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I think salads are absolutely beautiful.  They are often full of a mix of vibrant colors, incorporating colors like pops of fuschia on a rich green background.  They are the food-lover’s version of a fresh bouquet of flowers.  Because I find them so beautiful, salads are one of my favorite parts of the meal to plate.  A good presentation can really help make other less leaf-loving people excited to try a salad out.

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I bookmarked this salad recipe simply because of the presentation.  The salad itself looked like nothing special but I sure wanted to try the crispy parmesan baskets out.  And I was not disappointed.  The baskets were easy to put together, fun to play with and made for a unique looking plate.  The parmesan was perfectly toasted crunchy, making it full of flavor.  But as suspected the salad itself was just average.  I’ll keep making these baskets and filling them full of whatever beautiful fruits and vegetables I have on hand.

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Parmesan, Walnut and Arugula Baskets
Originally from Taste of Home magazine, April/May 2009
Servings: 6

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts

SALAD:

4 cups fresh arugula or spring mix salad greens
1/2 cup green grapes, halved
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons cheese and 1 teaspoon walnuts over the bottom of the skillet. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until edges are golden brown and cheese is bubbly. Remove from the heat and let stand for 30 seconds.
Using a spatula, carefully remove cheese mixture and immediately drape over an inverted glass with a 2-in.-diameter bottom; cool completely. Repeat with remaining cheese and walnuts, forming five more baskets.
For salad, in a large bowl, combine the arugula, grapes and walnuts. Whisk the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour over arugula mixture; toss to coat. Place 1/2 cup salad in each basket.

Classic Croissants

Fine Cooking is a helpful fantastic magazine for technique education.  They don’t just spotlight a recipe for a perfect pie crust.  They include step by step photos and instructions and explain why the methods and ingredients were chosen.  I’ve made croissants once before (and ate them all up rather quickly), but when I saw Fine Cooking had featured them in an instructional piece I knew it was time to try again.  Oh and my baby was finally sleep trained so yes, it was time to try again.

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Fantastico were the results!  Perfectly crunch outside, perfectly flaky inside.  Gobs and gobs of buttery goodness.  They gave measurements and guide to make 15 large croissants and this was the only part I ignored because I wanted croissants of all varieties.

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Classic croissants

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Vanilla sugar croissant clusters

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And never to be left out, pain au chocolat

Instead of including the recipe, I’m sending you straight to Fine Cooking where you, too, can benefit from the purty pictures and long, long, long instructions:  Classic Croissants at Fine Cooking

Cheesecake-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes were my third and final cupcake bake-a-thon of September.  The very first time I saw pumpkin in my local grocery store I swiped some cream cheese and cupcake liners determined to make these beauties at last.  At long, long last.

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Spicy and moist pumpkin cake.  A hint of barely cooked vanilla cheesecake laced through.  And mounded ridiculously high on top is some serious brown sugar and buttercream frosting.  Oh my.

My only complaint might be that this is almost too much of a good thing with so many decadent flavors demanding my attention.  Almost too much.

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See those moist crumbs clinging to the wrapping?  Notice the specks of spices like nutmeg and clove?  That cheesecake swirl I promised you.  And that frosting is so deliciously shiny it looks like it’s been hairsprayed or shellacked.

Cheesecake-Filled Pumpkin Cupcakes
From Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine, November 2009
Servings: 15

One 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 large eggs, plus 5 large egg whites
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup light brown sugar
Simmering water
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces and chilled

  1. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with baking liners. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar for 3 minutes. Beat in 1 egg white and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In another bowl, mix the pumpkin puree, 2 eggs, granulated sugar, oil and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Whisk in the flour mixture.
  3. Layer each muffin cup with some of the pumpkin batter, then the cream cheese mixture, then more of the batter. Bake until springy to the touch, 25 minutes. Let cool.
  4. Using the electric mixer, beat the brown sugar, remaining 4 egg whites and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Fill a medium saucepan with enough simmering water to reach a depth of 1 inch; place the mixing bowl on top. Whisk the mixture until it registers 160° on an instant-read thermometer.
  5. Transfer the bowl back to the mixer and beat at high speed until fluffy; lower the speed and beat to room temperature, about 5 minutes. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, then beat at high speed for 5 minutes. Beat in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. 6. Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag; pipe large rosettes on top of the cupcakes.

Goebbert’s Pumpkin Farm

One benefit of community living comes from the fact that Em is always very motivated to do family activities and get out of the house.  It’s much easier to tag along on these things when we all start from the same place and can check in all morning on what kid is napping when in order to figure out when we will actually leave.  For Columbus Day we went out to Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch, land of pumpkins-o-plenty, camels and ponies to ride, kettle corn, roasted corn, and apple cider donuts, hay bales, tractor rides and more.  Mostly it’s a land full of photo-ops for parents of young kids and our crew was no different!  But it’s always nice to get out in 80 degree weather in October and do something different for a day.

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(Note: Time to put the 3-6 month clothes away because these are some SHORT shorts now.)

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(
Look Dad – Canaan doesn’t always look so serious and worried!)

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Edie & Canaan

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A smile in between attempts to chew on the pumpkin stem

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Ava, Eleanor, Canaan, Edie, Liam

Snickers Cupcakes

I really went on quite the cupcake kick in September. Cinnamon Cupcakes, now Snickers Cupcakes, and a Fall-flavored cupcake I have yet to tell you about. I had planned to take the cupcake spread along with me when I visited my sister, FP and Baby Jordan in Oklahoma but practicality took over when I thought about what it would be like to haul a stroller, carseat, carryon, diaper bag, and Canaan thru the airport. Adding a tupperware of cupcakes that must be kept upright to the spectacle that was me holding my baby, trying to take off my shoes, find my bag of liquids, and load my luggage on the conveyor belt would have sent me over the edge.

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So the dilemma became a freezer full of cupcakes … and us moving out of our apartment on September 25th. What to do, what to do … Fortunately our friends who were hosting us for the time were happy to accept the leftovers with open arms! The benefit of this was more opinions about the quality of the cupcakes. If I had posted this prior to the extra tastings, I would have called these cupcakes mediocre at best and somewhat disappointing.

I’ve seen many a recipe for a Snickers cupcake. What it usually consists of is a plain vanilla cupcake with buttercream and a few Snickers shoved on top. That didn’t strike me as particularly profound so this recipe impressed me by using a chocolate base (more true to Snickers) with a caramel and Snickers infused filling, along with a caramel buttercream. It was sounding a lot more like a bonafide Snickers cupcake. The results proved lackluster to me though. The chocolate base was fine and thankfully not dry. But it wasn’t very chocolatey either. And the buttercream was just plain disappointing to me. Overly thick and sugar-laden with the caramel taking a definitely back seat in flavor.

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But my friend Em ate one and said, “What are you talking about? These things are really good.” She didn’t notice the lack of chocolate in the cake at all and found the frosting to be a perfect consistency for her. She loved the filling. And if there is anyone who has tried as many cupcakes as I have (see Cupcake Wars), it’s her. So there you go. Do with it what you will. Regardless they are cute and somehow despite my commentary I’ve managed to eat 4 or so of them since making them …

So the dilemma became a freezer full of cupcakes … and us moving out of our apartment on September 25th. What to do, what to do … Fortunately our friends who were hosting us for the time were happy to accept the leftovers with open arms!

Snickers Cupcakes
Taken from Annie’s Eats
Yield: 20 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
½ cup hot water
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. coarse salt
16 tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1¾ tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature
For the caramel sauce:
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
For the filling:
24 fun-size Snickers bars, chopped
For the frosting:
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb. confectioners’ sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup caramel sauce
Pinch of coarse salt
2 tbsp. heavy cream
For garnish:
8 fun-size Snickers bars, chopped

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Line standard cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine the butter and the sugar over medium heat. Heat, stirring occasionally to combine, until the butter is melted. Remove the mixture from the heat and transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-low speed, 4-5 minutes, until the mixture is cooled. Mix in the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed and beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture and beat until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed add in the dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, beating just until combined.
Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling them about ¾ of the way full. Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the caramel sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar begins to foam a bit. It will look and smell like it’s on the verge of burning. Remove from the heat and add the heavy cream. Stir until the sauce is smooth (you may need to return it to the heat to smooth it out), then mix in the vanilla and salt. Let cool. (This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)
To fill the cupcakes, cut a cone out of the center of each cupcake with a paring knife.

College Friends

In all of the major events that happened in August (the addition of my first nephew, flying to Oklahoma with Canaan to meet this nephew, moving! from our apartment to Keystone) I forgot to write about the first fun event of September.  Two of my best girlfriends from college came for a short visit.

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Amanda (2nd from the right), known as Commander by us, was visiting her home in Canada during a summer break from classes in Cambridge and decided to “swing by” Chicago. Jeanine (2nd from leftO, who currently lives in Columbus, was urged to join us to make the reunion complete. She was especially motivated to make the trip up because she had a new “person” for us to meet along with her! Lydia (far left) lives in Chicago with her husband Adam. They live in a different community and go to a different church than us but we get to see them a little more frequently. Lydia is currently pregnant with their second child and has been a good resource for me since Canaan was born.

The time together was good as always. It was a little chaotic with Amanda leaving just less than 12 hours after Jeanine arrived but we made it work and had one big brunch altogether. Adam and Lydia are great hosts who are way more mellow and go with the flow than I could ever be. For that I greatly admire them because it makes us all feel really comfortable. I got to spend a day with Jeanine and thru that got to know her boyfriend, Matt. We went to Trader Joe’s (I love anyone who comes to town and is excited to check out TJ’s!), tried out cupcakes at The Cupcake Gallery (I don’t recommend a visit as there are far better cupcakes elsewhere) and went to the Grape Stomp Festival on Wells Street. At night a lovely friend from church babysat so that Jeanine, Matt, Nate, and I could go out to an adult dinner and then over to chocolate fondue with Adam and Lydia once their daughter was asleep. I always appreciate time with Jeanine. One thing I loved about my day with her was just how open both Matt and her were to questions. I feel comfortable throwing any question at her without feeling like things are “off limits” and knowing she’ll really think about her response. Both she and Matt seem to have this quality and endured questions about how the dynamics present with their siblings might play out in their relationship, how they’ve dealt with conflict and where they might foresee the “age gap issue” coming to play. You know, the normal sort of questions one asks over a slice of pizza at Lou Malnati’s …

Any day I spend with these friends is great and I have always appreciated how Amanda and Jeanine have made great efforts to visit Lydia and I regularly.

It started with Nate, Canaan, and I driving to the L to go downtown to get visas

Nate: The hood of our car looks really red.

Kelley:  Yeah, it does.  Maybe the dust on the hood is reflecting the taillights in front of us.

Nate:  I don’t think so.

Ten minutes later …

Nate:  It looks like spray paint or something

Kelley: (Scooches up in her seat to get a better view.)  Oh my gosh it is spray paint and there are letters.  Someone wrote on our  car!

Yes, our car was tagged.  It now has three choice letters on the hood and the headlights have been covered in red.  Super.

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We get to the visa office and I expect to keep our 9am appointment.  In fact, I’m curious to meet the man I made this appointment with because he is the man with whom I had this conversation (in Spanish) in reference to our appointment.

Him: And your last name?

Me: T****

Him: T as in …

Me: T as in …. oh wow I can’t think of any Spanish words with T, hmmm.

Him: T as in, as in tit?  Oh I’m so, so sorry that just popped out.  I apologize.

Me:  Yes, T.

We had a good laugh and moved on to set the appointment.  Of course, when we got there people mostly told us to “wait over there” while they talked to people in an unidentifiable order.  While I waited (4 hours total) an Ecuadorian woman asked me what type of milk I feed our 6 month old.  It turns out she was asking because it’s her opinion that many babies are much too fat, that they are unhealthy and she doesn’t like the way they look.  Apparently, according to her, my baby looks nicely healthy and slim and so she wants to know what type of milk makes a baby this way.

Four hours later, one stressful 15-minute shoulder nap for the baby and we almost home.  But, to our downfall, we risked the urine-ridden elevator at the green line pulaski stop so that Nate wouldn’t have to carry the baby in the stroller down the stairs.  On the tiny, stench-filled elevator was my family and an African American man wearing headphones.  Canaan proceeded to openly stare at this man, as he does with all strangers.  Maybe if he had a friendly stare things would have gone differently, but that stare is dead-on, unblinking, without a hint of a smile until he knows you.  The man pulled half an earphone off and proceeded to address Canaan.

Man (at a volume to be heard over his music):  Oh baby, you’ve got a lot to learn in life, so many new things to learn.

Nate & I: Hehe (awkward half laughs, unsure of ourselves)

Man:  You’re staring at me because I’m a black man.  I look different and that’s why you stare.  You’re are going to learn that they are black people in this world.

Nate & I:  He tends to stare at most new people …

Man:  And it’s okay that you don’t know better than to stare.  You are surrounded by white and all you see is white but you’ll learn.  I was young and I never saw a white person til I was older but I learned.

Elevator doors open, we exit and Nate & I do another half shrug, awkward laugh …

That was my day, which involved many hours of waiting, no visas to make it worth our time, one tired baby, one tagged, embarrassing-to-be-seen-in-car, and a variety of cultural experiences.  Oh and Canaan’s first L ride, may some of them be less eventful in the future.