Thursday, April 28, 2011

Did you say Sweet Bread?

Sweet Bread.  If you've never had it, it's quite possibly some of the best of anything you've ever eaten.  I'm sure I could say this about a lot of foods.  But seriously, Sweet Bread is the best.

For as long as I can remember, it's been a tradition that's come hand in hand with Easter.  As a kid, I always loved watching my mom make it.  We would activate the yeast, melt the butter/milk/sugar and let it cool, and then mix it all together with the flour.  I used to be so amazed at how the dough would puff and bulk up after just a few hours.  My mom would dump it out of the bowl, and split it up.  She always would braid it and fit it into the baking pans.  Then, it would rise again.  Once in a while, she would take some hard boiled eggs and put those on top, too.

My sister and I were altar servers and usually would have to serve at  Easter Vigil mass, and when we got home, my mom would be pulling the bread out of the oven.  The smell - delicious.  The taste, indescribable.  Hot out of the oven or even a little stale (toasted, with butter).  No matter what, amazingness.

I remember the first time I ever made sweet bread by myself.  I don't remember WHEN it was, but I remember the situation.  We were all at home, it was the day before Easter.  My mom was home, but she had a migraine and was sick in bed and not able to make it herself.  We were all so upset, because we have always associated sweet bread with Easter and didn't want to go to a year without it.  Being that I love to bake, I decided that I was going to try to make it myself.  And I didn't let anyone down.  I remember being really nervous about it....Bread can be really tricky.  But ever since then, I've always made my own bread.   I think that it's a tradition that I'll never get away from.  I've had store-bought Sweet Bread before, but it's just not the same.  

When I make it now, certain things always come to mind.  When we were young, we were big fans of the "Strega Nona" books written by Tomie DePaola.  There is one book, 'Strega Nona's Magic Lessons" where Strega Nona is teaching Bambalona, the Baker's Daughter, how to be a Strega.  Big Anthony, who never listens, wants to be a Strega, but he can't so he decides that he's going to work for the Baker, instead.  Well, instead of baking the bread like he's supposed to, he eats his way through the bakery, until he realizes what time it is and that he's late for baking the bread.  Well, one of the taglines in the book is, "The yeast makes the dough rise."  The Yeast DOES make the dough rise, but Big Anthony put a LOT of Yeast, in order to catch up on time.  Without giving EVERYTHING away, we'll just say that Big Anthony got fired, and leave it at that.  Let's just say that every time I activate the yeast, all I can think is, "The yeast makes the dough rise."  :o)

So as long as the dough rises (and you don't forget the sugar), you're in for a treat with some yummy sweet bread.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's Mine is Mine, What's Yours is Mine...

"What's Mine is Mine, and What's Yours is Mine."  I remember the first time I heard this, I laughed my head off.  My mom was telling me that her friend from URI always used to say this to her husband just after they go married.  I always laughed and said, I like that.  I have found that this saying can apply to an array of things....

Yesterday, my husband and I got home from work and it was a regular Monday afternoon.  "Do you want to go to the gym?"  "Wouldn't you rather go outside for a bike ride instead?"  Back and forth.  We were standing in the bedroom, and I was looking at my bureau.  I couldn't put my finger on it, but something just looked wrong.  I realized that my deodorant was on the floor, as well as a couple promotional cards that my husband had gotten from Pacific Sunwear when he bought my birthday present back in September.  Then, as I really looked at the bureau, it hit me.  My jewelry box was gone!  I mean completely gone!  You could see where it had previously been sitting (and you could see the dust that had been surrounding it).

How did it happen?  The front door was closed and locked when we got home.  The door into our Condo Unit was closed and locked when we got upstairs.  There was no sign of a forced break-in.  You can't get in through the windows, because we're on the 3rd floor.  Even if you were really good and could jump from the roof of the house next door, it's still a risk.  So how did it happen?  Not a single thing in my place was taken, except for my Jewelry Box, and another little toiletry bag of jewelry.  No drawers were opened, nothing was touched.  Out TV was here, as well as all of our electronics.  Seriously - the only thing missing was my jewelry.  All my jewelry, gone.

A detective on the Providence Police Department came by to look at everything, and even he was puzzled.  He's never seen anything like this, even in his 11 years of being on the force.  He wasn't able to run any fingerprints....Which really eliminates all fact, and brings everything back to speculation.

Someone was in my house.  Someone was in my bedroom.  Someone stole my stuff.  I feel so violated.  Apparently someone thought that what was mine was also theirs...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake

For the second year in a row, I was asked to make a donation into a silent auction that was being held within my company to support the United Way.  Seeing as I love to bake, and typically look for excuses to bake, I complied.  The first year I donated, the woman who won the auction said that she had 4 year old twins who were having a bowling themed party, so I made a layered cake with an awesome picture of a bowling ball crashing into 4 pins.  I was pretty proud of myself.

2010 was my second year donating a cake.  The woman who won originally was looking for a cake in December (about a week before Christmas), but then changed her mind.  She mentioned that April would be good because her son's birthday is in April.  So last week, she reminded me that it was April was here, and she was ready for the cake.  

I feel like the process of making this cake has been ridiculous.  Her original email said that he liked fishing, hockey, biking and video games and they wanted a Marble cake; Did I have any suggestions?  So my original thought would be I could decorate the top to look like a Hockey Rink, and what ever his favorite team was, I could do a jersey, etc.  I would put a fudge filling and then decorate.  Awesome, right?  So she agreed at first, except that she wanted strawberry filling instead of fudge, but she kept giving me mixed signals as to what team, and colors, etc.  So she mentioned that he was having a pool party, so it would be nice if I did the cake in a pool theme, instead.  I googled a picture, and found something that I thought would work perfectly.  

Last night, I went to the market, bought everything I needed.  I did the strawberry filling first, because I knew it was going to take a while to get it back to room temperature (or colder) since it needed to be boiled.  I did the filling, then I baked the cakes.  While the cakes were in the oven, I started on the frosting.  All I can say, is DISASTER.  The filling was too thin, and leaked all over the place.  At 10pm, I had to re-bake the cakes!!!  I put the filling back on the stove and added a ton more corn starch, got it nice and thick and then put it in the freezer/fridge to cool.  Needless to say, round 2 was much more successful.  The only problem was:  I had now run out of Criso, which I needed to make more buttercream frosting!!!  It was midnight at this point, so I used what frosting I had to put a crumb coat on the cake, covered it, and put it in the fridge.

When I got into work this morning, I already had an email from the woman who won the cake.  She said that her son was sick, so she wasn't in today; Could I leave the cake on her desk and she would pick it up at some point during the day.  I emailed her back, and said that I didn't have a chance to finish decorating (really to start decorating), so I was wondering if I could deliver it.  Her response was, "Can you just throw it in the freezer."  My reaction:  ARE YOU SERIOUS?????  I guess that since her son is sick, she's canceling the party and will be rescheduling it in a few weeks.  So now I have to freeze the cake....A few days before she wants it, I'll defrost it, and then decorate it.  What a disaster!!!

Here are a few pictures of the process steps:  ENJOY!! :o)  After I finally decorate it, I'll post the finished product!

 The baked cakes, leveled out

The filling - YUMMY!  This is a "before picture" .... I hadn't thickened it yet.

 Buttercream Frosting.  DELICIOUS!

The disaster cake.  The filling just oozed out of all the sides.  It was delicious, though!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Are you there, Spring?

So it's officially spring.  How do I know?  Well, I have a few clues: 

1) It is a *little* bit warmer (by a little bit, I mean that it hasn't snowed in a few weeks)
2) I saw a few flowers coming up, and my next door neighbor, who owns half the block has been fixing the flower beds that are around the trees in the sidewalks
3) We bought new bikes on Sunday and took them out for a first ride Monday after work.  It was fantastic.
and finally,
4) Baseball has officially begun.

I like baseball.  I love going to Fenway and getting the experience of walking around, eating sausage and pepper sandwiches, sitting in the ballpark and taking in the full experience of the game.  It's really fantastic and nothing really compares.  I've also been to Camden Yards, and it's an amazing ballpark as well.  I think the stadiums, in general, are amazing and I'm sure that being in the stadium, no matter where it is, makes the baseball experience even better.  We usually try to go to at least 1 game per season, and I always look forward to it. 

I have to admit, though, that I really don't like watching baseball at home.  It's almost as bad as watching golf on TV.  I'd estimate that a typical baseball game will go for about 3 hours, but if they only showed the players hitting the ball and running the bases, I think the game would last abut 30 minutes.  I swear, when I'm watching the game on TV, I feel like they're always panning the camera over to the Coca Cola sign, or people in the stands who are acting silly or not paying attention and there's no real action.  At least when you're sitting at the ball park, you have the ability to people watch, to walk around and get some food or some beer.  I'm not exactly what you would call a patient person....It's really hard for me to sit and do nothing.  Therefore, when baseball is on TV, I'm usually doing something else while the game is on and I rely on my husband to rewind the plays and show me the important ones (which he usually does without me asking anyway).

But regardless of my inability to sit still and relax, I am really excited that spring is officially here.  For me, the start of baseball season is always the key indicator that Spring has finally begun.  I just hope that it stays!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Pizza, anyone?

On my way home tonight, I had to stop at Citizen's Bank to make a deposit for my Condo Association.  Luckily for me, there is a Citizen's located in the Stop and Shop on Rte 44 in Raynham right near where I work.  I decided while I was in there that I was going to make pizza for dinner tonight.  We don't eat meat on Friday's during Lent, so pizza sounded like a great idea!

I decided while I was aimlessly walking around the market that I was going to make a traditional red pizza, but I was also going to try to make a Ricotta Cheese and Caramelized Onion pizza (I had this a few times from Bertucci's and it's just delicious).

My shopping receipt consisted of the following:
1 28-oz can of Pastene Pealed and Crushed Tomatoes (my family is obsessed with Pastene, so it's all I buy)
2 1-lb bags of Calisi Pizza Dough (I'm partial to making my own dough, but on a Friday afternoon, I'm all for store-bought dough)
1 16-oz container of Part Skim Ricotta Cheese
1 Almond Joy egg (deliciousness for the ride home!)

When I got home, I decided that instead of spreading the dough out in a cookie sheet like I usually do, I was going to use the pizza stone.  Now, when I moved into my condo, the previous owner left behind her pizza stone.  It had never been used, and I really didn't know how to use it but one of my employees at work explained to me what to do (heat it up first, then bake, etc). 

So I first decided that I would caramelize the onions so they could cool before putting them on the dough and I could fix the other pizza while I was waiting.  While they were cooking/cooling, I made the pizza sauce on the stove top, rather than just putting the sauce on the dough and all the seasonings on top.  I remember my dad's Auntie Mary doing this when I was young.  I always thought it was such a novel thing, since I had only ever seen my mom layer everything on the dough.  I have to admit, it was pretty delicious.

As for the second pizza, it was really tasty, I wasn't as happy about it as I was the red pizza.  I think buying part skim ricotta cheese was the first problem.  If I try to make this again, I think I'll go with the whole milk cheese.  Also, I only had about 2/3 of a massive onion, and after it was caramelized, I just don't think it was enough.  I'll have to play with it a bit next time.

With both pizzas, the dough got super thin in the middle.  So thin, that it actually was a bit soggy.  I'll definitely have to work on that.  I think even when they make pizza on TV, they keep the center thicker than the outsides.....I was thinking about that while I was spreading out the dough, but something between my brain and my hands got a little lost.  :o)

Here are a few pictures of the deliciousness!  With a glass of wine, dinner was pretty tasty tonight!

Happy Friday, People!

TGIF.  This week has dragged on forever!  I don't know about you, but sometimes the week just crawl by.  I've been working on a project that has required an obscene amount of training.  Most of the training is 1/2 day, and you would think that would help the days pass by quickly.  Not quite.  I feel like it just makes the day that much longer!

But, no worries.  It's almost noon time on this glorious and beautiful (dare I say Spring) day.  That can only mean a good thing.  As I listen to Pandora (Do Wah Diddy Diddy by Manfred Mann just came up on my Queen station), I have high hopes for the weekend.  

Weekend Chore #1:  Over the course of the past few weeks, I have made more attempts to come to work looking more presentable.  This means putting on makeup and dressing nice.  In that, I have realized that I need new shoes.  The ugly flats that I insist on wearing to work every day not only make me look more humdrum than necessary, they're just horrible.  Also, I have found that they actually make my legs hurt at the end of the day.  The shooting pains from my knees to my ankles are horrible, if it means I need to stop wearing flats, so be it.  Therefore, weekend chore #1 is to go shoe shopping.  Now how bad is that?  I will probably hit up Macy's and DSW.  And while I"m in Macy's if I happen to stroll through the Misses Dept and buy some clothes, then a big fat YAY!

Weekend Chore #2:  Bake.  I bought this awesome book about Cake Pops that looks so awesome.  It's time to try them out.  They look easy enough, but we shall see.  You essentially bake a cake, crumble it up, mix it with frosting, shape them into balls and then coat them in chocolate.  DELICIOUS!  I absolutely love to bake and look for excuses to do it.  My goal lately has been to learn how to do the "traditional" Italian pastries.  Zeppole were a success and Sfogliatelle, not so much (as we saw in previous blogs).  Maybe this weekend I'll also try to see if I can nail down a Saturday Morning Internship with a local bakery.  Now THAT would be fun.

Weekend Chore #3:  Clean the house.  I don't necessarily look at this as a chore.  We've been really good about keeping things neat, so it's really just a good dusting and vacuum.  I'm thinking that I'll probably vacuum the halls and stairs of the common areas, as well,  They definitely need the vacuum, so I'll just spruce it all up.

Weekend Chore #4:  Decide on a vacation.  We're going to Martha's Vineyard in the first week of August and renting a house with 3 other couples.  We're really excited about it, because neither of us have ever been to MV.  However, we're trying to plan one other vacation.  Our 1st anniversary is coming up (1 month from today), and we were thinking of doing something for that....We also wanted to go to Florida to visit my father in law, but we have to make decisions based on my vacation time at work....So we have some decisions to make this weekend!

If things progress this weekend as they usually do, I might get a few of these things done...I'm hoping for a productive weekend, but we shall see!  :o)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

April 5, 2011


I woke up late today.  By waking up late, I mean I hit the snooze button on the alarm 5 times.  Alarm went off at 6:10.  I didn't get out of bed until 6:50.

I left the house at 7:05 this morning (showered, makeup on and dressed).  15 minutes is a personal record.

I had no gas in my car when I got in this morning (my husband warned me that I would need to put gas in the car, yet I didn't take this into consideration in getting up late).

I had training for a new project from 8-12 today.  It was so boring I wanted to pull my hair out.  At one point, someone came and sat behind me and his cologne was so strong I thought I was going to throw up.  Yes, it was that bad.

I had chicken salad for lunch.  Technically, it was "Chicken Waldorf."  

Side note about lunch:  There are two people in the cafeteria who make sandwiches.  One is really nice, but he overloads sandwiches all the time (I'll ask for a grilled cheese and he'll put 4 pieces of  cheese in....Or I'll ask for chicken salad and he'll put in enough for a moose to eat).  The other person who makes sandwiches is informally known as "the tomato Nazi."  She makes comments on absolutely everything you eat, and if you ask for something that she doesn't think is very good, she doesn't hesitate in pointing that out (a lot of people like lettuce and tomato on their sandwiches.  She often thinks that the tomatoes are not a good idea, and argues with you to not put in tomatoes.  Sometimes, she refuses to put them on your sandwich "NO SOUP FOR YOU!").

I used the FedEx station at work and shipped stuff to my brother in law and nephew in CA today.  It's actually pretty cool - you get a 60% discount on shipping, you just have to reimburse the company.  I spent $12.99 to ship two packages across the country at 2 day select.  Pretty cool, if you ask me.  My brother in law's birthday is today.  My nephew's was in January....Nothing like sending a birthday gift 4 months late.

I hung out with my employees for a little while this afternoon.  It was 2:25 and I commented on the fact that one of the guys was all dressed up and ready to leave....Just standing around until 2:30 so he could leave.  He argued me that everyone gets to leave 5 minutes early for everything.  I explained that it's not what's supposed to happen, it's just what people do...But I don't allow it.  The lead thought it was pretty funny.  I hope he enjoyed is free 5 minutes today!

I hung out in the Temp Office today.  I really like the girl (Jen) who works there.  Actually, she cracks me up.  She had on some awesome shoes today, which she said she got at Macy's.  I really need to go shopping.  We talked about a few different things.  Mainly about her shoes, the other shoes she bought, people at work we don't like, and sports.  She's a huge college basketball fan....And she went to UCONN....So she's pretty happy today. 

I am listening to Pandora at my desk right now.  The station I'm listening is called "QUEEN," Yes - as in Queen.  However, it's playing "I don't want to miss a thing" by Aerosmith.  Don't get me wrong, I like Aerosmith.  But if I wanted to listen to them, I would have created an Aerosmith station.  I'd much rather listen to Queen.  I have an obsession.

I think I'm going to make Tacos tonight.  That sounds yummy.  I just need to get the taco shells....And all the fixings.....That is always helpful.

Most of this will repeat tomorrow.  I'm sure the hitting of the snooze button and the waking up late and all that will repeat.  The training will definitely repeat.  We'll see if anything else changes.