Monday, July 30, 2007

Kennywood Fun

Whew-what a weekend! My daughter's three day birthday celebra- tion included a trip to Kennywood in Pittsburgh, PA. It's a great park that is just the right size for a family with little kids, with a little bit for everyone. Some old rides, some really new and some traditional. The picture above is the candy store (you really think I would go anywhere without knowing where the candy is?)

It poured rain all morning and our trip there was a little discouraging. We weren't sure if we should turn around or not. Ended up we took a chance and after everyone was outfitted with expensive park ponchos, the sun came out. Yippeee! As a result of the rain, the park was not crowded and almost every ride was little or no wait. Perfect!

Here is a new ride called Cosmic Chaos. It goes back and forth along a half circle shaped track and spins around like a space ship at the same time. Just don't go on too soon after lunch. Eeewwww!

The famous Thunderbolt roller coaster. One of my favorites. An oldie wooden coaster, it shakes you around quite a bit, but it's really fun!

The Aero 360. You couldn't pay me enough to get on this ride. The arms go different directions and turn the riders upside down. My oldest daughter and my sister love this ride. I feel sick just looking at it....

There are tons more pictures I took but at the risk of going on and on and making the world's longest blog entry, I think I'll stop here. Anyway, if you get a chance to visit, it's worth the trip!

"Unless each day can be looked back upon by an individual as one in which he has had some fun, some joy, some real satisfaction, that day is a loss."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Birthday Girl and her Chocolate Cake

Happy Birthday to my beautiful, sweet angel who touches my heart, makes me laugh, and just by existing makes life worth living. May you have a billion more birthdays and may each one be happier than the last. I love you.

And since I love my daughter so much, I made the chocolate cake she requested for her birthday. No big deal since I love to bake, but this cake was one I haven't made in many years. The first time I made it (for a party at my husband's office), everyone thought it tasted like it came from a bakery. I was so proud :) This time, I had a few extra little helpers than a did before, so needless to say, it was fun and challenging. I was glad when it came out even resembling a cake!

Perfect Chocolate Cake

1 cup unsifted unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups boiling water
2 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 pkg. (6 oz) semi-sweet chocolate pieces
1/2 cup light cream
1 cup butter
2 1/2 unsifted confectioner's sugar

1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1/4 cup unsifted confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1) In medium bowl, combine cocoa with boiling water, mixing with wire whisk until smooth. Cool completely. Sift flour with soda, salt, and baking powder. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease well and lightly flour three 9 x 1 1/2 inch layer cake pans (I used two larger Wilton Cake Pans).
2) In large bowl beat butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla with mixer. Scrape bowl often. Beat until light- about 5 minutes. At low speed, beat in flour mixture (in fourths), alternate with cocoa mixture (in thirds) beginning and ending with flour mixture. Do not over beat.

3) Divide evenly into pans, smooth top. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until surface springs back when gently pressed with fingertip. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Carefully loosen sides with spatula and remove from pans.

4) Frosting: In medium saucepan, combine chocolate pieces, cream, butter and stir over medium heat until smooth. Remove from heat. With whisk, blend in 2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar. In bowl set over ice, beat until it holds shape.

5) Filling: Whip cream with sugar and vanilla, refrigerate.

6) To Assemble Cake: On plate, place a layer, top side down, spread with half of cream. Place second layer down, spread with rest of cream. Place third layer, top side up.

7) To Frost: With spatula, frost sides first, covering whipped cream. Use rest of frosting on top. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving, slice with sawing motion.

Serves 10 to 12.

Tip: The cream between the layers didn't hold up very well. It wasn't stiff enough to hold the weight of the cake. Next time, I think I will be using the icing instead, or some combination of the two.

Above- Just out of the oven

"The best birthdays of all are those that haven't arrived yet."
- Robert Orben

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Just for Fun

Sometimes it's really fun and a great distraction to get a little self absorbed. Who doesn't like to answer questions about themselves and dig a little deeper into what they are made of? This site offers to tell you about yourself as well as what gifts most suit you or a friend/loved one, based on your answers. And they use photos as the multiple choice answers. A no-brainer. Can't get much more appealing than that, right?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rest in Peace Shannon

One of the bravest Melanoma Warriors has passed away. Anyone who has read my blog has seen the first post I did about Shannon. I did not know her personally nor do I have any connection to the horror that is Melanoma. But Shannon was such an inspirational person, so strong and brave in her fight that it was hard not to become involved with her struggle.

Melanoma may have taken Shannon's life, but it cannot take away the lives she touched and the people she affected with her fight.

Her husband and children are her legacy.

Thanks Shannon for sharing and opening your life to so many others so we could all grow to be better people. I'll miss you.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Watermelon with a Twist

If you ever crave something just a little different, something cool and refreshing yet off the beaten path, then this recipe is for you. I made it as a side dish for dinner one night last week. The kids couldn't get past the unusual ingredients, but my husband became a fan after the first bite. Me, too.
Watermelon Salad

2 cups watermelon cut into 1- inch cubes
4 ounces firm feta cheese in 1/2 inch cubes (I used the feta crumbles in the plastic container, worked great)
4 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. freshly grated black pepper, to taste
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
4 cups arugula or gourmet mixed greens
salt to taste
4 Tbs. toasted almonds slivers

In large bowl, put watermelon, cheese, vinegar and pepper. Marinate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Add olive oil, salad greens and salt then toss. Sprinkle with nuts. Serve.

Serves 4.

"A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken."
-James Dent

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Ok, can you tell I'm on a major sugar rush this week? With the heat of summer and all the fruits out there now, this recipe is too tempting to resist. So cool and refreshing, and it counts as eating your fruit too. Bonus!

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

2 cups crushed pretzels
3 T. sugar
1 stick melted butter
8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. Cool Whip
1 cup sugar
1 large box of Strawberry Jello (I used two small boxes- it worked fine)
2 cups hot water
16 oz frozen strawberries (I used the 24 oz and reserved some of the liquid)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix pretzels, 3 T. of sugar, and butter. Spread onto the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake for 8 minutes then cool completely.
Beat together cream cheese and 1 cup sugar until sugar is dissolved. Fold in Cool Whip. Spread onto the cooled pretzel crust. Refrigerate 5 to 10 minutes.
Dissolve jello in 2 cups hot water. Let cool. Add strawberries and pour over cheese mixture.
Refrigerate at least four hours before serving.

This is great for parties, family reunions, or just when everyone is in the mood for something sweet and cool. My kids didn't hesitate to dig in, as you can see below.....
"Stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Coincidence? I think not!"
- Author Unknown

Monday, July 16, 2007

Cravings, Anyone?

I was just reading BlogthatMommy and had to alert everyone out there that she posted a recipe for Peanut Butter Marble Brownies! Now I know I love that woman! Not only is she a hoot, she has just the right answer for all my ills.


2 (3 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup white sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

1 cup butter or margarine, melted

2 cups white sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 eggs

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease one 9x13 inch baking pan.
In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, peanut butter, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1 egg, and milk until smooth. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together melted butter, 2 cups white sugar, and vanilla. Mix in the remaining 3 eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; mix into the batter. Stir in chocolate chips.
Remove 1 cup of the chocolate batter. Spread the remaining batter into the prepared pan. Spread the peanut butter filling over the top. Drop the reserved chocolate batter by teaspoonful over the filling. Using a knife, gently swirl through the top layers for a marbled effect.
Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out almost clean. Cool completely, then cut into bars.

Thanks, Neila!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Next Time Life Has You Down...

Whenever I am feeling a bit down and defeated, I try to consider the life events of one great American:

  • Lost a job in 1832
  • Defeated for state legislature in 1832
  • Failed in business in 1833
  • Elected to state legislature in 1834
  • Sweetheart died in 1835
  • Had nervous breakdown in 1836
  • Defeated for Speaker in 1838
  • Defeated for Congress nomination in 1843
  • Elected to Congress in 1846
  • Lost re-election in 1848
  • Rejected for land officer in 1849
  • Defeated for U.S. Senate in 1854
  • Defeated for nomination for Vice President in 1856
  • Again defeated for U.S. Senate in 1858
  • Elected President in 1860

What an inspiration! With those kinds of odds, I would have given up for sure. Good thing he didn't. Can you truly name great American presidents without including Lincoln?

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."
-Abraham Lincoln

"God must love the common man, he made so many of them."
-Abraham Lincoln

"That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well."
-Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Insanity- at a Store Near You

Grocery of life's most tedious chores. I mean, it's ok, but the effort it takes to get coupons ready, lists completed, and get the actual task done feels like it should be classified as a form of torture, especially with children in tow.

Shopping with kids, well- you get the picture. Not a happy combination to say the least. I need major concentration in the store to not only get the list right, but be sure the coupons are correct and that the store isn't pulling one of those famous rip offs with the mislabeling or "it's really the other size of cereal that is on sale" or "it's up to you to spot the deception" deals (and sometimes it's all of the above).

All this with kids yelling, "Mom, she hit me; Mom, I have to go to the bathroom; Mom, I have to have this!" It's enough to make me want to run screaming out of the store.

With all that going on, I did find a better way to make my list and not forget anything. Like that'll change the insanity and dread that comes at the mere thought of grocery shopping, but hey, every little bit helps, right??

"Why would anyone steal a shopping cart? It's like stealing a two-year-old."
-Erma Bombeck

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Just wanted to share...

This is a really fascinating site a family member sent me. I have never seen anything like this....

Monday, July 9, 2007

Seriously Awesome Fudgy Cocoa Brownies

Coming back from vacation and facing Monday all at the same time has me seriously craving something chocolate. Of course, I am on a post vacation diet, so no baking and eating these wonderfully moist, super chocolate loaded, easy to make brownies for me. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy them, for both of us!

Fudgy Cocoa Brownies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1/3 cup cocoa

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8 x 2 inch pan. In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Remove melted butter from heat; add cocoa and stir until well blended. Add sugar and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat well. Stir in vanilla, flour and salt. Do not overbeat. Fold in nuts and chocolate chips (I often times add more chips, just to "taste"!). Spread into prepared pan and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Now try to stop at just one.....

"Mondays are the potholes in the road of life"

-Tom Wilson

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."

-Charles M. Schulz

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Almost Heaven

You know, I find it pretty obnoxious when people rub their wonderful vacations in your face, especially when you really need one yourself! But, I have to make an exception here (and I hope you don't mind) just because West Virginia is such a beautiful place. I am a Virginian, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the breathtaking sights of another state, especially if it's south of the Mason Dixon :)

It seems to me that West Virginia offers some of the most wonderful views of mountains that I have ever seen. The state appears to be mostly rural, but that could be that I haven't seen the whole thing. But what a place to go if you need time to yourself.

This is a road near where we stayed. Looks like something out of a magazine.

A nearby creek after a long, hard rain. The waterfalls were a soothing sound.

The deer came right up to our place just to say hello. Well, maybe it was the apple we offered them, but I'd like to think they were friendly too!

Another friendly neighbor. He really liked the truck (Chevy fan, I guess). I'm not sure what he was looking for, but I'm glad it wasn't long before he decided it wasn't there!

"The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach"
-Henry Beston

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Candy Store

Well, we finally got out of Dodge. I couldn't wait to leave! This is a trip we have gone on several times and each time it's just as fun as the first. West Virginia.....the mountains are indescribable.

But the first order of business for any vacation trip is- where is the candy/chocolate/sweets???

The store above is a place our family refers to as "the candy store". It's in Oakland, Maryland. Just a small town, but so important to us :) It really marks the beginning of our little getaway when we all grab a empty plastic bag and run free throughout the store grabbing anything that appeals to us.

Price and the outrageous calories mean little. One bag for the adults and one each for the kids. The bag is supposed to last through the vacation, but is usually gone by the second or third day....sigh.

They do sell homemade preserves, dried fruit, nuts and half of the store is actually all produce. But who can bother with all that....

When this is staring you in the face?

"Enough candy, now eat your peas"
-Eugene Robinson

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Organic Way

Sometimes when I look at my blog, it looks like I am the worst eater in the world. After all, I talk about sweets ad nausum and include recipes for desserts, breads and chocolate treats. Yeah, I did the Pimento Cheese thing, but even that isn't packed with nutrients.

But really, all those sweets are a big part of what I love, but I also love to eat vegetables and fruits too. Greens, peaches, corn, beans and tomatoes are a few favorites. My kids diets are even more important to me. Teaching them that balance of mostly good food with some bad is a daily battle :) That is why it caught my eye when MSN had a link to several articles about organic foods on their website today. I grow my garden organically, even down to the fertilizer being organic. But produce in the stores confuse me. The articles helped some, but I really like the list below. Much clearer, for me at least!

"The first time I tried organic wheat bread, I thought I was chewing on roofing material"
-Robin Williams

"A healthy body is a guest chamber for the soul: a sick body is a prison"
-Francis Bacon, Sr.