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Thursday, April 30, 2009

COCONUT CRAVINGS


I know that it's not Easter..
There is a reason for the Bunny Cake..

This post is about all that's been Coconut in my life...

Both Past and Present

Most of the time I just have to crave coconut..

I crave it because I never get to have it.

Occasionally if I am out and the opportunity arises, I grab it and enjoy my love
for it.

Coconut and raisins have something very big in common.

Your love or hate for both is PRONOUNCED..

You either LOVE raisins or you HATE them.

THERE IS NO "HEM-HAWING" AROUND CONCERNING YOUR FEELINGS..

Same with Coconut.

I love them both.

Most of my family cannot tolerate coconut, thus I never make anything with it or
get to have anything made with it, myself.

Oh sure, I can buy an "Almond Joy", but I can never make a coconut creme pie, because no one will eat it...ditto for cake...macaroons...anything that is
"coconut scrumptious"!

My love for coconut has been a lifelong love affair.

My earliest recollections are tied with Easter, where the "Easter bunny" would
leave chocolate coconut "nests" with jelly beans in them, and also coconut creme
eggs in my Easter basket.

My Mother almost always made a "Bunny Cake" for Easter when we were young..
She was always so proud of it, and we loved it...
I will never forget a black and white photo of my Mother standing behind her
"bunny" creation, and looking just as proud as she could be!
(Note..her cake was actually much cuter than the one I posted, but I could not
find one as cute as hers..this is quite similar...)

I am not a fan of savory coconut items, i.e. "coconut chicken", but if it is
sweet and contains coconut, I am all over it...

My favorite is any wonderful COCONUT LAYER CAKE...

The cake itself should be light and moist, and the filling should be quite yummy.
My favorite filling would be a thin layer of lemon curd, but I am not opposed to other fillings if they are fab...
The frosting can be anything from a "7 minute" to a lightly whipped cream cheese
or cream one; and all should be topped with a generous topping of freshly grated and/or toasted coconut...

Now if this piece of Coconut Cake is several layers, and sitting in a lovely
pool of creme anglaise, I will not, I repeat, WILL NOT kick it out of bed, so to
speak...
As a matter of fact, I will not just LOVE it, I will ADORE IT!


COCONUT CREAM PIE...

Is there anything more delicious when it is really good? Topped with toasted
coconut and whipped cream? (I'm not a meringue fan..)

I made a point to try the infamous Coconut Cream Pie at Tom Douglas's restaurant,
"The Dahlia Lounge" in Seattle, and found it to be pretty yummy...Very fresh...
with fresh coconut used.
I recommend "The Dahlia Lounge", or any of his restaurants if you visit Seattle
(I believe that he has 3 or 4 different ones there, all with excellent reviews..)


COCONUT MACAROONS...

The recipe for COCONUT MACAROONS using Eagle Brand Milk is so easy, it can be made in a snap with only about 3 ingredients as I recall...
I remember that my Mother made these in a chocolate version when our Priest came
to visit us at home...
(Once again...funny about my childhood memories...see,what did I tell you? Whenever
food is involved...see previous post about childhood memories..)

Here is another childhood memory about food, and particularly coconut...

When I was at our church "fair" as a child, I was playing "musical chairs"...No
real skill involved in this game, but luck is the key, and it must have been my "lucky day", because I won three times!!
The winner got to pick a cake to take home.
I,of course, got to pick three cakes.
Two out of three that I picked were COCONUT!!

I am very "LOYAL WHEN IT COMES TO LOVE"...
My Love for Coconut is no exception..

COCONUT CUPCAKES...

Barefoot Contessa has a very good recipe for these..
(They can also be bought in a "mix" form that includes a mix for both the
cupcakes and the frosting..expensive but quite good..all of her "mixes" are very good...though you pay for the "convenience")

My favorite cupcake at "Sprinkles" is the Madagascar Vanilla with Coconut Cream
Cheese Frosting...(doesn't that just wanna make you weep? SO GOOD!!!)

COCONUT ICE CREAM...

Believe it or not, this is not an easy ice cream to come by...
It's certainly not at every ice cream parlor...
When you DO get a wonderful version though..it's Heaven...

Let's pause for another quick childhood foodie memory...
(oh pahleese..when do these end?...NEVER!!!!)

When I was a child,(yawn), my family stopped at Howard Johnson's restaurant for
ice cream cones on the way home from my Grandfather's.
We got the coconut ice cream, and we all remember how we stood outside the
restaurant on those hot summer nights, and ate that wonderful coconut ice cream
cone as it melted and dripped down our arms from the heat.
It was such a mess but SO GREAT that we didn't care...

Well, I could go on and on..(duh)

Now don't think that I have forgotten "coconuts haystacks" or other wonderful coconut delights, but I am out of time, and I simply must tell you one last "Coconut" story and leave you with a recipe as well...

When I LOVE something, I do try to find the very best of it, and if I find myself
visiting the area that "it" is in, I don't leave without making a point to try
it..
Our vacation in Charleston was no exception to that rule..

I had read ahead of time, that there was a wonderful restaurant there that was
known worldwide for their version of coconut cake..Why people order it from all
over the country for $100.00 plus shipping..(Whoa..it better be good, eh?)
The restaurants that makes this delectable cake is...

drumroll paleese...

THE PENINSULA GRILL www.peninsulagrill.com/

DO take a look at the actual coconut cake if you go to the website, as it is
divine beyond description...( and yes, it sits in a pool of creme anglaise..)

Even though the Peninsula Grill is an award winning restaurant, there were many,
many wonderful restaurants in Charleston, and I did not particularly want to eat dinner there specifically, but HAD to have a piece of their coconut cake.

My son and I stayed at the incredible Charleston Place Hotel which was right
across the street. I asked our concierge if it would be okay to go across the
street and request just a piece of the cake to go....

He laughed and said that people did it ALL THE TIME...

I went across the street, (with my son moaning...he is one of the ones that HATES
coconut, besides which he was a bit embarrased because the restaurant is quite
nice, and he thought that my request was really lame...As usual, I paid absolutely
no attention, as I was on a MISSION!... which is how I've survived many things,
but we will go into that another time....)

Sorry, I digress...

We entered through the beautiful bar, filled to the brim with "beautiful people"...

I finally got the bartender's attention, and within 20 minutes,( I ordered drinks for both of us..), I got the "legendary" cake...

It came in a Styrofoam container that was big enough to contain a meal for 4
people! The reason for that was because the coconut cake was..... get ready....

TWELVE LAYERS!!!!!!(including cake, filling, and frosting)

It's really a shame that I could only finish about a third of it, as my son did
not want any, and we were not staying at a hotel with a fridge, but OH MY...

If that wasn't a culinary highlight in one's life, I don't know what would be.

If you love coconut cake, then you can either order it, visit the restaurant in
Charleston, or though it looks a bit daunting...MAKE IT!

The following is a 3 layer version, with ingredients cut down just a bit...

If you want the 6 layer version, then visit Martha Stewart's website, which
has published the 6 layer version...

Both versions are the "REAL DEAL"....

(note that this is something that must be made in two days, as the filling must
be refrigerated overnight...Finished cake must also sit out for three hours before
serving...and I've read that cutting is best done while still chilled)

DO let me know if you make this, as I would love to know how it came out!


Peninsula Grill coconut cake (the 3 layer version)

Makes 12 servings

FILLING

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups whipping cream

½ cup sugar

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 ¼ cups sweetened flaked coconut

¼ cup sour cream

CAKE

3 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 ¼ cups sugar

1 ½ cups (3 sticks)

unsalted butter, room temperature

5 large eggs

1 1/3 cups whipping cream

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

FROSTING

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted

For filling: Stir cornstarch, 2 tablespoons water, and vanilla in small bowl to dissolve cornstarch. Bring cream, sugar, and butter to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Add cornstarch mixture and bring to boil. Remove from heat and stir in coconut. Cool completely. Mix in sour cream. Cover and refrigerate overnight.


For cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour three 9-inch round cake pans. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in another large bowl to blend. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in cream and vanilla. Stir flour mixture into butter mixture. Divide batter equally among pans. Bake until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool completely.


For frosting: Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl to blend. Beat in powdered sugar and vanilla extract.

Place 1 cake layer on cake plate. Top with half of filling. Place second cake layer atop filling. Top with remaining filling. Place third cake layer atop filling. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. Pat toasted coconut over top and sides of cake, pressing gently to adhere. (Can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 3 hours before serving

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NICOLE ON NIGHTSHIFT, NEGATIVITY, AND NONSENSE


I cannot begin to explain the changes that occur when you decide to work nights instead of days..
Here I will do my best...

The changes I speak of are not all negative nor are they all positive.

Many of them are tied to one's own perspective, as all things in life tend to be.

I will cover the negative aspects first, just to "get them out of the way.."

I have now worked 12 hour nightshift, weekends, for over a month.
I think that I have some sort of realistic "grasp" on the situation.

NEGATIVES:

1. Turns out that one's "sleep regimen" has a strong tendency to want to stay
"regular". That is to say, that if you tend to sleep days, in order to work nights, that is what your body is pleading to do even on your off days. So far, I have not been able to trick my body into sleeping nights on my days off.
Total Bummer..(hopefully that will change..)

2. Due to the above, one does not see or spend much time with ANYONE in their lives, as everyone else sleeps at night and is up during the day. This is especially not ideal with your family.

3. I don't need to mention, that EVERY gathering/party/get-together, is on the weekend...
Honestly, I do not "see" anyone at this point in my life, so working nights is not much of a "relationship" problem for me, but I DO miss seeing a couple of my friends that I normally see on weekends, and I DO get invitations that I have to RSVP "NO" to, and I DON'T like that one bit!

I will be lucky if I have ANY friends left after making this work change. (And don't think get some new "night shift" friends..
Most, so far anyway, are married with families, or...well...just "different"..)

4. Eating habits are horrific, and craving "good" food is constant. I personally DO NOT snack all night at work as some do (people tend to do this to keep awake, I think), but I don't ever seem to get a decent meal, as I bring something for a meal at night, usually something quick like a sandwich or a salad from Corner Bakery, then I get home and just fall in bed...hence, I dream of a meal with meat, veggies, salad, etc...and yes, I feel too tired to make it myself...

5. I DO feel a bit lonely at night on my nights off, as no one is up and also I cannot do things that I would like to for fear of waking my son/neighbors up
(i.e. playing my piano, cooking, cleaning, basically making any noise...)

6. One cannot go to a movie, shop, or "go out" anywhere in the middle of the night....
It's a drag...

OKAY! On to the POSITIVES!!! YEAH!!!!(don't we just ABHOR negative thoughts?)

(Personally I don't feel that way, as it appears to be THE KEY in terms of my
creativity when it comes to writing poetry or creating humorous "shtick" etc. ...
God knows if I am ever really positive or gleefully happy, I probably won't have another creative thought or action..)

And while I'm on the subject...

I DO NOT compare myself in any way with these people, but where would
we be without good old honest negativity?

Do you think that there would be any literature/poetry from the likes of Edgar
Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay,
or Truman Capote?..
I could go on and on...

All of these amazing writers had an underlying "negative" yet creative attitude.
It was imperative to help drive their works of literature...

Now THIS is rather interesting...I'm actually not one for enjoying or being around anyone in a "bad mood" and especially critical of it in the work place, but I simply must share this bit of research with you...



"Bad moods, negative attitudes at work have gotten a bad rap"

FROM RICE NEWS STAFF REPORTS

Coming to work in a bad mood just might be a good idea. As it turns out, those perennially happy, smiling employees might not be the most creative or productive at the office. According to research by Rice University’s Jing Zhou, creativity is at its highest when a mix of negative and positive moods is supported in the workplace, an idea that challenges traditional management thinking.

For years, negativity has been considered an unavoidable — and unfortunate — part of organizational life; it’s something that should be minimized, criticized, even stamped out. But if employers want creativity that leads to innovation in the workplace, those naturally occurring bad moods can play a fruitful role; in fact, they’re necessary to make things better. Such creativity happens, according to Zhou, associate professor of management at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management, when employees have the right kind of supervisory support.


Interesting...thought provoking....

To be honest, I have always ABHORRED those annoying little "smiley faces"
and too much of what I call "happy wappy" paraphernalia....

Things like-
"I'M THE PROUD MOM OF AN HONOR ROLL STUDENT" and
"HAVE A NICE DAY" bumper stickers, make me want to
SWALLOW A STRYCHNINE COCKTAIL!!!

If you have read my blog from the beginning, then you know how I feel about the NEVER ENDING phenomenon concerning the daily question or someone's confession of whether they're the "glass half full" or "glass half empty" type...

Guess what? You're neither...You're the "glass half nauseating type"
SO WISH I COULD SAY THAT...

How in the world did we survive or describe ANYTHING before the advent of
that cutesy annoying little phrase?

I DID promise a "Positive" side of nightshift working didn't I?

1. It pays a lot more, which is quite nice, and is quite needed/appreciated.

2. You can FIND a full time job with benefits at night, but you cannot find
one on days..

3. People are a lot more "laid back"

4. The workplace is a lot less stressful. You don't have to contend with other
departments/therapists/physicians.
They can make getting to your patient and their charts a daily nightmare.

5. The nightshift staff is a smaller group of people, and appear to be a more
supportive and cohesive group. (I'm hoping to see that at my new job as well)

6. I don't have to get up at 4:30 AM anymore, something that even after all of
these years, was killing me.

7. I get to sleep during the day, and don't have to feel guilty about it like
people sometimes do when they take a LONG NAP.

8. You get to use your "critical skills", because at night you and those around
you are "on your own"..


9. It's kind of cool at the hospital, sort of scary and yet intriguing as well...
(see picture of empty corridor in hospital)

10. After complaining about the "loneliness" (#5 under negatives), I must be
honest and say that there is nothing like being able to write, read, etc
and not have any noise or interruptions...I actually quite like that...

In summary, I suppose that it is a very big change, yet not unlike any other
lifestyle change that one experiences...It will take some getting used to.

Everything has its good and bad points.

Trick is to make the most of the "good" points and ignore the bad ones.

(Watch out!...You're sounding a bit "positive!" Don't want to cramp that
all important "creativity" of yours!)

Which reminds me of something...

Awhile back my son had his game glaring and I was trying to write, and I said, "Son please turn that down!", and he said "It's not that loud, Mom...What's the deal?"

I said, "You're interfering with my creative process!"

Ever since, he loves to use that whenever it seems to fit into the situation or even when it doesn't...

"Well, Mother, I certainly wouldn't want to interfere with your CREATIVE PROCESS!"

(cheeky boy....)