Saturday, December 31, 2011

What did I do wrong, Christopher Kimball?

Ultimately, it was nothing a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder couldn’t fix. But imagine my dismay when today’s attempt at the chocolate pound cake recipe from Cook’s Country magazine, the know-it-all source for sure-fire recipes that have been tested and re-tested in the “America’s Test Kitchen” right here in New England, oozed over the top of my loaf pan, and then promptly deflated while cooling!

As you can see in the “before” shot below, it was an overflow of volcanic proportions. The cake hadn’t been in the oven for five minutes before I smelled something burning. When I opened the oven door, I saw my delicious, buttery batter running down all four sides of the loaf pan and dripping onto the oven floor. After a quick clean-up, I put the loaf pan on a foil-lined baking sheet and it went back into the oven. Here’s what it looked like:

After it cooled and I removed the big hunks of bubbled-over cake (actually crunchy and delicious) from the edges of the pan, I turned the cake onto a cutting board and began carving. After a few strategic slices and the aforementioned sugar dusting, here’s what we ended up with:

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I usually post recipes for dishes I’ve tried. And although this chocolate pound cake is moist and delicious (it does, after all, contain two sticks of butter), I won’t be reprinting this recipe. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even hear from Christopher Kimball or his staff, telling what my mis-step might have been. I’ve re-read the recipe twice and it seems I followed it to the letter.

In any case, my carved and sugared chocolate pound cake will on the menu tonight as we’re hosting some friends for dinner. Here’s hoping the meatloaf and baked potatoes come out OK. I can only handle one kitchen disaster a day.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A perfectly ducky Christmas

We had our big homemade Christmas feast yesterday…a nice roasted duck (crispy-skinned thanks to a ‘low and slow’ afternoon in the oven), a potato gallatte (which I believe is French for “falls apart when you try to transfer to a serving platter” – but was delicious nonetheless), roasted Brussels sprouts with a balsamic syrup and dried cranberries, tart cranberry sauce, and a mincemeat pie (homemade crust and a heavily doctored-up bottle of Irish mincemeat from the grocery store).

Here’s the recipe for the Brussels sprouts, courtesy of The Pioneer Woman.

3 pounds Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup olive oil
salt And pepper
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup dried cranberries

  1. Trim/clean Brussels sprouts, then cut them in half if desired (or you can leave them whole). Arrange on two baking sheets and toss with olive oil. Sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper and roast at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until brown.
  2. Combine balsamic vinegar and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and reduce until very thick, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the roasted sprouts, then sprinkle on dried cranberries. Toss and serve immediately.
After dinner, it was time for a quick shower and a meet-up with our friend Marcia (a self-proclaimed “little Jewish girl with no plans for Christmas eve”) at Taj, formerly known as the Ritz-Carlton. Located right across the street from Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States, the Taj was beautifully decorated for the holidays, and the main bar was surprisingly full, considering it was Christmas Eve. After a round (or two) of cocktails, we walked two blocks to the Arlington Street Church, for its Unitarian Universalist Christmas Eve service.

I’m pleased to report that I was not struck down by lightning as I crossed the threshold into the church – you might say it’s been a while since I found myself in a house of worship. The service was lovely and was highlighted by a spirited sermon by Reverend Kim Crawford Harvie, all about finding the joy and miracles that happen around us every day, and by several performances by the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, including a rousing take on Katy Perry’s “Firework”.

This morning, we slept late (any time after 6:30 am is “late” for us), had a delicious breakfast with lots of hot cups of coffee, read the Boston Sunday Globe, and then opened a few presents. Peter got me a DVD of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, a sweet holiday movie based on a story by Dylan Thomas of a grandfather sharing his favorite Christmas memories with his grandson. He also gave me the “James Taylor at Christmas” CD, which I love. Check out his take on “River”, a hauntingly beautiful rendition of a Joni Mitchell song from the early 1970s.

We then took a nap and later visited to Castle Island so Otis could work off some of his Christmas energy by chasing a tennis ball. In pursuit of one wayward toss, Otis ran smack into an elderly gentleman on the paved walkway, knocking him down to his knees. He was surprised, luckily unhurt, and extremely gracious.

We ended the holiday at our friends Julie and Tom’s home with lots of good food, drink, and sweets, and caught up with their families, including Julie’s mom, who we hadn’t seen in three years.

And that, folks, is what I did on my Christmas vacation. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A dog named Beau

I hadn't seen this in a couple of years, but my buddy who blogs over at "Spirit of Saint Lewis" posted this clip of Jimmy Stewart on "The Tonight Show" reading a poem he wrote about his dog, Beau. I've never been able to watch this lovely tribute without tearing up. Excuse me while I go give Otis a hug.

Holiday weekend on the horizon...full speed ahead!

Four days. Count ‘em. Four whole days. That’s what lies ahead of me. No alarm clocks. No to-do lists. No meetings. No nothing but relaxing, grabbing naps, trying to catch up with some reading, and of course, enjoying a long holiday weekend with Peter and Otis. Four days off – this has been a long time coming.

To kick the holiday off, we watched one of my guilty pleasure movies -- "Die Hard". It's one of those movies that if I catch while I'm flipping channels, I have to stop and watch. But Peter had never seen it and it does take place at Christmas time, so I guess it's technically a holiday film. Yippee Ki Yay!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Out of my control

So I am here at the local Toyota dealership bright and early for the 30,000 mile service on my car. And while I am doing my best to take advantage of this time away from desk, it is hard to concentrate with the louder-than-needed Christmas music playing in the waiting room. Seems like all of the other folks waiting for their cars are reading their Kindles and tapping their feet along with the music. To top it all off, they just played Springsteen's "Santa Claus is coming to town". That is what I call "cruel and unusual" punishment. Bah humbug indeed. Maybe I should cut back on my coffee consumption?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

You gonna pay for that steak, honey?

‘Tis the season for making chocolate-dipped biscotti and White Trash Christmas Nuggets, listening to “Christmas Portrait” by The Carpenters…and shoplifting? According to a report in Ad Week, more and more people are letting their (sticky) fingers do the shopping this year – an unbelievable 1 in 11 people walks out of a store with at least one item they haven’t paid for. The report claims 75 percent of shoplifters are adults, and that using that five-finger discount has been on the rise for the past five years due to the rocky economy.

I was also surprised to learn that the #1 most shoplifted item is …drum roll, please… filet mignon! Now I love me a good steak, but I can’t imagine sticking a couple of filets under my arm and not having my guilty-looking face or full body sweat give me away to the cashier.

Other things on the list of most purloined items? 
  • Jameson whiskey (delicious with filet mignon)
  •  iPhones (you think those geniuses at the Apple store would figure out how to fix that problem)
  •  Gillette Mach 4 razors (these thieves must be engineering majors. I recently spent five minutes trying to wrest a pack of razor blades from a security system at my local Rite-Aid that would put Fort Knox to shame. Yes, a little swearing ensued.)
  •  Axe body spray (does any guy over 12 really wear this stuff?)

I must say this list surprised me and made me a little sad. Seventy percent of shoplifters say they didn't plan to shoplift, says Barbara Staib from the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention, “but add a sense of desperation because of the economy and holiday pressures, and you have the recipe for theft soup."

So if you saw someone at your local supermarket stick a package of filet mignon under their jacket, would you report it to the store manager? Would it make a difference if the thief were a hungry-looking old lady? A nicely-dressed businessman? A kid?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Go elf yourself

OK, yeah, so it's been a while. Yes, I'm still alive. But between buying a new house, moving in and getting settled, and the heat being turned up at work, my blogging has fallen by the wayside. And I decided that since blogging was a "fun" thing to do, I wasn't going to pressure myself and feel guilty if I couldn't sit down on a regular basis and keep "Mike's Short Attention Span Theater" updated.

So I didn't.

Which doesn't mean I didn't miss writing and keeping in touch with my blogging friends. (Blobby -- you still out there?)

So this is just a note to say "hey" and that I'm alive and kicking in South Boston.

Oh yeah, and to share this with you. "Elf Yourself" is a great online project put out by OfficeMax, and every year, I upload photos of friends and family (and Otis, our Portuguese Water Dog) and get a laugh out of seeing them dance around in a silly elf outfit. One year, we "elfed" Peter's mom -- and we watched it over and over again while she was visiting for the holidays. Every time we watched it, we laughed harder, until we all had tears on our faces. A fun memory.

So anyway, here's Otis as our 2011 elf. And in the holiday spirit of sharing, I'll try to be better about updating this blog on a more frequent basis. But in case I don't, MerryChristmasHappyNewYear!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

“Can’t Stop the Music” was theme of 2011 Carnival parade in Provincetown

We are back from our annual sojourn to Provincetown, another in a series of relaxing summer vacations on the beach at the tip of Cape Cod. For the past seven years, we’ve taken at least a week enjoying slow mornings that don’t start with alarm clocks, lazy afternoons reading and napping on the beach, and the luxury of just slowing down for a few days.

We always visit during Carnival, a week-long summer celebration featuring dance parties, concerts, other sponsored events, and it’s all capped off with a parade down Commercial Street on Thursday afternoon. The theme of this year’s Carnival was “Can’t Stop the Music”: here are some shots from this year’s parade.

Yup, that's Charo, the Grand Marshal of this year's Carnival Parade. Cuchi Cuchi! No disrespect to the lady because she looks great, but there was some healthy debate going on in our gang about how old she is. She claims to be 60. Is that even possible? I seem to remember her "Cuchi Cuchi-ing" way back when I was a kid.

I'm guessing Richard Simmons?

Bruce Vilanch, best known for writing the gags for all of the Hollywood award shows, has been at the parade the last several years. 

Our favorite Provincetown performer, Miss Richfield 1981You can catch her show at the Crown & Anchor.

The last float in the parade proclaimed that the theme of next year's Carnival bash will be "A Space Odyssey". 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Here's my new favorite joke

I was reading a back issue of Esquire magazine at the beach yesterday and came across their feature called "Funny Joke From A Beautiful Woman". In every issue, some scantily-clad actress or musician or model relates her favorite joke, and this month's joke was a doozy. Apologies to my blond friends; it's a "dumb blond" joke, and I have to admit I didn't get it at first (maybe I'm part blond?). But then I started snorting with laughter and read it out loud to Peter, who snorted out loud with me. Here goes:

After robbing a bank, a blond, a brunette, and a readhead duck into an alley where they hide in potato sacks. The cops first go to the sack with the brunette in it and kick it. The brunette says, 'Meow'. They go to the sack with the redhead in it and kick it. She says 'Woof, woof'. Last, they kick the sack with the blond in it and she says 'Po-ta-to'.

Try this: Dorothy's summer shrimp salad

We're in Provincetown, the furthest you can get out on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for a few days of R&R. And for the past couple of days, amidst all of the packing and organizing and wrapping up projects at work, I've had one thing on my mind: a salad that my mom used to make. It's really simple, and one taste takes me right back to summertime when I was a kid. So this morning, I got up early, and after a cup of steaming hot coffee at The Wired Puppy on Commercial Street and a quick walk on the beach with Otis, I came back to our apartment and started working in the kitchen. Right before sitting down to type this, I ate an overflowing bowl of salad - and it tasted just like mom's. Delicious -- and exactly what I was looking for.

Dorothy's summer shrimp salad

Boil one pound of small pasta in salted water until al dente. I used a bag of funky, small curly pasta things I bought at an Amish market a while back, but any small noodle (i.e. elbows, wheels, ears, etc.) will do. Drain, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process, and let drain again until all extra water is gone.

Chop the following into small pieces:

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large green pepper
  • 4-5 stalks of celery
  • one jalepeno pepper (not in mom's original recipe, but I wanted to throw a little kick into the salad)
two cans of small shrimp, drained
salt and pepper

Mix all in a bowl with enough mayonaise to moisten. Add salt and pepper to taste. I like lots of pepper.

See, I told you it was simple. Excuse me while I go get another bowl.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Otis the Portuguese Water Dog catches air at Castle Island

What’s that, you say? You want even more blog posts about Otis?

The morning we closed on our new condo, we took the day off from work and grabbed some breakfast at the local Au Bon Pain. It was a stunning morning, and since we had a few hours to kill before signing all of the paperwork that comes with buying a house, we headed over to Castle Island with Otis.

The pooch was in rare form. At nearly seven years old, one might assume that Otis might show signs of slowing down. But flash a tennis ball in front of his nose and it’s turbo booster time. Over and over again, he raced across the grassy lawn at Castle Island, expertly catching the tennis ball in mid-air, or bouncing it off his snout and catching it on the rebound. His athleticism and determination are to be admired; we often comment that if we ran as hard as Otis does twice each day, we’d be contenders for the next Olympic games.

Here are some photos of Otis in action:

"Yup, looks like a good morning to go catch some tennis balls."

"We there yet?"

"Let's go!"

"Time out at the water fountain"

Sunday, August 7, 2011

We're now officially homeowners in South Boston

A couple years back, we sold our home in Boston’s South End and moved to South Boston (better known as “Southie”). Just a few minutes out of downtown Boston, this once predominantly working class, Irish-Catholic neighborhood has lots to offer to its growing and diverse population. Many times before on this blog, I’ve written about our love for Castle Island, just a short walk away, which offers a 22-acre park right on Boston Harbor. We’re also right around the corner from the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and the city’s Seaport district, home to great new restaurants and hotels, the Institute for Contemporary Art, and the Moakley Federal Courthouse, where “alleged” mobster (and South Boston native) James “Whitey” Bulger will soon be facing the music after his 16 years on the run.

We’ve really come to enjoy South Boston, our neighbors, all of the green space, and easy access to downtown, the airport, and major highways. And on Friday, we made it official, passing papers on one of the penthouse units in the building where we’ve been renting since 2009.

We’re very excited about our new place, a two bed/two bath home with a deck that offers great views of downtown Boston, the Black Falcon Terminal (where more than 200,000 cruise passengers sail in and out of the city each year), and the harbor. And no rest for the weary: tomorrow morning, we’re kicking off a series of small projects to get the place ready for move-in by the end of the month: painting, sprucing up the hardwood floors, and construction of some new closet spaces. No, we’re not doing the work ourselves – my plan is to stay out of the way!

Right after the closing, we rushed home to our new place for our first photo on the deck. That's a ship at Boston's Black Falcon Cruise terminal behind us.

Otis joined us for some summer air on the deck Friday evening.

A shot of our new place. Lots of natural light and tall ceilings. It'll be a few weeks until we officially move in. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Is Sarah Palin stalking me?

OK, 'fess up, Sarah....I see in my "Live Traffic Feed" that a visitor from Wasilla, Alaska, visited my blog today.

Sorry if you're feeling ignored -- I haven't written about you in a while. I was tempted to write a post mocking your recent mangling of the Paul Revere story, but I figured that would just be piling on. But perhaps you were just here looking for some of my older posts about you, like this one, or this one (one of my favorites), or this one, or this one, or this one, or maybe this one?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

You can't handle the truth

I must give my blogging buddy “Blobby” a shout-out for turning me on to my latest obsession. It’s called Songify, a free iPhone app that turns your spoken word into auto-tuned masterpieces. Check out Blobby’s first single, “A Promise Is a Promise”, in which he “sings” the welcome card that was left in his room at the Farifield Inn during a recent business trip.

So as I pondered joining the ranks of the cast of “Glee”, who have every sound that comes out of their collective mouths bent, folded, and perfected by auto-tuning, I had to decide which song to release as my first single. It had to be big. It had to be epic. I turned to the movies for inspiration, and found a well-known monologue that I thought would be perfect for Songify-ing. I selected Jack Nicholson’s “You Can’t Handle the Truth” speech from “A Few Good Men” (wow, it’s been 20 years since that movie came out).

So without further ado, may I present my first single, “You Can’t Handle the Truth”. I eagerly await your comments and calls from big-name music producers.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A killer performance on "So You Think You Can Dance"

Don’t know if you’re watching this year’s “So You Think You Can Dance”, but this routine by contestant Sasha and her partner, “all-star” Twitch, is one of our favorite routines of the season. A beautiful, steamy, perfectly synchronized performance. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Are you a cheap first date?

I attended a conference this past week about the convergence of e-mail marketing, social media, and customer relationship management. One of our keynote speakers talked about the meteoric rise in popularity of web-based coupon programs like “Groupon” and “Living Social”. These sites have become so ubiquitous, he said, that it would be perfectly OK to take someone a first date to a restaurant and pay for dinner with a Groupon. But take that same date to the same restaurant and use a coupon you clipped out of the newspaper? A huge social faux pas, he claimed.

Mike’s Rule: No coupons – from online or printed sources – are allowed on a first date. A first date is not designed to be an exercise in extravagance or frugality. So it would be just as wrong to go to the fanciest restaurant in town and whip out your Groupon, as it would be to use your loyalty card at the local Taco Hut so we’d save $1.50 on my combination plate.

Don’t misunderstand: I love my Groupons and use them all the time. But when it’s all about first impressions and getting to know someone, I maintain that using any kind of coupon on a first date is kind of cheap and tacky. Your thoughts?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

This Brady Bunch photo needs a caption

Last week, in honor of the passing of Hollywood producer Sherwood Schwartz, I posted a photo from his classic TV show, "The Brady Bunch" and asked for your creative captions. I got such funny responses that I thought I'd post another photo and see what happens. So here goes: please have at it!

"I’ll have to call you back, Cousin Oliver. My dad needs to call the caterer; his men’s group meeting starts in 10 minutes, and the crust-less salmon tea sandwiches and Cherries Jubilee haven’t showed up yet."

Try this: Blueberry Crumble Pie

The picture was taken on my iPhone and doesn't do this dessert justice, so you'll have to trust me - this pie is really, really good.

One of the sweetest tastes of summer is a fresh fruit pie. Here's a delicious, easy-to-make pie that would be perfect for a weekend cook-out or a neighborhood potluck. The crust is foolproof (and buttery), and the zing of the lemon zest and juice really balances out the sweetness of the blueberries. 

This recipe was featured in recent issue of Bon Appetit, and we made it while staying with friends in Maine over the Fourth of July holiday. The recipe calls for fresh blueberries, but we used frozen, and the pie turned out just fine. If you're using frozen blueberries, don't defrost them beforehand.

Blueberry Crumble Pie

  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for surface
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Filling and topping
  • 2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 5 cups (1 pound 10 ounces) fresh blueberries
  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted, cooled slightly

For crust

Pulse 1 1/4 cups flour, butter, and salt in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-size pieces remaining.

Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture. Pulse until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if mixture is dry.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 4 equal pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, use the heel of your hand to smear each portion of dough twice in a forward motion to distribute butter. Gather all 4 dough pieces into a ball. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill dough until firm, at least 1 hour.

Dough can be made up to 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 13" round. Transfer to pie dish, gently pressing dough onto bottom and up sides of dish. Fold overhang under and crimp edges decoratively.

Pierce bottom of crust in several places with a fork, then chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Line a large baking sheet with foil and place on a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 375°F. Line crust with parchment paper or foil and fill with pie weights. Bake until crust is set, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove parchment and pie weights. Bake until crust is pale golden, about 12 minutes longer. Transfer crust to a wire rack; let cool.

Filling and topping

Whisk 2/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Add blueberries and lemon juice; toss gently to coat and evenly distribute. Let filling stand, tossing occasionally, until berries release their juices, 20-30 minutes.

Whisk flour, remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, light brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. Add melted butter; mix topping with fingertips to blend.

Preheat oven to 375°. Spoon blueberry filling into crust, then sprinkle topping over. Bake pie until filling is bubbling and topping is golden, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cover with foil after 30 minutes if browning too fast.

Let pie cool on a wire rack. Let stand at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rest in peace, Sherwood Schwartz

Sherwood Schwartz, the man responsible for creating both "The Brady Bunch" and "Gilligan's Island" died today at the age of 94. I can’t even imagine trying to calculate how many hours of my formative years were spent watching these two TV programs. Thanks for the years of entertainment, Mr. Schwartz!

Think you’re funny? Hit the “Comments” button below and write a caption for this photo from The Brady Bunch.

"Damn it Alice...I asked you to make pork chops and applesauce!"

"Alice, I don't know how you do it, but That. Cake. Looks. AMAZING!"

Our Portuguese Water Dog avoids the leap of faith

Our dog Otis is a Portuguese Water Dog, a breed of working canines that are originally from – you guessed it – Portugal. We’re told that back in their homeland, this breed was invaluable to local fisherman because the dogs could be trained to herd fish into nets, retrieve objects from the water, and even act as ship-to-shore messengers.

There’s no place on earth that Otis is happier than on the beach, which is why we so enjoy his company during our annual summer vacation in Provincetown, located on the tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Like us, he’s content to spend his day on the sand, relaxing, eating, and occasionally going into the water to play. But despite his breed’s long history with all things water-related, the one thing Otis just won’t do is jump into the water from a dock or any kind of platform.

A couple of summers ago, we went for a walk around the lake at nearby Ashland State Park. Otis was in and out of the water all day – but when we went to the end of a long dock and tossed his tennis ball into the drink, Otis went bonkers. First he tried to reach out with his front paw and coax the ball closer to the dock. Then he tried another angle. And then he shifted again, clearly getting frustrated. Finally, he broke into a full gallop back to shore, where he splashed into the water and swam like crazy to snap up the ball. Time and time again, we brought him to the end of the dock and threw the ball into the lake. And without fail, Otis would run back to the beach and then swim out to his ball.

So I was reminded of Otis’ reluctance to jump into the water today when I saw this video of this pooch who was bound and determined to get his rock out of the water and make it “stay”. The dog seems to have no qualms about jumping into the water or sticking his whole head under the surface.

So is it just Otis, or are most dogs reluctant to take a running leap into water?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...