Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October Five Fabulous Finds

1. Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Sometimes you have had a hard day and all you want to eat is some good old-fashioned comfort food.  You try to combat these urges by telling yourself, "I will really regret it if I eat a huge plate of cheese fries or a big bowl of mashed potatoes or a whole batch of chocolate chip cookies."  And then, you open the refrigerator and you see two big heads of cauliflower staring at you.  They mutter things like, "If you don't eat me soon I will turn brown and smelly and maybe even liquify before your very eyes.  If I do that, you will regret even more having eaten those mashed potatoes or cookies instead of me."

Guilt wins and I decide it best to make something with the cauliflower.  As I poured over all kinds of cauliflower recipes, I came across one that had the potential to be a win-win - Cauliflower Mac and Cheese.  Mac and Cheese definitely fits the bill as an old-fashioned comfort food and I could use the cauliflower and thus keep myself from again being threatened by the cauliflower twins residing in my fridge.

The recipe that I used is an adapted version of the one by Michelle Obama that appears in her cookbook, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America.

1 pound pasta  
1 cup 2 percent or skim milk
1 pound shredded cheese
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

These are the original ingredients.  I used farfale pasta.  It gives the dish that "grown-up" look.  I also used a cup of chopped kale instead of parsley.  And, the thing that I think sends the recipe over the top is using smoked gouda instead of plain ol' cheddar cheese..  I also added a few buttered bread crumbs  and baked it in the oven for a few minutes just to give it a little crunch.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ยบ. Bring salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente.
  2. Steam the cauliflower until soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender along with a few tablespoons of the steaming liquid. Puree the cauliflower, adding more steaming liquid to thin the puree if necessary.
  3. In a medium size casserole dish, combine the pasta and hot cauliflower puree. Add the milk, both cheeses, parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. I added this step at the suggestion of another blogger.  In a small bowl, mix the butter and breadcrumbs with your fingers until it resembles damp sand. Sprinkle across the top of the pasta mixture, then place the dish in the oven for about 20 minutes until the top is crispy and the sauce is bubbling.

This was an awesome version of mac and cheese.  If I do it again, and I definitely will, I'll halve the recipe.  We ate dinner and several lunches from the batch I made.  As good as it was, I was tired of it after the fifth or sixth meal.

2. Capture Your 365 Idea Lists  (http://captureyour365.com/category/idea-list/)
I had a lot of fun over the summer with the Visual Cents Project.  I was surprised at the void left in my days once it was over.  With the extra time I had, I surfed the web for websites and blogs about photography.  I stumbled upon the site Capture Your 365.  It is a site that encourages you to take a picture every day of the year!  Suddenly, accomplishing my hundred days of pictures seemed so small. 

 What is really cool about this website is that its owner, Katrina Kennedy, publishes a monthly list of photo prompts.  Where was that back in August when I had photographed every duck and flower in Farmers Branch and was wondering where to shoot next?  The prompts are interesting, fun and leave room for one's own creative take.  The site also has a gallery where readers can post their images and look at how others interpreted the prompts.  Though I have not successfully kept up with a picture a day, I do stop by the gallery every day to live vicariously through those who are committed to the Capture Your 365 project.  I'm trying to decide whether or not I can make and, more importantly, keep that kind of photography commitment in 2013.  I'll let you know when I decide.

3. Gas Fire Logs
I have always been a purist when it comes to fires in the fireplace. Big hunks of wood fueled by wads of newspaper and empty cereal boxes is the only way I thought a fire should be built.  This poses a bit of a problem though because I am also afraid of fires inside.  Even lighting candles makes me nervous.  Outside is a different story.  I like campfires, bonfires, barbecue fires and citronella candles.  I can build a pretty mean campfire.  Maybe my fears stem from the fact that in a past life I was a pyromaniac that burned a house down or something.  I don't know . . .

Anyway, one of things that we have done during the whole house renovation is redo the fireplace.  It has gone from a brick facing to a stone facing, from no mantel to a beautiful hand carved wood mantel and from only a gas starter to a set of gas logs. 

 I was afraid that the whole cozy fire ambiance might lose something with "fake" logs.  It doesn't. They are pretty darn amazing!  (This photo doesn't really tell the true story.)

And, coincidentally, we had them installed the very day that the cold front waltzed through Dallas and dropped the temperatures to the upper thirties!

4. Mr. Potato Head Pumpkin
When the girls were little, Halloween was the big kiddie celebration at our house.  We had a big party with kids in costumes, games, crafts, food and pumpkins.  We did it right!  This was mostly because the girls' birthdays are over the Christmas holidays; we could't count on their friends being available for a party during that time of year. 

 In my effort to do it right,  I made all of the girls' costumes, a feat that both of them have thanked me for in the last couple of days.  I'm glad that they remember and appreciate that I did that.  They seem genuinely grateful that I never dressed them in "one of those lame store-bought costumes." And Erin made me promise that I would do the same for her kids some day because she doesn't sew.  I think that I might be better off teaching her how to sew rather than committing to another generation of handmade Halloween costumes!  Although, I did enjoy making all those crazy costumes . . .

I also liked to carve jack-o-lantern thought I have not done that in years.  Carving pumpkins is a great deal of work and generates a great deal of mess.  I thought about doing it this year, but quickly realized that I really didn't have the time to dedicate to it but I really wanted a Halloween pumpkin.  

Walking through Target the other day, I came across Mr. Potato Head pieces for a pumpkin.  How cool is that?  Or, maybe it is just lazy.  Whichever the case, we bought one.  With a screwdriver (for punching the holes) and a few minutes l ended up with this.  Isn't he handsome?

Yes, I was deprived of handfuls of seeds and pumpkin slime all over.  I also avoided the very real possibility that I would slice some portion of a hand or finger with a sharp knife.  I think the trade off was worth it.

We are becoming fond of our Vampire pumpkin.  We'll look forward to seeing him again this time next year.

5.  Peace Through Music 
Click on the title above link to see and hear an amazing tale about the power of music.  The video is nearly twenty minutes long so make sure you have time to watch it if you click on it now.  If you don't have twenty minutes right now, make sure you come back and watch it when you do.  It is well worth the time.

On a similar note, here is another opportunity to see how music impacts the lives of others and the world around us.  Those of you in the Dallas area should come hear Resounding Harmony on Saturday November 17th at 8pm at the new Dallas City Performance Hall..  The concert benefits the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundations.  For information about Resounding Harmony and to purchase tickets for our upcoming concert visit our website www. resounding harmony.org.  

Like the above-mentioned video, this concert is also well worth your time.  You'll enjoy a fun-filled evening of music and children living with brain tumors will benefit from the proceeds of the concert.  Another win-win situation.

I hope you all enjoyed October and Halloween!  Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas are just around the corner!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Scary Story

It was a dark and stormy night . . .

and . . . Oh wait, that is the wrong scary story! 

 Let's try this again.

It was the middle of a sunny but crisp October afternoon, just ten days before our next presidential election.  I was at home making chili and butternut squash bread to take to a Halloween party later that evening.  Weber had a few errands to run.  While he was out, he decided that he would exercise his right to vote - early.  He made his way into a packed parking lot at a branch of the public library.  It quickly became apparent that many people had early voting on their Saturday agendas.  Weber finally spotted someone getting in their vehicle and about to vacate a parking space.  He stopped, giving this person enough room to back out, and waited patiently.

While he was waiting patiently, someone came up behind him, stopped briefly and then went around him.  Weber watched as this person circled around and maneuvered himself back into the same lane where Weber was, but facing the opposite direction.  You can probably see where this is going.  This person managed to cut Weber off and take the parking space.

Rather than fight this guy for a spot, or, for that matter, the rest of the traffic in the parking lot, Weber just came home - without incident and without voting.

As he finished telling me his tale, I said somewhat sarcastically, "I bet I can guess who that person was going to vote for."  

Weber said, "I don't have to guess; I know.  He had a Romney/Ryan sticker on his Mercedes."

Why is it that stories these days are so predictable?  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Falling Fall

The weather front that is supposed to drop our temperatures thirty degrees today is looming in the background.  A sky full of gray clouds is heralding its arrival.  As I walked home from school today at lunch time, however, it was still quite warm.

I passed this tree on my way.  For some reason, I found this image beautiful and comforting.

It just looks like fall to me even though it doesn't have all of the wonderful colors of changing leaves that we most often associate with this time of year.  I love the restful spirit fall; nature is settling down.  The fall is by far my favorite season.

I took this picture with the camera on my phone.  I may have to go back with my "big" camera and see of I can do the whole scene a little more justice.

Happy fall!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Bright Spot

Wow!  It is the 24th of October.  Where has the month gone?  I know that I have been busy but I didn't realize that it has been so long since I last posted.

One of the things that I have been doing over the last month is taking an online photography course.  It has been a great experience - low pressure and I have learned a lot.  I will share more on the class in a later post.  For now, I am just going to show you a few pictures.

I will spare you the technical details of the assignment for which I submitted this picture and instead share what this image says to me.

The majority of this frame is bright green and blurred.  If you look again, there is one brown and withered spot on the lower part of the branch.  This spot is the only spot of the frame that is in focus.

So often in life we are surrounded by things that are growing and thriving but, like this picture, the only thing that is in focus is the tiny "bad spot" in our life.  There is no arguing that if we look hard enough we can always find a spot that is not pretty, that has no life in it or that undeservingly captures our attention.  When this happens, our job is to look at the big picture.  When we do this, most of the time we will see that the "brown spot" is just a tiny place in the bigger picture.  It is surrounded by many bright spots.

Despite the fact that it is the 24th of October, the temperatures here are still in the upper eighties.  That seems kind of crazy.  However, rumor (and the weathermen) has it that that is going to change in the next day or so.  We are about to experience our first crisp fall temperatures.  But, because it has still been so warm, the summer flowers are still happily blooming.

This is a hibiscus that has been living on the back patio all summer.  It weathered the hot summer temperatures quite well.

This particular plant has spent two winters indoors.  It doesn't like being inside much but I think it may have to move to its cool weather residence this weekend.  This bloom may be its last nod to the summer of 2012.

Back in the spring we planted several small shrubs in an attempt to attract hummingbirds.  We figured it would be next spring before these little plants matured enough to bloom.  We were wrong.  Their bright yellow flowers provided a bright spot for us this week.

They seem to glow across the yard..

This one stands looking out into the sunshine.  I hope the changing temperatures heading our way aren't too tough on these plants.  We are looking forward to them being a bright spot for some hummingbirds next spring.

And on another note as far as looking on the bright side goes . . .there are 61 shopping days left until Christmas.