Archive | July, 2011

Sunday Sweetness: Chocolate Lava Cakes

31 Jul

Chocolate. It pretty much makes life worth living. My life, anyway. And, ever since my cake-tastrophe, I’ve been wanting to ease my way back into baking a cake from scratch. When I came across this recipe for Lava Cakes – from Martha – it seemed relatively simple so I figured no time like the present, right?

I should point out that “present” was actually 9 o’clock at night – so my family was eating these bad boys at 10 in the evening. Such sports, they are. The majority of my week was spent moving my mother from one apartment to another. That really ought to be a post all by itself because it was that much fun. No. Seriously.

Back to the topic at hand:

Chocolate Lava Cakes

4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for cupcake pan
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus more for cupcake pan
3 large eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted (I used a heat-proof bowl on top of a pan with simmering water.)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter 6 cups of a standard muffin tin. Dust with granulated sugar, and tap out excess. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With the mixer on low speed, beat in flour and salt until just combined. Beat in chocolate until just combined. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups.

Place muffin tin on a baking sheet; bake just until tops of the cakes no longer jiggle when the pan is lightly shaken, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven; let stand 10 minutes. The centers of the cakes will still appear “wet”, even when they’re done.

To serve, turn out cakes, and place on serving plates, bottom sides up. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, and serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Not only were these super easy to make – they were delicious! This is the perfect “Realist Mom” dish – it looks super complicated, but it really isn’t. These little bits of chocolate heaven would certainly “wow” at your next dinner party or get together – especially when your guests get a look at the gooey chocolate middle.

Do you have an awesome chocolate recipe you’d like to share?

How to Run Injury-Free

27 Jul

Whether you’re a new runner or a seasoned marathoner, the quickest road to being a spectator rather than a participant is getting injured.

Some background: I’ve run pretty consistently since I ran track in high school. In all that time (and trust me, it’s a looong time) I’ve never really been injured. Two years ago, I had a foot issue (plantar fasciitis) – but a pair of orthotics and a temporary decrease in my mileage, and I was all set. But that was B.F. – Before Forty – and this is A.F. – After Forty. It’s not that I think my best years are behind me. I don’t. On the contrary, I know they’re ahead of me. It just takes a little more effort and persistence than it did before.

Today was the first time I nearly didn’t finish a run because of pain that was the result of an injury. I call that “bad pain.” “Good pain” is the pain you endure in order to improve or get stronger. “Bad pain” is a pain that signifies something is wrong.

This is my actual knee - not a stunt knee - after the skiing accident that started it all. Have I mentioned I hate skiing?

I hope none of you find yourself in that position – because it sucks. A lot. Now that I’m a little bit older my body doesn’t bounce back quite the way it once did and it also doesn’t put up with the neglect I once subjected it to. I couldn’t have avoided my skiing incident (unless, of course, I didn’t suck at skiing) but there are some things you can do to keep injury at bay.

The Internet is full of sometimes-contradictory advice on avoiding injury as a runner. Some of it might work for you and some of it won’t. I’d like to share some fundamental steps you can take to stay injury-free. These are things I do – or have learned to do, the hard way.

5 Tips to Help you Stay Injury Free

  1. Buy running shoes that accommodate your size and feet and stride.
    I’ll be honest, when I was younger, I bought the sneakers I thought were pretty. Big mistake. Your feet hit the ground almost 1,000 times for every mile that you run. Too much or too little cushioning can lead to disaster. I’m a distance runner who overpronates. I wear shoes that help support my feet. Go to your local running store – they’ll help you find the shoe that will work for you. (And as I recently learned, the shoe that’s worked for you for years may not anymore.)
  2. Stretch. 
    I know that there are plenty of runners who never stretch before they run and have never had a problem. Good for you. Really. I was one of you, once. Not anymore. Flexibility is one of those things that you lose as you get older unless you work to maintain it. There was a time that I could put my leg over my head – true story, I was super popular – now, I’d need surgery if I tried that. As much as I am loath to use any of my “running time” to stretch – I do it. You should too.
  3. Strength train.
    Strengthen your core. Blah blah blah, you hear it all the time, right? It’s true. The stronger you are, the less prone to injury you’ll be. Let me give you my story as illustration: I fell while skiing and tore a minor ligament in my right knee in December. After 8 weeks of recovery, I started running again. All of the sudden, my left knee started to have problems. It turns out that my left leg wasn’t strong enough – particularly my hamstrings and glutes – to withstand the slight shift that was taking place in my stride. It was like dominoes; my left knee affected my hips affected my back. Now I’m doing physical therapy to – guess what – strengthen my hamstrings and glutes. Save yourself the trouble and do it before you get hurt.
  4. Increase your mileage gradually.
    The rule of thumb is 10% per week. I’ve seen folks try to go from 10-12 miles per week to 25. You might be able to do it, but why take the risk? At some point, the law of diminishing returns will kick in and your body will start to tell you it’s running far enough. That’s where suggestion 5 comes in:
  5. Don’t be afraid to rest.
    Listen to your body. The world will keep spinning on its axis if you take a day or two – or even a week – off from running. I try to remind myself that my body and I are on the same side – my body is not my enemy. If she tells me she needs rest – I rest. If I’m really tired or very sore, or my run the day before was miserable, I interpret these as signs that I need time to recover a bit more or that I need to back down the number of miles I’m running.
I can’t guarantee that you won’t hit a speed bump on your way to whatever your running goals are – but these tips should keep you up and running.
What’s the worst running injury you’ve ever had? What did you do that made it worse or better?

This fell on our house…

26 Jul

…and I did not like it.

I live in Upstate NY. We’re not prone to crazy summer weather up here. Snowstorms – hell, yes. A foot of snow falling in an hour on Mother’s Day? Yup. Tornados? No. Except today.

There was a tornado warning. The power went out and it got really…windy.

I’m not ashamed to admit I panicked. I rushed all three kids into the dark basement, along with the dogs. Except for Bella – our chicken dog. (Sidebar – she’s a rescue who must have had a bad life before we got her, so she’s terrified of everything.) I had to carry her 60 lb. furry ass down the stairs.

I also could not find the flashlights. Note to self – get new flashlights and put them near the cellar stairs. And don’t let the kids touch them.

Readers, I wish I was also carrying my camera along with the 60 lb. dog, because what I’m about to tell you is a visual – but try and picture it. (Maybe I’m building it up too much – you be the judge.) We have those little windows in the basement that tip in – they’re sunk into window wells. The rain was so intense, the window wells filled up with water and leaves and grass and water started to seep into the basement (awesome). So the kids and I are staring at the window, at the murky water, listening to this act of God going on outside and – smack – this frog slaps up against the window, swimming frantically. We screamed. Mr. Frog was all “WTH is up with this weather?!”

Fine. You had to be there.

And then it was over. Our house was okay  – a few leaks here and there, and I had to bail out the window wells. And save the frog. Three dogs + one frog = fine dining for the dogs.

This is what it did to the weeping willow on the corner:

Am I the only one who feels really badly when things like this happen to trees? This tree survived getting struck by lightning last year – this just seems so…tragic.

The kids did enjoy the new creek outside the house.

*For the record, what went by my house was not a tornado, though there are reports that one passed through the next village over.

Do I suck?

25 Jul

This was a fortune I got in a leftover fortune cookie. Sooner would be better – I’m just sayin’.

Usually, I reach this point about mid-August. I know I just wrote about how much I’m appreciating my kids and all but…not today. Right at this moment, school can’t start soon enough.

My children Do. Not. Listen. Not to sound like my mother or anything, but I would never have dreamed of flat-out ignoring my parents when they asked me to do something – especially not my father. And yet my kids do. Which of course makes me wonder: do I suck at parenting? I’d like to think I’m honest enough with myself to acknowledge that I’m responsible in some part for the things my kids do. We can’t only take credit for the good stuff, right?

Allow me to submit into evidence the following:

This is Flap and Kitty cleaning the playroom. (And yes, that’s laundry on my dining room table waiting to be folded. Glamorous, I know. And ignore the hideodorous fabric on the chairs – that’s going to get replaced as soon as I can commit to something new.) See how committed they are to the task they’ve been assigned? Sigh.

How do you get your kids to help around the house? Because seriously, I need some pointers.

Is it Sunday already?

24 Jul

So yeah, this week.

Have you ever had one of those weeks where everything just comes together at just the right time, in just the right way so that almost everything you wanted to accomplish gets done?

Me neither.

This week was no exception. Here’s what I wanted to do:

1. Get the house cleaned up. (This is always on my list – but it’s such a mess now I can barely breathe.)
2. Get both girls’ rooms all done (as per my list.)
3. Get the leftover garage sale stuff out of the garage (finally) and out to a variety of non-profits.
4. Get back into my “cook dinner nightly” routine. It’s probably generous to call it a routine. How about “effort”?

Here’s what I actually did:

1. Played about 20 steel-cage-death-match games of Words with Friends.
2. Got some of the girls’ rooms done – I’m close, though, so look for that post this week.
3. Saw the final Harry Potter for the second time.
4. Ate a lot of take-out. Except for the night I made sandwiches.

We did pick Beans up from camp today where she very obviously had a great time. She is tan and happy and bursting with stories of taking early morning polar bear swims in the lake, campfires and mountain biking. She also brought home two weeks worth of laundry.

Laundry aside, I am just so happy to have all my babies back home. Of course the bickering has already started. Every kids should go to camp, if only so we parents can re-discover all their sweetness over again. Let’s face it, sometimes the things we adore about our kids – their laugh, their smile, their unique way of singing or telling a story – gets lost in the un-done chores, the sibling spats and all the rushing around that seem to consume life these days. I feel like I appreciate them all so much more now. I’m hoping it will make a slightly better mom – reminding myself what it was like when they were away.

I never got a chance to actually photograph her quilt – which I finally finished – because I was so pressed for time I was actually sewing the binding on as we were driving to camp. Did I mention I get car sick? Good times.

Her arms were too tired to keep holding it up. I guess roasting marshmallows can really tucker a girl out.

And then there are the dogs. If I had a nickel for every time I said “No Charlie!” this week, or grabbed some errant item out of his mouth (like my brand new vacuum, for example) I could hire someone to teach this dog some manners. I have two other dogs who are very well-behaved but Charlie – ugh, I don’t know what it is with him – he’s a hellion. No joke, he was standing on the kitchen table this morning. Eating a bagel.

What. The. Hell.

And here’s what happened to the pizza box. I was out of the room for no more than 90 seconds:

Maybe I should start making my To Do lists shorter. Or maybe Charlie needs to go to camp!

Am I the only one who has had weeks like this? Or a dog like this?

Sunday Sweetness: S’more Crescent Rolls

24 Jul

Yes. I’m obsessed with S’mores. The first step is admitting you have a problem, right? The second step – in my book – is spending hours on Pinterest checking out what seems like a million versions of this classic treat.

When I saw this on Pinterest via Northern Cottage, I knew I had to give it a shot.

I’m a fan of the crescent roll, because they’re pretty versatile and super-quick. And I’m all about fast and easy. (Like I like my men! Ha. Ha. I crack myself up.) When it’s 100 degrees outside, I am not baking something for an hour. Though I would totally make these for a winter breakfast treat, too.

Are you ready for this crazy ingredient list?

1 cup of mini-marshmallows
2 Hershey Bars
1 tube of crescent rolls

Still with me?

Preheat your oven per the instructions on the tube. Pop open the crescent rolls. Place two chunks of chocolate and about a tablespoon of marshmallows at the wide end. Roll those bad boys up. Bake as instructed.

Hello, yummy. The kids gave these two thumbs up!

The original recipe called for chips – which I was out of – so I used the Hershey bars. When I try this again, I’m going to use the chips – because I think they may melt a little better than the milk chocolate – and a single big marshmallow. I can also imagine using this technique with a zillion other fillings like sauce and mozzarella or ham and cheese.

If you try these, let me know. What else would you put in these bad boys?

Because I said No.

21 Jul

Not unlike the rest of the Universe – it is sweltering hot here today. Like, stupid hot. The kind of hot where you step outside and laugh. Or, you would laugh if the air wasn’t so thick you could actually breathe.

The kids wanted to go to the pool today. You can call me a bad mommy, but sitting alongside an overcrowded pool sweating my behind off when I have perfectly good central air at home, is not my idea of a good time. It’s not. So when the kids asked, I said “no.” I know, I know – no one said life was fair.

And so the kids did this:

I have to give them props for creativity.

And for playing together nicely.