Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lilia and the Dark Chocolate Cake

After a long day at work, I dropped my purse and lunch sack on the kitchen counter. That’s when I saw it. Lying on top of a pile of unopened credit card envelopes, papers to be shredded, and unopened magazines, was a tiny invitation. I opened it to find a photo of the sweet Lilia holding up her index finger with a huge smile on her face. At the bottom was a request to attend her first birthday party. Well, of course I was going to attend. Christy, one of my best friends and Lilia’s mom, and I have been through many life changing events together. We met ages ago on an elementary basketball team and have been a part of each other’s lives ever since. I wouldn’t have it any other way and celebrating Lilia’s first birthday was not something I was going to miss.

The day finally approached for the birthday party and I made the trek up the road to their home. I arrived late, as usual. The house was bustling with what seemed like her entire family. I quietly entered and dropped off my present with the stack of presents that looked as if Santa had been there. I took a walk-about around the house saying my hellos and ended at the table with the food. I normally would go there first, but no one was eating yet, so I took my time.

The table was decorated whimsically with glittery butterflies flanking the cake and flowers adorning the chandelier. The cake was a show stopper. It was beautifully decorated with white icing and different designs on each level. The butterflies and flowers resting on each layer added to the magical nature and a large number one candle sat proudly on top. It was a perfect cake for a little girl.

The cake held my attention until I caught sight of Lilia. She was the cutest little thing dressed in a beautiful white lace dress embroidered with a pink birthday cake and her name on the front. It was adorable and completely fitting for the occasion. She sat on the floor playing only looking up occasionally with a smile on her face.

People milled about the room eating and conversing with one another while watching the kids play. Olivia, with her cute pig tails, bounced about the room. Other babies tottled around, and the bigger kids decorated party hats with stickers. About an hour into the party after all the gifts had been opened, it was time to cut the cake. Lilia was dressed in her “cake” outfit, a green top with a pink polka dot number one and pink ruffled pants. She was placed in her high chair as the family gathered around her. I stood at the back of the crowd, leaning against the post watching the festivities.

The candle was lit as the group sang an off key rendition of Happy Birthday. Lilia hadn’t quite figured out how to blow out the candle so she got a little help from the others. Keeping with tradition, Lilia got her own section of the cake, the entire top tier. It was placed in chunks before her. With her tiny little hand she grabbed a slice twice as large as her hand. She wasted no time taking a huge bite. It was her first introduction to sweets. She took bite after bite, grabbing large handfuls of cake. I recognized the expression on her face. It was sheer delight.

I finally got my own slice. It was dark chocolate and a small piece of heaven. Christy made it herself and I was majorly impressed. It was light as air, but rich in flavor. It was fluffy like a pillow that bounced back and seemed to melt in my mouth. The butter cream icing rimmed the outside and it was just enough to not be too sweet but also didn’t make you feel like you needed more. It was just right. Needless to say, no matter how slowly I ate it, it disappeared all too fast. I had to have another slice. The second time around I added a scoop of Neapolitan ice cream. It was a nice companion to the dark chocolate cake. I savored every last bite. I also tried my best to talk Christy into making cakes for a living. It was probably a little selfish on my part because I wanted to be her cake-taster. She’s not convinced just yet, but I still have hope.

Lilia’s first birthday was a celebration of her life and the family that loves her. The cake played a small part in making her birthday special. She won’t remember it years from now, but I will remember the look on her face as she ate her very first piece of cake.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Orange Mystery Bread

Aaah, Friday, the last day of the work week when we are allowed to wear jeans at the office. It’s a day that I look forward to. Not only is it jeans day, it’s also Breakfast Club. It’s the day when I arrive at work to a bountiful buffet of breakfast. It’s ready and waiting for me to swoop in with my plate and rescue it from the land of “Pick me! Pick me!” The delicacies change often and I leave with a plateful of food, sometimes returning for round two…and three. (It’s a good thing I run marathons or I might be 200 pounds.)

On this particular morning I was greeted with a mound of shining silver, slightly unwrapped exposing a loaf of evenly sliced orange bread. I wondered what it was and decided to take a chance. Who knew what kind of bread was lurking on the breakfast table. And it was orange on top of that. What was it doing associating itself with biscuits and pastries? It’s breakfast after all.

Once back in my office, with nothing left on my plate but the slab of orange mystery, I decided to try a bite. I could smell the spices before it reached my mouth. As I tasted the mystery bite, I was pleased to find that it was sweet with a kick of spice. It was actually quite delicious. It was extremely moist and light as a feather. I wasted no time in taking another bite. Before I knew it, my orange mystery bread was all gone. I snuck back down the hall for another slice before it was too late to snatch another piece. I escaped back to my office and saved my second slice for dessert later in the afternoon.

Once my second slice was safely sitting in my office, I went on a mission to find out what it was. After a bit of questioning, I discovered that my office neighbor brought it in. His wife had made two loafs for our breakfast club. I thanked him profusely for bringing in this delicious treat and inquired as to what it was. Come to find out, it was Pumpkin Spice Bread. I had never heard of such a thing. Who knew that pumpkin, the orange gourd that I avoided so many times as a kid (and, yes, I avoided Pumpkin Pie, too), was as delicious as the bread that I so furiously devoured. I have since become a fan of all things pumpkin, including the pie. And thanks to my exuberance my office neighbor brought me a few extra slices to enjoy once again. Now, if only I could learn how to make it myself…

Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake

It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I had spent nearly two days lying around recovering from a very bad half marathon on Thanksgiving morning. A friend called and tried to convince me to make the trip to see his new apartment. An hour later, I nearly had myself talked off the couch. About another half hour went by before I finally made it to the car and headed in his direction. I drove for about an hour and then decided that I had gone too far. I called my friend and he gave me directions back to where I should be, which was near a Chick-fil-a. I’m glad I called him because he had decided to make a quick run to Wal-mart. I drove all that way and he wasn’t even home!!

While I waited for him to return, I went to Chick-fil-a for lunch. I mean, I had only eaten once, maybe twice, or three times if you count the cookies I ate in between, and it was nearly 4 o’clock. I had to do something to fill the time.

As I approached the register, something caught my eye. It was tall and pink with dark pieces floating throughout, topped with whip cream and a cherry. What was this beautiful creation staring me in the face? Why, it was the new Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake. Oh. My. Goodness. I had to have one. I know the doctor told me to go an insulin resistant diet and I was quite sure this wasn’t on the menu, but it is only offered for a limited time. I wanted one. It looked delicious. I decided to indulge myself once more before I said goodbye to sweets for good…or for a while… a very long while.

My friend and his daughter arrived as I finished my meal. Little A went to order an ice cream cone for herself and her dad. I went to order the Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milkshake. As they licked away at their cones, I patiently waited for my hand-spun milkshake to be delivered. When it finally came, I couldn’t wait to taste it. My eyes lit up. There were tiny peppermint pieces decorating the top almost as if they were cheering in support of the cherry. Little A asked for the cherry and I graciously gave it to her. Then I dove in with my straw and the merriment began.

It was delicious! Every sip was laced with tiny peppermint and chocolate pieces. It was a delicate balance of vanilla, peppermint, and chocolate. Each flavor melded together, blending easily with the other creating a superb combination. It tasted old-fashioned. It tasted like Christmas. It was amazing! And believe it or not, I actually shared it with my friend and Little A. It was too good not to let others join in. I was spreading the joy of Christmas, up until Little A started hogging my milkshake. Hello, you’ve got your own cone. She finally let go and returned to her own ice cream cone. All was well again.

I’m not going to think about the fact that I’m not supposed to have that much sugar. I’m not going to think about the fact that I had already hit my limit of sweets for the day. I’m not going to think about the fact that it had 930 calories. No, I’m only going to think about how delicious it was in that moment as I spent time with my special friends as we indulged in our love of ice cream. I had so much to be thankful for and the milkshake was like the cherry on top.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Key Lime Pie To Go

Mid-afternoon on Sunday I got asked to dinner by my new friend. This invitation came after several intermittent texts. My night was open so I agreed to go. I arrived at Longhorn’s, which was his suggestion, and waited for him in my car. He pulled up and told me to hop in. He had changed his mind and wanted to go to O’Charley’s instead. I was slightly disappointed because I had already made up my mind that I was going to eat a light dinner and then order the Chocolate Stampede. That bubble burst immediately.

Once we were seated in O’Charley’s, we ordered dinner. Like a gentleman, he let me order first. I chose the grilled chicken with a baked potato and broccoli cheese casserole. Seemed like a good selection until it was his turn. He ordered a bowl of soup! Really…soup!?!? Since when do guys order soup?

Eventually my enormous plate of food arrived. I had to get started because I was sure to be eating long after he finished. We had been talking for a while, or I should say he talked while I ate, when I noticed he had stopped eating. He had only taken about five bites of his soup and then pushed it aside. I couldn’t believe it! Here I am with a monster plate of food and he delicately picked at his bowl of soup. Clearly he doesn’t enjoy food like I do. Was I to stop eating because he stopped or continue eating while he sat and watched? Thankfully, he ordered dessert. Instant relief set in. At least I wouldn’t be the only one that was still eating.

The waitress returned with his slice of key lime pie and it looked delicious. (Of course I was eyeing it.) I don’t usually go for pie, but I wouldn’t have minded sharing a bite or two with him. It looked creamy and firm, but not hard with a distinctive lime green tint. It was a good size portion as well. He began whittling away the pie, bite by bite, as the conversation continued. A little while later, I glanced at his plate to see that he had eaten all of it except for the crust. That was curious. He cleared the crust completely of pie and then handed it off to the waitress. It happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to rescue it. I could totally have eaten the crust. It looked so tasty. But, it’s probably best that she took it. It wouldn’t look good for me to finish the guy’s dessert on our second dinner together. It might send the wrong impression…that I eat everything in sight, even if it’s not mine. Nope, not the message I want to send. My middle name is not Piglet, even though it’s a nickname that stuck around too long as a kid.

After watching my, I mean his, pie crust disappear from sight, I asked why he didn’t eat the crust. Apparently he wasn’t a fan, but because I asked him about the pie, he ordered a slice to go for me. I happily accepted and recognized that this guy was quickly working his way into my good graces.

The pie was supposed to be a to-go slice, but we didn’t leave immediately. As my friend talked, I ever-so-subtly opened the Styrofoam box, drove the fork into the edible gift in front of me, and took a bite. Like a Cheshire cat, I smiled. It was cool and creamy, tart yet light. The crust was buttery and complemented the sweet and biting flavor. It was a refreshing alternative to my usual choice of chocolate. The tanginess and colorfulness brightened my otherwise ordinary chicken dinner. I enjoyed bite after bite sparing no crumb and having no shame that I ate an entire meal and dessert in front of my new friend. I’m not your typical girl. I actually eat food and enjoy every minute of it!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Surprise

It was an ordinary Tuesday at the office. The day had started out with rain and clouds. The work hours moved along at a snail’s pace as it crept to the lunch hour. I felt myself checking the clock every few minutes wishing that the day would speed up. Lunch came and went with a bland turkey and provolone sandwich on wheat with cheddar pita chips as I sat in front of my computer. It was tasty but not nearly as exciting as it could’ve been. The banality continued well into the afternoon until, surprisingly, a coworker returned from lunch bearing a tasty treat for us to indulge. My day immediately seemed brighter when she came round telling everyone that she bought ice cream for us. It was ice cream party time!!

As I entered the break room, I noticed she had purchased a carton of Breyer’s Reese’s ice cream with sugar cones. I had not had this ice cream before and was excited to give it a try. I wasn’t the only one. There were about five of us gathered for the impromptu ice cream social.

I was second in line to load up my ice cream cone. With cone in hand, I examined the carton. It looked delicious. I could see dark swirls of chocolate and chunks of Reese’s peanut butter cups throughout. I finished stacking my cone after a few dips in the bucket and handed the scoop to the next ice cream lover. I stepped back and examined my creation before the devouring began. I was quite pleased. I took a deep breath, smiled, and commenced consumption.

Interesting was the thought that came to mind. The ice cream was peanut butter. I faintly ascertained the distinct Reese’s peanut butter flavor. With each lick, the flavor intensified and cleared a path for the chocolate ripples to come through. A peanut butter and chocolate combination is hard to beat, even in a frozen form. As I continued the destruction of my Reese’s ice cream cone, I encountered massive chunks of Reese’s peanut butter cups. They weren’t little bites that teased you, but large nuggets that took a few chomps to get through. I happily continued eating the ice cream cone and secretly thanked the coworker for being so kind as to buy ice cream for everyone. It was an unexpected and scrumptious treat.

I suggest each of you take an ice cream break in the middle of the day. It does wonders for the soul.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Girl Scout Cookies meet Dairy Queen Blizzards

Dairy Queen, one of my most favorite places to get ice cream, has come out with two, I repeat, two Girl Scout cookie blizzards. Blizzards are one of my all time favorite go to desserts. I could eat one every day and be completely satisfied, but only if they mix it all the way through. I ordered a blizzard, not ice cream on the bottom with candy mixed into the top. That is such a tease and an extreme disappointment. I don’t care if you can hold the blizzard upside down and the ice cream doesn’t fall out. Put the blizzard in a clear cup so I can see candy bits all the way to the bottom; and when I ask for chocolate ice cream, yes, I mean for you to put chocolate syrup in my ice cream. I have digressed far from my original point, which was the two flavors of Girl Scout blizzards. I have recently tried both, the Thin Mint and Tagalong blizzards.

The Tagalong blizzard was my first choice, as I have a passion for all things chocolate, except for chocolate covered bugs. I don’t think I could ever eat those. Ewww. The Tagalong is a cookie covered in chocolate with a peanut butter layer on the inside. The chocolate is very soft and the peanut butter compliments both the cookie and the chocolate covering. For the blizzard, the cookie is mixed with vanilla ice cream and peanut butter syrup. I didn’t try my Tagalong blizzard with peanut butter syrup; I went for the chocolate instead. After a few bites, I concluded that I wasn’t impressed with this blizzard. To me, it tasted as though someone crushed up a cookie and mixed it with ice cream, which is basically what it’s meant to be but it just didn’t satisfy. Nothing was outstanding and I wasn’t looking forward to the next time I could eat one. I doubt I’d recommend it to anyone. However, you could definitely tell that it was a Girl Scout cookie, so if you love a Tagalong, give it a try. You might love it.

A few days after my Tagalong experience, I opted for the Thin Mint blizzard. The Thin Mint is a mint flavored chocolate cookie with a chocolate outer layer. It’s a very thin and refreshing cookie. The Thin Mint blizzard consists of vanilla ice cream, mint syrup, and Thin Mints. I was hoping to have my socks knocked off as I took my first bite, but no such luck. The Thin Mint cookie was recognizable in the ice cream and added to the mintiness, yet I felt as though it lacked enough chocolate to balance the flavors. It was very minty. All in all, I wasn’t overly impressed with this blizzard either. I much prefer an Oreo in my mint ice cream; however, if you are the kind of person that counts down the days until Girl Scout cookies go on sale and then you buy multiple boxes to keep in stock because you love them that much, then these blizzards may hit the spot when you can’t get your Girl Scout cookie fix.

The bottom line is Girl Scout cookies are delicious on their own. They don’t need to be drowned in a sea of frozen vanilla creaminess to make them better or more desirable. It’s about the cookie, not the blizzard.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When you want a little peanut butter

A friend once asked me why Reese’s Pieces taste so much different than Peanut Butter M&M’s. I had wondered the same thing. They are both peanut butter candies, but their flavors are extremely different. Apart from being produced by different companies, (Hershey’s produces Reese’s Pieces and Mars produces Peanut Butter M&M’s) they have distinctly different tastes.

Over the years, I have eaten both candies many times. I am particular in the way that I eat them. I eat the candy one at a time, biting each in half to inspect the insides. It may be strange, but it's the way I like to eat them. I like to see what's on the inside. How much peanut butter is inside the candy shell? How thick is the shell? How much chocolate is there? These are a few things I ponder as I enjoy my bags of candy.

Reese's Pieces are circular candies made up of peanut butter with a candy shell. Reese's only come in certain colors, mainly orange and brown, which make them easily recognizable. This candy hit the big time when it was used in the movie ET, which is where I first learned of this candy. My love for Reese’s Pieces began after watching ET at the movies with my brother when we were small kids. Elliot pulled a genious move, using Reese's Pieces to lure the alien from the shed sparking an everlasting friendship. We both cried when we thought ET had died, but thankfully, he survived and went back to join his family. When the movie ended, my brother and I were left with the memory and a love for Reese’s Pieces.

A few years ago, Reese’s Pieces met a rival on my favorite candy list when the Mars Corporation came out with Peanut Butter M&M’s. I absolutely love Peanut Butter M&M’s!! (I have a bag hidden above my stove right now.) Peanut Butter M&M’s are large peanut butter and chocolate filled candies wrapped in bright, colorful candy shells. It doesn’t matter to me if they’re ogre colors at times; it’s all about the chocolate and peanut butter party on the inside. I could eat an entire bag of those candies, and I’m not talking about the small bag you pick up last minute at the checkout counter. Peanut Butter M&M’s are addictive! Let me say this again...I love this candy!! It's at the top of my favorite candy list.

So, to get back to the original question about why they taste so different, this is what I found. When I was enjoying a bag of Peanut Butter M&M’s, biting them in half to look at the inside, I noticed the chocolate around the peanut butter. This isn’t unusual for M&M’s, it’s what they do. They cover almonds and peanuts in chocolate. However, when I thought about Reese’s Pieces, remembering that they are made of a peanut butter mix and a candy shell, it dawned on me that there was no chocolate. That was it! That’s what made the two taste so extremely different. Reese’s Pieces are a small spherical candy teasing you with the taste of peanut butter in every bite. Then you eat a Peanut Butter M&M that is much larger in size and surrounded by chocolate in its overstuffed glory and it causes your taste buds to erupt in celebration. Aaahhh, so delicious!!

I still love my Reese’s Pieces and eat them on occasion. Picking up the little orange bag and popping the brown and orange candies in my mouth bring me a sense of nostalgia. And when I bring a bag with me to the movie theater to share with my brother, it takes me back to childhood, where in the theater we first saw ET as he followed the candy trail out of the shed sparking a love of both an alien and a peanut butter candy.