No More Coffee

I have eliminated coffee from my diet.  It’s a dark time in my life.  Mostly because I can’t keep my eyelids open.

I’m thinking of substituting green tea so I will have something hot and caffeinated to drink in the morning even though I don’t really like tea, even sweet iced tea (gasp), the drink of the South.

I’ll report back on my java-less journey in the near future.

On the bright side, the sun finally came out this weekend after a week of cold, raw gloom and doom.

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I took this picture in the fall, but the weather was much like this today and yesterday.  Not a cloud in the sky and warm enough to go out without a coat.

This little fur coat here spends the majority of his days as pictured.  He does not, however, empathize with my coffee-less existence and therefore does not understand why I don’t want to get up at 6:30AM to feed him, no matter how loudly and pitifully he meows or how many times he punches me in the face.

It’s been a rude adjustment, but I think it’s for the best (yawn).

Y’all hold ‘er in the road,

Sugarlump

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What Next?

This weekend, it was over 70 degrees on Saturday and part of Sunday.  A cold front moved in and by Sunday afternoon we were under a tornado warning as it stormed violently.  Yesterday, it was sort of snowing/sleeting with a winter weather advisory in effect.  Today, we are under an ice storm warning.  It wouldn’t surprise me if tomorrow brought a heat advisory or pollen alert.  Hang tight.

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It started to get icy in the afternoon.  Schools closed early.  I had the day off and have spent most of it under several blankets on the sofa, catching up on months’ worth of the food network.   It was the laziest I’ve been in a while and it was great.

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The cats are so confused that they have been snuggling with each other in the same cat bed even though there is one for each of them, SIDE BY SIDE.  I’m not sure Gus is as pleased with situation as Scarlett is.

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Oops, she heard me.  Not pleased with my commentary.

I think I’ll go out for a Mexican dinner to spice things up a little bit.  I lived in the Northeast nearly my whole life, so I’m not afraid of venturing out in the wintery weather.  (I apologize to my grandmothers if you’re reading this. I promise I’ll be careful.)

Stay tuned for the next spell of bizarre weather.  Get your bikinis ready.

Y’all be careful,

Sugarlump

Tackling Tiramisu

There are very few non-chocolate desserts that I will give the time of day.  My absolute favorite non-chocolate dessert is butterscotch brownies, which continue to baffle me with their non-chocolaty deliciousness.  There are some things that cannot be rationally explained and I believe this is one of them.  Next on my list of acceptable non-chocolate desserts is tiramisu, but only a handful that I have tasted in my life are up to snuff.  One absolute deal-breaker is any trace of almond.  In my opinion, it does not belong in tiramisu.

I tried to make tiramisu once before in my life.  It was not a success.  I went a little overboard on the coffee and put in about twice what the recipe called for because those lady fingers just didn’t look saturated enough as I was assembling the dessert.  The next day, my tiramisu was sitting in a puddle.  The taste wasn’t bad, but I definitely had a texture issue to work out.  Unfortunately, I had volunteered to make this dessert because my mom’s boss and his family were coming over for dinner.  They were sports and cleaned their plates.   It was on that fateful day that I learned firsthand the valuable lesson that one should never prepare an unfamiliar dish for the first time when company is coming over, particularly company you would like to remain in good standing with.  Instead, I would highly recommend preparing something that you have perfected.

My mother did not get fired in case you were wondering.

Since my tiramisu had knocked me down instead of picking me up, it was a while before I was emotionally ready to tackle it again.  My neighbor Anna is Italian and a wonderful cook and baker, so I decided it was safe to try to make tiramisu again with her.

I only allowed myself to measure the dry ingredients and did not deviate from the recipe in the slightest.

For the most part.

When Anna and I were discussing the ingredients for the dessert, I offered to pick up the lady fingers.  She informed me that that would not be necessary as we would be making the cake portion ourselves because it would be a better texture and flavor.  Boy was she right on about that.

This recipe is a long one, but it’s not difficult.  It originates from Southern Living magazine, circa 1988. Heregoes:

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a half-sheet pan with wax paper and then butter and flour the wax paper so the cake does not stick.

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Separate 4 eggs and let them come to room temperature.

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Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and let it cool.

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Brew some potent coffee and put 1 cup of it aside to cool. (I would recommend drinking the rest of it if you’re sleepy because this is going to take a while.)  Add ¼ cup of sugar and a miniature of Kahlua to the coffee.

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Sift together 1 cup of all-purpose flour, ¼ teaspoon of baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon of salt.

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In another bowl, beat together the egg yolks and ¾ cup of sugar until light and thick.  This will take about 5 minutes so I would recommend stretching beforehand if using a handheld mixer.

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It will look something like this when it’s ready.

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Then pour in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of water, and 1 teaspoon of ‘niller extract.

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I love vanilla extract.

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I also really like this nifty little gadget that allows one to dust cocoa powder on things.

Sorry, I got sidetracked by the idea of something chocolate.

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In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites on low speed until they are frothy and then add in ¼ cup of sugar.  Increase the speed of the mixer to medium and beat the egg whites until they are stiff but don’t overbeat.

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Add half of the egg white mixture and half of the flour mixture to the egg yolk mixture.  Fold the mixtures together until combined.  Repeat with the remaining half of the mixtures.

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Pour the batter onto the sheet pan.

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Spread the batter evenly across the sheet pan using a spatula.

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Then pop it in the oven for 15 or 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and the center springs back.

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Let it cool for a few minutes in the pan and then turn it out onto wax paper and let it cool completely.

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Carefully remove the wax paper from the bottom of the cake as that is not a texture you want in your tiramisu.

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Then, cut off the edges of the sponge cake so no one has to experience a crunchy/stiff bite of tiramisu. Remember, it’s all about texture.

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For the filling, beat 1 cup of heavy cream until it forms peaks.

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Then beat together ½ cup sugar and 1 pound of mascarpone cheese.

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Fold together the mascarpone mixture and the heavy cream.  If you’re feeling rebellious, add a few drops of vanilla extract into the mixture.  In my experience, a little extra vanilla extract never hurt anything.

It was Anna’s idea.

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Next, cut the cake in half and place one half on a serving dish.

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Brush half of the coffee mixture onto the cake using a pastry brush.

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It should look something like this.

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Dust the cake generously with cocoa powder.

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Then sprinkle on some chocolate shavings.

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Spread half of the filling mixture over the first layer of cake.

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Easier said than done. Don’t be alarmed if some of the chocolate shavings get mixed in.  No one will ever know and it will still taste good.

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Repeat this process with the second layer of cake and filling.

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Coffee mixture…

Cocoa powder and chocolate shavings.

Filling…

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Some more cocoa powder…

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Smooth the sides with a knife.

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Decorate the top with dark and white chocolate shavings.

Then let the cake sit overnight in the refrigerator and enjoy the next day (preferably not with your mom’s boss unless this is at least the second time you’re making this recipe).

Here are the recipe cards:

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(We deviated from the recipe a little bit by adding Kahlua instead of sherry or Marsala.  Don’t tell anyone.)

Y’all hurry back,

Sugarlump

How do they know?

It amazes me how animals can sense when we need their comfort.  The other morning, I awoke from a very vivid dream feeling disoriented and sad.  I must have jumped slightly as I came into consciousness because my cat Gus, who was nestled up against my arm, with his head on my shoulder, wrapped his little paw around my arm as if to tell me it was going to be OK.

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I want to know how they know.

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Because they clearly know when their humans need a little comforting.

And they’re happy to oblige.

Sometimes I take for granted just how precious they are…

…and then I discovered that a little furry someone left me a couple of tootsie rolls on the bath mat instead of in the litter box.

Nothing is perfect, but these little muffins come pretty darn close.

Y’all come back,

Sugarlump

Summer in January

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The weather has been quite strange here in Nashville the past few days.  We’ve had a lot of rain and temperatures hovering around 70 degrees.  I’ve had my porch door open all today and yesterday.  Just the week prior, I put a second duvet on my bed because it was so cold.  Last night, I couldn’t even look at the duvet without breaking a sweat.  I have no idea what is going on.

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It rained off and on yesterday, leaving behind some interesting clouds as the sun set.  If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought it was July.

I think this is one of my favorite sunset pictures I have taken so far.

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Every 5 minutes, the sky looked completely different.

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This is the most color I’ve seen in the sunset in months.  I also work in a windowless office and it is pitch black by the time I leave work at 6:00 so it could very well be that I’ve missed a lot of beautiful sunsets this winter.

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I couldn’t get enough of this sunset.  I hadn’t realized that I’d been in such sunset withdrawl.

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Check out those hot pink clouds!  They look like cotton candy in the sky, which reminds me of the fair, which reminds me of summer.  I can’t wait for summer.

Y’all hurry back,

Sugarlump

Shooting Range

I’m really getting into this recreational shooting thing.  The other day, I went to an indoor shooting range where we shot 9mm handguns.  The guy told me which particular type of gun I was shooting, but I promptly forgot because I don’t know anything about guns except that they are fun to shoot (safely).

I did, however, remember what I learned in class before we went out to the range:

1) Always keep the gun pointed towards the target in the range (and away from living beings).

2) Don’t load the gun until you’re ready to shoot.

3) Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

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Once we got out into the range, we had to select a target.  We had our choice of pink or blue.  Naturally, I chose hot pink to make up for my tomboy years in middle school when I shopped exclusively in the boys’ department at the GAP and refused to acknowledge that pink existed.  The man running the place said the pink was actually easier to see.  I think he just wanted to see a bunch of guys shooting at hot pink targets.

I had never shot a handgun before so I needed a lot of prep on what the heck I was doing.  I finally got the gist of it but the gun kept jamming because I didn’t keep a firm enough grip on it after I pulled the trigger.  Towards the end, I had a death grip on that gun.  I was holding it so tight that my ring made a serious impression in my finger.

The hardest part was not wobbling with my breath.  Thank goodness I wasn’t hopped up on caffeine or I would have had no hope for hitting the target.

Turns out, I hit the target pretty well for a newbie.  I never got the X, but I got pretty darn close 49 times.

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I was so proud that I hung my target on the refrigerator.  Even grown-ups can display their accomplishments on the fridge.  I can’t wait to see the look on the cable guy’s face tomorrow when he comes to fix my cable (that has been broken since NEW YEAR’s EVE!).

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I was pretty pleased with myself.

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A few more rounds and I would have blown this guy’s (girl’s?) heart to smithereens.

I’m glad I tried the handgun indoors thing, but I think I prefer rifles.  I like being outside and having more distant targets.   Too bad I live in an apartment complex with 0 yard.   I need to make a trip back to Kentucky to go shoot on the farm.

Now, on to my next task with the slightly more difficult moving target: skeet shooting.

Y’all be careful,

Sugarlump

Lemon Hummus

I like lemon hummus.   My mom got me hooked on it years back.  No other hummus seems to measure up to the fresh, savory taste of lemon hummus.  Trust me, I’ve tried them all.  Since moving to the South, I have been unable to find lemon hummus available for purchase.   Not that I’ve been able to find it unavailable for purchase.  I haven’t been able to find it at all.

So I got the bright idea to make my own lemon hummus.  I looked up several recipes for a basic hummus and realized that I would need to get myself some tahini paste, which all recipes assured me was available at any grocery store these days.  I headed out to Kroger on my lunch break and placed my bet on the international food isle.  No tahini paste to be found among the other 439 pastes/sauces, some of which were made from a) things I had never heard of and/or b) things I would not like a paste/sauce made out of.  But that’s another discussion for another time/never.

I must have looked perplexed because a nice man who worked at Kroger came over to see if he could help me.  I asked him for tahini paste.  He thought about it for a minute and then remembered that another lady had been in earlier that day looking for the same thing.  He motioned for me to follow him to the organic food isle, where he presented me two tahini paste options, which I had no way of discerning a difference in as they were the same size and price.  I thanked him, picked up the jar that had cuter packaging and walked to the register.

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The cashier scanned the jar and said, “That will be $9.67,” and held up the jar in disbelief.  Tahini paste will set you back a pretty penny, let me tell you.  I said to him, “Yeah that stuff isn’t cheap.  I guess it’s so high because it’s organic.”  He said, “Did you want the organic specifically? Because there are two or three other options in isle 2 and isle 5.”  Now you tell me.  I decided that if I were making my own hummus, which is about as granola crunchy as I get, it might as well be organic.  So I sucked it up and spent a month’s pay on that silly tahini paste.  Feeling a little too natural, I went straight to Chick-fil-a for a 6 count nugget kids’ meal.  It really hit the spot.

After work, I came home and turned on the Alabama -Notre Dame game.  What a nailbiter. About 10 minutes into the game, I determined it was probably safe for me to go get started on my hummus.  I pulled out my food processer, which weighs more than a small child and has more attachments than I can find space for in my cabinets.

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Here’s what you will need for the hummus:

·         1 can Chickpeas, drained and rinsed

·         2-3 cloves Garlic, chopped

·         1 lemon, zested and juiced

·         2 tbsp. Tahini paste

·         Salt to taste

·         ½ tbsp. Olive oil

·         1-2 tbsp. water

·         You might add a pinch of cayenne pepper to give it a little kick.  I haven’t verified yet whether or not that’s a good move.

Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas.  Chop up several cloves of garlic.  I would go for 3, but I really like garlic. I also happen to dislike vampires, so that works out really well for me.

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Throw the chick peas, garlic, tahini paste,  juice and zest of a lemon, a few dashes of salt and 1 tablespoon of water into the food processor.  Pulse until the ingredients are combined and fairly smooth, adding more water as needed to help the ingredients blend.  Drizzle in olive oil while pulsing at the end.

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Now, do yourself a favor and start spreading this hummus on wheat bread with honey maple turkey, a few slices of red onion and lettuce.  You don’t know what you’re missing.

Y’all come back,

Sugarlump

Inherited Mischief

I’ve recently taken an interest in target shooting.  Most people who know me find this surprising/troubling.  Not to worry, you skeptics, I only care to shoot inanimate objects.

Uncle Santa gave me, my sister and cousins each a box of shells and some targets for Christmas.  I think it’s one of my favorite gifts ever.  Maybe next year I’ll ask for a gun.  Watch out.

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I was so excited to go out shooting the day after Christmas, but the weather was most uncooperative.  A nice rotation of rain/sleet/snow carried on all day so my box of shells is still unopened.

Christmas night, as we were discussing our plans for the following day, Granny shared with us that she didn’t want her girls shooting guns.  My dad called her out on this immediately because she shot guns all the time growing up.  She said that didn’t matter; she still didn’t want us shooting guns.  My dad overruled her on a count of hypocrisy.

All four of us are also adults and can shoot a gun even if our Granny doesn’t want us to, but we didn’t dare bring that up.  We are and always will be her “babies” even though we’re no longer 2, 3, 5 and 7 like she thinks we are.

It’s no secret that my Granny was somewhat of a mischievous child.  Shooting guns was just the beginning.  We asked Granny to tell us some stories that night and it wasn’t long before we were all laughing so hard it hurt.  There were some really good ones that involved playing hooky.

We asked Granny what she did when she skipped school one day for an entire day.

Granny: “Well, we had never seen a trial.”

Family in unison: “You skipped school to go to the courthouse?!?!”

Granny: “Yes, and we sat there all day and there wasn’t even a trial so we just went back to school.”

After we all died laughing, we just sat there for a few minutes processing Granny’s rather unusual item on her bucket list that warranted skipping school.

The next story was even better.

One day in high school, several couples who were “courting” decided to leave school without permission.

Granny said, “Now, our principle was a mean old man and he stuttered. “

Upon being caught, the couples were ordered back to school.  They walked down the hall, past the principle, who had a habit of pulling up his britches when he was mad.

Granny stood up and hiked up her pants in the front using her forearms, imitating the principle.

We all just about lost it and waited for the punchline with the stutter.

Granny said, “He was so mad, he didn’t say a word.”

We all sat there for a minute and then questioned Granny as to what the fact that he stuttered had to do with the story if he never even said anything.

She just wanted us to know that about him, evidently.

That made us laugh even harder.

Granny always calls us the craziest bunch of young’ins.   I wonder where we got that from.

Y’all mind your Grannies,

Sugarlump

Visiting Jack

Cousin Lauren came down to visit me here in Nashville the other day.  After some lunch and a trip to Comcast to switch out my cable box (I’m so much fun to visit), we headed to Lynchburg, Tennessee for a tour of Jack Daniel’s Distillery.

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As we neared the distillery in the car, cousin Lauren remarked how another distillery she had driven by had these creepy old buildings.  Moments after we stepped out of the car, we determined this place was creepy, too.  Must be a distillery thing.  And the fact that it was miserably cold, damp, and foggy.  Other than that, it was a perfect day for a distillery tour.

I’m such a great host.

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This was pretty nifty.  There is a natural source of water under this here hunk of rock that is used in the production of Jack Daniel’s products.  Apparently it’s some pretty pure stuff and makes Jack Daniel’s whiskey taste real good.  How do people figure these things out is what I want to know.

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This is not a black and white photo in case you were wondering.

After we went through the buildings where the whiskey is produced, we found ourselves by some very black trees.  The trees turn black from a mold that grows on them as a byproduct of the distillery.  Our tour guide assured us that the mold is not harmful to the trees or to people and is in fact a sign that the production of whiskey is going well.  Looks can be deceiving!

In the next building, where the whiskey drips through 10 feet of hard sugar maple charcoal to be purified, our tour guide lifted the lids of the large containers so we could smell the whiskey. We got a huge whiff of the whiskey, which made me think of bourbon balls as the smell lingered in my nostrils.

Pleasant thought, no?

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This prompted me to ask cousin Lauren about some candy my mom had brought down with her from her friend.  I was under the impression that all chocolate specimens in the tin were bourbon balls.  Here was our clarifying conversation:

Me: “Those bourbon balls didn’t really taste like bourbon at all.  They actually tasted almost like coconut.”

Cousin Lauren, “Did the ones you ate have pecans on top of them?”

Me: “No.”

Cousin Lauren: “Then you were eating coconut balls.  The ones with pecans on top are bourbon balls.  The ones without pecans are coconut balls.”

Me: “Oh……No wonder they tasted like coconut. At least I have a good sense of taste and could identify the coconut.”

Cousin Lauren: “…and the lack of bourbon.”

I’m glad we got that cleared up.  It was really troubling me.

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Towards the end of the tour, I asked our tour guide where she was from because she clearly did not have a southern accent and had been asking people in the group where we were from.   Coincidentally, she was from Massachusetts, where I lived for 13 years and moved here from in April.  I asked her where in Massachusetts she was from and she told me Salem, a town famous for the witch trials that occurred centuries ago.  These creepy trees would fit right in there.

All I have to say is, this world is tiny.

And I like bourbon balls.

And try to arrive at the distillery before 2:30PM if you would like a tasting tour.

We arrived at 2:40PM.

Y’all be careful,

Sugarlump