Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Daring Bakers' February Challenge - Tiramisu

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession. (Recipe HERE)

Mmmmmm. It may not be as photogenic, but when it comes to taste, tiramisu has to be my favorite of all the DB challenges I've completed. "Heaven in a Dish" would be a more appropriate name! Usually I'm looking for a way to share the finished dessert with people, so we don't have to consume all of the calories. This time, although I did share it with friends at a dinner, it took great will power not to keep it all for myself! The combination of zabaglione (flavored with coffee and a touch of rum extract), vanilla pastry cream and homemade mascarpone cheese, folded into a bowl of freshly whipped cream and layered over espresso-soaked lady fingers, was sinfully scrumptious.

For the challenge we had to make, from scratch, the lady fingers as well as the mascarpone cheese. Looking to the future, though, if I purchased (rather than made) the mascarpone and the lady fingers, cooking up the filling and putting the tiramisu together into a dish wouldn't be such a difficult task and could be accomplished in an afternoon for dinner that evening. It's on my to-do list.

A pan of homemade lady fingers, dusted with powdered sugar.

Cooking up the heavy cream and lemon juice, in a double boiler, to make the mascarpone cheese.

To decorate the top, I cut out a Valentine snowflake, laid it on top of the tiramisu and sifted cocoa powder through the snowflake template. After carefully removing the snowflake, this pattern was left on top of the dessert.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Gardens in Late Winter

The sun was out this afternoon, and the temperature was perfect for enjoying the Albuquerque Botanical Gardens.

This time of year - well, maybe all year round - my favorite part of the Gardens is the Japanese Garden. It is so peaceful.

Here is a close-up of a yucca plant, and a version of the same picture that I turned into an abstract piece, using Photoshop. The yucca is New Mexico's state flower. This variety has curly "threads" along the spiky leaves. We have a large one of these in our yard, at the side of the house.

For the most part, winter still has a grip on the gardens, as seen in leafless trees and a few remaining berries from last summer.

But there were definite signs of a new beginning. Spring is on its way!

And speaking of "new beginnings" . . . this soon-to-be-married bride and groom were at the gardens with their photographer, to take wedding pictures. The bride was beautiful, in her fur-trimmed white cape. For their trek through the park, though, she was wearing black athletic shoes, while the groom carried her sparkly blue heels, to be worn for the photo shoot.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Empty Wallet

We think we know how it happened.

We think we know who did it.

But there's no way to be sure and no proof.

Dan opened his wallet today and, to his amazement, found it was empty. He knew there had been cash - not enough to break the bank, but enough to buy a couple tanks of gas - in it.

It's not so much the missing money as it is the sense of shock that someone would do this. It's the indignity of having your personal property invaded and rummaged through.

But even so, there are things to be thankful for. It was "only" cash that was taken. It could have been a larger sum of money. It could have been credit cards. In the grand scheme of things, it could have been a lot worse.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

HP's Open House

This evening we went to the public open house for the new HP facility in Rio Rancho. HP is a new employer here; the ribbon cutting for their building took place in early December. They plan to continuously employ 1,350 full-time employees by the end of 2012, and we're very happy that Tim is one of those folks.

The facility was designed, and the work stations were located, in such a way that nearly everyone has a great view through the window-walls. Tim's work station looks out on the Sandias.

This is the front entrance to the building. I was fascinated by the large spiral sculpture, to the left of the entrance in this picture. It actually turns, continuously, so you can see the spiral "moving." The effect is especially noticeable from inside, when framed in a window, as in the second picture, below.

Here's the view that Tim has, of the Sandias, although to comply with photography guidelines, this was not taken from his work station, but from the upstairs balcony, overlooking the entry foyer. (Taking pictures was allowed in the public areas of the building, but not in the work areas.)

The building is located quite a distance from any retail businesses or restaurants, in what is designed to become Rio Rancho's "city center." The University of New Mexico (UNM) has also just opened a large facility in this proposed city center, and that new campus is known as UNM West.

HP provides a cafeteria, catered by several local restaurants, for the employees.

Dan and i enjoyed seeing Tim's new "digs" and wish him many good years of employment with HP.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Friday, February 5, 2010

My One Hour Adventure

We live no more than two miles from one of the entrances to the Petroglyph National Monument, but I had never parked and walked the trails. Today was a nice, mild winter day, and I thought I'd take my camera and wander in. (If you are unfamiliar the Petroglyph National Monument, click HERE to read about it . . . quite interesting.)

The area I was going into, the Piedras Marcadas Canyon, has a small parking lot and charges no parking or entry fee. It's actually located behind a residential neighborhood. I walked up to a sign at the entrance. It said, "Stay on the marked trail."

I didn't see any markers, to start with, but figured I'd see them a little farther along. From the many footprints, it looked as if the trail went straight ahead, toward an escarpment of large volcanic rocks. So forward I went, hunting all the while for those "markers" I was supposed to see. I got to the edge of the escarpment, and saw some rough trails, two of them, winding up into the rocks.

I had my monopod with me, which I was using as a walking stick, and I took a few steps up into the rocks, but knew almost immediately that I wouldn't be able to make it. My left knee, which is really bad, was already hollering at me. Feeling defeated, I crept back down through the rocks, and back to the sign. That's when I looked to my left, at a large gate, which I had assumed, before, meant "keep out." But on the other side of the gate I spied . . . a trail marker!

And the trail was an easy, sandy one that ran alongside the escarpment.

The petroglyphs were supposed to be identified by numbered markers. I determined that, despite my sore knee, I would make it, at least, to the first marker. The sign said that the petroglyph at marker one would look like this:

I scoured the rocks, looking for that petroglyph, but couldn't find it. I did see others there, but none so elegant as in the picture. Can you find the small ones in these pictures?

It was about 3:40 by this time, and I knew Dan would be home in a matter of twenty minutes or so, so decided to head back to the car. After all, I did make it to the first petroglyph marker. But this only whetted my interest in returning, walking the entire trail, and finding the more elaborate petroglyphs - which I will do soon, before summer comes and it's too hot to be out like that.
On my way back I took a few pictures of the scenery.

The rocks, in the escarpment, are volcanic.

Here's a large block of volcanic rock.

Reading Log - December and January

I'm not a fast reader. When I take on a volume like The Pillars of the Earth (978 pages ), it takes me a long time (in this case a little over two months) to finish reading it. And since I'm rather linear-minded, I never read multiple books at one time. I read entirely through one book before I feel good about starting another. All that is to explain why there is only ONE book in this reading log, for December and January.

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

It was twelfth century England, an era known as “The Anarchy.” An ever-changing balance of power, between the Catholic Church and the Royalty, was the norm. Philip, who had been orphaned as a child, when his parents were slaughtered by an invading band of king’s men, had been rescued, along with his brother, by a priest and raised in the priory. It was only natural that he, too, would become a priest. His heart was good, and, as prior of Kingsbridge, his desire to make the priory and the village of Kingsbridge a stable, well-run, profitable community for God was a noble one.

Tom Builder and his family arrive at the priory during hard times. Tom, who is a skilled stonemason with a yearning to one day build a beautiful cathedral, is hired on to coordinate the rebuilding of the Kingsbridge church, after a terrible fire destroys the original one. Tom Builder, and his step-son, Jack, are instrumental in bringing to England Gothic architecture, after being inspired by the slim, soaring lines of cathedrals in France and Spain. In the author’s words, “. . . the building of the church would be the spine of the story and the focus for the lives of all the characters.” In this respect, this novel reminded me of The Spire, by William Golding, which I read back in my college years.

During the span of Philip’s life, civil wars, raids, spiritual edicts, personal love affairs, jurisdictional conflicts, ambition and political intrigue reign. In the end, Philip aligns himself with Thomas Becket, who had been made Lord Chancellor by King Henry II, and, following the assassination of Becket, leads a successful protest against the King, claiming for Becket both martyrdom and sainthood.

This book is lengthy. It uses historical fact as the backdrop, and winds a fictional story around it. I was totally spellbound by the story and found myself emotionally invested in the individual lives of the main characters. I am not a huge fan of history. I am not a fast reader. This book took me over two months to finish. Despite all of that, reading this book was well worth the time, and I may launch into World Without End, Follett’s sequel to Pillars of the Earth, in the near future.