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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Levain Bakery Oatmeal Cookies


Who knew being a dog owner could be so dangerous?

A few days ago, I was heading to answer the door for a visitor when my dog suddenly dashed in front of me causing me to trip and catapult myself head-over-heels into the stairway. The pain in my left foot when I got myself up was so intense that I was positive it was broken. After a few hours of icing, after which the swelling reduced but the pain did not subside, I took myself into the doctor's office where an x-ray confirmed that I had fractured my fifth metatarsal. In a matter of seconds, I went from an active mother with a love of running to a handicapped gimp who takes about 10 minutes to get a pair of pants on in the morning. I have been instructed not to put any weight on my left foot for a few weeks in order to ensure that I do not displace the bones further and then after that it's all crutches for me until the bone completely heals, probably sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The worst part was that when the accident occurred my husband was actually out of town visiting his parents and I was immediately overwhelmed about how I was going to deal with three young kids with a fractured foot. Thankfully, I have some of the best friends in the universe who banded together to ensure that I didn't have to worry about a thing. They took Matthew to school, cared for my girls during the day, brought me food, and tucked the kids in bed for me at night. It took such a load off my mind and helped me survive the few days alone before Paul returned home.


So basically all this means that I have plenty of sit-on-my-butt time and no excuse whatsoever for neglecting this blog. It also means I probably won't have anything interesting to write beyond the recipes I have saved and photographed to be shared. Let's start with this amazing recipe for the Levain Bakery Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

These cookies are simply unbelievable. They have a wonderfully dense texture, the perfect balance of butter, cinnamon, flour, and oats. I was seriously frustrated because I had just made a batch of Oatmeal Raisin Cookies that I was less than happy with. They came from a new cookbook I recently acquired and I found the recipe very fussy and the results less-than-stellar. Burnt edges and an overly chewy texture that make my molars ache are not really my idea of an enjoyable treat. So I tossed them and tried this recipe next since I have had it bookmarked for ages.


I visited Levain Bakery when Paul and I traveled to New York City a few months ago and found their cookies to be totally worth the hype. While the Oatmeal Cookies were tempting, I opted to try one of their Chocolate Walnut Cookies instead. Based on my first-hand knowledge of the density and texture of Levain's cookies, I can testify that this recipe is pretty spot on. I was completely blown away by them. They were simple to prepare - you don't even have to wait for butter to soften - and I found the choice of ingredients as well as the oven temperature to be a stroke of genius. The cake flour contributes to the tender crumb of the cookies and the high temperature shocks the cookie dough balls to prevent them from spreading as they quickly bake. Genius, genius, genius!

I can't rave enough about these. You'll just have to try them yourselves and see if you are as wowed by them as I am! If you are a fan of ultra chewy oatmeal cookies these probably won't be your favorite but I promise you will fall in love with the flavor. I'm going to go eat another one right now...


Levain Bakery Oatmeal Cookies
from Modern Honey

1 cup Cold Butter, cut into cubes
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
½ cup Sugar
2 Eggs
2 cups Flour
½ cup Cake Flour
1½ cup Rolled Oats
1 teaspoon Cornstarch
¾ teaspoon Baking Soda
½ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Cinnamon
1½ cups Raisins
1 cup Walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 410 degrees.

In large bowl, cream together cold butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Add cake flour, all-purpose flour, oats, cornstarch, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and stir until combined. Stir in raisins and walnuts (optional).

Chill dough for 15 minutes.

Separate dough into large balls and place on lightly colored cookie sheet. Lightly press on top of dough to smooth out. If you have a scale, you can make them anywhere from 4.5 ounces - 6 ounces. You will fit 4-6 cookies on one large cookie sheet. The dough makes 8-12 extra large cookies.Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown on the top. Let them rest for at least 10-15 minutes to set.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

French Apple Cake


Some of my favorite memories with my children have been made at the various festivals and harvest playgrounds that pop up during this season. Last weekend, the kids and I traveled to a tiny little historical town for their apple festival. We have gone every year as a family since we've been married and although Paul was unable to join us I had no plans to skip this year! The weather was beautiful and as a result the festival was so incredibly crowded and busy. Aunt Jen was able to meet up with us and the kids always enjoy spending time with her. She's the greatest.




While Matthew was at school during the week, the girls were being particularly good so I surprised them with trip to our local farmer's market where they set up a whole bunch of fun inflatables for the kids to plan on, a petting zoo, a corn maze, and a not-so-scary haunted house. Plus, they have a whole bunch of creative pumpkin displays for the kids to look at - pumpkins decorated as all kinds of familiar characters including Winnie-the-Pooh, Monster's Inc., Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, and so many more! The girls were psyched to discover where we were going but for some reason turned into shy little things once it came time for them to climb on the inflatables. I had been secretly hoping that they would go off and play and I could sit and listen to a podcast while observing them. But of course, since they were scared and all, I ended up having to climb up and down all these inflatables with them and spent the majority of our time worrying that my weight was going to pop one of them. Thankfully, that did not happen and we all had a good time but it was certainly exhausting!



We couldn't help but stop and feed the goats, llamas, and alapcas on our way out. The white llama there was extremely friendly. Normally, I find llamas extremely standoffish but this little guy kept nuzzling my shirt with his nose and putting his face in our hands because he enjoyed being stroked so much. I kept trying to take pictures of the girls feeding the littlest goat - he was so adorable - but that llama kept photobombing the pictures by bending his neck in front of Lucy and completely blocking her from the camera. He was a really friendly little llama. 







Afterwards, the girls and I stopped by Panera for lunch where we split a salad, a sandwich, and a few bagels. Their Cherry-Vanilla bagel is back in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I couldn't be happier with that. It's by far their best bagel in my opinion. 

I had a wonderful day with my two beautiful girls! We all came home pretty exhausted and both girls took a long afternoon nap which is highly unusual for them!

As promised, I have a few more apple goodies to share with you starting with this French Apple Cake. French Apple Cake in all its simplicity actually makes for quite the elegant dessert. Sliced apples are cooked in batches in butter, allowed to cool just a bit, and then piled high into a springform pan. A thin batter is then poured over the top of the apples before the whole mixture is baked. The apples and batter in the center of a cake create a custard layer while the batter gathered on the tops and sides forms a thin, cake-like crust. For easier slicing, let the cake cool a bit before being served with cinnamon whipped cream or ice cream. I adore how many apples are packed into this simple dessert and it is way easier than making pie when you have a craving for an apple-themed sweet. Paul thought this would make a great brunch item and I agree that he is right - it is composed of mostly fruit after all!

Give this French Apple Cake a try with all the beautiful apples available!


French Apple Cake
adapted slightly from Milk Street

Note: Please notice that this recipe calls for salted butter!

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, plus more for the pan
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 pounds granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound Braeburn or Golden Delicious Apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch slices
12 tablespoons (149 grams) white sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons brandy or calvados
2/3 cup (95 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon baking power 
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Coat a 9-inch springform pan with butter and dust the inside with flour. Tap out the excess and set aside.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Cook, swirling the pan frequently, until the milk solids at the bottom are golden brown and the butter has a nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Pour into a small heatproof bowl without scraping out the skillet. Stir the nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice into the butter and set aside.

Add all the apples, 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the salt to the still-hot skillet and set over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all moisture released by the apples has evaporated and the slices are beginning to brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the brandy and cook until evaporated, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to a large plate, spread in an even layer and refrigerate uncovered until cool to the touch, 15 to 20 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and 9 tablespoons of the remaining sugar. Gradually whisk in the browned butter. Add the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until smooth; the batter will be very thick. Add the cooled apples and fold until evenly coated with batter. Transfer to the prepared pan, spread in an even layer and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake until deeply browned, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Run a knife around the inside of the pan and remove the sides before slicing. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Chicken Taco Chili


I wish I could bottle up and keep Lucy in the current stage she is in forever and ever. Goodness gracious, this little girl has my whole heart and soul. She is adorable, sweet, and possesses such an infectious wonderment and excitement for life. No matter where we are going or what we plan to do, she is always eager to get ready and go.

We need to go to the grocery store. Ok Mommy, I get my shoes on!

We need to go to an appointment at the doctor's. Ok Mommy, I coming! I coming! 

We need to get ready for bed. Ok Mommy, I get my snowman on! (Her "snowman" is her favorite nightgown. Yes, it has snowmen on it. Yes, she wears it all year round because she loves it so much.)

I just love, love, love her so much. I love all my kids equally, but Lucy admittedly has me wrapped around her fat little finger right now.


I've decided to try to put together a little interview for each of my kids and figured I would begin with the most agreeable child at the moment. So, today I am highlighting Lucy. I'll interview the other two troublemakers in the next week or two.

Her responses were pretty much what you'd expect from a two-year-old with the attention span of a fruit fly. It was pretty cute asking her some of the questions and then watching her blink, narrow her eyes, and furrow her brow while trying to comprehend what was just asked of her. I couldn't help commenting on a couple of her responses and my comments appear in parenthesis.


What is your favorite color?
I color at Chick-Fil-A. I color PINK!

What is your favorite food?
My eggs!

What is your favorite treat? 
Ice Cream!!

What is your favorite sport? 
Ummm…Ummmm….(Notre Dame Football is the only acceptable answer)

What is your favorite hobby? 
I love tic-tac-toe!

What is your favorite movie? 
I love Moana. Watch Moana. Hey-Hey So FUNNY!

What is your favorite tv show? 
I watch Daniel Tiger. Daniel Tiger SO FUNNY!

What is your favorite book? 
One more SCOOP! (It’s a line from a book called Just One More).

What is your favorite animal?
I like giraffe. RED PANDA!! At the ZOO!!

What is your favorite song? 
Trolls. (She does love that soundtrack!)

What is your favorite restaurant?
Ummm…Ummm…Uhhhhhh (I’m just going to answer for her. Chick-Fil-A. Without a doubt!)

What is your favorite fruit? 
Blueberry and strawberry

What is your favorite place to visit? 
I have fun with Carrie at the Y.

Who is your best friend?
My house! (That's interesting...)

Who is your favorite cousin? 
I love my cousin.

What’s your favorite thing to do with Emma? 
Go to the park!

What’s your favorite thing to do with Matthew?
Jump on the trampoline with Matthew! But it’s getting darky.

What’s your favorite thing to do with Dad?
Play with Daddy at the park!

What’s your favorite thing to do with Mom?
Play with Mommy at the park! (I’m noticing a theme)

What’s your favorite thing to do with Peyton (pet)?
I tell Peyton to stay! Stay Peyton, STAY! Sit Peyton, SIT!

Where do you think you’ll go to college?
I color at the Y.

Where do you think you might get married? 
Mommy, I want to watch Zootopia.

What do you want to be when you grow up? 
I get French fries when I get bigger. And watch Zootopia.

What is one thing you want to learn how to do?
Umm…ummm….I cook. And watch Zootopia.

What is one of your greatest talents?
That’s Peyton. He’s a little doggie. Little doggie. A cute little doggie. I love Peyton. Cute little doggie. I wish that.

What are some of your other strengths?
Thank goodness it’s Monday. (It’s actually Thursday)

What is something that you wish for? 
Mommy, there are a lot of clouds. I think there’s a storm.

What is something you wonder about? 
I walked into the wall.

Who is someone that you miss? 
The monkeys are loud. At the zoo. We go look at the monkeys at the zoo? We go to the zoo! The monkey house!!

What makes you nervous? 
Matthew’s at school. Then we go to the zoo! (Still hung up on the last question)

What makes you happy? 
Lucy SO HAPPY! Mommy like to color? (We always stay on topic)


The recipe I wanted to share with you today was something I threw together really quickly because I had a super busy day ahead and basically did not want to have to think about dinner. One day a week, I have a busy day that does not end until I come home around 6:00pm and on those days I prefer to walk in the door with dinner basically ready for me. Thus, a crockpot meal is pretty much a must unless we are making something simple like sandwiches or scrambled eggs.

I had originally intended on making a Chicken Tortilla Soup because I figured I had most of the ingredients already in my pantry but, alas, I actually did not have any tortilla chips. So I threw together something I am calling a Chicken Taco Chili because that's pretty much the best way to describe it. Paul, the kids, and I loved it so much that he ordered me to write down exactly what I did so I could replicate it again. So, apologies for the goofy recipe I have put together below, but it is pretty much exactly what I did. Including the part about having too much liquid for my *tiny* crockpot so I ended up having to transfer the finished product to the stovetop for the final simmer stage. If you also possess a smaller crockpot, by all means halve this recipe! Paul was obsessed with this soup so I will definitely be making it again and probably will replicate everything exactly, with the exception of using a bigger crockpot.

And please, please serve with plenty of cheese, sour cream, and (if you a have them) tortilla chips. I also cut up some fresh avocado to sprinkle on top and Matthew - the avocado lover - was especially a fan of this extra fresh flourish.


Chicken Taco Chili

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeds removed, minced
1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from the canned chipotle peppers above)
4 cups chicken broth
3 large chicken breasts
1 packet taco seasoning (or make you're own - recipe below)
2 14.5 ounce cans Chili Style Diced Tomatoes
1 28-ounce can plain diced tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 can pinto beans, drained
2 cans Black Beans in Chili Sauce (I like Bush's), undrained and divided
1/2 cup salsa
Shredded Cheese, for serving
Diced Avocado, for serving
Sour Cream, for serving
Crushed Tortilla Chips, for serving
Lime Wedges, for serving

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the diced onion and peppers and saute until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic cloves and saute for an additional 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the minced chipotle peppers and adobo sauce and cook an additional 30 seconds. Pour in the chicken broth and stir well, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. Turn off the heat and set aside for a minute.

Nestle the chicken into the bottom of a very large (8 quart capacity) slow cooker and sprinkle with the taco seasoning (if making your own, use 3 tablespoons). Add the vegetable/chicken broth mixture, tomatoes, tomato paste, pinto beans, and one can of black beans. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 5 hours.

When ready, remove the chicken and shred with a fork. In a blender, add the remaining can of black beans, salsa, and a few ladles of the vegetable/tomato mixture from the slow cooker. Puree until smooth. This is where it gets a little goofy depending on the size of your slow cooker. Either pour into the slow cooker with the remaining soup, or pour into a large stockpot on the stovetop (my slow cooker couldn't handle any more soup so I had to use a bigger stockpot). However you need to do it, combine the pureed mixture with the remaining soup and shredded chicken (feel free to puree more of the soup if you prefer a smoother consistency). Reheat over low heat, adjusting seasoning as needed with additional chili powder, garlic powder, and salt.

Serve with shredded cheese, diced avocado, sour cream, lime wedges, and crushed tortilla chips, if desired.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bolognese Sauce


I know I've mentioned it multiple times before, but I'm continually astounded by the extreme stubbornness of my children. They are all so bull headed and are continually in battle with me or one another over something extremely silly. Every time I go to the store, the kids fight over who gets to push the button that activates the automatic door system and the slowest child who misses (normally her) chance to have the privilege and prestige of slapping the button ends up wailing and crying about the injustice of the situation for the first 15 minutes of our trip. It's so lovely and never fails to put all of us in the finest of moods.

I can definitely say without hesitation that one of my children is far worse than the others when it comes to having conniptions or meltdowns over silly matters. Undoubtedly, that child is Emma. That girl has had my nerves on edge for over six months now and I have no idea how I can survive another six months of the whining, the crying, the fits, the fights. Matthew and Lucy will be playing perfectly nicely together and then Emma will come upon the scene and soon enough all three of them will be in tears. She seems to thrive on conflict and will probably not rest until my head is completely covered with grey hair.

Emma's stubborness never shines brighter than at the dinner table. Each night, Paul and I spend quite a bit of time making a nice, homecooked meal. We sit down to a nicely set table and Paul nearly always sets the mood for our meal by playing classical piano music over the speakers. The peace normally lasts for about four minutes before the whining commences.

"I don't like that!"
"This looks so gross!"
"I am never going to eat this for dinner. Never ever ever!"

All direct quotes. All from Emma. Without hesitation, she will always complain about whatever we are serving for dinner. And, for the last few weeks, she had been voluntarily going to bed two hours early rather than be subjected to the swill I had chosen to serve her for dinner.


Finally, Paul had had enough of her early bedtimes out of pure defiance and set his foot down, declaring that she would be sitting at the dinner table until she ate. Sure enough, two hours after dinnertime when the other two kids were getting dressed for bed, Emma was still sitting there. She still had yet to take a bite. Paul wrapped her plate up in plastic wrap and told her that she would be eating it for breakfast. The next morning, breakfast came and Emma still refused to eat. She also refused to eat it for lunch. Finally, at dinnertime, she decided she had had enough and finished off her leftovers, groaning and moaning through each bite.

What does all this have to do with Bolognese Sauce? Well, this seems to be the dinner that has broken Emma's dinnertime protests. I made this for our Sunday night dinner and sat down to eat fully expecting another barrage of complaints. However, they never came. Not only did they never come, but my normally whiny child asked for a second HUGE serving. We had the leftovers the next day and she again ate a gigantic serving, singing my praises the entire time. I think we might have found Emma's new favorite meal.

And the girl is right, because this is good, hearty comfort food. Traditionalists will be so angry at me for messing with this beloved recipe from Marcella Hazen, but I couldn't help but add garlic and a few other seasonings to her original recipe because I can't imagine a pasta sauce without it. I know bolognese is truly a bare-bones meat sauce, relying on the flavors of the beef, wine, and milk to carry the sauce and I know I totally maimed it by adding additional ingredients to this base but I truly couldn't help it. Please don't crucify me. The resulting meal was so delicious, so filling, and so comforting that I have no regrets. Plus, it bought me two nights of dinners where everyone was completely happy with what was served. I'll take it!


Bolognese Sauce
adapted from Marcella Hazen via The New York Times

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter plus 1 tablespoon for tossing the pasta
1 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
3/4 pound ground pork
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt
Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
1 cup whole milk
A few generous pinches of ground nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds pasta, for serving
Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, for serving

Heat oil and butter in a large Dutch oven or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook for a few minutes, until the onions is translucent. Make a well in the center of the mixture, and then add in the ground beef and pork. Throw in a generous amount of salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes until brown, gradually stirring it into the vegetable mixture. Add the minced garlic and seasonings and cook for an additional minute until very fragrant.

Add milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a few pinches -- about 1/8 teaspoon total -- of nutmeg, and stir.

Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. Taste and adjust seasonings to suit your tastes.

Serve over hot, freshly cook pasta with plenty of Parmesan cheese for serving.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Apple Fritters


It's my favorite season - Apple season! Apples are my favorite food in the world and I love how many different varieties are available this time of year - Jonagold, Empire, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Mutsu, Ginger Gold, Zestar, Rome, Cortland, Macintosh, and many, many more! The local apples as well as all the varieties filling the store shelves from New York are taking over my countertop since I can't stop buying them! Thankfully, the kids are just as crazy about apples as I am and are gladly eating 2-3 apiece each day.

In honor of apple season, I am about to bombard you, dear reader, with some pretty tempting apple-themed desserts. Let's start with Apple Fritters.



Did you know you can make delicious apple fritters that taste better than ones you can buy at any donut shop in under 30 minutes? I certainly didn't until I spied this recipe in a past issue of Cook's Country and was surprised to see how simple the process really is. I just thought it would be more complicated, for some reason. I really, REALLY hate frying food but some foods are worth all that extra effort and these were probably the easiest fried delicacies to ever come out of my kitchen.

The kids were fascinated with the process. When I told them what we were making, their eyes got really big and they whispered among themselves in disbelief, "Mom is going to make donuts? Can she really make donuts if she doesn't work at Krispy Kreme?" Seeing their faces as I went about making the fritters, you would have thought they were watching a magician at work. They watched eagerly as I mixed up the batter, heated up the oil, and dropped portion after portion of the sweet apple and cinnamon mixture into the hot oil where it bubbled and simmered until golden brown. Wen I pulled the first finished fritter (wow, alliteration?) out of the pot, they cheered, "Wow! Look what Mom made!" They were mesmerized as I whipped up the glaze and poured a generous amount on each warm fritter and practically drooled as they watched it pool over the sides and drip onto the baking sheet. Emma, Lucy and Peyton were given the arduous task of eating the leftover glaze that had spilled onto the drip tray.


In the end, these were some of the best fritters I have ever tasted. Eating one warm and fresh was an almost transcendental experience. I have never been the biggest fan of donuts, but I found these pretty near irresistible. I'm already thinking that we are going to have to make these again as an easy Sunday morning treat after Mass. I still can't get over how easy they are to make.


Apple Fritters
adapted from Cook's Country

For the Fritters:
2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces (I used Ginger Golds)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup apple cider
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups vegetable or peanut oil, for frying

For the Glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup apple cider
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Spread prepared apples in a single layer on a paper towel-lined baking sheet and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. This is important to ensure that the residual moisture on the apple pieces not make the fritters soggy.

Combine the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Whisk the cider, eggs, melted butter and vanilla in a medium bowl until combined. Stir the apples into the flour mixture. Stir in the cider mixture until incorporated.

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Using a 1/3 cup measurement or a large spoon, transfer heaping portion of the batter to the oil. Press the batter lightly with the back of a spoon to flatten. Fry, adjusting the burner as necessary to maintain the oil temperature between 325 and 350 degrees, until deep golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the fritters to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Bring oil back to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining batter. Let fritters cool 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the powdered sugar, cider, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl until smooth. Top each fritter with a heaping tablespoon of glaze. Let glaze set 10 minutes. Serve!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Trip Back Home Under the Dome


Our entire family was presented with an amazing opportunity to spend a few days on campus at the University of Notre Dame. Longtime followers of this blog know that me and Paul both graduated from Notre Dame and basically fell in love during our time on campus. We became engaged while taking one of our daily strolls around Saint Mary's Lake, in full view of the glowing dome and the magnificent cross atop the steeple of the Sacred Heart Basilica. We honestly believe in our hearts that it is the greatest school on earth but may be a bit biased since we had such a fantastic experience growing, maturing, and discovering our vocations there. We always tell the kids, "If it hadn't been for Notre Dame, you might not be here!"

Definitely true.

Anyway, we jumped at the opportunity to come back on campus as guests of the University so Paul could participate in the ABET accreditation discussions for the Engineering Department. They graciously provided us with a spacious suite in the Morris Inn, the hotel right on campus off of Main Circle, and were more than accommodating towards our young family. The kids, especially Matthew, were looking forward to the trip for weeks ahead of time. Matthew was to miss two full days but his teacher was more than gracious about it and provided me with a list of all his work to catch up on while he was away. Matthew's ultimate goal is to be a student at Notre Dame one day and we constantly remind him whenever he starts to groan about his homework that it takes a lot of hard work and persistence to be admitted into his dream school. He loves everything about the school and was so psyched to tour it again. On the drive to South Bend, he kept listing all the sights on campus he wanted to see, especially adamant that he had to see inside of the Golden Dome this visit since we didn't get to do that last time we visited.

Thankfully, the weather was beautiful the entire time despite the thunderstorm predictions I had been stressing about during our drive. I must learn how to chill about things I can't control. They usually work out for the best anyway! We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful time.

Matthew was so happy to be on campus. He loves everything about it. The girls were happy to be out touring too, as long as they were pushed in their carriage stroller. They lead rough lives. Emma was the truly lazy one - never once did she walk further than 10 feet without being pushed. Lucy, however, did step out every now and then to run after Matthew.





She also attempted to pick every flower on campus...




One of our favorite spots on campus is the beautiful, quiet grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. The kids are also huge fans of the grotto because they have an obsession with fire. They love choosing a candle and then, with careful guidance, lighting and placing it in the holders. In fact, we had a tough time getting Lucy to leave the "happy birthdays" and come say a prayer with the rest of us. We all lit candles for Grandpa Nistler to be healed of his recent sufferings.








Then, we showed Matthew the inside of the dome as promised. He was impressed, but Lucy was especially mesmerized. Then she decided to start rolling on the floor, so it was time to leave before we disturbed the peace!




I also took the kiddos through some of the science buildings and showed them all the preserved and stuffed animals on display in the Biodiversity Museum/Laboratory. I explained to Matthew that I did a lot of studying in that lab when I was studying vertebrate biology and, since he wants to be a paleontologist one day, that he will probably have to take that course too! I'm not sure he was listening because around that time he spotted the gigantic T-Rex skull they had on display all the way from Montana. He was such a happy kid.

Next, we paid a visit to Touchdown Jesus and then held hands with Fr. Hesburgh and Father Joyce.







Later, I took the kids on a tour of the Holy Cross Cemetery to find the graves of some Notre Dame greats, like Father Lyons, Father Zahm, and Father Hesburgh. I tried to tell them the story of each priest as we found their grave, like how Father Zahm was a science professor at the University who adamantly professed his belief that the theory of evolution was not at odds with Catholic teaching, a wildly unpopular idea at the time. I also told the kids about going to visit Father Hesburgh in his office on the top of the library while I was an undergraduate. Since he was blind, he loved having students come to read to him or discuss their studies with him. I showed Matthew the famous photograph of Father Hesburgh linking hands with Martin Luther King Jr. at a civil rights rally at Soldier Field in Chicago. Matthew, a huge admirer of Dr. King, found this especially impressive.



Perhaps another reason Notre Dame feels like home is that I have so many siblings living around the University. My brother Raymond and his wife Mary live and work in the local area, as does my younger sister Sophie. My sister Jane is also a freshman this year at Saint Mary's College, the all-girls school right across the street from Notre Dame. I was looking forward to seeing how Jane was settling into college life, so the kids and I made the short walk across campus into Saint Mary's territory. Saint Mary's has a very small but quite beautiful campus, with plenty of trees, open spaces, and impressive architecture. It's very quiet compared to Notre Dame, but the tranquility is rather charming and intimate. Jane showed us her favorite study spot, a remote location on a small island in the middle of a pond where stands a large statue of Our Lady nearby.

The kids of course had to all get a picture with Mother Mary.



After that, we headed to Jane's dorm to check out the her digs and get the kids loaded up on sugar. Not the best of ideas because then they went crazy and we had to leave before they destroyed the very cute, but very small room. On the way back, we stopped to feed the ducks at Saint Mary's Lake and then headed back to our hotel to pick up Paul and head out for a Mexican dinner to celebrate Aunt Jane's 19th birthday! We made her wear a sombrero as the staff sang to her and then she got to try her very first Chaco Taco!  Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera to record the shenanigans, which Jane was quite grateful for, but everyone enjoyed sharing the Chaco Taco.

Then, Jane gave Paul and me the greatest gift every by offering to watch the children for us as they went to bed and allowing us to take a walk together - alone! - around campus just as we used to do almost a decade ago! We wandered around the lake, revisited our engagement spot, lit another candle at the grotto, attended the 10 pm Mass at Alumni Hall, drooled over the candy bins at the Huddle, and strolled around the gigantic new monstrosity stadium addition. So many sweet, sweet memories made together here!

It's always so hard to leave a place you hold so dear. We are so grateful to the University for providing us with the opportunity to enjoy such a relaxing visit. Until next time, our hearts forever love thee Notre Dame.