Independence Day Plans

Av and I have planned an Independence Day get-together for weeks now, and we’re going to try to make it the best one ever. Av will be in charge of the grill, which is a good thing because everything he ever does always turns out perfectly. I’ll be in charge of the cold food, like potato salad and macaroni salad, and a couple of pies for dessert – those kind of things are my favorite!

I’ve been looking for some crafty decorating ideas, and there are a lot of nices ones at MarthaStewart.com – she had one idea on her older Martha Stewart Living show (I have it Tivoed but can’t find it on her site) for these neat ribbons that were glued to skewers, where the ribbons had been cut to resemble flags. I may be going to the fabric shop later today, so I’ll post the how-to on those soon.

Hampton Inn and Mohawk Tavern, Monroe LA

We’d never stayed in Monroe before, so we made a reservation at the Hampton Inn there. The room was okay…but we didn’t realize that this was an older hotel, without indoor corridors – so all the doors opened to the outside like an old-fashioned motel.

We had supper at the Mohawk Tavern, which was recommended for their seafood, and it was *excellent* – I liked that the interior hadn’t been redone in ages which gave it a lot of character, and the food and service were great. Next time, we want to try Ray’s PeGe and The Chateau.

Back

I’m far from being myself again after our loss last week, but I understand that it is important to just keep going. I’m committed to appreciate more now than ever before – to love deeper – to celebrate with a heart full of joy – every single sweet good thing.

To our friends, family, and those of you who only know me through DFK that sent your healing and comforting wishes our way, thank you so very much.

Away

Av and I, and our family and friends, experienced a terrible, heart-breaking loss late last week.

I’m taking a few days to get back into things, but will be back by Thursday, busier than ever.

Father’s Day Chocolate Cake

For Father’s Day, I decided to make a chocolate cake – I had been watching one of the older Martha Stewart Living daytime shows (Tivo-ed) and I think it was one of her Independence Day episodes, where she made the Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake. The recipe for it is at Hershey’s website here. It’s also listed on the back of every container of their cocoa. Mine isn’t exactly the same, but I took it as inspiration, and it turned out delish.

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Chocolate Icing (recipe below)
  • Equipment – mixer, and two 9″ cake pans

Ingredients for the icing:

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
2/3 cup Hershey’s cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350*.
Butter both cake pans, and line with a circle of parchment paper (this is so much better than worrying about the cake sticking on the bottom!!).

Next, dust the cocoa all around the cake pan. This was great, because neither of the cakes I made stuck *at all* to their pans. Shake out any excess cocoa.

I put all the dry cake ingredients in the mixer,

gave that a little mix, then added the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. I let that mix for a couple of minutes, which gave me time to boil the water. Add the boiling water slowly, mix, and it’s ready. The mixture will be very, very thin.

Here it is, poured into one of the cake pans. When I put half of the mixture into each of the cake pans, it only filled each pan to about 1/3. If I had this to do over, I wouldn’t fill it to over 1/4, because guess what?? After I had it in the oven for about 10-12 minutes, suddenly Av and I smelled something *very* chocolate, then something like *burning* chocolate! Have you ever baked a cake, and it rose over the pan and dripped off the side onto the bottom of the oven? Ick!

We worked together to take the cake pans out, I took a knife and leveled off the tops of both cakes (which were already setting up), and we put them back in our other oven (we have one of those built-in top/bottom wall ovens). I was afraid that the temperature change between taking the cakes out, them cooling a few minutes, then putting them back in an oven would do something weird to them, but after another twelve minutes or so, they were done perfectly!

In the midst of all the oven-changing, I made the icing (recipe above). The only thing that’s done to make it is to melt the butter, stir in the cocoa and vanilla, then alternate back and forth with the powdered sugar and the milk until you get it to a nice taste and consistency. Very easy, and only took three or four minutes to do.

Once the cakes were out of the oven, I let them rest for about ten minutes, then turned them over carefully onto wire racks.

When they were cool, I lined a cake pedestal with strips of parchment paper (so my messy icing technique wouldn’t look bad at the bottom once the paper was removed). I iced the entire cake, then removed the parchment strips.

…and it was all done!

I don’t even like chocolate cake, but it was really good! Av looooved it, and once his dad gets back from his trip, I’m sure he’ll like it too. Nice!

Hampton Inn, Athens, Tennessee

Av and I really wanted to be able to make it to Chattanooga before stopping, but we got sleepy about an hour north and stopped at the Athens, TN Hampton Inn.

In Chattanooga, we like the Chattanoogan Hotel and Av has stayed at the Read House, which is a historic hotel there. I wanted to see it, but I was just as ready as he was to stop before we got there, after all that driving!

The room was pretty average:

…but the hotel interior was different in that it had open corridors (like at Embassy Suites and some other hotels). That was nice for a change:

American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore

The #1 thing I wanted to do in Baltimore was go to the American Visionary Art Museum – it was really great, and also very different from what I expected.

Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed inside the building.

I loved that the first thing we saw once we walked down the hallway to the main exhibit spaces was an angel by Howard Finster. To me, visionary art is really about artists who believe they have had some sort of special communication from G-d to make art (religious-based art, like that of Howard Finster, Myrtice West, Rev. B.F. Perkins, Sister Gertrude Morgan, etc.). It can also come from people who have experienced dreams, visions, and the like of the future – not so much based in religion – which is something I’m not as familiar with, and that’s what made this museum so different that what I was expecting.

And I would have never, ever guessed that Rosie O’Donnell’s artwork would be included in a visionary art museum!

Since I couldn’t take pictures, I took notes of some of the artists I liked especially, most of which I’ll post about later…but I was really taken with Paul Darmafall, who was known as the Baltimore Glassman, and Andrew Logan, who is also all about glass and glimmer, and has his own museum in England.

Supper at Obrycki’s

After sailing on the Clipper City that evening, we went with six of our friends to Obrycki’s, which is a big Baltimore restaurant for serving steamed crabs. I sat next to someone who is a Baltimore native and an expert at eating crabs this way – so since neither Av or I had ever done it, she showed both of us. It wasn’t hard once you got a hang of it! The crabs were really good and we had a lovely supper – lots of laughing (and plenty of it was about my Southern accent, too!) and good stories. We had a fabulous time!

Sailing on the Clipper City

One evening, Av and I went on a cruise around Inner Harbor on the Clipper City – it’s a tall ship (the kind with those huge, magnificent sails)! I’d never been on a ship like this before, so I was really excited!

We sailed around the Inner Harbor for a couple of hours – chatting with other people, etc. – and at one point we passed Fort McHenry, where during the war of 1812, a flag was made to hang there so big that the British would have no trouble seeing it. It was after a battle one day in 1814 that inspired Frances Scott Key to write the “Star Spangled Banner” once he could see that “the flag was still there”.

It was really neat to see it the day we did, because our cruise was on Flag Day. There’s much more about the story about Fort McHenry and the flag here.