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Second Attempt: Portuguese Sweet Bread

21 Jan

I know I am not alone when I proclaim my love for King Arthur Flour.  Non-bakers may wonder why one flour could be so much better than another and I have no real explanation but can firmly say, “It Just is!”  A visit to King Arthur Flour’s Baker’s Shop was a must for me during our quick vacation to Vermont.

The Baker’s Store is located in Norwich, Vermont which is not to far from the Montshire Museum.  If you get there early enough you may even get to try some of their freshly baked breads and goodies but we were moving slowly and we weren’t so lucky.  They did have mini creme filled cupcakes for us to sample though—and they were delicious!

Not to fear, we still got to peruse the aisles for all kinds of flours, baking mixes (including tons of gluten free varieties) and all kinds of exciting baker type stuff.  I splurged and bought myself two whole vanilla beans (among other things) that I can’t wait to use.

One thing I did not buy while I was there (I was worried about exceeding the weight allowance with our luggage) was this book or this book.  Although I was very tempted  and still really want to add them to my growing cookbook collection. (Since January is the month of not spending money-I’ll be heading off to the library to find it.)

Luckily, I was able to find a King Arthur flour recipe online for Portuguese Sweet Bread.  This recipe was a lot different than the one passed on to me from my aunt but it made a really nice loaf of bread–with perfect sweetness.  My mom thought it should have been a bit fluffier and that maybe I had not allowed the yeast to work for long enough.  I’m not sure.

It has been so long since I tried the family recipe—maybe I need to give it one more shot.

Here is the recipe, lovingly borrowed from the King Arthur Flour website:

The  Sponge
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons or packets active dry yeast
1/2 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

The Dough
1 cup milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter*
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel OR 1/2 teaspoon lemon oil (optional)
7 1/2 to 8 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
4 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
wash made of 1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water

The Sponge:

Pour the water into a large bowl and dissolve in it the sugar and yeast. Stir in the flour and set aside until the mixture is bubbly and expanded.

The Dough: Scald the milk. Remove from the heat and add the butter, sugar, salt and optional lemon peel. ( I did not add the lemon peel as there was none on hand-but I am sure it would be a nice addition.)

Stir to dissolve and then let the mixture cool to lukewarm.

Beat the eggs and yolk together . Add them and the milk mixture to the proofing sponge. Stir in 6 to 7 cups of flour, one cup at a time, until the dough comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Lightly oil the same bowl and set aside.

Knead the dough, adding only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the board. When the dough is smooth and soft, place it in the oiled bowl. Turn to lightly oil the entire surface of the dough. Cover the bowl with greased plastic wrap (to keep the dough from sticking to it) and a clean towel. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch the dough down and divide into two equal pieces. You can decide to shape the dough into a round loaf or a regular rectangular loaf–which is what I did.  What ever your choice, shape it and place in two greased pans.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap (again greased) and cover with a clean towel. Let the loaves rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 375°F for at least 15 minutes. Brush the loaves with the egg white and water mixture.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom with a finger. When the bread is done, remove it from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

Vermont=Cheese: A Visit to Cobb Hill

17 Jan

Quick side note:  For those of you who read my last post about the release of my new and improved blog format—I have run into some (many) technical difficulties.  I have been trying to resolve them and it is driving me crazy and I need to take a break from it.  In the meantime, I will continue to post here and will let you know when the new site is ready for the big time.

For me anyway.  I look forward to our annual trip to Vermont so that I can eat cheese.

A lot of cheese.

Sure, I can get Vermont cheese at my local grocery store. But, I can’t buy cheese from Cobb Hill.  And it may be the best cheese ever.

Cobb Hill was started by Donella Meadows in Hartland Vermont and is described as a “live-work experiment.”   The people of Cobb Hill aim to “live in a co-housing community comprised of people learning to live lightly on the earth while forming a connection to a community, the land, and a working farm.”  It is exactly what you think of when you think of a sustainable community.  And, for those of us on the outside who have a strong desire reduce our impact on the planet–it is a very cool place to visit and support.

Just like you would expect on a working farm, they  have chickens, sheep, llamas, and of course, cows. And, they encourage people to stop by and see the animals.

They have cute baby cows.

They have sweet mama cows.

The little babies will even lick your hands.

The llamas will look at you.

Their little store is open to purchase milk, cheese, eggs, some fresh vegetables, and locally raised meats. And, their famous RAW MILK CHEESE.  I know you can find their cheese at the local stores in and around Vermont and New Hampshire-but it is so much more special to go right to the source to get it.

They were milking when we were there and it was really interesting for the kids to see where their milk comes from.  It is amazing to me that many kids have no idea.

If you are in the Southeastern Vermont area and in the mood for cheese—stop by Cobb Hill after a great lunch at Stella’s! You will be glad that you did.

Stella’s Restaurant, Hartland, VT

31 Dec

Vermont is old country roads, small towns, and interesting little shops and restaurants.

Stella’s in Hartland, VT is one the quaint little cafe’s we went to today.

Just for a quick lunch after the “biggest snowball fight in the world!”

We felt bad that we barged into the little cafe at 1:45 (they close at 2:30) with four hungry kids and four hungry adults.  The place is tiny and we took it over.

The owner was very accomadating and didn’t seem to mind our little party getting out of control.

Once the food arrived, there was silence.

The Stella burger was deemed, “The best burger ever!” by The Bean.

The special of the day was a fancy tuna melt with spinach and Vermont cheese.  It got rave reviews!

My falafel was good–not amazing–but I was very glad that it was on the menu.  It was just what I was hungry for.

The kids meals were good-sized and actually looked tasty and were eagerly scarfed down.

But, the pie, oh my!  Their chocolate cream pie was touted as “World Famous” and I knew we had to try it.  And, it was rich and creamy and delicious.  So good.

If you ever find yourself in Vermont, I highly recommend Stella’s.  Oh, and not only are they very accommodating they try to get everything from local sources.  Vermont beef, cheese and eggs, and even local ice creams and sorbets.

Here is how you can find it:  159 US Rt 5 Hartland, VT 05048

Phone number:  (802) 436-3525

Montshire Museum, Norwich, Vermont

30 Dec

We are in Vermont–celebrating New Year’s with my in-laws.  Beautiful, snowy, quiet, and laid back Vermont.  So low-tech that I feel kind of guilty working on my blog here.  This is the kind of place you ask your neighbor for advice—not the internet.

But, we are doing so many neat things that I want to share all of our adventures.

Our first mission was the Montshire Museum —a children’s science museum in Norwich, Vermont–just across from the Connecticut river.  Everytime we are here, we visit the Montshire and the kids always love it.

This particular time was especially fun.  We had never told Grandpa and Grandma that we were coming.  Only my sister in law knew and she was able to keep it a surprise.  The plan was to surprise them all at the Montshire Museum.  This would be a real surprise as we live in Florida and we insisted we couldn’t make it this year.

We watched from the second floor windows as they were getting out of the car.  We watched from the second floor overlook as they walked in and paid.  We sent the kids downstairs to just say “Hi!” to their grandpa. The plan was to play it cool and act casual.

First the kids ran into their cousins.  One of them looked at Rosie and The Bean and said  to their dad, “That looks like the Bean and Rosie!”–their dad responded without even looking at them, “Well, it isn’t.”

I think Rosie and The Bean were a little confused about what to do next.  They just stood there.  And waited for someone to recognize them.

Grandpa walked right past them with no sign of recognition.  And they were a little afraid to approach him.

Finally, Grandpa looked long and hard at Rosie thinking, “That sure does look like my grand daughter.”  Once, he looked left and saw the Bean, he fell to his knees and started repeating, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”

It was a great moment.  Luckily, my sister in law got great video of everyone’s surprised faces.

______________________________________________________________________________________

So, the Montshire is a great place to pull off a huge family surprise, or just good place to get let kids run around and learn about science.  We have only gone in the winter but there are a bunch of neat trails that start from the grounds that would be really fun to explore in the summer.

There are all kinds of puzzles, and other hands on activities to keep young (and old) ones occupied.  The exhibits change regularly and while we were there we saw an exhibit on how toys work.  It was a great introduction to electric currents and pulleys.

One of the great things about the Montshire  is it is fairly small so, a couple of hours is the perfect amount of time to see everything.  It has never been too crowded when we have been there so we feel comfortable letting the kids roam more freely than we would at larger children’s museums.

The website for the Montshire is:  http://www.montshire.org/

By the way, my favorite exhibit at the Montshire are the leafcutter ants….I could spend hours just looking for the queen ant and watching them break leaves into bite sized pieces and carry them back to their fungus gardens.

Guest Blogging in Kissimmee

10 Dec

We will be on our way to Kissimmee this weekend–exploring all alot of the holiday activities in and around Kissimmee.  I will be posting here to Forty Cakes and to the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau blog at i.seekissimme.com.  Their posts may be delayed a couple of days–but check them out.

Our plans include:

Candlelight Processional at Epcot

ICE! and SNOW! at Gaylord Palms Resort

Arabian Nights Dinner show

Osbourne Family Lights at Hollywood Studios

and lots more…….

We have so much exploring to do and we are all so excited to get in the holiday spirit.   Be sure to check it out.

McLane Creek Nature Trail, Olympia, Washington

4 Dec

We went on a quick trip to Seattle/Olympia to see my dad for Thanksgiving.  It snowed before we got there and we were lucky enough to see snow on the ground before Thanksgiving!

Even with the snow, I knew that I needed to make sure to go to my favorite little hike in Olympia, McLane Creek Nature Trail.  This short, relatively flat hike (about two miles) winds across a few beaver ponds, crosses McLane Creek (or ‘crick’ as my dad likes to say), and has loads of boardwalks and bridges to cross.   My sister, brother and I love this hike and always try to do it when we go home.

The air was cold and wet but the kids didn’t complain at all.  Grandpa was the only one grumbling about the adventure.

I had to beg him to get bundled up and get outside.  “It’s raining.”, he whined.  “Wear a rain coat.”, I said.

“It’s cold,”  he cried.  “Walk faster, ” I said.

“My feet hurt,” he complained.  ” I’ll give you chocolate when you finish your hike,” I said, and that was enough to keep him quiet.

I know that he had fun though—the Bean was so excited about all the dead salmon that we found in the river.  Salmon that had died either after spawning or on their way to spawn.  It was the perfect opportunity for grandpa to teach the kids about his favorite subject—fish!  After a quick discussion of the salmon life cycle we kept hiking.  At the next crick crossing, we even saw a couple of salmon struggling to make their way upstream.

Grandpa was also very excited to point out all the mushrooms.  Too bad we couldn’t eat any of them.

If you are in Olympia and need some time outside, here is a map to the trail head.

Don’t let the winter weather keep you away.  The canopy keeps you fairly dry in the rainy weather.  It was about 40 degrees, gray and rainy when we were there but the parking lot was full.

Washingtonians don’t let a little wet ruin their day.  And neither should you.

NYC Restaurant Review: Curry Dream

21 Nov

We (my sister and I ) love Indian food and were so happy to find “Curry Dream” very close to our hotel in NYC.

The kids walked in and were thrilled to be in a fancy restaurant.  They determined that it was a fancy restaurant  because of the glass goblets for water and the cloth napkins.  Their standards are pretty low.

And because we were in the city and our motto was to “Be adventurous” they were willing to try more on the menu than normal.

We really did it up with Samosas, Naan, Dall Makani, and Alu Gobi–a spiced mixture of califlower and potatoes.  Let me just tell you that it was all excellent.  The onion chutney served with the samosas was amazing.  Even Little One was eating it—and she is not a fan of onions.

We also ordered a chicken dish for my kids—-Rasmi Malai Kabab which is described as cubes of chicken marinated in yogurt and cream cheese and then grilled.  The Bean LOVED it and couldn’t slow himself down.  It was not spicy but had a unique flavor that he loved.  He is still talking about it.

Everything was so good.  We left nothing uneaten.

The kids were so full–they were in pain.  Delicious pain.

Oh, the wait staff was incredibly patient with us and very kind.  We were the only family in the restaurant and even got a comment about how well behaved our children are. Ha!  If they had only seen us a few minutes earlier.

Curry Dream

66 W 39th St New York, NY 10018

Tel: 212-810-4125

http://www.currydream.com

Bakery Review: Ferrara Bakery & Cafe, Little Italy, NYC

18 Nov


I really don’t want to write this post.

I don’t want to tell you to go to this bakery in Little Italy.

We had planned to get to Chinatown early so that we could have some dim sum for breakfast before our flight.  We didn’t realize that none of the restaurants and bakeries would be open until at least 9 am.    We were tourists  and we wanted to get a jump on our day.

The kids were so wiped out that they could barely make a sound.  They were angels.

We had quiet and hungry kids.  We wanted to spend some money.

Yet, our server had such an attitude.  The only attitude we received while in NYC.

The service was just plain terrible. Our server  made it perfectly clear that she did not want us there.

So, I had planned to write this review about her attitude and warning you against visiting this bakery in Little Italy.

But, I can’t.

See that croissant on the top left?  It was amazing.    I don’t even like croissants and I can’t stop thinking about the chocolate croissant we shared.  The cookies were great.  The coffee delicious.  The biscotti perfect.

If I were in NYC, I would go back.  I would deal with rudeness just to eat that croissant again.

From the reviews I have read, there are likely other more intimate bakeries in Little Italy and I was not alone in complaining about the service.   Supposedly, at other times of day tourists line up at Ferraras  for cannolis and gelato.  But, when we arrived they had exactly what we needed–plenty of available tables, clean bathrooms and hot coffee.

And the best chocolate croissant I have ever tasted.

Who cares if the server didn’t like us?

Ferrara Bakery & Cafe

195 Grand Street
between Mulberry & Mott St.
(212) 226-6150

http://www.ferraracafe.com

Hotel Review: Hilton Garden Inn, W 35th St, NYC

14 Nov

As soon as I had heard that I made it into the NYC Marathon (through the lottery), I started looking into hotels. I knew NYC hotels were expensive and due to the marathon, would be in demand even more than at other times of the year. So, about nine months before the big day I began searching for hotels based on a bunch of specific criteria.

I wanted to be fairly close to the NYC marathon finish–as I knew after running 26.2 miles, I wouldn’t want to walk far. I also wanted to be close to the New York Public Library because the marathon buses would pick up there to get the runners to the start line. I wanted to be within walking distance of the Javitz Center–the home of the NYC marathon expo.

And, I knew that I would be traveling with my kids and my mom (four in total) and wanted to be somewhere central, simple—with plenty of room and no bed bugs!.

The Hilton Garden Inn at West 35th St. met all of my requirements.

The HGI is located about 200 feet from the corner of W 35th and 6th Ave—right next to the world’s most amazing Macys, right above Penn Station, and less than a block from 5th Ave. There are tons of restaurants, shops right near the hotel—including a really good Indian restaurant (which I’ll review in a later post). This was perfect for us because my mom is not that adventurous and there were going to be times that she would have to leave the hotel alone.  Being right next to Macy’s, pizza, and a Starbucks made it easier.

We were all flying into JFK and getting to the hotel from that airport could not be any easier.  We took the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station. For about $11.00 per person, we boarded a comfortable train and had a nice (mostly above ground) train ride.  Just about the time the kids were getting bored with the ride (about 35 minutes), we arrived at our stop. Perfect!

They have free Wi-Fi!

The hotel rooms in NYC are small.  They all are.  It is part of the charm of the city.  Our room had two double beds, a desk, TV and stand, and a microwave, refrigerator, and a coffeemaker.  I felt that for the size they had made the best of the space and it didn’t feel cramped or uncomfortable.   It was very clean—since it has only been open a year.  (No bed bugs!)  And the beds were super comfortable (oh, they have a dial on each bed so you can chose the firmness you prefer–the kids loved this feature).

The bathroom was normal sized.  And always had hot water.

Kids standing next to the closet in the little hallway.

There was a tiny closet  and an even tinier closet that held the ironing board and iron.   One perk was the coffee maker, refrigerator, and microwave in the room.  Our last NYC hotel (The Roosevelt) did not have these amenities.  I thought their use of space was very clever.

The view was nothing special—just NYC buildings, but it was just what we wanted.  A view of the city.  (The first picture shows you what we saw….)

The lobby was tiny.  Really– there was only a couple of couches and a couple of chairs—not a destination at all–but a quick meet-up- and- go spot.  (The Roosevelt Hotel had a beautiful lobby.  One that you wanted to sit in and just relax.)  Even though it was small, the lobby was pleasant enough with free hot chocolate, coffee, and really good apple cider.

We got free breakfast as part of the package that I had booked—and it was such a nice way to start the morning.  We were able to go down and get a couple of pastries and bagels for the kids and eat them in our rooms.  Business travelers may want to indulge in the hot breakfast in their restaurant.  It always looked good but we were always on our way out for adventures.

My only complaint was with the concierge.  I called down a couple of times to ask specific questions about shuttles and taxis and was told to just come down and hail one myself.  While I don’t mind doing that, I thought the concierge is supposed to help with things like that.  Maybe I am wrong but I just got the feeling that because I wasn’t asking for fancy dining reservations–they didn’t have the time for me.

In summary, if you need a clean, convenient place to stay in Midtown—the Hilton Garden Inn on West 35th St. is perfect.   Just don’t ask the concierge for anything and you will happy as a clam.

Pros:  Clean rooms, convenient location, comfortable beds, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast with some types of stays, very nice waitstaff in restaurant, well laid out rooms.

Cons: Concierge staff. No safe in rooms (or if there was, we couldn’t find it)

Bakery Review: Crumbs-NYC

13 Nov

I was so excited to go to NYC to run the marathon.  Not for the experience of running through all five burroughs of the city.  Not for the whole “I set a goal and I accomplished it” feeling.  No, I was looking forward to running the marathon so that I could eat cupcakes in the city.  With no shame or regret.  I wanted to run 26.2 miles so that I could eat 26.2 cupcakes.  So, I ran.  And, I ate.

However, no where near the amount of cupcakes I wanted to sample.

Really, we only had cupcakes twice.  Burgers&Cupcakes was our first stop.  And, as you may remember from this review—they were not good.  Really, at all.

Crumbs, was an entirely different story.

Look at this display case.  (Pardon the photos–at this point I hadn’t purchased my fancy SLR and had to use the camera on my iphone.)

The case was overwhelming with deliciousness.  Almost too overwhelming.  Of course, my little one shrieked with delight with the “Pinkalicious” cupcake.  And the boys were torn between various over the top cupcakes.

I had to make the executive decision.  We were going simple (and slighter less expensive).  Afterall, it was only 10:00 am.  We ordered an assortment of the basic cupcakes–chocolate/vanilla, vanilla/vanilla, vanilla/lemon, chocolate/chocolate, and chocolate/chocolate with sprinkles.

I figured the basic cupcake would give us a true representation of whether or not these were good cupcakes or just cupcakes with lots of stuff on them.

Oh. My. God.

These were the best cupcakes ever.

I can’t explain why but they were 1000 times better than those had a burgers&cupcakes and at least 10 times better than those from Cakes by Ron.

Can someone please help me understand this.  What is their secret?

My sister who hadn’t ordered herself one was very sad when she was forced to lick the cupcake wrapper for more crumbs. (She is usually 100 times prettier than this picture portrays but she had been overtaken by a insatiable urge for these crumbs and became possessed. Sorry you have to see her like this.)

A couple of other things—when we arrived there was no one there.  Not usually a good sign for a cupcake shop in the city but it was 10:00 am–and it was perfect for us.  A bunch of excited kids screaming and constantly changing their minds–my mom was the only one holding it together.   The counter staff was really patient–allowing the kids us to change their minds many, many times.

I know that I needed to go to other cupcakeries while in the city but we didn’t get to them—and I am not sorry.  Crumbs is good enough for me!

And, there are locations all throughout NYC, NJ, California—look here for locations.

You gotta get there!