White out

To balance out yesterday’s black out, I bring you a White Out.  The snow started falling yesterday, with some breaks in the action here and there.  The front, which brought with it some thunderstorms and strong winds, is somewhere out east (perhaps off the coast by now), and the snow that’s flying today is lake-effect.

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237: A brief appearance

The sun, something I wasn’t sure existed anymore, made some brief appearances for a few hours today as the fog lifted and clouds drifted in and out.  It not only brightened the world for a little while, it lifted my spirits.

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220: Maybe…

(Almost.  A Dogwood blossom getting ready to bloom.)

The NaBloPoMo theme for the month of May is Maybe.  I will not be officially participating, as I have enough on my plate already with the outdoor commitment, but I plan to keep it in mind as I take photographs and post to my blog this month.

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Having your CAKE…

Yesterday afternoon M and I hopped into our trusty car and took ourselves off to Greensburg, Pennsylvania, a town we’ve never visited before.  What brought us to Greensburg was The Palace Theatre and the band CAKE who performed a concert there last night.

(Warning:  Terrible photos ahead.  I had to shoot out the car window this morning when it was foggy and the windshield could have used a bit of cleaning.  There are no photos from the concert last night for reasons which will soon be revealed.)

(Driving into Greensburg.)

(Trying to capture the county courthouse dome.)

Greensburg is bigger than I was expecting (my own fault for not researching before we went).  I’d like to take some time to walk around and explore it someday as it looks like an interesting town.  We didn’t have time for it this trip.   We arrived in time to check into our hotel, have dinner, and then head over to the theater.  Or theatre, as the case may be.  There may be a another trip to Greensburg sometime in our future, one of the reasons for our quick drive through town this morning.  It was on that quick trip that I took some quick photos.

The Palace Theatre is a relatively small venue (it seats 1,369 people).  The theatre was opened in September of 1926 and is now owned, operated, and being renovated by the Westmoreland Cultural Trust.  It’s a beautiful theatre with a cute little ticket booth at the entrance.  I tried to take a photo of the ticket booth on our drive-by this morning but it came out blurry with car window reflections and not worth posting.  Our seats last night allowed me to visually enjoy exploring the original murals in the loge area that have been refurbished.  I love old theaters and I would venture to guess that a large percentage of the concerts M and I have seen over the past three decades have been in small theaters built in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

CAKE was great and it was one of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve been to in a long time.  I’m not sure they would appreciate being described as “enjoyable” so let’s go with FUN instead.  And it was fun.  One of the problems I have with the small and some large venues is the sound.  It’s often too loud.  Songs-unrecognizable loud.  CAKE must have some great sound people because it was perfect.  Loud enough and clear enough.

I did not take my camera along for the show because the ticket clearly states on the back that cameras are not allowed (making it not worth the bother of trying to get one in).  This leads me to want to editorialize so bear with me for a moment.  With the advent of phones capable of taking photos as well as video, I’m not sure there’s a point to the prohibitions against audio and/or video equipment at concerts anymore.  Granted, you don’t want an unauthorized someone walking in with a professional system to record the concert and sell copies of the recording, but my point-and-shoot camera is not up to professional standards.  It is better than you might be able to get right now with a phone but I’ve seen some nice photos from phones and I imagine the technology is catching up quickly if it hasn’t already caught up.

That said, John McCrea (lead vocalist) made an outstanding point about it all during the first half of the concert when he made a small speech (badly paraphrased here since I didn’t memorize it) about how he understands everyone is carrying around their bit of modern technology, trying to capture, hold onto, trap, and/or keep the moment, but he asked that everyone put the technology aside and just BE in the moment.  Relax, have fun, be here now.  The idea got a big round of applause and cheering, although I’m not sure how many people put away their gadgets to do just that.  To be honest, my soapbox stance in the paragraph before this one was half-hearted as I have found that there are times when I’d rather do as McCrea advised and just enjoy the moment rather than record it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the audience participation portions of the concert, being part of the sound that filled the theatre.  My throat is sore today but that’s my own fault for being prodded into singing louder.  I love to sing and don’t do it often enough so the sore throat is a small price to pay.  Thank you, CAKE, for enticing me to join in the fun.

If you’re interested in contests, you can win a tree from CAKE.  They gave away a very nice apple tree last night.  Check out the CAKE Tree Gallery here.  The guy that won last night had to promise to plant the tree and take pictures of himself with the tree to put on the Tree Gallery so we can all watch as the tree grows older and stronger and he grows older and frailer.  Those of us who have planted trees know:  Such is life.

(In the Greensburg Train Station.)

If interested, you can check out the setlist (and listen to it) here.  A little personal trivia:  I can’t hear War Pigs (CAKE does a cover of it and they performed it last night) without thinking of M the Younger who plays the drums and practiced the drum parts of War Pigs over and over and over, incessantly, for what seemed like a long period of time.  Years.  I know the entire drum part well and can identify the song from that alone.

We stayed in a hotel about 7 minutes from the downtown portion of Greensburg.  This morning we drove back in to look for the train station as we have been giving some thought to taking a train ride and Greensburg might be easier and cheaper than Pittsburgh as a starting point for the not-quite-planned trip-in-the-making.

(Looking out the window of the train station.)

We drove over, parked, took a quick look around and then made our way back to the car and back home.

And now it’s back to my regular programming.  I got a call just a little while ago from Hilgert’s farm.  The yellow wax beans are picked and ready for me to bring home and preserve.  I’ll be blanching and freezing them as I prefer freezing over canning (less loss of nutrients that way).  I suspect that will take up much of my day tomorrow.  One day’s work for a winter and spring of locally grown, delicious and nutritious vegetables is well worth it.

Walnut (cup)cake

I was thinking about writing a blog post concerning health care and health care reform here in the U.S. but today is M’s birthday and I’d rather celebrate his life than whine, moan, and bitch about the health care rationing that I experience with my health insurance coverage.  Besides, I’m trying to practice kindness and gratitude these days and have reminded myself that I should be (and am) grateful that I have medical coverage.

I am not much of a baker.  The reason for that is I prefer a free-for-all when I cook, adding this, that, and whatever suits my mood and/or taste at the time.  You can’t free-for-all with baking.  There is a required precision to it if you want your cake, bread, or cookies to come out right.

It’s not that I don’t know how to bake or can’t bake.  As the title of a cookbook I was given by M the Younger states, You Can Cook If You Can Read (Muriel and Cortland Fitzsimmons, 1946).  (Side note:  I love old cookbooks as well as old books on housekeeping.)  I believe that’s true about baking as well.  I can read (and follow directions) so I can bake and even enjoy it once in a while, especially when it comes to breads.  There is something almost therapeutic about creating a loaf of bread.

There are a few times a year when I will bake a cake or something sweet.  Family birthdays are the majority of those few times, and the only time I will take requests although requests are probably not necessary since everyone has their favorite cake and except for a few years when M the Younger was young and experimenting, usually the requests are the same every year (thus giving me the chance to perfect my baking skills when it comes to those cakes).

M the Elder’s favorite cake is walnut cake.  The recipe was handed down to us by his Grandma Kraus.  As with a lot of her recipes, it doesn’t go into a lot of detail.  Fortunately, she did have exact measurements, something you won’t find with some of her other recipes and often we’ve had to work things out on our own, trying to figure out exactly what she meant by things such as  “a heaping tablespoon” (in her case, that’s about two to three times the amount or 2-3 tablespoons).

Grandma Kraus’s walnut cake is not low-fat.  It is not light and fluffy, but dense and rich.  It is a cake to be enjoyed and savored, and you don’t need a huge piece to be satisfied.  That’s not to say you might not want a huge piece, but you don’t need it.

For the past few years I haven’t baked a walnut cake for M’s birthday because his birthday is so soon after the holidays that we’re usually still recovering from the over indulgences of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  Instead, we go to our favorite Thai restaurant for dinner and if he’s not too full after dinner, M orders a slice of their walnut cake.  It’s not as rich and dense as Grandma Kraus’s walnut cake but it seems to satisfy his yen for it.

We did go to our favorite Thai restaurant for an early birthday celebration on Thursday.  (Note to Jen & Eric if you’re reading:  We thought of you while we were there and toasted you with our cups of green tea.)  M was too full for cake so he didn’t order it.  And since we’ve decided to cut back on buying things for birthdays and such, I decided I would treat him to his favorite walnut cake.

Not wanting to make a whole layer cake that we’ll be forced (heh) to eat, I decided to convert it to cupcakes, figuring we can freeze some of them, unfrosted, to eat another time.  I also cut the recipe in half.  Even so, it made 12 cupcakes.

I’ve had a request for the recipe over at Facebook so here it is:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups butter
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Grandma Kraus’s instructions:  Combine all ingredients and bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes.

I follow the basic recipe instructions for cakes (combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl; cream the sugar and butter together in a large bowl; add eggs to the sugar and butter mixture and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes; add in the flour, milk, and walnuts a little at a time).  As cupcakes, they had to bake for 25 minutes.

If you decide to give this recipe a try, keep in mind that the batter is not as thin as a typical cake batter.  And if you decide on cupcakes instead of layers or a sheet cake, fill the cups.  The cake will not rise as much as most cakes do.

The best icing/frosting for this walnut cake is a buttercream frosting.  I usually add some chopped walnuts to the frosting or decorate the top of the cake with walnuts.

The cupcakes are cooling now (which is why there are no photos with frosting on them).  They smell delicious.  If I think of it later, I’ll post a photo of them frosted (and maybe with a few candles stuck in ’em).

Happy Birthday, M!


For those wondering how the puzzle project is coming along:

We still have a long way to go.