Sunday, October 2, 2011

Return from the Land of the Hoosier

If anyone can explain to me what a Hoosier is, please kindly leave a comment at the end of this post.

Matthew and I spent a week in Fort Wayne after Paul decided to ditch us to go explore the alps surrounding beautiful Austria. In reality, he was sent away to work on a special engineering project so I took advantage of the opportunity to go visit some of my favorite people this side of the country. Traveling is always exhausting, especially with a toddler in the back constantly chanting: "Me? Me? Me? Me? MEEEEEEEE?!??!?!?!"

He always wants something.

His newest trick while traveling is to intentionally throw his cup under the seat and incessantly chant "uh-oh" until I somehow manage to retrieve it by twisting my whole body into an unnatural contortion in order to simultaneously maintain a steady grip on the steering wheel, keep my eyes on the road, and reach behind the seat to blindly feel around the floor for the missing cup. We did swerve once or twice while playing this delightful game, which made me think that perhaps Matthew may have a better shot at living to see his 2nd birthday if I completely ignore him while driving.

On our way, we stopped in Cleveland to see a dear college friend and her family. Matthew was thrilled to receive a complete Vitamix demonstration, complete with the tasting of a smoothie that he helped create (I think it had spinach, carrots, beets, and pears - it was delicious!).

After that detour, we continued on to Fort Wayne where we arrived to a house full of hungry 7th graders having a campfire cookout in celebration of my sister Jane's 13th birthday. The only problem was that it had been pouring rain all day and the cookout had been moved from the backyard to the entire first level of the house. I thought my house was crowded before but when you add in about 10 more people, it is suddenly transformed into the equivalent of a congested interstate. Matthew did not seem to mind. He immediately darted inside the house and started running to each person yelling "Hi! Hi!" He seemed to believe that that party was being thrown in honor of his arrival. He became so wound up that we could not get him to sleep until well past 1:00 AM.

My biggest reservation about traveling with Matthew is the disruption in his sleep schedule. At home, he usually wakes up and goes to bed at the same times. Actually, if it is past his normal bedtime he will usually beg to be picked up and then point at the stairs towards his bedroom, indicating that he wishes to be put down for the night. However, when we travel, he is usually scared to be sleeping in a new place and will only go to sleep if I pretend to sleep next to him while keeping a firm hand on his stomach just in case he tries to slither away. I usually have to stay like this for 45-60 minutes before he finally gets the hint and passes out. Then comes the really tricky part: meticulously extricating myself from him and carefully crawling along the floor towards the door, gently tapping it open just far enough so I can gracefully (ha!) slink out into the hallway and close it quietly behind me. Of course, the door to the guest room lets out this super annoying creak just before it clicks shut that always causes me to break out into a sweat as I wait a few seconds to ensure that the noise did not disturb the sleeping child. He normally sleeps until the kids get up to start getting ready for school. As soon as he hears people chatting and eating breakfast in the kitchen, he immediately sits up and leaps out of bed, running towards the door desperate to ensure that he is not missing anything. This is normally around 6:15 in the morning.

Despite some exhaustion from the upsets in our usual routine, Matthew and I enjoyed visiting with so many friends and family members. Matthew loved playing with his Uncle Bruce (who is 2 years his senior) and Aunt Susanna. Amy was home sick from school for most of the week so we were able to spend some extra time with her. I especially enjoyed this because she is my goddaughter and I hold a special place in my heart for her! My Uncle Stephen was also visiting from California and I have not seen him since I was 15.

We spent an afternoon with my best friend Shannon and her two daughters. Shannon and her husband James are Matthew's godparents and their daughters Josie and Marci are absolutely adorable. We spent the afternoon watching the kids (plus Bruce) play. We had fun observing that we had all different colors of hair (red, black, brown, blonde) and eyes (blue, green, brown) represented among the kids


We enjoyed some fun shopping at Jefferson Pointe where we met up with Christina, a dear friend from Notre Dame! The picture below is nearly four years old, taken at a Notre Dame football game shortly after Paul and I were engaged. So many good memories with this girl. Matthew especially enjoyed visiting the Williams-Sonoma store during this outing. The sight of all the shiny new blenders, mixers, espresso machines, and coffee makers made him giggle and shout with glee. We spent a good 20 minutes in the store while he pointed and patted various new appliances, all the while repeating: "Pretty!" He also discovered a new favorite appliance: the pressure cooker!

I loved being able to see Lindsay and Lindsay, both dear friends from high school. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner (it would have been better if Matthew was not in such a rotten mood) at Casa Grille where I based my order solely on the fact that it came with fresh strawberries and Matthew is still going through a red food phase. He ate all the strawberries faster than I could put them on his plate and then spilled water all over himself, marking an end to our dinner date. Sigh...thus is life with child.

While at my parents' house, I enjoy doing a lot of baking because there are so many people there to sample the treats as they come out of the oven. At our little home in Erie, a whole batch of cookies takes a bit of time to be gobbled up by Paul and I (mainly because I limit Paul to no more than 2 per day). I loved having Amy help with the baking. Matthew wanted to join in too by sitting on the counter, straddling the KitchenAid, and watching it beat the batter. One of the recipes Amy wanted to make was Monkey Bread, a delectable breakfast treat that consists of little balls of sweet dough rolled in cinnamon sugar and baked together in a bundt pan. We chose to cover the bread in a maple glaze once it had cooled. To eat, the kids simply pulled apart individual chunks of gooey bread. I think they loved that part!

Amy was still not fully recovered from her illness when we made this bread. The fact that she had lost her voice made the whole process all the more interesting. It was the equivalent of baking with a mime. I spent more time interpreting her hand gestures than we did waiting for the bread to rise. For being such a sick little puppy, she was pretty anxious to bite into this sugar coated monstrosity.

Monkey Bread
adapted from Baking Illustrated

For the dough:
4 tablespoons butter, divided, 2 tablespoons melted and 2 tablespoons softened
1 cup milk, warmed to 110 degrees
1/3 cup water, warmed to 110 degrees
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
3 1/4 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons salt

For the sugar coating:
1 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon maple extract

Butter the bundt pan with the 2 tablespoons of softened butter.

Mix together in a large measuring cup the warm milk, melted butter, water, yeast, and sugar. Mix the flour and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Fit the mixer with a dough hook, and run on low speed while slowly and steadily adding the milk/yeast mixture. When the dough comes together, increase the speed to medium and let knead until a smooth, shiny dough forms (about 6-7 minutes). You may need to add additional flour, one tablespoon at a time, if the dough continues to stick to the bottom of the bowl. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes. The dough is ready for rising when it feels soft, smooth, and springs back when pressed with your finger. Coat a large bowl with cooking spray, form the dough into a ball, and place into the bowl, turning once to completely coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 50-60 minutes).

While the dough is rising, melt one stick of butter in a bowl. Set aside.
Mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon in a pie pan and set aside.

When the dough has risen, divide into 64 pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Roll the ball in the butter, and then in the cinnamon-sugar mixture, making sure that each ball is generously coated. Place in the bundt pan. Repeat with all pieces of dough, trying to scatter the dough balls as evenly as possible throughout the bundt pan.

Cover, and let rise an additional 50-70 minutes. When ready to bake, the dough should appear puffy and risen from within 1 inch of the top of the bundt pan. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Unwrap the bundt pan and bake the bread for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is well browned and the sugar is bubbly around the edges of the pan. Remove and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a pan and let cool for 10 minutes more.

While the bread is cooling, make the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, milk, and extract. Glaze the cake and serve with lots and lots of napkins!

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