Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sweet Dreams

It seems like someone who has reached senior citizen status would have outgrown their love of candy. For a large part, that's true for me. But there's one candy that still rings my bell! I'm giving you a sneak peek at a couple of scenes straight out of my dreams, featuring my heroes, an army of chocolate covered gummy bears.

Kelsey knows about my sweet tooth, and sent me home with a birthday package of little gummy critters. As you can see from the one that has already fallen, these sweeties won't last long around here!

Thanks Kelsey.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Baby Boy and the "Baby Benz"

We just got home from a very brief visit to my Mom's house, in Carlsbad. Kelsey, who has been visiting her family, drove the kids up to Mom's on Thursday, and spent the night. Dan and I decided, awhile back, that we'd also show up on Thursday. We didn't tell Mom, but I don't think she was very surprised. "I thought you were taking this visit too easy," she said, when we walked in, knowing, I guess, how hard it would have been to have the "grandones" in NM, and not see them.

We had planned to leave early, very early, on Thursday morning, getting to Carlsbad before noon, shortly after Kelsey would arrive. But when the weather forecast for Wednesday night and Thursday morning started sounding ominous, we left in a hurry on Wednesday, around 3:00. We drove, trying to stay ahead of the coming snow storm, to Roswell and spent the night there, with plans to drive on in to Carlsbad Thursday morning.

We were really surprised, though, to wake up in Roswell yesterday and find that the snow storm had caught up with us. Our car was not only covered in a light dusting of snow, but also glazed over with some stubborn ice. It took Dan 20 minutes or so to get it thawed out so we could head down the road to Carlsbad. The roads weren't too bad, but we drove carefully, none the less.

When we arrived at Mom's we were met at the door by Clara, who hollered, "Grandma! Grandpa!" and threw her arms around us. It doesn't get any better than that! Mom was in her chair, loving on Robert, who was being sweet as a sugar dumpling! Here are a few pictures of the kids. Clara wasn't really into posing for pictures this visit, so I just have a couple candid ones of her. Robert, on the other hand, was being very cooperative. What a difference one month makes in a two-month-old baby! Robert is now 12 pounds and "rounding out" nicely. He stares at faces, and breaks out in grins when you talk to him or make funny noises or silly faces. We even heard a couple out-loud chuckles!

This morning we all left - Kelsey & Co. going south, and Dan and I going north. I felt bad for Mom, who had a whirlwind day, only to be followed by an empty house! But how sweet of Kelsey to make the effort of fitting in a visit to "Nanny's" whenever she goes to her parents' for a few days. I have the most thoughtful daughter (in-law) anyone could ask for.

Going home, the roads were just fine, although the countryside still had a blanket of the white stuff. We saw two or three herds of antelope standing ankle-deep in snow as they hunted for the day's sustenance.

Oh! Did I fail to mention that there was a second reason for this trip? Dan was eager to road-test his new-to-him little red sport sedan (corrected - I originally posted "coupe"). Poor guy! He had to wait well beyond mid-life for his mid-life crisis! See the smile on his face as he "races" that train? He won!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Daring Bakers' January Challenge - Nanaimo Bars

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and (Recipe HERE.)

My guess is that some of my Alaskan and Washingtonian friends will know what Nanaimo bars are. The name comes from the town of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, where they were first made and where they are hugely popular. I have eaten them once or twice when I lived in Juneau, but have to admit I wasn't fond of them (the bars, I mean; not the British Columians! They're great people.)

The Nanaimo bar is, traditionally, made of three layers: a rich, fudgy layer with graham cracker crumbs, almonds and coconut; a "custard" layer (well, the Canadians call it "custard" but it's more of a buttercream frosting layer); and a semi-sweet chocolate layer. What made this challenge a challenge wasn't putting the bars together, but making, from scratch, one of the ingredients - the graham crackers used for making the crumbs in the bottom layer.

Lauren encouraged everyone to prepare the gluten-free graham cracker recipe, but said we could use the regular (wheat flour) recipe if we wished. That's what I did, because purchasing the tapioca starch, sorghum flour, and glutinous rice flour (which, despite its name is gluten-free), all needed for the gluten-free recipe, was going to be expensive, assuming I could even find all of them.

Now, I mentioned that I wasn't fond of Nanaimo bars when I ate them in Alaska. So to make them a little more to-my-taste, I took some liberties with the recipe. First off, coconut is one of my least favorite foods, so I replaced the coconut in the bottom layer with Rice Krispies. Secondly, that custard layer was way too sticky sweet for my taste, which prompted me to use a little less powdered sugar and a bit more cream; and, thirdly, I added a layer of cherry pastry filling, between the custard layer and the chocolate topping, which also helped to cut the sweetness a bit. Who doesn't like chocolate and cherries together?!

So here we go! The first task was to make the graham crackers. They turned out really tasty - more flavorful than store-bought ones, probably due to the large amount of vanilla in the recipe. Even though I rolled them very thin, they puffed up quite a bit and were thicker than I had hoped they'd be. But they cooked up very crisp and worked well in the recipe, after I pulverized some of them in the food processor. They didn't stay crisp for long, though. By the next day they had become softer, even though they were sealed in a zip-lock bag and even though I live in arid Albuquerque. They were still good, though.

This is the bottom layer, the one that the graham cracker crumbs went into. It's a tasty concoction, for sure. As you see, no coconut in mine. I roasted the almonds, so they were really nutty and crunchy.

Next came the "custard" layer. I put a big dollop of it on top of the fudgy layer and spread it evenly over top. I chilled these two layers for awhile, before going on to my third and non-traditional layer . . .

. . . the cherry filling

Finally came the semi-sweet chocolate topping. It was just semi-sweet chocolate with a dab of butter, melted together. After this final layer was added, I chilled the bars over-night.

I had a hard time cutting them and getting them out of the pan, but they actually came out looking pretty nice.

Dan and I each got a small piece, to taste-test, but most of the bars went to a dinner we were going to that evening. I thought the changes I made improved the Nanaimo bars, but I wasn't prepared for all the complements I received at the dinner. I had a stream of people coming to me, raving about the bars. And they were all gone before I even got one, myself. It was a good thing that I got that little taste-test earlier in the day!

Friday, January 22, 2010

So Long to Keith

Our good friend, Keith, will be moving away next week and starting a new chapter in his life. We'll really miss him. We've done so many things together since we first met, six-and-a-half years ago. Here are a few pictures to memorialize some of the good times we've shared.

God bless and keep you, Keith. You'll be in our thoughts and prayers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The End of a Love Affair

For more than 3-1/2 years I've been in a love affair with . . . my Sony camera. It started out, back in 2006, as a summer fling. We went to Alaska and made beautiful music - or, rather, photography - together. As we spent more and more time with each other, traveling from the Southwest to the Northwest, from deserts to mountains to prairies, I fell madly in love with that little camera with its 12X zoom. But it had its limitations, and I eventually outgrew it.

On Christmas my TRUE love, my husband of 41 years, presented me with a new camera - one that will challenge me with an excitingly steeper learning curve.

Since Christmas, the Sony has been tucked away in its case, and the Nikon and I have been playing together. That was all well and good, until someone asked me if I wanted to sell my Sony. Sell my Sony?! That's when I realized how in love I'd really been with it. Could I let it go? Would I regret it? Would I ever want to go back?

Today I've been gathering up all the Sony accessories, formatting the memory cards, locating the user manual, and trying to set a fair price. It's been a difficult process, but the incentive is the prospect of cash, which will go toward accessories - maybe even a new lens - for the Nikon.

The deal isn't yet made. It might not happen. But I've prepared my mind and am ready to let it go. I think.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Zoo Babies

Wednesday I went to the zoo. We have a season pass, so I like to pop over there, after work, now and then. Besides, I had a motive this time. I wanted to start taking pictures for a little book I hope to put together for Robert - maybe for his first birthday. It will be a book of zoo animals.

What a great day to be at the zoo! It was chilly, for Albuquerque - about 45 degrees - and overcast. New Mexicans don't like to be out in such "bad" weather. I felt like it was my private park! Here are a couple pictures of the grassy area in the center of the zoo. Usually it's full of people.

Maybe it's my Alaskan blood, but 45 degrees is really nice when you're walking around a lot. The clouds didn't bother me and, as a bonus, the animals were much more active than on a hot day.

I was delighted to get to see three zoo babies. One of them has been in the news a lot for the past four months or so. That would be the baby Asian elephant, Daizy. Sixteen year old Rozie gave birth to Daizy, who weighed 318 pounds, on September 2.

The second zoo baby I saw was the giraffe, Mosi, who was born on May 21.

And, finally, there was a baby zebra. I don't know when he was born or what his name is, but he's getting pretty big. Not too big too nurse, though. I watched him have his afternoon snack.

This excursion was also a test for my new camera. No, actually it was a test for me using my new camera. In some ways I passed. I found it was not too heavy to tromp around with at the zoo. I was quite comfortable with it hanging around my neck. But I wasn't thrilled with the pictures. For some reason the color didn't come out good (had a purplish hue). I've already taken quite a few pictures on sunny days that were beautiful. But the cloudy weather threw me off, I guess. I'll need to do some more reading. Anyone out there a D-SLR pro who might want to take a look at some of the pictures and give me some advice?

Hopefully, though, I can adjust the images in Photoshop and make them usable for Robert's little book. If not . . . there'll always be another day at the zoo.

[PS - I'm glad my husband reads my blog. "I remember, with film cameras, that you'd get a purplish hue if you accidentally took outdoor pictures with film that was made for incandescent lighting. That's what your pictures look like to me." Ah-ha! That's all it took for me to realize that I had my white balance set, yep, for "incandescent light." I don't think I'll make THAT mistake again. Luckily, the pictures clean up pretty nicely in Photoshop.]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Have You Seen My Grandson Lately?

Some of you keep up with Kelsey's blog, so you've seen this picture of Robert, with a big grin. But for those of you who don't, here's a peek at our handsome little guy.

Photoshop Fun - Flip and Blend Designs

I know. Someone is sure to say, "She's got too much time on her hands."

Maybe so.

But it didn't actually take long at all to make these pretty designs out of very ordinary photos. I don't know if there's any practical use for them, but they gave my mind a little psychedelic calisthenics for an hour this evening. They're called "Flip & Blends," because they are created by flipping copies of the same photo various directions, stacking them in layers, and changing the blending mode (to "difference").

This was, originally, a picture of a bookmark lying on the open pages of a book.

This was a picture of the Railrunner (train) engine.

And this was a picture of one of the giant antennae at the Very Large Array.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Another Year Older

We celebrated Tim's birthday last evening with dinner at Olive Garden, and cake and gifts back home. Here's wishing Tim a good start on his new job and an entire year full of all things good.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Maize, Cranes and a Couple of Geese

It seems I can't resist taking pictures of the Sandhill Cranes, when they show up to winter in this part of the country. They're such amazing birds! They vary in height, but the adults are usually between three and five feet tall.

Albuquerque has a number of open spaces, owned by the city and open to the public, for the most part. One of them, Los Poblanos, is a community farm. The cranes flock here in the winter to glean leftover maize and other grains from the fields.

Today I went there, wandered around in one of the fields, and took these crane pictures.

I came across a few geese, as well, joining in the outdoor smorgasbord.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Trying It Out

I haven't had a chance to go anywhere to try taking outdoor photos with my new camera, but I did take a few shots from our backyard. I was using the 55-200 zoom lens, zoomed out pretty far, and was not using a tripod. I thought the image stabilization in the lens did a good job (although for some of these I did steady my arms on the barbecue grill). It's going to be a fun camera to use!

This is a fence across the street from us:

And here's a view of the Sandias from our deck:

This morning I saw a hot air balloon coming down a block or two over, so captured its landing. The blurred fence in the foreground of the second and third pictures is ours, to give you some perspective:

And, as I was taking shots of the first balloon, another one passed overhead: