Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {chocomole sundaes}

I'll admit it: part of the appeal of making chocomole sundaes was, for me, the name.  Chocomole just sounds like a beyond-cool, beyond-delicious sundae.  The idea for it came from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  The recipe consists of Jeni's Queen City Cayenne ice cream topped with praline sauce, Frito crunch, cinnamon sugar sprinkle coating and a dollop of whipped cream.

Of course, I changed things a bit.  Since I'm not very keen on cayenne/Aztec chocolate ice cream, I made our chocomoles with chocolate ice cream from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop.  I also made the praline sauce from Lebovitz's book (and it's very tasty).  The Chocolate Frito Crunch was from Jeni's, but next time I think I'll use a semi-sweet instead of bittersweet chocolate - just a personal preference, but I thought it could use a little extra sweetness.

I really loved the turbinado sugar/cinnamon crunchy sprinkles.  These were a lovely surprise.  The sugar was just right for adding a little crunchy texture without being too overwhelming.  Grown up sprinkles, if you will.

I also adored the whipped cream.  Now, I know whipped cream atop a sundae is not a new idea.  But I rarely enjoy sundaes, and the fluffy whipped cream alongside the ice cream made a nice pairing.  I think any scoop of ice cream could benefit from a plop of whipped cream, making it a quick little sundae.  I use my own concoction (it's really not a "recipe") for whipped cream - whip up some heavy cream, when it's almost done, add a dusting of powdered sugar and a bit of vanilla extract.  Whip it a bit more & taste, adding extra sugar or vanilla as needed.  So easy!


Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Nook - The War of Art

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield:

If you feel you are meant to do a certain creative endeavor in this world (like be a writer, or actor, or musician, etc.) but have been dragging your feet in doing it, then this is the book for you.  No wonder I found it on a list titled 50 Great Books That Will Change Your Life.

This tiny book (easily read in one day) is broken down into 3 sections.  The first part defines Resistance, that thing that keeps you from doing what you were meant to do.  Part 2 talks about "going pro" - how a pro handles Resistance versus an amateur.  Finally, part 3 discusses a "higher realm" in which Muses or angels or some higher power exists and encourages us to sit down and do our work (this third part is quite spiritual, but regardless of your beliefs, the author makes many compelling insights).

Resistance has me in its clutches in the worst way, but I've never stopped to look at (or even think about, for that matter) the enemy.  Why do I have such lofty dreams, yet never sit down to make them a reality?  Why do I define myself based on my creative aspirations, which have nothing to do with my day in and day out life?  You might be surprised that some things you thought (ok, I thought) were totally unrelated are actually a product of this procrastination, like eating sweets (guilty as charged).

I don't want to tell you too much about the book because there is a lot of revelation here, and I think it's best experienced by reading the author's own words rather than my clumsy re-telling.  I can only say that for those creative-types that want to follow their dreams, but have not, this book will help you and inspire you.  After reading it, I started a list of "vices" that I need to eliminate so that I can get down to creative business.  Because that is exactly what you'll want to do after you finish the book - get down to work.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {heath bar crunch}

The idea for this ice cream started when the Bachs all went out for ice cream recently and I ordered a very yummy concoction of coffee ice cream, chopped up Heath Bars and caramel.  It was my introduction into the delicious world of Heath Bars, and I knew I wanted to try to make a homemade ice cream with Heath Bars in it at home.

At the same time as our ice cream outing, I had Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book at home, probably waiting for me on the kitchen counter.  It was kismet!

The recipe I used was Philadelphia-style vanilla from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz (except I omitted the vanilla bean).  I love that recipe, it's so easy to use in many ways - it's a very flexible vanilla!  So, I combined the vanilla ice cream with the quantity of Heath Bars recommended by Ben & Jerry & voila!  Perfection.

I did the photoshoot on a very, very, very hot day.  All five of us pounced on it when I was done shooting - there was nothing left to put back in the freezer.  And, that's the way it goes with an ice cream as delicious at Heath Bar Crunch.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Strawberry picking - 2013

The past few years, we've made it a tradition to go strawberry picking.  The farm where we usually go has stopped growing strawberries because the owners want to retire.  So we were faced with finding a new pick-your-own spot and we found a real gem: Jerry's Berries, out in the country, yet not too far from home (we're in Central Ohio).  And they're organic - love that.

So, here are a few pics from one of our strawberry picking excursions.  We only made it out to pick two times this year - the first time, we came back with way more than we could eat (I ended up freezing some of the berries).  The second time out, no one was in the mood to pick, and Mama had to pick most them (along with juggling my duties as official family photog).  Even though strawberry season is short, we enjoyed all the berries we picked, and can't wait until we can carry on the tradition again next year.



Monday, June 17, 2013

Book Nook - High Fidelity

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby:

This is such a guy's book.  I was reading it at the swimming pool, and I felt very self-aware: the title, the manly colors, the big picture of John Cusack on the front (the novel inspired the movie by the same name).  I couldn't help but wonder: if a guy reads chick-lit, does he feel this self-conscious?

Now, I'm not one to judge a book by its cover (sorry - I couldn't resist).  But this book is really all-male.  One of the quotes on the back cover (I promise, we will get past the cover, here in a moment) is the following: "keep this book away from your girlfriend - it contains too many of your secrets to let it fall into the wrong hands."  And that's a pretty accurate description of what you'll find inside: a look inside the male mind.  Sadly, an alternate title for the book, and thus the movie, might have been Men Behaving Badly, but alas, that one is already taken and besides, in this case it's not Men, but rather Man - our 1st person narrator, Rob.

Rob has done some pretty bad things, and he's not afraid to tell us all about them.  Usually he gives us important information in a Top-5 list format, and this one's no exception.  I almost stopped reading when I read the top bad things he's done in a relationship - they are very, very bad indeed.  It took me the whole book to realize - I just don't really like Rob.  He does lots of bad stuff and is a crummy person to everyone in his life, yet we, lucky readers, get to hear all the details on why he does all these bad things.  At great length. 

So why did I keep reading?  Nick Hornby, that's why.

He's a great writer, and this was actually his first book.  I really liked About a Boy, and somewhat liked A Long Way Down....of course I had to check out his first, and probably most popular, book.  And again, his writing doesn't disappoint.  "My friends don't seem to be friends at all but people whose phone numbers I haven't lost."  Here's another interesting one: "What really matters is what you like, not what you are's no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently, or if your favorite films wouldn't even speak to each other if they met at a party."  Interesting idea, and I gave it some thought.  Rob thinks about this too, and towards the end of the novel tells us that "I have to confess (but only to myself, obviously) that maybe, given the right set of peculiar, freakish, probably unrepeatable circumstances, it's not what you like but what you're like that's important."  Maybe there is hope for Rob, maybe he is capable of growing up.

I should probably mention what the story is about (besides Rob's endless musings).  Rob is 35 years old, runs a failing record shop with two employees, Barry and Dick, and is newly single thanks to his long term girlfriend leaving him for their former neighbor, Ian.  He knows everything about music, although he admits that he's starting to be out of touch with the music scene.  The novel begins with Rob reflecting on the first 5 girls (yes, we start with a list) who broke his heart, and launches into countless internal dialogue about whatever happens to be on Rob's mind - women, records, life's failures, you name it.

So, being inside Rob's head is an interesting, 323 page place.  There are some great insights to be found, moments where this character is trying to make sense of his self and figure out how to improve.  There are also a lot of moments where Rob is just trying to justify his bad behavior.  Getting to know this flawed character might not be for every reader, and you certainly might not like him in the end, but you might come away with a new perspective - a man's perspective.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {drumsticks}

I never thought of recreating Drumsticks, those summertime (ok, anytime) treats that everyone loved as a kid - vanilla ice cream in a sugar cone, topped with a hard chocolatey shell and chopped peanuts.  I'm not sure why this never occurred to me, but I'm grateful that Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams thought of it.

The recipe for Jeni's chocolate bombe shell couldn't be simpler: bittersweet chocolate and coconut oil melted together (just as easy - and much healthier - than bottled versions you get in the store).  I made the bombe shell, then brushed the mixture in the sugar cones, and set them in the freezer.  Once my ice cream was churned and thoroughly frozen (I used the Philadelphia-style vanilla from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop), I scooped some on a cone and quickly drizzled the melted chocolate on each.  Then, I sprinkled chopped peanuts on each cone, and gently pressed them to help them stay put.  I let them rest for about 10 minutes in the freezer, and then let 3 little Bachsters, and 1 DH, enjoy a homemade Drumstick on a hot June afternoon (don't worry, I had one too, after the photoshoot - of course I did!).


Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Nook - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, with Steven Hopp and Camille Kingsolver:

I started reading this book in the winter, and was listening to it on CD as I made my way to my weekly beekeeper's class.  It was the perfect accompaniment, as this book touches on the very reasons I decided to get into beekeeping: eating from your own backyard, eating sustainably and locally, making food choices that encourage diversity instead of monocultures, putting your food dollars in your community instead of the pockets of big business....etc., etc.

And this book certainly delivers on those ideals.  Author Barbara Kingsolver and her husband and two kids move from Arizona to a small patch of land in Appalachia.  They challenge themselves to produce everything they consume for one year, with a few minor exceptions like coffee and spices.  If they cannot grow or raise a food themselves, they seek it out locally, like at farmers' markets or, in the case of their wheat flour, a mill.

We're along for the ride every month: an overabundance of asparagus in the spring, a last-minute attempt to pick all the cherries before leaving for summer vacation, canning and more canning in August, enjoying the fruits of labor in the Winter.  And throughout all the personal stories, there's lots of well-researched information on our food industry and its effects on our health and the environment.  There are also discussions on topics such as our children not knowing how vegetables grow, the importance of eating seasonally, the carbon footprint of the food you eat (hello, bananas), social implications of eating this way among your peers.  And one of the biggest takeaways: that once you are established (your garden, your farmers' market routine, etc.) eating this way is both inexpensive and healthy.

It's ironic that I finished the book just as the farmers' markets are getting into swing.  Our little town just introduced a weekly market, and there are a few larger farmers' markets in Columbus that we always visit.  Why can't we just skip the grocery store this summer, and spend our food dollars at the farmers' market instead?  And maybe plant a vegetable garden?  It can be done, and this book shows that your community, your family's health, and the environment will be the better for it.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {balsamic strawberry}

With all those strawberries from our last strawberry picking venture, I figured it would be a good time to try a new recipe (we also made strawberry milkshakes - here's the post).  And I had just the recipe waiting: balsamic strawberry from one of my favorite books, Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones.

I think it was meant to be, because not only did we go a little crazy with our strawberry picking & ended up with a ton, but our grocery store had just put a bunch of unique balsamic vinegars on clearance.  I love it when a recipe just comes together like that!

Anyway, this was a very easy recipe: cook the strawberries, cook the base, mix it all up and churn.  I like that the recipe calls for you to puree the cooked strawberries: that's really important because the tiny chunks are much less likely to get icy and if they do - they're so tiny you won't notice.

One thing I will make sure to do next time is to taste the strawberries before cooking them, or during cooking.  In our enthusiasm at the strawberry field, we just might have picked a few pink strawberries, and those slightly underripe berries just might have made it into the recipe because I just might have been thinking that the added sugar would help.  But, lesson learned, taste as you go because our ice cream is not-so-sweet.  Which, for some, that might be a nice change of pace.  For us, we would have preferred a little bit more sweetness.

I've been making lots of salad dressings with balsamic vinegar lately, and now I know how well strawberries and balsamic vinegar compliment one another.  I think I'll throw in some sliced strawberries into my salads from now on.  And then I'll have balsamic strawberry ice cream for dessert!


Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Nook - Living Low Carb

Living Low Carb - Revised Edition by Jonny Bowden:

The more I read about low-carb diets, and the more I attempt to eat low-carb, the more I am convinced that it's the best way to eat.  The problem is, it's so hard to do.  In our society, we are bombarded by the bad stuff - it seems that every get-together has at least a dessert or two; every program on TV has ads for processed food; every major intersection has your pick of fast food restaurants.  I find it beneficial to keep reading and re-reading so that I'm armed with knowledge, which gives me the will-power to say no those temptations.

I really enjoyed Jonny Bowden's book because he is not trying to promote his own low-carb regiment.  Rather, he looks at low-carb from an overall perspective.  There are chapters on why low-carb diets work, fat, cholesterol & health, myths about low-carb and a really helpful Q&A section.    After reading these chapters, you might find yourself excited to give low-carb a chance.  This is where the author's analysis of 38 popular low-carb diets comes in handy - it's a great guide on where to start with low-carb.  I never knew there were so many different programs out there, and I found it really interesting to read about them and figure out which ones might work best for me.  I came away with the titles of several books that I want to look into.

The book is full of great stuff: tips on how to succeed, reasons you might experience a plateau (and what to do about it), treating yourself with non-food treats and such.  I love his low-carb life pyramid, which has joy as one of the items at the base (along with water, exercise and sleep).  This whole-system approach is so important in our well-being, and it's the approach that Bowden hits on time and time again.

In fact, just following Bowden's life pyramid is a good way to enjoy optimal health: the next level up after the base is protein, veggies and fat; the one above that is fruit and nuts, followed by nutritonal supplements.  His "optional" levels of the pyramid, the top levels, are starches and whole grains, then alcohol, then at the top, recreational foods.  You can follow any of the 38 low-carb diets he outlined earlier in the book, but for me, this is where my focus is going to lie: drastically reducing the junk, eating healthy low-carb foods, and looking at it from a holistic point of view.  If I can do that, surely I can get healthy!

I also wanted to mention that in the back of the book, there's a section on resources and support - websites, books to check out & recommended cookbooks.  There are so many great titles and topics here, that even just these few pages hold a wealth of information.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ice Cream Sundays - {strawberry milkshakes}

I've been reading Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & there is a great quote in the book about not overdoing sauces and toppings: "remember it is the homemade ice cream that is starring in this show."  I think the same idea goes behind other ice cream goodies as well: ice cream cake, sundaes and milkshakes, even  birthday cake & ice cream.  I usually like my ice cream in a big bowl, all by itself.  Flavors and toppings just take away from the ice cream.   (Caveat: as long as it's homemade ice cream - I love toppings & such on store-bought ice cream.)

Despite this philosophy, I found myself with an overabundance of local pick-your-own strawberries & wanted to try some different ice cream options with them.  Since I almost never make milkshakes, that seemed like a good starting point. 
For our strawberry milkshakes, I used this strawberry ice cream, which is probably the best strawberry ice cream ever.  The milkshake recipe is from Martha Stewart & is super easy - ice cream, milk and frozen strawberries.  I had some doubts about diluting perfect strawberry ice cream with milk and strawberries - let's just say that I found out that I do still prefer my ice cream as-is.  But if you are a milkshake kind of person, this is a good recipe to try.  The shake is not as sweet as ice cream- for some, that might be a good thing (as Martha would say).