Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chocolate Eruption Cheesecake

I am not a fan of cheesecake of any kind. I don't like cream cheese in any way, but I do make cheesecake when others want it. It actually makes it easier on me, because I'm not in any way tempted to eat it when I bake it. It's a win-win since it allows me to enjoy baking, but not gain weight!

If you are a fan of cheesecake and chocolate then this is the recipe for you, and I have no doubt it will become a favorite. If it's chocolate it is in this recipe. White chocolate chunks, milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, Snickers candy bars chunks, whole chunks of cooked brownies and caramel mixed into FIVE blocks of cream cheese make up this gooey dessert. It's not for the faint of stomach, and a very small portion goes a long way.
Chocolate Eruption Cheesecake

Bottom Crust
1 1/4 cups Oreo cookies or chocolate cookie crumbs or fine brownies, crumbs
1/4 cup white chocolate, finely ground
3 tablespoons
unsalted butter, melted

Filling:
2 1/2 lbs
cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 (14 ounce) can condensed milk
5 eggs
1/3 cup light cream
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 cups white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate
2 cups coarsely chopped Snickers candy bars or turtle candy bars
1 cup coarsely cut chunks brownie, homemade or prepared from a mix
1/2 cup
caramel ice cream topping

Garnish:
1/4 cup melted white chocolate
1/4 cup melted semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup melted milk chocolate chocolate shavings
1/4 cup
powdered sugar

Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Spray a 10
inch springform pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Mix the crust ingredients together and press firmly into the pan.
Mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth.
Add condensed milk, eggs, cream, flour, vanilla, and salt.
Blend until smooth, about 5 minutes on slow speed, scraping bottom of the
mixing bowl.
Remove 1/3 of batter and mix it with the white chocolate.
Pour this into the springform pan.
Fold in the remaining ingredients (except caramel sauce) into the cheesecake batter.
Mix gently by hand.
Fold half the batter into the pan (on top of the
white chocolate cheesecake batter), and then drop spoonfulls of half the caramel sauce all over.
Top with remaining batter and then remaining caramel sauce.
Stir with butter knife.
Pan will be very full.
Bake until set about 45-55 minutes.
Cool in oven an hour and then place in refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
Before serving, drizzle on melted milk, white and dark chocolate over top, allowing it to drip down on side.
Garnish with large chocolate shavings and dust with powdered sugar.

I drizzled with the three chocolates, but did not use powdered sugar or chocolate shavings. I just figured there was plenty of chocolate already.

Chocolate caramel cake

I was browsing the internet for a recipe to recreate the "chocolate explosion bars" from Beef O'Brady's, but came up empty handed. However, I did end up finding this gooey, decadent dessert instead, and it was a great find. I made it for us earlier this week, and then again today for the nurses at the hospital. It's a huge hit, especially if you like the combination of chocolate, caramel and nuts. The recipe can also be found at http://www.bigoven.com/recipe/161345/chocolate-explosion-cake.
Chocolate caramel cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 cup lukewarm strong coffee
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup oil

Topping:
1 package (397 g) Kraft caramels
4 tablespoons milk
1/3 cup chopped roasted pecans

In large mixer bowl combine all ingredients (except topping). Beat until
blended. Pour into greased and floured 9-inch springform pan.

Bake at 350 F for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out
clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan.

Microwave caramels with milk until melted; stir until smooth. With small
wooden spoon handle, poke holes into cake.

Pour in filling and garnish with chopped roasted pecans.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Nena

I took Bren to pick up leopard gecko #3 today from another breeder. She's a Mack Snow Enigma Pigmy, and she is so small. Much smaller than the average size leopard gecko, and that's why he wanted her. If he can breed her and get babies that are that small then he can make some pretty decent money. She's 5 grams, Rae is 10 grams, and Otis (previously named Elizabeth until we found out that she's a he) is 80 grams. Nena is two months old and, like Rae, should be about 10 grams. She is just so cute. I never thought I would call a gecko cute, but they really are. They all three have distinct personalities. Nena loves to be held, and runs around in her aquarium; rarely going into her hide. Rae loves her hide, and stays in there most of the time (it's warmest there). Otis loves human interaction, makes a lot of chirping, and spends about equal time in his hides and on the big branches throughout his aquarium.

I'm going to try and get a picture of all three of them together tomorrow. It's a bit like trying to get a picture of three toddlers together.
You can see how small she is compared to Bren's finger/knuckles.

Sky


I love the sky. I sometimes sit in my car and just stare at it, amazed at the beauty. I love the patterns that are formed with the clouds, the variation in color throughout the day and night, and the way the light makes dramatic contrast with dark storm clouds as they roll in. There's so much beauty, and it's available for my viewing pleasure at any time.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pro 610

I have been dreaming of this mixer for years. Seriously dreaming. I'm not one to want many things (materialistically speaking), but this is one of the very few things that I have really, really wanted. It was just always too much for me to justify, and so I kept dreaming. After all, I have the 5 quart KitchenAid mixer, and it works just fine (for most things). The problem has been that sometimes I make large quantities of baked goods, and the 5 quart just wasn't making the cut. But, I just kept dreaming and making do with the one that I had.

That is until now!

For my birthday this week I got Williams-Sonoma gift cards from Sean, Brian and Pam (totaling $275). The mixer is $400 (yikes, I know). When my mom and dad found out what I was saving towards they sent me the balance to purchase this beautiful, shiny, candy apple red KitchenAid Professional 610 mixer. We drove to Williams-Sonoma yesterday to pick it up, and as silly as it may sound this mixer is beautiful. Truly beautiful. And thanks to Sean, Pam, Brian, and my mom and dad my dream of owning this gorgeous thing has become a reality.

So that you can see that size really does matter in this case-look at the difference between my 5 quart and the new 6 quart!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Birthday

Today I turned 38. I don't mind getting older. It's certainly better than the alternative, and I actually think that my life gets better the older I get. I guess I embrace growing up and growing older.

Since I had classes all day and evening tonight I got to celebrate my birthday yesterday (the 24th). Sean, with his money that he is saving to buy a car, bought me a $100 Williams-Sonoma gift care (my favorite store), and he and Brian split the cost of us going out to dinner. Then as soon as we got home he baked me a homemade cake, just like I always do for them on their birthdays, and we had my midnight birthday (just like I do for them). He even had my mom and dad via Skype on one computer and my best friend, Pam, on another computer so that they could sing happy birthday to me at midnight with my family. In addition to all of that goodness (as if that wasn't enough already), I got another $100 Williams-Sonoma gift card from Pam, a $75 Williams-Sonoma gift card from Brian and $150 cash from my mom and dad. I've been wanting the Kitchenaid 610 Professional mixer in red from WS for a couple of years, and now I finally get to go and get it! It's going to be so nice to move up from the Kitchenaid 5 quart that I currently have.

The one thing that absolutely made my day today was another gift from Sean. When I got into my car this morning to leave for school I reached into my purse for my phone and felt a card. I took it out, and it read:

Mom
I just wanted to tell you how lucky I am to have you for a mom.
I love you up to the sky and down to the ground.
Love,
Sean

No, I'm the one that is lucky to have him for a son.

I spent the rest of the evening after returning home from school today with my family, and I wouldn't want to have it any other way.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An emotional roller coaster

These days following Cierra's death have been difficult for so many people, and it has been a lot more difficult on me than I ever imagined it would be. Sean has a small, close group of friends, and I've had the honor of getting to know each of them over the years. Many of them consider me to be their "other mom".

On Sunday night there was a candle lighting ceremony and balloon release, and there were about 800 present. Only the family released balloons; green balloons that said, "I love you" on them. All 800+ of them formed a huge circle, and the family and her two friends that were there when she was killed formed a smaller circle in the middle. There was complete silence until the candles were all lit, and then the only sound was that of her mother sobbing. It was heartbreaking. No mother should have to endure the pain of losing a child. I've said before that my specialty of choice for medicine is pediatric oncology, and it is the young teenagers losing their battle that bother me the most. They know what life is, and they know what they have to look forward to, and to lose their life in the midst of those happy years is so heartbreaking to me. It's something I'll have to learn to come to grips with, I know.

Cierra's funeral was yesterday. It was an open casket viewing, and seeing her lifeless body laying there was so difficult. She wore her cheerleading uniform. Her mother, stepfather, and young (8 year old) sister sat there in front of her (her father died a few years ago). Her sister, Hayley, continually going up to say good-bye to her sister just one more time. She lost her only sibling.

There were over 1,000 people in attendance at the viewing and funeral service, a testament to the number of hearts she touched in her short 15 years. The procession to the cemetery was private, but we'll go this weekend and leave flowers for her.

As a parent, and as someone who knew Cierra, this hurts. I can only imagine the pain that her mother, stepfather and sister must be experiencing. I hurt for them. I know that time heals pain, but her imagine is permanently ingrained in my mind. Sean is handling the loss of one of his very best friends in a way of his own. It's apparent that he's terribly upset, but it's difficult for him to verbalize much of what he wants to say. He's going back to his therapist starting next week, and that should help him. I want to help him more, but I just make him more upset by talking about her to him. I hurt for him. His circle of friends is small, and to lose one of the people that means so much to him is hard to watch.
Kaitlinn, AJ and Sean before the funeral.

Kaitlinn, AJ, Sean and Erin before the funeral.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Memorial

The memorial is growing every day. Cierra was so loved. I have no doubt that this memorial will be massive after her funeral on Monday. We'll be there, and I have a car full of her closest friends riding with me to the funeral. It's still something I'm struggling with on a daily basis, and I can only imagine the pain that her family is going through.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Elizabeth

Brendan has added to his collection, and now has two leopard geckos. Today he purchased a beautiful little girl named Elizabeth. Her owner is moving and needed to find a good home for her, and Bren was happy to get her. He now has a 30 gallon tank for the two girls.


I'll post a picture of Rae and Elizabeth together later, but Elizabeth is HUGE compared to Rae. Of course Rae is only a baby and Elizabeth is two years old, but it's amazing to see the size difference. Rae is 10 grams and Elizabeth is 80 grams! She loves to be held, and chirps when he goes to put her down. Her coloring is beautiful, too. We're happy to welcome her to our zoo.

Riding on

Lest you think that Bren and Erin have not been racing, let me assure you that they have been. They both have practice on Tuesday, and then practice and race every Thursday and Saturday. The track is being completely redone, so we have had a week or two off over the past two months, but otherwise they have been busy. The pictures below will give you some indication of the hard work they have both put in at the track!
Brendan's trophy shelf in his room.

Erin's trophy shelf in her room.

Our track is hosting the Gator Nationals the second weekend in February, and this will be Erin's first national event. She's nervous, but more than prepared.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lost a friend

One of Sean's good friends, Cierra, was hit by a vehicle and killed this morning. It has been an emotional day. The students of the high school where she attended (where Sean attends) were dismissed and there are grief counselors on campus for an undetermined amount of time. She was a sweet girl, and known by all of the kids as someone who always tried to make you smile. Below is a link to the pictures from Sean's 8th grade dance. Cierra is the one in the front of the group in the last three pictures (short pink dress).


Here are a few of the news articles about her today.

Please keep the family and Sean in your thoughts. Cierra was a good friend to Sean, and this is the first loss he has experienced.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rae

So not even two hours after getting her home she started molting.

Not having ever owned a reptile I had no idea how long it would take, but within an hour she was completely finished. Her colors are absolutely amazing. She has some blue, yellow and orange amidst her black spots. Brendan is just totally enthralled with her.


Brendan's baby

**Edited**Brendan has decided to name her Rae (sounds like Ray).

Brendan has been wanting a leopard gecko for some time. I finally told him that if he saved the money for all of the equipment (aquarium, heater, heat light, houses, etc.), the gecko and for the food necessary to keep it alive that he could get one.

His good friend, Chris, invited him to a reptile show in Orlando today. Chris has many reptiles and wanted to add to his collection. Brendan came home this evening with a brand new leopard gecko (Snow breed with black spots). He did buy all of the equipment himself, paid for her today, and even bought a stock of meal worms (about 6 months worth). He hasn't named her yet, but she really is cute. She's in the process of molting so her true colors aren't visible, but you can get a good idea of what she looks like from these pictures (taken with Brian's point and shoot).



Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Top of the class

Those who know my younger brother, Tony, know that high school was not his "thing". He hated math, excelled in wrestling (go Blue Devils), did everything he could to get out of doing homework, and studied biology using the girls he knew.

Now Tony is studying to be an RN, and school is his "thing". Not only is he doing exceedingly well, but he actually enjoys it. During the recent winter break he mentioned on a couple of occasions that he was ready to get back into class. Imagine the confusion it causes me to hear this, knowing well how much he struggled and disliked school 20 years ago. Thankfully the years have changed his perception of school, and I'm so proud of him. I'm his number one fan, and I'll continue to cheer him on, just as I did as a wrestling manager watching him wrestle back in 1990.

Today my brother received an email (below) from his school, and when he texted a copy of it to me I could not get the grin off of my face. He's come a long way, and I know that there is nothing but success in his future with the outlook he has.

Congratulations, Neal Harper!
In recognition of your outstanding performance during the Fall 2010 Term, we are pleased to notify you that your name has been included on the Seminole State College Dean’s List. Students who have earned a semester grade point average between 3.25 and 3.74 receive this honor.
Your dedication to your academic career is a clear indication of your bright future. We wish you continued success in your academic career and want to express how proud we are that you chose Seminole State College as your school.
Sincerely,
Angela Kersenbrock, Dean of Career Programs
Laura Ross, Dean of Arts and Sciences
Michael Staley, Campus Provost and Dean
Seminole State College of Florida
I am so proud of you, Tony. More so than you'll probably ever know.

Monday, January 10, 2011

She's growing up

Marley turned one on December 1, 2010, and it's amazing how much she grew in her first year. I found this video tonight on Brian's computer (of Marley and Greyson), and it's cute to see her when she was still so little. She still tries to play with Greyson, too.

Nana's banana nut bread

Growing up, every time we would go to Nana and Papa's house there would be a delicious loaf of her banana nut bread in the kitchen. Well, maybe not every time, but it was often enough that I remember it fondly and looked forward to it during every visit. Whether it was right out of the oven or at room temperature didn't matter. It was just as delicious the next day as it was when it was made.

While visiting my Nana and Aunt Diana this past weekend I discovered that Nana had made a loaf of her banana nut bread. It had been many years since I had it, and it was like a gift to rediscover it. I'm not sure why I didn't ask before now, but I finally got her recipe, and it makes me so happy to know that I can now make this warm, delicious treat for my kiddos.

Nana's Banana Nut Bread



1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
4 ripe banana, mashed
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add all other ingredients and mix. Bake in a greased loaf pan at 350ยบ for 50-60 minutes.

Two suggestions: use a chopper or food processor to finely chop the nuts. This is one of the identifying characteristics of her banana bread-no large pieces of nut. This makes the nuts more evenly distributed throughout the bread, and it really does make a difference in the texture and taste. Secondly, for the last 10-15 minutes of baking put a piece of aluminum foil over the top to keep it from burning on top. Just lay it right on top-no need to secure around the edges.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Getting back

We took Sidney back home to Orlando yesterday, and returned today. It was so nice to have her here with us, and it made me feel so good to know that she didn't want to leave. I like that the kids like to be here.

The kids and I all start back to school on Monday, January 10th, and I have to say that I really am ready. The month off for me has been great, but I'm ready to get back on the road to graduating from pre-med and moving on to medical school. The kids are less enthusiastic about going back (except for Erin), but they only have five more months before they are out for the summer anyway. The next couple of months will be busy with birthdays (Sean and Bren are both in February) and plans for summer traveling for me and Sean (back to Peru). Liz and Sidney are both so excited about going to Peru for their first time, and I cannot wait to share that experience with them.

I'll post a few more pictures from the past week, and hopefully a couple of videos that the kids took on the roller coasters at Busch Gardens, too (if I can get Sean or Sidney to email them to me).

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Erin

She took this picture of herself on my phone, and I just think it's a really neat picture. She's so beautiful. There has been absolutely no editing of the photo.

Nala

Sidney took this picture of Nala a few days ago, and I think it's so good. Great perspective.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Happy birthday to my beautiful girl

Today Erin turned 8 years old. It's so hard to believe that 8 years have passed since she was born. She's my baby, my last child, and one of the three loves of my life. She brings more joy to my life than I could have ever imagined. When I snuggle her at night I can't help but wish that she wasn't growing up so quickly, but at the same time imagine what a beautiful woman she is going to be in just a few (short) more years. She has us all wrapped around her finger, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

She started the day today with her midnight birthday celebration (a cake and singing from us and Grandma and Grandpa in Oregon via Skype), and then by sleeping in until almost 1pm.
Just after waking up she received a delivery from Grandma and Grandpa!
After a little bit of shopping with me, Sean and Sidney (she picked out 12 books for herself) we met up with Brian, Bren, Ashley and Mazin at Moe's for dinner and then ice cream at a local shop. Then we came home and Lars, Tina and LT came over with gifts for Erin, and in lieu of a cake she chose to have s'mores over the fire pit on the lanai. Tina made Erin a beautiful backpack, and I cannot wait for her to use it when she goes back to school next week.
Now she's playing Man Hunt with Mazin, Bren, Sean, Sidney and Ashley, and Ashley is spending the night with her tonight (she said that is her best present).

Happy birthday beautiful girl. I love you more than words can ever say.

Just hanging out

Erin, Sidney, Mazin and Bren were hanging out on the lanai yesterday afternoon. Erin was playing on her DSi, Bren and Mazin were learning new tricks on their street bikes, and Sidney was just hanging out.




I love lazy days when we can just relax around here and enjoy the company of each other.

Mom and dad

My mom emailed this picture to me of the two of them at their Christmas party. I love it.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Howard Park 1/1/11

The weather is back to normal for us, and this means beautiful, sunny 70 degree days, and visits to the beach. While Sidney is here we wanted to make sure she got a chance to see Howard Park, one of our favorite beaches in the area. Thankfully for me Sidney is very photogenic and loves to have her picture taken.

Seagull feet...
Dog feet...
Human feet...
Brian found a baby horseshoe crab.


One of Erin for good measure.


Cat nap

One of Greyson's favorite places to take a nap is in my dresser drawer. Doesn't he look so cute and cuddly?

Colorful cupcakes

Sidney and Sean wanted to make cupcakes yesterday, so Sean made the batter and baked the cupcakes and then Sidney made the homemade cream cheese icing. Then they both chose from a huge selection of colors to enhance the icing and decorate their cupcakes.



Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year's Eve

We spent New Year's Eve with my cousin, Liz, her daughter, Sidney, and Mazin and his family at the First Night celebration in downtown St. Petersburg. They have so many activities including an ice skating rink, drum circle, arts and crafts, food vendors, horse drawn carriage rides and fireworks at 9pm and midnight. Michael Lynch, third runner up from last season's American Idol, was the star performer of the night.
The kids playing on a large tree near the pier.

Layla (Mazin's sister) and Erin in the drum circle.
Liz in the drum circle.
Brian, Heather, and Seid (Mazin's parents) in the drum circle.
Brian with Erin and Layla at the ice skating rink.

Bren and four of his friends in the drum circle.


I hope you all had a great New Year's Eve, and that 2011 brings you health and happiness.