Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas By The Dozen

Today was my 12th Christmas as a mother, my 19th with my husband, and the 43rd in my life. I don't think any two Christmases have ever been the same, but after reading a post by Lauri Meyers over at Lauri's Stories, I've been thinking about Christmases past and present. Since taking a moment to read it on Monday, just before the culmination of 8 weeks of preparation and madness, I haven't been able to get it out of my head. She wrote about many things, but the part about watching her daughter take the time to suck on a candy cane from beginning to end is what I've been holding to for two days.
I used to do that. My sister and cousin and I would hang out in front of the fire on Christmas day while the adults lingered around the table, my grandmother probably prepping to sing and dance, and we would just eat the candy canes off the tree. The competition revolved around seeing who could make the sharpest point without breaking it off. We'd sneak as many candy canes as possible until someone told us to stop eating sugar, which I don't think ever actually happened.
On other Christmases my grandmother, the non-dancing one, would arrive around the 23rd after work and stay with us through Christmas. She brought what seemed like endless bags of gifts, but that wasn't the best part. The best part was making cookies with her; at least 2-3 different kinds. My favorite were the Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls. I learned recently that she looked forward to it as much as we did, if not more, because with two boys of her own, she didn't have anyone to bake with. Thankfully, God gave her granddaughters.
So, a dozen years into Christmases with my own children, and especially after reading Lauri's post, I started comparing my own Christmases as a kid with my children's Christmases. Only one child is a fan of candy canes, the other two find them spicy--really???? Therefore there are no competitions around the sharpest point, which is probably a good thing. My own children do not have to wait for a grandmother to arrive to make cookies, we get started as soon as school gets out and keep baking until there is a delicious variety for all parties involved, including Santa. My husband's culture holds Christmas Eve as a celebratory evening and Christmas Day as much more mellow. We've found a way to create a balance between the two cultures and have learned that one party on one day is perfect- two is too much, even this time of year. 
I used to be set on Christmas needing to be a certain way-- the way it was when I was growing up. With kids, one has to be fluid and adaptive, a lesson learned quickly when a child's sudden illness interrupts even the most carefully planned events, and plenty of nights when sleep is seriously needed. Almost 20 years after learning to incorporate someone else's traditions into my own, and he to incorporate mine into his, we have found our own. The children seem to love it all, who wouldn't, and I only hope that at some point when find themselves n the same position they are also able to adapt, celebrate, and love every moment.
For those who are taking a quiet moment to catch up on blog reading, I wish you the happiest of holidays and all the best that the New Year has to offer.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Letters From Camp..... Are You My Mother????

Dear Mom and Dad,
You should have seen us for these couple of life changing days!
I walked out the front door toward the driveway one morning and almost jumped when I caught a very fluffy baby bird sitting in the rain gutter out of the corner of my eye. I  jumped (you know how I feel about birds) realized it wouldn't hurt me and kept going to the car. I didn't tell the kids about it because I thought for sure the boys would race over to it and want to hold it, feed it, pet it, and bring it inside to keep with the stuffed animals.

We were in and out all day and then finally home by about 4. The bird managed to move itself from sun to shade throughout the day. He (we just started to call it a he) seemed healthy, was able to move his head, hop around and his wings seemed to be sitting exactly where they should have been on his body. By 5:30 I went to my neighbor's house as she is the expert on helping lost animals. We discussed feeding it, getting a box for it for the night, taking it to a shelter, everything but leaving it up to nature and waiting for the parents to show. Finally the guy at Petco helped me.  "Just Google it and see what comes up," he said, much more calmly than I felt. Why didn't I think of that? Oh right, I was panicking.

I Googled (a few years ago, that wasn't even a word). It turned out that this was a fledgling and most likely in the process of learning to fly with his parents close by and watching. Not 5 minutes after my research, Momma bird showed up and fed Baby bird. Then (and this was amazing) she coaxed the baby bird to fly up to the top of the railing by the stairs, so it would be safe for the night. Ok, so the bird could fly, but not very far and yes, the parents were close by. Apparently, they were just as worried as I was about creatures wanting a little Dove for dinner during the night.

Over the course of the next day, we watched Baby bird closely and listened for the parents. The kids were as glued to the windows as I was and we all took on new walking patterns so as to not disturb Baby bird. The parents showed up in the afternoon and were everywhere from my roof to the walkway. Night was approaching and as much as we wanted to help, it would have been worse for the baby.

As a mother, I have never felt quite so helpless (except during wrestling meets). As an observer of nature, I felt ever so grateful to see, in person, how much they resemble people. The Baby bird has been back just once; I think he feels comfortable in our flower beds, and flying here from the tree.  And now, when I hear the doves from the wires and trees around our house, it just sounds different.

So I have to ask: did P.D. Eastman witness something similar before writing Are You My Mother? I should look that up.

Talk soon.

Sadly, summer ends soon, and so will my Letters From Camp. If you could write to someone who would it be?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Letters From Camp.... Remember The Time......

Dear Mom and Dad,
Remember when Valerie Seeley was new in the neighborhood (I can't even remember where she lived) and the family she was living with was moving back to Antigua (or something like that) and I begged for her to be able to stay and live with us? And remember when I came home from Switzerland after the Caux program and asked if Wolfgang could stay with us during part of his visit to America? A friend of mine, or maybe it was some personality test, said that I was a "fixer." I liked to fix things. I like to think of that as more of a helper. In those situations at least, there was no fixing, just helping a friend.  Well, I'm back at it again. Maybe I should have been a nurse, or my other favorite fantasy profession, an engineer. But, I digress. Back to helping. Mom, as a history major, you'll really appreciate this, I think.
My book coach, Anna Olswanger, had a children's book published last year called Greenhorn. Not sure what a greenhorn is? Neither was I.

Greenhorn: n., an inexperienced person, a novice, beginner or newcomer, according to 

In 1946 Daniel was an orphaned holocaust survivor who was sent to yeshiva (an elementary school where students learn both Jewish and secular subjects) in Brooklyn, NY. His sole possession, a small silver tin, is also his only link to life before Brooklyn. Daniel doesn’t speak English, knows no American customs, and has no family but embarks on a life journey where he learns of friendship and trust. Aaron, his first friend, stutters his way through defending the Greenhorn who has joined the school. What’s in the tin? Why is it so important? How does it connect Daniel to the life he fled?

These questions, and the miracle of hope, are explored in the book, Greenhorn, by Anna Olswanger. Based on the true story as told by Rabbi Rafael Grossman, portrayed by Aaron in the book, it is one which like so many others will eventually only be able to be told through books and movies. Olswanger first heard this story from Rabbi Grossman more than 30 years ago while on a family trip to Israel with her synagogue. Touching and true, she felt it was “important and wanted to write it so the story would live on
The tin, and more importantly the secret object inside it, are also a source of history. According to Anna, post-World War II many Jews believed the Nazis mass produced soap made from human fat. While not a Holocaust expert, her research found that the Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig/Gdansk, did experiment with making soap from human fat. Inside Daniel’s tin is a small bar of soap, described as sticky and greasy. When the box is stolen and the soap is discovered, Daniel’s attachment to it is revealed, “Maybe fat from mama in soap. Maybe fat from papa . . .,” Daniel says in the story.

Here's the cool part about the book and Anna's project:

Greenhorn’s story of friendship, hope, and a bit of history is one that Anna is currently looking to share with a much broader audience. Her goal, along with screenwriter Ree Howell and director Tom Whitus, is to develop the book into a 40 minute independent film to be submitted ultimately, for an Academy Award. Tom Whitus believes that making it into a film will help reach a broader audience “in a way a book cannot.”  “The point of the book,” Anna said, “is friendship. Aloneness. One object connecting [Daniel] to a lost family and human beings connecting with each other.” There is an information page for the film which of course gives more technical information than I can put in your letter. They are trying to raise $18,000 to produce the film.
 As a lover of art and independent films, I knew you'd love this Mom. It's a very cool story on several levels. Feel free to spread the word and I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to seeing this at the Clairidge one day. I'll write more later.
This summer I'm writing letters from camp to my parents as a fun way to share with them what's happening in my life. Who would you write a letter to?


Monday, August 5, 2013

Letters From Camp: I Think I Started Something

Dear Mom,

I think I started something- but don't worry, it's a good thing. Not a Martha Stewart Good Thing, but a reading related book kind of good thing. That was a mouthful. Anyway......
My favorite, Forever, by Pete Hamill
Last week I learned how to have two open screens on my Surface after seeing it done in a commercial. This is the best thing ever! As I write you this letter, I have Twitter open on the side of my screen, with a live feed (this means that I see Tweets as they happen). A couple of days ago, I saw a tweet from Ame Dyckman, a children's book author who I have met and often have little Twitter chats with. She's hysterical and comes up with some crazy ideas.

That morning Ame's Tweet was something to the effect of: I wish there was a day when you could just walk around holding your favorite book. So I replied (via Twitter): Let's make one!

I suggested October 23, 2013, just 6 months after World Book Night. Here's the beauty of social media. Other Tweeps (Twitter people) started chiming in saying they were on board, adding the date to their calendar, suggesting ideas for art so we can make a badge (those little things on the side bar of my blog) and ultimately spread the word. Now there's  #ShowABookDay on Twitter and about 7-10 people committed to participating, gathering kids to show their favorite books, and have some fun. Julie Falatko suggested a bunch of people standing with their arms up holding a book (instead of a boom box) like John Cusak in Say Anything. You might not have actually seen that movie, but all of us 80s kids have an immediate visual. :) Either way, we're all excited!

Mom, mark the date on your calendar- 10/23/13 and you can walk around holding your favorite book. What would it be? I put mine above. Isn't this a cool idea?

I'll write more later,

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Letters From Camp- The Kick Off

Summer is busy when you have kids.
I think we'll go berry picking soon!
It's a different kind of busy compared to the school year but I'm thankful for two things:
 1) no homework and 2) all three kids can swim. *throwing confetti*
Oddly enough, I find I have even less time to talk to my parents and check in during the summer, which may or may not have something to do with constantly being surrounded by my kids. So, last summer I started writing them letters via this blog. It seemed like a good way to communicate and works well with my schedule. As I'm writing this, it's almost midnight, and I expect they are both sleeping. I should be too, come to think of it. Alas, let the letters begin, with all the things I would tell them if we had hours and hours to hang out and chat poolside.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I'm back and writing my letters from camp for the summer. It's phase II of summer- camp season. 2/3 of my kids are away, the rush of swim team season is over and I'm finding myself more anxious than ever to get to the mail box each day. Whether it's to receive a letter from the kids, or send one, my mornings revolve around my mailbox. Sure beats the lunchbox!
Once I'm past the mailbox, it's off to the bookshelf. I just finished Kimberly McCreight's novel, Reconstructing Amelia. Wow. As a lover or mysteries, this was incredible, right to the last page. Then, I got all teary- which I rarely do when reading. As a mother, I couldn't stop thinking of all the times I've said to my own kids, "can we please talk about this later?" For Amelia and her mother, that was a terrible mistake. When everyone's back, I promise to not get so caught up in the rushing around.  So, that's one down on the bookshelf.
I'm on to Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial; one of the first non-fiction books I've read in a while. There was so much happening with hurricane Katrina I was unaware of that August. The book isn't officially out yet, I have an advance copy from Crown Publishing, but I promise to tell you more about it when I finish.
Everyone here has been talking about the heat. It hasn't bothered me too much beyond being annoying. Dad, this is the part where I thank you for never putting central air in our house and keeping the air conditioners off until it was 100 degrees at night for a whole week. :) I know how to deal.
That's all for now. I'll keep writing you letters, so keep an eye on your mailbox inbox.

If you could write letters to someone during the summer, to whom would you write? Have you ever rushed to your mailbox looking for a letter?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Write The Story And Shut The Door

I don't normally write about writing, mostly because I feel there are about a bazillion people who have more useful information about it than I do. But I recently finished reading On Writing by Stephen King and learned a few things that are worth sharing.

First, I will admit that I was wrong. About two years ago while searching for whichever new book King had published most recently, I came across On Writing. I thought, "there is no way that can be any good, it's not fiction." I was wrong. Reading this was just like reading one of his books, and even gave some insight to his incredibly creative mind. Not sick as some would say, just creative.

Second, let the characters dictate where the story is going. I've said it before, I'm a pantser, and not just when it comes to writing. Plotting and story lines and graphs and diagrams don't work for me and what a relief it was to find that this is true for the master too. Earlier this summer, I joined Candace Havens' Fast Draft class. The point of her class is to write through everything, and keep going. Don't be afraid of imperfections, just keep going for two weeks straight. When you do that, the characters take over.

Third is to shut the door. I'm part of a writing group; there are three of us. I adore our time together and love brainstorming with these women. We read out loud, mark up each other's work and ask "what if" questions quite often. King says we shouldn't share our work until it's complete and  we've finally finished writing with the "door shut," writing for ourselves and getting our character's stories out. A lot can change from the start to finish of a story, and as much as we want to share with others, our writing is for ourselves, not others- at least in that first round.  Ok- I'll have to make a change before our next get together.

So, if anyone wasn't sure if non-fiction from Stephen King would be worth reading, let me ease your concerns- it totally is, so go for it.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z- Zebra Ice Cream Cake

I needed a post for Z and well, this idea just hit me in the grocery store, along with about 20 items that mysteriously ended up in the shopping cart courtesy of my kids who were on vacation last week and sabotaged my cart  joined me at the store.
What I'm trying here is an ice cream version of the traditional Icebox Cake (see the back of the Nabisco Chocolate Wafers box) Typically, you layer whipped cream between wafers creating a cake that when sliced diagonally is both pretty and delicious. I'm simplifying here but if you're familiar with an ice box cake there's no need to write more.
What I did for the Zebra Ice Cream Cake was to layer the wafers with vanilla ice cream inside a spring form pan. The process is a little different from the traditional Icebox Cake, but with layers of chocolate cookie (which will soften while freezing) and vanilla I'm thinking I can't go wrong here. The best part? I can use any flavor of ice cream in the layers which just makes for so much fun! My experiment worked and  the photo above is the final version. My kids loved the cake and I think I've found my new summer dessert!!!!

Thanks to those of you who have joined me on my ice cream journey. I am not a food blogger, but I do love my ice cream! I'm looking forward to getting to the blogs I didn't have a chance to visit which is sadly, a lot. Happy April 30th and Z day!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y? Beacuse I Love It

The A to Z is jut about done. I must confess that between the challenge, World Book Night, and two school vacations, I didn't get to visit nearly as many blogs as I did last year, and certainly not as many as I wanted to. I had such good intentions, but alas, things did not work out as planned. Do they ever? Either way, the A to Z participant list will stay up for a bit and I'm making a promise to myself to get back to it and visit others.
Why spend a month talking about ice cream? Because I love it. It's hard (but not impossible) to mess up, the flavor combinations are endless, and with summer coming I'm in the mode. A month of ice cream flavors has been fun as well as challenging. Half of my posts were done ahead of time, and the other half definitely took some creativity, along with milk, sugar, and cream. I have decided that if I ever have an ice cream theme again, I'm  having an ice cream tasting party. You should see my freezer!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

X- an eXciting challenge

I'm totally cheating with X here, but from the little bit of hopping I've done, I know I'm not the only one. :)
Anyway, I was given an eXciting challenge when I first started playing with my ice cream maker, just about a year ago. I regularly write about food (among other things) for a local news site called  My editor said to me, "Wouldn't if be cool if you could make an ice cream that fits the colors of town."  Like many other towns, we have lots of pride in our colors.
Anyway, that little seed was planted and the result was Maroon and White ice cream.  Those who have tasted it call it surprising and unexpected (I'm quoting my sister here) and as much as I would love to post the recipe here, I will refrain, as it lives in the Cook It! Verona cookbook (look just off to your right in the column) where I put it. A fun and eXciting challenge; I'd do it again in a second.
Does your town have its own ice cream flavor? If you created an ice cream based on your town's colors, what flavor would it be?

Friday, April 26, 2013

W- Wakey, Wakey

Naaah. I don't really say that to my kids to get them out of bed, but I needed a W post and since today's ice cream is Coffee Chocolate Chip (and C was a really long time ago) I decided to get a little kitchy with my words. Or maybe it's almost the end of the A to Z and I'm low on letter options.... I'll go with the former.
About 20 years ago when I started drinking coffee, a family friend to me to flavor coffee with cream and sugar so it tastes like coffee ice cream. Excellent advice. Now, I still do the same, but my coffee is almost always flavored. Have you ever smelled chocolate flavored coffee? Delish. So, to that end, we have Wakey Wakey ice cream which is coffee with chocolate chunks. A dessert that combines my favorite morning flavors. Enjoy!

Wakey Wakey Ice Cream

1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon coffee extract
1/2 cup chocolate chunks

What's Next:
Place sugar in a large bowl.
Add milk and coffee extract and mix with a wire whisk or electric hand mixer until sugar is dissolved.
Add heavy cream and mix until combined.
Place in freezer bowl of ice cream maker and process for 20-25 minutes.
When just about set, add the chocolate chunks and process for another 5 minutes.
Place in container and place in freezer until fully set.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V- Vanilla

When making ice cream, Vanilla extract is a necessary ingredient, even when making chocolate ice cream. If you make as much home made ice cream as I do, or even if you are an avid baker, it's worth having your own stash of Vanilla extract. It's actually really easy to make and depending on how much ice cream making or baking you do, a jar this size should last a while.
To make your own Vanilla extract, take a vanilla bean (there are inexpensive ones in some supermarkets) and slice it in half lengthwise, exposing the seeds. Place in a pint sized mason jar. Fill to the top with vodka, cover and wait. In a few days, you will have your own stash of Vanilla extract. Trust me, there is nothing worse than going to the cabinet, expecting to grab your bottle of vanilla extract to find that it is empty.  Ok, well there are worse things, but in my world, that's a rough moment.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U- Using Berries

One of the best flavor enhancers for ice cream is fresh berries. Individual berries do carry their own unique flavors with them, so choose wisely. For example, I am not a fan of strawberry ice cream so it will not be one of the berries I include. Additionally, depending on the berry, one does have to be careful in the preparation. I've made a few mistakes over the past year, so I'll share some of what I've learned here.

Puree your berries!
Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and black berries are great when macerated. This process basically means softening them in sugar so they can be pureed and then added to ice cream. Cranberries, on the other hand, must be cooked. I tried soaking them in sugar to macerate- this totally did not work. They are also very tart so you will need sugar to sweeten them once cooked down.
Just say no to seeds!

Any fruit, whether macerated or cooked, should be pureed to be smooth. When it comes to cranberries, you will want to run them through a food mill to remove the skins. Trust me, learned that one the hard way too. Then, if you don't like seeds in your ice cream, run it through a sieve. A laborious process, I know, but totally worth it if the only thing you want to be crunching in your ice cream is chocolate chips, and not seeds. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T- Thanksgiving Ice Cream

Rest assured, I'm not actually considering putting turkey, stuffing, and gravy into my ice cream maker. That would be gross. However... what is guaranteed to be on your Thanksgiving table, even if you don't eat it? That's right: Cranberry Sauce.
I'll be honest here. I'm not a big cranberry sauce fan. I like making my own, and actually even enjoy eating it too. But, that's a relatively new development in my life. Either way, this past Thanksgiving, as I was working my way through my cranberry sauce, which happens to include cinnamon and orange zest, I wondered: Can I make ice cream out of this?
The simple answer is yes. So, what I'm calling Thanksgiving Ice Cream is actually a Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Ice Cream. It's creamy, fresh and great to make in the fall and winter when fresh cranberries are readily available. It's not overly sweet and is amazing with hot fudge sauce, and yes, I'm speaking from experience here.

Thanksgiving Ice Cream

Cranberry Puree:
4 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon orange extract or zest of one orange
Place all ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.
Mash berries with a potato masher while still in the warm crock. (yields about 2 cups cranberry puree)
Add 1/3 cup light corn syrup and stir.
Process through a food mill (takes out the skin)
Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar to still warm cranberry puree.

Ice Cream Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups cranberry puree

What's Next:
Place sugar in a large bowl and add milk and vanilla. Stir with a wire whisk until sugar is dissolved.
Add cranberry puree and stir to combine
Add heavy cream and combine well.
Pour into the freezer bowl of an ice cream maker and process for 30 minutes.
Place in smaller containers to freeze until solid.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S- Sports Season Black and Blue

Thankfully, my kids don't actually end up with too many black and blue marks at the end of a sports season. But I do remember having my legs loaded with bruises as a kid, mostly from playing outside, climbing trees, searching for salamanders and hours of kickball in the street.
So when I thought of putting together chocolate ice cream with blueberry butter and the way the two dark colors would look together, this just seemed like a good name for the ice cream. To make this combination, start with a recipe for simple chocolate ice cream and during the last 5 minutes of processing, add in blueberry butter in large spoonfuls, one at a time to create the swirl effect. If you like chocolate covered fruit, this recipe is certainly worth trying!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R- Really Easy Pumpkin Ice Cream

I added chocolate chips to this batch.

I'm a bit of a pumpkin freak in the fall. I puree my own pumpkin and make whatever I can with it. This past fall, I tried Pumpkin Ice Cream because the sticker shock of the versions in the grocery store sent me into a Rage. So, here is a Recipe for Really Easy Pumpkin Ice Cream.

Really Easy Pumpkin Ice Cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2/ cups whole milk
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups pumpkin puree (if you don't make  your own, then make sure you don't use pumpkin pie filling- it's a totally different thing!)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

What's Next:
Combine sugar, spices and milk in a large bowl. Mix with either a wire whisk or electric mixer until sugar dissolves.
Add pumpkin puree and mix.
Add heavy cream and mix until well combined.
Pour into the freezer bowl of your ice cream maker and process for 25-30 minutes until thick.
Pour into smaller containers and freeze for a few hours for firmer consistency.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q- Quite Simple Ice Cream Pies

With summer just around the corner, ice cream season is quickly approaching. If you live in my house, it's always ice cream season, so we're already there. Anyway, summer brings barbeques, outdoor gatherings and days spent poolside watching kids splash around enjoying the weather. This is when the need for easy, cool, summer desserts that can be made ahead of time is prevalent.
The beauty of an ice cream maker is that once the ice cream begins to solidify while churning, it's still very malleable which is great for making ice cream cakes and pies. It can be shaped and then later frozen. These little ice cream pies are perfect for both kids and adults. They are also an easy way to accommodate the need for different flavors for different palates. Add a layer of hot fudge on the bottom or whipped cream on top (or both) and you've got easy, tasty, individual desserts, or one large pie for many to enjoy.

Ice Cream Pies

Premade cookie pie shells (these can be graham, chocolate or shortbread)
Ice cream of any flavor
Whipped Cream and hot fudge sauce

What's Next:
Place warmed hot fudge in the base of your pie shell (this is optional, but does make for a tasty surprise at the bottom)
Place shell in freezer to harden sauce (1-2 hours)
Remove shell from freezer and add ice cream of your choice.
Put back in freezer overnight
Spread whipped cream on top and serve

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P-Peppermint Ice Cream

I grew up with an ice cream store about 2 blocks from my house. It was a dairy farm when my mom was growing up and naturally, ice cream was a by-product. This is the place where I fell in love with Chocolate Chip Mint ice cream and learned the finer points of rainbow sprinkles and hot fudge.
I also learned about Peppermint Stick ice cream. Not the kind that only comes out once a year at Christmas, but the kind you can  have on a hot day in July. I loved the vanilla and crunchy bits of mint.
This year, I bought two sets of candy canes for my Christmas tree- one for decorating and one for, you guessed it, making ice cream. The funny thing is that the traditional red and white candy canes gave me pink Peppermint Ice Cream. The candy canes with a  swirl of chocolate in them (YUM- they are made by Hershey's) gave me a beige colored Peppermint ice cream. They looked completely different but both had that yummy vanilla based ice cream with a hint of mint and little bits of candy cane in them.
Candy canes with a swirl of chocolate

Peppermint Stick Ice Cream

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups whole milk (I’ve used 2% and that’s fine)
3 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup crushed candy canes (about 8 candy canes)*

What’s Next:
Place sugar in a large bowl and add milk.
Mix with a wire whisk until sugar dissolves.
Add vanilla and heavy cream. Whisk again until well combined.
Pour into the freezer bowl of an ice cream maker and turn machine on.
After about 25 minutes, add the candy canes and continue mixing for another 5 minutes.
Place ice cream in a larger container and freeze for at least another 2 hours to make it more solid.

*To crush candy canes, place them in a zippered plastic bag and use the bottom of a heavy drinking glass to crush them into small pieces. This is a great activity for kids!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O- Ode To Simplicity

Simple, yet fancy enough to be served in a martini glass with a flower

After all of the experimenting I've done with ice cream, I have learned a few things that are worth sharing. Ice Cream is a simple dessert (or not, if you're like me and will eat it at any time) that combines milk, cream, sugar and in most cases vanilla to create a tasty cold treat. If any of these posts have inspired you to either whip out the ice cream machine you got as a wedding present but have never used, or to try new flavors with the machine you already have and love, here are a few things to keep in mind for the sake of simplicity:
  • Don't try to combine too many different flavors at once (if there is too much going on in t he mouth, the individual flavors will get lost)
  • Yes, you can have too many chocolate chips (I've done this and while I am typically not one to believe that chocolate should be left out, too much chocolate can take away from whatever your base flavor is)
  • Start with vanilla or chocolate and expand from there. These are the baseline flavors from which any combination of flavors can be created.
  • Some of the most recent flavors I've put together (specifically Lime Vanilla and Mixed Berry Pie) had better flavor after 24 hours in the freezer. So, like a good stew it could be helpful to remember to plan ahead and let your flavors meld before serving.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N- Never Say Never For An Experiment

I really wish white chocolate chips came in a mini size! So much better for ice cream

And I'm talking about ice cream experiments here.
Having fun with flavors or perhaps meeting a challenge is half the fun of having an ice cream machine. The other half is eating the ice cream.
I've had my machine for almost a year and it's been nothing but fun. I have experimented with cinnamon, peppermint, and orange extract, all sorts of chips of different flavors and sizes (white chocolate, chunks, mini chips), and several kinds of fruit options. I've made mistakes along the way but have rarely made anything inedible, except for that time there was an uncontrolled amount of vanilla added to the batch by child number #3 who was helping.
I'm halfway through the challenge, have a freezer with way too much ice cream in it, and am still coming up with new ideas for flavors. I can't say that 26 letters are too few for covering all the possibilities, but all this posting has certainly motivated me to keep trying new experiments with flavors. I just need more letters  time.

Monday, April 15, 2013

M- Mixed Berry Pie Ice Cream

I'm not much of a baker. If brownies/cakes/cupcakes come in a box- I'm good, but homemade complicated pastries generally leave me somewhat confused and feeling inadequate in my kitchen. However, I can hold my own with a pie. I love making fruit pies and having fun with different fillings. A few summers ago, I made a Mixed Berry Pie which consisted of blueberries, black berries, and raspberries all mixed together, and of course a crumb topping. I used my grandmother's pie plate and well, it was so good, I had some for breakfast the next day too.
So, I got to wondering, could I make a Mixed Berry Pie Ice Cream? I really didn't see why not, and now that berries are (almost) in season, I was able to pick and choose my favorites. My favorite part of a pie is the crumb topping, and I was hoping that sugar cookie pieces covered in cinnamon sugar would hold up to freezing and resemble the crumb topping. As far as the crust goes- there was just no go way to put that in ice cream, so I left it out.
As I compile recipes, I'll include the full recipe but, for the sake of simplicity and the fact that this post is already late for M day, this ice cream is a simple combination of Mixed Berry Ice Cream with cinnamon sugar covered pieces of sugar cookie dough. What does it taste like? Pie with ice cream. Yum!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L-Lime Vanilla Ice Cream

It may sound a little strange, but after making the Meyer Lemon and Salted Caramel ice cream, I started thinking about Lime Ice Cream. Lime and vanilla compliment each other and when zesting a lime the smell is so good, I thought it was worth a try.  I was looking to create an ice cream that would appeal to the adult palate and be sweet and refreshing to taste. I think I found it!
Lime zest from a microplane grater

While I do need to think of a more creative name for the ice cream, the name as it currently stands does work for my letter L post in this A to Z fabulousness.

Lime Vanilla Ice Cream (makes 2 cups)

zest from one lime (use a microplane grater- the pieces are finer and will have more flavor)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

What's Next:
Place sugar in a medium sized bowl.
Add milk and vanilla. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Add heavy cream.
Place mixture in the freezer bowl of the ice cream maker.
Process for about 25 minutes. Add lime zest in small handfuls while processing for another 5 minutes.
Place ice cream in small container and freeze until hard.
Note: The longer the ice cream sits in the freezer the more the lime flavoring comes through.

Friday, April 12, 2013

J- Just Plain Vanilla

Oooops. We interrupt our previously posted letter K to bring you letter J- I'd blame Blogger, but I forgot to hit the publish button on this one.

Just Plain Vanilla ice cream should not be ignored! Or so I have decided.

I've spent several letters of the alphabet talking about how you can enhance, change, update, play, and experiment with ice cream flavors and concoctions. Truth- there is much fun to be had with ice cream, but without the basics, we would not have the creativity.

Child number 3 loves Just plain vanilla, so I made some the other day. I licked the spoon when I was done (adults get to have fun with this too!) and while vanilla is not my favorite, there is something special in its simplicity. Smooth and creamy, sweet but not overwhelming, it's a comfort flavor.  Think of the way it can complete a piece of chocolate cake or warm blueberry pie (just ask my Dad), or how it make soda fizz even more creating a creamy sweet drink. Since I can't stop creating new flavors (I've tried), I added some blueberry butter to half of the batch I made for child #3 along with some chocolate chips. The result is a Vanilla Blueberry (or the purple ice cream as my daughter referred to it) which does not have an overwhelming blueberry flavor. I love chocolate and fruit, so I added some chocolate chips  and the result was this:
So, when someone says "I'll have vanilla ice cream" think of it as more than Just Plain Vanilla, I know I will.

K-Keeping The Name Straight

Most traditional ice cream flavors have names with which we are familiar and don't try too much to change. Vanilla, chocolate, Neopolitan, Cookie Dough, you get what I'm saying. The one exception seems to be Mint Chocolate Chip Chocolate Chip Mint ice cream. Since this my  life long absolute and totally favorite flavor I felt it was worth a little investigating. Is it a chicken/egg thing or it is location related similar to the soda/pop thing?  Is it really important to Keep the name straight anyway? I have my preference, but I'm not sure it matters.  I'm curious- which name is most familiar to you?

Either way, we're talking about mint flavored ice cream and chocolate chips. Whether the ice cream is green or not, the flavor is still the same. And, it's still my favorite, so pull up a spoon, grab a bowl, and dig in!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I- Ice Cream Floats

I was introduced to Ice cream floats by my paternal grandmother. She lived in Connecticut and when she visited us she loved to take me and my sister out for lunch to Friendly's. It was at a Friendly's that I had my first  root beer float. Most kids would order a traditional root beer float with vanilla ice cream and root beer. Not me. The only ice cream flavor I ate for the first decade and a half of my life was Chocolate Chip Mint. That was it. So, when I ordered my float, I asked for it with Chocolate Chip Mint ice cream. I don't remember if the waitress looked at me funny or not (plenty of others have since then) but to me, there was nothing wrong with it.  The float arrived and I ate/drank the whole thing with no issue. I still make them and there are those who still think I'm nuts based on my flavor choices.

To that I say, pick the flavors you like and don't be afraid to experiment. Fruit and chocolate are delicious together. Why not try chocolate ice cream with black cherry soda? If you like the orange creamsicle popsicles, try vanilla ice cream with orange soda. Try vanilla with ginger ale. There are so many delicious options and so many specialty sodas out there that you can really have fun with it.

Do you like floats? Have you ever experimented with different flavors?

Tracy's Root Beer Float

2 scoops chocolate chip mint ice cream
1 bottle root beer (cold)

Place ice cream in a tall glass (10-12 ounce)
Pour soda on top. Let foam decrease. Add more soda.
Grab a spoon, and a straw, enjoy.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

H- Holly and Ivy Ice Cream

I realized about halfway through my A to Z thinking and planning that I was going to have to get creative with names of ice creams. Creativity with flavors was easy, but that would care for only about 3-4 letters of the alphabet. This was one of the earliest fun with ice cream names pieces I came up with. Holly and Ivy Ice Cream- representative of the colors of Christmas, but with flavors that one might not expect in such a combination. It's basically green-colored vanilla ice cream with cinnamon red hots and chocolate chip cookie dough. It's other name was going to be Christmas Cookie Ice Cream, but I already had a post for C. Enjoy!

Holly and Ivy Ice Cream

3/4 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon green food coloring (very easy to find large bottles of this aroung St. Patrick's Day)
1 2oz. container cinnamon red hots
1 cup cookie dough cut into small pieces.

What's Next:
Place sugar in large bowl. Add milk.
Stir with a wire whisk or electric hand mixer until sugar is dissolved
Add heavy cream, vanilla and green food coloring. Mix until well combined.
Place mixture in freezer bowl of ice cream maker and process for 25 minutes.
Add red hots and process for 3 minutes. Add cookie dough and process for another 5 minutes.
Place in container and freeze until solid.

Monday, April 8, 2013

G- Good Morning Sunshine

I don't know much about Meyer Lemons beyond what I've seen on soap containers. But, while in Fairway one day I saw Meyer Lemons and picked some up. I had no idea of what to do with them, and sticking one in my Corona just seemed like a waste.

Meyer Lemons have a much smoother skin than their traditional lemon cousins. They are more orange-yellow than a bright yellow and the flavor is more bitter than regular lemons. All of that said, they still seemed like a good food to experiment with for my ice creams. I had just made some salted caramel and felt the tart of lemon with the sweet of caramel would be delicious.
The result: Good Morning Sunshine ice cream. The only way to describe this ice cream is bright and sweet. It's awesome with chocolate sauce! And if you want to start your day with ice cream, I won't tell. :)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

F- Fun With Flavors

One of the things I love the most about making my own ice cream is that I can really have Fun with Flavors. A chef friend told me that anyone can learn how to make anything, once they learn the basics and making ice cream is no exception.

The basics are either vanilla or chocolate as your base flavor. From there, you can add some cinnamon, or peppermint or any extract flavor that comes in a jar. There are so many now available in the grocery store, that it doesn't take a trip to a specialty store.

When it comes to fruit flavors, I've tried using fruit zest as well as crushed or cooked berries. I have not tried straight citrus fruit zest because I'm too afraid of what will happen if I actually mix lemon juice with milk and cream- typically not a pretty sight.

Finally comes the fun part- the sweet stuff. When it comes to food, I typically don't like hard things mixed in with soft. For example, nuts totally ruin brownies for me. But, when it comes to ice cream, chocolate chips are rarely a problem. Start there and then you can add whatever your favorite thing is.
To all of this food fun experimentation, I say, don't be shy and if the experiment doesn't work, just try again.  Most likely, someone will still want to lick the bowl.

Friday, April 5, 2013

E- Easter Egg Hunt

A little vanilla ice cream, a little green food coloring, and one of my favorite Easter candies make for an excellent fun holiday ice cream. What I really liked about making this ice cream was that the Robin's Egg malted milk balls don't freeze and become difficult to eat, and the colors from the outside shells don't run when they are mixed in with the green ice cream.

Easter Egg Hunt Ice Cream

3/4 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon green food coloring

What's Next:
Place sugar in a large bowl.
Add milk and vanilla
Stir with a wire whisk or hand mixer until sugar is dissolved
Add heavy cream and green food coloring
Process in an ice cream maker for 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes, add Robin's Eggs and mix for 5 minutes more.
Place in container and freeze for a couple of hours.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

D- Double Chocolate And More

If it were up to my son, he would climb right into the chocolate ice cream and become one with all that is chocolate in this world. So, for him, I make chocolate, chocolate chip ice cream. The chocolate and the chocolate chips are only the first part. After that, he adds chocolate sauce, because well, there must not have been enough chocolate to start with. So, for all you chocolate lovers out there, here is Chocolate Chocolate Chip.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip

1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

What's Next:
Place white and brown sugar and cocoa powder in a large bowl.
Add milk and vanilla and stir with a whisk or hand mixer until sugars dissolve.
Add heavy cream and mix some more.
Pour into the freezer bowl of an ice cream maker and process for 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes, add chocolate chips and continue to process for 5 more minutes.
Place in a container and freeze until solid.

I was going to swirl in some hot fudge, but I apparently ate most if it and there wasn't enough in the jar to make it worth while, but the fun of chocolate is that you can play with it. Plain chocolate, chocolate with white choolate chips, add a swirl of fudge or flavored fudge or even salted caramel.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C - Cakes, Ice Cream That Is

Oh! The fun you can have with this.
I made this for my dad's 70th birthday with his two favorite flavors: Chocolate and Black Raspberry

I grew up on ice cream cake- it was one of my two most common birthday cake choices- the other was Angel Food cake. For my baby shower, my sister had a special ice cream cake made which included mint chocolate chip ice cream for one layer, and the other was, ummm, well it really doesn't matter because I don't think I ate that half.

One of the best things about having your own ice cream maker is that you can make whatever flavor of ice cream you want, grab some crunchies, a little cool whip and BOOM! ice cream cake.

Making the ice cream is one thing- fairly easy once you master the basics. Creating the cake takes a little planning, but that really only has to do with making sure you have the right tools. There are three things you need in addition to ice cream:
A spring form pan
Chocolate crunchies
Cool whip

Another thing you need is time. Unless you have two coolers, you need to make one flavor and create the first layer. Let it harden in the springform pan and freeze some more. Then add the crunchies. Then make and add the second layer. With 24 hours needed to fully freeze the bucket insert, planning ahead is very important.
So, have fun with flavors and free thyself from the doldrums of the vanilla and chocolate ice cream cakes.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

B - The Beauty of Ice Cream

Today's post is brought to you by... my camera.

I learned a few years ago that creating recipes was much easier than photographing them. But, like just about anything else in life, with a little patience, a lot of practice, and many more mistakes, we can improve. So, in honor of my camera, and the Beauty of ice cream, here is my post for the letter B:

Black Raspberry Ice Cream.

Isn't that pretty? Same ice cream. Different bowls. Different lighting. Lots of chocolate sauce and made with fresh blackberries.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A - Applesauce Ice Cream

Go ahead and unscrunch your face. There, doesn't that feel better? And doesn't that look delish?!

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge for 2013! Thanks for stopping by and I hope you will continue to do so as I unveil and work my way through an alphabet of ice cream. Yes, I'm attempting to write 26 posts about ice cream including different flavors, perhaps some questions, and definitely a few recipes. On to the letter A and Applesauce Ice Cream.

Applesauce ice cream is actually very tasty. There was such an abundance of apples this past fall I made a ton of applesauce, which I preserved, and has carried us through the dark cold winter days. At one point though, I had so much applesauce in my refrigerator, and not enough jars that I really had to get creative. Hence- the ice cream.

In the spirit of keeping this post relatively short (so you all can hop around to other blogs) here is a photo and the recipe.
Welcome to the A to Z!

Applesauce Ice Cream

1 cup of whole milk
2/3 cup of sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup of homemade applesauce

What's Next:
Place sugar in a large bowl.
Add milk and stir with a wire whisk or electric hand mixer until sugar dissolves.
Add vanilla and heavy cream. Stir until well combined
Add applesauce and mix together well.
Process in the freezer bowl of an ice cream maker for 25 minutes and then place in container in freezer to harden.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A to Z Big Reveal

Mina Lobo over at Some Dark Romantic and David Macaulay over at Brits in the USA are hosting the Big Reveal today to prep for the A to Z April Blogging challenge. I'll keep this simple and sweet and use a little eye candy so everyone can keep moving on. 

I'll be spending the A to Z challenge talking all about Ice Cream!

There will be pictures, recipes, the occasional story and of course, the lessons I've learned on this dairy infused delightful journey. If you're not a fan of ice cream, I won't take it personally, but you can at least enjoy the pictures.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Texting For Dinner

Doesn't that just look delish for dinner?
I almost did something the other night that at some point I'm sure I swore I would never do.

I almost texted my daughter to tell her dinner was ready. This might not seem to be a big deal but bear with me a minute.

Growing up, I was often asked to tell my sister when dinner was ready, at which point I would yell from the first floor to the second floor and tell her dinner was ready. Shortly after my yelling, my mother would inform me that she could have done the same and I would immediately proceed upstairs to personally tell my sister that dinner was ready.

On this particular night, dinner was ready and I called upstairs to tell my daughter, having a proper flashback at the very same moment. No answer. I called again. No answer. I really didn't feel like going upstairs. So I grabbed my phone figuring I would text the dinner message. Then I stopped.

Texting, while efficient, gives me one less interaction, one less opportunity to speak person to person with my daughter. In a time of what often feels like a bazillion daily interactions with my kids, one fewer might seem like a "break." But it isn't.  If she doesn't see me now popping in to her room to give her a message, then she'll expect not to see me regularly. My goal is that in the long run, and especially as she goes from being a Tween to a Teen, a personal message from Mom brings comfort and trust rather than annoyance.  A text may be faster, but even my subconscious knows that it isn't the same.

Have you ever texted a child to announce dinner is ready? Would you?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day- Spread the Love and Kindness

Valentine's Day already?! I guess so. This is what happens when time moves too quickly and there never seems to be enough hours in a day.

January flew by and with my added challenges of writing every day for thirty one minutes, doing my best to carry out acts of kindness, and actually taking making the time to read books about how to write, I am convinced that I would benefit from cloning myself. Since I have yet to figure out how to do that, I had to make some concessions.

I was unable to complete more than 7 Acts of Kindness in January. In my daily running around (I'm beginning to have a love/hate relationship with my ability to drive) I found that even while I looked for opportunities to hold a door for someone, or help with a heavy grocery bag, the opportunities didn't seem to present themselves. I did bring our crossing guard hot chocolate with marshmallows on a particularly cold and windy day and several times carried my neighbor's garbage cans up the driveway, but that was it. I'll keep looking for more opportunites to be kind to others, I just wasn't able to get to all 26 by January 30th.

I did do a lot of writing in January, but honestly timing myself for 31 minutes at a clip and not taking weekend time off was a bit much. What I did learn though was the value of focusing (even if for just a little bit) each day on some aspect of writing. I wrote a few posts for the upcoming AtoZ  Blogging Challenge, worked on an outline and plot for a MG novel I've started (this is signifigant as I'm a total pantser), and editied some already complete works. I took some liberties with the 31 Minutes challenge and included reading. Not reading for the fun of it, or the escape from reality, but I actually started (and am halfway through) Stephen King's On Writing, A memoir of the craft. The man is amazing and I love putting what I've learned so far into practice. Silly me, I thought it wouldn't be as good as his fiction.

So, it's now Valentie's Day, a day I try to make special for my kids, as my mother did for me and my sister for years. Cinnamon rolls for breakfast, treats and small toys (one for each child) as a morning surprise, and a roast beef family dinner. Time will continue to move on. I'll keep writing when I can, and continue with my own Acts of Kindness. And in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I'll encourage my kids to spread kindness to others and share their stories with the families in Newtown, CT in honor of Charlotte Bacon Acts of Kindness Award.

Happy Valentine's Day! Love yourself and those around you.