Sunday, August 30, 2009

I don't even know where to start...

So I'm just jumping in! There's been a lot going on lately, not least of which is that as of Friday I AM UNEMPLOYED. Yes, my position was eliminated. Also, my son starts kindergarten tomorrow. I am home in the morning to take him for his first day (which lasts two hours), then I am going in for my last afternoon in the office, to turn over any loose ends, clean out my desk, and say goodbye.

Obviously there's a lot to sort out, and this will bring a lot of changes for my family. Once I get my new routine in place, you can expect to see a lot more of me here.

Also, I am moving forward with my idea of a couple weeks ago and selling my stuff on ebay. Not ALL of it, but a lot of it. Trying to drastically simplify my surroundings. When I think about what I want to do with my life right now, it's fairly simple. I want to write, and I want to craft. (Of course there are many other things, that's why I'm the lady of a million dreams, but those are the things I'm currently most empassioned about.) So I will be focusing on blogging and Heritage Makers in the coming weeks, and we'll see where that takes me.

To that end, OJ and I tackled a couple major projects this weekend. We procured a computer cabinet for the dining room so I could have an honest-to-goodness WORKSTATION, something which I have been sorely lacking (I found that I could fritter away endless hours on facebook and video games while hunched over our bar, but it didn't work so well for getting actual WORK accomplished). We then proceeded to completely declutter the dining room, dump a TON of paper (yes, that was very hard for me, you know it), and move my computer upstairs. The only thing left to do in the dining room is mop the floor (OJ is out buying a new mop head right now), and it'll be done!

I don't have any 'befores', but I did post some pictures of the computer cabinet in my twitstream, which also gives you a little glimpse of some of the in-progress work...and here's the 'after' video:

Friday, August 28, 2009


The Photo Friday challenge today is 'seaside'. This is one of my favorite seaside photos. Just a couple of Chicago kids enjoying the beach in Pensacola, Florida on New Year's Day. It was chilly, choppy, and windy - and we were thrilled to be there.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Casablanca Cheesecake

I decided some time ago that I wanted to re-christen Fridays as 'Piedays', but never got around to it. Today, however, is the day. The day I kick off Pieday by making...cake. Cheesecake, to be precise, which has plenty of similarities to pie, so I say it counts.

I enjoy cooking, especially baking, but rarely carve the time out of my busy schedule to indulge in the art. Pieday is an excuse for me to experiment, play around, teach my kids how to cook, make tasty treats, and build lasting memories. The whole point of cooking, for me, is to HAVE FUN. Enjoy the process. Mix it up, change things to suit you. Create delicious, long lasting memories for your family. That's what I'm working to do! I hope that Piedays will help you do the same.

I'm a huge fan of a good cheesecake. Call me a snob, but I have always felt that commercial cheesecakes pale to the homemade variety. (Yes, even Eli's.) Don't get me wrong, I'll still EAT them! But a good homemade cheesecake is really not that difficult to make, and beats the store-bought variety every time.

I've tried a variety of different cheesecake recipes but continue to come back to this one as my tried-and-true favorite. As a bonus, it actually makes enough for TWO 9" cheesecakes (though I've found it best to bulk up the crust and topping portions as they don't quite stretch to make two cheesecakes; you don't have to double them, but they need a little more than is listed here to be truly delicious). Given the heaviness of the recipe, it's purely an occasional treat, but definitely worth the time.

You should know I am a kitchen fiddler. I can't just leave my food alone. I'm always changing something in my method, even with recipes I've made countless times...drawing on my own experience and the experience of others (dear internet, I love you) to try and make things better.

For example, with this recipe, I changed the type of pan I used this time, for two reasons. One was that I couldn't find my springform pans. The other was that I wanted to use a waterbath this time, since in the past the cheesecake has cracked a little bit and has not cooked evenly. I'd never cooked with a waterbath before and wanted to see how it turned out. Then, obviously, the waterbath was a second new variable for me this time. And then there's my oven. We have a fairly old oven that came with the's from Montgomery Ward, and those of you in the Chicago area should probably have a good idea of how old the damn thing must be just from hearing that. (They went out of business ten years or so ago.) Recently, it has started giving us trouble where the gas will come on but sometimes it won't start heating up, and we have to kick it or bang on the gas pipe to make it work. And sometimes it stops heating in the middle of cooking your food and you have to kick it some more. So I had to be ever-vigilant while the cheesecakes were cooking (about three hours total in the oven for both of them, since I cooked them separately.)

My kids had a great time helping me with the crust. I just double-bagged some graham crackers and let them have at it. 'Make them into crumbs!' I instructed, and they did - using kitchen utensils, their hands, their feet, even their butts.

Using their carefully crafted crumbs and the other crust ingredients gives me a base of deliciousness.

Then it's time to mix up the filling. More than two pounds of cream cheese, 7 eggs, heavy cream, sugar, and more...there's a reason I only makes this cheesecake once a year or so! But it's OH SO GOOD. And yes, we DID lick the beaters, even with the 7 eggs in it.

Then the pouring and the waterbath and the baking. The baking is a long and tedious process, and as I described above, I had to be even more vigilant than usual due to my oven's recent tendency towards not-working.

While the first one was baking, I mixed up the sour cream topping.

Baking with the sour cream topping.

The first one looked a tad underdone (but I took it out anyway because it's hard to tell with cheesecake, and it's possible it was PERFECT and would set up nicely) I left the second one in a bit longer and ended up with just a little more browning on top than I like to see.

I cooled them each on the counter for an hour, then in the fridge for an hour, then froze them for an hour. Which I normally wouldn't do but a friend suggested it would make them much easier to remove from the silicon pans, and I've eaten many a frozen cheesecake before so why not? Also, since I'll be driving one of them an hour to Girls' Night Out, freezing didn't seem like such a bad idea.

(Don't you love to see inside people's freezers? It looks like we live on Icee Pops here. Really, this is what happens when you buy a giant box of them at Sam's Club. And this is after we've eaten about HALF OF THEM. Lasts all summer!)

As it happens, the first one is WAY underdone. :( That's also the one the oven crapped out on me for in the middle of cooking, and I probably should have left it in considerably longer to compensate. I didn't trust my judgment and pulled it out too early...always trust your judgment!! (And, as you can see, it cracked on the top. Which did NOT happen until it was out of the oven, actually, and I blame the silicon pans for that. They're pretty bendy and it's really hard NOT to jiggle the cheesecake when moving it.)

The second one, despite browning nicely on the top, is even a tad underdone in the center. Unfortunately there were too many new variables today for me to pinpoint one of them. Was it the oven's wackiness? The silicon pans? The waterbath? I just don't know.

Regardless, they taste pretty good (though the texture of the first is displeasing and I've had to promise my husband a new cheesecake, oh darn). I'll see what the girls think of the second one at Girls' Night Out tonight. Watch my Twitter for updates :).

Now...would someone like to donate a new oven to me for better results on future piedays? I'll bake you a delicious cheesecake in it as payment!

This recipe comes from the book 'Goddess In The Kitchen' by Margie Lapanja; one of the few cookbooks I have read cover to cover, and I love it dearly. Full of inspiration, historical tidbits, and magickal flights of fancy, it's a delight to pore over every page, even if you never cook a single thing from it. (Though your tastebuds would certainly be missing out if you didn't!)

Margie Lapanja's Casablanca Cheesecake

2 1/2 cups graham crackers or vanilla wafers, crushed (I go for the graham every time)
6 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 1/2 pounds cream cheese (the real stuff; no substitutes), at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest (I actually prefer it without)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unbleached white flour
5 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream or evaporated milk (I have always used the cream)

1 1/2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1/ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
fresh fruit for garnish (optional)

To prepare the crust, mix all ingredients together in a small bowl with a fork. (An easy way to crush graham crackers is to double bag them in plastic and attack them with a rolling pin. (or let your children at them - K.)) Using the flat bottom of a glass or measuring cup, press the crust mixture on the bottom and partially up the sides of a 10-inch springform pan (lined with parchment, if you wish. (I used a 9-inch round silicon pan this time, for reasons detailed above. -K)) Chill while preparing filling.

Preheat over to 400 degrees F. Make the filling: In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, salt, and flour, and beat well. Add the eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating or whisking after each egg. Gently blend in the heavy cream. Pour into pan. Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes, reduce temperature to 225 degrees F, and bake for an additional hour and 10 to 20 minutes.

While the cheesecake is baking, whisk all ingredients for the topping together in a small bowl. Without jiggling the baking cake too much (no quick moes), gently spread the topping over the cheesecake. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees F and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes. To check for doneness, touch the top lightly with your finger. (Note the precise baking time for your next cheesecake adventure.)

Cool at room temperature and refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving. A garnish of fresh fruit always adds a classic touch.

Serves 1 to 10 and many memories.

The book has since been re-released under the name "Romancing The Stove". I highly recommend picking up a copy!

Monday, August 10, 2009

living free

It has been a while since I posted, and I had some posts I wanted to write. Posts about BlogHer, about the Ford Ride 'N Drive event, about my new blog, about other things. This post is not about any of those topics.

Some things have been going on in the lives of people around me lately, and subsequently in my own life, that have me thinking an awful lot about change. These events, coupled with an extreme lack of ability to FOCUS (which I don't believe is related but who knows), have really pressed home that I need a drastic change in my life. Maybe more than one. Because for whatever reason, I'm unhappy. And it's affecting all of the areas in my life right now.

Longtime blog readers will know that I have three areas in my life that provide me with no end of frustration: my cluttered home, my weight, and my finances. All of them, I believe, being somewhat intertwined. If I can only suss out the reasons for my failures in this area and solve those problems, move past them, I feel I can go on to achieve all the dreams I have.

One common thread that runs through my dreams is that I want to live a life rich in EXPERIENCES. Very few of these dreams revolve around STUFF. Arguably, the only one that does is my dream of owning and operating my Not House On The Rock house one day - and even that could be considered an experience.

The stuff I collect around me is just that: STUFF. It's not really a collection, per se. There's no structure to it, no organization. It's just things I've acquired over 30 years of living with which I cannot, for some reason, bear to part.

Except more and more lately, I CAN bear to part with them. I have been. I continue to do so. Sometimes I have a radical dream of selling everything I own on ebay and going on to live a stuff-free life. Mostly this dream scares the hell out of me, for reasons I cannot entirely define. (If I COULD, I probably wouldn't have all the stuff to begin with.) But more and more lately, the dream thrills me. Titillates me like a secret lover, whispering seductively to me from the darkness. 'Go on,' it says. 'Sell your things. Get rid of them. Effect change in your life. Move on. Let go. Achieve your dreams.'

The doubtful, clingy part of me resists moving on to what might be a new joyous phase in my life. What if I need those things one day? What if I miss them? What about the memories attached to them?

The voice whispers to me that this could just be the defining factor in my life. That I might just be able to accomplish some of my biggest dreams right now if I did this one thing. I might be able to pay off a bunch of debt if I did this. I might feel freer, more creative, less confined. I might be able to WRITE. I might be able to breathe in my own home. I might be happier. I might be able to move to a bigger house in a better neighborhood. I might accomplish all of these things and more if I just give up on the things that are holding me back.

Is selling off the pieces of my life the right thing to do? Will it help me move on to bigger and better things? Will I feel freer? Will I BE freer? Will I be able to accomplish my dreams?

I don't know the answers to these questions. But the idea that the answer might be YES fills me with hope for the first time in a while.

A life that is, for a while, empty of (most) possessions, but full of experience. A life worth living.


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