Bearded Dragons and Baking Bread

You know you’re too busy when you’re still reporting on things that you checked off the list in February…

My friend Abby and I intended to ride a zipline set up in a Boston park by a Kissimmee, Florida, tourist organization one February weekend. But when I arrived 15 minutes before it opened and the wait was already two hours, we settled for having our photo taken with a baby alligator and holding a lizard called a bearded dragon. I pleaded with the handler to refrain from putting a large snake around my neck. (However, the snake was surreptitiously slipped around Abby’s neck.)

holding a bearded dragon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was expecting the bearded dragon to be solid and rough, but it had a very soft underbelly. It was cute for a lizard.

And with no segue…I baked zucchini bread for the first time. My mom baked it once in a while when I was young so I feel nostalgic whenever I buy it at a cafe. I found her recipe for zucchini muffins (not bread, curiously) and spent a Sunday afternoon grating zucchini.

grated zucchini

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turned out SO GOOD. I’m adding it to my baking rotation now.

zucchini bread

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ll be hearing from me again soon as I attempt to make up for lost time…

 

 

Time for Dessert

I tried Indian pudding the other day. It’s a dessert native to New England, so it was fitting that I tried it at Durgin-Park, one of the city’s oldest restaurants.

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Indian pudding with vanilla ice cream on top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved this dessert because (A) I love molasses. Note that one needs to feel strong affection for molasses in order to enjoy this dessert. (B) It has the consistency of CoCo Wheats!!

My family ate CoCo Wheats for breakfast throughout my childhood. It’s basically chocolate grits and it’s so good.

I relived my childhood again thanks to another dessert, which I baked from scratch today.

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Behold the Chinese marble cookie. I probably ate one of these per week for at least a few years during my youth. Wegmans, our grocery store, had a “cookie club” for kids: a free cookie to enjoy while following your parents down aisle after aisle. There is still a cookie club today, but chocolate chip is the only type available.

Eventually I aged out of the program and the Chinese marble cookie disappeared from the bakery. But I never truly forgot about this cookie. I’ve thought about it off and on over the years. Something finally stuck this year and I searched for a recipe. I found this one (thanks, Monster Sweet Tooth) and made it today.

I guess I love this cookie because of the nostalgia tied to it. The two sticks of butter I used probably has something to do with it too. The flavor is not strong; there’s a little vanilla extract, almond extract, and unsweetened chocolate.

I will never be without these cookies again. What a comforting thought.

 

 

 

Nancy and Margaret

Well, it’s taken me almost 40 years to realize that two of my favorite hobbies were favorite hobbies of my grandmothers (whom I am named after). Are hobbies genetic?

Grandma Nancy, who died when my mother was 14, was quite the writer when she was in high school. Her writing is sprinkled throughout her senior year high school yearbook. Here’s a poem:

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My mom also instilled in me a love of reading and writing. Thanks, Mom.

Not only did my dad’s mother, Grandma Peg, bake and cook up a storm, but she also worked on a variety of crafts at any given time: painting ceramics, making holiday ornaments, creating Moravian stars, fashioning magnets out of fabric.

My main craft hobby is card making, but I have also done jewelry making and have tried glass blowing and metal working. I’m looking forward to a crochet class in a few weeks. Although I’m a little intimidated because I’m left-handed.

I thought of Grandma Peg and Mom this past weekend when I took a cake decorating class at Michaels (#10 on the birthday list). Grandma sold her cakes and also worked in a grocery store bakery department later in life. For years, my dear mother made beautifully decorated Wilton birthday cakes for me and my brother.

Suffice it to say that I now fully appreciate Mom making 12 different colors of icing for my Bert and Ernie cake. I’m referring to this two-day class as bootcamp. I spent approximately 17 hours prepping for and attending the class.

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I will spare you the details. But a brief overview:

On Saturday, we brought in cupcakes and learned how to use the different decorating tips and learned about the three different consistencies of icing and how to color it.

We were instructed to bring in a cake, filling, and 7 cups of colored icing in all of the consistencies on Sunday.

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I was stressed because my cake was only an inch tall. The instructor suggested I make a “half-moon” cake so I could add the filling, and it worked out fine. This is yet another craft that is tricky due to my left-handedness. I saw left-handed decorating tips for sale so might try them sometime.

Here it is. And yes, I put it in a snowbank.

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I’ve grown weary of the snow…when will it end???

 

 

Experimentation

 

I tried two experiments recently. One was a kitchen experiment. I made soft pretzels. They tasted fine, but left a lot to be desired in the looks department. The recipe is very simple: water, yeast, flour, sugar, salt. A lack of counter space was the crux of the problem: the recipe called for me to roll the dough into a rope 20 inches long.

Well. The maximum length of any chunk of counter space in my kitchen is about 12 inches. So my pretzels were more like lumps of dough. But darn tasty lumps of dough. I used mostly whole wheat flour so I could feel like I was being somewhat healthy as I ate lumps of dough.

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My second experiment was a behavioral one. My friend Lisa told me that her cat loved watching bird videos on YouTube. She suggested that I search for  “Cats. Snow. Hole.”

I had a snow day today so, earlier in the afternoon, I found the aforementioned video. I excitedly unplugged my laptop and brought it over to the bed, where Olive was lounging. “This is going to be so fun, Olive,” I said, as I started the video.

She looked at me, completely nonplussed. “Look at the birds!” I motioned. She looked at the screen for 30 seconds and then started grooming.

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Maybe she’s just not keen on this particular video, I thought. I fired up another bird video and went to the kitchen for a moment. I came back to this:

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She had walked away from the bloody video! Maybe she is too old to care about such simple pleasures as watching bird videos? Ah, well. It was worth a try.

 

 

 

 

Russian Roulette

 

I watched The Deer Hunter the other day. It’s on AFI’s top 100 movies list. The first part of the movie takes place in the hometown of a few young men who are about to go off to ‘Nam. I felt immediately invested because the setting is a working-class town in western Pennsylvania. And what is a favorite pastime of men who live in western Pennsylvania do? Hunting deer. I’ll have to ask my dad to confirm, but I think he went on his first hunting trip at the age of 12.

The movie stars a very young Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep. Even though I had trouble with the topic, their stellar acting made it as palatable as humanly possible for me. The movie cuts from the men celebrating a marriage a few days prior to their departure to horrific war scenes in Vietnam. Killing, explosions, and a Russian roulette game that Viet Cong soldiers were forcing the protagonists to play.  I was nervous about making it through a three-hour war movie, but I didn’t notice the passage of time.

I read afterward that the film was controversial, even though it won five Oscars. Some people said that Russian roulette was never actually played in Vietnam. Even if it wasn’t, the game is a perfect metaphor for war. Especially this war. The ending of the film is also bold and offended some people.

I’m glad I saw it and would recommend it to people who can stomach war movies.

This was #6 on my birthday list. I’m a little behind, as I should average eight items per month. But I’m planning to tick off another item this weekend. A colleague mentioned making soft pretzels at home recently. OMG, why hadn’t I thought about that before? I used to eat SuperPretzels like it was my part-time job.