Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Child of the Corn

I probably shouldn't have scraped the sides--but I wanted it all.
I am a Child of the Corn. No, not that scary movie. It's just that I love things made from corn. I love popcorn, corn noodles, corn bread and corn muffins.

And I love polenta.

Ever wonder why corn and tomatoes, both New World ingredients, got to do so well in Italy? I wonder. Don't have an answer yet, but I do wonder.

But recently, I decided I had to have it with a dish I was making--nothing else would do. It's such a lovely color, it's such a lovely texture...

I turned to my rock, Marcella Hazan. Let me just say that Marcella doesn't do anything by halves. Remember when I begged to not have to par-boil the fresh lasagna noodles? She said NO.

For polenta, she has you standing there stirring and stirring and stirring...for 45 minutes. Luckily for me, she also has an easier method--er, one she refers to as the "no stir" method...HA.--for the lazy (my word, not Marcella's!) among us. Add the polenta to boiling water, stir it, put heat on low, cover, let it cook 10 minutes. Stir another minute. Cover and cook 10 minutes...etc. Do that 4 times, then stir stir stir stir at the end...serve this silky-textured molten corn with an intensely flavored tomato sauce and steak...

Or you could also pour it into a loaf pan to slice and saute or grill the next day or two.
Or you could stir cheese into it, pour it into a shallow pan, cut it into pretty squares or diamond shapes and top it with sauteed mushrooms, like we did at Union Square (name drop!)...mmm, great little hors d'oeuvres.

The crust is the best part, right? And trust me, just like Marcella says, an overnight soak and this came out in one piece.

And the next day I had it sliced and griddled...
But whatever you do, don't do instant. Marcella, in the spirit of being fair, tried hard to like instant polenta, but she just couldn't. And really, jumping up to stir a pot of this every 10 minutes? Not a hardship, not at all for the final results.

As for me, with every recipe I make from Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella, I am in love. Maybe I can blog my way through it like Julie did with Julia. Unoriginal, but man, what a year of good eating I would have!!!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Guest Post: Annie Logue and Sweet Carbs in China

My good writer friend, Annie Logue, had an incredible experience this summer--she got to spend six weeks teaching in China. I love her financial blog posts, but she happened to have some thoughts about baked goods in China..

Finding Carbohydrates in Chengdu
by Annie Logue
I dearly love all things flour, so I was worried about my stay in China this summer. I knew I’d have no trouble getting noodles, but I figured I’d have a summer without bread. But I was mistaken. It turns out that there are some mighty fine baked and fried treats available in the middle of the Middle Kingdom.
I was in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, which is known for its food. Apparently, the women are considered to be the most beautiful in China because the peppers makes them so hot. Po, the Kung Fu Panda (http://www.kungfupanda.com/), is from Qingcheng Mountain outside of Chengdu, and I was told that you can tell he’s a local because he likes to eat. In all the discussion of Sichuan favorites like mapo doufu (http://www.food.com/recipe/iron-chef-chinese-chef-chens-mapo-tofu-296880)  and hot pot (http://www.chengduliving.com/a-fiery-feast-sichuan-hotpot/), the pastry gets overlooked. And that’s a shame.
I spent seven weeks in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan and home of the giant panda. I was teaching finance at Southwest Jiaotong University (http://english.swjtu.edu.cn), which is well off the tourist track. On my first full day, I stopped in a bakery and found a wonderful treat: custard bread. It's a soft and sweet bread, almost like challah, spread with whipped cream (my favorite), custard, or jelly: 
MMm. Custard Bread.

Another bake shop nearby had a large, changing assortment of cookies and cakes. 
Cookies, cookies, cookies.

 My favorite were caramel rolls, which differed from the American version mainly in being a manageable size and having a light sprinkle of sesame seeds. Unfortunately, they were not available when I was taking pictures. I liked their sandwich cookies filled with a sweet bean paste, almond cookies, and pumpkin-seed cookies. The bakery also sold rolls garnished with shredded pork, a common item in Chengdu. It seems that in China, cooks will put meat in anything they can find! The baker was really nice.
Really nice baker!

That's not a surprise, because everyone in Chengdu was really nice and really friendly.
Twists or teething biscuits?
Many bakeries sold deep-fried twists , which had the sweet, plain taste of teething biscuits. That's a good thing; I'm the oldest of five children, so I ate a lot of teething biscuits growing up.

One of the standard breakfast foods in Chengdu is you tiao, which are fried breadsticks. They are a lot like unsweetened yeast doughnuts. 
You tiao
They are usually served with warm soymilk or congee, a really thin rice porridge, which you can dip the sticks in if you like. I loved you tiao, although I was sometimes tempted to sprinkle sugar on them. 
In addition to the baked goods, I really liked the caramelized-sugar suckers. 

Lucky winner! Caramelized sugar rooster sucker.
These are sold in the parks. The vendors have spinners; for about $1.00, you take a turn at the wheel to select your shape. The best shape was the dragon. I won the rooster, which was pretty cool. The vendor spoons melted sugar on a marble slab, inserts a stick, and viola! A tasty treat. I'm told these vendors are mostly found in lesser-developed areas; Beijing and Shanghai are too sophisticated. Who knows if that's true?
What I do know is that Chinese food was always surprising, sometimes in a bad way, mostly in a good way. The best surprises were the baked goods.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Espresso Heaven

Every now and then, a little bonus shows up in my email--that's how I felt when a Phillips Saeco rep got in touch with me out of the blue to ask if I wanted to try the new line of espresso makers they have.

Let me get full disclosure out. I'm relatively attached to the very old (at least 10 years old, maybe older) Krups espresso/steamer I've had on my kitchen counter for years. I love it so much that I travel with it when I can. It's small, simple and gives me great coffee. I'm loyal.

Remember that paragraph. I will revisit it.

Where was I? Ah, Phillips. Um, well, YES, of course I'd love a shot at trying a few shots of espresso from this new line of machines that would make my morning coffee easier than it already was. So I said yes, send me a machine.

What I didn't let the rep know was that I planned on traveling with the machine. And that machine was going to be put through its paces, because I was taking it to our family reunion--17 people, almost every one of them a coffee drinker, and the tea drinkers? Well, they would decide if the hot water dispensed make their cups of tea worthy.

I unpacked the machine the minute we arrived at our destination.

Isn't everyone happy when they have coffee? I know I am..

Oooh, pretty. The machine is sleek, the lines slick. The would look nice in any kitchen and its footprint is pretty small. I'd find room for it in a flash.

Ooh, pretty.

The quick start guide was pretty straightforward, although I did have to read the manual to understand what a flashing light meant, how I could get my double shot (hit it twice, silly), the right way to clean the steamer wand and what the little warning icons meant (no beans, bin full of spent coffee, out of water--they were simple)...

I chose a Green Mountain coffee bean to make the first batch (I did read enough to know to let a couple of cups brew just for discarding before I began). I selected the strongest setting, hit a button and let the coffee brew.

Hit me twice for a double shot!
The espresso came out strong and pretty, with just the right crema foam, that milk-chocolately looking foam that tops a really good espresso. I loved that the spout could be lowered and raised to accommodate different height cups.

Next up? The steamed milk challenge. This is where so many machines fall short for me. They don't foam it well enough and they never ever heat it enough for me...

Not the case here. I was able to get the milk steaming hot with a great head of foam. That first morning, I was Babette the Capuccino mistress..."Double shot caps for everyone!"
Doubles for everyone!
Whether they liked it or not.
They liked it.

The button that did not get a ton of use was the button for an american-style cup of coffee, although it got good reviews when it was used.

We used both whole beans and grounds throughout the week, but the beans won us over.

Once rocking and rolling, it was easy to make the coffees, and we went through a lot of coffee that week. As the primary barista, I must admit to liking not having to empty the grounds every cup, not having to fill water every time I turned around, and then, when I broke out the directions again, I loved that I could hit the "make" button twice and get a double shot without hanging out to make that second shot. I love that it grinds beans for each and every shot.

Cleanup is simple--I ended up keeping a pitcher of water near the machine to clean the steamer (we did clog it once, when I was NOT using the pitcher, but just wiping it down and blasting a shot of steam...that wasn't good enough), and that was simple..

I do wish I had stationed the machine closer to a sink to empty the drip tray, which seemed to fill up more quickly than expected, but that job was simple.

We had one tea drinker who was pleased with the hot water she got from the machine--she gave it thumbs up for being hot enough, and that was good enough for me.

The final critique? We enjoyed the machine. One user wishes the spout, which does raise and lower, would raise just a bit higher so he could fit a travel mug under it. That same user thought that for the price, he would want to be able to connect the machine to a water source (although then we are talking plumbing, and I myself prefer to avoid plumbing.

The real letdown was returning to my beloved, simple Krups, the one I traveled with when I could. After a week of Saeco's espressos, I wanted to quickly do a comparison, and my Krups didn't live up to its reputation. My coffee tasted burnt and weak compared to the Saeco, which was definitely not what I was expecting, and it has stood idle on my counter for a few weeks now.

Would I pay the price Phillips is asking for this machine? It's listed on Amazon for $949, and that sure seems pricey to me. But having done one kitchen in the past, knowing how I love my coffee, I think I might, might budget for a real espresso machine (at which point, I'd probably shell out for one that did get that water supply attachment). And because I'm a slave to stainless steel, I'd probably be eyeing the stainless steel version of this machine, which looks more substantial than the black (plastic) one feels at only a few hundred dollars more. Yep, it's an indulgence, but if I have it for at least the next ten years the way I've had my basic machine, drinking at least a cup of espresso/cappucino daily, I pretty much see me justifying that purchase for a new kitchen. (That I don't have, btw.)

This is a sponsored post; Phillips Saeco gave me the machine for use and review, and I warned them I'd be honest. I was pulling for my Krups to measure up, but maybe its decade of use has finally caught up to it. Unfortunately, when all was said and done, I subsequently passed the machine on to another user. I travel too much and it just couldn't come with me. I am sure someone, somewhere, is enjoying the coffee the machine must be making.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Babette Gets Chinese Food

Ah, how lovely. I've been craving Chinese food. In fact, I've been craving a lot of different ethnic foods...and last night my most wonderful SIL M took me to Ka Mei in Squirrel Hill,  a neighborhood just outside of Pittsburgh.

Ka Mei serves Hong Kong-style Chinese.
Cravings Satisfied. Behold:


And now is the time for me to admit I go so into the food that I didn't get photos of the eggplant in garlic sauce, which I almost couldn't stop eating, and the tofu with spicy sauce...Top to bottom I did get photos of the baby bok choy, the chow fun with brisket (who doesn't like pasta: come ON...) and the last, which was totally new to me, daikon and brisket in a rich brown gravy sauce flavored with star anise...that was awesome.

Sadly, I'm not where the leftovers are tonight.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

NYC: Maialino

Oooh, who wouldn't want to go to NYC's Maialino just on Gramercy Park? This is the latest (I think) of the Danny Meyer USC Hospitality Group's openings...pretty spot on.

The space is gorgeous--comfy, modern but still homey--neat trick that, making the space modern but cozy and old-worldy (oh yes I am making that word up) at the same time.
Perfect place for a solo dinner

We went on a Saturday afternoon, fearing it might be all eggs and branchy--but no. Although there were plenty of brunch dishes available, there were also pastas, sandwiches, entrees and side dishes.

Let's start with the side dish we ordered. Potato skins. Fried potato skins. But if you are thinking fried skins filled with heart-stopping ingredients like sour cream, bacon and cheddar, the likes of which were pretty popular in more than a few spots a couple of decades back, erase that memory. These are the peelings (hmm. What Italian nana wouldn't be proud of this lack of waste?!), fried and tossed with salt, pepper and parmesan.

Best. Snack. Ever.

fried potato skins Maialino style
Then it was pasta almost all around. My sister, the black pepper queen, couldn't resist the cacio e pepe--pasta with pepper and cheese. Oh, and probably butter. Definitely butter.

I see carbonara and I have to have it...this was made with crispy guanciale...rich and satisfying.

In both dishes, the pasta was absolutely perfectly cooked.

If you're curious, there was also wine, fish, dessert..who could resist?? We shared a sampling of sorbets and gelato. There was a cheese sampler as well, and ...a cake, a tart? I can't remember, it was all so good...

Carbonara: bacon and egg pasta--brunch after all?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Finally: Prune

Ever since I read Blood, Bones and Butter, I have wanted to do two things:

  1. Go back to work in a kitchen and maybe, just maybe after all, own and run a restaurant.
  2. Go to eat at Prune, the restaurant owned and run by the author.

Of the two, that second item was far more likely to happen, and I knew that if I ever made it into Manhattan, I would make a beeline for Prune. That day happened last week. I dropped my daughter off to dance class in the city and found myself with about four hours to kill.

And guess what? It was lunchtime. One look at the subway map and I realized I was at the stop for a train that would take me to within two blocks of Prune. It was kismet. A trip to Prune for lunch was meant to be.

So it's probably okay to admit to a little bit of hero worship now for Gabrielle Hamilton. She's done what--twenty five years ago (coff coff)--I thought I would do. She's opened this tiny little space in a funky neighborhood with food that is just spot on. It's comfortable. It is definitely cozy in the Manhattan meaning of cozy (tiny, that is)...and for me it was just right for the food.

Food like my lunch: a crisp, cold glass of rose on a hot hot day.
A "kerchief" of pasta covering a perfectly poached egg and a salty-sweet-tender slice of ham, lean and melting. The whole dish then "sauced" with brown butter, toatsty-crunchy pine nuts and generous shavings of parmesan.

For a side dish, I couldn't resist the peas with a bit of honeycomb melting on the top. Just because.

Then also just because? Dessert--mascarpone ice cream with salted caramel sauce and brioche croutons.
Yes please.

It was all fabulous and low key and great food and relaxed and comfortable. Gabrielle was there, and even though I wanted to gush I didn't...I thought maybe she would be too cool for a gushing fan, but I did exchange a few words with her, saying how awesome the pasta was and that anything with a poached egg is heaven in my book.

And that was it. I went back out into the heat, had a few photos in my camera and wished I lived in NYC again.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Introducing Guest Blogger, Van Waffle

Part of the Blogathon from last month was the guest blog. One of the bloggers I approached was Van Waffle, a freelance writer based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. He blogs about urban nature at Speed River Journal: www.vanwaffle.com

In May, he had already committed to writing a post for someone else...but in our exchange he suggested we swap posts sometime down the line. Now is the time--he posted a post about edible finds in Bermuda that I wrote..and now I've got this bit of adventure (or misadventure, as he calls it--you know how I love a misadventure in the kitchen!) from him for Babette Feasts.

Foraging Nettles: A Bitter Misadventure
by Van Waffle

Stinging nettles are remarkably nutritious, but their bite may be worse than their sting. I learned the hard way. This is a basic foraging lesson: sample every wild plant cautiously before throwing a bunch in any recipe.

Do not be discouraged from getting to know this unfriendly plant. Urtica dioica is an excellent source of nutrients such as magnesium, calcium and vitamins A, B, C, D and K. It contains more protein than other leafy green vegetables. The plant is distributed widely through Europe, Asia and North America. Handily, it favors inhabited areas. In Guelph, Ontario, where I live, nettles flourish along overgrown banks of the Eramosa and Speed Rivers.

Nettles can be delicious. Supposedly they substitute nicely in any recipe calling for spinach. I like them with butter and a dash of lemon juice. Last month I followed a traditional Italian method for Pesto d’urtica. It was delicious.After that success, I wanted to try an entrĂ©e: mushroom nettle lasagna. Onecool afternoon my partner and I returned to the Eramosa River. It drifted past banks dappled with pink and purple flowers of dame’s rocket. There I found what I wanted.

Be careful handling nettles. Stems and undersides of leaves are armed with tiny hairs that inject some noxious brew of acid and histamine. Once stung, you will never forget. It is not dangerous, just painful for a few hours. Some people eat nettles raw to show off their prowess. In case you are not a masochist, I recommend a long-sleeved shirt and pair of surgical gloves or ordinary gardening gloves. Use strong scissors or shears to cut the sturdy stems.

Harvest nettles in spring or early summer. As long as they have only a few leaf pairs, the entire shoot will be tender enough to eat. Mature plants are supposed to be edible, too, but I cannot vouch for their flavour. The stems and lower leaves become tough, so just take the top two or three leaf pairs. Simply steam the shoots. Once limp, they lose their sting and can be safely handled or eaten.

I could hardly wait to make the lasagna. At farmers’ market the same day we bought white and shiitake mushrooms from a Mennonite farm, local goat feta, and mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Rather than steaming the nettles, I added them directly (using gloves) to the tomato sauce along with mushrooms, onions and new garlic and simmered a few minutes before assembling the lasagna. We were salivating by the time it came out of the oven.

At first bite I almost cried. It was impossibly bitter. This could not be masked with garlic or salt. Each of us sadly choked back one small piece. At least it did not make us sick. I hoped the taste would mellow overnight, but next morning the smell of that lasagna made us both gag. I had to throw it out. I experimented to see whether steaming or boiling the nettles would render them edible, but to no avail.

It is always wise to carefully sample unfamiliar foods, but I had thought the pesto experiment was adequate. Gustatory adventures sometimes end in disappointment; that is the price of discovering something new and wonderful. I recommend tasting steamed nettles before including them in any recipe. Their bitterness might have been caused by an unusually long stretch of dry weather in May. Whatever the reason, I must wait until next year’s crop to try again. Here is the recipe that worked:

Pesto d’urtica

Enough fresh nettles to fill a bamboo steamer
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
3 cloves garlic or more
1/4 cup olive oil

Steam the nettles until just wilted, about 4 minutes, then allow to cool slightly. Pulse nettles, pine nuts, cheese and garlic together in a food processor until finely chopped and combined. Add olive oil while blending until desired consistency is reached. Serve with fresh pasta.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Finish With Songs that Make Me Smile...

So just to wrap the month (I fully intend to blog more frequently from here on out...), I wanted to leave you with songs that make me smile...maybe you will add them to your play list and think of me when you hear them...

And please-what songs make you smile, jump out of your seat and dance or just bring you some joy? I want to know...

My favorite tango song--just melts me and makes me think of being on the tango floor with a smile on my face...It is Corazon de Ora, a "vals" (waltz)--it's hard to find even just a clip, but here's one using the song...

I always go back to this song, Stand by Me by Playing for Change...I just love the song anyway and this version is touching.

Marc Broussard's Home--this gets me moving..

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

9 Things I've Learned from Blogathon

Yesterday's post about the most popular posts for me this month led some to comment on the random, rather wide-reaching subject matter of the popular posts. This is true, which may mean I need to refocus the blog itself...I think the 31 days of blogging lets me wander a bit off track with subject matter and that's fine, but if I want you to "feast with me," I really should be blogging about...food.

Things I've Learned:

1. I need to focus more.
2. I need to really write a lot to get a little of great. Essays require craft and honing and editing. I need to write more and edit more to get a few good posts a week, in hopes that I'll end up with a few great posts every year.
3. I love reading compilations. I learn a lot when someone takes the time to show me what they've been reading. I think I will keep this feature, but focus more on the food world.
4. I need to set firmer hours for work. True, the freelance life is about flexibility, but there have been days when I've flexed myself right out of any work at all. Not a good way to be a successful freelancer.
5. I need to give myself permission to read more during those work hours. Reading about what's going in in the food world is part of my job. I think I sometimes feel almost guilty about "just" reading...but that's crazy.
6. There is always room for improvement. My goal for the next year is to really hone the craft of writing. Focus on craft and focus on business. Because in the end I really do like to write.
7. Sometimes a photo is enough.
8. Even *I* can write a haiku, one that might make someone smile or tug at your heart a bit.
9. Wordle is always fun.

What have you learned?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What Makes a Popular Post?

We are on the downward slope of the blogathon!! As usual, I've enjoyed it. I like thinking about it, coming up with ideas, really keeping tabs on the thoughts I have as I go through life just so I can sit down and write a few words about one thought or another.

I have enjoyed sharing watercolors and photos with my blog readers..

That said, I'm always curious what posts prove most popular--If you are wondering, too, here are the top five Babette Feasts posts of the month:

1. Rules to Break in the Kitchen. This post was top post when I wrote it before--it was a re-blogged post..does this mean we are all kitchen rebels?

2. Guest Poster Charmian Christie--she's fun, funny and has a following of her own at Christie's Corner, so she brought readers. Note to self: have more guest posters.

3. Second Act: Barb, Triathlete. I think this resonated with other women AND it was picked up as a link on Second Act's own page. Again, broadening the audience, linking to other spots and having others link back is always a good idea.

4. Calendar Watch. This post marked the one-year anniversary of my brother's death. For better or for worse, the blogathon, if held in May, will always mark the anniversary of his death. I think it is for better, as I can share the good memories and remind myself to bake some bread or make some homemade pizza, as I did this year. I think, again, this post just touched a lot of readers.

5. Five New Things--this is about great things I found to eat or to use in the kitchen. Again--a list, useful info, and a little bit of fun.

What were your top-read posts? Why do you think they were popular?

Editing to add that Jackie Dishner, a.k.a. The Bike Lady took today to look at blog stats, too...great minds and all that...

Monday, May 28, 2012

Wordle Monday! May 28--

Wordles are always fun--I like looking back at my words. It doesn't mean much. But it is fun. Painting, photo, geochaching, watercolor. Those words jump out. And try and trying...

What does your wordle look like? Leave a link!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Photo Sunday: Hibiscus

I love the way I caught the sun shining through the leaves of this hibiscus. A simple shot but nice.

Have a peaceful Sunday.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Roundup: What I've been reading...

If you've heard me talk at all about blogs I love, you know I'm insanely jealous of  crazy about Food52. This week, I had a good read over there on "Oats In All Their Many Forms." Now at least I know what the answer is to that age-old question, "What ARE steel-cut oats?"

I took a walk this week and saw an OCTOPUS IN THE OCEAN. And all I could think was: Dinner.
No, just kidding. Sort of. But it really was cool and it put me in mind of this most awesome video of an octopus working its camouflage magic--we saw the octopus, which was trying hard to look like the rocks it was nestled into, change color in a flash. Watch this video, which was shot by Dr. Roger Hanlon and see just how cool and quickly they CAN do that...if I were a kid and saw this video? I would SO grow up wanting to be a marine biologist studying octopi. Octopuses. Octopi.

You know what I mean.

And this was funny--Stolen iPhone Adventures. A woman's phone is stolen while on a Disney cruise and the phone starts auto-uploading photos to her Facebook page...um, yep, including photos of the alleged thief, Nelson, who happens to work for the cruise ship. Oops.

And now for some inspiration--a teen invented an inexpensive and easy-to-administer test for pancreatic cancer. Kinda gives you some hope for the next generation, right? Do add he won the Intel Science Talent Search?

And remember the Make it Count Nike ad video link from last Saturday's roundup? I just read (and loved, of course) this piece about Director Casey Niestat taking the risk and going rogue to make this ad.

And this just in--it brought tears to my eyes...So joyful!

Friday, May 25, 2012


I am heading off to watercolor right now...hope I have something lovely to post upon my return...just putting this up as a placeholder!


So I took this photo of a lovely gate in St. George's:

 And here's my start (the photo is very dark of the pairing...it's not so sepia-colored)...

I am already off...Perspective, everything. I may finish and then do it again, working to correct my lines.

Also, the print of the photo from my machine does no justice to the photo...so I am trying to justify an iPad for my photos...hah. I'll try anything....

If I finish, I'll add the finished painting to this post.
In other painting news I actually gifted the photo of the chimney top to a friend. My first gift of art...It was nice to give something so personal.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What's New? Try Geocaching

Nothing to do with food today, but I wonder what have you done that is new lately?

In the past year and a bit, I've tried tango, renewed my love of watercolor painting and, very recently, tried geocaching, just to name a few.

The geocaching is something I've wanted to try for years...It's like treasure hunting with a hand-held GPS. There are geocachers the world over, and they have quite a network. From what I've seen, if you geocache, you can find a connection almost wherever you go.

What I love about it is that it's a reason to be out and walking, getting to know a place and there's this little nugget of a reward if you find the cache. Open it up, sign the log and check out where in the world others who have found the cache came from...It happens to be a great family activity, too. Kind geocachers leave trinkets for the kids--marbles, inexpensive charms, that kind of thing...

Here's how the Geocaching official website defines it:

Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.

Check out the site, find a group and give it a try if you have even a bit of interest. You will probably like it and you may just find yourself some new friends...

So what have you done that's new lately? Tell me about it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

If I Started Blogging Today...

Six things to tell you about what I'd do differently OR the same:

1. Buy your name and pay for it for about 10 years AND use an email account you read. One you read often. I lost the URL babettefeasts.com because I read the first post about "we are renewing your URL. Expect a charge" email but MISSED the one saying the charge didn't go through because we had moved and our address didn't match the one on file. Life goes on, but I kinda hate that I lost the URL. Now I'm babfeasts.com, which is okay. But it really took the wind out of my sails for a bit.

2. Play with all the features. Just because they are there. It's worth having a look around.

3. Stick to it year round, not just during the blogathon. Every year, when I do blogathon (this is year three), I realize that the more you do it, the easier it is. I see ideas everywhere, I write them down and I really have fun with it. My blog is in my mind...it's worth it to blog often.

4. Ignore any negative comments. I haven't ever gotten many (my blog is not exactly controversial), but when I have, it's felt as if I insulted someone. But the truth it, I haven't...I just get hung up about wanting everyone to like me. That's just silly. Delete the comment and move on.

5. SHARE the blog. Post links places, encourage people to click over, make it easy for them to comment.

6. Read and comment on other blogs. You'll find readers and friends and good things to read all at once. You won't like every blog you read, and not everyone will like yours...not to worry. The blog world is a big one. We all fit.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What Have I been Doing Lately, You Ask?

No, I haven't moved to soft-core porn (although I am about to read 50 Shades of Gray, and I hear that maybe I WILL be reading writing some soft porn. I hear it's lucrative....I digress).

To celebrate a friend's birthday, another mutual friend volunteered to make a pink panty cake (because one of the birthday girl's favorite drinks happens to be something called pink panty: pina colada frozen mix, melon rum, coconut rum, grenadine and pineapple juice)...with me.

 HUH? I don't bake much--although I love to decorate...But anyway, after googling "how to make a butt-cheek-shaped cake" (don't do it. results are ugly), I realized we'd have to go it alone...and this is what we came up with. We are delighted with the results, it was a fun cake to present, and it was even delicious...

To make it, I baked one round layer and two cereal bowls of Dorie Greenspan's pound cake. After some discussion of ideas, Kerrie had the vision that became the finished cake. (She's done this before..)

We sliced the round layer in half on the horizontal, then used that for the legs and the waist/back. We carved the bowls into a lovely bum, and then we "glued" it together with strawberry jelly (no fruit pieces) and covered if first with the flesh-colored fondant, then the little panty, then the ruffles and then the pink pearl trim. I still think we should have covered the entire thing with buttercream to smooth it out, but that was my learning curve....

Anyway, we loved making it, and I will have fun making more decorated cakes in the future...

And Dorie's pound cake is the perfect medium for these sculpting efforts...
(And for those of you wondering, we put the candles in little cocktail glasses to the side of the cake...it just didn't seem right to put candles...well, ANYwhere into the cake...)

And Ps. I am especially proud of us for having done this without any template at all, just a vision and collaboration...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Haiku Blog Monday: Sleeping Dog

Sleeping dog, quiet
morning. How can she do that?
Wish I slept so well.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Calendar Watch

I've been watching the calendar all month, dreading this day.
One year ago, my brother David died very suddenly. I opened the blogathon with an essay inspired by David and about the time I spent at his house after his death.

But this entire month, a knot would come in my stomach when I knew I'd have to mark this date.
The details of the morning I learned of his death are etched into my memory. I had just pulled into the parking lot at my daughter's school. I had to pick her up for a doctor's visit. I remember the exact parking space. The day was gorgeous.
My phone rang and caller ID said it was my mom. "Hi, Mom! How are you doing?!?!"
I answered with fun, with enthusiasm.
"Not so good. David died last night."

I lost it. Lost it. Shouted. Pounded the steering wheel. And knew I had to pull it together to get my daughter and get her through the visit.
I remember standing in the hall in front of the school office, waiting for her to come, leaning against the wall and quietly sobbing. Someone came and guided me to a seat. All I could say was, "my brother just died."
I made an eight-hour drive to my mother's house that day, to the house we all grew up in. I spent the time on the road alternately crying, angry at the wrongfulness of it, talking to friends and family to get me there. The next weeks were filled with memories, a trip across the country, a memorial service, family and lots of questions.

I think I can say the pain is less 365 days later. The heartbreak is the same. I miss him more now than I did then. It's still every bit as wrong as it was 365 days ago.
And this from a message I wrote last May 31:

So today, please go open a bottle of wine you may have been saving for a special day. Pitch the sliced bread and either bake a loaf or go get REAL bread, good bread. Drizzle out a bit of really good olive oil, and savor it all with family and friends. Because today? Today is a special day.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saturday Round-up #3

Things I've loved this week!! Enjoy your Saturday.

Here I learn about the life of a literary translator (and think: I want to do that!!)

Peter Shankman's Open Letter really was touching...loved it.

A funny, cute post-it note prank gets seniors suspended and the adult janitor who supervised them FIRED. That's some crazy overreacting!

I found this article on cyber security by Shelly Palmer chilling. We had better be paying some attention.

Happier stuff. I occasionally revisit this video of a murmuration for some magic. Watch it.

Around the world in one-second clips:

And one more! A Nike Make it Count commercial...Love it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Watercolor Friday!!

Last week I turned out these two copies...the originals are in pastels and gouache; mine is all watercolor. In case you need help, that's a grapefruit on the left, a pomegranate on the right.

See what I mean? I do pretty well with FOOD.

I wanted to add this lovely little piece of Bermuda chimney, too...this I did all by myself, not from a photo, not a copy of another painting...

Over the weekend, I found some frames at a church sale, so I am busy getting the photos up and finally getting some color on these white walls...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Second Second Act: Tango Dancer!

While I am enormously proud of the fact that I am a triathlete, I can honestly say that the most fun and joy and passion I've found in the past year has been as I danced tango. Tango gave me a cool thing to do with my husband, gave me a new group of wonderful friends who love to dance tango as much as I do and can teach me along the way, took me to Buenos Aires for 10 days to tango until I was exhausted and introduced me to my first pairs (that's right, plural: PAIRS) of finely made tango shoes, stilettos made just for dancing. I am especially in love with the purple pair (looks blue above, but trust me: they are purple)..

What do I love about tango? When I have a strong leader, it's a connection. It's trust. It's a willingness to follow where he will lead. With my teachers, who are just fabulous dancers and fabulous leaders, I've found myself dancing with my eyes closed, chest to chest (in tango, this is a close embrace), following them wherever they lead. They make me look fabulous, too.

This much I know: I dance with my eyes closed, a smile on my face and joy in my heart. I'm not young or old or worried about anything. I am just happy.

This second act? This is one that will be with me for the rest of my life.

Here's what YOU should do. Google tango in your town. Then show up. Show up and dance.

And if you happen to be in Charlotte, NC?
Google Passion for Tango. And get a dance with Daniel or Bill. They will make you love this dance.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Second Act: Barb, Triathlete

So. "One" hits 50.
But one feels, oh, I dunno. Eternally 26? But the mirror, the scale, the clothes, the eyes (oof, the eyes!)..they pretty much convince "one": You are SO not 26 anymore.

Two years ago, when I was 50, I did the usual medical annual exams. I was heavier than I'd ever been. For the first time, my blood pressure wasn't something to brag about. A colonoscopy (TMI? Too bad.) had benign polyps--that was my third or forth colonoscopy, since my dad died at the age of 50--from colon cancer. Cancer that first showed up when he was 40, if I recall correctly. But it was the FIRST time I didn't have an "All Perfect" result.

And I like perfect.
It was, frankly, a wake up call. Use it or lose it. If I was heavy then? I'd probably be even heavier if I didn't pay attention. Watch what I eat the way I used to. Move more.

All that coincided with a commitment to swim on a relay team for Paul's Posse (read all about it here)--the relay team was doing the NYC Triathlon, and I volunteered to swim.

In the Hudson.

I did that swim. And about 2 hours after swearing "never again," I was high five-ing teammate Dakila--we were both going to do the whole thing the following year.

Which meant one thing: I'd have to run. And I don't run. But Couch to 5K got me to 30 minutes of running. The same approach got me from 5K to 10K. I continued to eat well. The weight dropped off. I bought a sweet, sweet bike and rediscovered my love of biking. When I finally jumped in the Hudson River for the second time, I had dropped about 50 pounds. I had worked out with a personal trainer and I was in the best shape of my life. That year's annual was just the way I liked it. Zero problems.

Now I call myself a triathlete.

Maybe all our life we get second acts. It's up to us to take on the role.

What have you done that's new? Different?
 (Tomorrow's tale continues with Second Act: TANGO!!!