Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Cheesecake Queen!

This was a Christmas story, written by my friend Miranda, and sent to me for Christmas.  I've read basically nothing since the week before Thanksgiving - really, I started a book on November 20, and finished it after Christmas.  So it was nice to get a new book, and have something fun to read!

by Miranda Koerner

Caeleah is a journalist, a food writer, who was recently let go from her job, and has been flying about interviewing for other jobs.  So just before Christmas, sitting in an airport waiting for a flight back to Chicago after another fruitless interview, she encounters a nice old lady who strikes up a conversation with her.  Distressed about Caeleah's sadness, the old lady, whose name neither Caeleah nor we learn, offers to swap air travel plans with Caeleah, and puts her on a private plane to Chestnut, Colorado.  There, Caeleah is told, she will find the best cheesecake anywhere, and write a story about it, which will land her a fabulous job.  Sure enough, when Caeleah arrives in Colorado, a cabbie named John takes her to the bakery of Cinnamon Sugar, who is a person, not a spice combination.  Cinnamon, and her sisters Ginger and Nutmeg, run cheesecake, pie and cupcake bakeries in this town.  Not just any bakeries, mind you, but magical bakeries, where everyone has their goods every day, and no one gets fat; indeed, people lose weight eating Cinnamon Sugar's cheesecake.  (as an aside, why can't I find such a bakery? I digress.)  The mayor of this town, Watson, is a health food nut even more overbearing than Mayor Bloomberg - he wants to ban all flour, sugar and baked goods from the town!  Caeleah takes it upon herself to (a) discover the secret of the cheesecake, thus winning a great job, and (b) stop Mayor Watson from ruining the town's bakeries.  It's an easy, fun read.  Chick-lit at its finest, this is supposed to be a Christmas story, but it's really just a nice winter tale.  5/5

Happy New Year, everyone!

Merry Christmas, Again

It was a wonderful, busy Christmas week.

Everyone was home, including the future daughter in law, for the best part of a week.  I do adore the noise and bustle of a full house.

Here you have some random scenes from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day:

 Christmas morning brunch: Christmas punch, cranberry bread, banana bread, blondies, brownies, 2-color cake, chocolate bundt cake with mocha frosting, coffee, tea, hot cocoa, candy....

 The standing rib roast was outstanding, if I do say so myself.  (Note: 22 pounds of standing rib roast does not go as far as one might imagine - one meal hereabouts - but the bones make for some outstanding beef soup the next night.) 
And my children gave me some splendid gifts, including a new, very comfy, office chair.  But this little gift touched my heart the most.

I wish you all as much love and happiness in 2014.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas!

"This is the message of Christmas: We are never alone."
-Taylor Caldwell

Merry Christmas from our family to yours.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Quick Thorsday Book Review

I happened upon this last weekend.

You all remember Hsin-Yi, right?  The lady in Australia with the Honey the Great Dane?  Last summer, I reviewed her first Big Honey Dog Mystery.  She's back, with a cute novella, just in time for Christmas!

Big Honey Dog Mystery
by H. Y. Hanna

Honey and her dog friends are helping to set up the Christmas celebration at the school, and they find a broken bauble (ornament) in with others; that bauble has a piece of paper inside it, which seems to be a plea for help.  Honey, Suki and the others head for the school library to look up some mysterious Latin words on the note, and then follow the clues to wherever they may lead, hoping a child is not in trouble.  Fast paced, logical (once you buy into the premise that dogs talk to each other, and suspending your belief that dogs can't read), and fun, with a happy ending, as befits a Christmas story.

Free right now for your Kindle or Kindle reading app, this only takes a little while to read.  So enjoy it!

And I'm eagerly awaiting a copy of The Cheesecake Queen, by Miranda Koerner!  I reviewed her book Blue Mermaid last summer.  She's another talented young Indie author.  I can't wait until it gets here, so I can go hide and wait for it.
Happy Thorsday, everyone.  Hope your Christmas preparations are not bogging you down too much.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Christmas Planning

Well, I'm good at making lists, anyway, even if the execution sometimes befuddles me:

Sunrise this morning, about 10 minutes after the snow showers ended:

And, plowing on Sunday.  Because everyone loves a good plow truck.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Garden Tuesday: You Know What Happened!

8" Saturday, and another 3" today:
Didn't the little boys do a great job shoveling a path out to the street?

 And this is what's outside my kitchen window.
Happy Tuesday, everyone!  Stay warm!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Roast Chicken

Jeff and Cass were home the other night, along with the usual residents, so I made two roast chickens for dinner.  Ryan thought the chickens looked picture-perfect, and so I took not only a picture of the chickens in the roasting pan, but also of my chicken carver.  (I despise carving chickens, and birds in general; it's so tedious.)


1 Oven Stuffer Roaster
2 Onions, quartered
2 carrots, cut in half and quartered
vegetable oil

Clean out the bird's cavity, and rinse it well.  Spray the bottom of your pan, and lay 4 carrot quarters under where the chicken will be placed.  Then take one of the onion quarters and separate it so you can lay it out out the layers in the bottom of the pan.  Place the chicken atop the bed of onion and carrot, Then generously sprinkle salt and basil inside the chicken.  Stuff one piece of carrot and one piece of onion between the body of the chicken and each wing, under the skin.  Put the remaining onion and carrot in the chicken's cavity, then rub the skin with oil to prevent it from drying out.  Roast at 350F, 20 minutes per pound in a conventional oven or 15 minutes per pound in a convection oven, until the chicken tests done with a meat thermometer.

You probably don't have a chicken assistant who's as enthusiastic as mine, but he and his fellow diners all said this was a great chicken.  Don't believe me; you have their word on it!

Happy Weekending, everyone!  Hope the snowstorm that's coming to the eastern half of the country doesn't put too much of a damper on your plans!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

The three pine trees in front of my house, as seen from about 120 feet away, taken through the new zoom lens Santa's holding for me:

Happy Wednesday, everyone!  Hope your Christmas shopping is coming along well!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Garden Tuesday: Before Most of the Storm

Many of you were attacked by the snow and rain storm over the weekend.  We had a little snow on Saturday, and these pictures were taken that afternoon, when it was bright and sunny.

The white mulberry tree out front:
 Pine tree branches on the tree across the street, next to my mailbox (OK, so they might be hemlock.  They can sue me for slander, if they wish.):
 Blue spruce in the back yard, as seen through a poplar tree:
 Elm trees, pine and other assorted lovelies in the late afternoon sun:
Mrs. Santa brought a new zoom lens, and so I had to try it out, to be certain that it's just right.  I was no more than 12" from one door or the other when I took these pictures.

What, you thought I was tromping outdoors in the snow, even just 2" of snow?  Hah!

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Carrot Cake

A few days after Thanksgiving, my dearly beloved announced that he wanted a piece of my carrot cake; he looked positively crestfallen when I told him that it had all been consumed by the herds of people who had been running rampant through the house.  So I made him another one (which, of course, he shared with the boys).

Given Chan's desire for the carrot cake recipe, I decided to run with this today.  I've made this cake much more pre-diabetic and cholesterol friendly, but am including the original ingredients (where I've changed them) in case you aren't concerned about cholesterol, sugar or even just plain extra calories.


2 cups flour
1 cup sugar plus 1 cup splenda (or 2 cups sugar)
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup egg beaters (or 4 eggs, or 2 eggs plus 3 egg whites)
3 cups shredded carrot (about a pound)
1 cup chopped walnuts

Put all of the dry ingredients in your mixing bowl and stir vigorously with a wire whisk.  (This saves you from having to sift them together.  You'll be happier, trust me.)  Add the oil, egg and vanilla extract; beta about 2 minutes at low speed, until smooth.  The batter will be very dense.  Stir in the walnuts and carrot, mixing well.  Turn into a well greased 13x9 baking pan (unless you want to make a layer cake, which is, of course, your prerogative), and bake at 350F for 40 to 50 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and let it cool  Frost with this cream cheese frosting:


8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 pounds confectioners' sugar
heavy cream

Beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together to combine.  Beat in the sugar to combine, and then beat in cream until it's smooth.  Frost the cake generously.

You will notice, of course, that all of the healthy alterations I made to the original recipe are negated by the frosting.  But I figure that a little improvement is better than none. And this is the recipe that Andrea loved at Thanksgiving, so you have her word on it.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thanksgiving, Again...

This time, it's all about the people with whom we celebrate, which is really what it's all about.  Of course, these are in no particular order.

I always have plenty of help setting up the table.  With only 18 people this year, we didn't need much of a table extension.
 Look!  It's the other side of Dan's beautiful room!  This was taken with someone else's camera, and his wide angle lens is just weird.  The walls are not pitched outward like this, really.
 What visit is complete without my daughter's birdies?  And they've only taken one of their mirrors part way down (that's their favorite pastime, besides singing).
 In the kitchen, my daughter Shannon with her boyfriend, making his second appearance at Thanksgiving, the groom from a couple of years back toting around his camera with the strange wide angle lens, his bride, and the relative from Denver.
 Note the search for libations, even whilst the food preparation is in full swing.
 Feed us!
 Feed us!
And the one you've all been eagerly awaiting: the annual group photo.
This was taken with Scott's camera, again, because I let him set up mine, and he missed his own brother in the pictures!  Two of my daughters were missing because of work, and my oldest son had to spend Thanksgiving with his fiancee's family (they'll be here for Christmas, instead).  See the dark haired beauty standing next to me?  Jeffrey's new girlfriend.  She's a medical student, and has been here from Brazil for 3 months, having arrived speaking not one word of English.  She was great fun in the kitchen; she "mixed" the potatoes for us - so we now eat Mixed Potatoes, not Mashed!  She's here for 16 months total - 1 semester taking English classes 5 hours a day, then 2 semesters plus a summer doing laboratory work for her medical degree.  What a smart, ambitious girl! 

I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving with family and/or friends abounding.  And if your crowd seems small by comparison, well, at least you didn't have to cook as much!

Happy weekending, everyone!  STay warm!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thorsday Thanksgiving Food Review

Everyone else in the world has forgotten Thanksgiving already, and I'm just looking at my pictures now.

Today I bring you the food:

Those of us who feed massive numbers of large menfolk require two turkeys (total weight: 48 pounds).  Two carvers is the most efficient way to deal with said turkeys.

One of my guests saw fit to photograph my veggies while they were cooking.  There's no real point to this picture, except to show you why I ran 6 dishwasher loads of dishes on Thursday.

Here's the table, while people were trying to decide where to sit.  The point, of course, was the food.

And dessert, or most of it, anyway.  There's a pie missing from this picture.  But Andrea, Greg's friend, who has never been here before, said my carrot cake was the best she's ever had.  And she went on to explain that she is Italian, and she really knows carrot cake.  I just love such a compliment!

Happy Thorsday, everyone!

Tomorrow, I'll give you random pictures of people at Thanksgiving.  Really, I will.