Monday, December 28, 2009

I've Created a Monster: The Photo Bomber

I've created a monster! Every family may have one: the Dreaded Photo-Bomber-- that drama queen who leaps in front of the camera every chance she/he gets, regardless of what you really want as your subject or focus.

It started innocently enough. Occasionally I would give my model a reward for successfully accomplishing a pose--often a tasty treat: lamb & rice biscuits, or lamb and rice sausage chunks.

But then the monster surfaced. Now, it seems like every time I pick up my camera, Drama Queen awakens from her slumbers, with every bit of her narcissistic personality demanding to be "fed", and proclaiming, "Me! Me! Take a picture of me! It's all about ME!"



The above photo was suppose to be about Dianna (Who is NOT the photo bomber!) But Bonnie sprung into action, practically salivating when she saw my lens cap come off, and positioned herself directly in my line of focus.



And this photo was going to be a close-up of the Nativity Scene. Before I could compose the photo, Bonnie Photo-Bomber leapt into action, wiped out a few sheep and Wisemen with her tail, and got herself center stage.

It's the drool on the lens that really does me in, though.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Next time, A Little LESS White Christmas, Please!

Apparently, someone was dreaming just a teensy bit too strongly about a white Christmas around here. We got 25.1 inches, and this is the stuff Brian drove home through on Christmas eve, saying things like the drive was "Not bad." He did acknowledge there were a number of cars in the ditch.

This next one is through a window screen, and there really are two cars under all this!



One dug out, one more car to unbury:

The mailbox is not quite buried, but close:

After two of us using brooms to start the snow removal on this car:



Unfortunately, a lot of this stuff will still be here come April. It's not like it usually warms up above freezing before then, so what we get now, we might as well "adopt" and name because it's going to be with us a long, long, time.



Brian was suppose to leave on Saturday at noon, by bus, leaving his car here. But the bus service was cancelled. He was able to get a seat on Amtrak at midnight. At least we got to see him a little longer!

We Interrupt This Scattegories for Caramel Pots de Creme



Thanks, Maria! I received these wonderful red wavy ramekins from my sister-in-law, Maria, and they've given me an excuse to launch into another whole new realm of desserts!

Everyone was only semi-cooperative to interrupt the game of Scattegories. . . and the eating of Caramel Pots de creme. . . .for this photo op!

And here's the recipe:

3/4 c sugar
1 c whipping cream
1 c milk
1 t vanilla
5 large egg yolks
1/4 t salt.

1/2 c whipping cream
1 T sugar
1 T rum

Preheat oven to 300. Cook 1/2 c sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, without stirring, until sugar is carmelized and golden brown. Swirl pan, dissolving unmelted sugar; reduce heat to low.

Slowly whisk in milk and 1 c cream. Don't freak out too badly if this instantly turns into a hard clump in your pan. Don't throw pan out either. Keep heating and stirring milk, with happy thoughts intact. Increase to medium high and bring to a boil; once it really does dissolve again, remove pan from heat.

In a bowl, whisk 1/4 c sugar w/egg yolks and salt, until pale yellow. Add hot cream mixture to eggs, whisking. Put mixture through a sieve into a large measuring cup; throw away glumpy stuff in sieve.

Skim bubbles off top and pour 1/2 cup each into ramekins.

Place ramekins in a large roasting pan, and add enough boiling water so that ramekins are immersed up to within 1" of tops. Cover roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil, but then punch a couple of holes in the aluminum to allow it to vent. Put roasting pan in oven and cook for 35 minutes.

Remove foil and cool ramekins cooling racks. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour , up to 2 days.

To serve, whip 1/2 c whipping cream with 2 T sugar, 2 T rum and top each ramekin with whipping cream.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas! It's a Wonderful Evening. . .

. . . because the middle child is now home! He got in around 9:30pm this night, said that he "took it slow" on the interestates, saw many cars in the ditch, and now the rest of us are all breathing a sigh of relief. My fear (other than accidents and what I wish was unimaginable) was that he would be stranded in a gas station for the next three days, as interstates closed.

He's much more handsome than this photo suggests, but some of his first thoughts were of food!



I DID keep busy by baking this afternoon, and here's a "sweet" shot:



Now, we're busy eating it, and watching Muppet Family Christmas. We couldn't bear seeing Ms. Piggy struggle to get to Fozzie's Mom's home, through the blizzard, until Brian was safely home. . . .

Merry Christmas every one! I hope you're all having a wonderful evening and that you have a chance to be with your loved ones. Just thought I'd post this, as I listen to Ms. Piggy singing "There's no place like home for the holidays. . . " and hope your time is equally heart-warming. I cherish these moments, knowing that we just can't take these times with loved ones for granted. The only thing that would make it better for me would be to get to spend it with more of my family, like Maria & Lee, MaryAnn & Bill, Rina & Bob, and Laurie & Jimmy in the Chicago area, and Barb & Robert in Texas, and Ronnie & Linda in Washington.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Another of My Chicks is Home (It's a Mom Thing)

Scott's home for Christmas! It's so wonderful to see him; we haven't seen him since last Christmas, and no matter how old they get, there's something very intense about getting to gather all your young-uns together at once, especially at Christmas.

So, this is 2 out of our 3; one more to arrive home. Did you ever get to see Muppet Family Christmas, back in the late 80s or 90s? It was when Fozzy went home to surprise his mother, who had actually been planning to go on a trip. Fozzy brought all the Muppets with him, and the Sesame Street characters. Miss Piggy braved all kinds of terrible blizzard conditions, trying to join them, fairly oblivious and unphased by all the obstacles. The whole show was filled with Christmas songs, the mom finding food for a huge crowd of "people", and the emphasis was on being together for Christmas.

This Christmas feels a little bit like that, although not really in a good way. Brian isn't home yet. He won't be able to leave Minneapolis until after 2 pm, and then drive 5 hours northeast. . . .through a predicted, mammoth blizzard.

As much as I want to see him, and he wants to see all of us, I just want him to make a wise decision about this, and not risk his life! Tomorrow, most likely I'll alternate between being glued to the weather channel, and distracting myself, probably with baking.


(Scott has a rather wide range of humorous "looks" that he adopts in the blink of an eye.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snowman Snooping

Snowman peeking in on us with Dianna at the Country Inn & Suites after we picked her up at the airport this past Wednesday night. . . .

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Unexpected

For Shimmelle's Journal Your Christmas class, today's assignment was to journal the unexpected. But I didn't have any "unexpected" in mind, which, of course, is the nature of "the unexpected."

I didn't expect that Dianna would decide to sort through the things in her room, through 21 years of "stuff" and simplify, getting rid of the desk she and I built when she was 5 years old.

Of course it made total sense to do this. Except for the extra chaos at Christmas time. . . .

The desk is old, and unlikely to be desirable even to the Salvation Army. To fit it in my car to dispose of it meant dismantling. By hammer.


This made Doug happy. Sometimes he paused to watch football. Smashing things with a hammer, and football. It was a very good day for Doug!



Because you asked for it:

Cocoa Rum Balls
recipe image
Rated:rating
Submitted By: Leslie
Photo By: mbet85
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Ready In: 2 Days 30 Minutes
Servings: 24
"This delicious smooth confection is an impressive dessert for the holidays. These are wonderful for parties, and perfect for holiday gifts to your loved ones. A half cup of orange juice plus one teaspoon of freshly grated orange peel can be substituted for the rum in this recipe."
INGREDIENTS:
1 (12 ounce) package vanilla wafers,
crushed
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup light rum
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/8 cup confectioners' sugar
DIRECTIONS:
1.In a large bowl, combine vanilla wafer crumbs, chopped nuts, 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, and cocoa. Mix in rum and corn syrup. Shape dough into 1 inch balls; roll in confectioners' sugar.
2.Store rum balls in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days to develop flavor. Roll them again in confectioners' sugar before serving.

This recipe is from allrecipes.com. Sharon suggested amaretto instead of rum. (Unlike Martha Stewart's eggnog recipe, I'd advise rum OR amaretto, not both! But that's just me. . . .)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

More Warm Heart Shots

I don't want to "push the envelope" and harass Dianna too much for photos, but I'm still very much in Mom-Bliss-Out mode over her being home. So here's a shot to represent her:

The ugly little balls on the dish are very tasty. . . and potent, I might add. . . . rum balls. Now that Dianna is 21, she's can eat these if she wants.

This little Mom and Dad Snowman ornament has been with Doug and I for many years, and seems to capture the "mush" of the season for us. I really like pulling it out and putting it top and center on our entertainment center.

I hope none of you are totally exhausting yourselves with Christmas preparations. Don't lose sight of the concept of "good enough", and remind yourself that you've done plenty. . . it'll be fine. . . . .

Friday, December 18, 2009

She's Back!!!! She's Back!!!

We just got back home, after picking Dianna up at the Minneapolis airport. She's back from India after 4 months! And oh, the stories she has! Here's a quick shot of her wonderful foot!



. . . and the bliss on her face as she made her first call on her cell phone.



I'm trying not to drive her nuts with the photo-taking, but I'm so very happy she's home now!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I printed up this photo of Sweet and Salty Almond Bark, and recipe, for the December 15th day of my Journaling Christmas album. I thought I'd share it here for anyone who wants the recipe. This is an extremely easy recipe! As in, easier than macaroni and cheese! But use the best chocolate that you can, and use whatever nuts you want. These days, I'm rather fond of pistachios and cranberry, and am thinking about trying a version with these ingredients. Then again, pecans would be good also. Or maybe even crystallized ginger and pecans. . . . .



Click on the photo to see this larger. . . .

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Santa, A Self-Portrait and Bird Issues

Remember yesterday's Owl Ornament? I realized something today: I have no idea where the owl ornament came from, but I do believe it's an acquisition of this past year. Neither Doug or I remember having an owl ornament last year.

Now the astute reader of my blog will immediately (unlike the author) recognize that something HAS to be up with this! Remember my issue with birds this past year? And the Evil Cedar Waxwing Attack on my house, and how we were saved by an Owl?

And now, an Owl Ornament of Unknown Origins (a bona-fide OOUO if ever there was one!) mysteriously appears on my Christmas tree!!!!! I'm just saying, what's up with all these bird events? (Although somehow I feel that this ornament should definitely represent us for 2009, and I'll sleep a little better tonight knowing it's standing watch over our tree.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Owly Ornament

I think I could spend months photographing our Christmas tree. . .

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Another Christmas Tradition Gone Awry

If you're not careful about the traditions you start (or if you're just a tad bit sociopathic) you might traumatize your kids, and scar them for life. Like Doug and I did.

Years ago,in 1988 when Scott was 5, Brian was 3, and Dianna was just a newborn, we dangerously messed with Christmas. It's just that the kids were so darn cute. . . and so darn gullible that we had no choice but to mess with their minds.

We bought some walkie-talkies for the two boys, (remember, there was a time when there were no Nintendo game systems, or game boys, or Wiis or cell phones, and walkie talkies were impressive gizmos.) But first, Doug set one up under the Christmas tree skirt, and headed down to our basement with the other one. I set off our kitchen timer bell (which Doug could hear) when Scott got near the tree, and Doug called, in a high-pitched squeaky, tree-like voice, "Oh Scotty! Have you been a good little boy?" and pretty soon, Scotty and Brian were deep in animated conversation with our talking Christmas tree. They were so smitten by the tree, that they eagerly committed to all kinds of goodness for the coming year, and promises to even eat their brocolli, not stick beans in their ears any more--it was a real bonanza for us!

Twelve months went by, and of course the walkie-talkies had long ago been trashed (the Tree-contract never extracted any promises about walkie talkies!)

Our 1989 tree went up, and, being adults, Doug and I had long forgotten the talking Christmas Tree, but not Scotty! He promptly went up to the tree and greeted it.

Silence.

Brian joined him, and the two cajoled and pleaded with the tree to talk to them. Like a rat, I cowered in the kitchen, wondering what I could tell them about why the tree was giving them the silent treatment. I tried to tell them that maybe the tree was just sleeping, here, have some more gumdrops and candy canes. . . .wants some hot chocolate with marshmallows? All afternoon, they'd suddenly start crying again, asking why the Christmas tree wouldn't talk to them this year, (as if every other child on the planet of course was getting to have these sweet, intimate chats with Father Spruce.)

I might have been raised Catholic, but there are certain sins you just cannot confess. How could I ever go to Church and say, "Bless me father for I have wantonly decimated my sweet, innocent, children's Christmas tree beliefs." It just can't be done.

So let this tale of woe keep you from making the same mistakes! (Or if you're plotting to trick your children, make sure you think through all the unintended consequences so you don't get busted.)

And here is a photo of one of the perpetrators with this year's tree, and my efforts to get good Christmas light bokeh.



This was really just a test shot, but now I'm baffled. Why is there pixie dust on Doug? I can't figure out where the blue lights and specks are coming from. I couldn't see any lights on him at all, and I'm trying to figure out if the reflection from the blue LED lights on the tree are hitting the lens, and creating this effect.

I mentioned the "pixie dust" on Doug, and he tried to brush it off!



Thank you, everyone, for the clever ideas for the stockings the other day. You've inspired me to keep them around a little longer now! And Maria, I think you so deserve the official title of Mrs. Santa Claus for all your traditions!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bonnie the Reindeer at The Ready

Why, yes! Bonnie-the-Reindeer is more than willing to show her antlers to Nicki. And she is ready to help Barb out in Texas any time now. Barb, just keep your eyes open and watching the northern skies for her!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Be Careful of Your Traditions!

Here's a warning to new parents: Once you begin a tradition, IT WILL NOT DIE! Just like Freddy Krueger, it's going to come back, over and over again, no matter what you do!

Years ago, when my children were little, I made these crude Christmas stockings (3 of them), and put some little trinket in the felt, hot-glued, numbered pockets. For the 12 days before Christmas, each child got to pull something out of a pocket, and the last day are 3 nativity figures, one for each of them, that they set up on a book shelf.

All was well and good, while they were little--a quarter here, a marshmellow chocolate santa there, maybe a Lego guy, and I'm done.

Not so, as they got older; then it became a $5 bill here, a movie ticket there, lip gloss? A key chain? Suddenly, we're not talking chump change, but 12 x 3 = a significant financial outlay. And they had the audacity to move away anyway! Some years, I even mailed them to their college dorms. . .

So I tried to gracefully "retire" these oldies.

Nothing doing! Once a tradition; always a tradition! "Where's our stockings?" and "You're going to put out those stockings, aren't you?" and, inevitably, the guilt would get to me, and I'd have to wrack my poor addled, non-creative, depleted brain for what to put into the tiny little pockets.

One year, I tried draping ribbons to larger-than-the-pockets items deposited in the sock itself. Then I could slip in some earmuffs, or socks (you know, the practical, glamorous, things), but the ribbons got all tangled together.

Because I don't think they read my blog, I'll let you in on a few secrets: This year, other than the pocket-sized hand-sanitizer for day 12, I'm slipping in some notes that REQUIRE some things from them, like "Let mom take your picture & smile pretty," and some instructions, "Wash the dishes, then go look under the musical snowman in the living room."

Do you have any suggestions? What else should I send them off to do? Have you had any "traditions" that you thought had run their course, but no one would let you deep-six?


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Looks Like I'm Over-loading Santa's Sleigh Today

On Prancer! On Blixen! On. . . .what the heck are those reindeers' names? Any of them called Bonnie?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Baking Pleasures

Holiday baking is such fun. . . especially when you get to photograph it as well!

These are some biscotti I made this afternoon, and one of the things I really like about biscotti is how you can experiment with different flavors and combinations. This batch has pistachios, white chocolate and orange zest.





And as a PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT to my relatives, DOUG IS NOT A WEIRD-O!

My sister, Rina, called me today. Apparently she got my Christmas newsletter, and missed where I said it was written by the Beautiful Ms. Bonnie.

She thought Doug wrote it. And the part about sniffing Dianna for camel odors after her camel safari in India really, really, freaked her out! Thought I'd clear this up in case anyone else was backing away from my poor, beleaguered husband. . . .

If you didn't get a chance yesterday, be sure and read Maria's comment about the St. Nicholas tradition in their household. Someday, should I get to have grandchildren, I hope to borrow this idea from her. (That is, if our children will trust Doug to not be sniffing them!)

Friday, December 4, 2009

One of Those Photos that Makes Moms Happy

. . . because when all is said and done, I'm rather attached to my kids.



What's on your "to-do" list for this weekend? However you spend it, I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Oopsie--Mall Cops ( Warning--Slightly Graphic)

Well, heck. I thought it was staged. After braving the Mall of America crowds (and scoring a great jacket for Brian at Macy's), we decided to have dinner at Crave's.

The waitress commented: "Looks like we're having an episode of Mall Cops here tonight." Apparently, there's an actual reality TV show called "Mall Cops" that's filmed in Mall of America. The mall has a branch of the Bloomington Police station right in the mall, as well as its own mall cops. And there were all these lights and cameras and cops. . . . and I jumped up with my camera to go take a look-see.

Part of this shot is through a glass partition; thankfully that explains the streaks on the right--not my camera falling apart!

And I snapped 3 shots:
The first is of a bunch of cops standing around.



And then it was obvious to me that the action was somewhere on the ground, and why is that cop grinning?



. . . and then, EWWWWWW! That looks like blood!!!



At this point, a woman turned to me and said harshly "This is NOT funny, quit taking pictures."

Well, I wasn't laughing, and it suddenly occurred to me that the thing about those reality tv shows usually means it's real. I turned to someone else and asked, "Is this staged????" "Nope." And I went back to our table.

The waitress came back later with the "scoop." She said that a guy had been going from bar to bar in the mall, drinking and not paying his tab. When he went into a liquor store, opened the bottle, and starting drinking it right in the store, the Mall Cops were called, and he fled to our restaurant.

It was really weird to see the camera crew with the Mall Cops. They moved like one big single organism, with this mass of lights on poles, and cameras. Remind me that the next time I see something like this, I might want to consider that those guns are real, and someone might be pulling some triggers. No photo is worth my obit shot; that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Blog Christmas Cookie Train

The Blog Christmas Cookie Train has arrived at Candy Cane Lane. . . or at this recipe for White Chocolate-Glazed Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies!

This recipe is a blending of a recipe that appeared in Bon Appetit in 2005, with a glazing inspired by a Martha Stewart recipe.

This recipe is NOT for the dietary conscious (but are any Christmas cookies?)



Time: 11 minutes of baking; but lots of time with the little details
Yield: 36 very large sandwich cookies. Just skip dinner and eat these.

Ingredients:

Cookie:

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), at room temperature
2 large eggs

Whisk flour, cocoa & salt in a bowl to blend. In another bowl, beat sugar and butter until well blended; beat in eggs. Add the dry ingredients to sugar mixture and beat until blended. Refrigerate dough for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll 1 level tablespoon of dough into a ball and then squish flat into a 2" round on the baking sheet. This works best if you actually measure out the 1 tablespoon rather than guess. Place about 2" apart on baking sheet.

Bake 11 minutes, and do not over-bake! Cool on pan for 5 minutes, move to cooling racks.

Filling:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
3/4 cups butter (1 1/2 sticks, at room temperature (did I mention that there
are massive amounts of calories in this? but let's not go there.)
3/4 tsp peppermint extract
2 drops, approx, red food coloring. aim for pink; red would look really ugly; this is one spot where substituting would be just weird; orange would NOT look Christmasy, would it?)
1/4 cup crushed red-and-white striped candy canes (about 4 ounces) (time to vent anger with hammers!) Put the crushed candy on a plate.

With an electric mixer, beat powered sugar and butter until well blended. Add peppermint extract, and now add coloring. (let's all hope bleach will work well on those formerly white cabinets!)

Spread about 1 tsp of filling evenly over flat side of one cookie; top with another cookie, flat sides facing each other; roll cookie sides into crushed peppermint.

Glazing:
1/4 cup white chocolate morsels
Melt white chocolate in a heat-resistant bowl placed over a small pan of boiling water. Stir the chocolate, and once the morsels lose their shape, remove from heat and stir until completely melted. Transfer chocolate into a zip lock bag.

Snip a tiny hole in one corner of the bag, and squish the chocolate out of this hole onto the cookies in pretty squiggles. Before chocolate hardens, sprinkle some of the crushed candy canes on top of the cookies. Cool in refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

Ward off hungry hordes demanding cookies until they promise to be at your beck and call, performing tricks or tasks. I vote for tasks.

Store in single layer in airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days, or freeze.




Now, you lucky bunnies! You get to head over to the next stop on the fabulous, unbelievable, totally fattening Cookie Blog Train to another marvelous recipe! Have fun!

And just in case you get lost somewhere along the way, this is a list of all the stops on the Cookie Blog Train:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving & Mall of America

My sweet son. This was at the restaurant where we had our Thanksgiving dinner, and I pushed the envelope by using an ISO 3200, no flash, hand-held (f/2.8, 1/15, 28mm with 28-75mm Tamron). The Nikon 300s is such a fantastic camera!

And like folks in the movie "Night of the Living Dead", we were drawn to that place that "people know and love," the Mall of America, for Black Friday. And we did pick up a couple of bargains.

Tomorrow, I'm going to show you the recipe and baked/constructed for the Cookie Train! Think candy canes and chocolate. . . .

And soon, I'll also be showing you a few shots from a restaurant in Mall of America. Think mall cops, reality shows, and Angela getting chastised because of her camera. . .

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Our Thanksgiving Feast . . . or 10 of them. . . .

Doesn't quite have the Norman Rockwell photo appeal, does it?



But these were 10 turkey dinners I prepared and packaged, and then Doug and I trekked off to Brian' s apartment 300 miles away. Now the guy has more than ketchup and beer in his refrigerator: turkey, mashed potatoes & gravy, green beans & stuffing, angel bisquits, and pumpkin cheesecake. . .


But we didn't want to eat up all the food we made for him, so we headed out to dinner at the neighborhood Monte Carlo Bar and Grill. He lives in a very interesting neighborhood, my young son. . . very "scenic" with little shops and restaurants, and bright, neon signs advertising the likes of "Sex World."

You can bet that Brian, who's in portfolio school for copywriting, has plenty to photograph in his neighborhood!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

And lest you think I'm burnt out on cooking and baking, I have a surprise for you! On Monday night, at 6 pm, the COOKIE BLOG TRAIN is making a stop right in the middle of my kitchen!!!

The train is traveling through 12 blogs, and along each stop will be a holiday cookie recipe and photo. I just finished baking one batch of cookies tonight, but there's a strong contender for the featured blog post, and I'll be checking out that recipe tomorrow. (For tomorrow's recipe, I'm combining part of an old Bon Appetite recipe, with a Martha Stewart recipe. Here's a hint: there will be stripes, but not the incarcerated kind.) The best of my two efforts will be on my blog Monday at 6pm, so be sure and stop by then.