to the party as well, and we all relxed at Don's house. His house works well for that kind of party. This year he was not up for that so it happened here. We cleaned the house and set tables in three rooms, with five people at folding tables in the living room, three at the craft room table and five or six in the big room at our usual dinner table. We moved out some of the furniture to make room for it all. I was worried that we would all feel seperated, but it worked out well. Every one seemed to have a good time. With Ethan, Evan and Anna all 18 years old, post high school plans were discussed. The boys spent some time together. Ethan and Evan talked skateboarding and long boarding well into the night. My cousin, Marianne, and I also had a chance to have quality time together.

Ham and Potato Soup

3 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup diced cooked ham
3 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground white or black pepper, or to taste
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk

Combine the potatoes, celery, onion, ham and water in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken bouillon, salt and pepper.
In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour with a fork, and cook, stirring constantly until thick, about 1 minute. Slowly stir in milk as not to allow lumps to form until all of the milk has been added. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until thick, 4 to 5 minutes.
Stir the milk mixture into the stockpot, and cook soup until heated through. Serve immediately.

Split Pea Soup

1 pound Split Peas, dried, rinsed and cleaned
8-10 cups Water
Ham Bone
Extra Ham (at lest 1 pound, diced or cubed)
3/4 cup Carrot, thinly sliced
3/4 cup Carrots, thinly sliced
1 Onion, diced
1 1/2 tea. Thyme
3 Bay Leaves
1 1/2 tea. Parsley (optional)
1/2 tea. Smoke Flavoring (optional)
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
Salt and Pepper to taste

Put the ingredients in the slow cooker or in a large stew pot. Cook slowly until the peas have softened. I cook my soup overnight in the crock pot.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Tinkling Lights of "Silent Night" and Ushering in the Holiday Season, plus a few fun recipes.

Today was a day for finishing handmade presents and prepping for Christmas. We will be hosting the party and the dinner at our house this year. It has been a lot of work, but I am pleased with how it has all pulled together.

Every Christmas eve early evening is spent at my mother's house where she hosts an annual party. When I was little it was the meeting spot for the neighborhood, and what a bustling place it was. Walt and Audra, an adorable old couple, lived nearby. They would waddle, hand in hand, from their house to ours. They would have gussied themselves up,both of them wearing a little too much of Audra's perfume. But we did not mind. It was fun just to watch them take note of everything, like they had not seen it before. They would savor every bit of the food they were served. They would beckon us over, one by one, and ask us about our year, what we had enjoyed, what we hoped for in the new year. They would pat us on the head or shoulder, lean in for a quick hug and press two quarters into the palm of our hands. One of them died and the other followed quickly. We missed them, a whole where their glow had been, each year at the party. I imagine that I carved out some distance as I became a teen-ager. One of the constants was going to the candle light service with my mother. I knew all of the songs by heart, every verse they had us embrace. I knew the story by heart, but listened to it each year, as if it were new to me. My favorite part was when the lights would be dimmed and we would light our small candles. We would softly sing "Silent Night" as the candles twinkled. When the kids were smaller we went to church, alternating from year to year, which grandparent we would accompany. Some years I would miss the service, being too drawn up in the frenzy of Christmas day preparations to take time to attend the special service. This year, though there was still much to do at home, I went to church with my mother and my sister's boys. We have had a big snow storm of late, so the older crowd did not make it in. They simply could not make it through the snow. The gathering was small, but sincere. Nelson, a man who had introduced me to many adventures when I was in the youth club at church, sang several songs beautifully. As he sang, I could not help but think of my first camping trip and ski trip he helped make possible. I watched as an elderly mother leaned into her elderly son, his arms around his family, as they sang "Silent Night"with all of their hearts, swaying to the tune. Near the end of the song he raised up his candle in honor and praise of the event. I was thankful to witness it. Going to church with my mother was the very thing I needed. We held hand through most of the service, my heart thankful that she is my mother.

Back on the home front the rest of my little family put up a few more decorations, set three separate tables for dinner and helped me feel more ready for the holiday. Ellie had taken several things from my craft room table and hung them up. It was a good way to usher in the actual holiday. I spent a bit more time making a few last items for our party tomorrow.


1 tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. water
1 c. milk
a bit of vanilla, if desired
Combine cocoa, sugar, and water in a small saucepan. Heat it on low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the paste from sticking to the pan. After about 1 to 2 minutes, add milk and vanilla. Mix it all together until it reaches your preferred temperature.

Ellie tops this lovely hot chocolate with a pile of whipped cream, a few colorful sprinkles and a few chocolate shavings.

Russian Tea Cookies (Also known as Mexican Wedding Cookies)
via Shared
makes about 4 dozen cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped/coarsely ground pecans

Toast pecans in oven at 400 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Or, if lazy (like me) or always in a hurry (like me), take the easy route and toast them in the toaster oven for 2-3 minutes. Using an electric mixer, beat butter on medium speed in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon and salt. Slowly add dry mixture to wet mixture, beating until well blended. Mix in pecans with a wooden spoon.

Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough with palms into 1-inch balls. Arrange balls on large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake cookies until light golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 16-18 minutes. Check cookies throughout baking to be sure not to over bake. If baked too long, bottoms will burn and cookies will be very dry.

Pour 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar in pie dish. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in powdered sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Roll cookies in powdered sugar again once cooled. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough, or reserve remaining powdered sugar and freeze dough for later use. Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature. For extra powdered sugar on your cookies, save leftover powdered sugar and sift over cookies just before serving.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie
(inspired by the recipe found on The Pioneer Woman)
2 TBL Butter
12 oz. (about 21/2 cups) Fresh Cranberries
1 cup Pecans (or Walnuts)Chopped
2/3 cups Sugar
1 cup Flour (Whole Wheat Flour works nicely)
2/3 cup Sugar
1 stick Butter, melted
2 whole Eggs, Lightly Beaten
1 teaspoon Pure Almond Extract
1 Tablespoon Sugar For Sprinkling

Preparation Instructions

*Adapted from a recipe by Laurie Colwin*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Generously butter a cake pan or pie pan. Add cranberries to the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle on chopped pecans, then sprinkle on 2/3 cup sugar. Mix this around to combine nicely.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, 1 cup sugar, melted butter, eggs, almond extract, and salt. Stir gently to combine. It will be very thick.

Place the batter over the top of the cranberry mixture. Spread gently if necessary.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Five minutes before removing from oven, sprinkle surface with 1 tablespoon sugar for a little extra crunch.

Magic Spinach Ring

1 box frozen Spinach, thawed and drained
1 egg
Seasonings to taste = salt, pepper, garlic, dried onion, cayenne pepper, basil, etc.
1 pound Swiss Cheese, grated
2 packages Pilsbury Crescent Rolls (I think the Garlic ones are best)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix the spinach with the egg and season to your liking. Add the grated cheese.Unwrap the crescent rolls, using them to form a star on your baking sheet. Mold the center of the star to hold the spinach mix. Scoop the spinach mixture to form a circle, twist up the crescent roll dough into the center and press into place. Bake for 45 minutes. Let it rest for 15 minutes before serving and enjoy!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Making Cookies with Friends (Plus a few recipes for cookies, frosting and chili)

We love to decorate cookies during the Christmas season. Some years it is my friends and I making fancy, intricate gingerbread snowflakes. Other years it is a wild explosion of colors in the form of copious amounts of buttercream frosting and a festival of sprinkles.

This was one such year. We had some young friends over earlier this week to enjoy dinner and some time together.

Jack, David, Christy and Ellie seemed to have a good time.

Each kid had his or her own style of decorating their cookies. Ellie only made a few, but they were nice.

Christy seemed happy to develop a Sponge Bob theme in her decorating.

Jack was very industrious, cranking out more cookies than the other kids. He seemed to have a lot of fun.

David spent some time decorating and some time visiting with Larr. He, too seemed to have a good time. Here he is with his zombie snowman cookie.

Gina, Connie and I took the chance to visit. I liked talking about knitting with Gina. SHe has two shawls in the works, aiming for Christmas.

It is definitely my favorite sugar cookie recipe. It is not too sweet and has a nice crumb in the mouth, but holds together nicely for decorating.

Sugar Cookie Recipe
from: Sweetopia blog


2 1/2 cups butter (at room temperature)

2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

seeds from 1 vanilla bean (or 3 tsp vanilla)

5 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1. Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer on low to medium speed. (Use the paddle attachment). Mix until thoroughly incorporated – for about one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula and mix again for a few seconds more.

Over mixing the butter and sugar in this step will cause too much air to be incorporated into the dough. If you’d like a light and fluffy cookie, that’s ideal, however the dough will spread more during baking; not ideal if you’d like the cookie to hold its shape.

2. Add eggs slowly and mix. Scrape down the bowl with your spatula at least once and mix again.

3. Cut open your vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out. Add to mixing bowl. Alternatively, add liquid vanilla extract. Stir briefly.

4. Sift your dry ingredients together. (Flour, baking powder and salt).

5. Add all of the flour mixture to the bowl. Place a large tea towel or two small tea towels between the edge of the bowl and the electric mixer so that the flour won’t escape. Mix on low speed for 3o seconds. Remove the tea towels and observe the dough mixing; when it clumps around the paddle attachment it’s ready. It’s also important at this stage not to over mix the dough (the glutens in the flour develop and the dough can become tough).

6. Roll the dough out between 2 large pieces of parchment paper. Place on a baking sheet and into the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour.

7. Roll out the dough further if you need to, and cut out cookie shapes. Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Re-roll scraps and repeat.

8. Put cookie dough shapes back into the fridge for 10 minutes to 1 hour to chill again. They will then hold their shape better when baked.

9. Preheat your oven to 350°F or 176°C.

10. Bake cookies for 8-12 minutes or until the edges become golden brown. The baking time will depend on the size of your cookie.

11. Let cookies cool to room temperature and decorate!


Royal Icing Using Egg Whites:

2 large egg whites

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

3 cups (330 grams) confectioners (powdered or icing) sugar, sifted

For Royal Icing with Egg Whites: In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the egg whites with the lemon juice. Add the sifted powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined and smooth. The icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.


Butter Cream Frosting
from:the Created By Diane Blog

1 cup butter

1 cup shortening

6 cups powdered sugar

2-4 Tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract. if you are making white frosting use clear vanilla.

Beat butter with mixer until pale and fluffy, add sugar and milk along with extract mix until smooth and creamy.

*If the weather is super hot, over 100 and I’m afraid the buttercream will be a mess, I sometimes use all shortening.

**If I want a very rich butter taste, I use all butter and no shortening.

*** for Chocolate Buttercream I use ½ to 1 cup of unsweetened cocoa in place of some powdered sugar.

(I made this recipe up with stuff I had at home as I did not want to go out in the snow.)

2 pounds Ground Beef
1/2 Onion, chopped
3 Garlic cloves, minced
2 cans Busch's Beans
1 can Tomato Soup
1 cup Water
3 tea. Beef Bouillon
2-3 TBL. Basil, dried
1 tea. Cumin
1-2 tea. Chili Powder (depending on how spicy you like it)
1-1.5 tea. Smoked Paprika
1-2 cups Corn, frozen or canned

Brown the beef, pouring off excess fat. Saute the onion and garlic with the beef. Add in the remaining ingredients. Simmer for at 30 minutes. Serve with crackers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cyclocross Season Ends with a Plop, Instead of Bang (Sort of)

Sunday was the Colorado Cyclocross Championship. It brought out a lot of serious competition. People who have been spending their time doing out of town races, or other things, set time aside to do this race. Ellie's competition was stiff. The day was unseasonably warm and the ground was muddy, consistency of peanut butter, or so I'm told. It was a nice, of odd, change from the super cold weather we had been experiencing.

The girls got off to a fast uphill start. Ellie was right in the middle of the pack. She came around for the first lap, but then I did not see her again. I knew that if she was hurt, the network of parents would find and inform me. Instead, I waited at the top of the hill where I could see most of the course, though some parts were obscured by gently hills. It was on the back side of one of those hills that Ellie managed to hit the ground. I am not sure what she did, but whatever it was, it made her seat wonky and rendered her bike unridable. After the previous race when she broke her derailer hanger, our mechanics, Bruce and Walt, tuned up her bike and trued her wheels. It had not occured to any of us to check her seat. Anyway, she tightened the screws that hold the seat rails to the bike by hand and rode it to the pit, being sure not to sit on the actual seat. Once there, a network of dads gathered up her bike, found a multitool and the proper tool within to tighten the seat back on. Maxl offered his bike for her use, but she politely declined as she was afraid that she might break something on his bike. (Later we realized that he has a different kind of shifters, so that would have taken some learning anyway.) This all took a while and by the time she was good to go, Ellie would not podium. She finished the lap and called it good. She was disappointed to not be able to ride the course more as she said that it was a fun course, but her attitude was good. I was thankful for her good attitude. She managed to get through most of the season without technical difficulties. It is odd that she had two in a row. Perhaps it was a sign that it was good that the end of the season had arrived. In the end she did not podium at the state championship, but she did win the Colorado 2011 Cyclocross Cup award.

We had a quiet ride home. I adimred the sunset. Ellie rested. We listened to Christmas music. We capped it off by stoping at the carwash so that we could clean up the van and the bike.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My brother-in-law Doug loves to have fun and he loves a good meal. Therefore, he always treats us to a great meal somewhere every time he visits. This time was no exception. In fact, I think I might even have a new favorite restuarant - Vesta Dipping Grill.

We were going to go to a wonderful gumbo joint, but found that it had closed - what a bummer! A friend of mine had raved about Vesta, so we decided to give it a go.

It is a very hip place. The bathrooms were even cool. The table was a giant slap of round concrete. The lighting was funky and the feel was a bit classy industrial.

We started out with appetizers such as golden ponzu shrimp(soy butter, jalapeno ponzu*, sambal) and chinese bbq pork belly (yuzu mayonnaise, orange, shiso). Along with those small plate items came nearly enless, lovely country bread with a crunch crust and chewy center paired with roasted garlic cloves and nice olive oil. We could have stopped there and I would have been happy.
Next up - dinner. You pick an entree and three dips to go along with it. They offer pairing suggestions, but I wanted to pick my own. Here's what we ordered:

boneless berkshire pork chop
adobada, pulled pork chilaquiles, jalapeno cabbage slaw
SUGGESTED SAUCES: salsa verde**, mango poblano salsa, roasted corn

jalapeno grilled tofu
sweet chili carrot puree, white soy kimchi
SUGGESTED SAUCES: korean garlic bbq, tamarind chipotle**, green chili gastrique

sofrito braised short rib
manchego polenta, garlic rainbow chard, smoked paprika jus
SUGGESTED SAUCES: green chili gastrique*, bacon aioli, steuben's chimichurri

They were all wonderful! And can you believe that we ordered dessert, too?!
Yuzu French Toast (made from Brioche bread, served warm)
cinnamon ice cream, vanilla whipped cream, caramel sauce

Sticky Toffee Pudding
with vanilla whipped cream and tuile cookies
dipping sauces:
hot fudge, creme anglaise, strawberry cointreau

Matty's Wacky Apple Pie
caramel dipped apple rolled in sweet crunch served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup
dipping sauces:
hot fudge, creme anglaise, strawberry cointreau

Speaking of wacky, we asked them a bunch of wacky questions which they were happy to answer. I asked every person who came to the table what their current favorite from the menu was. Larr and Ethan wanted to know how much the tabled weighted. We tried to guess at what the building had been used for in the past. We asked about things hanging int he kitchen and about their other restuarant, Stubens. It was a whole lot of fun - you should try it out! Yeah!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Making The Best of It - A Nice Sunday Stroll with a Bike on Her Shoulder

Cyclocross racing is only for those who are tough. It is a sport that demands a lot out of you and often you have to do that when it is bitterly cold, not to mention early in the morning. Sunday was one such day. We were up and on the road before 6:30 a.m. while the rest of the house snoozed on. I am pretty sure that both of us were tempted to turn off the alarm and roll over. However, once we got going, it was nice.
I always enjoy the sunrise and Sunday put on a blue, pink, purple spectacular show. My photo does not even begin to give you an accurate feel for the beauty of it. The moon, not to be outdone, was in its full moon glory. The roads are quiet at that time of the day. The race was in Lyons, which meant we had a little over an hours to get there. Ellie ate her breakfast and then settled in for a snooze until we arrived.

It was colder than it looked, so the kids stayed bundled until the last moment. Ellie got a front row spot from the call-ups and had a good start. The course was a long one. On the farthest corner out she crashed and broke her derailer hanger (thank goodness for those - better to break that, a $25 item, than the derailer a $$$ item.)
Now, she could have simply opted to cut a diagonal pathway through the course and settle with a DNF (Did Not Finish), but she opted instead to walk the course, most of it with her bike propped on her shoulder. I am proud of her for making that choice. She was the only one in her category in this race, so she still came in first place and earned a few more points towards the Boulder Racing series overall standings and the Colorado Cross Cup. I think she actually did it because it was the right thing for her to do. Kathy, her mountain bike coach, and I stood there waiting and wondering where she was. Once we knew she'd was okay, Kathy retreived her own bike so that Ellie could get it out of the pit and continue with the race. I was thankful for that gesture and for the fact that Tim, the head official, let Ellie call it a finish.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This Day Bought to You By Sugar, Butter and Corn Syrup or Making Candy with The Cures

The Cures are an instant party. Last year Aaron arrived at our house with a gift of homemade candy. I think there must have been at least 7 different kinds. I was so impressed with his caramels that I knew I needed to make candy with this man.
Sherry and Katie were there to cheer us on and help. It turns out that Katie is a lot of help.
Thankfully, he invited me to make candy with him this year.

You may need to adjust the temperatures when making candy. For every 1,000 above sea level that you are at, subtract 2 degrees. Thus, in Denver I will go to 240 degrees, instead of 250 degrees to make caramels.

Be sure to make adjustments for your altitude.

Here's what the thread stage looks like when making candy.

Aaron's (Endstrom's) Almond Toffee

2 c. Sugar
1 c. Water
1 pound Butter (absolutely MUST be at room temperature)
2 Large Hershey's Chocolate Bars (4.4 oz each)(Aaron actually uses 4 bars)
1 Almonds ground and whole (Use the food processor to break the almonds into small parts, processing them 1/3rd at a time.)

Lightly butter 2 9x13 baking pans. Fill sinks with cold water. Unwrap butter. Place sugar water in heavy pan at hottest heat until syrup spins a thread.(Do not stir while it is cooking - this will cause sugar crystals.) Add 1 cube of butter and stir til melted. Add remaining sticks one at a time and melt each completely. (It is important that the mix does not stop boiling.) Add whole almonds and continue stirring and cooking until almonds are toasted. Candy will be a dark tan and will pull away from the sides and bottom of the pan.(It will feel a bit like wet sand at this point.) Melt chocolate in double boiler.(Chocolate can be melted in microwave very carefully.) If candy starts to smoke lift pan from burner rather than lowering the heat. Pour into the two pans and set in cold water. Spread of chocolate over each pan and sprinkle with ground almonds. Using your fingers quickly flip over the candy chocolate and almonds will now be on bottom of pan spread the remaining chocolate on the top of the candy and sprinkle with rest of ground almonds. Allow to mellow at room temp do not refridgerate for about 2-3 days.

This is a famous recipe made in Grand Junction Colorado. They send millions of pounds around the world. Before the store began Mr. Endstrom taught a candy making class for the county and gave out this recipe.

Aaron's Aunt Mabel's Caramels

2 c. Sugar
2 c. Karo syrup
1/4 tsp Salt (Table Salt)
1/2 c. Butter (Sweet Cream Salted Butter)
2 c. Heavy Whipping Cream

Boil sugar syrup and salt stirring occasionally. When syrup is very thick add butter and gradually add 2 c. cream dont stop boiling and stirring while adding cream or will curdle. Cook to firm ball stage (235 degrees in Denver) add nuts and/or coconut. Pour in buttered 2 qt. pan to harden. When cool cut and wrap in plastic wrap.

Aaron's Aunt Myrtle Cinnamon Glass

4 c. Sugar
2 c. Water
1 c. White Corn Syrup
1 tsp. Red Food Coloring
1-2 tsp. Cinnamon Oil (This may have to be purchased through a pharmacy or a high end cookware shop.)

Combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in a heavy kettle. Stir to combine over high heat and then leave it along. Do NOT stir ever Boil rapidly to hard crack stage (Cook to 290 degrees in Denver, instead of 300). Add 1 tsp Red Food Color. Add 1-2 Tsp Cinnamon Oil at the very end, after you've removed it off of the heat and it has cooled slightly. You'll need to be careful as the oil will boil up, which means you need to hold your face back. (It will cook off it you add it too quickly. You may also want to make sure that you have good ventilation because the cinnamon oil will smell up the room quickly.)
Pour quickly onto greased cookie sheet.

(For licorice use approx tsp. green color and 2 tsp anise oil or a little more.)


Peanut or Cashew Brittle

1 c. Sugar
1/2 c. Light Corn Syrup
1 c. Peanuts or Cashew Roasted, Salted
1 tsp Butter (Salted)
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Baking Soda

IN 1 1/2 quart casserole, combine sugar and syrup. Microwave on high for 3 minutes, or cook it on the stove in a heavy pan. Add nuts so that they may roast. Once the cool changes to a bit of brown, add in the butter. Add butter and vanilla; stir well. Add baking soda and gently stir until light and foamy. Pour onto a buttered cookie / jelly roll pan. Cool 30 minutes to 1 hour. Once cool, break it into small pieces.

Lovely Fudge

3 lg Hersey Bars
1 12 oz pkg. semi-sweet chips
1 jar marshmallow cream
1 tbl. Butter
1 lb. broken nuts pecans walnuts or almonds
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix all except nuts in a 6-8 qt. container and set aside.

1 c. sugar
1 can evaporated milk

Mix in 4-6 qt. saucepan. Bring to boil and cook for 6 minutes then pour over remaining ingredients and went until smooth and creamy. After mixture is completely blended add nuts. Let stand 4-6 hours or until completely chilled. Makes 6 pounds.

White Chocolate Fudge

2 c. sugar
1 c. evaporated milk
1 pt. jar marshmallow cream or 24 lg. marshmallows
stick butter
12 oz. white chocolate broken up
1 c. chopped nuts
1 4oz container of candied cherries or use maraschino cherries cut and drained well

Bring sugar milk and butter to boil over low heat. Cook to medium soft ball stage. Stir frequently remove from heat and add marshmallows white chocolate pieces and nuts. Add cherries after chocolate and marshmallows are melted. Pour into butter dish.
May substitute 6 oz. bitter chocolate for the cherries and add vanilla

Peanut Butter Fudge

1 powdered sugar
1 can evaporated milk
4 squares dark chocolate
1 tbl. Karo syrup

Cook VERY slowly bring to a boil then turn down heat never let it boil fast in heavy saucepan for AT LEAST 2 hours uncovered stirring once in a while until mixture forms a firm ball in cold water. When done add 1 jar of marshmallow cream and 1 c. peanut butter. Beat until well mixed then pour in buttered 8x10 pan.

Cherry Chocolate Candy
(Tastes like Cherry Mash)

2 c. sugar
2/3 c. evap milk
Dash salt
12 marshmallows
c. butter
6 oz. cherry chips
1 tsp vanilla
12 oz. chocolate chips
c. peanut butter
1 lg. pkg. salted peanuts crushed (Aaron used cashews instead of peanuts for this recipe.)

Combine sugar milk salt marshmallows and butter in pan. Boil over med heat 5 minutes. Remove from heat add cherry chips and vanilla pour into 9x13 buttered pan. Melt chocolate chips add peanut butter and crushed peanuts. Spread over cherry mixture and chill.