Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rum Raisin Apple Cake

I used to be a pretty avid baker even though I don't have much of a sweet tooth myself. These days, with fewer people around to feed the results to, I don't bake that often.  It has to be something that really speaks to me. The rum raisin apple cake posted on alpineberry seemed like just the kind of thing I would love and actually eat more than one piece of.

The finished product.
It's not the greatest picture
but still looks pretty tasty!

This recipe is very simple and the cake comes together quickly. I would recommend making it exactly as written on that blog. I did, however, make two modifications you may or may not consider. First, the original recipe says to boil the raisins in water first, then pour rum over the warm raisins. Instead, I put the rum and raisins in a small bowl and microwaved for about 40 seconds.  Then I let them rest while getting everything else together.  The raisins plumped up and absorbed almost all of the rum. It is possible the cake would have been even more moist if I had followed the first steps as indicated.

Second, I didn't have apricot preserves so I used homemade Gooseberry jam instead (I strained out the whole berries). I think you could use just about any jam/preserves successfully. An excellent and easy recipe.

I first discovered the alpineberry blog when looking for the "right" lemon square recipe. I read the description Mary gave and knew I found it. I was right!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

This ad was in my latest edition of Horses for Life. If only Patrik Kittel had this device, all would be well, right?  I like how it makes the whole concept ridiculous. As they say in the article that follows, enough is enough.

Click to enlarge

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Benefits of Video

ETA - I just got an update on Ruby! She was adopted on Saturday, Nov 14th at 11:47am. That is just 2 days after we dropped her off to be spayed. The humane society reported that she was great and they were pleased with the fabulous job we did with her. Yay!! Knowing we helped her get a great start makes it all worth while (even if I was secretly hoping she'd come back to us!)
I finally managed to sort through some video my hubby took last week during a lesson on Brumby. I haven't really looked at it closely yet. Most of it isn't really interesting enough to be blog-worthy but I thought I'd post a short clip anyway.

This is towards the end of warm-up.

Even though they aren't really interesting to put in a blog, I love having my lessons videotaped for my own learning. I have to admit that I usually cringe when I watch myself but I learn so much about how I'm moving and how the horse is moving. Lately, I am finding it very interesting to compare videos from my "old" lesson barn where I've been riding the same horse for over a year, with my lessons on Brumby. The arena may be nicer at Brumby's stable but I definitely have to re-learn some equitation skills on him. It's weird.

For example, my back has been doing very well lately with some new physiotherapy exercises. I am obviously happy about that but it also means a certain amount of re-learning how my body is moving when it feels a certain way and vice versa. I spent one whole ride working on relaxing at the sitting trot so I wasn't bouncing on Brumby so much. Watching the first couple videos, I can see why my instructor told me I needed to make sure I don't relax quite so much from my waist UP, lol. Sitting trot on my Black Beauty at the other barn? I could do it all day, same as always!

Hopefully I can continue to get occasional video support to my lessons throughout the winter.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Sometimes, I wish there was a giant compass in the arena.

This way, when I want to do a 20m circle, I will do a 20m circle! Not a half circle (we seem to like to drift straight on the far side, especially on the left rein). Not a 17.653m circle. 20m. 20 true meters! Really, is it that hard?? Don't even get me started on 10m circles or voltes!

I am pretty good at Math. I actually like algebra & geometry. As a researcher, I am constantly testing hypotheses with statistical analyses. But apparently I suck at circles. Oh, I can ride a nice enough circle alright...if I don't try to think about anything else at the same time :-/

Perhaps I'm exaggerating, perhaps I read too much Mugwump (is that even possible??), but I do know that although my circles may be "ok" they are not balanced things of beauty all that often. I want my silver path, damn it!

All I need is a giant compass. I could set the circumference, draw the line in the sand, and ride it. I would have a path to follow, freeing my limited mental resources to things like balancing, outside reins, bending etc. Yeah...

All I need is a giant compass...

edits - the video on the last post was a bit weird,
it cut off the right side of the screen, sorry.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ruby, Progress, and Generalized Learning.

It has been a very busy couple of weeks! I've been riding a lot and learning a lot. I've felt a little neurotic lately with respect to Brumby. I'll have a great ride and then a not-so-great ride. Then an ok one, followed by a great one again. Not necessarily in that order. Just when I start to seriously think this is not the horse for me, I have one of those great rides that plasters a smile on my face 'til I fall asleep. I suspect these are growing pains.
I am learning so much on this horse already, it is quite exciting. I've read and heard so much about getting the horse soft, round, on the bit, have impulsion, between your leg and your hand know. But I haven't had many opportunities to feel it. Brief moments here and there but not enough to develop a consistently elastic hand.

It seems an interesting learning cycle - in order to learn to have better hands, I needed to feel a truly soft horse. Likewise, in order to keep the horse soft, I have to really have an elastic, following hand. The better he is, the better I am; The better I am, the better he is. I wonder if it's always this way. It makes sense, I think. But I didn't really realize that I would really learn once I got to feel it. I thought I would never feel it until I learned how to ask perfectly.

I think a big part of this is the other lesson horses. Sometimes they provide feedback that makes you think you're doing something wrong, when really they are very resistant. My usual lesson horse really resists going round. I can get him there sometimes if all the stars are aligned :) But this wasn't only a lack of skill on my part because the same riding produces very different, positive results on Brumby (usually!).

It was partly a lack of skill on my part though! I know this because now, somehow, the way I am influencing my old faithful school horse is changing. On Monday he softened. He was relaxed, in my hand, but not leaning. I was so proud of him! My instructor's response? A long, low "yeeeaaaah!" and then "I knew this would happen." I had to laugh.

Another difference- getting leads! I'm told my Black Beauty's previous owner sold him because he couldn't get his leads over fences or do flying changes. Ever. From what I'm told, she schooled him so much and so hard that I'm convinced SHE is the reason he never got them. He is a very sensitive soul, that horse. So I don't stress on him about his leads. If he doesn't get it we do a simple change and move on. I've actually noticed improvements in this area for a few months but two weeks ago my hubby gave me video proof. It looks crappy from the viewing lounge, but you can see the exercise well enough.

I know, it probably doesn't seem like anything special but for him, it's huge.

We also said goodbye to Ruby Tuesday today as she went back to the shelter to be spayed and then put up for adoption. She left us completely house-trained, with some good basic training, and well socialized. She is a superstar and I'm sure she will do great in life. I can't wait for an update though! Our house is not the same without her.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Make-ahead Meals

I prefer to make my own food or, better yet, have husband make it. We rarely eat out. This preference creates a challenge when life gets busy. I once stood in line for 10 minutes at Kentucky Fried Chicken (fast food place) only to walk out the door before ordering. I just couldn't do it. I went home and made a pizza from scratch, crust and all. It barely took longer than my 10 minute line-up, no joke.

Now, I cut myself a little more slack in the summer. My husband is out of town every summer for typically at least a month and I have a much harder time cooking for one.  So I have a few prepared meals I will buy.  I strongly prefer planning well so that it doesn't come to that and I like making meals in advance.

Today, I made a large lasagna and enough cannelloni for 3 dinners. Sasha also got in on the action and made pork tenderloin wrapped in puff pastry with a mushroom-cream sauce wrapped up with it. You'd think we spent hours and hours doing this but each of us took under an hour each. We also made our dinner for tonight in between...but that was just grilled sausages :)

I only took sporadic pictures since I was pretty busy :)

Here is some of the prep work for all the dishes.
I like to do all the prep at once, I find it saves time.

In the back there are two bowls with chopped onion and garlic, one for me and one for Sasha. Working clockwise, the bigger white bowl has cooked spinach for the cannelloni and lasagna, barely visible is a measuring cup with dried morel and porcini mushrooms soaking in boiling waterfor Sasha, the plate has zucchini and mushrooms for the lasagna, and the cutting board has mushrooms for the pork tenderloin.

On the stove, I have tomato sauce and ground beef sirloin. To the beef, I have added some onion, garlic, basil, oregano, crushed chilies, kosher salt and pepper. I also add a spoonful of tomato sauce and a couple tablespoons of tomato paste.

After the beef was cooked, I transferred it into a bowl and used the same pan for the zucchini and mushrooms (also with onion & garlic). Once those were nicely browned, I was ready to assemble the lasagna. I layered like this:
Tomato sauce to cover bottom
A little sauce; zucchini & mushrooms

I was using dried noodles that don't need to be pre-boiled but do better if there is more liquid in the lasagna.  After layering the noodles, I also drizzled some of the liquid that comes off the spinach and also some of the mushroom soaking liquid over them. Better to add flavour at the same time! I often will add a splash or two of red wine but didn't have any I was willing to part with today :)

I then wrap the dish in plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil and freeze it.When I'm ready to make it, I defrost it, I remove the foil and plastic wrap, put the foil back on and bake it for about an hour. Keep an eye on the moisture level in there. If it has been 40 minutes and it's really liquid, remove the foil. About 10 minutes before you think you want to pull it out, add grated mozzarella and Parmesan to the top and allow to cheese to brown (you might need to broil for a minute). Remove from oven and let rest for at least 10 minutes. It's hard to wait but it's worth it!!

On to the next...

Assembling the cannelloni. I REALLY must remember to get a piping bag! It would make this so much easier and faster. I did try using a ziploc baggie with a corner cut out but it only lasted for about 10 fills before breaking.

The filling is ricotta cheese, spinach, and red pepper. Again, I put some sauce on the bottom of the dish and place the filled shells on top. I didn't get any mid-way pictures because my hands were covered in filling!

Here is my completed work. The white dish of cannelloni was already put in the fridge for tomorrow night's dinner. I thought I got a picture of the lasagna before wrapping it up but I was wrong.

Finally, here is what my hubby has to show for his efforts (one of them was already wrapped up good when I came in for a picture).