A couple weeks ago I was talking with friends about the upcoming holiday season. One friend mentioned that she was looking for ways to add in some exercise to make up for all the pieces of Thanksgiving pie she was sure she would consume. "Just a little walking though. Not like those crazy people who do turkey trots." My ears perked up. Turkey trots?
I found this recipe on Allrecipes.com. It's one of my go-to sites. Usually, the recipes are tasty and not too complicated to make. I figured, what with all this holiday folderol upon us, a recipe for a good pumpkin bread would be nice.
Here's what you need:
1 15 ounce can of pumpkin (unless, of course, you're very motivated and want to puree your own. If that's your thing, have at it. I'm lazy. I used canned.)
1 c vegetable oil (I used olive oil because it's the only oil I ever have in my house and I like to kid myself that it somehow makes desserts slightly less bad for me.)
2/3 c water
3 c sugar (I used 2 cups white and 1 cup of brown because that's what I had on hand.)
3-1/2 c flour (You could, I suppose, use half wheat flour. I didn't because, again with the lazy.)
2 t baking soda
1-1/2 t salt (I used kosher because I worship at the altar of Alton Brown and that's what he always uses. Lemming? Me? Pshaw.)
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg (Here is where I shall get all snobby on you and say that you really, really, really should use whole nutmeg and grate it yourself. It beats the pants off the powdered crap.)
1/2 t ground cloves (I didn't have any of these so I used pumpkin pie spice.)
1/4 t ginger
Heat the oven to 350.
- If you don't have one of those oven thermometers, I strongly suggest getting one. I found out today that I need one after this recipe took 25 minutes longer than suggested to bake. Guess what I'm buying tomorrow?
Grease and flour 3 7" x 3" loaf pans.
- I totally cheated and bought the throwaway aluminum ones. I don't bake enough to warrant buying three new pans.
Mix together the pumpkin, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended.
- This will look disgusting. But keep mixing.
Stir in the dry ingredients until just blended. Pour into pans, bake for 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- Or, if your oven is like mine, keep adding 10 minutes until the skewer you used, which you had to use because your 5 year old dumped the toothpicks all over the porch, comes out clean.
- In a fit of must-try-to-make-this-different-itis, I stirred chocolate chips into one pan and dried cranberries into another. The third I left plain.
Now, I'd love to show you a gorgeous picture here, but while I was at work tonight, the above-mentioned 5 year old and her charming little sister stuck their grubby little mitts in each loaf. So I'll just say that the bread is yummy. I liked the cranberry one the best, but they were all tasty.
Once it became apparent that every teen girl and her mother had already purchased tickets to all seven of the evening's showings, we needed to come up with a plan B. It was, after all, the first date night we had had since August (Oh I'm sorry, did I mention that already?) and there was no way I was going home early, but we had already eaten dinner with the kids. So we did the next logical thing - we decided to go out for dessert.
No really, where?
Central Mass is not exactly a mecca of culinary delights but luckily we live in the Worcester area. If you're eating in Worcester you're probably on Shrewsbury Street and that is where we found ourselves on Saturday night at around 8pm after giving up on seeing sparkly vampires on the big screen, frantically using my iPhone to Google "Dessert + Shrewsbury Street + Worcester + wine".
Don't judge. This was our night without kids and Mama wanted cake and wine. If that's wrong then... No, it could not be less than not wrong. Moving on.
Score one for Google.
Walk through the (unfortunately closed due to the time of night) bakery and in the back is the dessert bar/lounge. Dark gray and red walls with very little artwork give the room an intimate, if not an "Eh, forgettable" feel. On the left is the bar/open kitchen where the drinks are poured and the desserts are made to order in full view of the patrons.
We sat at the bar because every table was taken. I took that as a good sign.
There's a prix fixe dessert menu and below the descriptions are both a wine and a beer pairing. I quickly decided on the French doughnuts filled with chocolate with a caramel dipping sauce with the Prosecco pairing while my husband decided on bread pudding with a Sauternes. Unfortunately, the bartender was either new or having an off night. He didn't know if they had the Sauternes and didn't really seem to know what it was. It took him awhile to take our order, I'm pretty sure there were desserts that weren't on the menu he should have told us about and wasn't very attentive despite the fact that there were only six other people at the bar. He was friendly enough, but friendly doesn't get me my doughnuts quicker.
When our desserts arrived I was underwhelmed by the presentation and a little disconcerted that the caramel sauce came in the very same ramekin I have in my kitchen cabinet, but I wasn't there to look at it so I quickly dove in. The doughnuts, as I expected, were a little slice of heaven... if heaven was deep fried with a dark chocolate middle and covered with sugar. Which I'd like to believe it is. The caramel sauce was a bit too subtle in flavor to stand up to the friend pastry but when I tasted it alone there was a feint hint of hazelnut. I had to stop myself from licking the ramekin.
I thought the bread pudding was quite good, again subtle in flavor with a drizzle of basic caramel sauce (no Nutella taste that I could tell. Darn.) and a large pillow of whipped cream. My husband was happy enough but he likes his flavors stronger so I shared some of my doughnuts with him. That is true love, people.
As for the wine pairings, Prosecco goes pretty nicely with doughnuts. Who knew? And my husband never got his Sauternes but the bartender found him an orange Muscat that was tasty and went well with the bread pudding.
Our night was topped off with two gratis almond cookies that were crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside and two bites of perfection and I'm rethinking my visions of heaven. It might be crunchy and chewy and almond-y.
So, to recap:
Sweet - 305 Shrewsbury St., Worcester, MA
Family Friendly: Sorry, kids. This is a dessert bar. Leave the little ones at home and enjoy the lounge on your date night, but make sure to bring them back during the daytime business hours (Tues - Sat, 10am - 6pm) for one of Sweet's ten varieties of gourmet cupcakes. Dessert Bar - N/A, Pastry shop - 9.
Ambiance: Eh, it didn't wow me. - 6
Price: Drinks were reasonable, and by reasonable I mean they're as expensive as any other more upscale establishment you'll find these days so plan on spending some coin on a drink. The Prosecco pour was on the small side but I'll chalk that up to the confused bartender. Next time I'll try one of their dessert themed cocktails. The prix fixe dessert menu for the evening was $9 per dessert - perhaps a bit expensive for dessert but this ain't your mom's apple pie you're partaking of. My plate was big enough for sharing, my husband's plate was reasonably sized for one dessert lover. There was also a savory appetizer menu but I can't for the life of me remember what the prices were. I blame the sugar. - 7.5
Service: Poor. I'll chalk it up to an off night, maybe a fill-in bartender, but it left a black mark on our evening. I want to give them a higher mark for service because the other waiter on duty seemed on the ball and very attentive but, unfortunately, he wasn't working the bar - 4
Food: Did I mention heaven was made of chocolate filled friend doughnuts, caramel sauce and almond cookies? - 9 (But I might be biased. Dessert is my favorite meal and I would sell my children for a good pastry.)
I could continue to compare the desserts to the Almighty, a choir of angels and gates that are pearly or you can check out Sweet on Shrewsbury St. in Worcester for yourself. Oh yes, please do. And if they're on the menu, I recommend the doughnuts.
Early this fall, on an unusually warm New Englandy kind of day, my family of four was itching for something to DO. School had just started, and the boys needed some serious breathing room after spending the last few days confined to a classroom.
Purgatory Chasm in
The name says it all.
Because after one look at the towering cliffs and jagged “path” of the chasm, the word Suffering, may, in fact, be the first thing that comes to mind.
Most likely formed about 14,000 years ago at the end of the
last ice age, it is a quarter of a mile of granite walls, cliffs and
caves. A little piece of natural wonder
right here in
Or, in the eyes of a seven year old boy: paradise.
The Second Grader pulled on his spelunking hat and adventurer spirit, and began the business of exploration. He leaped and bounded his way over the boulders with newfound balance in his steps, ignoring our cries of Wait for us!. Probably for the first time that week, all was right in his world.
The Four Year Old, equally as enthusiastic with nature’s playground, needed some assistance and hand holding as we navigated the rocks. Actually, I’m not sure he thought he needed help, but I was too afraid to let go of him for fear of losing him beneath a layer of centuries old glacier rock, and having him forever stuck in the underworld of a Massachusetts state reservation.
The boys spent the next hour exploring hidden caves and crevices while The Husband and I tried to avoid ankle sprains and any other situation that may have required first aid on our less flexible bodies.
After we maneuvered our way through the chasm, the terrain became flat and there were several different trails to choose from to continue
our hike. We walked an easy, gentle loop until we made our way back to where we started, and came face to face with the obstacle course of boulders once again.
Those mounds of rock seemed to taunt us as we stopped and stared and wondered if we had the strength to climb back through to the other side.
It was at this point when I realized that I hadn’t packed enough provisions. The boys had already plowed through apples and granola bars, and I knew that if we didn’t get out quickly, we would be stuck in the woods in an eternal low-blood-sugar damnation. You would think that after almost eight years of motherhood, I would have the snack thing down. In my defense, I didn’t think we’d be out long enough to have to deal with the hunger emergency that was about to ensue. You know what I’m talking about: when the seemingly innocent growl of a child’s stomach turns them into a head-spinning Linda Blair.
Not something I wanted to stick around for. Plus, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to wait around for an exorcism.
Fortunately, My Husband found ANOTHER WAY OUT. One that bypassed the rocks. Those rocks that were all good and fun on the way in, but now, on the way out, looked like an impossible and torturous journey through meltdown hell.
We sprung into action and hurried the boys along the last stretch of trail as fast as we could, despite their slow and on-the-verge-of-whining pace. We suffered through I-Spy, Twenty (long) Questions, and a few (short) shoulder rides. Whatever it took to get us out tear and tantrum-free.
Just as we took our last steps off the trail and into the salvation of the parking lot, the cries of the wayward travelers began.
I’m soooo huuuungry!
I caaaan’t walk another second!
and the ever famous:
When are we going to beeeee there?
Yeah, we made it out of Purgatory just in time.
Purgatory Chasm is an amazing spot and free to the public. You can choose to bypass the chasm and stick to the walking trails, which run just above and along the rocks. Oh, and be sure to bring lots of snacks!
There is an obvious discrepancy between parenthood and my subscription to the Howard Stern channels. Though I held out as long as I could—until my 2 year old daughter switched up Bob the Builder with the name of the Stern Show producer and started singing “Bababooey, yes you can!” at the supermarket—I was forced to curtail my listening habits while she was in the car. It was at that point I discovered a benefit I hadn’t anticipated when I signed on with Sirius more than six months before my daughter was born. That happy surprise was Kids Place Live. The KPL programming fell on the exact opposite end of the listener spectrum from the Howard Stern Show and would become our third most listened-to station.
KPL is built on the same format as most radio shows, with DJs of varying degrees of annoyingness and bits that are in turn humorous and not-so-much. Though I am never more of a “mom” than when I am tuned to Absolutely Mindy, and only slightly less of one when listening to the clever, adult-placating humor of Kenny Curtis’s Animal Farm, I have to say that I do get some personal enjoyment out of the genre of music that has come a long way since the Raffi and Rosenshontz of my youth.
Even if you don’t have Sirius/XM—in fact, I’d say this will be even more valuable if you don’t—I’d like to share with you a list of what I consider to be the best Parent-Friendly children’s songs out there today. These are the kind of songs that can bridge the gap between Howard Stern (or whoever you love that little ears can’t or won’t listen to) and your young impressionables. Load these songs onto your iPod or support the artists by buying the whole CD, and you will amass a collection that will keep the mini-van rocking all the way to school.
10. Electric Car, They Might Be Giants with Robin Goldwasser—an environmentally conscious boon for the whole family.
9. The Hampster Dance Song, Hampton the Hampster—This is one of my daughter’s favorites; if only the car allowed us more space in which to gyrate appropriately.
8. Four Boys Named Jordan, Jessica Harper—a melodious voice and a stunning commentary on what it means to be a Jordan in America today.
7. No Nothing, Randy Kaplan—An incredibly catchy song that I love; I would’ve put it much closer to #1 except that some people classify the catchiness as being of the “I can’t get that [bleeping] song out of my head” variety.
6. I’ve Got a Butt, Uncle Jim—before this song, I wouldn’t have known what a sacroiliac was; now I am proud to say that I am as clued in as my four year old.
5. I Like to Move It, Sacha Baron Cohen from Madagascar—A match made in heaven.
4. Toast, Heywood Banks –“Take a piece of bread, put it in the slot/Push down the lever and the wires get hot/I get toast.”
3. 18 Wheels on a Big Rig, Trout Fishing in America—a spin on the traditional counting song that includes Roman numerals and ∏.
2. Three Little Fishies, Kay Kyser – this retro hit was #1 on the charts in 1939. I assure you that mine is the only list in existence on which it is #2 today.1. The Window, Trout Fishing in America—There are only two bands I am determined to see in concert this coming year: Rammstein (in Germany) and Trout Fishing in America. Listen to The Window—or any of their songs, really—and you will see why I believe that a TFIA concert is an experience for the whole family.
Nice cheery post for around the holidays, right? Sadly we just lost our beloved golden retriever a few days ago. It was completely unexpected. He developed a rare and fatal cancer. He was diagnosed and three hours later he was gone. We were shocked. The day before we had taken him for a walk, and he had seemed fine.
While we were relieved that at least it was quick, we are still devastated. And Thanksgiving is this week. Which brings me to the topic of my post. I'm writing this on behalf of other pet owners who have lost pets. I think that it can feel funny to admit how upset you are over pet loss much less how scared you are about the upcoming holidays. It's just a dog, right? Except it's not. It's a loved member of your family. It's someone that you see every single day. It's someone who loves you just for being you and is always happy to see you. You can't pick your relatives, but you can pick your pets.
As we were planning our Thanksgiving menu today, I realized how truly empty it's going to seem without Merlin. It's already too quiet here. There isn't going to be a special bowl fixed with turkey and stuffing this year. He won't be there to beg while we cook or just plain be underfoot. When the kids inevitably spill something on the floor we will have to clean it up instead of letting our furry friend feast on it.
Then there is Christmas. What do we do with his stocking? It's sad to get the catalogs of dog toys and realize that this year we won't be buying any for him. I found the Orvis Dog Catalog on the counter when I got home from the animal hospital. It was open to the senior dog bed I had planned on ordering for him. I don't have any advice to give except to say that I'm going through it too. We're trying to come up with some special way to honor Merlin this holiday season.
Hiking is a favorite pastime of our family. We’ve taken the girls out so much, that they no longer complain when we head out for 4 miles. Well not much at least. Most of the time though, we end our hikes in mid to late September. A combination of the weather and hunting season keep us away until mid March or so.
But this year, we cannot seem to resist the forces of nature aligning and making it perfect hiking weather. Warm weather, clear skies and no bugs. Perfect! And so, we’ve hit the woods as often as we can. The hunters, well, they’re out there, we can hear them far off, which is a little unsettling. It is recommended is to blaze orange during hunting season, we have yet to don our orange vests. We prefer to blaze bright stinking pink. We’ve also taken to hiking on private property (such as our local Audubon lands) where hunting is not permitted. And on Sundays where hunting is also not permitted. The girls tend to make a lot of noise and we are well aware of our surroundings.
There are many, many places to hike around. So many, that we are constantly finding new places to hike. Three years ago, when we started hiking together, we started at our local Audubon society. We naively thought that there were a few trails back there. When in fact, they own 1700 acres in a nearby town that is filled with miles of trails. This week, we explored three different loops on Audubon owned land. We explored a ravine, walked a boardwalk through a dried up swamp and crossed open meadows. Check your local Audubon Society or town websites for a list or public lands to hike on to get started.