Monday, October 22, 2012

Settling In: A Weekend Harley Trip

I was in fifth grade before I learned how to ride a bicycle without training wheels. It's true. I was embarrassingly old. So I wasn't much of a bike rider, okay?? But I was something else. A daddy's girl. (Not an exclusion of my mother - because I was a momma's girl too. Who says you have to be just one?? I was - and still am - both.)

As an adult I am making up for lost time on bikes. But this time I go for the motorized kind... And always with my daddy. Dad and I ride his bike around town pretty regularly, but we recently decided to go for a weekend trip. So we rented a Harley Electra Glide (with a big, comfortable back seat) and took off for the weekend. We picked the perfect weekend. After all, it is my favorite time of year.

Dad and I had the best ride. We started out on Saturday morning in Nashville and headed south east. We took back roads and highways through the hills of the Tennessee countryside, through Fall Creek Falls, and then headed north up to Lexington. We bunked with my cousins for the night and then headed back down south on Sunday.

In all, we rode about 650 miles - 8 hours on Saturday and 6 hours on Sunday. And the bike was so comfortable! Of course, we had to stop and stretch our legs every couple of hours, but mostly I just settled in to the back of the bike and enjoyed the views. I did, however, get very cold on Saturday! I was bundled up in layers, but the temps never even made it into the 60s which is a bit chilly on a bike! But was it totally worth the shivering? Yes! I could do a ride like that every weekend and be completely thrilled!

I recently met a guy from Brazil who is now living in Nashville and is experiencing fall for the first time. I just can't imagine that! Not because I take it for granted and would appreciate a fresh perspective on fall, but because it is so much a part of me that I can't imagine living without it. Its the kind of beauty that gets in your heart and settles in. Kind of like motorcycles.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall - A Perfect Time for Adventures

Fall is by far superior to all other seasons. The weather is phenomenal – the warm afternoons are perfect for going for a walk and the cool evenings are perfect for bonfires and hayrides. The food is the best. Caramel apples. Roasted Hot dogs. Chili. Smores. And I don’t exactly see people lining up to walk through summertime gardens proudly harvesting tomatoes and zucchini. But a pumpkin patch? Sign me up.  Fall even has its own smell. It’s something like nutmeg and cinnamon and pumpkin and a bonfire all bundled up together. And the Tennessee trees? Don’t even get me started. The colors alone are enough to make you believe.

One of my favorite fall trees outside of my condo just beginning to turn a beautiful shade of red.

And seriously. No other season is so great that it deserves two names. Fall. Autumn. Winner.

Disclaimer: I have heard rumors of something called ‘football’ that many people really enjoy in the fall, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

The Fall Lineup
So every fall I get excited. When the weather starts to change I feel like a kid again. I look forward to weekends in a way that I don’t any other time of year. But this year? I’m even more excited. Because on top of all of the normal Fall goodness,  this year my calendar has been quickly filled with more fun than ever. 

My next few weekends are back-to-back adventures with: 
Touring through the Smoky Mountains on a Harley
Hang Gliding
Sky Diving (again - see last year's post and video)
Hula Hooping a 5k (one of my 2012 resolutions)

Oh, and I am going on my covenant group girls' middle school retreat at church. I haven’t been on a middle school retreat in a long time, but I’m going to go ahead and call that an “adventure”.

I apparently have a fascination with being really high in the air. And adrenaline. YOLO, baby.

And all of this is happening before Thanksgiving. Here’s hoping for some B-E-A-U-tiful weekend weather.

A note to my mother: Yes, I will be careful. Yes, I will call you after every adventure to let you know that I am okay. Yes, I know, I take after my father. Yes, I know, I love you too. And YOLO means You Only Live Once. Save yourself a google search.

Hot Air Balloon Ride Food Truck Burgers
On Friday my sister and I went to a fall festival to meet up with some of my friends. We were supposed to go on a hot air balloon ride there, but the line was forever long and the balloon ran out of propane by the time we made it to the front of the line. But it was tethered anyways, and you know how I like being really high up in the air, so it wasn’t too much of a let down.

The picture that we took in preparation of our non-existent balloon ride.

Anyways, we ate food truck burgers while we waited.  We almost had another burger disaster when my sister's bag ripped down the side, but she had a much smoother save than I did.  Her burger fortunately never hit the ground.

Big Burger. Small Bag.

A Real Hike
On Saturday morning, after walking around an awesome Franklin neighborhood looking at yard sales with some friends, my sister called to tell me that she was headed to Percy Warner Park for a hike. I threw on some yoga pants, a fleece, a random OU tshirt, and my rarely used North Face hiking shoes (that I had purchased for my Yellowstone trip because they were the only hiking shoes that I could find with a touch of pink on them) and hopped over to the park. If you will remember from my Two Truths and a Tale, I’m not a hiker. And if you know anything about my sister, you know that she is. 

I expected a greenway. Pavement. Mild, rolling hills. Rest areas with water fountains. But this trail? It was dirt and grass and rock and sometimes water. There were steep inclines and areas where I had to sit and scoot to get down off of the ledges. And we hiked for 6.5 miles. And... I liked it! I actually really liked it!

Mossy Ridge Trail - part of our hike at Percy Warner Park

The whole time I kept reassuring myself in conversation my sister:

This is a real hike, right? 
Yes, Emily.

So I can tell people that I went on a hike in the wilderness? 
I mean, you can still hear cars on HWY 100, but sure.

People are so much nicer on nature trails than they are in malls. 
People are nicer when they are in nature. It makes them happy. It's proven.

Hey look, I am climbing a mountain. 
This is just a big hill, but sure.

You have a backpack. You look like such a serious hiker. 
Where do you think that water that you keep drinking is coming from? My backpack.

Look at me! I am really hiking!
Emily, seriously, when is the last time you went on a hike like this?
That one time when I was 14 and we went backpacking….

…Why? When was the last time you went?
Like yesterday.

I loved it. And I didn’t even complain once. AND I asked to go again! I’m a hiker. Who would have thought.

Note to self: Don’t wear any sports paraphernalia unless you actually like the team. People that we passed would see my OU shirt and say things like “How are the boys doing?” or “Boomer Sooner.” or other sports phrases. Next time? I’ll be sure to wear something more appropriate like a "Don't ask me about sports because I like sewing and baking and sky diving and motorcycle riding" tshirt.

I ended my weekend with some hoop practice for the 5k.

And a ride on a child-sized scooter.

I really want a vespa now!

Add in a couple of upcoming holidays, our second annual friendsgiving (with promises of an actual cooked turkey this year), a Nashville visit from a Bestie, and a whole lot of family time and I’ll say that by the time this is over 2012 might just rank pretty high on my “favorite years” list! 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ice Cream Cupcakes

There is something in a southern woman’s heart that longs to feed the people that she loves. It’s like how my Granny was always in the kitchen whipping up a fresh, hot batch of gravy while we were all eating Thanksgiving dinner. Or how my Grandma hardly sat down at the breakfast table because she was always getting up to check on the biscuits in the oven. Or how I don’t like sweets at all but I love making treats for other people – just because it makes them smile.

So we had another birthday at work. And you know what that means. Another office treat! Someone mentioned wanting to get an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen. But that’s just not my style. Why buy it when I could make it? I was doubted.

“Oh no, Emily... Just buy it. I mean, have you ever even made an ice cream cake?”
“No, but I can figure it out. Surely it can’t be that hard. I’ll do it. Just trust me.”
(Hesitant stares.)

So I got to thinking. I had some leftover toppings from the caramel apples I had recently made. I had peanuts, Oreos, caramel, chocolate, and sprinkles. Really, all I would need was the ice cream and cool whip. Perfect.

Ignore the M&Ms. I thought I would sprinkle some on top, but ended up using sprinkles instead.

I read a few tutorials and got a few ideas, but I hate following recipes, so I made up my own recipe. And then I realized that ice cream cake could be hard to serve, so why not make ice cream cupcakes? I have never seen ice cream cupcakes, but why not?

So I did it. And here’s how.

Ice Cream Cupcakes – Cookies and Cream Supreme
Makes 2 dozen ice cream cupcakes

1 Carton of Blue Bell Cookies and Cream Ice Cream
1 Bottle of Smuckers Hot Fudge Syrup
1 Bag of Kraft Caramels, melted according to directions
1 Container of Cool Whip
Mini Oreos (A whole bag if you choose the oreo crust)
1/4 Cup Melted Butter
Crushed Peanuts (either ½ cup for toppings or 2 cups if you choose the peanut crust)
A Handful of Sprinkles
24 Cupcake Liners

While you are preparing your cupcakes, make sure to leave your cool whip and ice cream sitting out on your counter to thaw.

Begin by setting out 2 cupcake pans and lining them with cupcake liners. Also make room in your freezer for the pans!

In a medium bowl, mix together a crust. I was predominantly using the leftover ingredients from the caramel apples. I didn't have enough of either ingredient to make them all the same so I ended up doing half of them with an oreo crust and half with a peanut crust. I’ll give you the crust recipe as if you were making all 24 of them the same. (I got better reviews from the oreo crust.)

Option 1: Mix one bag of crushed oreos with about 1/4 cup of melted butter. You will just need it to be moist enough to sort of stick together, but not too mushy. You might need to add more butter to get it moist enough.


Option 2: Melt half of the bag of caramel according to instructions and mix with about 1½ cups of finely chopped peanuts.

Press a spoonful of the crust into the bottom of each cupcake liner.

 Oreo Crust

Peanut Crust. Oh yeah, I poured hot fudge over it for good measure.

When the ice cream was melted enough to pour into the cupcake liners, I filled the liners almost to the top leaving about ¼ inch to add syrups. One carton of ice cream will be enough for all 24 cupcakes. 

My idea was to refreeze the ice cream at this point and then add a layer of hot fudge and a layer of caramel on top. I put a few squeezes of hot fudge (I just melted it in the bottle according to the instructions) and a few big drops of melted caramel (from the other half of the bag) into each cupcake. But the ice cream was taking a while to freeze and the hot fudge was, well, hot. The fudge and caramel sank down into the ice cream so it kind of turned into hot fudge and caramel ribbons instead. Not the plan, but it ended up being totally fine! Then I liberally sprinkled peanuts onto the top of each one. (I apparently began drawing inspiration from Nutty Buddys somewhere along the way.)

 The Cupcakes

At this point, I froze the cupcakes until they were solid. And don’t try to remove them from the cupcake pan until they are completely frozen! Trust me, I tried it and made a big cookies-and-cream soupy mess with one of them. Be patient!

Once they were frozen solid, I swirled a spoonful of thawed cool whip onto the top of each one. This makes them look so much prettier! I added a few sprinkles for a little birthday flair. Then I stuck them back in the freezer over night. These obviously need to stay in the freezer until they are served, but I did remove them from the cupcake pan and put them in a different freezer friendly container for a better presentation.

 The Finished Product: An Ice Cream Cupcake

My coworkers were absolutely in love with these ice cream cupcakes. I got lots of rave reviews, including one semi-awkward fake marriage proposal! And it happened to be from one of my original doubters. I’m obsessed with creating variations of these ice cream cupcakes now. And it’s a good thing, because I have daily requests for more!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Caramel Apples and Pretzels Supreme

My boss calls me Betty Crocker. It’s true. And I’m not even that great of a baker, but I am obsessed with birthdays. And every birthday deserves a celebration. So I am totally that girl in the office who keeps a birthday calendar and makes a special treat for every single colleague on his/her special day. I feel like our birthdays are all bunched up together, so we have had lots of treats lately! Inspired by the crisper air, cute boots, and a tree by my condo that is just beginning to turn into a bold shade of red, I decided it was time for caramel apples. Now, I have never made caramel apples before, and if you remember, I also don’t eat sweets. This can prove challenging because I love to make sweet treats! So how do I do it? I actually cook based off of the smell of foods and hope it works out! Weird, I know. Fortunately, you can’t really go wrong with ingredients like caramel, oreos, peanuts, and sprinkles. I found a tutorial on pinterest for caramel apple slices which are easier to eat, but I decided that it was going to be too confusing because I didn’t know if the apples would brown. So I just did whole apples and we sliced them at work with the apple slicer so that everyone could try all of the different kinds. I just don’t have it in me to follow a recipe. I always just look at a bunch of ideas and then make it up. Kind of like the skirt that I made recently. It’s always good to have a back up plan or two. Or five.

Caramel Apples Supreme

12 green granny smith apples
Popsicle sticks
2 bags of kraft caramel pieces (Mine were the wrapped candy squares, but the small round pieces in the baking section melt easier)
1 tbsp. vanilla
1/2 bag of mini oreos
1/2 bag of mini M&Ms
1/2 container of sprinkles
1/2 bag of Ghirardhelli dark chocolate chips
1/2 bag of Ghirardhelli white chocolate chips
1 cup peanuts (chopped finely)
Baking soda (optional)

I decked out my apples with random ingredients that are totally optional and can be substituted for whatever you have on hand. I also didn’t measure anything. These are just guesses. This is what I like to call Caramel Apples with No Rules. Use what you want – I’ll just show you how and give you some ideas!

To start, you need to prep the apples. If your apples are waxed (which mine were) you will need to scrub them with a textured towel under hot water. I washed mine with baking soda to help remove the wax. They will still be a little shiny, but if they have a lot of wax the caramel will slip right off! Be sure to remove the stems.

To insert the stick, take a sharp, skinny knife and make a slit about ½ way into the top of the apple to make it easier to insert. The stick should be far enough in to support the weight of the apple when you dip and twirl it around!

Go ahead and line a cookie sheet or two with waxed paper.  And make room on a shelf in your fridge! You will need to do this quickly later, so go ahead and get it out of the way now.

Get all of your toppings ready (except for the chocolate). I had separate bowls for each – crushed oreos, chopped peanuts, mini M&Ms (regular sized are too heavy), and sprinkles.

Follow the instructions on the Kraft package to melt both bags of caramel. You can make your own, but I’m not that ambitious. Just add a tablespoon or so of vanilla to add a little homemade touch. (I used ½ tbsp. per bag of caramel.) Good enough!

Using one apple at a time, completely submerse it in the bowl of melted caramel.  You will probably need to use a spoon for this as well to make sure the caramel gets on the top. Twirl it around a few times and hold it upside down for a little while. Then place it on the waxed paper to cool. Remember that gravity always wins, so the caramel will naturally want to pool at the bottom of the apple while it is cooling. Because the caramel is so sticky, the only way to keep it from doing this is to keep picking them up and turning them upside down while they cool.  However, I didn’t just make caramel apples, I made caramel apples supreme. I think that the toppings help the caramel to harden and look prettier. So, right after you dip your apple, roll it around in a bowl of toppings. I rolled most of them in only one topping, but I did a few half-and-half (half oreos and half peanuts, etc).The apples are much less sticky now that they are covered in toppings, so now it is easier to keep pushing the caramel and toppings back up onto the apples. If you can, stick them in the fridge as you finish each one and just keep reaching in and pushing the toppings up. Because you will have mashed a lot of the toppings at this point from handling the apples so often, they make not look quite as pretty as when they started. To dress them back up, I waited until the apples were almost entirely finished cooling and then gave them one last roll in the toppings to give them a fresh look again.

A couple of hours later when the apples had been chilling in the fridge, I melted about half of a bag of both dark and white chocolate. I wasn’t too concerned with it looking perfect, so I just drizzled it on with a spoon. The chocolate hardens almost instantly and really dresses them up!

By the way, at this point a lot of my sticks were either smudged with caramel or smeared with chocolate, so I pulled them out and put a new one in. Just stick it in a little bit farther than the last one so that it will stay.

Keep your apples in the fridge or the caramel will start to melt and everything will start to slide down again! When you are ready to serve, stick each apple on a muffin cup to keep them from sticking to your serving tray. Like I mentioned in the beginning, you can actually slice the apples with an apple slicer. Just put the center of the slicer over the stick. The apples will brown though, so be ready to eat them or spray them with lemon juice (which may affect the flavor of the apples – I didn’t try it).

And voila. You have a tray full of Fall Flavor Goodness!

Pretzels Supreme

Because I had some leftover caramel that was already melted, I grabbed a bag of pretzel rods and made Pretzels Supreme as well. I dipped each pretzel in caramel and then topped them with peanuts or oreos and dipped a few in the dark chocolate that I had leftover. I let them cool on waxed paper in the fridge along with the apples. 

I also went ahead and melted the other half of the white chocolate in a bowl and used up the rest of my pretzels. It was inspired by my White Christmas Mix - just with none of the other White Christmas goodness. I can't spoil my coworkers that much.

I must say that the pretzels, although much easier to make, were loved just as much as the apples. People fall for the whole sweet/salty thing. 

And people will fall for you if you show up at the office on a Friday with Caramel Apples Supreme and Pretzels Supreme!