Sunday, February 27, 2011

Daring Bakers' February Challenge: Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies


The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

I'd never heard of Panna Cotta before, but now it's one of my favorite desserts, for several reasons. First of all, it's beautiful and looks like something you'd find at a fancy restaurant or in a cruise ship dining room! Secondly, it's easy. Really, folks, it's very easy and maybe even "no fail." And, thirdly, it's delicious. The main ingredient is cream. It is sweetened with honey, and thickened just right with gelatin. It tastes similar to creme brulee (my VERY favorite dessert), but has a lighter, fresher taste, I believe. On top I poured a thin layer of home made pomegranate jelly. Yum! Pretty, tasty and easy.

To go with the Panna Cotta, we were challenged to bake a batch of Florentine Cookies. Florentines are thin, caramelized oat cookies, drizzled with chocolate. Maybe you can see, in this picture, how lacy they turned out.


I'm still laughing at my first pan of Florentine Cookies, which didn't turn out looking like cookies at all. Instead they spread and ran all together, making one giant Florentine.

But I peeled the thin mass of cookie from the Silpat liner, and used a pair of clean scissors to cut it into randomly-shaped individual cookies, which, by the way, tasted just as good as the nicely-shaped ones that came out on pans #2 and #3.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What's Keeping YOU Busy?

I’ve never been a person who let myself get bored with life. In fact, I’m more likely to be faulted for going too many directions at once. I have to rein myself in, sometimes. I’m amazed at the diversity of talents and gifts that God gives to His people. Here are a half-dozen projects that are keeping me busy right now.

Now that I’ve announced our retirement plans, I can share about our preparations. We want to put the house on the market this spring, which is not far off. Our house is, for the most part, in good shape, but some things need sprucing up (“staging” as they call it these days). I’m starting with closets and storage areas. They need to be clean, neat and pared down to just the essentials. Each week I’m setting myself a goal. The first week was our master clothes closet – and I successfully reorganized it. I even bought new hangers, so everything would be hanging on identical ones. It really made a difference! Last week I tackled two more areas – my kitchen pantry and the coat closet near the front door. This week I was hoping to organize the large bank of shelves in the laundry room, but I let a procedure with the oral surgeon, yesterday, ambush my plans. I’ll be back to it next week.

Here's a the pantry after it was tidied up.

My friend, Celia, and I share the responsibility of teaching the two- and three-year-olds on Sunday mornings. We’ve been working together for a long time, and it’s been such a delight getting to know and love her through our combined efforts. Our little class has four regulars this year, as well as occasional visitors. Each of our “little peeps” is so unique and precious. I can’t imagine NOT spending time with them each week, but it does require a lot of time to prepare the lessons.

This picture shows four little girls in Bible class -- our one little boy didn't want to get into Abraham's tent with all these girls. Don't blame him, do you? They are pretending to be the strangers who stayed to eat a meal with Abraham and Sarah. They had walked a long way and are washing their [cute little] feet. That's why all the shoes are coming off, and why there is a bowl in the foreground and a towel in one of the little one's hands.

I know that no one is forcing me to update my blogs on a regular basis, but I really enjoy both the writing and the photography, so wouldn’t want to give them up. I’ve fallen into a habit of taking Friday afternoons as “photo shoot day,” trying to find themes for the following week’s photo blog. That seems to be working for most weeks. If you're not checking my photo blog once a week or so, I hope you will.

Believe it or not, I have Robert’s book about his Great-grandpa Robert, nearly finished. I just need to go back and proof read the text and touch up some of the art work. I probably won’t send it off to be printed until April, but the bulk of the work is done, and I’m happy with it. Once it is back from the printer, I’ll try to post the pages somewhere to share with you who remember my dad. For now, here's a sneak peek of one of the 2-page layouts.


Each year I do a digitally-created scrapbook for Clara, mostly using pictures that Kelsey shares with me, and a few of my own. I send them to to be printed. Last year I took on the creation of one for Robert, as well.

I picked out two spreads, one from Clara's 2010 book and one from Robert's, to display here.

From Clara's:

From Robert's:

I've been surprised at how difficult it has been to complete two separate annual scrapbooks. I have Robert’s 98% done, but Clara’s is only at about 75%. And here we are, already, well into a new year, when I should be working on the 2011 books. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a family scrapbook for them, instead of one for each of the children. That has some pros and some cons. What do you think? Really . . . I’d like your opinions.

I love doing my once-a-month Daring Bakers challenge, but some months I find it difficult to squeeze in. Some of the challenges take more than one day to prepare, and then, as required by the Daring Baker rules, I must photograph and blog about the process on the 27th of each month. I just finished my February challenge and have the blog ready to automatically post early on Sunday morning. Don't miss it. It was really tasty. Wish I could post a picture for you here, but "rules are rules." Come back on Sunday.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Clara's First "Mad"

I just read on Facebook about Clara's outburst over being told, by her mom, that she couldn't have any gum. In Kelsey's words: "She folded her arms and told me, 'I'm very mad at you. I'm mad at you all the way to space. Space is a very long way from here. You have to take a rocketship to get there. I am zero three thirty mad.'"

I commented on Kelsey's FB post that I'm pretty sure I've been "zero three thirty mad" at a few people in my life, but just didn't know what to call it. Now I do! Had to learn it from a 5-year-old.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Virtual Respect

Technology is creeping (stomping?) its way into even the most solemn of events. Here are some examples I noticed just last week.

In USA Today: U.S. Catholic Church blesses iPhone app for confession.

On the radio: A growing trend – online funerals. "Attend" your friend's or relative's funeral from the comfort of your home.

On a church sign in our neighborhood: “Drive Thru Prayer.”

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Planning for the "Big R"

Many of our friends here in Albuquerque know. Both Dan’s and my employers are aware. Our family knows. So maybe it’s time to share our retirement plans here, on my blog.

The target date is February 1, 2012 – according to my computer count-down timer, just 358 days from now! I call it a target date, knowing that God, in his providence, might have other plans for us, and we intend to follow His direction. My prayer is always that the right doors be opened, and, just as importantly, that wrong doors be closed.

That being said, we are starting the preparations for this big event. Our first task is to get our house ready to sell. We hope to put it on the market this spring, giving us nearly a year to sell. If it should sell quickly - that would be wonderful! - we will move into an apartment for the rest of our time here.

The plan is to move to the Temple, Texas, area – about three hours from Chris, Kelsey and the kids. We feel this is a healthy and convenient distance from them. We could easily go there for any special event. It wouldn’t even be out of the question to drive over early in the morning, spend a few hours, and drive back the same day. And yet, we wouldn’t be “on their doorstep,” so to speak, assuring them of the independence they’ve enjoyed for all their married years. We are also aware that, at any time, an opportunity could arise for them to make a move, themselves, although, as far as we know, there is none in the works. We want them to know that we would understand and be supportive of their decision. Being near them is probably the number one reason we have selected the Temple area as our prospective home, but we feel there are other reasons that make it a good decision.

That area of Texas has a lower cost of living, and lower housing costs – all good for living on a retirement income. It’s a scenic part of Texas, just on the edge of what is known as “the Hill Country.” Temple is a small town, but has a wonderful medical facility (Scott & White) and is only an hour away from Austin and a little farther away from San Antonio. There are also some very nice recreation areas, many located on Lake Belton.

I’m not blind to the fact that the summers are hot and humid – not, however, as humid as Houston. We have friends who moved to Temple from Albuquerque some years ago. They have this to say about the weather: Whereas in most places you limit your outdoor time in the winter, due to cold weather, in this part of Texas you limit your outdoor time in the summer, due to the heat and humidity. But the other nine months of the year are beautiful, and the mild temperatures welcome you to spend lots of time outdoors in the fall, winter and spring. I realize that that's a glass-half-full way of thinking, but I’m buying it!

We have made two trips to Temple to check out the area and to look at housing. We’ve identified our favorite builder and, even, a favorite house plan that he builds. We’ll have to wait to see if he has one on the market when we’re ready; if not, we might contract with him to build for us.

There is one more detail that should be mentioned – a very important detail, named “Tim.” While we’ll be moving closer to one son, we’ll be moving away from the other, which is a little troubling to me. However, Tim is happily and successfully working here in Albuquerque, and isn’t interested in making this move with us. We'll make sure to see him every now and then, and will stay in close touch through phone, email, Skype and texting. (Won't we, Tim?!)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Another Weather Day - Tomorrow!

Up to 24,000 New Mexicans are experiencing natural gas outages as various utility companies are unable to keep up with the high demand for increased power and fuel due to sub zero temperatures. Emergency shelters have been set up throughout the state, with accommodations for families without heat.

As a result, UNM and UNM Foundation will both be closed tomorrow. What a week it has been! I'm looking forward to staying home, keeping warm, and getting some long over-due tasks checked off my to-do list.

Record-Breaking Cold Temperatures

Negative 11 degrees. That’s what the temperature is, this morning, in Albuquerque! Because of strong east winds, the wind chill factor is -23 degrees. Maybe moving from Juneau, 7-1/2 years ago, was only a dream, because it feels like I’m back “home.”

Schools have been closed for three days now. UNM and the UNM Foundation (where I work) were closed Tuesday and Wednesday, and are on a 2-hour delay today. Although the roads were very bad on Tuesday, they are mostly clear now. The closures and delays today are not due to road conditions, but to the bitter cold. Albuquerque school-children (and adults, for that matter) do not have the warm clothing needed for this kind of weather.

I came to work this morning at my regular start-time; I didn’t see a reason to wait until later. The office building is pretty frigid, although our little suite of five offices is not bad at all. Other folks coming into our suite are calling it the banana belt of the building. The ladies’ restroom thermometer, on the other hand, reads 49 degrees! I’m pretty sure the toilet seats are closer to freezing.

According to the weather forecast, the temperature should begin rising tomorrow. By Saturday they are predicting a high of 41 degrees, but more snow is in the forecast for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Winter Weather

You couldn't turn on the news yesterday without hearing about the winter storm headed our way. We awoke to a bit of snow in the back yard. I received a text message telling me that my workplace would be on a 2-hour delay, but since Dan's car doesn't have all-weather tires, I agreed to go ahead and leave early, around 6:00 a.m., to take him to work. I figured I'd just go on to my office, despite the 2-hour delay.

Now I know that this picture shows we only had an inch or so of snow, but what you can't see is the condition of the roads. They are completely glazed over with a fairly thick layer of ice. Traffic on Paseo del Norte, the road we take to get across the Rio Grande, going east, was trecherous. Most of the drivers were being smart, thankfully, and going very slowly. There are three 60-mph-lanes going east, and all three lanes were moving between 7 and 15 miles per hour. It made for a long trip to Dan's office, but we made it without incident. Then I headed on to my office.

I got to work at 7:45, about 1 hour and 45 minutes after leaving home. My commute is normally 20-25 minutes. There were no other cars in the parking lot, which wasn't strange, since we were on the 2-hour delayed schedule. I went to my office, started up my computer, took off my coat, and was about to check my email when someone came in to tell me that the delay had been changed to a closure. Sigh.

So I went back to my car and made the long trip back home. I was home by 8:45, two hours and 45 minutes after leaving home in the first place.

They are predicting more snow today, tonight and tomorrow. The temperatures are also way below normal. Tomorrow is supposed to be the coldest day -- High 12 degrees, low -8 degrees! We've been here 7-1/2 years, and never seen it below zero.