The Pullover

I was driving home from work tonight, minding my own business when it happened.

I got pulled over.

As I put the car in park the panic sets in. I know what I did wrong, I just didn’t think it was a big deal. I knew when I saw those blue lights out of the corner of my eye that they were meant for me.

As traffic is whizzing past me and I wait for the rap at my window I try to think this situation through. I’ve only been pulled over once, and that was many years ago. I was speeding on a major interstate and choose to go to court to fight my ticket. I won by the grace of God – the clerk reviewing my plea had just gotten a new dog from the MSPCA. He asked me what I did for a living and “working for an animal welfare non-profit” was music to his ears. I got lucky that time.

How am I going to get out of this one? What the heck do I do? I have to present my license and registration, but god knows where that is. I start to open my glove compartment box for a thorough search and then quickly slam it shut and limit my movements – what if he thinks I’m looking for my gun? Or hiding a stash of illegal drugs and other illicit goods? I sit back in my seat and stay stock still.

Finally he approaches my car. He’s not happy. Allegedly I accelerated through a yellow light. I maintain I was in the intersection when it turned red and it would have been too dangerous for me to go back (what I like to call “committed”). In all honesty I was thinking about how I wasn’t feeling all that great, all the work I had to get done this week, and what was for dinner, so rather than fart around and screech to a blazing halt I went for it. I travel this intersection every day. It wasn’t the first time I’ve caught the light on yellow, and it’s not going to be the last. Honestly I wasn’t really thinking – and lord knows I didn’t see any cops or I would have altered my plans. While I was being lectured on my poor judgement I kept thinking, what could have prevented this from happening? I could have stayed home from work today because I wasn’t feeling well. I wouldn’t even be here right now if I had done that. I could have left work a little earlier like I had planned, I wouldn’t have been rushing to make it home if I had done that. If I was just a little bit faster I would still have had a green light. If I was just a little bit slower I would have hit the red.

yellow light

The cop walks back to his car after a roll of the eyes and exaggerated sigh (I don’t do well with authority – a blank “yes” or “no” is about all you’re going to get out of me for any question asking). I sink down in my seat as I wait for my sentence. I worry what all these other drivers are thinking about me as they go by. What did that girl do? Oooooohhh..she’s in trouble! Basically all the things I wonder about the people pulled over that I’ve passed before.

I’m a good driver, at least I like to think I am. Yes I learned to drive in Massachusetts and yes I’m guilty of going over the speed limit on many occasions (as in daily). But I don’t drive like an a-hole. And that’s gotta count for something with the traffic fairies.

He comes up to my door again and thrusts a piece of white paper at me. A warning. My driving record is “pretty good” and he’s going to let me off  - but I need to “cool it” and stop running yellow lights. He gets back into his car and we both do the awkward “who leaves first” sit and wait game. I pretend to rummage around in my purse while I glance in my rearview, willing him to leave already. He’s not budging. I decide not to tempt the fates and get the hell out of there, but not before switching on my blinker and crawling out into traffic like a 90 year old nana. The rest of the way home is a white-knuckled ride as I fret over breaking another traffic law and getting pulled over twice in one day. Surely the fates aren’t that cruel.

A big thank you to that cop – you scared the daylights out of me even if I didn’t act like it. Thanks to you I’m going to be on high alert now. You pressed my driving reset button. No more messing around, speeding, rolling through stop signs, and attempting to find something in the backseat while I’m pulling out into traffic. I’m going to obey all the laws and drive five miles under the speed limit. I needed this – and despite my embarrassment at being “THAT” guy who was pulled over today, I thank you for coming along when you did, to remind me to cut the crap.

Any maybe tomorrow it would be wise to go the long way home…and avoid that stupid light.

Gluten-Free Apple Crisp

While listening to the radio on the way to work this week I learned that October is Celiac & Gluten Intolerance Awareness Month. Having several family members who suffer from such issues, it made me smile to hear it so prominently addressed. After some internet sleuthing I discovered it’s a lie and the ad I heard was some misguided attempt at a marketing promotion (Celiac Awareness Month is actually May). Still, it got me thinking about my loved ones who suffer from gluten sensitivities and how it’s impacted me in the past couple of years.

I’ve previously mentioned that being Celiac or having any sort of gluten sensitivity is my personal version of hell on Earth. My grandfather was diagnosed with the disease many years ago. At the time it wasn’t very well-known and had me and my family scratching our heads as to what caused it. Fast forward a couple of years and my father-in-law is diagnosed with it. Several years after that my sister, who long suffered from mysterious maladies, finds she’s gluten sensitive. It was her diagnosis that really woke me up to Celiac disease and gluten intolerance and what people who suffer from these issues go through on a daily basis.

What is Celiac disease and Gluten Intolerance?

A search of the interwebs found this concise little definition:

Celiac disease is a condition in which eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, causes damage in your small intestine. People who have celiac disease cannot absorb nutrients from their food, and the condition can lead to complications, such as malnutrition, osteoporosis, infertility, and even cancer.

Similiar to the actual Celiac disease, gluten intolerance or sensitivity is on the rise. The symptoms are nearly identical to celiac disease, and my sister’s particular case has intensified with time. Nowadays just a hint of gluten in her diet causes her to break out in hives, get sick, or worse, have impaired judgement/mental awareness.

My sister is a frequent visitor to our home, and I’ve learned to adapt our many carb-filled meals to be gluten-free so she can continue to enjoy them. This apple crisp was my first attempt. We usually make this treat in the fall when she comes down to our house to go apple-picking. The gluten-free version is adapted from my original – with some extra butter to keep it moist ;)

apple crisp

Gluten-Free Apple Crisp

5 medium-sized apples
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of gluten-free flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose baking flour)
3/4 cup of rolled oats
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
6 tablespoons of butter or margarine

Peel, core, and slice the apples into bite- sized pieces and add them to a greased pie dish. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and mix them together until they form a crumbly mixture (I like to use my well-washed hands for this activity as it’s hard to distribute the butter if you use a spoon). Pour the mixture over the apples, covering them evenly and allowing some of the mixture to fall down in the cracks and around the edges. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until the apples are bubbling and the crust is brown. Serve with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

October is finally here – my favorite month!

I shared this fact today with a client at my workplace. Her first reaction, “Oh yeah? Is it your birthday?” No, that was last month. I probably should have been born in October, it would have made more sense. But no, while it’s not my birthday month, it is the month of the best holiday of the year – HALLOWEEN!

Jack Skellington Pumpkin

I made this Jack Skellington pumpkin today to “ring in” the holiday season :)

I don’t know when I really started loving Halloween. I remember my mom making me some amazing costumes when I was little, specifically a unicorn outfit she sewed herself, complete with a massive golden horn and little gloves and booties for hooves. We didn’t trick or treat in our town – rural Maine doesn’t lend itself to too many housing developments and the lack of sidewalks and street lights might have had something to do with it. My sister and I would stop at my grandmother’s house on the way to the annual Elementary School Halloween Party. We’d show off our costumes and get our goodies (Gram always had the good stuff) before playing games and “winning” candy prizes at the school party.

Fast forward about ten years and I’ve found my love of dressing up on Halloween still hasn’t gone away. After graduating college and being a newlywed, I spend many a Halloween going out to costume parties, coming up with crazy over-the-top outfits and amassing a collection of “holiday” TV shows and movies to watch year after year.

Now that I’m in my 30′s with my own family and home, the month of October has a whole new meaning. My husband knows that the second week of September means the Halloween decoration boxes come down from the attic (I need at least 6 weeks to enjoy them after the effort it takes to put them all out). My coworkers know they’re going to see an endless parade of baked goods in orange and black. My skeleton head earrings come out of my jewelry box and “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” is shown on my TV every day. It’s a special month, and now that Silas has joined our family it’s only gotten better. Now that he is walking you better believe I’m suiting him up and dragging him around the neighborhood come October 31st!

Looking forward to enjoying all that October has to offer, and posting some amazing Halloween-inspired blogs in the process!

Experiment #72: Yogurt Pumpkin Cheesecake

Who doesn’t love pumpkin cheesecake?

No, really, who? Because I’d like to talk to them about that. It’s like the perfect marriage. Delicious rich pumpkin tasting like everything that’s good about fall wrapped into the custardy creamy goodness of cheesecake. Whoa.

Of course now that the weather is getting cooler and the leaves are starting to turn I can’t help but to crave all things “fall” when it comes to baked goods. I usually stock up on canned pumpkin in September before the masses descend on it for their Halloween and Thanksgiving baking (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve entered a canned pumpkin-less supermarket and left disappointed). This past weekend I decided to make the hubby a pumpkin cheesecake.

I just got home from the grocery store and assembled my ingredients on the counter top as I pulled out my trusty cookbook. I didn’t look up a recipe for pumpkin cheesecake before I went shopping but I had a pretty good idea of what I needed. As I was riffling through the many variations of this dish that I possess a recipe for, I realized I might have been too hasty in my decision to wing it. I had a graham cracker crust, so we’re good there. I bought two bricks of cream cheese; plenty for one pie. I had eggs and sugar on hand in plentiful amounts, and my stash of 264 cans of pumpkin meant we were good to go. Except one recipe calls for 5 bricks of cream cheese (Jeez – I’m making one pie – not feeding a small country), and one needs sour cream. Damn you sour cream – I never have you when I need you. This other one lists a box of instant vanilla pudding. A rummage in the recesses of my cupboard where one such box could be hiding yields no results. Ah – this one says cool whip. I have that.

I open the fridge and fish out my cool whip container to find it 2/3rds empty. I’ve got to stop dipping my finger in there before bed each night…

My eyes rest on one of my trusty containers of low-fat vanilla yogurt. I used yogurt recently as a substitute for sour cream when making a coffee cake. Maybe it would work in a cheesecake too?

There was only one way to find out.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Yogurt Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin layer
1 brick of cream cheese (8 oz – I used low fat)
2 eggs
1/2 cup of sugar
1 can of pumpkin
1 sm container of vanilla yogurt (personal size)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Cheesecake layer
1 brick of cream cheese (8 oz – I used low fat)
1 egg
1/4 cup of sugar
1 cup of cool whip

1 ready-made graham cracker pie crust (I used the extra large one, or deep-dish, to fit all the batter)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Start with the pumpkin pie layer first. In a mixing bowl, beat the brick of cream cheese, sugar, and eggs together until mixed well and the batter is smooth. Add in yogurt, mix again. Add in pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into the ready-made graham cracker crust and set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, make the cheese cake layer by combining the brick of cream cheese, egg, and sugar and mixing well until the batter runs smooth and has no cream cheese lumps. Mix in the cool whip by hand, folding it into the cheesecake batter. Pour this mixture on top of the pumpkin pie batter and spread with a spatula so it covers the entire top of the pie. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 50 minutes or until the middle is set and the top is slightly brown. Cool for 1/2 hour before chilling in the fridge.

Emily’s Tip: My craphole photography doesn’t do it justice but this cheesecake has a nice layered look – perfect for fall potlucks or dinner parties. The yogurt really gives it a little tang! Someday when I have a full container of cool whip available I will cut down the pumpkin layer and increase the cheesecake one.

Scrappin: Birthday Quiz

I never had birthday parties with my friends when I was little – my parents believed I got enough presents from my family that I didn’t need to ask all my friends to give me some too. I usually had a friend stay for a sleepover and a trip to an amusement park or some other destination. It never bothered me. The one year I was allowed to have a “party” (mom and dad speak for more than one friend over at a time), we went to the NHSPCA. Instead of birthday gifts, my friends brought dog and cat food donations.

Now that I have a little one I find I’m following in my parents’ footsteps. Silas turned one this year and everyone asked me what kind of party I was having. The looks of horror/confusion when I said “we’re not doing anything” were priceless. I always looked forward to my small family parties when I was younger, I couldn’t wait for Silas to experience the same.

Silas’ first birthday was a quiet family evening with cake and presents and lots of laughs. Post event, I had over 20 photos to scrap – none of which I was willing to “leave out” of a layout. A little digging in my cache of old scrapbooking magazines revealed a spread on “scrapping those millions of birthday party photos”, fresh ideas for scrapping a re-curing event. The Birthday Quiz was one such idea – a quick little questionnaire for the birthday boy to fill out each year so we can chart his likes/dislikes and capture a moment in time.

Below is the Birthday Quiz and my layout for Silas’ first attempt at answering it (with mommy’s help of course). Happy Scrappin!

birthday quiz

The Quiz

1. My favorite book is: __________________________________________.

2. I love when my mom makes ___________________________ for dinner.

3. I’m really good at:__________________________________________.

4. My best friend is: ________________________________________.

5. My favorite TV shows is:___________________________________________.

6. Yesterday I ate _____________________________________ for lunch.

7. The best trip I took this year was:_______________________________________.

8. My favorite snack is:__________________________________________.

9. When I grow up I want to be:_________________________________________.

10. The best movie I saw this year was:______________________________________.

11. My favorite toy or game  is:___________________________________________.

12. I love my family because:_________________________________________.

13. My favorite stuffed animal is:____________________________________________.

14. The best birthday present I got this year was:_____________________________________.

My Craft Space, My Sanctuary

This past weekend was the first two days I’ve been home, with no plans to see anyone or do anything, in almost 5 weeks.  It’s a rare occasion, and after getting the kiddo (and husband) down for their Saturday nap, I went into my craft room and sat at my desk, savoring the quiet and the chance to exercise my creativity.

I’m a very lucky gal. When we bought our four bedroom house I immediately staked out the front-facing room as my craft space.  As the smallest and sunniest room in the house, it was a perfect fit.

Fast forward five years and here’s how I’ve managed to make this space my own personal craft retreat…

Craft Desk

My craft desk, built by my dad and modeled after a drafting desk from Pottery Barn. Both the legs have nine cubby-hole units with adjustable shelving.

paper holder

Organized paper and embellishments is the first step to busting out quick and inspired scrapbook pages. My paper is organized by color and print so that when I pick a color concept, I can quickly scan through solid and print options to find combinations that work. My embellishments drawers are organized by theme (Christmas, wedding/love, travel/vacation, baby).

jars

An IKEA spice rack and a handful of clear jars make organizing my button collection a breeze!

concepts

 Color coordinating can be a challenge and I’m always on the look out for inspiration. If I find it – I tack it to the wall! Perusing my mother’s old magazines revealed home decorating tips that included color palettes. I cut them out, mounted them to cardstock and voila! Color inspiration charts!

tools

I found this tube organizer on Amazon.com after seeing it in a magazine as a way to sort kitchen utensils.  It matched the decor of my craft room and I loved how it had a flat base with angled cubbies for my craft tools so they were all pointing at me as I worked.

beadboard

The latest addition to the craft room – my beadboard wall organizer. Recently installed by dad-extraordinaire, a few hooks from the hardware store and I’m an embellishment-organizing fool!

ribbonjar

Mason jars = classy visual display of ribbon!

For more craft space organization inspiration, visit one of my internet haunts: Houzz.com.

Experiment #51: Blueberry Coffee Cake

One of my biggest bugaboos is spending a lot of money on food for my family only to watch it rot before it can be consumed.

This month the culprit in our home is the blueberry. Truth be told, we can’t eat the entire mini-container before we start seeing “the fuzz”. You know the situation, it’s day #5 after purchase, you’ve still got at least 1/2 container to eat, you tip it upside down and see one or two of the little buggers completely covered in fur. Damn!

Feeling adventurous and in some serious need of baking therapy – I pulled out a half-used container of blueberries from the fridge last week and decided to get creative before they fell victim to fuzz. I busted out one of my go-to cookbooks and scanned some of the muffin and cake recipes to see what I could make. Nothing was inspiring me. I finally stumbled upon a coffee cake recipe. No blueberries in the list of ingredients but I figured I could add them and it would taste just fine.

As I was assembling all the ingredients and pre-heating the oven I noticed a show-stopper – this recipe was for a sour cream coffee cake. Now, I don’t pretend to have any clue as to the science of baking. Sour cream, what does that have to do with coffee cake? Why include it? Added moisture? Is something in the cream reacting with another ingredient to cause the cake to rise? No clue. But it must be important enough to include in the name of the recipe, which means I better have it.

Scrounging around in the fridge yields no sour cream. Swell.

But I do have vanilla yogurt.

A little substitution here, a little addition there and some fudging of the instructions and I have some excellent tasting batter to pop in the oven.  Forty minutes later and out emerges a golden brown masterpiece. The husband tastes it, the office consumes it, thumbs up all around. I completed two tasks – I used up some pesky fruit that would have otherwise been thrown out, and I came up with a new recipe to add to my rotation. Another kitchen experiment success!

Below is the recipe for my version of Cinnamon Blueberry Coffee Cake. No sour cream required. ;)

Cinnamon Blueberry Coffee Cake


Cinnamon Blueberry Coffee Cake

2 sticks of butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups of sugar
3 eggs (or egg beater equivalent)
1 cup of vanilla yogurt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (give or take) blueberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Cream butter and white sugar.  Beat in eggs (I used egg beaters to get rid of some extra I had) and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and baking soda and add to the wet mixture. Mix well, adding in the vanilla yogurt as the mixture gets dry. After all ingredients are thoroughly mixed, fold in blueberries until distributed well (don’t stir too hard or the almost expired berries will explode). Transfer the batter to a greased 13 by 9 inch baking pan – leave about a cup of the batter behind in the bowl (its fine if there’s blueberries in it). To this remaining batter, add the brown sugar and cinnamon and mix well. Spread this as a layer on top of the batter in the cake pan and spread evenly over the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes until a top is a golden brown and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Makes approximately 20 slices.

Why the layer of cinnamon and sugar? I added this step because whenever I try to “cut in” cinnamon and sugar into a coffee cake recipe I screw it up. This baking technique eludes me so I added a cinnamon layer to the top instead and it came out just fine. If you can handle the cutting/swirling in of the cinnamon and sugar mixture in your version – go for it!