Monday, October 24, 2011

The Zombie Invasion Has Begun!

A photography friend of mine, known on Flickr as Eyebrows 360 even though I know his true secret identity to be something much more normal, witnessed the dreaded zombie invasion and managed to survive long enough to post pictures online. It has begun. All of those hours I spent carefully studying zombie movies and reading survival guides will come in handy in the days to come. Sure, this invasion took place in Brighton, England, but it's only a matter of time before the infection spreads to our shores. Expect to see scenes as horrifying as these soon:

How cool is that?! All photos are from Eyebrows 360. Be sure to check out his Flickr set for more gory shots from the day.

In I-shouldn't-be-as-sad-about-this-as-I-am news, it looks like running in this year's zombie 5k in my hometown of Charlottesville, VA isn't in the cards for me. Initially, I thought it would be a convenient jaunt as we're going to be in northern Virginia that weekend for a family event, but between the University of Virginia having family weekend, thus filling the area hotels, and some UFC pay-per-view event the night before that my husband simply can't miss (thus ruling out a stay at my mom's cable-free house) it looks to be more trouble than it's worth. Besides, why add an extra four-hour drive to our trip just so I can do a 35-minute run? At least that's what I'm trying to tell myself when I get all teary eyed at the thought of missing it. All those weeks of training for nothing. At least I know that it's something I could do if geography weren't an issue. That's nowhere near as good as the sense of accomplishment I'd feel if I actually did the race but it's the best I'll get.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 381-383]

I've been furiously working to sort and process my numerous vacation photos and have managed to come up with a few of my favorites. We were lucky to have a chance to visit one of my cousins and her two cute kids. Tristan is the youngest but even at his age he's already developed some impressive boxing skills. Here he is delivering an uppercut to my brother's jaw. I didn't even have to bribe the kid or anything; he did this all on his own!

We spent a few days in beautiful Napa, a place I can't wait to visit again. Because my older brother's into nature we tracked down a walking trail and explored a bit. He even found some grapes growing wild in the woods and managed to pick a nice haul.

Things got a bit out of control when it came to processing this photo from Yountville, CA in the Napa area.

My Preciousssss: The Story of a Girl and Her Jo Totes Bag

Guess who is the proud and extremely happy owner of her very own Jo Totes camera bag? Thanks to my amazing and thoughtful aunt, uncle, and cousins I am! I took a belated birthday trip to California last week to visit my family in Monterey and play around in Napa. While I was there, they not only surprised me with a delicious meal at a fancy restaurant and a yummy marzipan-covered cake, but they also gave one of the best birthday presents I've ever gotten. I can't tell you how shocked I was when I opened my wonderful gift. To understand how thrilling this acquisition is to me, allow me to share the saga of my quest for a Jo Totes bag:

A long time ago in a galaxy pretty much exactly where I am now, I started seeing giveaways for a pretty camera bag making the rounds in the blog world. The bag is not only sturdy with padded inserts that can be rearranged to suit one's camera configuration, but it's also absolutely adorable. It comes in all sorts of trendy colors and styles with cute contrasting interior fabrics. A much nicer alternative to the plain, androgynous camera bags that dominate the market. Just the thing a budding photographer like myself needs in her life. For over a year I've been dutifully entering every giveaway I can track down but the bag always goes to some other lucky soul. Why couldn't it be me?!

I will admit that there came a time when I began to despair that the big prize would forever elude me. Coincidentally, this was around Christmas last year so I started dropping subtle hints for my husband that what I hoped to receive from Santa was this bag. Christmas came and went with no bag. Then I saw that some fortunate ladies were bequeathed the bag by their mates for Valentine's Day. Again with the hints. February came and went. Still no bag. Down but not out, I rallied again for our anniversary in June but my pleas fell on deaf ears. As a final resort, I went ahead and put together a birthday wish list for my milestone 30th birthday and sent it to my husband. I even prioritized the various items on the list with the bag at the #1 spot. I also made sure to mention it a few times on Facebook in case that still wasn't obvious enough for him. Alas, I knew all of my plotting had failed when I heard him in the other room surveying my wish list and he said, "Ninety dollars for a camera bag?! That's not going to happen!" Hey, at least I had that warning so I didn't wake up on my birthday expecting one.

The good thing is that someone did notice my shameless begging on Facebook: my lovely relatives. They sneakily went ahead and picked out the perfect bag for me without my having a clue! The best part is that I was torn between two colors, teal and sugarplum, so they kindly made that tough decision for me. As you can see, I couldn't wait to start using my new bag and carted it around Napa with me. It's such a beautiful area that I simply couldn't leave the hotel without my camera and what better way to carry it than in this stylish bag? I hope my family reads this so they can know how very happy they made me. Love them!

My slightly undignified look of glee

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Pull-Apart Bread

Shortly after I became tragically addicted to Pinterest, I discovered and made what was to become one of my favorite recipes of all time: Lemon pull-apart bread. To. Die. For. Imagine how thrilled I was when fall rolled around and I started seeing a pumpkin version cropping up.

Since I'm training for that 5k I'm trying to be good and cut back on sweets, but as Saturday was my 30th birthday I needed to have something special for my birthday breakfast, right? The basic steps of the recipe are the same as the lemon bread with the major change being the addition of pumpkin to the dough and the use of browned butter in place of plain old butter. The filling is perfect for the season with a little nutmeg mixed in with the cinnamon, sugar, and browned butter. Now, for the topping I decided to change things up from the original recipe, which called for a butter rum glaze. As I'm not a huge fan of rum and I've been craving cinnamon rolls lately I instead went with the maple glaze from The Pioneer Woman's cinnamon rolls. In keeping with the browned butter theme I went ahead and browned the butter for that as well, which gave the topping a stronger flavor. I think I'll also use that trick from now on whenever I make those cinnamon rolls.

Now it's time for me to confess where I messed this up. In an effort to do as much the night before and have less to do the day of my birthday I sliced the dough, layered it, and put it in the pan overnight. All this to save a measly 30-40 minutes. The dough continued to rise nicely in the fridge but the problem was that the butter and sugar ran to the bottom of the pan and formed a syrup. As a result, my layers didn't stick together as well as they should have and I'm sure the loaf wasn't as ooey gooey as it would have been otherwise. Oh well. It still tasted delicious and the combination of flavors was there, not to mention that there was plenty of added moisture from the glaze. It was a great fix for that pumpkin craving I always get this time of year. Just like the lemon pull-apart bread, this stuff didn't last long in our house.

Pumpkin Spice Pull-Apart Bread
Recipe adapted from Willow Bird Baking

Pumpkin Pull-Apart Bread Ingredients:
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups bread flour

Filling Ingredients:
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Maple Browned Butter Glaze Ingredients:
Recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup powdered sugar (plus more if necessary)
1/2 teaspoon maple flavor
1 1/2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 tablespoons brewed coffee

Make the pull-apart bread dough: Grease and flour a loaf pan and set aside. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, brown the 2 tablespoons of butter. Let it bubble and foam and when you see it start to brown, stir it so that it browns evenly. When it’s the color of dark honey, remove it from the heat and pour it into a large heat-safe mixer bowl to cool. In the same saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the milk until it bubbles. Remove it from the heat and pour it into the bowl with the butter. Let these cool until they’re about 100-110 degrees F (use a candy thermometer to check).

Stir the sugar and yeast into the milk/butter mixture and let it sit for a few minutes. Stir in pumpkin, salt, and 1 cup flour. If you haven’t already, fit your mixer with a dough hook. Add the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring between each addition. When the dough is combined, knead on low speed with a dough hook until smooth and elastic (about 4 minutes with a mixer).

Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Let it rise in a warm place for about an hour until it doubles in size (After it rises, you can put it in the fridge overnight to use it in the morning, but let it sit out for half an hour before rolling if you do.)

Make the filling: While the dough is rising, whisk the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Toward the end of the rising time, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter for the filling in the saucepan over medium-high heat and brown it as directed above. Put it in a small heat-safe bowl to cool for use later.

Shape and bake pull-apart bread: Knead a sprinkling of flour (about 1 tablespoon) into the dough, deflating it, and recover it. Let it sit to relax for 5 minutes. Flour a large work surface and turn your rested dough out onto it. Roll it out to a 20 inch long and 12 inch wide rectangle, lifting corners periodically to make sure it’s not sticking. If it seems to be snapping back, cover it with your damp towel and let it rest for 5 minutes before continuing (I had to do this twice during the process).

Spread the browned butter over the surface of the dough with a pastry brush and then sprinkle the sugar mixture over the top, patting it down to ensure it mostly sticks. Joy the Baker encourages you to use it all even though it seems like a ton, but I admit I got squeamish at the amount and only used most. It was fine despite my nerves. Go ahead and pile it on.

With the long edge of the rectangle toward you, cut it into 6 strips (do this by cutting the rectangle in half, then cutting each half into equal thirds. I used a pizza cutter). Stack these strips on top of one another and cut the resulting stack into 6 even portions (again, cut it in half, and then cut the halves into equal thirds). Place these portions one at a time into your greased loaf pan, pressing them up against each other to fit them all in. Cover the pan with your damp cloth and place it in a warm place for 30-45 minutes to double in size.

While dough rises, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (or 325 if you have a glass loaf dish instead of a metal pan). When it’s risen, place the loaf in the center of the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until dark golden brown on top (if you take it out at light golden brown, it’s liable to be raw in the middle, so let it get good and dark). Cool for 15-20 minutes on a cooling rack in the loaf pan while you make the glaze.

Make the glaze: Brown the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat as directed above. Mix together all ingredients and stir well until smooth. It should be thick but pourable. Taste and adjust as needed. Remove loaf from pan and generously drizzle glaze over the warm loaf.