Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sign of Spring #2

. . . Driving with the car roof open.

The Daring Bakers' February Challenge - Chocolate Valentino (Flourless Chocolate Cake)

Here was this month's Daring Bakers' challenge: "The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge."
(Recipe HERE.)

Chocolate Valentino is a flourless chocolate cake. The only ingredients are chocolate, butter and eggs (separated). That's right, only three ingredients! We were instructed to use the flourless chocolate cake recipe exactly as it was given to us but were encouraged to be creative in our choice of the accompanying ice cream. The fresh-strawberry ice cream that I made was a nice complement to the intense chocolate flavor of the cake.

I tasted flourless chocolate cake years ago, at the Fiddlehead Restaurant in Juneau. I loved it and quickly hunted down a recipe and attempted to make it at home. I was really disappointed with the results of that attempt, so I took on this month's challenge with two competing emotions - fear that I'd fail again, and determination to succeed.

I made plans to invite our friends, John and Betsy, over for Valentine's Eve dinner, and serve the cake and ice cream as dessert. A few days before they came I decided to do a trial run of the chocolate cake recipe. I'm so glad that I did, because I learned a lot from that "dress-rehearsal." The trial run cake came out mediocre, at best. It had a wonderful texture, but the chocolate was too intense and bitter, and the cake was way too dry.

Based on that trial run, I made some adjustments to both the cake recipe and to my preparation methods, then re-made it for the company meal. The first change was to add about two tablespoons of sugar to the egg whites as I whipped them. I also used a slightly sweeter chocolate to start with. These two adjustments helped moderate the bitterness. To keep the cake from coming out so dry, I whipped the egg whites only to very soft peaks - not as stiff as I did the first time - and I baked the cake at 350 degrees instead of 375. All of these modifications paid off in a perfectly scrumptious cake.

Chocolate Valentino was the ideal dessert for Betsy, since she is gluten intolerant, and this flourless cake has no gluten. And, since romance was in the air, baking it in a heart-shaped pan and serving it with homemade strawberry ice cream seemed the right choices. The cake turned out very moist, a cross between a brownie and old-fashioned fudge made with Hershey's cocoa powder. It was exceedingly rich, so a tiny slice satisfied. We found that the cake aged well, when sealed tightly in the refrigerator. There was no doubt that it was better the second day than the first, and it actually seemed to improve each succeeding day, as well.

Here are some pictures of the ingredients, the process and the final product.

The recipe calls for one pound of semi-sweet chocolate. On my trial run, I used Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate; it was too intense. The second time around I went with Ghirardelli's Semi-Sweet, and it was perfect.

I used my Alaskan ulu to chop the chocolate. It was much easier on the hand than the knife that I started out using.

This is the melted chocolate and butter. I didn't have a double boiler, so melted the ingredients in a bowl over a pot of simmering water.

Five whipped egg yolks were added to the melted chocolate, after it cooled a bit.

And then five egg whites, whipped to a soft peak, were carefully folded into the chocolate mixture, which was poured into the baking pan.

Here is the cake just after it came out of the oven. It is characteristic of this cake to sink a bit in the center, as mine did.

Before I served the cake, I sprinkled on some powdered sugar, using a paper doily to make a design.

And, here it is, all served up - flourless chocolate cake (Chocolate Valentino) and homemade strawberry ice cream. Yum! Even our friend with the gluten intolerance enjoyed every fudgy bite.

Other Completed Daring Bakers' Challenges: Lavash, Pizza Napoletana, Caramel Cake, French Yule Log, Tuiles

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Answer Key - Japanese Proberbs

Here are the commonly accepted meanings of the Japanese proverbs I posted earlier. To those who played along, you did well! I liked some of your interpretations better than these!

“Even monkeys fall out of trees.”
Meaning: Everyone - even an expert - makes mistakes.

“After the rain, earth hardens.”
Meaning: Adversity builds strong character.

“He takes dumplings over flowers.”'
Meaning: The person prefers the practical over the aesthetic.

“Unless an idiot dies, he won’t be cured.”
Meaning: Only death will cure a fool; or you can't fix stupid! (Or, Gloria's version: "Once a blonde always a blonde." LOL)

“The stake that sticks out gets hammered down.”
Meaning: It's better to conform than to stick out; or don't make waves.
This one has the opposite meaning of "The squeaky wheel gets the oil." In both cases the person is speaking up or complaining about something, but in the "stake's" case, speaking up gets negative attention (it gets him "hammered"); in the "wheel's" case, speaking up gets positive attention (some healing oil).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Sign of Spring!

Some trees are beginning to bud.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery." Mark Amidon

When I taught ESL classes at George Fox, I tried to balance my lesson plans with the scholarly and the practical. Some of the things the students loved to learn about, and often asked me about, were American idioms and proverbs. They heard them every day, but couldn't make heads nor tails out of them.

We talked about idioms, like “a red herring,” “pulling one’s leg,” “raining cats and dogs,” and “a piece of cake.”

And then we moved on to discuss proverbs or adages, such as:

“Barking dogs seldom bite.”

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

“Don’t cry over spilled milk.”

After they got the hang of using some of these quirky phrases, I would ask them to think about and share similar proverbs from their own language. Here are some Japanese proverbs. Are they as clear as mud to you?

“Even monkeys fall out of trees.” (Our Japanese son, Takashi, used this one frequently.)

“After the rain, earth hardens.”

“He takes dumplings over flowers.”

“Unless an idiot dies, he won’t be cured.”

“The stake that sticks out gets hammered down.”

Can you try to guess the meaning of these five Japanese proverbs?

I like the last one, because it seems to me to be the complete opposite of one of our English proverbs and points out a great difference in the Japanese and American way of thinking. For that one, maybe you can think of the opposing American proverb. We also have one that is similar in meaning. Which one would that be?

Give it a try! I'll post the meanings in a few days. (But not unless some of you play along!)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Emily and Her Business Cards

Emily is eight years old. She's one of my favorite little girls. This evening, at church, she and I both happened to be in the ladies' restroom at the same time, washing our hands.

Me: "Hi, Emily. How are you today?"

Emily: "Fine."

[Continued hand-washing by both.]

Emily: "Would you like one of my business cards?"

Me: "Your business card!? Yes, I'd love to have one!"

Emily: "Okay. Well I already gave them away to my Mom, my Dad and my Grandmas, but Lani Kai is my business card maker, so I'll ask her to print some more, and I'll bring you one next Sunday."

Me: "That would be great! I'll bring you one of mine, and we can trade."

Emily: "Okay. Well, I don't think the telephone number on my card is quite right. I think Lani Kai just put a number on there that looked good, but . . . "

Me: "That's no problem. I'm really looking forward to having your card."

[By now we were both drying our hands. Emily flashed me a big smile.]

I can't wait until next Sunday.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If Not From Space . . . Then From Where?

(Begin X Files theme song)

Sunday morning I was ready for church quite a bit before Dan was. He was still in the bedroom and bathroom, getting ready, while I was sitting in the family room, reading. That's when I heard a sharp "clunk" on the roof. It was not a bird, because it was something hard and fairly heavy. It wasn't a ball, because I didn't hear any bouncing, and there were no children out playing at that fairly early hour. It was loud enough to make me jump.

A few minutes later Dan came out of the bedroom. "Did you hear that noise on the roof?" I asked him. But he had not. "Oh, well. Maybe it was a meteorite," I joked, and then thought nothing more about it all day. That evening, however, Dan called me into the office to look at an article displayed on his computer screen. The article was telling about debris, supposedly caused by the collision of two satellites, that was falling across Texas and (according to some of the articles I later read) parts of New Mexico. Here's a You Tube video about that early report:

But now, a couple days later, the Government is saying that the debris was not from the two satellites, but was a "natural phenomenon." Here's an article from eFluxMedia, posted today:

Satellite Debris Is Beginning to Make People More Suspicious Than Necessary
By Irene Collins
00:45, February 17th 2009

According to the U.S. government, there's no relation between the fireballs that streaked the Texas skies Sunday and the collision of two satellites over Siberia last week. The item, accompanied by a loud boom, was seen by Austin, Texas, marathon participants and crowds Sunday as it moved across the sky.

"It was something burning and falling really fast. Where I was at the time, yeah, I remember shooting it and wondering what I shot and then looking around and seeing if anyone saw it with me, and everyone was just focused on that marathon that we were shooting at the time," said Eddie Garcia, photographer.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the fireball was a natural phenomenon - not flying space junk - and a North Texas astronomer said more specifically that it was probably a truck-sized meteor with the consistency of concrete.

“There is no correlation between the debris from that collision and those reports of re-entry,” said Major Regina Winchester, with STRATCOM. Moreover on Saturday, the FAA issued a notice for pilots to be on the lookout for falling space debris. Late Sunday, however, the notice was removed and being rewritten to attribute the concern to a "natural source."

The FAA said people who find pieces of debris should not touch them and should contact law enforcement. Local military officials will collect and analyze the debris to confirm what it is, the FAA said. The debris field could stretch from New Mexico to Houston.

Meteor fireballs bright enough to be seen in the daytime are rare but not unheard of. Two of the most recent fell in October in the Alice Springs region of Australia and last June just west of Salt Lake City, Utah. A sonic boom also was heard in connection with that event, the Australian observatory says.

Image Credit:
© 2007 - 2009 - eFluxMedia

Yesterday Dan and I both took turns walking around the house, looking for a strange "rock" or piece of metal. Neither of us found anything suspicious. We also stood back away from the house to look for something on the roof. Again, we didn't notice anything odd. Of course, our yard is a typical New Mexican yard - no grass, just rock and gravel. That might make spying a "strange" black rock a little difficult.

I concede that the odds are against satellite debris, or a meteorite, hitting our roof. But something did hit the roof, and my three questions are: What was it? Where did it come from? And where is it now?

I'm eager to hear any ideas you might have.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Name Game

Thanks to Patty for this idea - it's a fun one. Try it and let me know some of your aliases, using the rules below. (I was pretty soft on the rules, myself.)

1. YOUR SPY NAME (middle name and current street name)

Mine is Margaret Rio

2. YOUR MOVIE STAR NAME (grandfather/mother on your dad's side and your favorite candy)
Mine is Evlyn Redvines

 (Oh, by the way, I didn't misspell "Evlyn." Grandma C. didn't have a second "e" in her name.)

3. YOUR RAP NAME (first initial of first name and first 3,4 or 5 letters of your last name) 

Mine is L-Ju (pronounced el-joo, a la J-lo)

4. YOUR GAMER TAG (a favorite color, a favorite animal)

Mine is Aqua Koala

5. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME (middle name, and city in which you were born)

Mine is Margaret Hillsboro (Or, how about Margo Hillsboro. I like that better.)

6. SUPERHERO NAME: ("The", your favorite color and the automobile your dad drives)

Mine is The Seafoam Sable

7. YOUR ACTION HERO NAME (first name of the main character in the last film you watched, last food you ate)
Mine is 
Fiona Bagel (Fiona from Burn Notice)

8. YOUR MOBSTER NAME  (Name of your first pet and the name of the street you grew up on)
Mine is 
Taffy Franklin

All of this reminds me of my school chum, Shelley Walther, and the nicknames we had for each other. We just "anagrammed" our names, so hers was: Hellseye Helwrat. Isn't that a great one?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Roses are Red . . .

I think Valentine’s Day was as exciting to me, as a grade-schooler, as Christmas. In the days preceding February 14, we would make our “mailbox" during art class in school. Sometimes it truly was a box, made from a shoe box that we brought from home. We decorated it with pink, red and white construction paper, paper doilies and glitter. Most important was the slot we cut into the top. I always made sure mine was wide enough to allow a valentine with a lollipop or package of conversation hearts attached to be dropped in easily. Other years we made a large decorated pocket, out of construction paper, into which the valentines could be dropped. These boxes or pockets would be lined up along one wall of the classroom, several days ahead, waiting for the big valentine delivery.

The valentines we bought back then were more complex and interesting than the ones generally found in stores today. For one thing, the cards were larger – most of them about 4” x 5”. And they didn't have TV/Movie characters on them. They were hearts and flowers and ribbons and birds and bees and Cupids and arrows. The ornately shaped cards were perforated so as to be easily punched out of the white background, and there were often little “doodads” that attached to the cards by means of tabs and slots, and were then taped on the back side. This made the cards three dimensional and very ornate.

A week or so before the big day, our teacher would send home a list of all the children in the class. The instructions were clear . . . address a valentine to everyone on the list, or bring none! No one was to be left out. Then came the soul-searching task of deciding which valentine went to whom. The one that went to “Teacher” was easy, as there was always a special one in the package for her. Then I selected valentines for my “best friends," the prettiest cards with the most elaborate doodads. Next came the cards I selected for the boys I secretly liked (I never openly liked a boy, back then). Those were the most difficult to choose. The wording had to be extra nice, hinting at the "L" word without being too obvious. And finally, there were the valentines for everyone else, the generic ones that didn’t commit to anything except that they were classmates and that it was a special day. Despite the teacher’s efforts to see that everyone was treated equally, I must admit that my process of assigning cards to certain people was, in its own way, quite discriminatory.

On Valentine's Day we had our class party. Usually the room mother brought cupcakes or iced cookies and punch. Then we went around the room, dropping our valentines into the appropriate mailboxes. Luckily the party came at the end of the day, because I could hardly wait to take down my mailbox/pocket, take it home, and open up all of the wonderful valentines. Of course, the effort that went into choosing just the right card for each friend turned into a similar effort, but in reverse, as I attempted to figure out what each person was thinking about me when they chose the card they put into my mailbox. Was there a secret message hidden in the words of this one? Was the "L" word hinted at in that one? Who had gone to the most effort in attaching those frilly doodads? And to whom was I considered "just a classmate" and given a generic, nondescript valentine?

None of you, my faithful readers, are "just" a friend. You are each special, and here's a valentine from me to you.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Little Things

Even though Sweetpea flew home on Saturday, I'm still finding little things around here that remind me of her visit.

On Monday I saw, on my desk at work, the tablet that Sweetpea had drawn on when I took her to my office to "show her off." It was purple and green squiggles - quite artistic, I thought.

Yesterday I found several blocks, under our couch. I wonder how they got there?

When I found a spot in the closet to store the vaporizer her mama bought, while she was here, I couldn't help wondering if Sweetpea is still coughing and sniffling, or is all better.

When I finished up the last of the chocolate covered gummy bears (thank you, Gloria, they were delicious!) I thought about how Sweetpea had looked forward to eating one or two after each dose of the medicine she was taking (and a few other times, as well).

Today I accidentally bumped Rocky (my robotic dog) with my foot, and wondered if he'd be sitting idle until Sweetpea's next visit.

As I was recording our credit card receipts into my Quicken register, I came across the one from JC Penney for the two spring dresses I bought for her, and I smiled remembering how Kelsey and I enjoyed watching her twirl and turn and model them in front of the dressing room mirror.

And tonight I was looking through my many birthday cards, came to the one "from Sweetpea," and took out the sweet bookmark ribbon that was inside the card. I put it inside the book I'm currently reading.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

See You Later, Frank

His name was Frank. Frank was a BIG man. He stood tall and hefty. And his voice was a deep, booming bass. His hand swallowed up anyone else's when he took theirs in a handshake. But he didn't shake hands with me; I always got a bear hug that nearly smothered me. I remember, one Sunday morning, when he came up behind me and "patted" me on the back. He didn't know his own strength that morning, because he knocked the breath right out of me. Then he was all apologetic . . . "Oh, I'm sooo sorry! I didn't mean that to be so hard! Are you okay?" Once I caught my breath, I assured him no apologies were needed.

This evening when we got to the church building, we heard, even before our Bible classes were to start, that Frank had "collapsed" only minutes before and that he was, at that moment, being rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Several of our number headed over to the hospital so that his wife wouldn't be alone. Five or ten minutes later we learned that Frank had died. What a shock! He hadn't been in ill health and he was not very old -- maybe 60.

We dismissed all classes and gathered together as a family for some prayer, scripture reading and singing, all of which helped us focus on God's promises. Once again I have to wonder . . . how do people handle such losses without the hope and comfort we have in Christ? As for me, I'm looking forward to my next bear hug from Frank . . . in the sweet by-and-by.