Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Merry Christmas...and a Cake

I'm guessing most of you are gearing up for your Christmas celebration, while we are winding down from it!

Not to worry, we still have a big Christmas Eve soiree at my parents' house, but we had our own big Christmas party/ dinner at our house on Friday night. Matt's parents were in town for a few days, and my family came over to join in on the fun. And they were all my guinea pigs, because I decided to make a new cake and it was a big gamble!

I love Christmas - it's my favorite holiday of the year. For me, it means a more relaxed time with less travel, the horses get a little vacation, and family and friends all come together when during the rest of the year, we're often too busy. The mail is full of good tidings, the kitchen always has an assortment of deliciousness available (oink oink), and lights twinkle from houses around the neighborhood.

This year was extra special with a little girl, experiencing her first Christmas and all the fun that goes with it. She may not understand it all yet, but she was loving the attention and the party atmosphere the other night. In fact, she refused to go to bed - she insisted on coming back out and chattering with our guests until they all went home! In fact, she's still winding down from the excitement two days later, she's a pistol.
Ok so I look a bit weary but you can also see my wine glass was empty. Doesn't Lyra look cute?
So here's my gift to you....I hereby present the Candy Cane Cake. With modifications. I'll post the original recipe, and then will add my two cents and changes below. I needed to make it easier and tastier, in my opinion, but mostly easier. Hello, I have an infant and a full farm. How was it? Delish - I had raves from everyone.

Everyone except Matt, who muttered as the cakes were cooling..."I'm not really a peppermint guy." In the true spirit of Christmas, I serenely replied, "Tough noogies."

From all of us here at TMF, we wish you a joyous holiday and a fantastic 2013 ahead!

Candy Cane Cake (My modifications are in parenthesis!)

1 pkg.  chocolate cake mix (I used Devil's Food)
1 pkg.  (3.9 oz.) JELL-O Chocolate Instant Pudding
4 eggs
1 container  (8 oz.) BREAKSTONE'S or KNUDSEN Sour Cream
1/2 cup  oil
1/2 cup  water
4 squares  BAKER'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate, chopped (Didn't use this)
18 small  candy canes, coarsely crushed (about 1 cup), divided (I used a tablespoon and a half of peppermint extract instead - the candy wouldn't melt entirely making a crunchy cake. Who wants a crunchy cake?)
1 tub  (8 oz.) COOL WHIP Whipped Topping, thawed (Forget this. Especially if you're traveling this cake, the layers will slide all over and you'll end up with a Candy Cane Catastrophe. And you have to keep it refrigerated. I have the most spectacular - and easy - vanilla frosting below!)

Make It

HEAT oven to 350°F.
BEAT first 6 ingredients in large bowl with mixer until well blended. Stir in chopped chocolate and 2 Tbsp. crushed candy. Pour into 2 (9-inch) round pans sprayed with cooking spray.
BAKE 35 to 40 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 min. Loosen cakes from sides of pans; invert onto wire racks. Carefully remove pans. Cool cakes completely.
FILL and frost cakes with COOL WHIP. Sprinkle with remaining crushed candy just before serving. Keep refrigerated.


As you can see from my photo, I nixed the crushed candy canes in favor of whole candy canes in heart formation. I figured not everyone would want a ton of peppermint, there was plenty within the cake itself. Also, the candy canes do melt into a puddle of red and white goo, so once your guests have left and you have some leftover cake, remove the candy canes and give them to me. The horses love them!

Ok, here's the vanilla frosting. I stopped everything I was doing to burst into the living room where Matt, Lyra and his parents were sitting and I exclaimed, holding the beaters, "You have GOT to try this!" They all looked at me like I had six heads, and then they sampled it. I do believe the leftover frosting in the bowl was mysteriously cleaned out before I washed it....and it wasn't me!

Fluffy Vanilla Frosting

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 pound (4 cups) confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. With an electric mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Reduce speed to medium. Add the confectioners' sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed; after every two additions, raise speed to high and beat 10 seconds to aerate frosting, then return to medium-high. This process should take about 5 minutes. Frosting will be very pale and fluffy.
  3. Add vanilla, and beat until frosting is smooth. If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated up to 10 days in an airtight container. Before using, bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.
Enjoy - and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Out of the Fog

It goes without saying that we all have been affected by the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, CT. For me, it was too close to home - literally. My mom and dad's house is a few short miles away, mere minutes. The town of Newtown and the hamlet of Sandy Hook is lovely - friendly, warm and the last place you would imagine such horrors happening. It was, really, the last place on Earth that a tragedy of this magnitude would happen. But it did.

The Sandy Hook area was a place I frequented - diners, barns, shops and restaurants. Matt and I had breakfast in Sandy Hook the morning after our wedding, discussing our upcoming honeymoon and blissfully recounting the events of our wedding day.

I have friends who have children that attend Sandy Hook Elementary and are fine, thank goodness. I have friends who lost family members and friends last Friday. There are too many connections, too many lost.

I heard about it on the radio, on my way to the doctor for Lyra, who had a little bug and I wanted to make sure all was well. Once we were home, I just held on to her all day, and didn't want to let her go at night. I get it now. I hurt for the children, but especially for the parents who now have to live their lives without their own babies.
The face I kiss at least a hundred times a day.
As we all try to get back to some sense of normalcy (though this will stay with me for the rest of my life), there are moments of pure love all around. A farm near Sandy Hook that I began my competitive riding career at offered free pony rides, hugs from the horses, and horseshoe painting for anyone who needed to find comfort. Golden Retrievers have been walking the streets of town, graciously letting anyone cuddle and pat them, giving off a calming feeling. And everywhere around, people are undertaking 26 Acts of Kindness to honor those bright lives that were extinguished far too soon. Matt and I talked about it, and we'd also like to take part in making the lives of others just a little bit better.

Won't you join us?

If you'd like to help in other ways, please head over to my friend Ann Leary's blog. She posted some wonderful information about ways to give to the families and those directly affected by the tragedy.

I think if we all come together, we can make some light from this horrible, horrible darkness that has overcome our community.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In Fine Art Form

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of lunching with a new friend, Carol Brightman Johnson. Carol is a kindred spirit....an animal lover, horse owner, and a funny, witty, talented lady. She invited Lyra and I over to Marty's Cafe in Washington, CT, to see her latest art show - benefiting the Steep Rock Association. Steep Rock was the inspiration for many of her paintings in the show, and I got the chance to see them in person, and get to know this lovely lady a little better.

 Carol greeted us with a giant smile and warm hug, and she immediately spent some time talking to Lyra, who was fascinated with this new person! Lyra really enjoyed taking in the new surroundings....until the cappuccino machine started sputtering. That was not a popular drink choice, in her opinion.
"Curious"
I immediately asked Carol to give me the grand tour, and we went around to look at all of her beautiful work. What struck me with each painting was the sense of familiarity and warmth every piece evoked, and the attention to detail. Each leaf, fence post or tree branch was accounted for and seemed to tell part of a story.
My favorite - "An Evening in Autumn"
I loved that the paintings with people or animals had a breath of life to them - the animals had personalities and the people had a glimmer of mischief or propriety in their eyes, depending on who they were and what they were thinking at the time.

She also had beautiful florals, with bright and lively petals and earthy greens and browns pulling it all together. I almost wanted to reach out and touch the texture of the painting, but held myself back!
"Garden Divas" - a special kind of tulip
We had such a good time chatting over lunch, and Lyra decided to doze off so I could eat with one hand...until the cappuccino machine struck again! But while we were there, another couple sitting near us kept asking about one of the paintings over our heads. Then they'd murmur to each other, and practically lean onto our table to examine it again.
"Let's Go Tubing" - SOLD!
It was sold within a matter of moments!

If you have the chance, I highly encourage you to head over to Marty's in Washington Depot, CT - you won't be sorry. It's a lovely exhibit and who knows? You just might be enjoying some coffee and a croissant next to the accomplished artist herself.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Unorthodox Thanksgiving Cappuccino Pie

I think most of you know our family is a bit unorthodox. Well, we are. Even Lyra prefers to march to the beat of her own drum. Most babies roll from their bellies to their backs. Lyra doesn't. She is convinced she's a ninja in training and will do some crazy yoga positions to roll from her back to her front. She loves when we speak in "death metal" tones to her instead of cute baby coos. Unorthodox.

So it comes as a surprise to no one (I hope) that we didn't serve pumpkin pie at our little Thanksgiving. I made a frozen concoction that's delicious and sinful. I've had a few requests for the recipe, so without further ado, here it is....the Thanksgiving Cappuccino Pie!

But first, here's a picture of the completed pie. I started drizzling chocolate syrup on top and then decided halfway through to make the syrup resemble a turkey. How'd I do?
I can't take credit for the recipe, I just got it from my mom! The artistry on top though, is all me.
 Stop laughing. Seriously. It's hard to draw in syrup.

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
6 Tbsp chocolate syrup
1 Tbsp instant coffee
1 Tbsp hot water
1 1/2 cups Cool Whip
Graham Cracker pie crust (large size) or make your own
Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add condensed milk and 4 Tbsp chocolate syrup.  Beat on low speed until well blended.
Dissolve coffee powder in hot water.  Stir into cream cheese mixture.  Fold in whipped topping.  Pour mixture into crust, cover and freeze overnight. Once frozen, drizzle with chocolate syrup swirls and dollops of Cool Whip, if desired.
Let pie stand in refrigerator for about 15 minutes before serving.