Ithaca Chili Cook-off

Luke took a few days off work around Valentine’s Day and we were due to get out of the house and out of town. It’s hard in these winter it takes a worth while event to make it happen. Most festivals in this area are put off until better weather for fear of a lousy turn-out.

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But we found one that is well attended despite the cold and snow: The Ithaca Chili cook-off.  A chili competition held for the past 16 year in the Ithaca commons. This event hosts a local radio station, some brave and probably cold live performers, karaoke, a hot chile/pepper eating contest and a mustache contest. Chili tasters (tickets 1 tasting ticket for $1) vote for best presentation, best non-chili food item, best vegi chili, and best meat chili at the ticket booth locations.

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We arrived around 1:30pm and by then the festival was in full swing. We bought $15 dollars worth then set off to taste some treats. Each restaurant, or company had their own booth with at least one if not more steaming pots of their unique warm chili available for tasting. Each booth was labeled with their flavor/chili name and a large colored symbol: V (vegi), M (meat), or for S (Seafood).

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Despite the puddles of melting snow and the snow falling, the blocked-off festival streets were crowded. People dressed in snow jackets, down coats, gloves, rain or snow boots,  beanies and ear muffs all talking and waiting in long lines to sample chili options. We started our tasting with a pulled pork chili with pretzel spoon and a spicy pickle.

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Then we looked at the booths and their lines down the street and realized we needed a better strategy.  The great thing about going as a couple is we could stand in two different lines at once then share our samples.  So we split up then met in a semi-dry place with our treats. I got a locally grown homemade beef chili while Luke picked up a basic ground beef chili with some unusal toppings: mini m n’ ms! We were shocked at how good the chili and chocolate combo really tasted!! We stopped by Felicia’s Atomic Lounge‘s booth to get chili chocolate mini cupcakes and Luke discovered a new microbrewery and hop farm: Hopshire.

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We tried many other varieties including: a green chili with avocado and tortillas, a beef habanero chili, a southwest chicken chili, a gumbo chili, and a scorpion chili. All were good and flavorful in their own way. As we wandered around we also saw that there were several groups carrying baskets providing those in line with huge chunks of homemade cornbread for a ticket each.

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After  an hour and a half of wandering around we were full and happily so. We decided at that point to head into the main Ithaca Commons center to warm up with a cup of mexican hot chocolate.

Overall this festival was totally worth braving the snow and cold for! With plenty of great chilies and other food options it is obvious why everyone was willing to bundle up to brave the weather.

What would we do different next time?: learn for the locals and bring our own mugs/bowls and spoons for samples (better for the environment and potentially bigger samples), wear a beanie/ear muffs, and come in higher boots to stay out of the snow puddles.

How about you? Any fun festivals/events to help beat the winter blues?

Valentine’s Pie: a remix

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This is my third year making a Valentine’s Pie for my husband. It has definitely become a tradition that in my mind if far better than a card or some cheesy gift. It means much more to my husband too: there’s definitely a special place in his heart for pie: for more Luke’ love of pie see:Valentines Pie: a new Tradition.

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second year pie

first year's pie

first year’s pie

It seems like every year I have slightly different ingredients to work with. The first year I tried to do blackberry rhubarb pie and had a really hard time finding any rhubarb. Last year I used mixed berries  and tried to use only honey to sweeten the dish (it was still a little too tart). This year I couldn’t find even frozen blackberries!! Making a berry pie living in New York in February considering on Valentine’s day it’s common to have snow; means I have to buy frozen. So I used what I could find: a frozen bag of raspberries and I picked through the assorted berries bag of mixed berries to find almost 8 ounces of frozen blackberries.

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The past two years I have made traditional berry pies with a crusted top and bottom. This year I decided to try something different: a cream pie. I used a base recipe: Blackberry Swirl Pie and of course made a few changes. So here’s my Valentines Pie Remix: a recipe for a Sour Cream Berry Pie.

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Sour Cream Berry Pie

Ingredients:

1. One pie crust: I use my mother-in-law’s recipe with a little honey; but  you can easily use a pre-made one if you are not a huge pastry making person.

2. 16 oz. sour cream (I used light).

3. 3/4 to 1  C confectioner’s sugar; you can use regular sugar but it will change the texture/flavor of the pie

4. 2-4 Tbs. all purpose flour

5. 1/8 (a pinch) salt

6. 3 Cs or 16 oz package of frozen berries: I choose to use a combination of raspberries and blackberries

Directions:

1. Make pie crust then grease the pie pan; I used a combination of honey and butter, and place pie crust into a 9-inch pie plate. After this I once again “greased” the crust with honey/butter this will help it brown well and stay moist in the oven while the filling bakes.

2. Meanwhile: let the frozen berries (if using frozen) sit out at room temperature for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 350F.

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3. In a bowl with a hand mixer (or by hand) combine sour cream, sugar, flour, and salt. Once combined add berries stirred/folded in gentle to combine. I use a spatula to do this; if you mix it more then the filling gets a great pink color but it will break up the berry. It also looks great barely swirled with visible berry pieces in it.

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4. Bake at 35oF for about 30 minutes. Then check the crust for browning (you may need to cover it with foil). Then bake for another 10-15 minutes or more with frozen berries. The pie will be done when the top of the filling is semi-firm/springy to the touch.

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5. Let it cool and serve or refrigerate.

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I chose to add my signature heart(s) on top using raspberry flavored sugar crystals (a stocking stuffer). I placed my cookie cutter where I wanted the heart and spread the crystals inside the heart shape. It turned out great!

So how about you? Do you have any Valentines (aka chocolate) day traditions?

Complacency vs. Contentment Round 2: Change up the Routine

In the post-holiday blues it’s easy to get in a pattern, used to a norm. Luke and I have begun to settle into a routine of married life. We ask the same questions to catch up at the end of everyday, get similar answers eat dinner, or exercise then eat, then watch TV, prep for the next day and go to bed.

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On some of the harder days that is perfect, just to rest and relax with each other is enough. But there is a fine line between a sense of contentment and complacency in our everyday lives and sometimes a thankful perspective is not enough on its own. (see Contentment vs complacency: thankfulness)

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Sometimes changing up our quality time interactions helps break up monotony. It’s easy for us to  get stuck in a pattern of Netflix and online catch up on TV shows until bed.  Although there is nothing wrong with this, if we only ever stick to one means of quality time then we can get complacent. Luke and I recognize that we always want to give to each other in all areas including those often neglected such as: intellectually and spiritually. So what does that look like for us ? Options we like do to include:

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Play Video Games/ Board or Card Games: Video Games offer some intellectual competition, or collaboration, as we communicate to figure out how to solve a puzzle, use the Xbox Kinect to act like fools dancing in the living room, or play superheros fighting “the bad guys”. Board and card games lead us to some great interaction as well, especially when we share/learn a favorite game of the other persons. (see The Game Chest).

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Read: It may seem like an individual activity but when I am reading, even if it is a fictional book, questions, thoughts, what if . ..  discussions come to mind and if I share them with Luke a great discussion can come up or vice versa.

Another option is to read the same book and share our thoughts. Or create a list of  books and/or movies that one of us has read and the other hasn’t. Books or movies have a large influence/impact on our lives. Creating then sharing a list of the favorites  is insightful into each other’s lives and place in life when the other person first read/was it and can bring up some good discussion.

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Listen to a lecture, talk, or sermon:  It doesn’t always have to be purely “academic” or “spiritual”.  Sometimes Luke and I will watch a short documentary on Netflix or watch a Tedtalk about a topic that interests us. Awhile back Luke and I watched a documentary on the history/art of Sushi and another one on Beer both were not only informative but led to some good laughs and discussion about ethics, values, and the big picture.

Pray/Meditate together: Luke and I will sometimes share our concerns/thoughts with each other before praying out loud. Or we will just sit in silence both praying and listening on our own; but together. No matter what you believe about ‘The Divine” we all have noises, thoughts, and voices to quiet in our minds let alone distractions we can see or hear. Getting quiet meditative time together can help lower stress and bring some peace to your mind and therefore your relationship.

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Girls/Guys Night, Small Group, or Couple Dating: Spending time apart or with other couples/ people at the same place in life as you can be just as helpful. Luke goes to a group often on Thursday nights to play a card came and relax. He needs this down time to have some friendly competition with “the guys”. We also will go on “double dates” with couple friends we have out to dinner or on a hike, or to each other’s houses where we drink coffee and play games. Getting time apart or with others make the time we do spend together better.

So there you have it-some great ideas to help change up your routine!!

What do you do to beat the winter blues?

Bread of the Month: Italian Triple Chocolate

You read that right triple chocolate!!! I figured this is the month of and for chocolate lovers right? (see February is synonymous with chocolate). This moist bread is a cross-breed between a dark/molasses bread and a dessert bread. Most dessert bread ingredients form a sweet cake batter rather than a dough and use baking powder and/or soda to help them rise . This bread instead uses yeast, has two rises, and forms a very silk and springy dough.

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The base recipe I got once again from The Bread Bible but I did make some key variations. After proofing the yeast I added the dry ingredients of: flour, salt, cocoa powder (the first of the three chocolates), expresso, and sugar together. Then the wet ingredients of: warm milk, melted butter, egg, yeast, and warm water were added to create the dough.

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Once the dough was formed the ever so important chocolate was added. The original recipe called for some finer/fancier chocolates. I decided to used good-old fashion Hershey unsweetened cocoa powder (instead of a fancy dutch processed variety), 3 ounces of a nicer Lindt milk chocolate bar, and 5 ounces of a  semi-sweet baking bar that was suggested in the original recipe: Scharffen Berger. Once the chocolate was chopped it was added with a spoon to the dough. Here also I added vanilla and a little more white sugar making the dough sweeter than the recipe called for.

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Then the rest of the flour was added 1/2 C at a time to the mixer. After switching over to a dough hook for awhile, I turned it over by hand  to check it’s consistency. I used butter to grease the pan the dough would rise in instead of the olive oil base I would normally use for a non-dessert bread.

The dough sat and rose for an hour and half. During this time I decided to create a glaze, also not in the original recipe.  I used a tablespoon of my coffee creamer (see Coffee Creamer Simplified ), 1/8 tsp of expresso, a tablespoon of melted bittersweet chocolate, and one egg whisked together.

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Once the dough finished it’s first rising I kneaded it to let out air and formed it into loafs. The original  design is to make the dough into two round loafs. Instead I formed the dough to fit two regular bread loafs pans, greased again with butter, for it’s second rising; about another half hour. After the second rising I glazed the tops of the loafs and stuck the bread in the oven at 375 F.

Let me tell you combine the smell of brownies and fresh bread baking and you’ve got close to what our house smelled like while this bread cooked. It went in the oven for about 45-50 minutes . I chose to take it out around 30 minutes to re-glaze the top; then did that again after 45 minutes and turned the oven down to 200 until the glaze was absorbed. At 50 minutes I had three layers of sweet glaze on top of the bread and the center was done. The end result? Not necessarily the prettiest bread I have ever made but one of the most delicious.

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With a crunchy sweet top layer and a moist yet dense semi-sweet chocolate flavor it is wonderful. Once the loafs cooled I placed them covered in the fridge. The next morning Luke andI had a slice without butter with homemade vanilla lattes for breakfast. Talk about a piece of heaven!! I think it honestly tastes better the next day!

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So there you have it!  A very February tribute to bread. If you are thinking of finding this recipe or something similar there are definitely ways to add variety to the recipe. If you want the bread sweeter I would suggest adding more white sugar to the dough along with more milk chocolate and/or add chocolate chips.

You can also of course add a sweeter glaze and or icing to the top. The more the glaze the quicker the top will brown so you have to be cautious. You can always cover the top with foil while the rest bakes if necessary. For an icing I would suggest melting semi-sweet chocolate and combining it with a little milk/cream and powdered sugar to put on once the loafs have cooled.

Happy chocolate month everyone!!

Complacency vs. Contentment: Thankfulness

We have now been living in Corning for a little over a year.  The newness of the Finger Lakes region has started to ware off and to some degree the same could be said about our marriage.  The longer you stay in one place, in one pattern, the easier it is to not see the little things. The route to work with all turns becomes a blur, as do the days. Same can be said about life together in a marriage. Over time it is easy to forget or not even notice the little things as they days start to blur together. When this happens it is easy to become complacent.

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Complacency is settling, possibly unhappily, with the way life is. When life begins to buzz by it’s easier to complain and become grumpy. But instead of doing anything about it, complacency leads us to feel comfortable with the unhappy grumpy us in our mundane routine because it can be controlled.

Contentment instead is a state of satisfaction even if life is not perfect. It focuses on what is going right or well with a sense of thankfulness in and/or during our regular routine. This helps us let go of the pieces we can make us grumpy or irritated but we have no control over and helps the days feel more important, significant, less “blurry”.

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I am learning what it looks like to be content instead of complacent in our routine and current place in marriage. But what does that look like?

Saying thank you, a lot. I don’t have to think or worry about the bills being paid on time, the trash being emptied, the car having gas, or there being money in the checking account so I can buy groceries. Luke just takes care of those things for us. But because I don’t have to worry or think about them means I can forget they are getting done. They can become part of the routined haze unless I saying thank you; a lot: in a text, email, sticky note in a lunch pail or out-loud. If I say thank you it helps change my focus onto what is working well, what is going right.

Once I began to think with a thankful perspective and communicate appreciation for the little things, I began to see Luke’s actions differently. I began to recognize the “why” behind what he did big or little. For instance, my husband’s willingness to go to the store at 12am in the morning to pick up nyquil. That action showed me that he cares about not only my well being but that I get decent rest. Although I already knew these things to be true,I need constant vocal or physical reminders because let’s face it life gets to us and we forget just how much our spouse or loved on really does care about us.

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It may sound strange to, say: thank my husband for going to work everyday. But I see the deeper value or purpose behind his behavior. By always going to work, dressed professionally, on time, I see he has a strong work ethic, sense of responsibility to his co-workers and patients, and he cares about our financial security.  So when I thank him for a small everyday action, what I am really saying is I see and appreciate who he is: the roles he has taken on, and his values and ethics.

It takes discipline to remember to communicate my gratitude but overtime it helps develop perspective. I am able to see more clearly the emotions and values behind what Luke is communicating to me. In turn I am more aware of how I communicate and thank him through my behaviors back. It makes the little things Luke does for me or I do for him seem not so little anymore. Because when I get a small text in the middle of my day that simply says: “hey love u babe” it makes a big impact in how I handle the rest of my daily routine leading me more towards contentment and away from complacency

How about you?

What little things do you take for granted?

What little things are you grateful for/impact you the most?