Growing a Green Thumb

This is it!  This is the summer I not only plant but sustain vegetation until they are growing and thriving!  The key words here are growing and thriving because I have made attempts at growing a garden in the past.  B has really taken an interest in plants so I’m getting him involved and excited about our endeavor.  We have settled on two planter boxes with three types of plants.  I decided to finally plant my own basil.  With fresh tomatoes and peaches on the horizon I’ll go through gangbusters of basil in the summertime.  Oh how wonderful it will be to be able to step out onto my back porch and pluck some of this fresh herb.  Also in this box will go some strawberries.  This was a surprise addition by Caleb. Not expecting much out of these guys so whatever they yield will be a victory in itself.  The second box has nothing but a packet of wildflower seeds.  The Disney Princess in me longs to be able to pick flowers from my backyard to adorn my kitchen table.  The boxes are sitting up at the top of my deck railing so prying hands can be kept at bay. Fingers crossed for bountiful harvest!

Note: The fresh basil was purchased at BJ’s Plants and Produce in North Little Rock and the strawberries are from Whit Davis Lumber Plus in Sherwood.

Pie Contest

A few weeks ago I saw an ad on Facebook for a pie contest hosted by The Root Cafe.  For some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  The last time I entered a contest voluntarily was when I was in seventh grade and ran for student council vice president.  Needless to say I lost not only the contest but my taste for competition as well.  Maybe its because I have eaten at The Root several times and have always found the staff to be very pleasant but I felt this contest would be about as genial as they come.  And so, surprising myself to no end, I entered!

I wanted to make my strawberry pie, a favorite of Caleb’s, but since I couldn’t find fresh strawberries, I decided to go with my grandmother’s coconut pie.  I had never made this pie before so I did a test run a couple of days before the contest.  I thought it turned out pretty well for my first attempt.  And my grandmother seemed pleased as well.  I made some notes for improvement and made a fresh one the morning of the contest.  I actually feel like the first pie turned out better than the second simply because I fussed with the second too much.  I should have just relaxed  a bit.

My parents came downtown with me to offer encouragement.  Caleb and the kids joined me after their naps.  All in all I think about 34 pies were entered.  One by one we cut a slice of our pie for the judges and explained a little about our recipe.  Some of the judges were local food critics and bakers from around town.  They handed out 5 ribbons for second place and 5 blue ribbons including 2 prizes for best looking pies. After all the pies were tasted, I ended up walking away empty-handed.  But let me tell you folks, entering this contest in the first place was a big deal for me.

I absolutely could not have done this a year ago or even a few months ago.  My confidence, self-esteem, and ego were so fragile there was no way I could have possibly put myself into a situation were I could come away disappointed.  Towards the end of 2015 I experienced a bit of postpartum depression and saw a therapist for a few months.  She helped tremendously and I’ve been on an upswing since the start of the year.  If I had entered this contest back then and lost I would have put on a brave face until I could be alone and then I would have bawled my eyes out wondering why luck was never on my side, why I’m not good at anything, or why I’m never deserving of any sort of accolades.  I’m proud to say that none of that happened.  I’ll admit I did feel a twinge of disappointment as the names were called and I was not among them.  But, a funny thing happened on the drive home.  We stopped off so I could run into a Valero station and buy a soda.  Clutching my drink, as I walked back to the car, I could see B in the backseat, a big smile on his face, excitably shouting my name.  I had been gone all of two minutes and he was already excited to see me. I realized that I may not have the best pie in town but I’m still a winner to my kids.  And by the time we got back home, any sadness or disappointment I felt was left on the gas station’s parking lot.

Morning Coffee…

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Welcome to Friday!  As you sip your morning coffee, here are a few items you might find interesting.

1.Bernice Garden is having its Vintage Market this weekend.

2.Diamond Bear Brewing has released its annual Strawberry Blonde brew.  You can buy it in 6-pack cans at its North Little Rock restaurant.  I’m told they will have it on tap when the next batch is ready.

3. Breakfast for dinner is on the menu this weekend.  Looking forward to trying this recipe for baked pancakes.

4.Movies in the Park has released its Summer 2016 schedule.

5. Regal Cinemas in Mccain Mall will be showing family fun movies Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am this summer for $1. The schedule looks pretty solid.

Coffee Mug Credit: purchased at the Paul McCartney concert a couple of weeks ago.  Can’t drink coffee out of it without humming ‘Band on the Run.’

D.C Getaway Part 2- Eats

In order to do all the walking for all the sightseeing we did we had to eat properly.  And we did.  We rented an AirBnB apartment in Dupont Circle  which put us in walking distance to some really great restaurants.  Here are some of the highlights.

Pizzeria Paradiso 

I don’t have a picture of the delicious pizza we ate at this restaurant.  It wasn’t on my plate long enough for me to get out my phone and snap a shot.  We had been traveling all morning, it was around 2 pm, and we were hungry.  I ordered the Margherita pizza and Caleb ordered the Macellaio.  Both delicious.  This meal was probably the highlight of the trip for me.  Here’s a picture of me after I was done eating.  I look happy don’t I?!

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Glens Garden Market

I asked our waiter at Pizzeria Paradiso to recommend some hidden gems to us and boy did he deliver.  Not only was this a charming little grocery nearby our apartment but it also had a bar with great outdoor seating!  We stumbled in on Thursday after a long day of travel and lots of walking.  I had the Born Bohemian beer and Caleb had the Too Whit IPA.  Both fantastic.  We made several more stops to pick up snacks to bring home, including some delicious Creme Fraiche ice cream.  Caleb ventured back on his own for another couple of beers after I had descended to the the seventh circle of strep throat hell.

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Dukes

Caleb had heard about this restaurant before we left and our kind waiter recommend it as well.  So we knew we had to give it a try.  The first night we tried to eat there, the wait was quite substantial.  You know you’ve got a long wait ahead of you when they tell you there are 9 parties in front of you and they won’t even quote you with a time estimate.  So the next night we arrived quite early and were seated after about 10 minutes.  Caleb ordered the Munchener Brothchen, a delightful German concoction of chicken schnitzel, sauerkraut, and mustard.  I ordered the Proper Burger.  We both enjoyed our meal but I have to say I feel I’m in an ever-shrinking minority when it comes to burgers.  I like just a burger.  Lettuce and tomato along with some ketchup and mustard are really the most exotic toppings I like.  This whole idea of gourmet burger makes me feel like I belong to a dying breed of hamburger lovers.  Ron Swanson would agree with me.  It was a lovely burger, just not my taste.

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To close these posts about D.C, I’ll leave you with this thought.  Yes, D.C is rich with history and may not appeal those of you who don’t want your vacation for feel like a social studies lesson.  But there is more to this great city than glimpses to the past.  I’d urge you to give it a second, closer look before turning to other destinations.

D.C Getaway Part 1- Sites

Here are some photos from Caleb and I’s recent trip up to Washington D.C.

We visited an art gallery in Dupont Circle called the Phillips Collection.  The permanent exhibits were free to view and included some fantastic works.  Top left is Caleb standing in a room made entirely out of beeswax created by Wolfgang Laib.  The bottom three are from a group called The Migration Series by artist Jacob Lawrence. It details the migration of more than a million African Americans from the rural South to the cities of the North after the start of World War I.

We visited the sites around the National Mall.  The bottom two pictures are from the World War II Memorial.  Caleb took my picture by the Pacific Theatre memorial and by the Louisiana marker because my grandfather, originally from Louisiana, saw action in and around Australia.

The National Air and Space Museum was massive!  We spent a couple of hours there and I know we still didn’t see everything.  I took lots of pictures here because I knew B would like the planes and rocket ships.

We spent quite a bit of our Friday at the National Portrait Gallery.  Top left is my favorite poet, Walt Whitman.  Bottom row, second from right is my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt.  And the Academy Awards are the four that were won by Ms. Katharine Hepburn.

The International Spy Museum was the only place were we had to pay for admission.  They were hosting a James Bond exhibit with lots of behind the scenes trivia and memorabilia from the movies.  The car is an Aston Martin featured in Goldfinger.  I never did get a clear answer if it was the actual car driven by Sean Connery or if it was a reproduction.  Either way, cool car.  The second picture is of an enigma machine.

 

Hot Cross Buns- A Catholic Tradition

For my birthday last year I was gifted a copy of Thomas Keller’s cookbook Bouchon Bakery.  Oh how I love all things baking!  As the months went by I read the mouthwatering recipes with an awestruck wonder.  But would I ever be brave enough to attempt to make any of these concoctions?  As if fate was giving me that ever-appreciated push, I came across his recipe for hot cross buns about two weeks before Easter and decided the time was now.  So I tied on my apron, pulled my hair back, and plunged into the world of French baking.

First, I gathered my ingredients.

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Instead of regular vanilla, this recipe called for vanilla paste.  I couldn’t find it in my local grocer so I had to order it from Amazon.  It smells like I hope heaven smells.  And I had to omit the cardamom from the icing.  I never use the spice and I couldn’t justify spending $10 on a bottle.

This cookbook is so European.  The ingredients are measured in grams.  I was very glad to have this food scale.  Now I know about 3 eggs equal 186 grams.

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The dough had to mix for 30 minutes.  I had to move my stand mixer to Caleb’s office because the noise was bothering the kids.

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Adding the vanilla paste to the raisins.

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Kneading the dough.  You knead, wait, knead, wait, knead, wait, etc.  Takes awhile.

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After you’ve let the dough rise its time to cut up the dough and shape them into balls.  I should have taken more care to cut them more evenly and shaped them a little smoother.  They didn’t look as pretty as the pictures in my book.

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The next step is called proofing!  You put a cardboard box over the pan of dough and let it rise again.

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Ready to go in the oven!

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And 17 to 22 minutes later, they were done!

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Last step was the icing.  I made the mistake of not warming the milk before I added it to the powdered sugar.  The result was cold icing that was as hard as a rock.  Piping it onto the rolls was almost impossible.  Won’t make that mistake again!

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The finished product.  I give myself a B-.  Caleb made the observation that the basic dough recipe would make fine cinnamon rolls.  Next time I have a relatively free weekend I’ll give that a try.

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What We’re Reading

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Caleb’s pick- Kitchen Confidential

Poor Caleb.  The only time he gets to read is early in the morning.  And he has an uncanny ability of picking up his book about 5 minutes before one of the kids ( cough, cough, AB) wakes up.  So he’s been reading Anthony Bourdain’s memoir for awhile.  Asked for a review, he described it as enjoyable and insightful.  I read it several years ago and particularly enjoyed the passages about how restaurants determine their daily specials, what days you’ll get the freshest food, and the bread basket.

Katelyn’s pick- Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse

Fans of Peep Show are already familiar with David Mitchell’s work.  He’s a British comedian and writer whose work has appeared in The Guardian and The Observer.  This book is a collection of essays on a number of topics he has deemed worthy of discussion.  It was recommended by NPR’s Book Concierge.  I’m on the fence about it so far.  I love British humor as much as the next person but some of the topics are going way over my head.  I feel like this book needs a British to American translation sometimes.  But, I can appreciate his witty commentary whenever his writing and my knowledge of current events sync up.

B’s pick- Olivia and the Missing Toy

AB was gifted with the first Olivia book by Ian Falconer for Christmas this past year.  Olivia has quickly become a favorite character for Mr. B.  So far we’ve read Olivia, Olivia Forms a Band, and Olivia Saves the Circus.  These books are a delight.  And its a good thing too because whenever a new one enters the house, it’s guaranteed we’ll be reading it at least twice a day.

AB’s pick- Little Bear’s Little Boat

Picked up this book at The Toggery for AB’s first birthday.  There are two types of children’s books.  The funny, who will make fun of the ridiculousness of childhood and the sentimental.  I have a theory about the sentimental.  Once a month the sentimental authors get together and place bets about how fast they can make a mother cry when reading their book to a child.  Because that’s clearly the intention with this book.  I’d compare this book to watching Terms of Endearment. You know you’re gonna cry but you love it so you watch it anyway.