Wednesday, December 31, 2014



Today is Saturday, December 13, 2014, a sea day here onboard the Carnival Sunshine, née Carnival Destiny, and we are relaxing on the Ocean Plaza, reading, writing and drinking coffee.  I've got some sock knitting at the ready as well.  Everything is copacetic unless we look out the window, so we have pointedly moved ourselves as far from those starboard windows as possible.

It is also the last day of our cruise, but I am definitely not giving that any thought.  I am going to enjoy every last minute of what has been a truly wonderful, relaxing vacation and I am not going to start worrying about anything coming up at home or in the office.  I've got all day tomorrow to transition my brain.  Today the most serious thing I am going to think about is which pair of socks to knit.

Things we did not do on this cruise:

I did not go to the spa for a massage.  I was afraid that instead of relaxing my muscles, it would wake up my fibromyalgia, which has been quiescent of late, although a few recent twinges have concerned me.  Pain is distracting; no need to tempt fate.  I've got life to live, latkes to fry.

I did not drink even one Cosmopolitan.  My tolerance for alcohol has dropped to practically nothing, and a Cosmo is all alcohol.  It's hard enough to walk on this ship as is.

We did not attend any of the art auctions.  We still haven't hung up all of the art we collected on other trips.

We did not listen to any karaoke.  God is good.

So here we are at Bonsai for lunch - Japanese rap music and those are indeed two ladies wearing bathrobes to eat sushi.  I ordered the Wagyu Kakuni appetizer for my lunch and I positively swooned.  Those were among the two best bites of food I have had in my life, ever.  Who knew it came with a small salad?  An awesome salad  with Korean flavors of sesame and soy. The ultra-tender Wagyu (American Kobe beef), having been slow-braised, and redolent of sweet Korean teriyaki, could convert any vegetarian to a carnivore.

As this special day winds down, it's been all about the food.  For breakfast we went to the omelet bar instead of the regular buffet.  Then the lunch at Bonsai.  After lunch we do some more shopping.  We watch TV, Rob reads, I peruse recipes in my new cookbook, I knit a little, I sip some wine.  We go to another tea party at 3:00, where the pastries are superb.  I keep reviewing recipes in the cookbook.  So many recipes I want to try - this cookbook is a treasure trove.  Leaving the tea party, we stop to check the menu for tonight's dinner.  We discuss whether the frog's legs appetizer will be prepared as badly as last night's oysters.  I remind Rob that they did a fine job on the escargot.  We go upstairs to check the menus at Ji Ji Kitchen and El Capitano.  Finally the decision is made, it's the main dining room.  Besides, they have the Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert.

Amazing what you can accomplish when you are in the middle of the ocean and happily cut off from the internet and wifi.  And tomorrow will be time enough to start moving back into the real world of ISIS, the protests over police brutality, the school shootings, the Bill Cosby scandal, and the closing argument I have to make on Monday afternoon.

Tomorrow morning, we will self-disembark at 7:30, a privilege afforded to platinum level cruisers.  It has been the best cruise, marred only by the constant rocking, and those damn oysters Rockefeller.

The food tonight was wonderful.  Before dinner, we saw another live music show - the third one, all different, all terrific.  At dinner, Rob ordered the frog's legs while I got the crab cake.  Awesome good.  Then we both went beef, prime rib for me, flatiron steak for Rob.  Soufflé for dessert.  Everything was delicious.

As I said, this was our 12th cruise on Carnival, across six different ships, including the brand-new Carnival Dream.  This was the best ship with the best cruise director. And I had the best time.

I hope you enjoyed the travelblog.  We will return to our regular scheduled cooking program tomorrow.  A new series, Six Degrees of Separation and Consanguinity, will be starting for the New Year.  Stay tuned, stay safe, stay happy and healthy.

Additional photos:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Mistress Crankypants - Creamy Peanut Butter Frosting

Ich bin verschroben.  Just a touch.  I have to schedule an appointment with the dentist, and that always skews my chi in the wrong direction.  I am glad to be back at my desk.  I know, I'm weird.  I am thrilled that the DCF Help Desk helped me to access my email, which was in suspended animation for several weeks after being migrated to a new domain.  The downside was that I had 29 pages of email to open and review.  That's 580 messages, in case you are counting.

So cranky I remain.  My back still hurts, a little reminder that I do not control the fibromyalgia, the fibromyalgia controls me.  The world and national news is bad, very bad.  Two police officers were ambushed in Los Angeles, fortunately no casualties, but shots were fired at them.  Two police officers were fired at in Pasco County here in Florida.  I guess it's now open season on cops.  (Are you happy, Al Sharpton?)  A case of Ebola has been confirmed in Scotland, and the Ebola cases in Sierra Leone and a few other African countries continue to rise in number.

It has been a full day since the Indonesian Airbus disappeared from the radar, and its whereabouts remain unknown (Update: debris has been found.  What a terrible word, debris).  And we know all too well what that means.  Heartbreak, agony, accusations, blaming,  unbearable emotional turmoil,  media frenzy, speculation, finger-pointing, character assassinations, management resignations, mass grieving, and multiple lawsuits.  And no proper funerals, because ... well, because.  For the families, that has to be the worst part.  God give them strength.


Yesterday I finished the triple chocolate cupcakes by adding a swirl of peanut butter frosting to each one.  Now I know the Cake Mix Doctor has stated that there is no way to fix up a tub of prepared frosting, but I respectfully beg to differ.  This was so good, I surprised myself.  I suspect that in the years since she published her first book, the product itself has been improved.  Whatever the reason, I highly recommend trying this awesome but easy peanut butter frosting.

1 - 16 oz. tub creamy vanilla frosting
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
2-3 tablespoons half and half

Stir everything together by hand until completely blended and smooth, about 1 minute.  Frost the completely cooled cupcakes using your favorite method (spoon it, smooth it, dip it, pipe it).  I used a large star tip, and instead of a pastry bag, I used a plastic freezer bag, snipping off just a small bit of one corner to make an opening for the tip.

If you want to pile the frosting nice and high on the cupcakes, double the frosting recipe.

These were very well-received by my office peeps, and that is always gratifying to hear.  Even I ate a cupcake.  Chocolate, peanut butter, and a nice cuppa coffee.  Took care of the crankiness, and once I threw two Advil into the mix, even my back felt better.


I want to wish my baby brother-in-law a very Happy Birthday.  When I first met him in 1972, he was just a kid, a senior in high school.  Now retired, recognized as highly accomplished, successful, and well-respected in his field, he is making a significant life change by pursuing an advanced degree in another discipline, all while being a great dad to three spectacular young adults.  Happy birthday, Kenny!  I know there is an angel in heaven watching after you and wishing you the same.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Cookie Momster - Cream Cheese Cookies

When I was a kid in Brooklyn, I knew more than one person with the nickname "Cookie".  Only in Brooklyn, right?  Because once we moved to Long Island, I never heard it again.  Which was sad, because in my mind, there is no nickname as endearing as Cookie.  My own nickname, The Bear, is cute in its own way (and has a sweet backstory) but doesn't come close to Cookie.

So you can only imagine my delight when, after finding my Brooklyn Osher family, I gained a cousin named Cookie.  Cookie Schneider, 100% pure Brooklyn, married to my cousin Steve.  A lovely, warm, gracious lady.  And sweet, did I mention sweet?

I mention my cousin Cookie, because sometime this morning, I found my mind wandering to cookies. Christmas and cookies have always gone together, but it has unfortunately been a number of years since I have baked those hundreds of cookies on which I built my baking reputation back in the seventies.  Especially the last 11 years, when eating sweets became an afterthought.  I really wanted to knock out a batch of my cream cheese cookies, and maybe the hermit cookies, but I got distracted by a trip to Publix and 24 triple chocolate cupcakes.  

When we got back from Publix, I used up a couple of lingering ingredients to prepare my tzatziki (mine, all mine!) and an unexpected panful of kraut sveckle.  Seems I changed my mind about the Kingstowne wraps, and found myself with a bag of coleslaw mix - shredded white and red cabbage, and carrots.  Absolutely unauthentic, so I threw in some thinly sliced onion, and then mini farfalle to complete the heresy.  Thanks to Publix, now there's a fresh baguette that I want to turn into garlic bread, and those cupcakes, formerly frozen, which need to be iced or glazed or something.  Oh, and one other thing:

Don't freak out, those aren't really oxtails.  They are cowtails, silly.  Big difference.  But that's a recipe for another day.

Heretical Kraut Sveckle

(Have I ever mentioned how much I despise Al Sharpton?  We've been watching the news, incessantly, and everything is depressing.  But Al has been pissing me off since 1987.)

Back to my cookie brainstorm - here is the one recipe you should always keep in your back pocket.  I found this in a Betty Crocker cookbook way back when and it has never let me down. One never knows when a child will need four dozen cookies for a classroom party, or when you might get invited to compete on "Chopped".  I've been baking these in vast quantities since 1976 and never had a complaint.  Never had any leftovers, either.

Cream Cheese Cookies 

1/2 stick butter
1 - 8 oz. bar cream cheese
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 - 18.25 oz. box yellow or chocolate cake mix

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Let the butter and cream cheese soften at room temperature, then beat together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Gradually add in the cake mix, beating well after each addition.  Refrigerate for about an hour to firm up the dough and make it easier to handle. Use a small scooper to portion out the dough onto an ungreased baking sheet.  Flatten slightly, then place in the oven for 8 - 10 minutes until done.  Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then use a metal spatula to remove the cookies to cooling racks.

Now then, I'm sure you can see the endless possibilities for additions and variations.  My favorite involves adding a cup of chocolate chips to a chocolate batter, and using a medium sized scoop to portion them out.  I roll them with my hands before flattening them slightly onto the baking sheet, so they look positively professional.  Because of the larger size and the chips, I have to bake them longer than 10 minutes, and watch them until they are done.  It's very important to check to make sure the bottom of the cookie doesn't start to burn.  Of course you can frost them, ice them, glaze them, ganache them, sandwich them, dust them, or sprinkle them for a fancy finish.  They freeze well, by the way, so feel free to bake hundreds and hand them out to your nearest and dearest.  Save a few for yourself, though, these always go fast.