Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rachel brought an awesome Thanksgiving Activity:

We used recycled catalog cards to share our thoughts. After dinner we passed the pitcher, selected a card and read it aloud, giving everyone the opportunity to guess who had fashioned that particular sentiment. Sometimes it was difficult, sometimes easy. See how you do.

Thankful for:
  • Lita providing us with the start of a Family Compound
  • Nap
  • Two Thanksgivings
  • Jonathan
  • 12/12/50
  • That our wedding ran smoothly and that so many friends and family were able to come
  • To be alive
  • Such great friends
  • My car
  • Ham biscuits
  • All of the new jobs in the family
  • Good cooks in the family
  • Such wonderful in-laws 
  • Having an awesome boyfriend who puts up with 3 cats and a very stressed out student teacher 
  • Baby Vassar and looking forward to meeting ... it? next year!
  • My furry family that includes Gabe
  • Going skydiving ... and being alive to tell the story
  • New life in the family
  • That our kids are not love-rejects, and that those who chose them are so awesome
  • Dolly Dog
  • Netflix
  • My new computer
  • (hope)     (an ode to Christina Fisher)
  • For my new nephew and my nieces and I'm thankful to have another niece or nephew on the way
  • Family compound
  • Free haircuts!
  • The size of my family has doubled, but not my waist
  • Bamboo
  • Linus, an unexpected addition Xantha, and an even more unexpected addition baby Duke
  • No one has dreadlocks in our family
  • Lolladog
  • Batman
  • Kids & kids-n-law that are willing to live in vicinity with us
  • Rachel and Ivan and the fish and the cats and the dinosaurs
  • That Foo is still here
  • 4 More Years!
  • Auntie Lee who took me in when I was 18
  • Being able to enjoy three amazing Thanksgiving Feasts
  • Free haircuts!
  • New house
  • Thanksgiving
  • Surviving 5th grade and Kindergarten (thus far ...)
  • There is no bamboo in my yard and that I won't be a grandfather until I'm at least 62
  • Cabin Home
  • Oysters
  • Tonia Bear
  • Rachel's Thanksgiving Activity
  • Next-door-in-laws

Thursday, November 22, 2012

'Tis the season to be fruity

In an odd twist of circumstances, Mom asked me for a recipe. Actually, it was her recipe that she couldn't find.

Last Christmas, Antonia and I baked fruitcakes from her handwritten card and sent one to her. She gave us very high praise for the result. I don't think ours were any better than hers, but maybe she just liked the fact that someone else was doing the baking. Honestly, we didn't care for it much at first, but I think that was because we hadn't let it age long enough. Later in the season, Antonia and I both agreed it tasted better. Maybe even good.

Antonia found the hand-written recipe, but I got curious about its origin. Since it had some product names in it, it wasn't too hard to find on the web. It looks like it came from a Gold Medal Flour recipe, calling itself Wesson Fruitcake. The copy I found online has a torn and stained image of what someone's grandmother used. You can use that one, or go with the improved version below from Grandma Duke.

You know which one I would recommend.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Sour Cream Cookies

At my surprise party last week, I was reminded of the cookies that Mom usually baked around Christmas time. They are soft  and yellow-white with a sugary icing and sprinkles. Having only one at a time is not an option. Jenny sent me the recipe she uses, which I hope to use when we go stay at the Evermore Barn.
Sour Cream Cookies

2 C. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 C. shortening (I use room-temperature butter)
3/4 C. sugar
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 C. sour cream

I got my copy of the recipe over the phone from Mom. I only have the ingredient list, not the instructions, but I just make it as I would any other cookie recipe. Old school recipes always want you to sift the flour, but I never do and they turn out fine because we're living in the Modern Age of Finely Ground Flour.

Preheat oven to 375. Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. (Truth be told, I don't do this either, but it's a good idea so that everything is evenly distributed.) Cream together shortening/butter and sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in half of the sour cream, then half of the flour mixture, repeat. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Jody said that she icings them while they are warm, but I always wait until they're cool.
Jody responded, "I never sift the dry ingredients, just mix them with a fork.  I also never use sour cream in the sour cream cookies.  I add about 1 tsp of vinegar to 1/2 cup evaporated milk and let it sit a few minutes before adding it."

Jenny added, "I use sour cream if I have it and sub if I don't, but I don't measure the vinegar and use whatever milk I have and sometimes a combo of nonfat with a shot of half & half."

If there are other variations out there, let me know. I want them to be perfect, just like Mom's.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kolache vs. Potica (a northern region dispatch)

Nothing says Christmastime like baked goods, and for Duke-Dippers, the baked good that says it best is kolache. The kitchens at my work are brimming with goodies, and on today's early morning reconnaissance I came face to face with what I consider the holy grail.

That's right kolache! Except, wait a minute, it's not kolache. The package says "potica." A quick search reveals that potica is the common Slovenian name and kolache is more of a catch-all term for cakes. Have Duke-Dippers been eating potica all these years (gasp!)? Probably, but who cares!

In my official role as investigator I took a slice of the kitchen potica back to my desk... uh, I mean back to my lab for analysis. There were minor differences in what we grew up with -- a little too much nutmeg and walnuts that were chopped into almost a paste instead of being left a little chunky, but all in all it was surprisingly close to the real thing.

Northern Minnesota residents seem to be particularly fond of the cake. And now that I know this, another conundrum has been cleared up for me. About a year ago, I started hearing people talk about kolache (pronounced: "ko-LATCH-ee"). What the "you betch-ya" state refers to as kolache is actually more of a breakfast roll with a sweet filling. So if you find yourself here for a visit, now you'll know what to order and not be disappointed.

In the case of kolache vs. poticia, I say let them live in harmony. Eat them both.

Na zdraví (cheers)!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One-Click Installation for all your Essential Applications

Ever reformat your hard drive and despise the fact that you have to download and install all of your essential programs again (like Adobe Reader, Flash Player, Spybot, etc.)?

I just found a website,, that does all of this for you and allows you to access your personalized list from anywhere on the internet. Select from a variety of programs via categories, popularity, and even browse other user's lists. This site works with linux, windows, and mac (ugh).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

John is Inducted

Peter got us tickets to a JMU football game this weekend. You know what that means: John is no longer a college football virgin! We figured, what with Peter being a senior and all, we'd better get ourselves to a football game NOW. We made that decision just as JMU embarked on some big wins, and found their tickets all sold out for the season! But Pete has friends, and one of his friends' father generously treated us to some of his season tickets.

We picked a perfect day, with sunny weather in the 70's. Pete, John and I picnicked before the game, but we avoided the tailgates so as to be fully present at this momentous event. I have been to a few college football games (thanks, Dad!), but this being John's first time we wanted it to be really special. To give you an idea of how excited he was, I'll share our conversation with absolute accuracy:
Darien: Let's go to a JMU football game! I want to see the marching band!
John: I'd rather see the football game than the marching band.
Darien: Ok!
Darien: We've got tickets!
John:  ... (looks like his computer just died) ...
Darien: You said you wanted to go!
John: I was KIDDING.
As you can see, we all ended up having fun, even though JMU lost to Delaware, 13-10. It was a fairly close, fairly engaging game. The fans were insanely enthusiastic. The marching band rocked.

JMU Touchdown!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bless bless

Fearful of running out of time, we got out of bed early to say goodbye to Reykjavik and drive our rented Hyundai back across the fields of harsh black lava half overgrown by mosses and tiny plants to the airport in Keflavik. We had packed the night before, and we were even able to stuff into our well-traveled backpacks the additional clothes we had shipped to Iceland.

The last time we flew out of Iceland, the airport counter was mobbed and we barely made it on the plane before the doors closed. This time, we had nothing to worry about. The airport was virtually deserted, and the desk clerk, with nothing better to do, fell all over herself to wait on Darien and Antonia while I struggled with returning the car -- either my Icelandic or my credit card failed me, for I was unable to use the self-service option to refill the tank. The shuttle driver who took me to the terminal explained a bit about the history of why the airport was built at Keflavik, extolled the 70 degree heat wave we were suffering, and told me that vik means "bay." I hadn't known that, or more likely I had forgotten that.

We ate a little, drank some dark coffee, and Darien purchased a fifth of Brennevin for a friend. Evidently, some people actually do choose to drink it. I had my sunglasses repaired at an optical shop that had already opened and Antonia spent twenty minutes dousing herself with perfumes in the duty free shop.

We were finally ready to board.  We still had several movies to look forward to on Icelandair, an eight hour layover in Boston (napping on vinyl airport chairs, pushing Antonia around on a luggage carrier, lunch at Legal Sea Food, scoring handfuls of free samples of beauty products from a maid in a hallway at a neighboring Hilton, Antonia and Darien becoming so airport-stupid that a barista mistook them for foreigners and kindly showed them how to count out American money), and Peter and Jonathan almost making it to the airport in Richmond on time to pick us up. That was the future. The present had us looking through the window of the gangway, waiting to board. Across the tarmac, 115 kilometers distant, Snæfellsjökull's white ice glimmered in the morning sun. That the mythic mountain across the vik is usually obscured, and was now revealed, could only be explained by the influence of the dancing huldufolk on its ley line. Bless bless, Ísland.