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Chocolate Mint Cupcakes

Yesterday, Chicky and went to the bookstore where I picked up this book…

The book has a lot of helpful information, including the why’s of using certain ingredients, the how-to-fix-boo-boos tips and tricks, and lots of other helpful suggestions.

I couldn’t wait to begin!

Now, you do know that I do not cook very often.  In fact, I avoid it like the plague; however, I’ve gotten tired of not getting dessert.  Chicky has been cooking quite a bit and indulging her sweet tooth…making delicious yummies for the guys.  I decided to take matters into my own hands!

For my first recipe, I went all out and made Chocolate Mint Cupcakes.  Chicky and I visited the grocery store and picked up a few items…

I began by making the basic chocolate cupcakes that are found near the front of the book.  We didn’t have toothpicks, so we used a fork to test for doneness.

While these cooled, I made the mint icing.  It turned out too thin, but I think that I can fix this by adding less milk next time.  You’ll see, in the picture below, that the icing ran all over the tops of the cupcakes.  No worries.  I’ll work on presentation later.

😀

The final step in this recipe was making the chocolate ganache.

Oh word, but I’d heard this word before on The Food Network, but I’d never actually eaten it, not to mention cooked it.

It was soooo easy…just soy milk and chocolate chips!  Seriously!

I put a dollop of ganache on the top of each mint-iced cupcake.

Then, it was time to try one.

Have you ever watched Cupcake Wars?  I have.  Plenty of times.  Which is how I learned about vegan cupcakes.

I felt a little like Florian as I sniffed my cupcake before carefully peeling the liner off.

I did not, however, eat the cupcake with a fork.

I am a redneck; hence, I am not quite that refined.

I did notice that the texture looked good.

And then the first bite.

Oh.

My.

Golly.

It was everything I’d hoped for and then some.

I had worried about the cupcakes being completely cooked.  Chicky had assured me, in her all-cooking-know-how-way that they would continue to cook a bit in the muffin pan.

It was cooked perfectly!

And the taste?

I’d also worried about the mint being too overpowering; however, it was perfectly balanced with the taste of the chocolate.

The ganache on top made for that extra umph that my mouth had been craving for so long.

Lord have mercy!

I do not think that anyone would be able to distinguish these cupcakes from non-vegan ones.

Who says you need eggs and regular milk?

Being vegan doesn’t mean you have to be deprived from tasty food…even if you do have to make it yourself sometimes.

Lessons from Seabiscuit

A few days ago, I watched the movie Seabiscuit for the first time.

Have you seen it?

Oh word, but someone should have warned me that it is a three hanky movie!

What an emotional roller coaster!

As I watched…and cried… I could not help but see life lessons in so many parts of the movie.

If you are one of the three people on earth not to have seen the movie, let me first explain that it is about a horse, much smaller than other thoroughbreds of his time, that was basically written off because he was small in stature, stubborn, and not considered competitive enough to excel to the degree that was expected at that time.

Through the love and dedication of a new owner, trainer, and jockey, Seabiscuit defied the odds and wound up being one of the greatest racehorses of his day.

Here are some of the life lessons that worked their way into my heart…many lessons that can be applied to my teaching as well.

  • Never count a person out, despite external appearances.  Despite being small in stature, Seabiscuit beat War Admiral, a horse much larger than him who had also won more prestigious titles, including the Triple Crown.  The desire to win is what brought Seabiscuit to the finish line first.  It was all about his heart, not his physical prowess.  “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” while trite, certainly is true when it comes to how we perceive people and the expectations we have for them.
  • When facing challenges, we do much better when we face them head-on…eye-to-eye.  Seabiscuit won when he was able to make eye contact with his competition.  These face offs, so to speak, stirred up the desire to beat that which sought to beat him.  How can we ever overcome what assails us if we avoid it…stay back in the pack and accept our situations as being what they are?
  • Don’t be discouraged if you’re running in the back of the pack.  Never give up.  Don’t think that those running the race out in front have it any better than those in the back.  If you’ve ever watched a horse race, you know that most times, the horse in the lead from the get-go does not win in the end.  Pacing yourself, making steady progress…that’s where success comes from.  So many of my students get upset when they don’t master something completely.  Boy, how I know this feeling!  I try to point out areas where they made improvement.  The final result will not always be a out-and-out win, per se; however, if progress has been made, that particular race can be claimed as a victory!
  • Sincerity in a person is innate; people who are hurting naturally respond to those they perceive as sincere.  The movie depicted a scene where Seabiscuit nipped Red Pollard, the young man who would become his jockey, the first time they met.  I did a bit of research (I am nerdy this way) and learned that Pollard actually offered Seabiscuit a cube of sugar; whereupon, the horse nudged him in the shoulder, which was a sign of affection.  The horse had not responded to others in this way.  The trainer, Tom Smith, observed this and immediately paired the two together.
  • A gentle touch can change a life.  Red Pollard was an experienced jockey who was known for not using the whip when he rode.  His gentleness was just what Seabiscuit needed to build his trust.  As a teacher, I need to remember that the children who walk into my classroom have been battered by life.  Many have had people give up on them, as their behavior records show.  Many have had people walk out on them, as evidenced by the number of absent parents, both mothers and fathers (I have seen both situations).  The students who walk into my room expect to encounter a teacher who is harsh with the discipline because that’s what they’ve always had.  They are shocked when the find the opposite to be true.  Sure, I handle business.  And yes, I run a tight ship.  However, treating students gently and with respect is a novel thing, and they THRIVE in it, achieving success in ways they never expected.  However, I am not perfect, and I do come unglued at times.  I need to remember the lesson of Red Pollard and how he treated Seabiscuit.
  • Brokenness responds to brokenness.  I think one of the most touching scenes in the movie was when Red walked up to Seabiscuit.  Both of them had experienced career ending injuries.  Both were battered and sporting casts.  In that moment, when they met face to face after being apart for some time, I believe they sensed their deep need for each other.  They could comfort one another in a way that nobody else could.  Being together made them stronger because they cared so much for each other.  My students come to me as broken young men and women.  I, too, am broken in so many ways.  Working together, we build on our strengths.  Though I am the adult, working with them makes me stronger and goes a long way toward healing the hurts I’ve carried for a long time.  My consistent nurturing and yes, accountability, teaches them that someone cares.  They know I’m there for them…helping them get stronger.  It’s a win-win for everyone.
  • Trust is obtained through the heart and not from what is seen.  I love the scene where Red and Seabiscuit run the track in the dark.  Red is petrified.  I’m not sure if he fully trusted the horse at this point in time; however, by leaning into him and giving in to the power of the magnificent horse below him, he learned to blindly trust.  Our insecurities often lead us to fear and causes us to put up walls that prevent us from taking relationships beyond the superficial.  Only by giving in and falling into the rhythm of another person, trusting that person not to stomp all over us, can we take the relationship to a deeper, more satisfying level.  This doesn’t mean we’ll never get hurt; however, how much do we miss out on if we never attempt to let go?

Oh, the lessons go on and on.  The brokenness in this movie abounds.  Watching the new owner, Charles Howard, heal from the tragic loss of his young son through his relationship with Red was an underlying storyline.  Howard invested so much time and patience, and in the process, Red grew into a man who was able to shake off the chip on his shoulder and the anger that accompanied it.

The trainer, Tom Smith, was a recluse who had an innate knowledge of horses and people.  He appears to have been quite humble.  My research revealed that he rarely spoke.  I wonder if this was from a sense of humility.  I believe he, too, was a broken man.

Probably the biggest lesson from this story is simply to never give up on each other.  There is so much in this life that knocks us down.  While it may seem that some people lead charmed lives, everyone has had his/her heart broken in some way…faith in God and humanity challenged.  However, we need each other.  If we were meant to live solitary lives, God would have put us on our own planets by ourselves.

He didn’t.

Thus, our jobs are to pull each other up, encourage one another, treat each other gently, and nurture each other toward the potential that each and every person possesses.

I doubt that I will ever forget this story because of the raw emotions it triggered deep within my soul.

Blow Your Mind Tomato Basil Pasta

I saw the following recipe posted by a friend on Facebook and knew I had to give it a try.

It is completely vegan-friendly and super easy for non-cooks like myself.

The recipe turned out DELICIOUS!!!  Things I would change:

  • Add two cans of petite diced tomatoes with extra seasonings like chilis or something else (all I had was the plain kind)
  • Only add a dash of red pepper flakes.  I went too heavy because I like spicy food.  Oops.
  • Make sure I stir frequently to prevent the pasta from clumping together.

Here’s the recipe (copied and pasted from http://comfortspringstation.tumblr.com/post/53664534559/blow-your-mind-tomato-basil-pasta-no) but originally from TexasOnlineCookbooks.com:

Blow your MIND” Tomato Basil Pasta! – No Straining, just Stirring
Throw it all in the pot, INCLUDING the uncooked Pasta, and cook! – Bring it to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. The starch leaches out of the pasta and makes a rich, warm sauce for the noodles. The other ingredients cook right along with the pasta

Ingredients:
12 ounces pasta (Shown  Linguine)
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes with liquid ( I used zesty red pepper flavor)
1 large sweet onion, cut in julienne strips
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
2 large sprigs basil, chopped
4 1/2 cups vegetable broth (regular broth and NOT low sodium)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
Place pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, in a large stock pot. Pour in vegetable broth. Sprinkle on top the pepper flakes and oregano. Drizzle top with oil.
Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and keep covered and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes or so. Cook until almost all liquid has evaporated – I left about an inch of liquid in the bottom of the pot – but you can reduce as desired.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, stirring pasta several times to distribute the liquid in the bottom of the pot.

Feeling Lazy

Don’t be a hater.

Some days I just don’t feel like doing much…

The dogs like it when I have lazy days…

Even when they do wake up, they imitate my example and lay around staring out the windows…

Yes, it’s a tough life…this summer vacation thing…but I think that I earned it.  The dogs appreciate my career choice as well as my decision to truly relax this summer.

Wednesday Hodgepodge – Tea Anyone?

It’s the first summery Hodgepodge of 2013!  Woo hoo!  Welcome back, Joyce!  I trust you had a productive week!  Play along by posting answers on your own blog and linking up with Joyce!  Thanks for visiting!

1.  Summertime is a season of reunions, weddings, and other family celebrations and gatherings…are any of the above on your calendar in the next two months?

Thankfully, no.  This summer has been one of relaxation and complete down time.  I find it most pleasant to be home, simply taking one day at a time without any sort of commitments on the calendar.

2.  June is National Iced Tea Month…are you an iced tea drinker? If so, how do you like yours (sweet, flavored, etc)?

I do like sweet iced tea, but I don’t allow myself to drink it because I get addicted very easily.  The best iced tea is served up at McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A.

3.  When were you last nervous?  Looking back, was the ‘event’ actually nerve-worthy?

The last time I was really nervous was the Tuesday before school got out.  There was a situation at work that pretty much exploded quite rapidly.  Yes, it was very nerve-worthy.  Thankfully, I had friends and coworkers to lean on, and I did get through it.

4.  The bristle toothbrush was invented in China on June 26, 1498...not sure how that date was pinned down so precisely but, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being sick to your stomach and 1 being not at all, how nervous do you feel when you’re headed to the dentist?  Do you see your dentist twice a year?

I think I’d rate myself as an 8.  This fear stems from my mother insisting that we not come out of the dentist’s chair with any cavities.  I managed to go cavity-free until I was sixteen or seventeen.  She was irate and made me drive myself to get my fillings done.  I’ve carried this unhealthy fear into adulthood.  In fact, I dislike going to the dentist so much that I didn’t go…for several years.  I finally started going back a year or so ago.  Good thing too because I needed oral surgery for a receding gum line.  I changed dentists six months ago, and his staff puts me at ease.  My dental plan allows for two visits a year, so that’s when I go!  In fact, I’m set to go on July 3rd!

5.  What’s making news in your town this week?

I live in Podunk, USA, so really, it’s just local stuff, such as FCAT scores, school board stuff, and local crime.  Of special note was one of our main news anchors returned to TV after about a month off.  We were all greatly concerned.  He’s being treated for colon cancer, which was caught early enough to warrant a very optimistic prognosis.

6.  Curtains, drapes, blinds…your window treatment of choice? Are there any bare windows in your house? Is that by choice or because you haven’t gotten around to covering them?

We have blinds in every window except for our French doors.  I’d like to get sheer curtains for these, but the gal who did our blinds several years ago never returned an estimate for the curtains.  She was not very professional the second time I called her, so I’ve just let this task go.

7.  Summertime is officially here (in the Northern hemisphere anyway)…what one song is a must-have on your summer playlist?

Anything by the Beach Boys should be on a summer playlist!  I really like Surfin’ USA though!

8.  My Random Thought

My sweet Gambit is going in for neutering surgery today.  It needs to be done, but I can’t help but be nervous.  I’ve already purchased a cone of shame to prevent him from pulling out the stitches, and pain meds are in the cabinet.  We are set to go!

The Kill Order – Book Review

In Sunday’s wee hours of the morning, I finally finished reading The Kill Order by James Dashner.

It is billed as the prequel to the series; it was published after the other three books.  Thus, I read it last.

If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know that I have not enjoyed Dashner’s other books in this Maze Runner series.  The concept was actually quite good; however, it was not executed well, in my opinion.

Sure, there were characters that I actually liked, but they were far and few between.

In this final installment, readers learn what led to the maze being created in the first place.

I actually enjoyed this book most out of all four.  The dialogue was not as juvenile.  This could be due to one of the main characters being an older teen.

I liked the characters in this book as well and rooted for them to survive.

However, I still had trouble getting through this book simply because I had nothing pulling me back to it, unlike the scores of other Young Adult fiction books I’ve read over the last two years.

The fighting scenes in this book dragged on forever.  Perhaps young men reading these scenes will appreciate them, given the virtual reality games they like to play.

I am a female, which sounds stereotypical, but I just didn’t enjoy them.

The positives that I can say about this series is that I think it does appeal to young men who crave action when they read.  The text is not high complexity, and the chapters are short, which makes the books perfect for struggling readers who cannot seem to get past two or three pages in one sitting.

With all of that said, I am glad to have finally closed the back cover of this series.

I’m already nearly finished with a book a began immediately afterward.  I’ll be back with another review shortly!

All is Fair When You’re Playing Spoons

Yesterday evening, my family went to another family’s house for dinner and card games.

To be more specific, we were going to be playing Spoons

The link above explains how to play.

Before dinner, Chicky and her friend, D, explained the “official” rules and even played a practice round with me.  I don’t do abstract, you know, and have to see things to understand them.

As we gathered around the table after we had eaten, D’s mom and dad began to explain the “unofficial” rules.

Because the point of the game is to wind up with a spoon, players are allowed to use any means to acquire said spoons.

By “any” I do mean any.

In fact, the previous evening, Chicky had spent the night at this home, and they had played Spoons for several hours.  D’s father showed me where Chicky had stabbed him in the hand with her fingernail during a fight over a spoon.

What can I say?  I’ve taught my children to give everything their all.

😀

The game moves very quickly, and being sneaky is both allowed and actually expected.

Fake moves toward a spoon are allowed (you can pretend you’ve got four of a kind and reach for a spoon to lure others to the pile).  If the first person to grab a spoon doesn’t actually have four of a kind, he/she gets a point, which is not a good thing.

I’ll get to that in a second.

Something else that is allowed is the crawling over or under furniture and people to acquire a spoon.

Oh, and don’t think that you should show mercy to your elders.  Age means nothing when you play this game.

You are basically allowed to do anything to get a spoon, short of actually murdering another person, thus choke holds are allowed as long as you release your grip before the other player loses consciousness.

As I said, the “unofficial” rules remained abstract concepts until we actually started playing.

The first couple of rounds were tame, by all accounts, but it did not take long for things to heat up.

I played nice.

I really did…

Until a plot developed to make me get a point.

After all, I’m pretty good at multitasking.  I am, after all, a teacher…used to managing 25 youngsters at once.

However, D used an arm-sweeping tactic to throw all of the spoons off of the table when she laid down her four of a kind.

A mad scramble ensued, and I’m not ashamed to say that I crawled over Rooster, who was sitting beside me, to make a grab for a spoon.

My efforts were in vain.

Dang.

A few rounds later, I actually knocked my chair over and crawled under Rooster’s chair to get to a spoon.

I got what I wanted.

Now, this family created a rule that once a player gets five points (loses five rounds), that player has to perform a dare decided upon by the rest of the group.

D’s mom was the first to reach five.

We walked her outside, where it was quite dark, and watched as she stood in the middle of the neighborhood street meowing at full volume for ten solid seconds.

It was pitiful.

I definitely did not want to reach five.

However…I am AuburnChick, and my life is, sad to say, the perfect example of Murphy’s Law.

Oh yes.

I did, in fact, reach five.

My punishment?

I had to do the Stanky Legg…in the middle of their entrance way…with all of the lights on and D and Chicky filming me.

I had to do the entire Stanky Leg.

Here’s a video of what the dance is supposed to look like…

For the record, the above video is for the clean version.

I dirtied mine up a bit once I got into it.

😀

I’m sorry.  I do teach high school.

heehee

Oh, and I must tell you that this couple who so kindly opened their home…yeah…they go to church with us.

😀

It was all in good fun, and it was a great evening.

I will admit that I am a bit nervous because Chicky refuses to delete the video from her phone.  She has assured me that she will not upload it; however, I see blackmail on the horizon.

She is, after all, a smart girl.

I wouldn’t raise anything but.

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