Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hazy Shade of Winter, Part II

Fall is quickly coming to an end here in the Finger Lakes region of Central New York, where we have had snow off and on for the past week. Yesterday afternoon, it started getting dark around 3:30 and by around 4:00, snow was falling.

I had to drive into town around 6:00 and it was still snowing then. People northeast of here got a lot more snow than those of us near the lake. By the time I drove home around 9:30, there were just a few flurries left, but a little more snow fell overnight and we woke up to this:

It really isn't deeper than about an inch or so and the roads are completely clear, but we are expecting anywhere between 2 and 6 inches over the next 24 hours.

The creek is really pretty when it gets this cold because there is this kind of frozen mist that rises up and eventually coats the nearby trees in a layer of white frost. I'll post photos of that soon, I am sure.

A house at the bottom of the waterfall:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sweet Dreams

I apologize to my gentle readers for not posting much in the past few weeks. I recently finished a round of grant applications that took a lot of my time. This was one of them:

And this is what my study looked like after the applications were submitted:

Now, back to the blog. Some of my readers have requested that I post more about my baking, so this one's for you. I had to take dessert to a dinner a week or so ago, but I didn't have a lot of time to make it and I didn't have time to go to the store, so I decided to make Mother of Ken's Texas Brownie. There are lots of versions of this out there with slight variations and different names (my favorite: Texas Sheet Cake Massacre), but this is the one that my family uses. Those of you who know me well know that I don't care much for cake (I usually have birthday pie or birthday cheesecake), but this is one of the few that I do like.

It starts with a combination of 2 cups of flour and 2 cups of sugar in a mixing bowl:

Then I whisk it to be sure that there aren't any lumps. To me, whisking the ingredients is easier than sifting--I haven't sifted since middle school home ec class and if that makes me a bad little baker, that's fine with me. I haven't heard any complaints about my baked goods, so I'm not worried.

The next step is to gather the ingredients for the chocolate part of the cake. Here I have 1 stick of butter, 1/2 cup of shortening, 1 cup of strong coffee, and 1/4 cup of cocoa powder.

Put all of these ingredients in a heavy saucepan:

Slowly bring it to a boil, stirring often:

Once the chocolate mixture comes to a rolling boil, add it to the dry ingredients:

The next few ingredients to go in are 1/2 cup of buttermilk (if you don't have any, which I usually don't, you can substitute 1/2 cup of milk with 2 teaspoons of lemon juice added), two eggs, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

After mixing the chocolate mixture and the dry ingredients until they are just blended, add the buttermilk:

Then the baking soda:

Followed by the eggs:

And finally, the vanilla:

Once everything is mixed well, pour the batter into a greased 17 1/2 x 11" pan.

The cake bakes at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. While it is in the oven, it's time to make the frosting. The ingredients are: 1 stick of butter, 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, 1/4 cup of milk, 3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

Combine the butter, cocoa, and milk in a heavy saucepan and heat it slowly until it comes to a boil, stirring often.

Add the powdered sugar:

And the vanilla:

Whisk the frosting until it is smooth.

Here's what the "brownie" looks like when it comes out of the oven:

While it is still warm, pour the frosting over the brownie and spread it evenly.

Some of the frosting may drip over the side of the pan. You can cut the brownie once it has completely cooled and you may want to dip your knife in water to make cleaner cuts.

Since I'm sure you were wondering, here are some of the other things I made and ate last week.

Chicken poached in clementine juice with wild rice, roasted broccoli, cranberry sauce, and olives:

And an individual meatloaf with roasted butternut squash and cracked potatoes:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cut Me Off - Another Update

I am finally back to tie up some loose ends from Halloween, beginning with the pumpkins from the pumpkin carving party that I had to throw away the Monday after Halloween. McKenna's pumpkin and my pumpkin looked okay after a week, although they were getting pretty soft. Jessica's pumpkin lost part of its face, as you can see. It actually looked pretty good until about Thursday, which is longer than I thought it would last.

In other Halloween news, McKenna finally got the costume of her dreams courtesy of her Aunt Leah, who searched Target stores from New York to Maryland for the correct size. Like her mother, McKenna doesn't like to buy things unless they are on sale, so she waited to purchase a Halloween costume until things were half off. She would have waited longer, but then the only costumes left are dumb things like bees and she wanted to be a lobster:

She was very good to model her costume for the camera:

Those of you who know McKenna know that she loves fashion. She doesn't wear clothes very often, although she has a sweater that was a gift from her cousin Mocha and a coat that she bought for less than a dollar in Dallas before we moved to New York. She also has a nice collection of bandanas courtesy of her Aunt Piper and Uncle Boomer, who get them when they go to the "spa" and send them to her. She was very excited to have her first Halloween costume--probably the only one she will ever have.

Here she shows off the back:

One of the reasons that she loves her lobster suit so much is that it is stuffed, so she sees it as a built in bed. She spent quite a while relaxing on the floor like this:

Monday, November 3, 2008


Most of you gentle readers are already aware of my love for all things 80s, which has been encouraged by the recent release of the first three seasons of Dynasty on DVD. Dynasty is, of course, an example of some of the best television writing ever, bringing us such lines as:

"I am Fallon Carrington Colby, accent on the Carrington."


"I found her caressing my Clenet."

and such riveting dialogue as:

"What kind of refinery?" "A very fine refinery."


"I told you that I had to go away to find a rainbow to paint. Do you remember what you said?"

"Yes, I said: 'There are rainbows in Denver sometimes. Aren't they special enough for you?'"

The craftsmanship of these words is extraordinary.

Anyway, seasons one and two are already part of my DVD collection and, although I don’t own it, I have enjoyed watching parts of season three with my friend Leah. She decided to come to visit me in New York this weekend and we thought that the combination of traditional dressing up for Halloween and the recently released season three of Dynasty warranted a special kind of celebration. We are particularly obsessed with the fashions, hair, and makeup on this show and we wanted to experience what it might be like to be a Dynasty woman. So, for one special night, my humble log home became the Carrington Estate outside of Denver and Leah and I became Dynasty ladies.

We raided our closets and our jewelry boxes and we trolled Salvation Army and Goodwill stores from Maryland to New York to get the look just right.

With so many fabulous Dynasty ladies to choose from, it was difficult to decide which one to impersonate for the evening. In the end, Leah and I settled on becoming Fallon and Alexis, respectively. Fallon is the manipulative and loyal daughter of Blake Carrington (the patriarch of the show):

Alexis is the conniving ex-wife of Blake Carrington who returned to Denver sixteen years after abandoning her children on Blake’s orders (see the rainbow exchange above) to testify against him during his murder trial. She is also Fallon’s mother:

Krystle Carrington, Blake’s wife since 1981, was played by McKenna.

First, we donned our dressing gowns (along with feather slippers and millions of dollars in jewelry, of course):

Then, we curled and combed and teased and brushed and pinned and Aqua Netted our hair into 1980s hairstyles (or as close as we could get):

Next, we piled on the makeup, including blue and gold eye shadow, black eyeliner and mascara, and massive amounts of blush and lipstick.

The Carrington women did not just live lives of leisure, taking money from Blake and/or their various husbands. They were business women in their own right—remember how Alexis ran ColbyCo after Cecil Colby died? You would never see either of them in boring business suits, though. They found ways to incorporate shoulder pads and ruffly blouses into their business attire, adding that fashionable flare that was their trademark.

The original Fallon Carrington Colby:

Leah as Fallon Carrington Colby:

The original Alexis Carrington:

Ken as Alexis Carrington:

When they weren’t plotting to get their oil tankers back from some fictional Middle Eastern country, the Carrington women could be seen having lunch at the St. Dennis, which was apparently the place to see and be seen in 1980s Denver. Lunch at the St. Dennis requires a certain look, though. It is a look that says, “I am wealthy and fashionable, but I don't have to try too hard.”

Fallon demonstrating this look in the 1980s:

Leah's version:

Here, Leah was doing her best to replicate Fallon's usual look of idiocy and/or surprise, much like her expression when she learns that she is pregnant with Jeff's baby:

Alexis in the 1980s:

Ken in 2008:

One of the things that Leah and I do not have in common with the Carrington women is an apparent lack of appetite. You rarely see any of them eat anything. They were always storming away from the breakfast table after a tiff with Blake or Jeff (Fallon’s husband), pushing food around their plates while meeting with Mr. Hess, the private investigator, at the St. Dennis, or chowing down on some caviar before a romantic evening in front of the fireplace. They never ate steak or hamburgers or large chunks of cheese. We were going to have Dynasty-themed food, but then we remembered that the caloric intake on that show looked something like this:

Since we actually do eat—a lot—we snuck a few bites of non-Dynasty food between changes of clothing.

Oh, also, we would like to honor one of the most famous incidents in television history: the catfight. The initiated gentle reader will recall the catfight that took place between Krystle and Alexis at Alexis’ painting studio/house on the Carrington estate when Krystle found out that Alexis fired the shotgun that resulted in Krystle being thrown from her horse and dragged across the grounds until the devastatingly handsome Dr. Toscanni happened upon her crumpled body and got her to the hospital, where they learned that she had miscarried her baby and could never have another one.

In the case of our Dynasty party, Krystle got into a catfight with Fallon instead of Alexis. I think they were fighting over a piece of steak that Krystle stole from Fallon’s plate earlier in the evening.

Of course, it would not be a Dynasty evening without a fabulous and fancy party with some serious taffeta and lace. The originals were difficult to top, though.

Fallon and Jeff Colby in the 1980s:
Alexis in the 1980s:

Unfortunately, Leah-as-Fallon declined to have her evening gown photo included. Something about thinking she looked like a cow…I didn’t see this at all, but I will honor her wishes.

Ken-as-Alexis poured herself into this fabulous off-the-shoulder number and then wasn’t sure if she would be able to make it down the stairs for the party.

All in all, it was an awesome evening and we had lots of fun dressing up for Halloween/the Dynasty Season 3 release. At least Leah and I had fun. Krystle lost interest fairly quickly after she lost the catfight: