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Archive for January, 2011

Farewell to Puck

Puck was a special Sugar Glider. We named him after the mischievous sprite from Shakespeare. We had his parents, Samson and Delilah, when he was born. He looked like a hairless little, long-tailed mouse then. I once saw him leap into his mother’s arms. So precious. The three of them were the first “kids” Ries and I had.

He was a sweet boy. He was small, like his mother. After Samson died, he was a solitary glider, but I do not think he minded so much. Our room is a lot quieter at night now, without him running around his cage. Puck traveled in his life. He visited Ohio and went camping once. He loved baby food bananas and squash. He adored cantaloupe and meal worms. He rode on Pullo’s back once, which Pullo was not too fond of and he put up with Wicket’s puppy curiosity with patience.

Last year, he had necrotic spots on his ears and tail. We had them removed and he has been fine since. The vet, an exotic specialist, said he was the gentlest and oldest sugar glider she had ever seen.

Puck would have been 12 years old in March. He lived 11 years and died in his bed of old age. We will bury him beside his parents in the backyard.

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I just wrote something in an email to a first time mom, I thought I would share because it pretty much sums up the first few weeks.

Being a parent is wonderful. It really is. Just keep telling that to yourself the first few weeks when you wonder what the hell you were thinking. Once you find a groove, everything is fabulous!

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Years ago, I tried making a chocolate cake from scratch and it was awful. I have not repeated my efforts, until now. This cake is amazing, moist, and very chocolatey. It is similar to a Texas Sheet Cake, which, unlike this one, often calls for cinnamon and sour cream. I made this for my Tuesday night ladies and Erin wanted it posted here.

A note: In general, if a recipe calls for oil of any kind, I use olive oil because that is what I keep on hand. I also keep cake flour (low protein flour) on hand and I used it for this recipe instead of regular flour. In addition, I used plain yogurt instead of buttermilk. Plain yogurt can substitute 1=1 for buttermilk in almost any any recipe.

Chocolate Fudge Cake

Cake

    2 c. flour
    1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
    1/4 tsp. salt
    1/2 c. cocoa
    2 c. sugar
    1 c. oil
    1 c. buttermilk or plain yogurt
    2 eggs, beaten
    3 tsp. vanilla
    3/4 c. hot water

Icing

    4 tbl. cocoa
    6 tbl. milk
    1 stick of butter
    1 box or 1 lb of powdered sugar
    1 tbl. vanilla
    1 c. chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350.

Sift together flour, soda, salt, and cocoa into a large mixing bowl. Add sugar and stir.

Beat in oil, buttermilk or yogurt, eggs, and vanilla. While mixing this, put the water in the microwave until just boiling. Add hot water to the cake mix and stir well. Batter will be very runny.

Pour batter into a greased 9×13 baking pan or dish.

Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

When the cake has about 5-10 minutes left to bake, start the icing.

In a small saucepan, place the cocoa and milk. Mix well until the cocoa is incorporated into the milk. It takes a lot of vigorous stirring.

Add the butter and bring the mixture to a slow boil, stirring constantly.

Remove the pan from heat.

Put the powdered sugar and vanilla into a medium mixing bowl. Add the butter and cocoa mixture. Beat well. If you are using pecans or walnuts, stir them in now.

The cake should have come out of the oven during this process. Pour the frosting over the cake (while it is still hot) and allow the whole thing to cool.

Serve with vanilla ice cream for a real treat.

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I don’t know what this says about me (okay, I know but don’t want to admit it) but one of the first things that started to sink in when I was thinking about fatherhood was, how do I introduce my children to the Star Wars epic.  This is crucial to their upbringing.  The heart of the matter is the order.  Do I show it in chronological order by universe or by release date?  I finally realized, I don’t have to do either.

First, a disclaimer, I am not a prequel hater that many Star Wars fans have become.  I am also not a Lucas fanboy that thinks that Star Wars can do no wrong.  What I worry about is that my children will be swayed by the visual / audio stimulation of the episodes 1 – 3 and think the older ones look cheesy in comparison.  Most imporantly, how do I build up these characters and this universe and still preserve the big surprises.  The end of Empire Strikes Back was not a surprise to me when I saw it.  I would like to be able to protect the obvious spoiler in Empire Strikes Back, while  building the characters background, and hopefully creating surprises in the prequels that were never surprises to any one who had seen the original trilogy.  There are also lesser spoilers, such as Yoda’s introduction in ESB, that would be ruined by changed order but maybe harder to maintain anyways.

Anyways, here is the order I came up with:

  1. A New Hope (epsiode 4) – This introduces the universe as a whole better than any other.
  2. Phantom Menace (episode 1) – Now we know universe, this introduces us to Obi-wan’s “more civilized time” and his friend Anakin Skywalker.
  3. Attack of the Clones (episode 2) – Continues the story of the Obi-wan / Anakin friendship and the budding love story on the eve of war.
  4. Empire Strkes Back (episode 5) – Imagine the big spoiler here after you have more invested in characters.  How can that be?
  5. Revenge of the Sith (episode 3) – This is how.
  6. Return of the Jedi (episode 6) – And they lived happily ever after.  Right?

I have many thoughts on this but will limit my discussion here.  I will gladly take and respond to any feedback.

–Ries, now I just need to figure out how old until they can watch it and then keep them away from all Star Wars marketing until then.

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Recipe: Split Pea Soup

Even though I had two Yankees for parents, I never ate split pea soup until I was married and attempted to make it for my husband, who loves this soup. It takes some time to make it from scratch, but it is delicious. Whenever we buy a spiral cut ham, I save the bone with some meat attached and place it in the freezer just for this recipe. I use a food processor to chop the veggies because I like them small. Feel free to hand dice if you want your veggies to be a little larger. We have it with hearty bread and cheese on the side.

Split Pea Soup

    1 lb dry split green peas
    8 c. water
    1 ham bone with meat
    4 carrots, peeled
    1 large onion
    3 stalks of celery, with leaves
    1 bay leaf
    1 tbl lemon juice

Rinse and sort peas. Place peas, ham bone, and water in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. When the mixture boils, reduce heat to a brisk simmer and cover for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While that is simmering, chop the carrots, onions, and celery into large chunks. Place each in turn into a food processor until diced small. Place in a medium bowl and set aside.

When the pea mixture has simmered for 30 minutes, add the diced vegetables and lemon juice to the soup pot. Continue to simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

Remove the ham bone and place it on a plate. Set aside.

Remove about 3 cups of the soup mixture and place in a blender. Blending hot liquids can be dangerous so be careful. Be sure to remove the small round thing in the middle of the blender lid so that it has a vent. Cover the hole with a dry, clean dishcloth. Pulse the soup mixture until smooth. Add the blended soup back into the pot. If you want a smoother soup, repeat the procedure. If you want a chunkier soup, you can forgo this step.

On a large cutting board, remove the meat from the ham bone, Discard the bone and fat. Dice the meat and return it to the pot.

Stir and serve.

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Have Kegs, Will Travel

It is definitely cool having a keg setup for my homebrew.  It is much easier than bottling, more consistent carbonation, less storage hassles, and way more convenient to grab a cold brew of desired size.  The only downside has been that it is not really practical to bring my homebrew to other people for sharing.  That is, until now.  For Christmas, the in-laws got me a gift certificate to a homebrew store.  I used it to purchase all I needed to take a keg on the go.

Our KEGlove is black but you get the idea

The most important thing I needed for my keg was something to get the beer out of the keg.  All my taps were door mounted and it would have been silly to carry around the door of the fridge.  So I got a little picnic tap (with hose and valve) to connect to the keg and dispense the yummy goodness.  Next, you want to make sure you keep your beer cold.  For this, I got the KEGlove that includes an insulated sleeve as well as a reusable ice blanket that fits snuggly over my keg.  It is supposed to keep the keg cold for more than 24 hours.  Think we can finish it in that time?  Finally, I don’t want the beer to get flat.  This last purchase enabled me to keep my keg pressurized without having to lug around my big CO2 tank.  It is a little hand charger that uses paintball CO2 cartridges to pressurize the tank.  A few cartridges should be enough to dispense a full keg.

Obviously, a full 5 gallon keg is a bit to be lugging around everywhere but you know you want me (I mean us, my beautiful wife too of course.) at your next shindig.

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Recipe: Goulash

I grew up eating goulash, but what my mother (who for the record is a great cook) called goulash would better be called Beef and Tomato Noodles. There was no paprika anywhere in that dish. I did not have real goulash until I made it myself as an adult. There is something heavenly about paprika, beef, peppers, and tomatoes all swimming together in a bowl.

My mother-in-law brought me back some actual Hungarian paprika from one of her many cruises and I was floored by the difference that spice made. Hungarian paprika is so different from the American version, the dish turned out with a completely different taste. Now I know why some recipes call specifically for Hungarian paprika. It makes a huge difference.

This recipe, regardless of what paprika you use, is sure to warm you up on a cold night. We eat it with slices of sharp cheddar and a green salad. I have adapted it from a recipe my favorite cookbook, The Gourmet Cookbook.

Goulash

    1.5 lbs of thinner cut beef steak, like beef loin or skirt steak, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
    1 tbl olive oil
    1 medium onion, finely chopped
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    1 1/2 tbl paprika
    3/4 tsp caraway seeds
    2 tbl flour
    2 tbl red wine vinegar
    2 tbl tomato paste
    2 1/2 c beef stock
    2 1/2 c water
    1/2 tsp salt
    black pepper to taste
    1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
    1 bell pepper, green or red
    2 large potatoes, cut in quarter in cubes

In a large saucepot, brown beef over medium high heat until just barely cooked. Remove the beef, leaving the juice in the pot, and place in a bowl, set aside.

Add olive oil, onions, and garlic to the pot. Cook until the onions are clear.

Stir in paprika, caraway seeds, and flour, cooking for 2 minutes and stirring constantly. Add vinegar and tomato paste. Stir until combined, about one minute. Mixture will be very thick.

Add beef stock, water, salt and pepper, tomatoes, bell pepper, and beef to the paprika mixture in the pot. Stir well. Bring to a boil over high heat.

Add potatoes and resume boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are done, about 45 minutes.

Serve in large bowls with large spoons and cheese slices. YUM!

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