Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Italian Cream Cake

Mike proposed to me on July 11, 2006. Mom was diagnosed with lymphoma on August 5 of the same year, and doctors started dumping cytoxin, vincristine, and rituxin in her body shortly thereafter. Everything turned out OK, but the process was difficult when we were in the midst of it.

Especially so because our good friends Cindy and James were getting married late that October. Mom had offered to bake the wedding cake, but there was no way she would be able to do it: the chemo had rendered her unable to hold a can of Coke, much less bake a quadruple-batch Italian cream cake.

So with much trepidation, I stepped up. I went for a simple design - very much like the one above that I baked this morning - but it was much larger and rectangular with two tiers. My favorite part of it was that I took Tropicana sweetheart cluster roses, clipped each bud to have about a 1 inch stem, and tucked them in a tight, neat row at the base of the cake. That way, everybody had a piece of cake with a rosebud on it. I wish I could find the photo of us during the reception - Cindy had Mike and me feed each other cake as practice for our own upcoming wedding. It was a hoot and a half.

We are still blessed enough to have Cindy and James as good friends, and I look forward to my visits at their place in the country. Meet Red and Spot, the calves James gave Cindy for her birthday a couple of weeks ago. Aren't they beautiful? They were bottle-raised and came from the Vet School at Mississippi State.

Happy anniversary, you two.

Italian Cream Cake
1 stick margarine
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sugar
5 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 small package coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
5 egg whites, stiffly beaten

- Cream margarine and shortening, add sugar and beat until mixture is smooth.
- Add egg yolks and beat well.
- Combine flour and soda; add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk.
- Stir in vanilla and add coconut and nuts.
- Fold in egg whites.
- Pour batter into 3 greased and floured 8-inch cake pans
- Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Cool and frost.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick margarine
1 box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Chopped pecans

- Beat cream cheese and margarine until smooth; add sugar and mix well.
- Add vanilla, beat until smooth. Spread on cake and sprinkle with pecans.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Slow Boat to China

We went to China this past weekend. Didn't we mention?

Actually, our dear friends Ying and John were kind enough to have us over for dinner this past Saturday night for Chinese. John and I grew up together, and I had eaten at his parents' house a bunch of times, but it's been a while. I forgot how incredible authentic Chinese food is; it's completely different from the take out we're use to in America. And good for you! There is a good reason why the Chinese live so long, stay so healthy, and have such beautiful complexions.

The photo above is a detail of one of eight Hunan Province Chinese embroideries that Mike and I have hanging over our bed. My parents bought them in San Francisco on the first leg of their honeymoon, and I found them laid carefully in a drawer about 20 years later, perfectly preserved. They are all different; each has its own characters. All but one have a pair of birds: the lone avian is an eagle. Ying was sweet enough to translate each one for me, but I was dumb enough to promptly forget. I do remember that the inscription on the eagle has to do with prosperity in the workplace, while the pair of peacocks calls upon a happy and harmonious marriage. I will have to get Ying to decipher them for me once again, and this time I'll have to write the meanings on the back of the frames.

But I digress. Supper. Saturday night. Delicious!

Ying started us off with edamame, one of our favorite dishes and one that I can make myself at home. Everything went fancy from there, and I soon realized this meal was one that I could never replicate.

Ying brought out thin strips of beef and chicken to carefully cook in the hot plate on the table; I felt bad because she spent more time cooking than she did eating. The chicken and beef were marinated beautifully, and we used big lettuce leaves, nori, or (and this fascinated me to no end) very thinly fried egg in which to wrap the meat along with rice, sauces, crab, eggs, and vegetables. There were big chopsticks on the table for us to use, but I forgot and once used my personal chopsticks to snag some beef. Hope nobody noticed my taboo!

But wait, there's more.

Ying outdid herself with such a varitey of dishes. One of my favorites was steamed rice cakes and bean sprouts with a spicy Chinese sauce. It was so good I bit my tongue twice in my enthusiasm. We also had grilled marinated chicken, fried rice, and a list of deliciousness that I can neither pronounce nor spell. But it was so good. We ate until we were full, then until we were stuffed, and then until it was painful!

But wait! There's more!

Then Ying brought out cups of a drink (again, I can neither pronounce nor spell) of avocado, pineapple, and mango. I'll admit it was a little odd-looking to this American with its green hue. But wow, was it good! It also had black pearl tapioca in it to give texture and added nutrients. We were in heaven.

And Mike has added black pearls to my grocery list.

Oh yeah, there's MORE.
THEN John brought out a fruit tray with citrus, grapes, cherry tomatoes, and pineapple. THEN he brought out warm brownies with strawberry ice cream.

Then my pants ripped.

Thank you, John and Ying, for such a lovely evening filled with great food and exemplary company. I didn't eat for the next 24 hours. And John, I understand that the deal was for Ying to cook and you to clean, and that you had something to do with preparation before we arrived. I hope it wasn't too much trouble to clean up the ginormous mess we left!

I'll have to attempt to return the favor. Somehow fried chicken and biscuits just doesn't seem to compete.

Photos courtesy of Tskuba, Rikaty, Wikimedia, and Sea Point Farms.

Maize Maze

Asher has the honor of being on my record at the only person I know to make a New Year's resolution and keep it for more than two months. Her resolution of January 1, 2009 was to get the girls together once a month for dinner, drinks, a movie, or a comfort-zone-expanding outing. And boy has it been fun!

I have to admit that Canton's Maize Maze was MUCH more fun than we expected. The prospect of a maze kind of scared me: images of spooky places like The Shining and scenes from Harry Potter and Children of the Corn came to mind. But once we arrived, we found it was just a sunshiney happy place, a personal farm whose owners converted it into a fall park of sorts for all members of the family. There was a petting zoo, a pumpkin patch, the maze of course, a "cow train" for children, boxes full of dried corn kernels in which children could play, a corn gun (works like a potato gun but with - you guessed it - corn), hayrides, haystacks, picnic tables, and as it has rained for the past three weeks straight, mud. Lots of mud.

Since we were going to the wilds of "out from Canton," we let the boys come with us for this jaunt. I'm glad we did: Liz's shoe was so stuck in the mud at one point that she had no choice but to stand on one foot while Mike dug out her shoe.

My favorite part? Asher was playing with the water fountain and somehow (accidentally) managed to nail Mike standing 10 feet away! It was priceless. Asher and I are kindred spirits: we both find trouble where nobody else can.

Next up - shooting practice at Turcotte. Maybe we should let the boys come to that one too...

Millsaps Homecoming

This past Saturday was my alma mater's homecoming. Apparently there was a football game. I was having entirely too much fun chatting with old friends and enjoying the talents of James the Fantastic Infamous Bartender.

Naomi, you outdid yourself: the BBQ was delicious. The carved pumpkins were true masterpieces, and what Millsaps girl doesn't love the classic sound of Sherman Lee Dillon and his accompanying violinist? The weather was spectacular, the company exemplary.

My favorite part? Other than the bloody marys? Beta Alpha Psi wants little ol' me. ME. To come give a speech at their next meeting about starting your own business. I have already lost sleep over what to tell these kids and how to keep their attention engaged. And how to make a difference. And how to communicate to them the reality of the real real world.

I'm thinking about starting by asking how many of them can run a 10-key or reconcile a bank statement. Any suggestions?

We had a great time. Thanks for having us.

Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake

Frost is on the pumpkin, but translated to Mississippi terms, it's raining cats and dogs. I hold firm to my original instinct that spring is my favorite season, but fall comes in at a very close second. The gray English days, the feeling that the world is slowly falling asleep, the beautiful foliage, and the coziness of an evening fire come together for one of the most distinctive times of year.

Last night was particularly spooky: Kearney has discovered the grandeur of the outdoors in the backyard. As soon as I return home in the afternoons, Kearney bolts to the backdoor and begs, whines, pleads, and insists that he be let outside RIGHT NOW. He has very important things to take care of out there. So far the score is Kearney: 1, lizards: 1.

I suppose along with his newfound freedom, Kearney has developed a territory all his own that encompasses the back yard. So at 2 this morning, when he discovered another cat in his territory, Kearney was none too pleased. The noises that came out of that cat raised goosebumps on my arms and the back of my neck. Woken from a deep sleep, my first instinct was to reach for the gun: there must be a zombie in the house. I soon realized it was just Kearney, as Mike was already out of bed and in the living room, trying to placate the feline. I fell back asleep with visions of the big tabby arched on top of a pumpkin.

So I decided to bake this cake.

And the smells this cake emits are almost even better than the taste. Even Mike came in wondering what the heavenly aroma was. And from his adventures in scuba diving, Mike can't smell a damn thing.

The most sincere form of flattery is imitation, so my friend over at The Food Librarian should be sincerely flattered. Like me, she loves bundt cakes and has started I Like Big Bundts: 30 Days of Bundt Cakes leading up to National Bundt Day on November 15th. It's worth the click to see the logo.

For cake
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for greasing bundt pan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (from a 15-ounce can; not pie filling)
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs

For icing
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons well-shaken buttermilk
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Special equipment: a 10-inch nonstick bundt pan (3 quart)

Make cake:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter bundt pan generously, then dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Whisk together flour (2 1/4 cups), baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together pumpkin, 3/4 cup buttermilk, and vanilla in another bowl.

Beat butter (1 1/2 sticks) and granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, then add eggs and beat 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and add flour and pumpkin mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until batter is just smooth.

Spoon batter into pan, smoothing top, then bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 15 minutes, then invert rack over cake and reinvert cake onto rack. Cool 10 minutes more.

Make icing:
While cake is cooling, whisk together buttermilk and confectioners sugar until smooth. Drizzle icing over warm cake, then cool cake completely. Icing will harden slightly.

Cooks' note:
Cake can be made 3 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.

Inspiration courtesy of The Food Librarian.

Recipe courtesy of Epicurious.

Green Fairies

Legality or illegality of importation of absinthe products for personal, in-home consumption aside, let's just say Mike and I came across an intriguing green liquor while abroad. We bought and brought home considerably less than the .75 L bottle-per-person limit and stored it in our checked luggage. I smiled big to our customs agent, and here we are ready to try it out in the comfort and safety of our own home.

For one of our most exotic Thursday Night Cocktails.

For a party drink, you can't do much better than this showstopper for beauty, elegance, and good (very) old-fashioned craftsmanship. There are two basic, very old-school ways to fix up an absinthe drink: fire and ice.

We chose the fire method for two reasons: 1. it used less alcohol and 2. it sounded pretty cool and just a little bit dangerous. Highly flammable alcohol, sugar, and flame? Sign me right up!

So, to fix a firey absinthe drink:
1. Pour one ounce of absinthe into a glass.
2. Drop a sugar cube into the absinthe and let it soak up the alcohol.
3. Using a slotted spoon, pull the sugar cube out and balance the spoon across the top of the glass.
4. Light the sugar on fire.
5. Just as the fire dies down and after it caramelizes, drop the remains of the sugar back into the absinthe and stir vigorously.
6. Top with another shot of water and ice, if preferred.

It tastes like licorice and star anise and is more bitter than I thought it would be but less bitter than Mike expected. You can buy Absente in America, but it lacks the chemical Thujone, which is said to carry sight, taste, and smell hallucinogenic properties.

For an icy absinthe drink:
1. Pour two ounces of absinthe into a parfait-style absinthe glass.
2. Balance a slotted spoon across the top of the glass.
3. Put a sugar cube on the slotted spoon, and very slowly drop 5 ounces icewater over the sugar cube.
4. Stir the rest of the cube into the drink and enjoy.

We might try this one later, but for now I think I'll leave this drink to Mike. The flavor is a little intense for me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reason 7,346 Why I Love this Man

He knows how to have a good time. AND he can defend me from the Licking Dante Monster.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sex in a Basket

Don't look too closely at that picture: 1. prices are visible and that's tacky and 2, I never realized how grody the baskets at Fresh Market are. Eiw.

Anyway, Mike had a long day at work yesterday. So I promised to have a suprise happy waiting for him when he got home. Which meant a trip to Fresh Market with Asher. Inspired by Montie's cheese tray on Facebook, I hooked a basket under my arm and picked up whatever tickled my fancy.

I absolutely love antipasto. It is currently my favorite both to fix and to eat. Literally, it means, "before the meal," but last night we made it the whole meal, which is one of my favorite things to do. All you need is a big pretty plate and some imagination. I'm always suprised how many pick-up snacks we keep in the pantry, and antipastos generally end up much bigger than expected at our house.

And Mike loves a cheese plate. So easy to be so fancy! Pick up three different kinds of cheese - our favorites are also the most basic: Stilton (bleu), brie, and an exotic cheddar (though I truly love a good Wensleydale, I can't find them around here without added cranberries). Throw in some sliced fruit and crakers, and you're in business.

These are black figs stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with honey. I read somewhere that this is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Better than oysters. Better than ginger. Better than cold duck or champagne. Better than Vitamin B-12.

They were pretty good.

So here's what we had for supper last night. From the top: olives stuffed with pimento, Stilton, olives stuffed with anchovies, applewood smoked cheddar, petit brie, and natural almonds.

Not pictured was another tray with black pepper-crusted salami, assorted nuts, sliced apples, grapes, and crackers. And we had fancy dark chocolate and raspberries for dessert. Mike had licorice to round out his suprise.

It made his day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chicken Chili

Ask a cook from Louisiana what the Holy Trinity is, and your answer will probably be bell peppers, onions, and celery instead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. That's because those three ingredients are the base of so many Cajun dishes: etoufee, gumbo, casseroles, scrambled eggs. Almost any dish can benefit from the Cajun holy trinity.

I think I'm coming up with my own trinity, but it's from stuff with which God has blessed me in my own backyard: green bell peppers, onions, and jalapenos. We just don't eat enough celery for me to keep it in the fridge, and though I like the crunchy texture, Mike doesn't, and we both like more heat in our dishes than celery can provide.

We were so excited to find our bells had really come in while we were in Europe. They're bigger than my palm and hard to hold with one hand. Until Asher and I went to Fresh Market yesterday - those things are bigger than my head! They're like pumpkin bells! BUT. My bell peppers have three bumps to them (when you look at the bottom, there are three bumps), while the FM ones have four. Three bump bell peppers are sweeter and have a better flavor: I don't like four bump peppers raw because they have such a bitter taste. The skin and texture of four bump peppers is also generally more tough.

Anyway, I had a couple of chicken breasts to cook up for supper. But I wasn't in the mood for grilled chicken. And we were both sick of casseroles. What to do, what to do.... Something new and season-appropriate was definitely in order.

So I took out a big pot and started throwing stuff in. Bjork! Bjork! Bjork!

3 green bell peppers, preferrably three bump
1 medium onion
2-3 jalapeneo peppers, optional
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 chicken breasts, poached and picked
2 cans red or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans diced tomatoes. I used a one-quart jar of tomatoes from our backyard. They smelled like summer when I opened them.2-4 cups (depending on the consistency you want) chicken broth
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
1-2 teaspoons cumin
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
1-2 teaspoons rosemary (just because I love the flavor of chicken and rosemary together)
1/8 teaspoon cheyenne pepper, optional
Rice or noodles for serving, optional.

1. Sautee the onion, jalapeno, and bell pepper (and yes, celery if you have it!) in the olive oil for about 5 minutes, enough to soften the vegetables.
2. Add the other ingredients (bjork!) and stir.
3. Flavors bloom overnight, so it's better the next day.
4. I had some whole-wheat noodles in the pantry, and they're very good with this dish.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Claudia's Gateau Basque

OK, so actually it's RelishMag's gateau basque, but remember how I said Claudia fed us until we were about to pop? This was one of our very favorite dishes. We really relished it.

Once upon a time, long long ago, I visited friends in the Basque region of France. We stayed in the resort town of Biarritz, where we ate pain au chocolat and cherries and delicious butter so unerved in its own ink (so good, and a lot of fun: you can take a drop of ink and make your own mole a la Marilyn Monroe!). We sunbathed topless and watched the tandem (two people to a board) section of the surfing festival.

Interesting social more of some nude beaches: if you're single, then you keep your top on. If you're dating somebody or otherwise taken, then anything goes. I found it somewhat backward and ironic at first, but there is something to be said for keeping the girls covered: men find it more alluring and enjoy having something left to the imagination. So all my single ladies, if you want him to put a ring on it, cover it up. If not, wear good sunscreen, and don't forget to reapply.


One morning after a particularly long night with the delectable Izarra, and having been awoken by the dulcet tones of a brass trumpet played by a rocket scientist as the base of the stairs (Really. I'm not creative enough to make this up.), we decided to drive across the border to a restaurant in Spain. The Basque Region is an achingly-beautiful one. The trees were so dense that the only sunlight available was filtered through their huge emerald and golden leaves. Pocked with immense moss-covered boulders, the terrain was rugged and mysterious. The road was narrow and curvy, and combined with the festivities of the previous night, I was soon overcome by a highly unusual case of motion sickness. The changes in altitude, switchbacks, hairpins, and constantly changing focus to take in the exquisite landscape around me was almost too much.refined that you could see the fat and salt in it. I was introduced to the luxury of olives stuffed with anchovies and the most fascinating acid-green liquor called green Izarra. It was the first time I ever appreciated squid sBut just as soon as I realized I wasn't feeling well, we arrived at a large rustic cabin with red shutters on a hill in the woods. The view was impeccable. The food was the best I had ever tasted, and I experienced a miraculously speedy recovery. This was the authentic stuff to which Williams-Sonoma chefs aspire. Homemade cheeses served on a slab of marble. Hand-kneaded artisan breads still warm from the oven. Simple, rustic stewed meat dishes with seasonings and resultant aromas developed and handed down through the family over centuries.
We ate until we could stand no more, and then the lady of the house brought us a gateau much like this one.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup ground almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Custard filling:3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To prepare dough, combine flour, almonds, baking powder and salt.
2. Combine butter and sugar; beat with a mixer at medium speed until creamy.
- Add egg yolks and vanilla; mix until smooth.
- While mixing, slowly add flour mixture.
- Beat until thoroughly combined and mixture clings together when pressed against the side of bowl.
- Divide into 2 portions, with one portion slightly larger than the other.
- Flatten each into a disk; wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. 3. To prepare custard filling, heat milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. - Whisk together egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch.
- When milk mixture is hot, slowly drizzle it into yolk mixture while vigorously whisking.
- Return mixture to pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until custard becomes very thick. (If lumps form, whisk until smooth.)
- Stir in vanilla.
- Transfer custard to a medium bowl.
- Place plastic wrap directly on top of custard.
- Refrigerate 30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 400F.
- Butter bottom and sides of an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.
5. To assemble, roll larger portion of dough into a 101/2-inch round (dough will be thick).
- Place in bottom of pan, pressing excess dough up the inside edge of pan.
- Add filling, spreading evenly.
- Roll remaining dough into a 9-inch round.
- Place on top of dough and filling in pan; press edges of dough to seal and form a rim.
- Place on baking sheet.
- Bake 20 minutes.
- Reduce heat to 350F and continue baking 15 minutes, or until cake is golden brown.
- Cool on a wire rack at least 45 minutes before serving.
- Slice using a serrated knife.
- Refrigerate remaining cake after serving.
Serves 10. Recipe by Tara McElhose-Eiguren and Charles Smothermon, "Basque in the Flavor," Sept. 2009.
I found a small, delightfully wrapped package in my bag while on the train back to Montpellier. My dear friend Marianne had given me the treasure of a sterling Basque cross, or lauburu, just like the one below. Legend has it that this cross was the one worn by some Crusaders during the 12th century because it wasn't readily recognized as the Christian cross.

Now whenever we travel I still wear this cross and have often found comfort in it. Friends have said it looks like a boat propeller or even a swastika, but those weren't used until the 19th century. This symbol is easily recognized in southern France and northeastern Spain and is traditionally placed on top of a gateau basque, either in dough form or by cutting the dough. Years later, in Merida, Mexico, a fellow traveler crossed the street and started a conversation with me because it reminded her of home.
So there you have it. Food, nudity, geography, and a sociology lesson all wrapped up in a neat little package!

Photos courtesy of RelishMag, biology-blog, and jewelmarketplace.

Monday, October 12, 2009


My Mike is a quiet man. So when he says something, it's important. I could count on one hand the number of times he has said, "Well, that's embarrassing." Like the time Liz, Asher, and Jim were visiting our house for the first time for dinner and we ran out of propane for the grill. Well, that's embarrassing.

The wedding this weekend was at 6 PM, and Mike and I started getting dressed at 5. The discovery was soon made that instead of pulling his entire suit from his closet, Mike had just picked out the sport coat.


Well, that's embarrassing.

What to do... what to do..... Borrow some? Mike has a rare 31 inch waist. Wear your khakis? Didn't bring any. What DID you bring? Jeans. And a sport coat. OK. Wear jeans and a sport coat. Mike let me know under no uncertain terms that he would NOT be wearing jeans to any wedding. Period. Especially not on my family's side. The only option left is a purchase.

So off we go to buy PANTS. In 35 minutes.

By an unrealistically huge stoke of luck, Baumans was right next to the wedding venue. Mike parked the car while I stalked in and confronted poor Flynn with the steep order of finding size 31 pants to match this jacket in 25 minutes.

But Flynn rose to the challenge and had the grace and pinache to offer us beer, wine, or (because we were on our way to a wedding) champagne while he looked. The store is truly a throwback-breath-of-fresh-air-how-do-we-get-along-now-without-salespeople-who-really-care kind of place. Flynn, a New Orleans expatriate who recognized the label in my coat, took us under his wing, sat me down, set Mike up with the most gorgeous pair of pants I've ever seen, threw in a matching belt, marked the hem, and had his tailor make adjustments and hand-set said hem.

We went from embarrassed pantless gypsies to 007 and Bond Girl. All in 14 minutes.

Hey Mike, what do you want for your birthday? I sure hope it's a pair of 100% wool hand-woven, personally-tailored Italian dark chocolate brown pants. That make me drool. And a matching belt.

My favorite part? Right before the ceremony, my sweet cousin Alice's beautiful little girl, who had overheard my retelling of this (embarrassing) story, stage-whispered to her mom, "Was he going to come to the wedding in his UNDERWEAR?"

Photos courtesy of Baumans.

Wedding Weekend Wonderful

This weekend Mike and I made a quick trip up to Little Rock, Arkansas, to stay with Walt and Claudia and to see the sweet wedding of my cousin David to the beautiful Lindsey. On the way to the venue, I realized my camera battery had unexpectedly died, so I don't have any photos. And it was such a beautiful wedding! I particularly liked that David wore the same tux that his daddy, my Uncle Jim, wore when he married Aunt Betty in 1964.

And true to tradition, we had a photo made with the whole family. It was Mike's first big family photo on that side, and I was so proud of him! My cousin Taylor's precious girlfriend Ashley took this pic - thanks Ashley! I want sprinkles!

The visit with the rest of the family was great too. My grandmother suffered through looking at ALL 900 of Mike's Europe photos, and Claudia fed us until we were about to pop. I think I gained 10 pounds this weekend!

And did I mention Tech beat Florida State? Who knew I was becoming such a football fan?

Photo courtesy of MyWeddingFlowerIdeas .

Friday, October 9, 2009

MS State Fair

Mike took me to the state fair for lunch today! It's one of my favorite pasttimes, and of course my very favorite food there is Penn's chicken-on-a-stick. Leave it to Mississippi to develop the irony of a fish joint creating the best fair food known to man, with its juicy chicken-onion-pickle-fried-to-perfection-on-a-stick goodness. With ketchup.

We only indulged in the chicken for lunch, but wandering around the fair clearly explains to me how Mississippi is one of the most obese states in the nation. The Polish sausages, London broil, anything-you-can-imagine on a stick, takee-outee, ke-babs, gyros, crawfish, oysters, cinnamon rolls (HUGE CINNAMON ROLLS!), taffy, caramel apples, cotton candy, sausage dogs, corn dogs, lemonade, daiquiris, funnel cakes, elephant ears, turkey legs, and roasted corn produce aromas that are too good to resist.

So we walked back to the truck through the livestock show. Pretty cows. Nonappetizing smells.

But I am most fascinated by all the deep fried stuff. Pickles, onions, and chicken are just the beginning. Oreos, Snickers bars, Twinkies, oh my! Fried cookie dough, fried strawberries, fried bananas, fried Coke (yes, Coke), fried Swiss cheese. We even saw a sign for fried DOUGH. Isn't that also known as a donut, funnel cake, or elephant ear?

And a real live blogspotting occurred! We ran into Nick and Kelly. I was so happy to meet Kelly (love your hair, by the way Kelly!), and though Nick had never before met Mike, he recognized him from all the pictures I've posted on Facebook. Actually, that's how Nick saw us in the first place. Oops.

Photo courtesy of

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ginger Cake with Hard Sauce

We love sushi. Mike spent four years growing up in Japan, so I assumed his love for it came from his time there, but it turns out he didn't eat much sushi overseas. He developed his taste for it over here. My dad introduced me to sushi as a little girl. We would sit at the sushi bar at Little Tokyo, at that time the only sushi place in town, and watch Tom San behind the counter work his magic. Tom San knew that my favorite was smelt roe, so he always had a plate of it waiting for me when we bellied up to the bar. I still love smelt roe: it's like happy balls of sunshine exploding in your mouth.

Mike and I had sushi on our first date, and I was stunned when he didn't eat any of his wasabi. What's sushi without wasabi?!? I can't eat it without a big green glob on top, enough to make my eyes water and my nose run. And I put it in my soy sauce and smush it all around. Love love love wasabi.

But I soon learned that Mike actually likes the ginger. I think that was my first clue that we work so well together: he is Ying and I am Yang, and when we go out for sushi, there is usually an unspoken ceremony between the two of us in which he takes my ginger, and I take his wasabi.

So when I found this recipe, I knew Mike would love it. It's baking in the oven right now, and the house is filled with the aroma of ginger and molasses. It feels like fall around here.

Ginger Cake with Hard Sauce from Williams Sonoma's Bride & Groom Cookbook
The unmistakable taste of fresh ginger shines through in this cake, which is extremely tender and flavorful and stays moist stored at room temperature if well wrapped. If you prefer, try fruit preserves or ice cream with this cake instead of the hard sauce.

1 large knob fresh ginger (enough to make 3 Tablespoons pureed)
1 cup dark molasses
1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut or canola oil
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room termperature
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon dark rum or brandy or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Use the edge of a spoon (I found a carrot peeler works better.) to scrape the skin from the ginger.
  3. Slice the ginger across the grain into 1/2 inch pieces.
  4. Pulse the ginger in a blender to puree, or use the finest rasps on a box grater to grate the ginger.
  5. Measure out 3 level Tablespoons and put in a medium mixing bowl.
  6. Add 1 cup cool water, the molasses, sugar, and oil.
  7. Mix vigorously with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is glossy.
  8. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cloves, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.
  9. Add the flour mixture to the ginger mixture and mix thoroughly until smooth.
  10. Pour into an ungreased 9 inch round cake pan.
  11. Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-35 minutes.
  12. Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a serving plate.
  13. Serve at room temperature or still slightly warm, with hard sauce on the side.

Hard Sauce
The traditional accompaniment to English plum pudding, hard sauce pairs well with any hearty autumn or winter dessert.
  1. Combine butter, powdered sugar, dark rum, brandy, or vanilla.
  2. Mix well to blend.
  3. If desired, chill before serving.
Looking through the ingredients again, I realize that the cake part contains no eggs, butter, or milk. So I suppose this is my first vegan recipe on the blog!

And now I'm craving sushi.

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Penelope Gilliatt once said that "Prague is like a vertical Venice: steps everywhere," and I think Truman Capote summed it up well when he said, "Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go."

It is tipsyindulgentdeliciousness.

Mike loved the boats. I loved the shopping. And togther we loved each other and experienced the scenery and the nostalgia of eras past. As we explored, we felt the solid cobblestones underfoot and wondered what laid underneath. We enjoyed the romance of the water, admired the architecture, smelled good tobacco, tasted excellent and exotic food, all the while listening to gondoliers slowly paddling, motorboats whizzing by, men singing, and accordions playing.

And I don't even like accordions.

I think Mark Twain put it best in The Innocents Abroad (1869):
I began to feel that the old Venice of song and story had departed forever. But I was too hasty. In a few minutes we swept gracefully out into the Grand Canal, and under the mellow moonlight the Venice of poetry and romance stood revealed. Right from the water's edge rose long lines of stately palaces of marble; gondolas were gliding swiftly hither and thither and disappearing suddenly through unsuspected gates and alleys; ponderous stone bridges threw their shadows athwart the glittering waves. There was life and motion everywhere, and yet everywhere there was a hush, a stealthy sort of stillness, that was suggestive of secret enterprises of bravoes and of lovers; and clad half in moonbeams and half in mysterious shadows, the grim old mansions of the Republic seemed to have an expression about them of having an eye out for just such enterprises as these at that same moment. Music came floating over the waters--Venice was complete.

Another Scan Bites the Dust

Mom's PET scan last week came back "clean." But instead of coming back in 6 months like Dr. S. said we would do 3 months ago, she wants Mom to get another one in December, 3 months away. I'm pretty sure she's just being cautious becuase of a few other health risks, but it's still a little disappointing.

I wonder what Dr. S.'s other patients in the waiting room think of us when we hang out. We're used to being the last name called because Mom doesn't have any sort of emergency situation going on. So I take my laptop, and we surf the Interwebs in search of humor. Here we are, surrounded by the sick and dying, people who can't walk and who have no hair, huddled in blankets because their bodies can't keep their own warmth. We can empathize as Mom has been wheeled into that office several times without the strength to walk in. We sit literally in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

And we're hooting it up. I guess we honestly fear no evil. I never realized that until I sat down to write this post.

God gives us mirth for so many reasons, but right now I'm most thankful for the comfort of it. Like laughing out loud in a dark alley to scare the bad spirits away, hearing Mom's laughter while we sit in such a dismal spot in life means so much. It lifts our spirits, and if somebody's sitting close to us, we'll turn the computer around to spread the smiles. Usually it starts a conversation, and here we sit, talking to complete strangers to whom we are deeply bonded by the lowest common demoninator of cancer.

Mom tried to do this last PET scan without an Ambien, Adavan, or any other "nerve pill," but it was really hard. She found herself apologizing to the nurse, saying, "I thought after a dozen of these, I would be used to them by now." The sweet nurse replied, "Oh honey, you never get used to this."

And it's true. The cancer road is one to which I thought I would become accustomed, like how you doze off on a long car ride. But after four years I'm still not used to it. I still get that bad thrill of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I still get nervous and itchy. I still have sad days, grumpy days, and days where I don't want to get out of bed. And I'm just a lowly caregiver.

But God gives us strength in each other and in our laughter. We literally giggle in the face of death. It reminds me of Psalm 126:2: Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing, then said they among the heathen, the Lord hath done great things for them. The Lord HAS done great things for us: He has provided Mom with the best health care around. He has given us friends, family, connections, and support. He has given us each other for a little while longer.

And He has given us laughter.

Photo courtesy of icanhascheezburger.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cosmopolitan Breakfast Bread Pudding

Boredom set in while we were waiting for our flight to depart Mississippi a few weeks ago. You know how dangerous I become when bored. I stopped by the newsstand and picked up a bottle of water: while I was at it, I bought a Cosmopolitan magazine. After all, nobody on the plane would know who I was, so they couldn't judge me for reading something so trashy.

Until I blog about it of course.

Turns out this rag actually has some pretty neat stuff inamongst the Bad Girl Sex, Sexy vs. Skanky and The Two Hottest Things You Can Say in Bed articles. Like Why it's Smart to Be an Early Riser, Death by Suntan at Age 26, True Crime: How She Outsmarted a Brutal Rapist, and Eat This Up: Breakfast With Your Boyfriend, which is where I found this recipe.

What can I say? I read it for the articles.

Cinnamon-Swirl Breakfast Bread Pudding
It is said that the Queen of Sheba used cinnamon to mesmerize King Solomon. So it has power. Prepare this bread pudding ahead of time so that in the morning, all you have to do is turn on the oven.

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 loaf day-old bread, cut into cubes
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
Nonstick cooking spray
Maple syrup

  1. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and milk.
  2. Add the brown sugar, vanilla extract, and cinnamon, and whisk until all the ingredients are completely incorporated.
  3. Stir the bread and pecans into the egg mixture.
  4. Coat an 8-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  5. Pour in the bread pudding, and cover with foil.
  6. Let sit in the refrigerator at least one hour and up to overnight.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  8. Bake the bread pudding, covered, for 30 minutes.
  9. Remove the foil, and bake an additional 10 minutes, until the pudding is browned.
  10. Serve hot with maple syrup.

I added a dash of salt to bring out the flavors more, and we had some peaches that needed to be eaten. And I served it with sausage balls.



Yesterday Mike, Linda, Cary, and I headed up to Starkville for the Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State football game. It was a car divided, on which a Tech student commented upon our exit from the car in the parking field. We were joined by friends Tony, Sheila, Jay, Liz, and Jay Jay and were fortunate enough to be invited to infiltrate tailgating ranks with some of Tony and Shiela's State friends.

Tailgating was a very good time. Lots of food, gorgeous weather, and good camraderie with a competitive edge. There was a group of Tech students nearby, and every time we started singing the Tech fight song, the State fans would try to drown us out with their cowbells.

Despite the cowbells, the final score was 42-31 to Tech's advantage.

I cheered myself hoarse.


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