Silent Night (No More)

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After the mouse incident, I was prepared for another mouse or two from Gracie. What I was not prepared for were the rabbits she brought home yesterday and this morning. Logically, this is what cats do – they hunt. But I still feel incredibly bad for everything she chases. So … we are attempting a low tech solution.

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Collar with a bell. I went for the pinkest, sparkly-ist, girly-ist collar I could find … With a bell. Gracie hates it. She had hidden under the bed, under the entry table, under the couch and in my closet. I just put it on her after work today. I am hoping she gets accustomed to it and it no longer bothers her, but I get the strange feeling she will either figure out how to take it off, or just stay out for a few days, pouting. Either way, I want to give the small critters of the neighborhood a fighting chance.

On a lighter note, I had help making dinner tonight.

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Artisan Cheese Company, Sarasota

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I am breaking from my Christmas Song/Lyric themed post titles for a somewhat special edition. A week or so ago Bob and I, while running errands, tried the Artisan Cheese Company downtown. So this is technically not a travel post, it is a local travel post. Tourists in out own home town so to speak. Anyway, I had asked Bob to find a cheese shop and he found one not just within driving distance, but locally. We had lunch there a few weekends ago and loved it. Tonight we had the Cheese 101 Class.

It was fantastic! We sampled 13 cheeses, from a very mild mozzarella to a very strong blue. Everything was paired with wines (3 total) and small accommodations like nuts, fruits, bread, chutney, etc. Louise, the owner, and her husband Parker, created a fun, entertaining, but highly informative atmosphere. Can you tell we loved it?

Some of the highlights …

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I am a huge goat cheese fan, and this had to be some of the best I’ve ever had. Yes, it rivals the Scottish goat cheese we had over the summer. Creamy, buttery, with a … Strong is the wrong word, but flavorful taste. I have had a few glasses of wine as I write this, so bear with me.

Next favorite was a sheep’s cheese called Lamb Chopper. We had picked this one up the last time we were there, but forgot that it was the same cheese. Velvety, smooth, beautiful color and suck an amazing taste … I could say I could eat this for dinner, but in all honesty, we HAVE eaten it for dinner … Recently.

There were several other really good cheeses in the mix and I loved how pairing them with a little wine, an apple slice, some honey or a nut totally changed the flavor. Louise was fantastic with suggestions for what to pair with which cheese, so we got a full range of favors.

The last cheese we tasted was a blue. Great Hill Blue is a Massachusetts cheese company that has been doing small batches for a long time. I don’t like blue cheese and had every intention of skipping this one, but Bob had such an expression of rapture on his face that I had to try it. Not my cup of tea, but I will say, it had an amazing texture. Creamy, light, and smooth which is not what I expect in a blue. However, it still had that super strong taste that did not work for me.

I had a better post in my head as we were taking part in the tasting, but I left my notes on the table.

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Clearly, however, we liked everything enough to come home with a bag full of stuff. Wednesday’s dinner will be cheese, crackers/bread and wine. We can’t wait. … And I told Bob that I want to do the cheese tasting again. That alone should tell you how good this was.

So … Check out http://artisancheesecompany.com and if you are within driving distance of Sarasota, stop in. You will not be sorry you did.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It is officially the holiday season, and that means baking!  But … I have to confess, I lost the bacon bread recipe.

For those who don’t know the story, Grandmom J. had the best bacon bread.  The slightly sweet bread with the savory, slightly salty filling of bacon and onions. It was one of the food highlights I vividly remember from growing up. (Now if I could figure out dad’s mom’s chiffon cake icing I would be set … but that is a whole other day.)  I don’t think anyone ever had  written recipe so I tried, and erred, over a few years until I found a combination that worked; it almost tasted just like grandmom’s. But … as I am doing more and more frequently, I misplaced the recipe.  Can’t find it.  I wanted bacon bread so badly today (really says the holidays to me) and I just could not find it.

Bob suggested that I try making it anyway – after all it is something I made so many times I knew the ingredients by heart.  But the proportions … was it three eggs or four?  1/3 cup milk or 1/4?  Salted or unsalted butter or does it not make a difference?  Well … I took everything out and started.  I stared at measuring cups hoping the right combination would come to me in a lightbulb moment. And … for the first time ever … I wrote down what I did AS I did it.  Shocking, I know.  I kept track of what I did, how much, for how long, etc. (and took pictures, of course – I love my iPhone!)

 So … I took a stick of unsalted butter and melted it in a small pan with 1/3 cup milk.  I used regular fat free milk, but I think the soy milk I usually use, or full fat milk would work better.  Once that melted I added 1/4 cup of water to cool it slightly.

In a bowl, I combined 1 tablespoon yeast, 1/2 cup flour and slightly less than 1/4 cup sugar.  Mix then add the butter mixture and stir.  Wait a few minutes to ensure the yeast isn’t dead (I look for bubbles and foam) then add eggs.  This was the tricky part.  I had two actual eggs (I know, I could have gone to the grocery store, but I could have searched the house for my recipe again too) and egg whites for Bob’s omelette lunches.  So … in goes both eggs and the equivalent of one more egg.  Mix well and pray a little, then add four, 1/2 cup at a time until the dough no longer sticks to your hands.  (About 3 cups, but one of the few things I remember from a bread class is that the amount of flour you use in baking can vary wildly depending on humidity, so don’t be afraid to add more or less than a recipe says.)  Knead and let rest, covered in a warm spot.

The dough should rise for about an hour, then punch down and knead for another few minutes.  Put back in the bowl, cover and let rest again. (I never said this was quick, just good.)  After about 30 minutes, punch the dough down again and the roll out to about 1/8 inch thickness.  I divide the dough in half just because it is easier to work with.

While the dough is resting the second time, chop one small to medium onion and between 1/2 and 3/4  pound of bacon.  I used about 1/2 a package of bacon plus some leftover ham for today’s trial.  Cook the bacon down until some of the fat is rendered then add the onion and cook, stirring frequently.  You want the bacon cooked, but not crisp for this.  Then, spread the mix over the rolled dough, but not totally to the edge – you want to leave room to roll.

Once the dough is rolled, transfer to a baking sheet, cover and let rise again as you heat the oven to 325.  For a glossy crust, use an egg wash and bake for about 30 minutes.  It may be a little longer or a little shorter, but you are looking for a golden crust.

The results … not bad.  The overall bread was good, and it had most of the flavor I was looking for.  But … I think three actual eggs, soy or whole milk, and maybe a touch more sugar would be right.  But it did make for a great addition to lunch … the Wild Rice Soup!

Happy start to the holiday season!

On the First Day of Christmas … (or the Christmas Season)

Happy Holiday Season. We ended Thanksgiving day here with Gracie bringing us the first gift of the season.

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That is a very bad picture of a very terrified mouse. Gracie brought home, and into the house, a very alive, very not hurt mouse. This would be bad enough, but once she let go of the mouse, the poor thing ran behind the television.

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Shouldn’t be a problem, right? Get the mouse cornered, catch the mouse, take mouse outside and release. No big deal. Except here we had Gracie and Leia trying to catch the mouse before we did, Jessie trying to figure out what al the fuss was about and a mouse that disappeared. Yep. Gone. Can not find. In the house. With two adults, two cats and a dog watching it.

Bob found the mouse … It hid in one of his speakers. So how does one get a mouse out of a speaker? Take the whole thing apart. Bob took the speaker outside, I got the cats inside, and he took the speaker apart only to find the mouse hid itself in the insulation. After poking it with a small bamboo pole it came out and scampered under the grill then up the wall. Cats were safely in the house so they could not recapture it. The speaker however …

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Had to be put back together again. We did manage to get everything back together again and in working order …. ok, Bob got everything together again and in working order and I tried not to laugh after it was all over.

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Be on the look out for an eight pound, very cute, tri colored possible serial killer. She responds to cheese, chicken and bacon and is not afraid of dogs.

Thanksgiving – Non-Traditional

Happy Thanksgiving – the celebration of the settlement of the new world and the survival of those who made the harrowing trip.  At least that was the idea originally; now it is the beginning of the holiday season, the start of shopping madness and the forced happiness to demonstrate that one has the “holiday spirit.”

Despite that cynical beginning, I do love the holidays, but I miss some of the real spirit of the season.  Christmas decorations are up at Halloween, Christmas carols are heard on Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving is just the feast before the shopping rush.  Or it can be that. I still refuse to play carols until the day AFTER Thanksgiving, will not shop on Friday (and totally refuse to shop today) and take the day to relax and be thankful for all I have.

We didn’t travel this year (a complete first for me).  Yes, we did not spend Thanksgiving with any extended family, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t cook.  And only cooking for Bob and one co-worker/friend I had the freedom to go very non traditional and experiment.  And there were lots of experiments today.  I went safe with the ham and went with a Honeybaked Ham.  Yes, it is cheating, but what a way to cheat.  I did, however, make …

Homemade stuffing.  My nod to tradition.  I made the bread (yes, this is totally homemade), used leeks, bacon, apples, sage, celery and thyme.  It came out pretty good – but the bread does need to be harder before soaking in the veggie broth.  Not bad for a first try.

First there is a tomato/mozzarella salad with basil (from the garden) and balsamic dressing.  This should be a summer dish, the tomatoes were so pretty, I just had to do it. The other dish is a celery and apple “slaw.”  It is almost a salad, but I wanted to ensure there was something that was not sweet and added some crunch.  And really, I had apples and celery in my basket last week, so I HAD to use them.  Both of these were very simple and hard to mess up, so I knew we would have something to eat today.

Then was the experiment I was most excited about – mashed squash.  One is an acorn squash and the other is a butternut squash.  Both were roasted on the grill and mashed with caramelized onions that I made yesterday … Yes, I caramelized onions all by myself.  And yes, it does take an hour to do it, so do not believe the recipes that tell you it takes ten minutes.  …. This was a good dish and made a great substitute for mashed potatoes.  The squash was just savory enough to take the caramelized onions.  My only complaint is that that cooled really, really fast.  As in it was the last dish finished and it was the coolest on the table.  But, they still tasted great.

Then came the roasted green beans.  I am not a huge fan of green beans, but I got some in the basket last week and wanted to use them today.  So … I marinated them with olive oil, sage, garlic, scallions and a little salt then roasted them on the grill as I did the squash.  They looked a little weird but tasted really, really well.  I may come to like green beans yet.

If you are a dessert fan, I highly recommend the Pecan Pie Cheesecake.  This is one of my favorites.

The cheesecake itself is pretty basic, but the yummie goodness on top makes this dessert.  It has brown sugar, cream, butter, whiskey and toasted pecans.  The ingredients don’t tell the whole story, but just think of a warm, velvety pecan pie and you begin to get the idea.  The crust is chocolate wafer and toasted pecans which just adds a depth of flavor that is magical.

So this was our experimental, non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  We didn’t travel, didn’t do turkey, are not going shopping, but are celebrating in a classic sense – we are thankful for all that we have, those we love and the health and blessings we enjoy each day.  To me, that makes this a perfect day.

Oh, and if you need one more sinful delight Caramel hot chocolate with homemade caramel whipped cream.  YUM.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Get ready for the post titles to be holiday songs – I get to enjoy them for one month a year, so I made the most of it!

The Wimbledon Project

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Tennis is not my sport. I don’t plan vacations around tournaments, don’t know who is number one in the world or who is on the current teams. But I do love Wimbledon. There is something about that tournament that I love and watch every year. Maybe because it is held just as soon as school is letting out for the year, or perhaps the tradition of the place, but it is the only tennis I watch.

When I first started working, I put in a ballot application for Wimbledon tickets each year. I was careful to mail it in time, and mail the ballot back promptly. I never got chosen for tickets, and later I stopped applying. But this year, we are back to trying for tickets!

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You can only request one ballot per household. The rules are very clear, one per address or all will be discarded. So, I have multiple people willing to try for a ballot for me this year. I got the International Response Cards from the post office today, picked up extra air mail stamps that I can send everyone who is helping in the Christmas cards, and made sure I got everything out today! All requests must be postmarked by December 15 and all ballots must be returned by December 31. I’m cutting it close but hopefully we will still be ok.

I did actually buy air mail stamps when we were in the UK in July. I just totally and completely lost them, so we went for the alternate route.

The wrinkle in this is the new(ish I assume) rule that you cannot buy tickets for anyone else. I am hoping that does not mean the name of the person on the ballot must buy the tickets, but we will see. If nothing else I will know for next year.

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Wish me luck and thank you to everyone who said they would help!

Where Have All the Christmas Cards Gone?

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Yes, those are tomatoes. Beautiful heirloom cherry tomatoes fresh from the farmer’s market today. I feel a tomato-mozzarella salad or sandwich coming soon.

But today was not all about food; it was a good portion about food, but not all about food. We had a bunch of errands to run today including pet food (never a good idea to run out of that), people food in the form of cheese, and fresh veggies. So I started with the farmer’s market this morning where I found those lovely tomatoes, some baby bok choy and a few other veggies to make throughout the week. Then on to the pet store and then continuing the search for Christmas cards.

Has anyone else noticed the dearth of cards this year? When did this happen? I started looking for cards a week or two ago. Target did not have a selection, WalMart had a very limited and very poor selection and even the stationary store only had a handful. Yes, I looked at Amazon, but trying to find specific cards there was just way too much hassle. We hit Barnes and Noble (I do love bookstores) today and even that was depressing. I remember tables and tables of cards when I worked at Borders all those years go. But now … one table. That was it, just one. I did manage to find cards I liked, but it was just depressing.

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On a happier note, we have found a cheese shop in Sarasota. This was very exciting to us although I am embarrassed to say that it has, apparently, been there for a little while and I totally missed it. I really have to get out. More. But, We stopped in for lunch today and both had

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Five cheese Mac & Cheese and a salad. Yes, this is totally and completely off Bob’s diet, but as we both ate the entire thing, I can honestly say it was worth every carbohydrate and calorie it contained. And … The shop is incredible. Lots of unique cheeses and a really exceptional staff. We found a sheep’s milk cheese for a dish I want to make over the next week and maybe for Thanksgiving and an herbed goat cheese that I swear is amazing. Maybe not the goat cheese of Scotland. But totally different and wonderful. Both are U.S. cheese’s too, which somehow pleases me. Now I can’t wait for the Cheese class! Yes, we are taking a Cheese 101 class and I am super excited.