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Monthly Archives: November 2007

The Best Lemon Meringue Pie Ever

Though she started life as my picky-eater child, Bethany has matured into quite the gourmand—and gourmet. She totally loves to cook, and she’s darned good at it! If I were an avid cook myself, I might see this as a mixed blessing. But since I’m not, there’s very little downside, as far as I’m concerned. (My picky-eater husband may disagree, but he’s not blogging here.) I’ve heard stories of kitchen power struggles between mothers and daughters. I’ll even confess that there have been times when I’ve felt a wee bit territorial about my own kitchen—mainly when someone else puts things away and I can’t find them later. Or cooks and leaves me to clean up the mess. But at least in recent years, that hasn’t been much of an issue with Bethany.

Part of the reason may be that I’m too grateful to have someone else cook to complain. However, I have to give Beth some credit, too. She still asks for my advice or help from time to time, even though she probably doesn’t need it. That helps me to feel less obsolete in my own kitchen. She has also educated me about some of the finer points of cooking, things I never bothered to learn since my family never used to appreciate my attempts at kitchen creativity. Now, I find myself buying such esoteric (to me) gadgets as a zester and a garlic press for Bethany’s use in my kitchen.

For this, I’ve been well rewarded with meals far more complex than I’d be willing to tackle, all of which have also been delicious. Her apricot salmon with asparagus, for example, is to die for. The ultimate, however, at least to date, has to be TBLMPE (see the title of this entry). She started with a highly-ranked recipe from allrecipes.com and tweaked it by adding more lemon. (I should mention at this point that I’d have a hard time choosing between lemon and chocolate as my favorite dessert flavor.)

Oh. My. Goodness. This was the perfect pie. I still have a slice in the fridge, beckoning to me. I’m saving it as a reward later, once I’ve done an extended stint on the cross trainer. Because my other “reward” for giving Bethany free rein in the kitchen has been three extra pounds in as many days. But life is all about tradeoffs, right?

–Brenda 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2007 in chocolate, cooking, food

 

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Thankfulness

The obvious topic for today, and I have much to be grateful for beyond ice cream (though that’s always a biggie!)  Thanksgiving is probably the closest thing we have in the US to “National Decadence Day,” so I feel obliged to pay homage to that here, where we’re all about decadence.

Bethany is home and helping with the cooking, and we have plenty of decadent delights planned, starting with the cinnamon-walnut scones she made for breakfast. Did you know that if you add only a tiny pinch of sugar to whipping cream, then over-whip it until it’s the consistency of soft butter, you have a darned good approximation of clotted cream? I fell completely in love with clotted cream while touring England a few years ago, but hadn’t been particularly successful finding it in the States, so this was a magnificent discovery.

Later, we’ll have our traditional turkey (just a breast this year with only three of us to eat it), stuffing the way my own mother used to make it, yams (with cinnamon) and a spinach and cream cheese casserole (which has replaced the traditional green bean thing no one really ate). Oh, and pumpkin bread (already made), possibly pumpkin pie (we’re still debating). And Bethany is making a lemon meringue pie (my favorite!) from scratch. Bestill my heart! The only ice cream of the day is vanilla bean (store bought) to go with the blueberry pie someone brought to a recent party and left to our tender mercies.

Sometime after dinner we’ll be iChatting with Dawn in Japan. (For anyone who has never iChatted, it’s the most amazing, futuristic experience! Real-time video conferencing with the other side of the globe, using only our laptops!)  The timing is tricky, since she’s twelve hours ahead of us, meaning narrow windows when we’re both awake and she’s not working. We’ll try to manage an iToast…well, on our side. It will be about noon her time, so she’ll probably be drinking tea.

Back to thankfulness, I’m beyond grateful for my daughters and especially for the wonderful relationship we have. I think the key is listening—really listening—to each other. Not just them listening to me. Nor just me listening to them. Honest, two-way conversations short-circuit so many things that could have become disagreements. Also, finding a few things that we both/all enjoy doing together continues to bond us more tightly.  For all of you reading, I wish you as much to be thankful for as I have today!

Happy Thanksgiving!

–Brenda 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2007 in europe, food, ice cream, tea, travel

 

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Bruster’s

Beth here.

Whatever.  It’s never too cold for ice cream.  You just have to crank the heat up and eat it indoors–preferably while sitting around in your underwear.  And maybe with a mug of hot chocolate.

However, I did manage to take advantage of one of the last warm-ish days of autumn last weekend and took a trip with a trusty, like-minded (read:  ice cream-obsessed) friend to Bruster’s.  It’s a small ice cream store chain that’s scattered randomly around the States–you may or my not have one in your area, but you can find all their store locations at http://www.brusters.com.  Highly recommended.  They make all their ice cream fresh in the store and it’s about the best I’ve been able to find in the States–certainly the best in a chain-type store.  Add to that the fact that they have lots of nifty seasonal flavors (I had pumpkin pie ripple and caramel apple crunch since it was such a lovely crisp fall day…) and fun promotional ideas (like show-up-in-your-pajamas-and-get-a-free-cone-day, or a standard policy that if it’s raining or snowing at the time of purchase you get a second scoop free), and you’ve got a really world-class operation.  The #1 flavor so far:  Chocolate raspberry truffle.  I’m drooling just thinking about it.

Anyone else experienced the glory that is Bruster’s?  Or do you challenge my assertion that it’s the best ice cream chain in the States?  Because if so, I’m going to have to go into the trenches and research the competition, which would be really awful.

Hoping for some dissent,

-Beth

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2007 in chocolate, food, ice cream, travel, Uncategorized, writing

 

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Warmer pleasures

Now that our lovely Indian Summer has broken and more wintry weather is setting in, I confess that I’m looking for warmer ways than ice cream to experience decadence. My current favorite, especially since I’m not walking off calories so much this time of year, is a huge cup of hot tea and a fistful of chocolate chips.  I have a fair assortment of tea flavors, both with and without caffeine, but I’m always on the prowl for others I haven’t tried.  So please, anyone with favorite teas to share or other favorite cold-weather ideas for decadence, share!

–Brenda 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2007 in chocolate, food, ice cream, tea

 

Singing on street corners

Actually, it was our second night in Florence that you sang on the street corner, Beth–after our lovely dinner (is there any other kind in Florence?) at Buca Poldo and dessert at Gelateria Dei Neri (which I believe you rated as your #1 pick). So you were probably more drunk on dark chocolate and fior de latte gelato than on wine by the time we talked you into singing.

BethFlorence

For the record, everyone, she raked in 40 euros in half an hour of singing! I’d say that cap we bought earlier in the day (for about 5 euro) was a good investment.  The best part was the look on your face when you counted up your earnings after we got back to our room that night. First stunned, then speculative, as you realized you could actually live on this kind of money!  Always good to have a backup plan.

–Brenda/Mom 🙂

 

Ah, Florence…

Beth here.

Thanks, Mom. Now I’m all nostalgic and sad because I’m stuck in Indiana and I want to be wining and dining on the Arno… Was that the same night that I ended up drunkenly bursting into operatic song at the market on the Porta Rossa? I know that there was a lot of fabulous wine (and grappa… and limoncello…) consumed at dinner, so it might have been…

If I could hear myself now, I’m sure that I’d be embarrassed, but at the time, I thought I was sounding GREAT (isn’t alcohol wonderful?)! But at least a few (possibly drunken) tourists seemed to agree with me. I think it was you who had the idea to put out a hat when a crowd started to gather and we ended up making enough to cover gelato expenses for at least a few days.

Which is funny, since I’ve tried singing on the street in downtown Chicago only to be met with confusion, glares, people staunchly trying to pretend I’m not there, and the occasional furtive “pity change” thrown my way without making eye contact, which is SO not the point. In Florence, I think most of the people who gathered were American tourists, people who might have been annoyed if I were singing in *their* hometown. But because it was Florence…it was charming; they gathered, they actually listened, they enjoyed.

::shrugs:: If I have to go to Italy to find Americans responsive to opera, that’s fine by me. I still have fantasies where I just run away and live as a high-class bum singing opera on the streets of Florence… Any takers? I could use a guitar player…

 

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Filling in some blanks

Reading back over some of my earlier entries here, I see that I more than once promised to post extra details later—then never did.  So now I’m going back over some of the notes I took during our ice cream tour of Europe this summer—well, as much of a tour as we could fit into two weeks—so I can fill in some of those details and keep my promises.

Given how much we’ve raved about the ice cream in Florence, I’ll start there. When we arrived on the train from Rome, we walked to our hotel only to find that they were overbooked. The manager apologized profusely and compensated by giving us a room around the corner—a beautiful one-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen (which went to waste, as the food there is so good) and living room. For the same price we’d have paid for a hotel room! Lovely. We dropped off our backpacks and went out to explore, stopping along the way at Deanna, a café by the train station, for sandwiches and gelato (of course). Both were inexpensive and better than we expected, given the location.  We split a small cup of coffee and tiramisu gelato. The coffee flavor was excellent. The tiramisu (never my favorite anyway, but I was overruled) was a bit chewy but not bad.

Caffe Deanna

We were too late for the Duomo, which was already closed, but we wandered along the Piazza della Republica with its interesting mix of Roman columns and a merry-go-round, and the Piazza della Signoria with its replica of Michaelangelo’s David and more than a dozen original famous sculptures. Beware, though—at the Caffe Fiorenza nearby we found the only substandard (and overpriced) gelato in Florence.

We wandered over to the Uffizi Gallery to check the line, but without much hope, as Rick Steves describes as containing the “greatest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in captivity” and also highly recommends reservations. Here we discovered a phenomenal stroke of luck: not only was there no line because the museum was closing in an hour, but admission was FREE because we had fortuitously arrived in Italy for Culture Week! We made wonderful use of our hour, absorbing more breathtaking art in one place than should be allowed: paintings by Raphael, Rubens, Michaelangelo, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Boticelli—famous paintings we’d seen in photos our whole lives, up close and personal. I won’t even try to describe this experience.

We were nearly the last to leave the Uffizi. From there, we went across the Ponte Vecchio to the Golden View Open Bar restaurant, which Bethany and I had loved on our first visit two years earlier. We were early enough to score a table with a view of the Arno, and the waiter was so taken with my girls that we received superb service. When he discovered both girls were mine, he thanked me! The food was equally superb—focaccia and cheeses, chicken with truffle sauce, salad with tuna and avocado, and Chianti, of course. This was Tuscany! Here’s the view from our table.

River Arno and Ponte Vecchio

Grappa and limoncello afterward. We spent nearly three hours there, then waddled back across the Ponte Vecchio to the Caffe Delle Carrozze at the foot of the bridge for our final gelato of the day. The chocolate mousse, in particular, was divine.

Back to our lovely room, walking arm in arm in lockstep, just to confuse people, talking and laughing all the way. A perfect afternoon and evening, with the prospect of another full day in Florence tomorrow.

–Brenda 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2007 in art, europe, florence, food, ice cream, italy, travel