Happy 10th Birthday Alexis!

It's Your Birthday Baby A!

Dear Alexis,

Yesterday you turned 10.

10.

How is that possible?

I normally write a little letter to you on each of your birthdays and post it on my blog. One day you’ll read them all, and I hope you’ll understand how much I love you, how much I have always loved you, how much I will always love you, and what you truly mean to me. Yesterday however, we were out having birthday fun and I didn’t get to write my little missive. Today I’m diving right in!

You got money from various people for your birthday as people tend to do and you couldn’t wait to go buy things. But first you wanted to make sure that you helped others before you spent anything on yourself. When I asked you what you wanted to donate to you replied, “Children and wildlife!” You have such a big heart. I love that about you.

It has been a long year. 2013 hasn’t been good to us as a family, and quite frankly I’m ready for 2014 to roll on in. We started out on January the 2nd with your aunt’s breast cancer diagnosis, we moved, school got all shuffled around, Pop had a heart attack, and that’s just a mere summary. But through it all you’ve kept good spirits. You look for the good, even when bad things happen around you. I hope that you can continue to do this as you grow older. It’s a very good skill to have.

Before you were born I would hear people say you didn’t understand love until you had a child. I used to think that was complete bollocks. I knew children I loved dearly. I loved your father. I loved family. But they were right…the minute I looked at you I was hit by a wave of emotion I had never expected. I loved you instantly, and I thought I had loved you before you were born, but I had no clue what love actually was. You were love.

You want to grow up so fast. I always tell you, “Slow down. Trust me, you’ll grow up all too soon and you’ll wonder where your childhood went.” I wonder where mine went. At 39 I can’t figure out where the time has gone. At 29, when you were born, I thought you’d be small for a long time. 10 years is a long time in some ways I suppose, but it has gone by so quickly! My beautiful baby girl has grown in to my beautiful young tween. Slowing down time is like trying to hold water in your fist…you can try, but it just runs out. And no matter how much I might want to keep you as my little girl, time has other ideas. Enjoy life. Make the time matter. Make the time count.
The Birthday Girl!

Keep your amazing spirit. Keep your love of all things and people around you. Keep being cool. Because you really are cool kid. Really, really cool. And I’m so glad out of all the moms in the world, you picked me.

Love,
Mom

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

First off let me say thank you for all the prayers, good thoughts, emails, etc. that you sent to me for my father. We really appreciate all of you. It meant a lot.

Let me give you a little update….

Daddy ended up having to have a defibrillator inserted in to his chest. The unsettling thing about everything that happened was they could never tell us exactly what happened and why. One thing they were adamant about though was, if it happened once, it would happen again, and we needed a safeguard in place to deal with what may come. Daddy’s slowly regaining strength now that’s he home and allowed to get up and move around. I stayed in Tennessee for the week he was in the hospital and the week after to help out mom and then headed back to Maryland. Alexis and I will be going back to Tennessee in late July/early August to check in. Again, thank you for all the thoughts and emails. Again, they really meant a lot to me.

And now let’s discuss some cinnamon rolls!

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls: Ready to Eat

One day when I was at Mom’s house I was watching the Food Network. I’ll admit it…I highjacked the TV because I was tired of hearing the tripe on Faux News and needed a break. One of the shows in my little marathon Food Network block was was Alton Brown’s.

I love Alton Brown. Most of the time anyway. There have been shows where he’s told you things to do to make the best whatever that I totally disagreed with, but that’s a rare occasion, and as always it’s always good to remember it’s OK to disagree. For the most part he amuses me. His humor and quirky wit are fun to watch. On this day he was making cinnamon rolls. I mean who doesn’t like cinnamon rolls? I’m sure there are those out there who don’t, but I’d say they’re hard to find, and really do we want to do all that searching?

No. Not me!

Anyway…

These cinnamon rolls were amazing to look at. It was one of those times when you wish you had smellavision so you could smell them baking. There’s something so settling and satisfying about smelling cinnamon (or even just dough for that matter) when it’s baking. They were big, fluffy, absolutely awesome just to look at! I found the recipe online and left it open in a window on my iPad browser. I had to make these and yesterday I started the dough.

The dough is made the day before, rises and then you roll the dough out, fill it with the goodness of brown sugar and cinnamon, roll, cut, and put in a baking dish, cover it, and let it rise in the fridge overnight.

Easy peasy.

The next morning you let them rise for 30 minutes in an oven with a dish of boiling water underneath them for 30 minutes, remove and preheat oven to 350 F. Put them back in the preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, ice and eat.

Seriously, what’s not to like about that?

And when they come out of the oven, they’re browned and gooey and perfect!

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls: Ready to Ice

Even the icing loves these rolls! Don’t believe me? Take a look at this heart Alexis found on hers:

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls: Even the Icing Loves These Rolls!

How cool is that?

Try these cinnamon rolls. You’ll love them!

You can find the recipe here.

Pick a Side

Mom and Daddy

Since daddy has been in the hospital all of his tests except for the heart catherization have been in the gray area. The heart cath yesterday showed that there were no blockages in his heart, which while very good news still doesn’t tell us what actually happened. None of the tests have shown the reasons behind what occurred so the only option at this point is a defibrillator being inserted in his chest to give us some of an insurance that next time, if there is one, this would be harder to happen . His doctor teased him and said, “Dude. You’ve got to pick a side!” We all laughed at that. His doctor is awesome.

After we got home I started thinking about picking a side. As we go through life we all have sides..Christian, non-christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Democrat, Republican, one side, the other, up and down. There are sides, and we as humans divide ourselves into categories, with nice little labels that “define” us. (I’ll get in to my thoughts on what defines us at another time. Trust me that’s a long rant, but right now that is irrelevant.) We are each individuals, yet we long for a side.

So I’m going to pick some sides…

I’m picking the side that is against 2013. I’m not sure what side that is yet, maybe I’ll have to make a side myself, but that’s the side I’m picking.

I’m picking the side against my sister having breast cancer. That one is self explanatory.

I’m picking the side against heart problems.

I’m picking the side of puppies and kittens, sun and warmth, ice cream and chocolate, bunnies and chipmunks, oceans and seas, and most definitely any side that keeps my entire family healthy. All of us. That makes us a side too.

I’ve picked my sides.

Have you?

Sometimes Life Throws You Curve Balls

UT Hospital Lobby border=0

Sunday afternoon I got the call I had been dreading for quite a while….

“Hi, it’s mom. We think your daddy had another stroke.”

Pit opened, free fall begin now.

They were at a church potluck. When daddy returned to the table he was carrying the entire pan of brownies from the buffet line and two pieces of cake and Mom knew something wasn’t right. She asked him what he was doing, but he had zoned out like when he had his TIA in November of 2011 and didn’t know what she was saying. My mom went over to a nurse in the room and asked her to come take a look at Daddy. By the time she looked over, Daddy was on his way to his heart stopping and not breathing. Another nurse in the room saw what was happening right as the other started rushing to daddy and they went to work immediately.

The next few hours were an adventure that none of us ever wanted to travel.

Daddy’s heart stopped.

He stopped breathing

CPR was done.

Daddy’s skin turned gray.

He was intubated.

The ambulance came.

He was taken to the local emergency room to be received by an arrogant, incompetent doctor (who will be dealt with at a future time) that acted like my father in fact hadn’t been dead for a few minutes. He wouldn’t listen to my mom…he wouldn’t listen to the paramedics…he wouldn’t listen to the people who were there, that saw what was done. He said nothing was wrong, daddy merely passed out, he never stopped breathing, his heart never stopped. He acted like he hadn’t been intubated or ever in dire straits.

But he did stop breathing, and his heart stopped beating, in a room full of witnesses with two nurses who immediately went to work.

Mom told the doctor she wanted him sent to UT hospital. His response was that UT was full and refused. When he was actually transferred the nurse told us here they never refused patients.

Monday morning came and we got a new doctor. He looked at daddy’s EKG and told mom right off the bat, “He had a heart attack. There’s no way you can look at this and not see that. We’re going to transfer him to UT. We can’t care for this here.”

Monday morning I drove down to Tennessee not knowing what would await me when I got there, but I was determined to get to my mom. At the same time, this week was my sister’s last big chemo treatment and I had planned to be with her to help out. She and I talked about it and decided she had enough friends that could help her if needed and that I needed to go ahead and come help my mom. So I did.

It is 547 miles from my house to my parents. I left at 7:45 Monday morning and got to their house at 4:30 that afternoon.

Sometimes life throws you curve balls and you have to catch them whether you want to or not. 2013 started out on January 2nd throwing us the first major curve ball of my sister’s breast cancer diagnosis. Then we got to move. Now daddy’s having heart problems.

I’m not so fond of 2013 I must say. How about you?

Still

Home Sweet Home

We’re moving.

Still.

It’s been three weeks and even with all the stuff we’ve gotten rid of, and hiring some moving guys, we’re moving crap.

Still.

I teased Jamison the last time we moved and told him if we were moving again he’d have to have get people to come in and have everything packed, moved and cleaned. Granted we did have some moving help, both the hired guys and some very wonderful friends, and the cleaning service is going to clean the other house, but I’m exhausted. I started packing and going through stuff more than 2 months ago. So in moving math that’s almost 3 months of moving.

Moving.

Still.

This time I’m not so much joking…if we move again there will be complete packing and moving service. Heck, I might even have them unpack on the other end. If we move again. And quite frankly folks, that’s a big IF as far as I am concerned, because did I mention we’re moving?

Still.

I finally got to cook a meal in this house on Monday. I had baked Jamison his gluten free peanut butter muffins he eats for breakfast, but we’ve been shuffling back and forth between this house and the old one when he gets off work a lot, and considering he doesn’t get home until 7, there hasn’t been a whole lot of cooking.

I even went wild yesterday and baked banana bread. I swear the banana’s made me do it…they kept whispering, “We’re perfect for banana bread!” and “You really should make some banana bread!” How could I not listen?

On top of all of this I’ve fallen behind in school because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done, because…you guess it…we’re moving.

Still.

But all in all I love the new house. I love my view. I love that my desk is set up to look out over the water. It’s calming to me. Alexis loves it too. Having a lake in the backyard is a novelty that isn’t fading with her. She’s a water child, just like me.

With all of the boxes still here and there, and the unpacked things, and the general chaos, I have moments of complete despair. I don’t function well when things aren’t ordered, and I can’t get it ordered fast enough. We’ll return to regularly scheduled programming soon. I have to find my kitchen in all the boxes and moving minutia. Despite all of that though, I really do love it here.

Still.

Pardon the Prolonged Absence

New House

Pardon the prolonged absence…we’re in the process of moving and I haven’t had time to sit down, let alone blog. Believe me this process seems as if it takes a billion and two years, instead of just a few weeks or months. The clutter and chaos that are synonymous with a move are really wearing on me. I don’t like disorder, it makes me grumpy and nervous.

Anyway…that’s neither here nor there. Where we we?

We’re moving from one mountain, over to another, this time with a lake in our backyard. I’ve always wanted to live next to a lake (or an ocean) as I really am a water girl at heart, so this is a huge thing for me. I’m beyond excited.

The house we’re moving to is much smaller than the one we are in now, but it has an open, old world cottage feel to the house, and it’s just perfect. It also gave us the perfect, much needed, excuse to evaluate what we had, what we actually need, and what we could get rid of. Goodwill has loved us the past few weeks, the things that weren’t worth keeping were handled by renting a large dumpster. I’m really looking forward to a much smaller, less cluttered existence, and of course a lake in our backyard!

New House: Lake in the backyard

I’ll be back soon with recipes, or food in general, I’m not sure, but soon. Jamison and I have also been discussing a complete revamp of Dianne’s Dishes, so we’ll see what the future holds. Until then, I wish you all hope and light.

Did I mention the lake?

New House: Lake in the backyard

I see a canoe in my near future. I might just have one all picked out on my Amazon Wishlist. Maybe, just maybe. 😉

Lemon Curd, Where Have You Been All My Life?

Lemon Curd

Last week I was in Virginia with Katherine to help out after her second chemo treatment. I’m not sure I was much help, she likes to do things on her own, but it was nice to spend time with her and her family. One morning for a snack, she pulled out a jar of Trader Joe’s Lemon Curd, and we added some to a toasted bagel half with a little cream cheese smeared on first. Result? To. Die. For!

I thought I had had lemon curd before, but it turns out I had it confused with lemon custard. My brain isn’t what it used to be. But I was very pleasantly surprised by the difference. I posted a query for a recipe on Facebook and Rosa from The Rambling Epicure posted her recipe and it looks fabulous! The only problem came when I got home and realized as I started to make the curd, I had already packed my kitchen scale for the big move. Drat! So I did a little research to see what I can find online and ended up following this recipe to an extent and kind of incorporated other techniques I thought were neat in to my finished product.

I did a few things differently, I used the zest of two lemons, which was more than what the Gourmet recipe called for, and I used the juice of 4 lemons, which was just a bit more than 1 cup. Otherwise it was the same. Also after it had thickened I whipped it on high speed with my mixer for a minute or two, a method I had seen on another lemon curd recipe. I ended up with a light, lemony little bite of goodness, or more like almost a quart of lemon curd fabulosity. Yum!

Lemon Curd: Ready for Fridge

I’ve always said I was born on the wrong continent…I drink tea, I like scones, I like old world style, and now I like lemon curd. I think I’m more convinced now that I was. Oh to dream. I spread a little lemon curd on some girl scout Trefoil shortbread cookies, and it was really, really good. Grab a shortbread cookie of your own and try it…you’ll like it if you’re a lemon lover I promise. Go. Go now. You won’t be sorry.

Chocolate Marshmallow Frosting

Chocolate Marshmallow Frosting

Chocolate. Dear, dear, chocolate. How I love thee, let me count the ways…

Of course I won’t count the ways, not here, I could wax philosophical for hours about chocolate itself, and right now you need to make this frosting!

This frosting is completely easy, yet it makes a sinfully good topping that you can use to top any cake you like. You could even use this as a spread on a bagel, or to dip strawberries in for a decadent little treat. However you use it though, if you’re a chocolate lover, and many of us are, you’re going to love this fabulous little frosting.

What You’ll Need:
1 pound of cream cheese, softened
2 sticks of butter, softened
1 jar of marshmallow cream
1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups of powdered sugar
Half and half, if needed to smooth out the frosting

Chocolate Marshmallow Frosting

Cream together cream cheese, butter and marshmallow cream until smooth. Slowly add cocoa to the cream cheese mixture until completely blended. Add sugar and beat until smooth.

If the mixture seems stiff add a tablespoon of half and half and beat again to help smooth out the frosting. You can keep adding half and half in this manner if needed until the frosting is smooth, but not runny.

Notes: If you wanted to make a vanilla version you could leave out the cocoa powder and add another cup of powdered sugar to the amount listed above as well as a tablespoon of vanilla extract. When the humidity is higher or it’s warm you most likely won’t need any half and half at all, when the humidity is lower or it’s cold you might need more.

Make Your Own: Taco Seasoning

Make Your Own: Taco Seasoning

Making your own spice mixes like this not only saves you a trip to the store, but it’s also a lot cheaper than buying them ready made and tastes better too. Plus you control what you put in the mix, and if you’re like me and prefer organic things, you know what you’re making is also healthier than what you find at the store. It’s a win win situation all around!

Now, let’s get to shaking! 😉

What You’ll Need:
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of black pepper (Note: More if you like pepper, less if you don’t.)
2 tablespoons of chili powder
2 tablespoons of paprika (Note: I used plain this time, but you can used the smoked variety if you prefer. I’ve done that before and it gives you a bit more depth in the taste.)
1 teaspoon of cumin
2 teaspoons of onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder

Make Your Own: Taco Seasoning

Place in ingredients in a bowl and thoroughly mix together all of the ingredients. Once mixed put in an airtight container and store in your pantry or cupboard until ready to use. Or if you’d like you can just mix it all in a small jar and shake, then cover for storage and skip having to clean to bowl.

To use to make tacos, add two heaping tablespoons of the mixture to 1 pound of cooked ground meat (beef, chicken, etc.) along with 2 cups of water and cook until the water evaporates.

Now you’re ready to make tacos, or go crazy and make burritos or nachos, or well, you get the picture. ;o)

IMG_231Make Your Own: Taco Seasoning0

Notes: You can also add in 1/2 to a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper if you want to spice things up a bit or 1 teaspoon of ground chipolte powder for an added little kick.

High-Hat Cupcakes

High-Hat Cupcakes

I love cupcakes. Some argue that cupcakes are over, but I disagree. What’s not to like about a single serving of cake, a decadent little bit of heaven, just enough for a nice treat, or to share with a friend? There’s nothing not to like about that! And chocolate…I also love chocolate. Chocolate and cupcakes together? The perfect match!

A while back I saw a recipe on Pinterest that linked to Martha Stewart’s Hi-Hat Cupcakes (and really that should be spelled “High” instead of “Hi” so I changed it!) I’ve wanted to make them every since. But let’s be honest, as brilliant as Martha is about some things she can take something relatively simple and make it so difficult you want to just give up. This recipe? Well yes it is just like that! BUT you can make it simpler, much simpler.

First of all if you’re making this recipe read through it first. Not that I didn’t you understand. I would never do that. Seriously…

OK you caught me, I didn’t read through it. There are you happy? Now back to the recipe-o-rama.

If you follow this as written you’ll notice several things. First she has you using like 3 or 4 bowls for just the cupcake part alone…for one recipe…all of which you have to wash and that doesn’t include the bowl for the icing and the double boiler for the chocolate. That’s not my idea of a good time washing all those dishes! Not at all!

You could easily do the cupcake batter in one bowl. First melt the chocolate and then let it cool. After the chocolate is cool, add the creaming ingredients, along with the sour cream, extract and other wet ingredients in to the chocolate and mix well. Next add baking powder and salt (I used 1 teaspoon of salt instead of the recommended 1/4 teaspoon) and stir to mix that in and then add the flour and mix until batter forms. The recipe calls for all purpose flour, but I used cake flour and I baked them as directed.

And now let’s talk about the icing….

High-Hat Cupcakes

Basically you’re making an egg white icing, or as I like to call it “marshmallow” icing, because it tastes and looks a lot like marshmallows. The directions in the recipe to make this quite frankly just don’t work and the first batch just didn’t come together. I’ve never had that kind of issues with egg whites, though I know others who have. I ended up just melting the sugar in the egg whites, water and cream of tartar on a double boiler until warm to the touch and then whipped them on high. I didn’t get them stiff enough, so it sort of sagged once the cupcake had sat for a while, but despite looking wilted once the chocolate was on top, they still tasted fabulous. I also ended up drizzling the chocolate over the top of the cupcakes instead of dipping them due to the not quite stiff enough icing and the first one collapsing the cone top.

You could easily shortcut the cupcakes and just use a mix. I recommend King Arthur Flour’s cake mixes and the chocolate one is especially fabulous. You could make a stiff icing with marshmallow fluff, cream cheese and enough powdered sugar to make it firm and not have to deal with egg white drama. Also the recipe calls for corn syrup in the topping chocolate, but I used coconut oil instead. It makes a form of “magic shell” chocolate which is just perfect for this.

High-Hat Cupcakes

Again I can’t stress enough, this is a recipe you need to read and read carefully. There are mistakes in the recipe. In the cupcake portion it says 1/2 cup of water when it means sour cream and in the icing portion it wants you to add 1/4 of a cup of water to the egg white/sugar mixture, but it isn’t listed in the ingredient list. It’s confusing. This might even be a read 3 or 4 times sort of deal. Trust Martha to make it anything but simple!

High-Hat Cupcakes

No matter how you do it though, this is a really fabulous taste combination and both Alexis and I really enjoyed them even though the icing/chocolate got slipperier and flatter than the pictures above. After all isn’t the best part the taste anyway?

Yes, yes it is!