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Archive for the ‘St. Louis’ Category

As you may remember, I spent last week in St. Louis visiting the midwestern branch of my family.  It was the kids’ spring break and all of their friends had high-tailed it for Florida or other points south, so I was hoping to be able to provide some in-house entertainment.

The first part of the week passed swimmingly, but inevitably, there came an afternoon when vacation had obviously gone on long enough and I found myself in the living room trying to pry the children from the doldrums.  After my first ideas were rejected, my niece A suggested we “make something.”

My sister-in-law is a wonderful cook with a huge cookbook collection, so a short while later we were searching through baking books and websites seeking cupcake recipes.  In the end, I turned to my old standby, Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours, and her Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes.

The flavor of these cupcakes is a very grown up deep and rich bittersweet chocolate.  Luckily my niece and nephew are young chocolate connoisseurs.  To make them a bit more kid-friendly I sprinkled theirs with pink-coated mini-chocolate chips.  The few I reserved for adults I topped with my favorite chocolate flavor-enhancer: fleur de sel.

The recipe isn’t complicated, and like all of those in this collection, if you follow it carefully you’ll get perfect results.  I love a well-tested recipe!

Chocolate-chocolate cupcakes
(from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

For the cupcakes
1 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

For the glaze
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Center the rack in the over and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  fill each cup in a 12-cup, regular-size muffin tin with paper muffin cups.

Make the cupcakes
Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until it is soft and creamy.

Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until it is blended into the butter.

Add the egg, then the yolk, beating for about 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Beat in the vanilla, then reduce the mixer speed to low and add half the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear.

Scrape down the bowl and add the buttermilk, mixing until incorporated, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients.

Scrape down the bowl, add the melted chocolate and mix it in with the rubber spatula.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake for 22 to 26 minutes or until the tops of the cupcakes are dry and springy to the touch and a knife inserted into their centers comes out clean. Transfer the muffin pan to a rack and let the cakes cool for 5 minutes before unmolding them.  Cool to room temperature on the rack before glazing.

Make the Glaze
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.  Transfer the bowl to the counter and let stand for 5 minutes.

Using a small whisk or rubber spatula, stir the confectioners sugar into the chocolate, followed by the pieces of butter.  If the glaze is too thin, stir it over ice water for a few seconds – less than a minute.

Dip the cooled cupcakes into the glaze, giving them a little twirl as you pull them out for nice squiggle of glaze in the center.

Top with sprinkles, or, if you are feeling very grown up, fleur de sel.

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Around Thanksgiving, on one of my first Christmas shopping trips (this one on Portland’s fashionable NW 23rd Avenue), I found a cool scarf that I thought I would get for my niece.  The scarf was made of many long thin strips of a jersey material, tied together at a couple of places.  It came with a booklet of suggestions for different ways it could be worn: draped loosely around your neck, braided as a belt, twisted around your head.

The one drawback was the hefty pricetag:  $70 for the one I liked.

As soon as I got home I started looking online for a similar scarf.  I couldn’t find one like the one I had seen.  I did find the site of another blogger who had made her own from a recycled T-shirt.

As soon as I arrived in St. Louis, my sister-in-law and I headed for the nearest Target where we picked out 4 X-Large T-shirts.  We couldn’t find the seamless ones recommended on the website, but decided to give it a try with the ones we could get.

Once home I reviewed the instructions and got started.  The first step was to cut off the hem and the top part of the shirt, including the sleeves.  Then I started cutting strips from the tube of material that remained.

I cut each of the resulting loops along one of the seams to create thirteen long strips of fabric,

and tugged on each strip causing them to lengthen and curl.

I then took 12 of the 13 strips I had made and divided them into three bunches, braiding them together to form the center of the scarf.  I used the thirteenth strip (which I first cut into two shorter strips) to tightly wrap the ends of the braid to hold them in place.

In the end, I made a total of four scarves, one for each of the women in my family.  They are already in frequent use and get noticed wherever we go.

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Christmas dinner

Yesterday, instead of cooking the dinner myself, I had the pleasure of watching (and photographing) as others prepared a wonderful seafood feast.

Venetian black rice served as the elegant foundation for a rich, savory risotto.

Other ingredients included fish (cod and drum),

octopus,

squid, clams and shrimp.

Lots of hands helped with the preparation;

there was a lot of chopping to be done.

In the end it all came together with the help of some champagne

and the use of many pans

into an amazing dish.

The perfect end to a wonderful day.

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Swim meet

Sunday afternoon (after I had my first (great!) experience with a spinning class) my brother and I took my niece to her swim club swim meet at the local community college pool.

Not having been a swimmer growing up, this was a new experience for me.  My niece, however, is already an old hand (as is her father).

The afternoon started with a vigorous warm-up.  Since there were several clubs competing there were a lot of kids in each lane of the pool.  Luckily I saw very few collisions.

After about thirty minutes of practice the meet started.

My niece, A, competed in five events:  the 100 yard individual medley, the 50 yard freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke, and the monstrous 200 yard freestyle.

I was incredibly impressed with A’s stamina, poise and good spirits as the meet progressed.  Even though she had been up (too) late the night before, she finished every event and came in a very close second in the breaststroke for her age group.

The final event was the 200 yard freestyle; a truly grueling race that I knew A was not looking forward to swimming.  In the end, she decided to go for it

and swam every lap.

Bursting with pride is too mild a description for how I felt at the end of the day.

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Walking to school

One of the things I most look forward to when I am visiting my family is walking my nephew to school in the morning.

It’s not a long walk, but there is something peaceful about being out with all of the other parents and kids and dogs converging on the neighborhood school in the frosty morning air.

The other thing that I like about this particular walk is how familiar it feels.  Not only because I have done it many times before, but because of the uniquely St. Louis flavor of the sights along the way.

The limestone wall outside my nephew’s school is just like the one that surrounded the playground of my own elementary school

and the sweetgum balls that we kick aside remind me of the neighborhood where I grew up, just a few miles from here.

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If you know me at all you know that I am a fanatical baseball fan.  To be more precise, I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan.

06penant

My appreciation for the Cardinals leads me to do things that are pretty much totally out of character for me — yesterday I walked up to a perfect stranger wearing a Cardinals baseball hat and introduced myself.  Today I sadly asked the guy behind the counter at the food co-op if he really was a Red Sox fan (he was wearing a Red Sox cap).

Growing up in St. Louis it was hard to avoid becoming a die-hard Cardinals baseball fan.  I remember watching the 1967 Cardinals win the World Series behind Bob Gibson, my all time favorite pitcher; they brought televisions into the school gym so that we could all watch the final game.

bobgibsonclose

gibsonfromthetop

I have attended one World Series game in person.  In 1987, the year the Cardinals lost the Series to the Minnesota Twins* (after winning all three home games they just couldn’t make it work in the Metro dome), I won a pair of tickets in a raffle at work and took my father to see Game 4 at Busch Stadium on his birthday.

careerleaders

And, of course, while living in New England in 2004 I endured the jeers of Red Sox fans when the Cardinals lost the Series in four straight games.

albertwheatiesbox

After a wonderful 2006 World Series win, the Cardinals had a couple of “rebuilding” seasons and are back at the top of their division this year.  The team is lucky to have “el hombre,” the man most likely to be referred to as the “best player in baseball,” Albert Pujols,

albert

as well as a remarkably talented pitching staff led by Chris (or Cris) Carpenter who, in his last regular season outing this year, hit his first-ever big league home run, a grand slam, and ended the game with a win — the score was 13-0 — and a total of six RBIs.

baseballcards

The Cardinals’ ’09 post-season starts on Wednesday, October 7 with a game in LA against the formidable LA Dodgers. It’s a long way from there to the final game of the World Series but here’s hoping there’s another World Championship in the Cardinals’ near future.

*who just now clinched a spot in the American League playoffs with a 12th inning win over the Detroit Tigers.

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In the midst of getting myself ready to travel east for work (and some fun, I’m sure) I couldn’t resist revisiting my thermoses.

oldgroup2

No, really, when I was updating the “about” page on this blog I took a few pictures of my recently stalled thermos collection and got inspired all over again.

My thermos collection started by accident.  I was out with a friend visiting garage sales in southern New Hampshire one day about three years ago.  At one of the sales there was a box near the end of the driveway with the word “free” scrawled on the side.  In that box, with a lot of other totally forgettable stuff, was a thermos.

thermos#1

For some reason, I decided to take it.  My thermos collection started there.

“Thermos” is one of those brand names that has come to stand for the product, like “kleenex” or “xerox” or “polaroid.” Like my first thermos, many thermoses are actually made by the Thermos company.

thermos1

There are, however, other brands of “thermoses” not made by Thermos.

universaltherm

icyhot2

aladintherm

This thermos is called the Atlas, but is made by the Faris company in St. Louis.

atlastop

faristherm

From the start I had two rules for my thermos collection.  Thermoses added to the collection should be inexpensive (or, ideally, free).  And they should be aesthetically interesting.

thermostops2

Most of the thermoses I have are glass lined, and many are old enough to have corks under their caps.

cork2

Some come with their own cases.

thermoscase

thermos4

Most of my thermoses sit on a shelf in my study, but some get used.  This one always reminds me of the cold, windy day when we filled it with Bloody Marys and took it to the beach on the Cape.

beachthermos2

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