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Monday, September 28, 2009


We had a wonderful time at Camp PYOCA this weekend with our church. It was a retreat for families with younger children. The kids got to play in the lake.

Brennan enjoyed his paddle boat ride with Daddy. That's Flat Stanley he's holding. He's visiting us from Alexandria, Virginia this month. More about Flat Stanley later.

The beautiful lodge at Camp PYOCA.

Saturday was gorgeous. We enjoyed a cookout with all of the families. The boys loved cooking their own hot dogs. We were going to make s'mores but it began POURING right after dinner. We all headed back to the lodge and had a fun night of games and catching up. Pastor Peggy (our youth minister) had all the younger ones playing Duck, Duck, Goose and Red Rover, Red Rover. We adults enjoyed Jenga, charades and an Apple card game that I need to learn more about. It looked like a lot of fun.

Thomas took the following pictures Sunday morning before our church service and lunch.

This was the first tree we saw where the leaves were turning colors. It's going to be a beautiful view at Camp PYOCA in two weeks. Our leaf season is at its peak in mid-October.

We "cabined" which is the closest to camping I get. It was rustic enough, but really very comfortable. We all stayed in bunk beds which was truly fun for Thomas and Brennan. The friendships, relaxing, and beautiful scenery really made the weekend. David took the boys on an hour-long hike on Sunday. Except for me locking BOTH sets of keys in the car and having to call a (very nice) locksmith, the weekend was just perfect!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Red Velvet Cake

My Southern roots are showing - I've always wanted to make a Red Velvet Cake and last night Brennan and I took it on. Remember this "bleedin' armadillo groom's cake" from the movie "Steel Mangolias"? We had a fun time making a Red Velet from scratch. And we learned a valuable lesson - when you use up all the baking soda doing kitchen science experiments, make sure Mommy knows.

Brennan enjoyed sifting all the dry ingredients.

But what he enjoyed most was making the icing from scratch and icing the cake. He couldn't wait for Thomas to try the icing. He thought it was INCREDIBLE that one could MAKE icing!

Our completed cake.

We used baking powder (whose main ingredient is baking soda it turns out) instead of baking soda instead of running to the store. I don't think I've ever been OUT of baking soda - it's one of those ingredients that's just always around. Without it though, the cake layers did not rise properly. Alas - it tasted delicious.

This is what it may have looked like (photo from allrecipes.com)

Red Velvet Cake is from the south. The cocoa and vinegar reacting with the buttermilk would tint the cake slightly red. During WWII cooks used beets to turn the cake more red. Since the 1950's, food coloring has been used more often, while cocoa and buttermilk are still key ingredients.

Red Velvet Cake
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c sugar
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 c vegetable oil
1 c buttermilk, at room temperature or warmed for 30 seconds in microwave
2 eggs at room temperature
2 Tbsp red food coloring
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar
1 lb cream cheese, softened
2 sticks butter, softened
4 c confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Pecans for garnish

Preheat oven to 350. Oil and flour 3 8" round pans. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In mixing bowl mix the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients on low until just combined. Pour cakes into 3 pans and cook for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely on a rack.

In mixing bowl add the cream cheese, butter, and sugar and mix until fluffy - about 5 minutes. On low, add in vanilla and mix for 30 seconds. Refrigerate.

Place the bottom layer of cake on a cake plate and ice the top. Add the second layer and repeat. Add the 3rd layer and frost the entire cake. Decorate with pecans. Enjoy!

This recipe make way more icing than you need. The rest can be saved in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Today we made dishes from Fennel. This is an herb/vegetable that I have never cooked with and wasn't exactly sure what it looked like in the grocery store. I had a delicious salad at a neighborhood party one time. The person who made it said the unique flavor was Fennel. So I thought we'd try it out.

The boys enjoyed helping cook the 2 dishes, but weren't that fond of the end results. I have to agree. I like it, but in small doses. I would make these dishes again for adventurous adult eaters, but probably not for the kids. Although the leftover leaves made a fun centerpiece!

Fennel is an herb that originally comes from the Mediterranean and is in the same family with anise, liquorice, and tarragon. The Florence Fennel with the large bulb is the variation that is used as a vegetable - what we used today. It was not easy to find in our town - finally I found these 3 bulbs at Kroger.

We made a pasta dish and a puree with Fennel today for lunch. Brennan has become quite the expert potato peeler.

Once you chop off the leaves and remove the outer layer from the bulb, you slice the fennel in half. Then you remove the little triangle of core from the center of the bulb before slicing it.

Now for the least appetizing looking pictures you've ever seen. The real food actually looked better than is represented here.

Penne with Fennel and Sweet Potatoes (Food Network)

Fennel Puree (Giada De Laurentiis)

If you try these out, let me know how you like them!

Penne with Fennel and Sweet Potatoes
12 oz. penne pasta, cooked and drained
1 Tbsp butter
2 tsp olive oil
1 fennel bulb, sliced lengthwise and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 tsp dried chopped rosemary
1 Tbsp sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups roasted sweet potatoes, cuben
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan
2 Tbsp chopped parsley (I omitted)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta, drain and keep warm under a towel. Melt butter and olive oil in a large skillet. Add fennel, rosemary, and sugar and cook 10 minutes until fennel is tender and golden brown. Stir in the roasted sweet potatoes.

Whisk together chicken broth, milk, and flour. Add to skillet and simmer 3 minutes, stirring until thick. Add the pasta and mix to coat. Stir in Parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper, and cook until heated through. Garnish with fennel leaves. Serve immediately.

Fennel Puree
2 large fennel bulbs (core removed and sliced in 1/4 inch slices)
1 medium potato
2 garlic cloves
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup milk
3 Tbsp cream cheese or mascarpone cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp chopped mint (I omitted)

Trim the leave from the bulb and remove the outer leaves. Slice lengthwise and remove the hard core. Slice into 1/4 inch thick slices. Peel the potato, halve, and thinly slice as well. Place the fennel, potato, garlic, chicken broth and milk in a skillet. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook 30 minutes. Drain the fennel mixture. Place the fennel/potato mixture into a food processor and puree. Add the cheese, salt, and pepper and mix well. Add the mint leaves and process for just a couple of seconds. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fennel leaves. Serve immediately.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hope Ride 2009 - we rode 30 miles!

We participated in the Hope Ride to raise funds for their local food bank today. This was David's and Brennan's first organized ride and we really outdid ourselves. It was great!

We participated in the 25 mile ride which turned out to be 28.5 - it wasn't an official course and all those who had participated before knew the course distances were "round numbers". Add in riding from the car to the start and back - we rode exactly 30 miles. The boys did GREAT!

It started with a big pancake breakfast at the starting point. Along the way there were a couple of stops full of music and food. At the first stop there was a petting zoo which Thomas loved.

Thomas was sad to leave this friendly pup.

Fun music

Stop 2 was Simmons Winery. Brennan enjoying a non-wine beverage.

Beautiful grapes at Simmons.

They were getting ready for an outdoor wedding this evening. Beautiful day for it!

We could not believe we completed 30 miles. We weren't sure we'd get the boys to do 25. We were half-way planning to do the 13 miler instead. Add .03 to get the bike back to the car and it was exactly 30 miles.

Here we are at the end of the ride - root beer floats for all the riders. They definitely treated us right.

I am so proud of Brennan. I was so impressed with his great attitude - 30 miles and not a single moment spent whining. Everyone cheered him on along the way. Just impressive. Both boys were troopers and will sleep well tonight I'm sure.

Friday, September 18, 2009


It's always a sad day when we close our pool for the year. Since we only get 3-4 months of good warm swimming weather (we're wusses about swimming in the cold water) it's sad to see it end. I realize this time of year brings gorgeous weather, autumn leaves, and the holidays, but I'm a summer girl. I can assure you David is THRILLED to see this photo.

In other news...

Thomas did a great job creating a diorama for the class's most recent literature discussion. His group read "The BFG" by Roald Dahl (same writer as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"). In this scene, the Army and Air Force are capturing 9 sleeping giants who are terrorizing people. Probably the most violent scene in an otherwise sweet and gentle book. Go figure. PLUS, we got to buy Army men which Thomas has never had. He and Daddy especially enjoy melting the leftover Army men with a lighter outside. Boys.

Thomas's teacher was very impressed with his creativity. They spray-painted the shoe box with textured spray paint (I didn't know about this stuff!) to look like the desert where the giants live. Good job Thomas!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stir Fry with Tofu and Vegetables

Last night the family made a new dish together. It was a lot of fun and David and I really enjoyed the meal, even though the boys sort of picked out their favorite parts and left the rest - so they had snacks later. I would definitely make this again for an adult audience - especially a vegetarian crew.

I was looking for a good recipe with tofu since we all like it. The boys eat tofu in miso soup and stir fries better than they do chicken nuggets or beef on most occasions. They especially liked the rice noodles and carrots. I found this recipe in Real Simple magazine and have modified it slightly. That's a great magazine - they have wonderful articles, recipes, and tips.

Tofu is made from soy milk. I always use the extra firm kind found in grocery stores - usually near the produce. Very mild and delicious. And apparently very healthy - maybe even more so than chicken nuggets :)

Stir-fried Noodles with Tofu and Vegetables
1 6 oz. package rice noodles
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
Juice of 2 limes
14 oz package firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch thick cubes
1 Tbsp oil
2 carrots, cut into strips
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger (we omitted)
2 cups bean sprouts (we omitted)
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro (we omitted)

Boil the noodles according to the package directions. Drain and return to the pot.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, soy sauce (we used the low-sodium variety), and lime juice. Gently press the tofu between layers of paper towels to remove excess liquid, then cut into 1/2 inch cubes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, bell pepper, and ginger and cook stirring for 2 minutes. Add the tofu and bean sprouts. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are slightly tender - 4-5 minutes.

Toss the drained noodles with half the soy sauce mixture and cook over medium-high heat until heated through - about 2 minutes. Transfer to a platter and top with the vegetables, the remaining soy sauce mixture, the scallions, peanuts, and cilantro.

Changes - I added about 1/4 cup of soy sauce to the vegetables when they were stir-frying to add more flavor. We would add more peanuts, scallions, and carrots next time.

Try it - it's delicious!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

To Do Lists

Friday, September 11, 2009


Why not learn to make Soufflés on a busy night when Daddy has a meeting and the 4th grader has 4 hours of homework? That's what Brennan and I did last night and it was a ton of fun!

My 7 year old wanted to, of course, make a dessert soufflé but I wanted to try a savory one as well. That's a very popular term on Food Network - savory - I am using it all the time now. It's the opposite of sweet. What word did I use before I learned the word savory? So we had Cheese Soufflé for dinner and Chocolate Soufflé for dessert and they were suprisingly simple to make!

A Soufflé is simply a cake. The word comes from the French word souffler, literally meaning "blown up" or "puffed up". I have heard all the stories about watching a soufflé deflate because you opened the oven or because of a loud noise. Turns out to be rumors only. They rise in the oven and deflate about 4 minutes after you take them out. No mystery. Hm.

See recipes below. The chocolate one David absolutely loved - we all did. The cheese soufflé I would definitely make again. It was a hit.

Watch Outs - both are supposed to be served immediately out of the oven, so if your husband is running late getting back from a church meeting, know that your soufflés are going to deflate, but taste good nonetheless.

We started with the cheese soufflé. Brennan led every step of the way. He's prepping the large dish for the cheese soufflé and smaller ramekins for dessert.

I was extremely impressed that he made a white sauce, from scratch, completely by himself. This is something a lot of people avoid having to make. It was thick and creamy and impressive.

The worst part, according to B, was shredding all that Swiss cheese. I eventually took over the task or we'd still be working on it.

Once mixed, here's the Cheese Soufflé.

He checked the oven every couple of minutes to see it rising. Disappointing at first (my dish was a little too large for the soufflé) but then the puffing started and it was pretty exciting.

And out of the oven. It looks too done, but it really wasn't. I probably could have taken it out of the oven a couple of minutes earlier, but this looks exactly like the French recipe I was following, so let's go with it NOT being too done.

Immediately after coming out of the oven...

4 Minutes Later...

We moved on to Emeril Lagasse's Chocolate Soufflés.

Brennan was very excited about these.

Again, they look a little too done, but they were absolutely delicious. We ended up doing dessert first because you are supposed to eat the chocolate Soufflés immediately after they come out of the oven because there is a decadent sauce that goes with them. So that's what we did. Dessert first, then cheese Soufflé and a side dish of green peas for a little color and healthiness.

Maman's Cheese Soufflé (from a French cookbook)
6 Tbsp unsalted butter (we used butter, not margarine)
6 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
5 extra large eggs (I used 6 large eggs)
2 1/3 cups grated Swiss cheese
3 Tbsp minced chives

Preheat oven to 400. Butter a 6-8 cup gratin dish. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Mix well with a whisk and let cook on medium-high for 2 minutes. Add milk and whisk well until it thickens - at least 3 minutes. Don't let sit or it will burn. Remove from heat and cool for 5-10 minutes.

Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Shred the cheese. Once the white sauce is cooled, add the cheese, chives, and eggs. Pour into the buttered dish and cook for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check the Soufflé and continue cooking for up to 10 minutes more until Soufflé is browned on top and puffed. Best served immediately.

Chocolate Soufflés with Chocolate Grand Marnier Sauce
Soufflé Ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
8 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 large egg whites
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
Confectioner's sugar (which I omitted)

Sauce Ingredients: (makes double what we really needed)
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
4 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Butter 4 ramekins. Spoon sugar into the ramekins and roll it around so the sugar coats the ramekin. Shake out the excess.

Temper the chocolate. I do this by microwaving the chopped chocolate for 30 seconds at a time and stirring it well. This will keep it glossy (per the Barefoot Contessa). Emeril suggest putting the chocolate in a metal bowl over a pot of simmer hot water and stirring it until it's melted and glossy. **My way is easier.
In the mixing bowl, beat the egg whites and 1/4 cup of the sugar until stiff and glossy.

Whisk the egg yolks into the melted chocolate, one at a time. Add the Grand Marnier and whisk well. Add 2 tbsp sugar and continue whisking. Fold in the egg whites until thoroughly blended. Pour into the buttered/sugared ramekins and cook for 18 minutes. I probably would have taken mine out after about 16. The oven had been on 400 for quite awhile.

For the sauce:
In a saucepan, heat the cream and butter. Add the Grand Marnier. Whisk then bring to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the chocolate. Serve warm.

Place each ramekin on a plate and serve immediately. Dust with confectioner's sugar (which we omitted). Have each person break their souffle and create a little hole or well in the middle. Pour in the chocolate sauce. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Labor Day in Mississippi and at Dinosaur World

We had a really good time visiting family in Mississippi over Labor Day weekend. We took an extra day and had a fun time seeing everyone, going to a football game, and eating way too much as usual when we head south.

The Boatwright/Bretheim Cousins - there's nothing more fun than playing in a pack-n-play when you're too old for it.

Thomas (9), Brennan (7), Natalie (5), Danielle (2)

Walking to the football stadium - doesn't look like rain's a possibility, does it?

We couldn't get much higher up in the stadium but it was fun, until...

Just before kick-off it POURED rain. And thundered. And then there was a rain delay. No one got to eat these nachos or drink the drinks - they were drenched.

The Boatwright/Rupp Cousins. Thomas (9), Ellie (4), Taylor (7), Brennan (7)

On the way home we stopped at Dinosaur World. This was our 4th visit and the boys never get enough of it. They love to stop on our trips to the south and it really is a fun diversion.

Brennan in a T-Rex

Studying the dinosaur plaques - telling about the dinosaurs and where their fossils have been found.

Our future paleontologist is in the yellow.