Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Family, summer - and cake!

We celebrated Jake's 16th birthday yesterday. It seems not that long ago that Gabi and I were in Togo, getting ready to head back to the states, and Gabi got word from her brother that he and Jen were new, proud parents of a wonderful baby boy.

Now this baby boy is much taller than I am and plotting the means to buy a car with $635 and no plans of how to pay the insurance. So very sixteen.

So the whole family came together yesterday, and it was a wonderful thing. At one point I was in the house and looked out at the scene: Gabi playing lawn games with the kids, Jen, Nick, and both grandmothers sitting at the garden table laden with chips and cherries, talking like old friends. I've been thinking too much about my family of birth lately, and that moment crystalized for me just how good and precious the heart-family can be.

As dusk and mosquito-time neared, we headed indoors for cake. Ah, cake. I made, per Jake's request, German Chocolate Cake. It was named, in case you don't know, not because it has any Germanic heritage but due to the name of it's creator: an Englishman named Samuel German. In 1852, Mr. German created the cake as a showpiece for Baker's Chocolate (for more on the story, go here).

But Jake has recently returned from a five-week trip to Germany and Switzerland, and so it seemed only fitting to make this particular cake.

Yesterday was the first time I'd made German Chocolate, and it turned out lovely. I've seen (and tasted) homemade versions where the frosting was made with evaporate or sweetened condensed milk (I think that's the version on the Baker's Sweet Chocolate package). I was never too impressed. Leave it to Bon Appetit to come up with a version that lifts the bar. The frosting has a true caramel flavor that melds beautifully with the coconut and nuts (the original BA recipe called for macadamia nuts, but I used the more traditional pecans).

So, here's to heart-family, summer days and, of course, good cake. Nothing better than a real good cake to celebrate the blessings of a real good day.

*****

German Chocolate Cake


from The Bon Appetit Cookbook, edited by Barbara Fairchild, © 2006


CAKE


½ cup water

1 4-ounce package sweet baking chocolate, chopped


2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

2 cups sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

4 large eggs, separated

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

pinch cream of tartar


FROSTING


1 ½ cups (packed) golden brown sugar

1 cup whipping cream

¼ cup whole milk

4 large egg yolks, beaten to blend

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, lightly toasted

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or macadamia nuts, lightly toasted


FOR CAKE:


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 3 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 ½-inch sides. Line bottoms with parchment paper. Butter parchment. Bring ½ cup water to simmer in heavy small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.


Combine flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter un large bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add chocolate mixture and vanilla; mix until blended. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating well after each addition. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and cream of tartar in large bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold whites into batter in two additions.


Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks. Remove parchment; cool completely. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and store at room temperature.)


FOR FROSTING


Combine first 5 ingredients in heavy medium saucepan and whisk until blended. Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture thickens to consistency of caramel sauce and coats spoon, about 10 minutes (do not boil). Remove from heat. Stir in coconut and pecans/macadamia nuts. Let frosting stand at room temperature until cool and spreadable, about 1 ½ hours. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Yak Rack & a Pomatini


We spent part of the day today making a (ka)yak rack for the truck, the idea being that when we go on longer trips, we can take the kayaks, bikes, coolers, and luggage all in the truck. For short kayaking excursions, we can still just throw the kayaks in the back of the truck and strap down. But this will be great for Madeline Island next month, Duluth in September, etc. Gabi's brother, Nick, helped us build the yak rack. It ended up costing under a hundred dollars for hardware and new tie-downs ~ we had enough 2x6's and 2x4's in the garage from previous projects that we didn't have to buy any lumber.

Also, when not in the truck the yak rack stays in the back of the garage as kayak storage. We've been hanging the boats from rafter hooks, and while that's fine for short term it can warp them if done too long. They'll stay much happier this way.


After finishing the rack and doing a dry run with the tie-downs we made dinner for the family: grilled fajitas. Basically, I grilled the onions, peppers, chicken and flank steak on my fabulous new grill and then we brought it all indoors (it's been raining most of the day! yeah!) and gobbled it up.

After Nick and the kids left, we hung out a little while with Nancy and Gabi's mom, and I made pomatinis (recipe follows). Seriously yummy. My new cocktail of choice. Try one! They're especially good on a warm summer day ~ which today was not. Did I mention that today, June 6, we had to bundle up in jeans and sweatshirts, and we even turned the heat back on!! Unbelievable! But at least it's raining.

***

Brandi's Pomatini (Pomegranate Martini)

3 ounces pomegranite juice
1 1/2 ounces Grey Goose or other "top shelf" vodka*
3/4 ounces simple syrup**
juice from 1/2 lime
6 ice cubes

Mix all ingredients in cocktail shaker. Shake well and pour into desired glass.

*We've had these with both cheaper vodka and Grey Goose, and there is a very definite difference. Cheaper vodka has a slightly bitter aftertaste that clashes with the fruitiness of the juice.
** Simple syrup: mix equal parts water and sugar (I like organic or turbinado best). Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Boil gently for two minutes and cool.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ah, the smell of iris in the morning

It was, according to MPR, the third-driest May in recorded history for our area. That means that some areas of the garden are looking a little stunted: the hydrangea are small, astilbe are struggling, and even some of the weeds look a little anemic. The south lawn is already browning.

However, the iris seem to love the dry, mostly cool weather. We've got varieties blooming this year that we haven't seen in years. Vanity has buds! So does Black Tie Affair. This is even more surprising when you consider that the spring got away from me this year and I never fed/fertilized the yard.

So, first pics of this year's lovely iris display:









Monday, June 1, 2009

Empty Nest Syndrome

We're smiling like happy mommas... the robins have fledged!

About a month ago a robin started nesting on the gutter just next to our porch. Since then, we've watched with baited breath as she weathered windstorms, Rosie's insistent curiosity (and our own) and finally hatched three little robins. Then the parents spent hours bringing them earthworms (we are so proud of our lush, organic yard with so much food for robins!!), until finally we knew the nest could not take too much more.

Today I came home from work to find the nest empty. I went outside and found one intrepid baby surveying the yard from the top of a garden light. I took a quick pic with my phone then ran in for the camera. When I came back out he'd moved to the keyhole garden, and then onto an iris. Love that picture!

Looking back at our Robin-journey:

May 8th: It seemed like such a crazy place to park a nest.












May 29: Momma does not like us sneaking peeks.














May 31st: They've officially outgrown the nest.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Summing it up ~ MToaS Evaluation

I'm doing the happy dance now. I know that the deadline for finishing More Things on a Stick was extended into June, but I really wanted to finish by today. And so I did. Yeah me. Now I can go back and play more with some of the things I learned, not to mention returning to a more personal tone with the blog. I'm happy about that, too.

(Just in time for my birthday on Saturday! Forty!! I've been making ice cream. I decided, it's my birthday and if I want homemade ice cream and brownies, then that's what I'll have.) 

So, as for More Things on a Stick:

Again, I find myself wanting to stand on a mountaintop and shout out to fellow library staff: DO IT. I think there is just so much in current web technologies that could be useful to us and our patrons. Again, I am frustrated by the inertia that seems to happen when trying to keep up with something that, by its very nature, changes so much and so often that it cannot really be kept up with. It takes a lot of effort and time to not just learn about these technologies and programs, but also to use them enough to reach enough of a comfort level to use them in the public eye where any typos, mis-uses, and misunderstandings will be out there for everyone from our neighbors to our supervisors to our mothers to see. Eek.

So, I keep hoping that we will reach the tipping point with some of these ideas. At GRRL a few things have really caught on. Ironically, one of the Web 2.0 tools that has crossed the barrier from geek- to general-use is not one that I've seen covered in either 23 Things or More Things. It's SurveyMonkey. In a word, fabulously useful.

Again, I really like the way that the Things program is set up. I like that its designers don't (seem to) have any strict assumptions about what kinds of web tools will be useful for people working in a library setting. So we get to manipulate photos, try our hand at Twitter, learn about on-line money management tools. All of these things will be useful to some participants and useless to others. I like that Things staff throw it all out there and trust participants to decide.

That said, I do think that there was too much emphasis put on Twitter, and I would like to have seen something exploring strengths and weaknesses of alternative search engines, especially Wolfram Alpha. [Okay, that was a joke. Look here or here.]

So, good job. I hope we can do this again next year!

Web Junction (MToaS 46)

I admit, I tend to forget about Web Junction. I signed up for it even before the first 23 Things on a Stick, so I've been a member for a while. But I've actually used it very little. However, when prompted to go back I do find interesting things ~ mostly in the area of courses. I've taken a couple of Web Junction courses online and found them to be pretty good. The webinar on Social Software and the Rural Library looks like an interesting one.

I think, for me, part of the problem with these kinds of discussion boards is simply finding the time to use them. Perhaps it's a matter of making it be part of my day or week ~ create time to do it until it becomes a habit. But so far this has been a hurdle that I haven't quite managed to jump over. Intellectually, I love the idea of having a resource for Minnesota librarians to use to communicate about topics relevant to our work, help us keep abreast of changes in technology, legalities, etc., bring up new ideas about ways to reach and reach out to our communities. I want there to be something exactly like WebJunction. And there is. So why is it so difficult to fit it into my working life?

In a moment of overload I found this ShelfCheck toon by the inimitable Poesygalore. It sort of sums it up.