Conversations with Chino: Pops on Puente

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Ask anyone that knows Pops what comes to mind when they think of him and they’ll surely answer music, or more specifically, Tito Puente.

Nearly every memory I have of living with Pops involves music because he was always playing an instrument.  There were cowbells and congas and timbales and pianos and saxophones and clarinets and of course the infamous flute.  The flute was like a third appendage for Pops.  He played the flute EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for as long as I can remember for what he called “Jam Sessions.”  Can you imagine being six years old and it’s eleven o’clock on a Tuesday and there is literally a full on Latin Jazz “Jam Session”  going on in the other room?  Between the non-stop Latin music and the billowing smoke from my Ma’s chain smoking, I thought our home was a jazz lounge. (Update MA hasn’t smoked in thirteen years! How awesome is that?)

Pops didn’t just play the flute at home.  Under the front seat of his car he kept a TRAVEL FLUTE.  Yes.  You read that correctly and the travel flute was not like some hatchet kept behind glass for use only in case of an emergency.  The travel flute was constantly pulled out EVERYWHERE.  BBQ at a friends house? “Let me go get my flute” he’d announce and everyone would get that look on their face like they knew the get together was about to go up a notch.  But it wasn’t just parties.  We could be having a family picnic at a park and the flute would make an appearance.  We could be at a wedding or party or really just about anywhere.  Family cruise to the Caribbean? Yes, the flute came along.  That’s how he’d win talent shows and make friends with EVERYONE on the boat.  “Hey!  Isn’t your dad the flute player?” crowds would yell as my brother and I would run away.

His love of music flows into his love for the infamous mambo king Tito Puente.  Pops followed Puente throughout his entire career.  He followed him, he emulated him and he stalked (or met) him on several occasions. One of the more memorable times was when Tito was playing with The Florida Orchestra in the late ’90s while I was on staff.  Pops was backstage and at rehearsals and up close and personal at an intimate reception.  It was a great night that I’ll never forget.  I know Pops won’t either.

Here’s Pops on Puente.  Enjoy.

MA, Tito and Pops.

MA, Tito and Pops.

 

Conversations with Chino: NYC & the University of South First Street

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His name is Edgar, but they call him Chino.  To me he’s Pops.

Pops isn’t typical.  He’s not the typical dad or the typical husband or the typical grandpa.  He’s not the typical anything.  He marches to the beat of his own drum and he plays that drum LOUDLY.

Even though I’ve had a lifetime to try and figure him out I can’t.  But sometimes it’s fun to try and take a deeper look.  What’s going on in that head?

Here’s the first in a short series of conversations with Chino.  This one is about his beginnings in NYC.

 

COUNTDOWN TO SUMMER!

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This is the first May in three years that I am not in a frantic scramble to find a school that meets our tween’s ADHD needs.  CAN I GET AN AMEN PEOPLE!????  Big sigh of relief over here because let’s face it- May is a challenge all its own without added drama.

We’ve talked about it before – you know the drill.  Moms everywhere are run ragged in May with endless to do lists and dozens of year end programs that really WE COULD DO WITHOUT.  More places to have to show up to requiring showering and non yoga clothes.  Um.  No thank you.  We are already busy trying to fill the endless days of summer  because our sanity depends on it.

We are desperately perpetuating the autopilot ballet we have mastered so well over NINE MONTHS (oddly enough the exact amount of time it took to make these little people) that keeps all the balls in the air at all times.  You know, the chauffeuring, the homework checking, the school project nightmares, the flow of clean uniforms and PE clothes, the endless buffet of meals!  Is anyone else wanting to board up their kitchen?  Please family.  PLEASE.  Just stop eating.

All these things are in continuous flow for eight months.  Then May happens.

May shoots out of a cannon creating shock and awe with Teacher Appreciation week.  Now these are amazing people who truly deserve to go on a weeklong cruise, so WHY DON’T WE JUST POOL OUR MONEY AND JUST GIVE THEM THAT??  Instead, we have themes for days on end where somehow we have to remember when to bring in flowers, or candies, or poems or some random thing that I can’t imagine them even wanting. So on top of all that’s required we do an additional litany of things that we feel would be more appreciated.  This year I’ve spent an entire week at school helping to put on an over the top lunch each day for these amazing teachers.  I’ve loved every minute of putting smiles on their faces and yum in their bellies.  What a privilege to serve them!  But it’s exhausting and I’m pretty sure I’ve gained five pounds and need to sleep for five days to regroup!!

That’s just the start. Next up is all the events.  Poetry recitals.  Plays. Concerts.  Art showcases.  Muffins with Mom.  Five or more field trips.  Class parties.  Sign ups for at LEAST ten events along with permission slips. Don’t get me going on snack sign up for this stuff because I just made more than fifty enchiladas when erroneously sent a reminder from school that ended up being from LAST YEAR!  Could’ve used that info before step #25 in enchilada prep!! This is all in addition to the litany of regular stuff. AND this requires showing up AND dressing up.  Just getting these kids together and to school is a challenge, now WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF THE CAR AND ADULT?  Please make it stop.

So by mid-month, our crumpled to-do lists are in hand and Chariots of Fire is blaring in our heads and we vow to see it to the end because summer is coming!  And that means no homework and no alarm clocks and no driving before the sun comes up and NO PACKING OF LUNCHES!  It’s a beautiful thing.  And we are almost there people.  Just keep walking toward the light while you cross those items off your list.

As for me, I’m celebrating early.  I know that’s dicey since we are just at the end of week one and May can be sneaky.  But I’m not searching for a new school so right there I AM WINNING!  And my tween is making some strides.  Dare I say – flourishing  even – just a tad?  And my teen is barreling through high school like a boss.  And there’s this clenched fist full of confetti I’ve been carrying around for a long time but haven’t had cause to use since we’d been school searching and switching. Luckily I’m an optimist and I’ve kept it handy – even when dragging through the darkest of the valleys – hoping to use it one day soon.

It may take a crow bar to pry my contorted white-knuckled hand open at this point, but summer’s coming and I’m launching some confetti.  Come join me and cheer on the dawn of JUNE!!!!

EATING HEALTHY IN THE NEW YEAR? ADD THIS RECIPE TO YOUR REPERTOIRE!

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As the ball drops on New Years Eve one thing is for sure – most people have committed to eating healthier in the new year.  Many folks fall off the wagon by January’s end, but whether or not you’re sticking to your guns this is a super yum recipe that is easy to make and serves as a great base for a larger meal.

You can use this recipe as a delish side dish, healthy snack or as a base for grilled chicken, fish or any protein to make a super healthy meal with flavor that’s off the hook.  It literally only takes minutes.

Here’s what you’ll need for the salad:

  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 2 ears fresh corn (I used canned corn ’cause I was in a rush)
  • handful of chopped fresh cilantro

Here’s what you’ll need for the dressing:

  • juice of one lime
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper
  • garlic clove
  • dash of cayenne pepper

Grill the corn over medium heat for 10 minutes. Cut the corn off the cob and set aside to cool  (I used canned corn because it was too late for grilling.  If you go this route, add a tbsp of olive oil to a pan, sautee the corn and add a couple dashes of chipotle seasoning.)

  1. Prepare the corn
  2. Half the tomatoes, cut the avocado and cilantro.
  3. Mix dressing ingredients

YOU’RE DONE!  Or be creative and add other stuff – romaine, broccoli, asparagus…whatever!!

This is one of those recipes that calls for little effort but yields big flavor.   Let me know what you think of it – and post a pic below!

HAPPY EATING!

CHRISTMAS CAN BE CRAZY…AND PERFECT.

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When you’re on the first leg of a roller coaster going “click, click, click, click, click” and you finally make it to the last click at the top with a perfect view of all the way down – this can be the very description of Christmas Eve.  Because Christmas Eve can be the launching pad to crazy so to speak.  You know what I’m talking about.

Christmas is the holiday of all holidays.  Expectations are never higher.  Even if you’ve rationalized it all in your mind, our hearts are eternally set on a perfect Christmas.  It’s just how we’re wired.

Just two years ago, after putting the last set of matching pajamas on edge of a guest’s bed and the last of the presents under the tree, I found out I had the flu.  THE. FLU.  The diagnosis came as the doctor was explaining I was to be quarantined for FIVE DAYS – which meant I was missing Christmas that year.  Along with the house full of guests on their way to stay for several days, and all the food and fun.  Yup.  It was definitely a LET DOWN.  Especially since I’d prepared for so long and anticipated this time together so much.  But it was THIS Christmas – the one I totally missed – that taught me something I had NEVER thought about.

Christmas is PERFECT.  It literally stands on it’s own as PERFECTION.  Look into the picture, you know, the manger scene.  Re-read the scripture we gloss over so easily, missing the reality.

Is Mary freaking out because there was no room at the Hyatt and they’re traveling and she is GIVING BIRTH TO THE MESSIAH?  Is Joseph holding his nose and searching for Febreeze because they’re literally in a manger?  Is it a scene of chaos and disappointment?  Are their hearts heavy and sad because it didn’t unfold the way they had expected?

There is nothing in the manger scene besides PERFECT PEACE and AWE.  Glory to God in the highest because HE is the only One that can take what would be a dismal picture by our expectations and make it absolutely perfect.

Luke 2:20 “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” This manger scene is the fulfillment of God’s promise.  THIS IS OUR GIFT.  Nothing can be added or taken away from it.  It is perfect, eternal and ALL OURS. 1 John 5:11 “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”

God provides us with the perfect Christmas every year – because it’s this time of year we are reminded that THE GREATEST GIFT of all is ours for the asking.  It reminds us we are LOVED and CHERISHED and SPECIAL and the only problem that really matters is already TAKEN CARE OF.

So.  Now what?  Well, when the mother in law insists on bringing green Jello salad with marshmallows in it instead of the Italian Wedding Cake you suggested (this may or may not have actually happened just days ago in my life) – it has zero impact.  Zilch.  It doesn’t go with my menu or seemingly help what I was trying to achieve for Christmas dinner. But it just doesn’t matter. I’m literally “Tra La La…nothing to see here”.

Because one year God pulled me close.  That Christmas when I lay in bed so sick and alone.  I could hear Christmas happening just outside my bedroom door, but I wasn’t there.  He took all my expectations away that year and invited me to lean into the manger scene to see that God’s ALREADY made Christmas perfect and we are invited to just enjoy it.

Baking therapy that’ll shift you into Christmas gear! Here’s one of my favorite recipes.

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It sounds weird but if you’re exhausted and wanna take a break from your Christmas to-do list, a great way to wind down is to do some baking.  You can involve the kids if you want to have some quality time or you can pour yourself a glass of Sangria and go it alone.  Either way, put on some Christmas music, light your tree and slow everything down a bit while you make something delicious you can enjoy and share with your neighbors.  Your taste buds will be tingling and you’ll be refreshed by the time you’re done!

Easy & Unexpected: Coconut Macaroons

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So, my cousin Liz is a chef.  This comes in very handy.  One Christmas during a visit she graciously did a cooking class with the kids and shared this incredibly easy and delicious recipe.  And when I say easy – this is barely baking people.  It’s more like throwing things in a bowl and making magic.

Here’s what you’ll need:

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  1. A bag of coconut
  2. Half can of sweetened condensed milk
  3. 1 egg white beaten to soft peaks
  4. 1 tsp of vanilla
  5. Pinch of salt
  6. 1/2 cup of chocolate chips

Here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees convection
  2. Mix all the ingredients and drop small firmly-packed scoops on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper

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3. Bake for 20-25 minutes

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That’s it!  The most work you’ll do is cleaning your mixing bowl.  In thirty minutes you’ll have these sweet cuties as an unexpected addition to your baking arsenal.

Try them out and let me know how it goes!  Eat them or give them away.  If you decided to just pour the sangria and look at the pictures that’s fine too.  Either way leave me a comment and have a wonderful Christmas!

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When heading back to school is like walking a gangplank: For parents with kids that need more

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It’s been really quiet on the blog for the past two months. The reason?  Going back to school left me literally holding my breath and apparently writing is impossible when you’re not breathing.

For most families, heading back to school is full of excitement.  Anticipating new milestones is coupled with measuring growing kids and nostalgia.  This, of course, is balanced with unending supply lists, check ups and clothes shopping.  I could just park on the issue of clothes shopping with kids, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity let’s move on.  (Seriously stores need to install parental lounges during this season so we have somewhere to decompress during this process because KIDS CAN BE INCOHERENT ANIMALS WHEN IT COMES TO CLOTHES SHOPPING.)

Back to topic: There are typical families with parades of first day happy pictures and then there are some parents, such as me and the hubbs, that are still duct taping our brains back together after barely surviving the last few school years.  And the reality is that our tween is doing the same – with his heart.

If your kid has ADD, ADHD, OCD, APD, Autism, Anxiety, Aspergers, or any other of the dozens of diagnosis that are so prevalent these days, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  With these kids school can mean heartbreak far beyond the typical minefields of dealing with a class bully or having trouble fitting in.  This is a pervasive heartbreak that can squash all hope.  A heartbreak that comes when your kid realizes the teacher resents the challenge he presents in the classroom – or when she begins to feels different – or when getting through each school day is an exhausting marathon where they always seem to end in last place.

A parent’s heart can’t help but break when their kid’s heart is breaking.  And the truth is, a  heart that stays broken for too long has trouble hanging on to hope.

For us, the downward spiral at school was precipitated by horrifying side effects of ADHD meds. No meds led to low impulse control, morning meltdowns, horrific teacher punishments, and basically the upheaval of daily life as we knew it.  The sad part is THIS CAN BE THE TYPICAL LIFE OF A FAMILY WITH ADHD OR OTHER DIAGNOSED KIDS. Take these days and all their intense negativity and emotional drain and add to it the constant parental advocacy that is necessary at school and getting through the year can literally leave you all hanging on to sanity by a thread.

The reality is that school typically does not look the same for the child that struggles.  The educator that handles a myriad of students with nurturing and inspiring care can be the same one that becomes unglued and demeaning to a child who struggles.  The teaching efforts that are made in a general classroom setting – even stretching to include the IEPs and special needs – are just not going to always cover the kid who needs more.  While it’s easy to shift blame to teachers who continually forget our kid needs written reminders, or extra time, or extra patience – when you step back and look at all it takes to parent these kids – how can we realistically expect that a teacher caring for so many could possibly do it?  As one educator told us “We are simply not equipped to handle your child’s needs.  We are a round hole and your son is a square peg.”

BACK TO BASICS                                                                                                           After a failed school change, we decided to reassess our kid’s needs.  Our education plans had been whittled down to hoping for a positive school year where our kid could regain some confidence and love learning again. We were finally at a point of letting go and completely re-prioritizing what school should be for him.

RECOGNIZE WHAT’S NOT WORKING AND WHY                                                             Sometimes a failing situation can be of our own doing. For instance, we thought the calm, nurturing and open environment of Montessori would be exactly what our kinestetic learner needed for a positive change.  It failed MISERABLY.  A child with high anxiety shuts down in an environment of choice like Montessori and testing revealed our kinesthetic learner was actually an auditory learner.  We’d completely missed the mark.

TESTING IS KEY                                                                                                             Testing can assess more than smarts.  Do you know HOW HE PROCESSES information?  What is her RECALL SPEED?  Exactly what poses his biggest LEARNING HURDLES? WHAT IS HER OPTIMAL CLASSROOM ATMOSPHERE?  A psychological / educational evaluation is one route to try.  This exhaustive process provides a wealth of information that can be exactly what you need to pick a fitting school.  And these days most of us have school options with varied learning environments to choose from.  For us, this testing was definitive in telling us vital information we needed to make a school choice.

THINGS CAN TURN A CORNER                                                                                   With solid data showing that our child needed a school specializing in ADHD, we felt confident about making that change. Now, for the first time in a handful of years, we start our day with smiles. There is a deep understanding of our tween by his teachers – in fact, WE are learning from them also.  We see confidence where there was waning self-esteem and excitement where there was detachment.  It isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t solve all our problems, but it is absolutely nothing short of welcomed wonderful.  And since school is no longer a source of constant crisis, we are now free to address and move forward on other issues we need to tackle.

START OVER                                                                                                                Parenting a child with a diagnosis that affects their learning and personality is a really tough road.  It means grieving many of the expectations you may have had for your child.  They may have to go a different school path than planned.  Their sights may be set in unfamiliar directions and their interests may be well off the beaten path.  My advice?  Go back to the start.  Take your clenched hands filled with the things you planned and let them all go.  It’s not only okay, it’s the only way you can take hold of all the amazing, unexpected, quirky and wonderful that is in store.  Remember, this is their story.  Typical parenting means taking lead, but with these we must instead gently navigate the unfolding of their chapters.  While we may be scared of what the page turn will bring, we are meant move forward with hope and great expectation every step of the way.

Making Sweet Family Memories – Even If It Kills Us!

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FullSizeRender-7Our home is often referred to as the “Key B&B” because it not only looks like it could be a Bed and Breakfast – it serves as one to our family and friends on an ongoing basis.  We host everything from afternoon barbecues to five-day extravaganzas where we hunker down and never even leave the house.  And why would we?  With a continuous parade of food and family fun who needs the outside world!?  Or changing out of swim suits or pajamas for that matter?

With some planning and a helpful husband it really isn’t that big of a deal to host.  And truly, opening our home to others makes us happy because it seems to make others happy.  Making happy is low pressure.  We can deliver on that pretty easily.  Throw another cobbler in the oven, put out some fresh fish tacos and fire up the blender and you pretty much make happy.  But when it’s a long-anticipated family reunion of sorts, with big expectations and even bigger personalities in the mix, the fish taco fail safe recipe is not a sure thing.

This past week was one of those times.  My sister in law was coming for a long-anticipated, off-then-on-again visit with my two nephews who are off the charts on the cuteness scale.  They’re pure butter.  I can barely keep the barrage of kisses and hug squeezes to an acceptable level. I mean, seriously, look at these faces!

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Anyway, since our visits are infrequent and this crazy life has thrown in crazy circumstance there was high emotion and high expectation and that alone can be a fast track to derailing a trip quickly.  I was feeling the pressure.  I wanted magic moments for my MA who was desperate for some baby bonding time.  I hoped for Pops to see how important it is to squeeze on the actual babies who are usually just on the other end of a computer screen.  My kids were anxious for the family time with their cousins.  And we were all clamoring to give my sister in law a much-needed change of scenery and some heart-felt love to roll around in.

Our plan was to eat, and laugh and hang and just be together!  And boy did we!  We ate.  We ate often and we ate a LOT!  There were three squares a day plus snacks and desserts.  We laughed. We splashed for hours in the pool and at the beach and we shared sunsets and sandy walks. We somehow really got it all in there.

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But we also had our dicey moments.  Like the littlest one exercising his lungs at the highest pitch possible.  I mean blood curdling “someone just got murdered” screeching for hours on end.  If there were wallpaper on my walls it surely would’ve peeled by now.  Bless the sweet boy!!  Or then there was Pops…who kinda forgets that other people are actually here and he gets lost in his own moments.  Like blaring Latin jazz music on the Lido Deck while he enjoys the pool by himself because all others with normal hearing had to run inside to save themselves.  Yeah…that was a three-hour, one-man party.  Or the ADHD tween that decides he doesn’t want to play with the three-year-old cousin because he can only do the social thing for so long.  Or the Nana that can’t help but hire a photographer because she has to capture the moment and get a photo with all her grandbabies.  And we all KNOW the pressure leading up to and during a family photo session. There should be special muscle relaxers given as you book a session!  Night. Mare.  Wait…add the littlest cutie screeching THROUGHOUT said photo session.  THE. WHOLE. TIME. Now Nana is looking weary with worry at how the shoot is going to turn out.  And the teen is starting to complain: “Why are we having to do this?”  And the tween goes missing because there’s rocks to explore.  Pops is just mesmerized by the sunset sky and literally gets lost in it and is oblivious to everything else.

Sister in law is hiding behind a rock in hopes that the littlest cutie stops screeching if she’s out of sight.  “SMILE!!!!”  When it’s the last thing anyone wants to do.  Too staged.  Too strained.  Too posed.  These are precisely the reasons why family get togethers can go wrong.  They are pushed past what comes natural.  You can almost hear the screams through the photo.

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My parent’s 17-year-old dog that leaves a trail of pee and poop.  Yeah…that’s stressful.  Even annoying.  And it happened more times than we can count.  But THAT is not what makes family time go south.  Knowing ahead of time and accepting that a dog that’s older than Abraham himself is going to mess on my carpet continually is what gives me the mindset to shrug it off and just deal when it happens.  Knowing and accepting ahead of time that Pops will get lost in his own moments and may or may not notice a near drowning child in arms reach helps me get past it.  Remembering that Nana will thoroughly question my practices regarding the disposal of any food items that have been out on a buffet for the better part of a day helps me shrug it off. These are the things we KNOW will happen and accepting those ahead of time makes it inconsequential when it happens.

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Are you having family over and anticipating a little tension?  Make simple goals.  Goals that are actually in YOUR grasp.  My goals were to provide meals that kept everyone going and to open our home and anything we have to be at the disposal of our guests for their enjoyment.  At the end of the day these are the only things I can control.  Also, and this one is important so lean in here: BE EXPECTANT OF THE SCENARIOS YOU KNOW ARE GOING TO HAPPEN. This is your family and/or your good friends and you didn’t just meet them yesterday. You are well aware of the things that can and WILL happen.  Just be waiting for the doozies, then cross them off the list when they happen and move on.

Expectations are our worst enemy.  We tend to build them up based on people that don’t exist in our circles – only in our minds.  Then we impose those expectations which makes things strained  because it just isn’t our natural way.

You can actually have a load of fun with the wacko people that are under your roof – just take your head out of the clouds, plan for reality AND ENJOY YOUR FAMILY JUST AS THEY ARE.  Take the time you’ve been given together and make it special by keeping it real.  It can actually be spectacular and wonderful.  Dare I say PRECIOUS?

If we look past our expectations we are free to catch the wonderful and sweet that will just happen on it’s own, because every family has it’s own brand of beautiful.

What’s your best tip for keeping things afloat when your house is full of family? What’s your biggest fail?

Easiest “fancy” dessert EVER!

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If you’re looking for something decadent, either to share or to devour yourself, you may be tempted to browse your local bakeries for options.  Sure you can find something special if you go this route and it’ll probably taste anywhere from pretty good to spectacular but it’ll cost you.   And if you’re fairly social and looking to bring something special to a dinner party or add something unexpected to your own party menu for use on a regular basis, then it’s a good idea to have a “go to” that you can whip up on your own.

Don’t think this is up your alley?  Like to keep things simple?  Then this recipe is perfect for you because it’s so super simple you’ll be a little embarrassed at  how impressed your friends will be when you present it to them.

Ganache has panache.  Period.  It sounds fancy.  It tastes decadent.  It’s a little mysterious.  And let’s be serious, anything French connected to food is simply wonderful.  Almost better than how delicious it is, is how easy this beauty is to make.  The cake pictured above can be coming out of your kitchen faster than you can drive to your local gourmet bakery, pick one out and plunk down at least thirty bucks for it.

You in?  Here we go!

1.  BUY AN INTERESTING CAKE PAN

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The shape of your cake is what’s going to give your ganache a beautiful landscape to stretch out on and show itself off.  Look for something with height that’s different and spectacular in a bundt shape.  I received this pan as a gift a decade ago and it’s still in perfect condition.  For somewhere in the $30-40 dollar range you can go to Michael’s and find something that makes you happy.  This little investment will prove more than worth it and the rest of your recipe will be chump change.

2. CAKE MIX AND BAKING SPRAY

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Yes.  It’s a boxed mix.  I know, pick your jaw up.  I said SIMPLE.  In Spanish that’s “FACIL.”  Say it with me.  F – A – C -I – L.  Listen, if you have a scratch recipe you can’t part with then knock yourself out.  The truth is, this little boxed mix comes out absolutely rich and moist every single time and there are no prizes for toiling over a scratch recipe.  In the time it takes to measure out 13 ingredients you’ll already have this baby in the oven and be sitting on the couch thumbing through a magazine.  You choose.

The baking spray is a MUST.  We are using odd shaped cake pans and those definitions in your cake aren’t going to be pretty if you don’t use the spray.

Follow your mix directions and spray your pan well before pouring in your mix.  Your new pan is already doing the work for you as that cake begins rising into a beautiful shape.

3. MAKE YOUR GANACHE

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I know.  You’re worried.  You’ve already furrowed your brow when you read “Make your ganache”.  Pull yourself together and just measure:

  1. a half cup of heavy whipping cream
  2. eight ounces of semi sweet chocolate.

Pour your cream into a pan and begin to warm it on a medium to medium high setting.  Add your chips slowly and stir continuously.  I think I over mixed on this one because you can see the air bubbles in the picture.  It doesn’t matter, ganache is so forgiving.  Once I pour it on the cake the bubbles will be gone.

Mix your chocolate until everything is a smooth consistency.  You can add a tablespoon of veggie oil at the end for sheen, but that’s optional.  Let it sit for about ten minutes and cool down, giving a couple of stirs while you wait.  Talk to it.  It’ll tell you if it’s ready to meet the cake.  You’re looking for smooth and creamy, but not runny.  If it’s runny add more chips and stir it back on the burner.  Too thick?  Add more cream and put it back not the burner.

What you’re looking for is something that will be pourable but thick and not soupy.

4. “CAKE MEETS GANACHE”

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This is where you look at your cake’s beautiful curves and cover them up with deliciousness.  Very carefully you’re going to gradually pour the ganache at the top of the cake and make your way around the highest ridges.  The ganache will fall into place on its own BECAUSE THESE TWO WERE JUST MADE FOR EACH OTHER.  They know what they’re doing and you are merely making introductions. You can cover it all evenly on a cooling rack then move it to your cake plate afterwards, or you can drape it over the top and let it do its own thing like the one pictured below.

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VOILA! A chocolate ganache cake – that looks like it could’ve come from your nearest bakery and tastes just as good too!  Except YOU made it.  You didn’t even have to leave the house and let’s face it, getting things done while in your pi’s is better.  It just is.

Buen Provecho!  Please share some pics of your own creations.  I can’t wait to see what comes out of your kitchen.

YOU CAN’T DIE ON VACATION

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Vacation. It’s the inoculation for fear. What is it about vacations that makes people feel adventurous and invincible?  Things my family would never consider at home have an allure when we’re away.  Without even a consult, the hubbs is automatically signing waivers and handing over cash for us to try something crazy and we all cheer him on! What’s wrong with us?

I didn’t take a lot of time to join in the research on our recent vacay to Costa Rica. Actually, I took zero time to help plan as it was May and we’ve previously discussed the nightmare that month is for moms (see the previous post for details).  So, for once, I just decided to be surprised.

SURPRISE ONE: WHITEWATER RAFTING

Okay, so why do people do this?  It’s like saying “Hey, wanna risk your life and jump in this washing machine of death and hope you make your way out after the spin cycle?” First of all, the tumultuous river water was FREEZING!  Then, in looking around, I noticed everyone was a LOT younger than the hubbs and I. This is not a confidence builder. Luckily, I spotted the nice Indian family from Chicago we met on the van ride over.  The mom looked insanely nervous, as did their two kids, who were on the verge of tears.  It’s obvious this was totally the dad’s idea and he, like us, believes you can’t die on vacation.  This scene immediately made me feel fearless for some crazy reason.  All of a sudden I’m thinking: “Let’s do this thing!” Gustavo, our raft guide, was incredibly friendly and made the trip feel fun and practically safe.  When we weren’t paddling for our lives I noticed the river could be serene and beautiful. It was a breathtaking surreal mix of lush greens with the cleanest air I’ve ever breathed.  Exotic birds were everywhere and there was a soundtrack of nature I’d never heard.  As the boys jumped out of the raft to float down the river at the adventure’s end, I felt like we had peeked into an exotic private world.  Thumbs up for surprise one. Bonus: We were still alive!

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SURPRISE TWO: FOREST NIGHT TOUR

We moved on to Monteverde, which is a lush jungle-like cloud forest reserve of wild untouched land that’s home to stuff you mostly just see in books.  Okay, so that part sounds cool, right?  Now, how ’bout grabbing a flashlight and trekking through it IN SEARCH OF CREATURES AT NIGHT!? Yeah, so this is totally where Blair Witch Project and Pretador collide with our vacation.  While nothing about this makes sense I was absolutely all about it.  Yes, pit vipers can kill you.  Oh and look…there’s one right there.  (Not scared.)  I was just wondering why our path was called the Tarantula trail when our very sweet guide, Christian, pointed a HUGE one out to us.  (Interesting, but still not scared.) All sorts of scary sounds oozing from the darkness begin to engulf us as we walked through the area for the TWO HOUR TOUR OF DARKNESS AND DEATH. There was an olingo climbing above us in the trees and insects that look like leaves.  Everything had such a surreal factor that I’m convinced that’s why I wasn’t scared.  It was all so UNreal that my mind couldn’t process that it WAS real.  This was a truly once in a lifetime adventure with two thumbs up.  Bonus: No deadly bites! Double bonus: The tween was scared and mom wasn’t. Mark that one down.

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SURPRISE THREE: Animal encounter and volunteering at PROYECTO ASIS

An interesting and beautiful drive away from the cloud forest where we were staying brought us to Proyecto Asis – a wildlife rescue center where the hubbs had planned a tour and volunteer session for the fam.  This was a great opportunity for us to get a hands on education about the unique wildlife of Costa Rica.  Our guide Carlos, and really everyone we met, had a deep love and appreciation for the land and it’s wildlife. We met monkeys, pigs, birds, snakes, caymans, an ocelot and everything in between.  After being introduced to each of the wild residents there we enjoyed fresh coffee and fruit before preparing and serving lunch to all the animals.  It was a blast!  Well, everything except the tween sitting on a ledge with legs dangling and a CAYMAN sunning THREE FEET from him. He was surprised by my near heart attack for some reason.  Besides that scare this was a human opposable thumb UP! Bonus: The tween’s glasses were stolen by a monkey who proceeded to WEAR THEM very proudly.  It was perfection.

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SURPRISE FOUR: EXTREME ZIP- LINING AND HANGING BRIDGES

Zip lining is a hallmark of Costa Rica, so if you’re gonna do it ya might as well go BIG or go home.  We did a THREE HOUR, THIRTEEN zip line tour of the longest and highest zip lines in all of Costa Rica.  IT. WAS. AMAZING.  The longest one was over a kilometer in length and the heights were WELL ABOVE the forest canopy.  It was like sailing over a sea of giant broccoli.  On the last one the boys went “Superman” style and were completely suspended in a horizontal position.  It was such an adrenaline rush I’d nearly forgotten that the tween went missing around the second zip line as he went ahead with the guides  INSTEAD OF HIS FAMILY.  Are you noticing a pattern here?  Yes.  He will end up killing his mama one day soon.

The next day we spent several hours on a hiking tour of eight “hanging bridges” which meant we were dangling hundreds of feet above jungle floors in search of wildlife. This was another breathtaking adventure with vistas we will never forget.  Big thumbs up on both of these. Bonus: I even looked down a couple of times!

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MORE SURPRISES: UNPLANNED CRAZY

Crazy follows us…I’ve told you this.  And crazy doesn’t TAKE a vacation just because we’re ON vacation.

One episode was the tween running ahead on a waterfall hike and me finally catching up and looking on from afar as some dude plucked him from rushing waters as the kid was pinned on rocks trapped in a strong current.  I’m thinking: “Did somebody just save my kid’s life? Who was that?” In all the mayhem we couldn’t find the guy afterwards.  Yeah.  That happened.

Then there was the bizarre yoga session in a gorgeous outdoor yoga studio.  I was so excited until…our instructor knew zero English and was so stuffy from allergies she was completely intelligible.  I don’t think SHE could understand what she was saying. She announced she was doing a meditative chanting class.  I woke up at 6 am to do chanting!??? And how do you chant what you can’t understand!?   It was beyond ridiculous. The one other guest and I could not make eye contact because we were already giggling to ourselves. This made my second yoga attempt at another location even more anticipated.  I was excited, settled and set up – taking deep breaths – feeling relaxed.  Then a dude walks in with video equipment.  “Señora we tape today for resort video.  I try and not get your face.” Seriously? My peace just cracked like an egg.

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It’s hard to forget the unnamed sickness the hubbs contracted which kept him nearly bedridden for FOUR DAYS.  He mostly just moaned while sweaty and delirious for hours on end. He’d try and join us for activities during the day as much as he could, then at night he was just a mess. He looked near death but refused a doctor visit.   We had to just vacay without him, but we did do night time vigils to make sure he was breathing. We’re not savages!

Then there was our bumpy two – turned four – hour drive with the gas gauge teetering on reaaaaaaally low.  Car sputtering.  Windows down to conserve fuel.  Nervous silence. Nothing and no one in sight. Family praying for a miracle.  Finally, I see a man standing out on the road and we pull over!! “Hola Señor – necessitamos gasolina.” He points down the road to his friend’s house only two hundred meters away explaining how lucky we were since this is the ONLY gasoline between where we were and where we were going.  What are the odds the man would be standing there as we passed to tell us where the ONLY gas would be?  Our tank audibly exhaled as we removed the cap and our lovely new friends laughed with us on the side of a very dusty, rocky road.

Praise God for not ever taking vacations from watching over our crazy selves!  Miracles still happen.  And you notice them more when they come in response to the crazy.

Another miracle is that we made it home alive.  Our daring adventures are just memories now and we’re safely on the couch recuperating and recounting the fun.  Let’s here it for summertime fun!  And living to tell about it.

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