Thai Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup

As a person who grew up in Florida, the winters in Massachusetts remind me of the ninth circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno where everything is frozen. I am exaggerating a bit because today is 50 degrees and I’m writing this with a T-shirt on, but every now and then (usually on a day that requires me to be outside of my home) it can drop into bitterly cold.

This may not be good outside weather, but it’s PERFECT for soups! While my husband prefers the chunky soup, he kindly got me the immersion blender I had asked for on my Christmas list. Up until now, our smooth soups have come out as a kind of strange porridge consistency and I found that my blender just couldn’t seem to get those little pieces.

Armed with the right tool, I decided to try out a recipe I found on Pinterest for Thai Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup. You can view the original recipe at Host the Toast (Morgan takes amazing pictures of it too!).

This soup was fantastic!!!! It had that sweetness from the squash, but the red curry kept if from tasting like pumpkin pie and then there was this spicy back end that would come up after you swallowed. Not only did I really love it, but so did my husband! It also left me feeling full, which is something I don’t always feel after eating soups. It’s super easy to make, low in calories and reheats well the next day. Enjoy!

Thai Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup

Nutrition Facts (according to Myfitnesspal)

Serves: 4

Calories per serving are: 168 (though this can be more if you add Naan Bread with it)

Ingredients: Listed in the order you will need them

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated
  • 1½ tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 4 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • ½ teaspoon Sriracha, optional
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ⅓ cup cilantro, chopped, to garnish
  • ⅓ cup unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts, chopped, to garnish
  • Naan (I used garlic naan)

Now I highly suggest making the ingredients ahead of time, so that way you won’t be in a crazy rush to assemble them as you go.

1.) Over medium heat add the oil, garlic and onion and saute them until they’re soft which is about 3 minutes.

2.) Add the ginger and curry paste and mix it with the onion and garlic. Let them heat together for 3 more minutes.

3.) Add in the raw Butternut Squash (if you’re not using pre-cut, then be sure to cut the pieces into small squares. About an inch or so). Also add in the broth and stir to combine them. Bring it to a boil and then set it to low and cover. You’ll want to simmer it for 20 minutes, or until the butternut squash feel soft when you poke it with a fork.

4.)***If you have an immersion blender: After you’ve simmered the butternut and it’s soft, I took a potato masher and mashed some of the pieces until they weren’t so big and bulky. After that I took the stick blender and just mixed it up until it was a smooth soup.

***If you do not have an immersion blender: You will need to remove the soup from the heat and let it cool. From there you can blend it in batches until it’s smooth. DO NOT try to do this while it’s hot because if you don’t remove the stopper, the steam can cause your blender to explode covering you and your kitchen in hot soup. After you have blended all the soup, you can put it back into the pot over medium heat and warm it up till hot.

5.) Once it’s the right temperature for you, remove it from the heat and add in the coconut milk (but save a little for the garnish), lime juice, salt, pepper, and Sriracha (if you like it a little spicy). Stir it up, and put into bowls.

6.) Take that little bit of coconut milk that you saved and drizzle it on top. How you do this is up to you, but I like to make a swirl and then drag a tooth pick into the center so that it looks like a flower or a spiderweb. You can also add a little chopped cilantro and chopped peanuts as well. I forgot this the first time I made it and it still tasted great so if you forget don’t worry about it. Serve it warm with naan bread (garlic is always awesome but chose whatever you like).

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

 

 

The Pinball Wizard Arcade: The Magic of New Hampshire

Location: 150 Bridge St P, Pelham, NH 03076

I am not being paid to write this article. I honestly love this place so much I’m doing this for free. Read more to find out why.

For a former Floridian, Massachusetts winters can be brutal. The snow is downright terrifying and honestly I still don’t drive if there’s more than an inch or two on the road. I’ve tried, and it resulted in me driving into a snow drift, and even bending the control arm on our car. The other side of nasty winters is the fact that it can get extremely cold. There have been times it has gone into the negative numbers during the evenings and bitterly cold during the day especially if it’s windy. I’m talking about the kind of cold that seems to disregard your coat and chill you to the core. It’s nasty.

Our first winter here was spent hiding in our tiny Woburn (pronounced woo-burn) apartment. This is now our sixth winter here and we’ve learned to “work” with the cold. So long as the roads are clear there is a place that is ALWAYS a slam dunk date for me and Amin (my husband). That place is called The Pinball Wizard Arcade in New Hampshire. I know, you might be thinking (especially if you’re from Florida) “Oh man, you have to drive to another state?!?!” But honestly it’s right on the border and if you live near Boston it’s not too bad of a drive to get there, and IT’S WELL WORTH IT.

I regularly drop $60 bucks here and I don’t regret a second of it. Honestly. This place has EVERYTHING!

Okay first thing’s first. I wasn’t into pinball when I started going here. I’m more of a World of Warcraft, Dance Central, Fallout 4 type of girl. But this is a vintage place. The memories of games I played while growing up came up in a flash.

The owner who is Sarah St. John, has several Skee-Ball machines (to which my mother was quite pro at playing in Florida and even managed to save up and get a small keyboard with). She has what I believe to be every version of Pac-Man (and woman). She has all the legendary vintage arcade games such as Galaga, Arkanoid, Frogger, Defender and even Burger Time (which by the way is such a freakishly epic game; I’ve only gotten to the third level once and I still happily give this machine my money). It doesn’t stop there though. She also has a lot of more modern video games such as several car racing games including the Star Wars pod racing game, Marvel vs Capcom, and CarnEvil (which since I don’t play horror games I tend to have a love hate relationship with). She also has what has taken possibly the most money from me which is the game Deal or No Deal which is a betting game in which you have to bet on and weed out brief cases which can have up to 400 tickets. Sounds great right? Well what if I told you that is actually not the focus of this place?

The main focus of Pinball Wizard is the row, upon row, upon row, of pinball machines. Epic, is not even a good enough word for the beautiful collection of pinball machines she has collected and kindly allows us to play. Now remember, I said I wasn’t into pinball, so why am I bringing this up? Well because she has made me a believer. Once again she has collected quite a variety. Some are basic, two flippers with very little flash while others like the Game of Thrones machine or the Star Trek-themed ones have a lot of moving parts. The variety alone allows you to dip your feet into what is familiar and go into the more unfamiliar and vintage territory. I can’t recall what pinball game I played first, but it started something in me that desired to play more of this. Honestly, I’m still in the beginner stages of pinball. My goal is to keep the ball in play for as long as possible, and as I’m pushing the buttons I can honestly say I have no idea what I’m doing but it’s fun.

If I had a few thousand saved up I know the first pinball machine I’d try to buy from her. It has a bad reputation and I’ve heard that several parents with delicate sensitivities have complained about it. The pinball machine I’d buy is South Park. It’s horrible and awesome at the same time. You put your quarters in and you hear the bus driver Ms. Crabtree yell in a terribly loud nasty voice, “HOW’D YOU LIKE TO SUCK MY” and then the machine thankfully beeps out the rest. It has farts, it has bad humor, it’s everything you’d hope to get from a South Park pinball machine, and I love it. I don’t care if there’s a mother holding a toddler behind me, I will play it proudly and take the glares as a compliment. I LOVE IT!!!

If South Park is not your thing, there are many many many other amazing pinball games to chose from. One of the recent ones she’s gotten in is a Game of Thrones themed one as well as a The Hobbit themed one and an Avatar one. If Fantasy is not your thing, she also has not one, not two, but several Star Trek themed pinball, all of which I’ve played. There is also a Rescue 911 pinball (for those of us traumatized by the show in the 90’s), Tales From the Crypt, The Wizard of Oz (which is pretty cool), Gilligan’s Island, The Twilight Zone, Theater of Magic, and Revenge from Mars, just to name a few. I could honestly name so many more, but you really should just go there and check it out for yourself.

You can tell Sarah really loves this place. It’s clean and very well maintained. The floors are regularly vacuumed, the bathrooms are clean which is more than I can say for some places I’ve been to, most of the games run well, and the staff are friendly and really kind if a machine eats your tokens or is glitching out.

It’s literally located in a plaza which has a pizza place, Dunkin Donuts, and a Chinese take-out steps away from the arcade, if you care to cross a parking lot, you can go to a fairly decent Hannaford’s. Why do I bring this up? Because when my husband and I go, we go all day. Seriously, we get there when it opens, and then we have a “lunch break” and then go back to playing. You can honestly spend all freakn’ day at this place and just live out your childhood dreams of being in a fantastic arcade all day.

I could write another entire blog post (and I very well might) about how I feel arcades in this age of console and app gaming should be kept up like a library. I could talk about (and still might) how I feel like vintage gaming, especially pinball should be kept up as a part of American history, but for now I’ll just say this; if you go alone, you’ll have tons of fun. If you bring a date you’ll have tons of fun. I would even be willing to bet money that if you brought an enemy to this place you will still have fun.

So if you’re new to New England like my husband and I were, and you’re tired of playing video games and watching TV inside your home- visit The Pinball Wizard. You’ll have fun. It’s a great place to leave your worries at the door, and just get swept up in the lights, sounds, tickets, and feeding your inner child that so desperately wants to just have fun.

Painting: Blue Buddha

Title: Blue Buddha
Materials: Acrylic on Textured Board
Prints on: Etsy

Every year around Christmas, my husband and I go to this wonderful little seaport town called Rockport. If you’re ever in Massachusetts, especially during the holidays, I highly recommend stopping here. There are tons of these adorable little stores and great restaurants. I’ll write a post just about how amazing this place is some other time, but for now I want to write about my inspiration for the piece above.

There is a particular store that I’m crazy over called Floating Lotus. It’s a store that sells a lot of Tibetan and Eastern items. I’ve bought quite a few things from there including a singing bowl and a meditation cushion. My husband sometimes gets me a piece of jewelry from there because all of the settings are incredibly unique. I feature some of these pieces on my Instagram. Every year, I try to save a little money to get myself something really special from there.

One year I decided to buy this blue Buddha. He’s not very tall, only about 4 or 5 inches high. He’s seated with his eyes closed in peaceful meditation. Now, I’m not Buddhist, but for me personally I feel like he would have been an extremely good therapist! I have a lot of Buddhist sayings that I like to sometimes read and think about throughout my day. He was my first statue purchase and the first to really start my Eastern Art collecting.

I was inspired by the blue of the stone, and the warm colors of my studio in contrast, so I decided to paint him. At this point in my painting career I was still learning how to work with Liquitex acrylics, and I was exploring the vibrancy that they naturally possess. I was also just beginning to learn about facial anatomy. My parents were both cartoonists, and by default I learned how to mimic their styles. This painting contains both the searching for my own artistic style along with that of my upbringing. While I no longer paint in this way, I still have the original hanging in my office right next to my art desk. It’s a calm reminder that things will change. My art style changes, where I live may change, but there is still peace in all of that. I hope it brings you the same peace it brings me.

If you are interested in purchasing a print of this, please visit my online store at: Etsy

10 Ways to Set Up for a Successful New Year

2016 sucked! I mean, I thought 2015 wasn’t so fun, but then 2016 happened. On New Years Eve: the recipe that my husband wanted to cook failed because of some heavy cream I had bought that morning magically curdled in the fridge; the Chinese food we ordered to replace it was so late in getting to our home that the rice was crunchy; and in the end we popped some champagne and went to bed around 10 disillusioned. It left me feeling rather hesitant about 2017. I also found I wasn’t alone. This morning the guy who took my Starbucks order told me that he didn’t celebrate at all.

Last year left me severely anxious and depressed due to events I’ll share in some future post, but it really caused me some actual fear for this coming year. Expectations are high- the thought of another rough year was almost enough for me to hide in my bed, except that wasn’t going to make things better. So I took some time to really think about and make a plan for 2017, and I’d love to share it with you.

1.) There is Always Hope

I went to see Rogue One recently with my husband. There was a line that one of the main characters said that really stuck with me which was “We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope”. I liked it because to me the big, scary, invisible monster was the new year…and I felt like something needed to change, I needed to rebel against my monsters. Hope is not ignoring the bad, but believing that perhaps it will improve, or that good things will find their way to you.

2016 left me feeling pretty hopeless, but that doesn’t mean 2017 is going to be the same way.

2.) You Eat an Elephant One Bite at a Time.

This was one of those weird out of the blue thoughts that instantly calmed me down. There’s a lot of crazy wrapped around the New Year. You are expected to go out, which for a closet introvert like me is the last thing I usually want to do. You are expected to make resolutions which puts pressure on you to follow through with those resolutions and talk about them and then feel bad when they fail. The fact you’re even having to think about the year in such a grand scope primes the mind for anxiety.

You can’t control what’s going on a year from now…and bad things happen. So do good things however, and all you have to do is your best for the next 24 hours. Isn’t that nice to know? In fact, if the next 24 hours seems too big,  remember that 8 hours of that 24 is hopefully given to sleep so you don’t have to worry about that either. You really only have to worry about the next hour really. In fact, most of our days if you really think about them are pretty boring. There’s eating, bathroom breaks, commutes, showers….most of the drama happens in your head, but even that has to end sometimes so you can sleep.

Controlling one’s thoughts is something I may write about later when I figure that out, but what I’m trying to say is that it helps if you don’t see the year as this big scary thing…it’s just one day at a time.

3.) Who Do You Think You Are?

I love watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I like watching it for a lot of reasons; it’s funny. I like the creative outfits, I like the lip sync battles, and the inspiring stories of what these drag queens have gone through to get where they are. During one season, I was having a moment of real dark depression and I just thought “man, what I wouldn’t give to have a part of me that was happy and confident and just awesome.”

As a kid I watched Star Trek and they had a concept where there’s the normal you, and then a different you in a parallel universe. So on this particular day I sat down and wrote out what I think this alternative Heather would be like. What would she eat, what would she do with her spare time, what where her passions, what did her life look like? Writing about myself as though I was some alternative fictional character helped me figure out exactly what I wanted without feeling selfish, or thinking my wants were stupid.

It also helped me to see outside myself and visualize what I wanted my life to look like. Yes, we all want to eat better and trim off extra pounds during the year, but how often do we visualize what that would look like in a normal day? For me, I wanted to work on myself a lot. I wanted to meditate more. I wanted to paint more. I wanted to write more. As I wrote and wrote I began to see who I my ultimate self would be, and I liked her!

Take time to think about yourself on that level. If you have to name yourself something different to disconnect from where you’re at do it! If you want to just think of this as an “alternative self” do that! There’s no rules. Just take a second, in a quiet space, to really ask yourself what you want to get out of life.

4.) Make a Plan.

I realized it’s extremely easy for me to take the 24 hours I have for myself, plan out every hour of it, get discouraged and then spend the day sitting on my couch playing video games. I think that happens to a lot of people in the new year. They have all these goals that they want to start right on the first and then when there’s a change to plans everything falls through and they never recover.

For me I decided the best way to fix that was to make a week long chart. On the top of the chart, I put the days of the week. On the side I put all of the things I wanted to accomplish. THESE ARE NOT RESOLUTIONS!!!! These items I would “like” to accomplish during the week that will help me become like that alternative self I dreamed up, but it’s not going to crush my world if I miss something. On that side list I put things like “make a healthy menu, exercise, write in my journal, read part of a book, take a bath, etc. I wrote down all kinds of stuff. Then I used a little check mark to show what I did for that day. Oh, I wanted to plan a healthy menu on Monday but didn’t? That’s okay, I still have six more days to try. This allows room for failure, and as much as we don’t like failing, it happens, and it’s something you can accommodate. One sure fire way of failing is to think you have to have a complete personality change on January 1st as you wake up hung over, covered in glitter and wanting nothing more than to chow down on something fatty to help your sour tummy.

5.) Pinterest: Your Dream Board

Pinterest has been one of the biggest tools in helping me visualize my goals. You can visit my profile here. I have pinned everything from meals I want to cook, clothes I like, even what I want rooms in my future house to look like. One feature that I really love is their secret boards. These are ones that only you or people you allow can view. These are great because maybe you might not be comfortable posting how you want to lose weight, or underwear you like, or even that you’re trying to reinvent yourself. This way you can quietly pin things and topics that make you smile that only you have to know about.

6.) Remember that You are a Transitional Being.

This was a another big thing for me. Being depressed can make you believe that you are the worst person on the planet, and that nothing you do will be good, and nothing good will ever happen to you. Self-criticism is through the roof! I woke up in a bad mood one day and I just looked at myself and was like “Ugh, look at you…you are nowhere near where you want to be”, but then I had a thought that seemed to come from someone else, and that thought was “not yet”. It actually startled me, but it’s stuck ever since that day. Whenever I think critically of myself I seem to remember that whisper now. I’m not as healthy as I’d like to be….yet. I’m not the artistic business woman I want to be….yet. I am not where I want to be….yet.

The word “yet” reminds me that right now doesn’t mean forever. It gives me hope. It tells me that yeah, okay, fine, you’re not where you want to be, but that doesn’t mean you won’t ever reach your goals. It also puts the power back in my hands because “yet” makes me think about what I need to get there.

7.) Get Some Help

I’m so happy that more celebrities are talking about how they go to therapy. It takes away the stigma that it’s a place for crazy people. People have issues. No one is excluded. Even that super-happy-positive-appearing person you know has things that upset them that they try to not think about. I think it’s those issues though that lock us into certain ways of living that may not be what we want. I don’t think the person who is overweight is just lazy and wants to eat. I don’t think that the homeless person is a drunk or on drugs and doesn’t want to improve their situation. I think that people honestly want to do what they can for themselves, but “something” is holding them back.

For me, I lived in a really sheltered home. This meant that I wasn’t very confident. After my mother passed away I decided to go to grief counseling which was provided through her hospice. It helped tremendously. After I moved up here to Massachusetts, I continued to go to therapy because it helped me rebuild.

Therapists aren’t there to judge you, and there are all kinds too and some will even have sessions over the phone or through text! Some suggest medication, some do not, and there’s all kinds of therapy styles to chose from. Gone are the days of laying on a lounge chair and talking about your dreams and relationship with your mother…unless that’s what you want to do! They are there to figure out where you are having trouble becoming that person you want to be. Sniffing down what is holding you back may not always be fun, but it’s like digging out a splinter. Once the nasty part is over you can heal and become even stronger. If you feel you would benefit from therapy, then I suggest researching the different types and finding a therapist that fits that style.

8.) Cut out People that Don’t Support You.

I had a very difficult time understanding that I was allowed to have dreams that my family thought were stupid. As a kid I loved writing and doing art. My parents were both artists and I can still remember my father telling me “Don’t you want a real job, where you can actually pay your bills?” I shunned that side of me for a really long time or did art with the idea of “well, this isn’t really worth doing seriously”. The same happened with writing. I loved writing, but the idea of actually being a writer seemed irresponsible.

Moving up to Massachusetts scared me at first. I didn’t know anyone up here except my husband. The distance however was a blessing. With the support of a therapist and my man, I was able to pursue art and writing and put in extra time to finding and doing what makes me happy.

My block list on a lot of my social media’s is a mile long, but the freedom it affords to just be who you are without the peanut gallery chiming in is priceless.

9.) Don’t Miss the Small Accomplishments.

Sometimes our goals get in the way. I am in the process of writing a book. I’ve spent years on it editing and plot planning and just making it something I can be really proud of it. There have been several times where I just wanted to delete it because “It’s not perfect”. I would completely miss the part of “Oh my god I wrote a book! Yeah it’s not perfect and still needs editing, but how many people have actually sat down and written a book?”. Celebrate your little victories. If you were only able to cook one healthy meal this week, GOOD!!!! There are tons of people who didn’t do that. You may not look like a model, but you lost a pound? GOOD!!!! Some people have gained weight! Any movement, no matter how small towards your goal is better than staying where you are and worlds better than going backwards.

10.) There is ALWAYS Someone Worse Off and It can Always get Better

A few years ago: My mother was dying of a terminally ill disease. I couldn’t get work because I was helping to care for her which meant my newlywed husband and I were extremely poor. We could barely make rent, our fridge was often empty, and we would have been homeless without the generosity of a very good friend of ours who let us rent a room in his house and another who sold us his car for $1,000.

For as bad as it was though, I remember hearing the phrase “There’s someone always worse off”. Now at the time, I thought that person was me, but looking back there are some key things that I took for granted. I had a place to live. There was clean water coming out of the faucets for us to drink if we wanted. We had electricity. There are people in third world countries don’t have those simple things. They may have to walk to get water. They may not have electricity, or even public transit to rely on. There are those who have everything they own in a few bags perhaps and have to rely on others to help them get a meal.

The other half of this statement is also true and I put them side by side because for me in my life it was really that sudden. My mother eventually passed on and I became estranged, but that opened up the freedom for my husband and I to consider leaving where we had grown up and searching for better things. In the span of one month, he ended up getting a fantastic job with a start up company in Boston which paid him double than what he was getting, and I was able to for the first time in my life find who I was and explore what makes me happy.

No matter how sad your situation might be right now, remember it can change very suddenly and for the better. Take hope, do your best, and get ready for good things, because they can be just around the corner.

If you have any other ideas on what to do to have a successful new year, or if you just would like to talk about what your goals are for 2017, please leave a comment below! Thanks for reading!

 

Relic of the Past

 

wmark_scale_gameboy

Title: Relic of the Past
Materials: Acrylic on textured board
Dimensions: Original is 12 inches high by 9 inches wide. (though print sizes may be varied)
Prints on: Etsy

This was my first attempt at painting in a semi realistic style and took care to notice shadows, highlights and dimensions.

wmark_scale_nintendosketch
The first sketch of my beloved Nintendo GameBoy Pocket

I decided to paint my first personal gaming console. My parents were very anti video games, and so it was a wonderful surprise to get this Gameboy Pocket for Christmas one year and in my favorite color of red too! I enjoyed many wonderful hours playing with it. As a child I often played Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back which for some reason wouldn’t allow me to save and the batteries would die before I could reach the ending. I went to PAX East this year (a gamer conference) and I made sure to pick up some new games for it (like Frogger and Pac-Man). When I’m feeling nostalgic I usually fire this up, and play through some Tetris, or Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins. The more amazing modern technology becomes, it’s nice to have this relic of my past to enjoy. There’s something about it’s green/silver screen that has a beauty all of it’s own.

First layer of that beautiful red color.
First layer of that beautiful red color.

The process of the painting was fun. I took very careful measurements of the GameBoy and transferred them on to my board. Once I was done painting the body I actually put my GameBoy on top of the drawing so I could see where the shadows naturally fell on the board to give it a 3D look. Probably the most fun was trying to come up with a way to mimic the classic screen which I ended up painting with a green-grey paint I mixed up and covering it with a fine film of silver.

Needing some edge clean up and the display color, but so far so good.
Needing some edge clean up and the display color, but so far so good.

If you are interested in purchasing a print of this please visit my store on Etsy

Jack Daniel’s Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese

I’ve been wanting to cook this recipe for the last month and I finally got a chance to last night. Let me warn you ahead of time, this meal is dense. It says on the recipe that it serves four and I could barely put a dent in my serving. To be honest it probably serves more like six. I will include the calorie counts for both a four portion meal and a six portion, for those of you who just want to have an idea of how much this is (but I promise you won’t like the results).

I got this recipe from Pinterest, but you can find it as well as some really nice pics on the site The Slow Roasted Italian.

Jack Daniel’s Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese:

Jack Daniels Ingredients

Ingredients:

½ tsp salt (and don’t forget to salt the pasta water.)
12 oz Hickory smoked peppered bacon, uncooked
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup Jack Daniel’s Whiskey
½ cup chicken broth
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon smoked paprika ( I didn’t have any smoked paprika and just used the regular kind)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon New Mexico chili powder ( I also didn’t have any of this specific chili powder, so I just used the regular kind)
1 tablespoon chili pepper paste
½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups milk
4 ounces extra sharp cheddar (white), shredded
2 ounces smoked provolone cheese, shredded
2 ounces Asiago cheese, shredded
8 oz dry elbow pasta
croutons (garnish)

Directions:

1.) Prep the ingredients. I’ve found that measuring everything ahead of time and getting it all set up, makes for a much more fun cooking experience.

2.) Bring a large pot of  water to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, add some salt and the pasta. Cook uncovered to al dente (has a bite to it). Drain and set aside.

3.) Meanwhile warm a large 12” skillet over medium-high heat. Using clean kitchen shears cut bacon into bite size pieces over the skillet and let them to fall into the pan. Stir occasionally as needed. Cook until crisp.

4.) While the bacon is cooking, (f you haven’t done so already) shred (or chop up) cheeses and prepare remaining ingredients.

5.) Once bacon is cooked through, remove bacon to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Reserve 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings and discard the rest. Wipe the side of the skillet to avoid flame ups.

Jack Daniels Rue
6.) Pour reserved bacon drippings back into the skillet over medium heat and add butter. Once melted add flour and whisk to combine. Add spices, chili paste, Worcestershire, whiskey and chicken broth. Whisk to combine. Allow to come to a bubble for 3 minutes, whisking occasionally to help pick up the bits on the bottom of the pan. Add milk. Whisk to combine. Bring back to a bubble and add cheeses.  Stir until cheese is melted and smooth.

Jack Daniels Mac n Cheese

7.) Add pasta to sauce and stir to combine. Add bacon. Cook pasta in sauce for 5 minutes over medium heat until sauce thickens and the pasta has a chance to absorb some of the sauce.

Sprinkle with croutons, if desired. Because this sauce is so thick and rich, I found that the croutons bring a much needed crunch to the dish.

Jack Daniels Mac n Cheese Finished
Enjoy!

I got the calorie counts by putting the recipe into the My Fitness Pal recipe maker:

For 4 servings it’s roughly 759 calories for each individual serving.

For 6 servings it’s roughly 506 calories for each individual serving.

 

Alton Brown’s Bourbon Pecan Pie Recipe

I am a long time fan of Alton Brown. He doesn’t just throw a recipe at you, but rather takes the time to educate you about the way food works and explain exactly happens when you do certain things to your food. So when I was looking for a new dessert to try and make I found his Alton Brown’s Bourbon Pecan Pie Recipe on the Foodnetwork.com website. I served it actually yesterday for my Halloween party that I threw, but it is a wonderful fall dessert and easy to make in comparison to other things I’ve cooked. If you have any questions please feel free to drop me a line and I’ll do my best to answer. I hope you enjoy it.

Alton Brown’s Bourbon Pecan Pie Recipe:

IngredientsIngredientsforPecanpiecrust
Crust:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
3 1/2 ounces pecan halves or pieces
6 ounces all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons ice water
2 tablespoons bourbon, chilled
Filling: Pecanpiefilling3 large eggs
3 1/2 ounces sugar
6 ounces golden syrup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tablespoon bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces Spiced Pecans, recipe follows, coarsely chop 6 ounces and leave the remaining 2 ounces wholeDirections:To make the crust:
Chill the butter in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Pulse the pecans 6 to 7 times in a food processor or until finely ground. Add the flour and salt, and pulse an additional 4 to 5 times. Add the butter and pulse 6 to 7 times, until the texture looks mealy. Remove the lid of the food processor, add the water and bourbon, and pulse 5 to 6 times until the mixture holds together when squeezed and feels like dough. Transfer the dough to a gallon-sized zip-top bag, squeeze together until it forms a ball, then press into a rounded disk and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To make the syrup which will be come the filling of your pie:
Whisk the eggs, sugar, golden syrup, butter, bourbon, vanilla and salt together until combined. Set aside.
Putting the pie together:Unbakedpecanpie
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Cut along two sides of the zip-top bag, open the bag to expose the dough and sprinkle both sides very lightly with flour. Cover with the bag and roll out with a rolling pin to an 11-inch circle. Open the bag again, and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Place the dough into a 9 1/2 to 10-inch tart pan that is 2 inches deep. Gently press the dough into the sides of the pan, crimping and trimming the edges as necessary.  **While the directions say to roll out the dough with a rolling pin inside the bag, I just found it easier to take the dough out of the bag and press it into the pie pan.**Evenly sprinkle the 6 ounces of chopped pecans in the crust and pour the filling on top. Bake for 20 minutes. Place the remaining 2 ounces of whole pecans in a border on the edge of the filling. Bake 10 minutes, until the center of the pie should reach 200 degrees F, and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a cooling rack to room temperature before serving, 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
This is basically the same recipe you can find on food network arranged in such a way I felt it flowed better and I added my own two cents.
FinishedPecanPie
If you’d like to see the original recipe please visit the Food Network site and search for Alton Brown’s Bourbon Pecan Pie recipe, or click here.
I also managed to find this fun clip from the actual Good Eats show on how to make this exact recipe! Check it out here.

Cafe Fleuri and their Amazing Chocolate Bar

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I’ve been living in Massachusetts for a few years now, and have done a lot of the touristy things. I’ve gone to Samuel Adams Brewery, I’ve been to the top of the Prudential Center, I’ve hung out in the Common and ice skated at Frog Pond.. but I keep my ear low to the ground for things that the average vacationer might miss and the locals keep quiet about . So while I was watching the Travel Channel, they had a “best places to eat” episode on, and one of the places they rated fairly high in terms of places to go for a sweet tooth was Cafe Fleuri’s Chocolate Bar. I saw this a few years ago, and I’ve been dying to see if all the hype really matched what I had seen on TV. Interestingly enough, while there are plenty of Yelp reviews about the place (which are mixed and made me at times wonder if the Yelpers where raised in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory due to their snobbery), no one had actually taken the time to really write an article about it or go into detail about the experience which made me wonder even more what this place was like. Stories about a dessert buffet with all you can eat chocolate delights seemed kind of on the crazy side. So I put it in the back of my mind till this last weekend….

1980stable
This is the 1980’s themed table
1990stable
This is the 1990’s inspired table.

 

I may have stated before, October is my birthday month and so my husband decided that for my birthday he was going to take me to this mystical Mecca of culinary delights. First, let me share with you why this is so incredibly special, besides the ability to stuff your face with exquisitely created pieces of dessert.  Cafe Fleuri is part of the Langham hotel which is located in downtown Boston’s financial district. Like some sort of crazy magical carnival that sweeps in at some point and then disappears without a trace, the Chocolate Bar only runs from September of 2013 through June 2014 and then returns the following year. It’s also not an all week thing. The Chocolate Bar is only open on Saturdays for four hours. Every year, the chefs pick a theme to decorate their chocolates to, and this year was the celebration of their 25th anniversary. Because of this, the inspirations were drawn from favorites from the 1980’s, 1990’s, 2010, and hopes for the future. Each featured time had it’s own table of treats which included cakes, bonbons, mousse, puddings, and other assorted delectables. In addition to that, there were several other stations such as a crepe station, an ice cream station which allows you to pick and chose what you would like mixed into your ice cream, a chocolate fountain, and a chocolate soup station featuring dark and milk chocolate soup.

Futuretable
Hopes and dreams for the future.
2010table
Inspirations from 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I felt that there were not nearly enough pictures of specific items, so I decided to take pictures of the plates I got and talk about what was actually there to eat (you can find larger pictures on my Pinterest), and I have also included a  “game plan”  at the bottom of this post that I would suggest to those going to follow in order to maximize the amount of chocolate you can enjoy. Though if you are really looking to pack it away I suggest looking up how to be a Competitive Eater.

plate1
Plate one

For my first plate I followed the advice that I heard on the Travel Channel which is to chose the things you find most interesting first (because you might not have room to later). So for this plate I chose a small cup of milk chocolate soup which interestingly enough Bostoncreampiedid not taste like the cup of hot chocolate I was expecting. It was slightly salty and brought out very savory parts of the chocolate. I have to admit…the first plate I loaded with a few familiar things and then hesitantly with a few new things I’d never seen before. On my actual plate I got the following: The thing in the glass is a Tiramisu inspired by the 1980’s table, The square cake with a raspberry to the right of the Tiramisu is a tiny Boston Creme Pie also inspired by the 1980’s, Then to the left of that is another fluffy thing with what looks like bacon on top…good news…it actually IS BACON! This was a fantastic treat at the 2010 inspiration table called a”Banana Bacon Tart”. Imagine the taste of a toasted marshmallow wrapped around a piece BananaBaconTartof banana and the banana flavored pudding with the saltiness of freakn’ BACON on top, like a cherry on an ice cream Sundae. It was so good I could have had five of them, but there is a temptation one must resist…it is a trap. Don’t go back for seconds of the same item. It is folly. One does not simply eat a two pieces of the same dessert at the chocolate bar and expect the stomach to be forgiving of this flagrant expression of gluttony. If you have more than one of something it will take up valuable space in the food purse known as your stomach and this is NOT good…Lastly the strange cone thing at the far left of my plate was described as Dark Chocolate and Malted Milk Powder…I was weary of this one to be honest. I had flash backs of times when I hadn’t stirred my Swiss Miss chocolate powder coco mix enough and that first sip usually meant getting blasted in the face by chocolate powder which I’m sure even now coats some small spot of my lungs. But to my very pleasant surprise, the chocolate powder instantly turns into a kind of mousse thus preventing the urge to smuggle it into a bathroom to snort off a toilet seat like the addict one has to be in order to go to a place like this. The only thing I can guess is that the chefs might have possibly removed all liquid from the chocolate, which creates a fine dust, and then as it touches your mouth, it’s rehydrated.

Plate2
Plate 2

By the end of the first plate I could feel my body reacting to the sugar. My heart beat wildly in my chest, I’m sure my eyes were probably dilated. The top 40 that the DJ was spinning sounded really good…even the crappy songs that Taylor Swift put out. Everything was almost too perfect, nothing was wrong with the world. veganchocolatemousseThe few kids that were behaving nicely while I was normal, now seemed like perfect little angels, the crystal in the chandeliers seemed to be sparkling only for me. IT WAS ALL SO BEAUTIFUL! So now on the beginning of this chocolate high, I decided I’m going to get a bit more adventurous. I decided to go to the much talked about crepe bar! So I get a new plate and go up to this dealer of chocolate and she asks me what I want, so casually…she’s seen so many like me in this crazy position. I’m thinking she knew at this point she could make the crappiest crepe the world has ever seen and I’d still eat it because in my over chocolate pleasured brain, everything tastes good! I decided to get a banana, rum and chocolate thing on a chocolate crepe…It was amazing. I was extremely happy that I had brought my husband with me at this point because there in lies the second rule of thumb. milkchocolatecremebruleeShare the big stuff…Remember stomach room is as rare and needed as a cheap, decently sized apartment overlooking Times Square. You have to have the mindset that only the finest pieces can occupy the free crannies of your gut…There isn’t room any more for the lowly bonbon and a crepe is like an entire family complete with three kids, two cats, a dog and a deranged grandparent all wanting to move into a two bedroom apartment- It’s just not going to happen. Pace yourself and share. Along with my crepe I decided to be “healthy” and get something with fruit on top so I sauntered back to my table with a chocolate mousse topped with fruit which I also split with my man who in turn shared half of his chocolate creme brulee with me. This is one of the many reasons I love him…

At the end of plate two, what I was convinced wouldn’t happen, did…it was the dreaded sugar plateau. It’s like that sudden realization you have before you get cookiesnmilkreally drunk that this is a turning point…You’re happy now, but if you have another drink it could lead to you waking up dressed as a lion, lying on the floor surrounded by glitter, cheetos, and dirty gross people who you hope to God are actually several clones of Ke$ha and not the dirty gross random people they actually are…It’s at this point you discover the purpose for the chips and salted nuts and pretzel sticks that they have at the chocolate dipping fountain…You need something salty. The mere thought of chocolate at this point might even cause the most seasoned dessert fanatics to gag a little, but Cafe Fleuri has anticipated this, and just as chocolate can make you feel better after you’ve come across a Dementor….chips and pretzels can make you feel better after you’ve had too much chocolate.

patechouxswanswithpastrycream
Pate Choux Swan with Pastry Cream

After getting a second wind from the salty snacks you’re good to go back out into the fray…Now is the time for going for those things you never thought you’d be brave enough to try. My husband suggested that I get Fruit Pearls with Fruit FruitpearlswithfruitglazeGlaze which came in these cute, one bite sized spoons. The pearls seemed to bounce around your mouth mixing with the light chocolate sauce that was hidden in the bottom it was really good. I also got this Pate Choux Swan with Pastry Cream. The artistic value of this piece alone tempted me to take it home and put it on my mantle above my non-working fireplace…but this, like a rainbow, was to be enjoyed in the moment leaving only the memory of it’s crispy delicate pastry, filled with the best frosting you’ve ever tasted to linger in your mind forever…At this point too, the beer goggle effect started to take place…in the beginning I would have never stooped so low as to munch on something as Carnie-inspired as the pink cotton candy that sat in the corner like the reject of a high school dance….nor would I have glanced at anything from the chocolate fountain…but now, with my mind a little crazy and my stomach starting to ache, it became a test of endurance…it was no longer about the chocolate. It’s now about how much sugar could I pack within myself before falling into a sugar induced coma. So I devoured this third plate.

plate4
Plate 4.

It’s at this point where you realize that you’ve only tried perhaps half of the things at this buffet and you are completely out of room…This fourth and final trip is about finding the smallest things to pack up that small amount of space coconutricepuddingyou think you might have….but probably don’t.  For this I opted for a Pecan Tart with Bourbon…It was delicious… but even this small guy I had to split with my husband. In turn I helped him by eating half of his rice pudding which made me want to rename the Cozy Shack snack puddings I have at home to Crappy Shack. There was some sort of lemon white chocolate thing I had a nibble of which I wasn’t incredibly impressed with, and there…sitting on my plate was the shining example of where my head was at…It was a thick piece of rice crispy and marshmallow treat….It was the big fat thing that I was too wasted on chocolate to care about. Similar to turning over only to find some heinous hambeast is laying in bed next to you, and wondering at what moment you thought it was a good idea to bring them home…this was that moment, and this rice crispy treat was the symbol of my ultimate lack of judgment…I had lost my senses long ago, and now the best course of action was to go home.

But this is another thing you must not do. Do not succumb to the sweet desire to curl up and hold your aching paunch till sleep relieves you of consciousness. It’s best at this point, defeated by chocolate, whipped if you will by deserttablethe whipped cream, that you drag your sorry self out to the curb like a bum where you can cry in sweet joyful bloated pain and contemplate the events in your life that have lead you to this moment. I suggest you take a stroll through the Common, waddle if you must in hopes that the gentle rocking of each foot fall will perhaps help pack down your sugary mistake, and relieve your stomach ache. You will at this point probably contemplate living as a monk…far from the temptations of chocolate, perhaps tiramisuvarrinerehab….but no…deep in your mind, even while you break out in the sugar sweats as another wave of it flows through your veins, you know you’ll be back. Chocolate is your vice…Your nose will soon be smearing up the glass at the local Godiva…You’ll be eyeing the cheap dirty Hershey bars lining the checkout counters at grocery stores. But you’re also wiser now…The price of $42 dollars to go back to that nirvana of chocolate discourages weekly visits and that’s probably for the best. Perhaps this is why there are no other articles written about Cafe Fleuri’s Chocolate Bar…one would have to admit they have a problem, that might even require several years of counseling and shock therapy.

So go my friends, and as a veteran let me leave you with these words of wisdom:

1.) DO NOT EAT BREAKFAST BEFORE YOU GO!!!!!: Seriously, if you eat breakfast you will have a hard time putting even a little dent in that place.

2.) Check your diet at the door: This is no place to be counting calories…If you insist on counting calories you might find that all you can allow yourself is a bon bon….and you can do better….and you deserve more.

3.) Just like at a dance, go for the good looking pieces first, and work your way down to the wall flowers.

4.) If you experience a chocolate lag, reboot with something salty.

5.) Bring a friend…it doesn’t even have to really be a friend because honestly you’re just using these people so you don’t look like a jerk throwing out amazing food…just make sure it’s someone with a bigger stomach than yourself so you can split with them.

6.) Try not to double up… have two different things instead of two of the same.

7.) Walk it out. Walking might help your tummy settle a little and also help manage the sugar jitters you will inevitably be left with.

8.) Pepto Bismol works miracles.

If you are interested in learning even more about this please visit The Cafe Fleuri Chocolate Bar information page. Also please feel free to check out this awesome Travel Channel video about this amazing place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Horror Movie Review: Army of Darkness (1992)

Army_of_Darkness_posterEvery Halloween I decorate my house, dress up, break out the candy, and put on Army of Darkness. Out of all the Evil Dead movies, this happens to be my favorite. It really has everything from corny catch phrases, zombies, and of course Bruce Campbell.

Army of Darkness starts of where Evil Dead left off. Ash Williams is sucked through a vortex and lands sometime during the middle ages. He is quickly captured by King Arthur and his knights and taken as prisoner. They end up throwing him in a pit to be killed by what they call a “Deadite” which is basically this zombie, monster thing. Ash battles him and the kings wise man gives him back his chainsaw arm attachment and his gun (otherwise known as his Boom stick). He wants nothing more than to return to his own time period but in order to do that he has to get the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the same one that gave him so much trouble in Evil Dead 2. He manages to rebuild his hand using scraps of metal and bids farewell to a woman named Sheila who has fallen in love with him.armyofdarknessbdcap3 He takes his horse and rides in search of the book.

During his trip he is pursued by an evil force and he seeks shelter in a large windmill. There’s a lot of strange things that happen inside the windmill. One of which is that Ash shatters a mirror and small little reflections himself start running around. He tries his best to kill them, but one of them manages to jump down his throat and despite drinking boiling water (which is actually funnier than it sounds) it lives and starts making a clone of Ash. So now there’s a “good” Ash, and a “Bad” Ash. Eventually “Good” Ash manages to kill his clone and buries him. However when Ash messes up the magic words he’s suppose to say when he takes the Necronomicon he raises an army of Deadites including his buried evil self who inevitably leads the Deadites to attack King Arthur and his men.

siamesetwinbruceI think some of my most favorite scenes is when Ash is about to kiss Sheila. It’s so romantic, and then he says “Give me some sugar baby.” It ruins the moment in the best way, because it’s so over the top cheesy romantic. “Shop Smart. Shop S-Mart.” is another line from the movie that is a classic and again hysterical. This movie is probably the most lighthearted and genuinely funny of the two. There’s still some gore and a lot of dead people, but there’s so much slap stick humor that someone who wouldn’t normally watch scary films would really enjoy this. Hail to the King baby!

How to: Sculpt a Pumpkin

So for the last few years I’ve been watching Halloween Wars on the Food Network. It combines two of my favorite hobbies which is cooking and art. One of the things they do that I’ve been wanting to try for years is pumpkin sculpting. Pumpkin sculpting is much different than carving. Pumpkin carving conjures up images of the traditional toothy grinned pumpkins that you would see on anyone’s door stop. Pumpkin sculpting however is a completely different animal.

As I’ve stated before I’ve never had formal art training, my parents were artists and I guess I just come by it naturally. I’ve always wanted to learn how to sculpt. I watch shows like Face Off and I’m completely amazed by the artistic talents the contestants have when it comes to sculpting. However, on the show Halloween Wars they’ve recently had a fantastic artist who sculpts pumpkins and gourds. Ray Villafane was an art teacher for a high school for a number of years until he decided to go full time with his sculpting talents. After looking through his portfolio I got inspired to try my hand at this and since pumpkins are plentiful at the moment what better time than this to try? I went out and bought a few pumpkins and some carving supplies and sat down to try my hand at this.

If you would like to try, here are the things you might need:

Whatyouwillneednumbers

1.) You will need a pumpkin (obviously): You don’t need to choose a big one, but I wouldn’t choose one of the miniature pumpkins either. I believe the one I chose is called a sugar baby.  I cut a hole in the bottom to gut it so that I could keep the stem attached. Also it’s easier to illuminate the pumpkin using Christmas lights if you have them fed through the bottom where you can easily have the cord coming from the bottom rather than the top.

2.) Knives: I used the bigger knife to cut a hole in the bottom, and the smaller paring knife for the larger detailed pieces.

3.) Sculpting / Carving Tools: This can be a little hard to find. I actually bought my set at Michaels arts and crafts store in the clay section. It’s a little weird though because a pumpkins texture is a cross between clay and wood. You’re definitely going to want a set that has a “ribbon” tool. This tool will make it very easy to smooth out the carved lines and create flat surfaces.

4.) Potato Peeler: This makes taking that top hard layer of the pumpkin off. It will cut your carving time in half!

5.) A Bowl for the Seeds: One of the rewards of gutting a pumpkin would be baking the seeds. Now this post isn’t really about baking pumpkin seeds but I’ll give you quick instructions on how.

6.) A Surface Covering: This craft can get messy so it’s good to have something covering the surface. For this I used an open paper bag.

So first before you start anything, you want to gut your pumpkin. As stated above, I cut from the bottom so that it’s a bit easier to light. If you remove the seeds mix them with a about 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and bake for around 40 minutes at 300 degrees.

pumpkin2In traditional pumpkin carving you usually sketch out what you want to cut. This is a bit more difficult to do with pumpkin sculpting since there are so many layers and things to take into consideration. I found that it was best to take a moment to really look at the pumpkin and consider what kind of face would fit the pumpkin, rather than making the pumpkin fit the face. Once you have an idea, pick up your potato peeler and take off that first thick dark orange layer.

Once that top layer is gone, take your paring knife and lightly sketch out what you think the face should look like. If you aren’t going to be sculpting the eyes, then make sure you cut them out before you start doing and real detailed cutting.

pumpkinsketch

 

After you kind of sketch it out with your paring knife, start carving out the features. This is easier said than done; I’ll be honest. I have issues drawing noses and I had a lot of trouble sculpting a nose. I actually found this You Tube video to be extremely helpful. Even though the face wasn’t exactly like how I was doing mine it helped show me how to shape certain parts like the nose or cheeks. Once you have your sketch done, it’s a matter of removing layers. This was a little weird though because I’ve played with clay before and for me it’s about adding clay to create the things you want to see. With pumpkin sculpting it’s really about taking away. Another thing I’m honestly still getting used to is the depth of the pumpkin skin. It’s okay to dig deep for deep lines and creases.

pumpkinkindasculpted

 The old saying “If at first you don’t succeed- try, try again” applies here. Truthfully my first attempt at pumpkin sculpting was really bad. This pumpkin was actually my second attempt, so perhaps it was just a matter of getting used to the tools and seeing how they work. Understand that this is something that will take practice. But first and foremost, it should be fun. If you find yourself getting frustrated, take a break, let your eyes rest, look at some guides online to help, and then come back and try again. I’ve also found that when dealing with cheeks or wrinkles that it helps to smile or make the face you’re going for in a mirror. For the wrinkles, try cutting a small “v” and then rounding the edges out so it’s not so “carved” looking. In the end here’s how my pumpkin turned out. It’s a far cry from Mr. Villafane’s pumpkins, but I think it looks happy enough. 🙂

Oh and as an extra tip, I loved how this guy turned out so much I decided to keep him in my house….BIG MISTAKE….Pumpkins are wild creatures and thus enjoy being outside in the open air. Poor Bob as I so affectionately named him decided to grow a goatee of mold about four days into his stay. I didn’t take a picture of this, as it was just too disturbing and my heart was just too broken. Please enjoy these beautiful pictures in loving memory of Bob. *sniffle* He’s….just so…happy…..T_T.

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InmemoryofBob
In Loving Memory of Bob as he inspired its design. 🙁