Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Nook - Empty Mansions

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.:

Well, my Amazon link still isn't working (dang and blast! as Roald Dahl characters would exclaim), so I took a quick picture of the book so you can see it.  (Here's a different amazon link to the book.) That big mansion in the heart of wealthy New York City that graces the cover?  It was torn down because it was so expensive, no one could afford to maintain it after its owner died.  So, right from the cover, we can see the kind of wealth this family had.

The family is the Clark family.  The story starts with W.A. Clark, who was born in a four room log cabin in 1839 in Pennsylvania.  W.A.'s family moved out west to Iowa, where he strove "to better my condition."  He taught school, went to university, became a gold miner, then became a merchant to the miners, then a mail courier through Indian territory, then a grocer and banker, then a copper industrialist, railroad baron and U.S. Senator.

As I was finishing the first several chapters of the book, all about W.A., I was describing them to DH and telling him a bit about W.A.'s daughter, Huguette.  DH's response was: it sounds like his story is going to be much more interesting than hers.   I've given this comment a lot of thought, and come to the conclusion that yes, W.A. and Huguette both took different paths, but they are both intriguing tales in their own right.  W.A. was a force of nature, out in the world, seizing every possible opportunity, always making his life and his experiences bigger and better.

His daughter, Huguette, on the other hand, was rather timid.  She had a small circle of people she knew (some friends, some employees.  She was devoted to her family, but her family was very small in number and she outlived them all by several decades).  She would often stay out of sight at social occasions that her mother held, and if she was participating, she usually kept to herself and sat with a doll on her lap.  Her interests were painting (her weekly lessons with Tade Styka were one of the only things to lure her out of her Fifth Avenue apartment); she loved Japanese building replicas and spent time coordinating their construction; and she loved dolls.  She was an avid art collector, investing in Monet and Renoir and Degas.

But the real story of the book is the massive wealth.  When W.A. passed away, his vast fortune was split between his children from his first marriage and Huguette, his only living child from his second marriage.  When she died (in 2011, at the age of 104), her estate was worth $308 million.  What would a quiet, reclusive person do with all that money?

In addition to her artistic hobbies, she also paid for the upkeep of 3 estates, all of which remained empty for at least 20 years.  The tax bill on her Connecticut estate alone reached $161,000 per year.  She purchased the estate in 1951, and never lived in it.  Her mother's beloved Bellosguardo estate in Santa Barbara, was kept up as well, with gardeners and house servants and a chauffeur and estate manager.  Huguette had not set foot in the mansion since the 1950s.

The last 20 years of her life, Huguette lived in a hospital, and she spent a great deal of her money on her closest caregivers: her day nurse, who was given $30 million, and her assistant, who made close to $200,00 a year organizing Huguette's dolls and running errands for her (not to mention she paid for his children's private education and gave him lavish monetary gifts, such as $60,000 for Christmas).  Her doctors, realizing they had an elderly patient with vast wealth, would often ask Huguette for donations to the hospital.  In fact, they asked her for $125 million to save the hospital from being purchased by a developer.  Huguette declined, and when the hospital closed, she moved to a different hospital.

It's interesting to think that perhaps these people close to her took advantage of her, but our authors make it clear that Huguette was of sound mind up to her death.  It's hard to believe, but she preferred to live at the hospital in her last years instead of her $54 million Fifth Avenue apartments.  She preferred to give money to those few trusted people close to her as opposed to other charities.  She preferred to keep private, only allowing a few people to get close to her.  It's hard to imagine a life of such wealth, and what choices you might make if you had that wealth.  Huguette made the choices that were right for her, and she lived a contented life.  It will be interesting to see how the remainder of her wealth will now be divided up (there is a legal battle between W.A.'s descendants and the recipients in Huguette's will).  It all certainly makes for an interesting story.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Brunch - {breakfast pizza}

DH and I got married in 1998, and this Pfaltzgraff pattern has been a daily part of our lives ever since.  The funny thing is, I never think to use it in my food photos.  So seeing it in the picture below makes me laugh, because those plates are such a well-worn, commonplace thing around here. 

Sometimes, the food photographer has no choice but to grab the nearest plate and start shooting.  Because, this breakfast pizza (from was going fast.  I've made breakfast pizza before, but it's been a long time, so I didn't anticipate the reaction from everyone: we love this, give us more

In fact, we really didn't even need plates: eating it straight off the pan would have suited everyone just fine!  But I think all our friends and family who gifted us with our dishes would like to know their gift is going to good use, so plates it was, albeit briefly.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Nook - The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking

The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking: 80 low-carb recipes that offer solutions for celiac disease, diabetes, and weight loss by Peter Reinhart and Denene Wallace:

Earlier tonight, the Bachsters and I picked up subs on our way home from running a few errands.  Since I've been trying to eat low-carb, I didn't get a sub, but had a big plate of broccoli gratin for supper instead (recipe to come soon on Sunday Brunch, if I don't eat it all first, before I can get a picture).  I was doing so well and quite proud of myself, and then I went and ate a bunch of homemade chocolate ice cream after the Bachsters went to bed.  I am trying, but eating low-carb is so hard for me because so many of the foods I love (breads, pastas, anything sweet) are full of carbs.

Enter The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking.  This book is coming to my rescue!  I love pancakes - yep, there's a recipe in here for low-carb pancakes (a couple of different ones, actually).  Pizza....yes, low-carbers can now enjoy pizza.  Cake.....bread.....cookies.....there are low-carb versions of just about every baked good!  And these recipes are good for you in two ways.  First, they cut out the sugar, then they cut out the flour (and use nut and seed flours instead).  This is what really sets this book apart, because most other "healthy baking" cookbooks are either one or the other.

Of course, I could not recommend a cookbook without trying the recipes first!  My favorite recipe from the book is double-cheese focaccia with tomato sauce.  It has a wonderful flavor, and the sauce and cheese make it seem almost like eating pizza - but somehow, even better.  The focaccia was moist, which I didn't think I'd like, but the flavor was so amazing that I wasn't bothered by it.  The outer edges got a bit drier, so next time, I might spread out the dough a little more.  I'm definitely making this again:

Since I loved the focaccia so much, I really wanted to try one of the pizza recipes.  I tried the cheesy herbed pizza crust, which I liked, but not quite as much as the focaccia.  I used garbanzo bean flour, and it gave the pizza a very distinct flavor.  Our 8-year-old tried a little and exclaimed it too spicy; I think it was the garbanzo bean flour she was tasting.  I did love that it looks and feels just like regular pizza (some low-carb pizzas require a fork).  This is also a very good recipe, and great to make if you know you'll be in close proximity to traditional pizza.  It's just about impossible to turn down pizza once you smell it!

I make pancakes for the Bachsters often, and I usually don't allow myself any.  So, I was very happy to see a few pancake recipes.  I tried the blueberry pancakes, and they cooked and fluffed up like regular pancakes.  These were easy to make, and great with sugar-free syrup.  Our 8-year-old tried one and she ate it and said she liked it - so, it passed the test!

The downside to these recipes is that you have to get uncommon (and expensive) flours, and the sweetener I want to use is hard to find and pricy.  You also have to be careful to treat these recipes as treats.  While they are much healthier for you, there is not much nutrition, just like their carb-counterparts.  The recipes do not include nutritional information, which is a glaring omission - just about everyone watching their carb intake wants to see the carb count for the foods they're eating.  Hopefully, they'll include this information on future editions.

The other downside is that not all the recipes are keepers.  I also tried the pumpkin pie with the almond-coconut piecrust, and we didn't even eat it (but part of that could have been my doing, not knowing how much of my sweetener to add - I wasn't using one of their recommended brands on this recipe).  So, it's definitely worth trying it again and following the recipe to a "T."

Overall, there are lots of great recipes (and many tempting photos) using healthier ingredients.  With this book, it's possible to have your low-carb cake and eat it too!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Brunch - {cream cheese pound cake}

Looking at my photo of cream cheese pound cake, it looks like any old loaf of bread.  But looks can be deceiving, as this is no ordinary loaf.  In fact, it's very un-bread-like.  I think calling it a big sugar cookie (in the form of a loaf cake) is a better description.

And that's exactly what it reminded me of: a sugar cookie, but just a bit softer.  It was sweet and buttery, just like a sugar cookie.  And gone from my counter in no time flat, just like a sugar cookie.

The recipe is from Martha Stewart's Cakes - thank you, Martha!


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ohio Historical Museum

A few weeks ago, DH and I took the Bachsters to the Ohio Historical Society Museum here in Columbus.  DH and I had been to the museum a long time ago, way before we had kids, so it was fun for us to go back and enjoy it again (with 3 additional little people).

This museum has a little of everything, which makes it a really kid-friendly experience.  We saw fossils, Civil War flags, taxidermy, Native American artifacts, dolls from the 1800s and a camper from the 1950s, to name just a few of the many things on display.  Here are some shots of our day:

I can't believe that mastodons use to live in the Ohio area.  This one greets visitors as you enter the museum:

We all loved exploring the Lustron home, straight from the 1950s.  DH and I laughed when we saw the phone book (a real phone book!), and the Bachsters especially loved the rotary dial phone and record player (things they have probably never seen before):

Early Columbus transportation:

Early firefighter transportation:

I loved the handmade quilts.  How proud these quilt makers would be if they knew one of their creations was in a museum (!):

There was a little hearth area that was set up not far from the quilt display that the Bachsters just loved.  There was a butter churner and a spinning wheel, and these kept them busy for a long time:

And to top it all off, you exit through a gift shop that sells Ohio-made products, like maple syrup and wine.  I bought an Ohio-shaped cookie cutter (to make sweet reminders of our fun Ohio-y day)!


Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Nook - reading Harry Potter

My favorite time of the day...........


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Brunch - {cauliflower gratin}

I just love gratins and casseroles.  They are such comfort foods in the colder months.  There's nothing like a casserole cooking away in the oven, warming up the whole house.  Recently, I've been trying to eat healthier, so I did some searching for a casserole that was vegetable based (vs. potatoes or grains).  I happened to have a bunch of cauliflower in the fridge & no idea what I was going to do with it when I found this recipe.

The recipe is from Martha Stewart (as usual....many thanks, Martha!).  I've made it a couple of times, and both times it was so delicious.  The first time making it, I combined Parmesan cheese with crushed up corn flakes (instead of the called-for bread crumbs) for the topping, since that was all I had on hand.  The second time making it, I wanted to eliminate some carbs, so I only topped it with the cheese.  It's so good, you don't even need a topping, really!

To make the gratin, you start by making a roux with flour and milk, then cook the cauliflower in the pan for a few minutes before mixing in the cheese (and sprinkling on the topping) and then baking it in the oven.  Easy peasy - and good for the body and soul on a cold day.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Nook - The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2

The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2 by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs:

Argh!  For some reason, my usual amazon link is still not working.  If I can't figure it out, I'll just go back to pictures of the books.  In the meantime, here's a different amazon link to the book.

Anyway, on to the book.  Authors Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs have created an online recipe site, where new recipes are shared by the community and commented on.  I'm sort of an online recipe comment junkie - I always seek them out.  In fact, nowadays when I come across a new recipe, first thing I'll do is see if I can find it online and see if there are any comments.  Other cooks are so helpful and generous with their tips!

Well, I'll admit I haven't visited the Food52 site, but I thoroughly enjoyed the cookbook.  There are tons of color photos of the dishes and their preparation.  Recipes are organized by season (that just makes so much sense, don't you think?).  Having come by the cookbook in the Fall/Winter, naturally I gravitated toward those chapters.  But there are lots of great recipes here, throughout the book.  I definitely want to try the vegetarian mushroom thyme gravy.  I've already bought all the ingredients for the crispy spice-brined pecans (I just need to figure out a day when I can donate the oven to their slow cooking - 10-12 hours!).  When the weather gets warmer, I'm definitely making the baked ricotta and goat cheese with candied tomatoes.

And, I've already made a couple of recipes.  First, the heavenly oatmeal molasses rolls.  These are so great, especially when eating them warm with butter, just as the authors recommend.  I don't make a lot of homemade bread, but I'm definitely making these again.  Sweet enough to enjoy on their own, but not too sweet - the perfect dinner roll.  I should know, I ate most of them myself (should I admit that?).

The other recipe I tried was the burnt caramel pudding.  Oh, this recipe is a keeper!  I love pudding (and custard) recipes that use minimal ingredients, and forgo cornstarch as a thickener.  This recipe only has 5 ingredients, and is very easy to make.  Just make sure you watch your caramel closely as it cooks (I've learned the hard way to give caramel my full attention).  Everyone in the Bach house loved it, except our oldest DD, who predicted she wouldn't like it, so found another treat instead (while I ate hers, ahem).


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sunday Brunch - {sweet & spicy almonds}

I love this little recipe for sweet & spicy almonds.  I've made it a bunch and I always end up eating most of it (and this is the reason I don't actually make it very often).  These almonds are perfect for snacking on at parties or game-night or just whenever you want something a little sweet.  Ours are definitely more "sweet" than "spicy" - in fact, I only put a tiny bit of cayenne pepper into the mixture, but you can make them as spicy as you like.

The recipe is from one of the Everyday Food books, but it's also online here.