Friday, December 28, 2007

Credit Cards --- well, I love 'em

Credit cards -- a lot of people get into trouble with these little guys, but they have been a huge bonus for us. Why? Because we pay them off every month. In 26 years, we've only missed two months doing this -- and saved a LOT of interest in the bargain.
As much as possible, we pay every bill, large or small, with a credit card.
How do they help?
*We can see purchases every month at a glance. Went to the grocery store or Sam's a bit too much? Hit that year-end sale at Kohl's a bit too hard? It shows up in a flash on the statement.
*It makes keeping business records that much easier. Generally, I use Quickbooks to log my receipts -- but some get missed. But they all show up on the credit card statement.
*We can pay online for practically everything. Saves time, saves effort. And DH just schedules an automatic payment for the credit card via our bank account. Terrific.
*We get rewarded for using the card! We NEVER pay a yearly fee, and get the highest percentage we can for cashback rewards. Generally, we earn from $200-400 yearly doing this...or double that money by using it for giftcards offered by the credit card company at a discount.

Here's a great Chase VISA that gives you a $50 bonus with first purchase
And after you apply -- a coupon comes up for a $100 bonus if you open a bank account with them, as well! The bad part: I just found this, but the offer ends Dec. 31. If you're interested, apply asap.
A Great Website on how to feed yourself for $15 a week...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Silent Night...

Being sick during the holidays is a revelation. People may be celebrating all around you, but the best thing you can think to do is have some tea and go to bed early. (sigh) The best part, I guess, is that Dave isn't feeling well, either. So we huddle on the couch together. If he's picking the channel, we watch football movies...if it's me, holiday stuff. (Like "Die Hard.")

So far, we've had to cancel for 4 events we were invited to. I don't even feel that bad about it -- all my energy has gone into getting the tree decorated (Wed this week), food on the table and the dishes from taking over the kitchen. I must be sick...don't even feel like reading much.

Tomorrow is church, and a Big Event, Christmassy-speaking. Will I able to sing? Will I be able to even go? Do I care? Right now...not really.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hack, cough... and Sachertorte

Ever tried to sleep reclining up? I woke up at 1 a.m., feeling as if sixteen gorillas were sitting on my chest, playing handball with my tonsils. After a cup of tea and some chips, they left...but I realized I was going to be spending the night on the couch, sitting up, if I didn't want the gorillas to come back.

Ah well. I'm in good company. People from the 19th century and before slept sitting up...and often more than one to the bed, anyways. (The Great Bed of Ware, mentioned in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and now in the Victoria & Albert Museum, is said to have held dozens of people! Whew. See it here: http://www.pbase.com/seebee/image/25006312

Some years ago, a Brit got drunk and bet a friend that he could kiss Queen Elizabeth. He actually managed to get through security and into her bedroom, where, he said, he found her sound asleep in bed -- sitting up. (He never did get his kiss, although she said, "Philip? Is that you?") I found that curious, until my research kept pointing out that people tended to sleep this way in the 'olden days.' Some experts say it was because so many struggled from respiratory diseases.

Which, as I proved so well last night, means you sleep partly upright -- or you choke to death. Your choice.

Here's the SACHERTORTE recipe I mentioned before. It's a European tradition to use breadcrumbs as a basis for cake. Sounds weird to us Americans, but the resulting torte is quite wonderful. Not to mention a great way for using up leftover bread.

SACHERTORTE (makes one cake - can easily be doubled)

1 6-oz pkg chocolate chips (or equivalent fine chocolate bar - the darker, the better)
1/2 cup butter
8 eggs (separate into yolks and whites)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
3/4 cup flour

Melt chocolate chips and butter in the microwave (approx. 1 1/2 min.) In the meantime, get out your commercial mixer and start beating the egg WHITES until they're stiff. (Make a peak when you stop the mixer and lift the blade up.)

By hand, mix the egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl #2, add the melted chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the vanilla, breadcrumbs and flour.

Add the stiffened egg whites (gently) to bowl #2, then pour mixture into one greased tube pan, springform pan, or two 9" layer cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 min. (9" pans) to 60 min. (tube or springform) -- cake will be done when firm to the touch, and an inserted toothpick comes out dry. Let cool, then gently release from the pan.

FILLING & GLAZE

1/2 cup raspberry jam (the traditional -- strawberry or any red berry works, too)

1 6-oz. pkg chocolate chips (or equivalent bar)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon coffee
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk or sour cream

Set the jam aside. Microwave everything else until melted (about 1 1/2 min.)

If your cake was baked in a tube or springform pan, slice it in half horizontally. (This is easier to do if it's chilled, or even frozen.) Spread jam between layers and-resandwich.

Spread the melted chocolate mixture on top of the cake, taking care to frost around the sides, as well. Keep the top as glossy as possible. (Easiest way to do this is to take a knife dipped in hot water and smooth the top after the chocolate has been iced.)

The traditional finishing was to write 'Sacher' on top in chocolate icing -- but I generally spread chopped nuts on top or the sides. (Filberts are the traditional choice, but who cares.)

Makes 12 slices of incredibly decadent cake. Serve with strong coffee or espresso mit schlag (whipped cream).

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas cake...and chaos

All is not well at Chez Brick. For one thing, neither Dave nor yours truly can seem to get rid of this huge, rattling cough. For an hour, all is peace. No hacking, nothing. Hmmm. Maybe I'm getting better, you muse to yourself. Maybe it's going...then a sneak attack, and you spend the next five minutes doubled over, trying desperately to breathe AND not lose your lunch. (At least I do.) Not to mention the embarrassing moments some middle-aged (I hate that phrase) women have when they cough or laugh too hard. Ahem.
In between coughing fits, I decorated the Christmas tree (which we finally got Sunday, and put up last night), and baked. A large Christmas cake, plus some babies, is cooling on the counter. So is a double batch of Sacher Torte, a yummy double-chocolate-made-partly-with-breadcrumbs cake that I first met (slice-wise) at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna.
That story first. My cousins Tim and Joan were missionaries in Vienna ('Wien' or "Veen"), and needed help watching their girlies. Joanie was pregnant with baby #3, and they were planning to move down south to Kaarnten to Villach (pronounced "Feel-ach"). I spent the summer as nursemaid to Amy and Kari, as well as traveling about town -- thank God for public transportation. It was a wonderful summer...I not only learned a lot of German, but managed to get in stops at the museums and even a stop at the Hotel Sacher, which isn't that far from Mozart's residence. It didn't impress me that much from the outside (the hotel, that is), but inside, it is pane after pane of glass mirrors, so you can watch others while they pretend not to watch you! The coffee is half grounds, thick as all getout...and wonderful. Add a slice of this incredibly rich cake (made famous by the Sacher), and you have a serious case for bliss. I've baked a Sachertorte for Christmas nearly every year since then.
The Christmas cake is from Tasha Tudor's TAKE JOY, a wonderful Christmas compendium of stories, recipes, songs, and so on. It gets read every holiday season. The cake is British style, a heavy butter-based cake with fruit and nuts. Tasha's original recipe reminded me some of a modified fruitcake. Since I am not fond of the F----- word, and raisins and I are not happy with each other, I modified it some. Tasha has this freaky thing about butter -- the more, the merrier. But I am not fond of seeing pools of fat soaking into the cake, so that got modified, too.

CHRISTMAS CAKE (Colorado style)
1 1/2 cups butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 eggs (no, I'm not making this up)
1 cup chopped almonds, pecans, filberts (your choice)
4 tablespoons orange juice (I also grate a bit of the orange rind in)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 cups flour (make this 5 heaping cups if you're cooking at high altitude)
1 cup 'craisins' (dried cranberries -- or substitute raisins, if you like them)
1 cup halved maraschino cherries

Cream butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing as you go, then the other ingredients -- stop before the flour. (It's easiest with two people, but one can manage just fine.) Stir in the flour, a cup at a time, then add craisins and cherries. Mixture will be very thick.
Line your pans with foil -- I can generally get a 10" springform pan, plus 3 or 4 little patty pans out of this, but you might prefer two round cake pans or an angel cake-type pan (the kind with a funnel in the middle). You'll get approx. two round cake pans, or a round (or loaf) pan plus the angel food cake pan. Now 'glop' the mixture into the pans, smoothing on top when they're done. (About half-full)

Bake at 275 degrees for approx. an hour -- my 10" springform took 1 1/2 hours because it was so thick. Cake is done when it's firm in the middle...test by gently pushing against it, or using a toothpick poked in. (Clean means it's done.) Let cool in pans, then fold foil over and store in a cold place for at least a week. (Tasha does it for months, but I have had these spoil when held that long.) Frost with confectioner's sugar, or serve as-is with tea. (The Brits like to add a layer of almond paste on top, then frost it.)
Makes one good-sized cake for you and your dinner companions -- plus a cake for a friend. Intensely rich and memorable.

I'll post the SacherTorte recipe tomorrow. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go cough for a while. A long while.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Well, hi there!

My name is Cindy Brick...you may have read one of my needlework (especially quilting) articles, or looked at one of my books. HANKY PANKY? Yes, that's me...or should I say, my handkerchief quilting book. CRAZY QUILTS? Yup, that's my newest one, due out in mid-Feb 2008. (You can see it both on amazon.com, and on my company website, Brickworks. ( http://www.cindybrick.com )

I live in Castle Rock, Colorado, halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs, with DH and two zany Weimaraners, as well as a houseful of quilts, projects-in-progress, books, books, and more books. See my previous blog at http://www.cindybrick.livejournal.com

Talk to you soon!

A Strange Experience

    Sunday lunch was barely finished when the text came. 'We just pulled into Castle Rock,' it read. 'We'll wash off the ...