Eclairs

My seventh anniversary is coming up. In honor of the occasion, I'd like to introduce you to my husband. He's one of the most awesome men on the planet-part saint and part Prince Charming. My grandfather was a WWII vet, a sailor who served on a ship in the Pacific. Grandpa was a prankster--he'd move your glass while you weren't looking and was always ready with a joke. But he took his duty to his family seriously, and he worked hard to make sure no one ever did without. I've often thought he was the greatest man I've ever known. I miss him every day.

My dad was like him in a lot of ways. They were both stoic men, born of generations that were more strong than affectionate. Dad had a sense of humor, just like his father, but dad's was stealthier--it popped out when you least expected it. He also took care of his own. I took care of dad through his final battle with cancer. That made my list of the top three hardest things I've ever done, although of the three, it's the only one that was as rewarding as it was difficult. I was in the kitchen one day when I cut my finger with a knife. There was a lot of blood, and I couldn't get it to stop. Dad called me over to the couch, where he spent most of those final weeks laying down, and insisted on helping me bandage it. As weak as he was, he still wanted to take care of me.

My husband is a lot like both of them, with even more of a sense of humor and less stoicism. He never met my grandfather, but he has said he takes it as a compliment to be compared to him, which my dad and I both did. And he could not have cared more for my dad through his final days if that had been his own father, which says a lot about both men. My husband is affectionate, considerate, caring, funny, intelligent, and he treats me like a princess. To hear his friends and family tell it, he's never once had a negative thing to say about me.

And I will admit that I give him a fair amount of material.

Like all good heroes, my husband has flaws. Because he is such an amazing person, I find his flaws every bit as endearing as he is. My sweet, even-tempered husband’s patience evaporates when he gets behind the wheel. He tends to misplace things, mainly because he is an unfortunate combination of busy and disorganized. He has a collection of “somedays” in the yard—a firetruck, a car, a couple of motor scooters, a bicycle, and a boat that he wants to fix up when he has the time. The fire truck is my favorite of the collection because he beamed like an excited little kid on Christmas when he drove it home. And, other than his friend who’s a fire captain, I think his friends might be a little jealous at his life-sized toy.

You might have picked up on the fact that I still adore him every bit as much as I did when I was a teenager. My husband and I are a real-life second chance romance story. We dated for almost two years when I was in college, then broke up because a jealous friend interfered (every good story has a villain, I guess). Twenty-three years later, we came across each other again and had our first re-date at a fondue restaurant. He joked that he couldn't believe, after so many years, that he'd taken me to a place that required me to cook my own food. I loved it.

We got married a year and a half after that. So life really does imitate art. My girlfriends think it’s sweet, and even my husband’s guy friends have told us we’re "too cute." With only a little bit of sarcasm. As they tried to steer their wives away before they got any ideas.

In honor of our upcoming anniversary, today's post is one of his favorite desserts. I went looking for this one a few years back when I wanted to make something he would really like. He did, but any time I make something just for him, he says it seems like I'm going to a lot of trouble for him. Is it any wonder I adore him?

Despite what he said, this recipe is pretty easy. I'm not sophisticated enough to keep a pastry bag around, but if you snip off the corner of a gallon storage bag, it works just as well and you can throw it away when you're finished.

Eclairs

Chocolate Eclairs

For the pastry:

1 c. water

1/2 c. butter

1/4 tsp. salt

1 c. all purpose flour

4 eggs

For the filling:

2 1/2 c. milk

1 5.1 oz instant vanilla pudding

1 c. heavy whipping cream

1/4 c. confectioners sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

For the frosting:

2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

2 tbsp. butter

1 1/4 c. confectioners sugar

3 tbsp. hot water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 1 cup water, 1/2 c. butter and salt to a boil. Add flour all at once and stir until a smooth ball forms. Remove from heat and let stand for five minutes. Add eggs to flour mixture and beat well. Using a pastry tube, pipe dough into 4 x 1.5 inch strips on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven, split open each pastry, and scoop out any soft dough that remains inside. Set aside until cool.

Beat milk, pudding mix, and whipping cream until peaks form. Add 1/4 c. confectioners sugar and vanilla and stir till blended. Fill pastries with mixture.

Melt chocolate and butter in microwave, stirring at least every thirty seconds. Add remaining sugar and water. Stir till smooth, then frost pastries.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

They opened a new amusement park in Gulf Shores, which is about an hour from my house.

I’ve mentioned before that I love Disney World, although that’s a bit of an understatement. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been, but I know it’s been over twenty, possibly over thirty.

My daughter and I used to run half marathons together, before med school took over her life, and one year, we decided to go for the coast to coast medal-which means you run a half marathon at Disneyland and then one at Disney World. We did. Two weeks apart. That was a lot of traveling, a lot of training, and a lot of money.

My husband is a very patient man.

Most of what I love about Disney is the atmosphere. The other part is the roller coasters. I’ve loved roller coasters ever since I can remember. My youngest brother and I are twelve years apart and I can remember taking him on coasters when I was a teenager and he was just barely old enough to meet the height restrictions.

And then they opened and an amusement park near my house. Like I was going to pass that up. We spent the day out there about a week ago and, while it was no Disney (what is?), we had a great time. We stopped for lunch at this restaurant in the park, and they had delicious homemade pickles. My grandma used to can pickles, but she made the gross kind-bread and butter. Grandpa loved them. I mentioned in a previous post that grandpa loved peanut butter and sweet pickle sandwiches. I guess the sandwiches wouldn’t have been as good with dill pickles, but that’s hard for me to say.

I think they would have been just as bad either way.

Anyway, she didn’t can dill pickles when I was growing up, but the process isn’t that much different—there’s just a lot more sugar involved in sweet pickles. So I’d seen it done before, and I knew I could pull it off. Once I had the ones at that restaurant, I wanted to make my own. I couldn’t find their recipe, but that didn’t matter. Homemade dill pickles are good no matter how you make them.

And these refrigerator pickles are so simple, there’s really no reason to buy them in the store. One of my most popular recipes is my mayhaw jelly recipe. I love that stuff, but by the time you wash, juice, sterilize, boil, can, and process, you’re in the kitchen most of the day. Refrigerator pickles take about ten minutes to prepare, then all you have to do is pop them in the fridge and let them soak for about a week. I cut them thick and eat them straight out of the jar, but they’re also amazing on my husband’s jalapeño pepperjack burgers.

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

2 cucumbers

2 cups water

1 cup white vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

1/tsp sugar

1 bunch fresh dill

2 cloves minced garlic

Wash and trim dill, then place inside a quart jar. Wash and slice cucumbers to desired thickness and place in jar on top of dill. Add minced garlic to jar. Place one cup of the water in a pot and bring to boil. Add sugar and salt, stir until dissolved and remove from heat. Add remaining water and vinegar to water/salt/sugar mixture, stir, then allow cool completely. Pour cooled brine over cucumbers and seal jar tightly. Allow to stand in refrigerator for one week. Eat within 4 to 6 weeks.

Tiramisu

Whoever said herding cats was hard has never tried to herd my two dogs. My 7-year-old, Bear, is supposed to be my good boy. I can turn him loose in the yard without a leash, and he will stay within eyesight, then come when I call. Milo isn't quite five months yet, so he still gets the leash, which he usually wraps around both my legs and his in the 50 feet it takes to get me across the yard and into my office.

Today, I had just gotten my shower and was headed for my office when I made the mistake of stopping at my car to get my water bottle. Bear LOVES to go for rides. So, of course, the second I opened the door, he hopped in the car. Milo followed. I got the water bottle and told Bear to come, and he, instead, jumped over the console and into the driver's seat. Milo tried to go after him, but his leash was hopelessly tangled by then. I leaned into the car, which has a black interior that was about a million degrees in our 97 degree summer heat, picked up a protesting Milo, and told Bear again to come.

He refused.

I went around to the other side, Milo squirming hard enough that I almost dropped him. And the second I opened the driver's door, Bear hopped the console and headed back to the passenger side. Milo was losing his mind. Bear was looking me dead in the eye and refusing to budge. And I was wondering how I suddenly lost control of two fifteen-pound furballs.

After I swapped sides two more times (so did Bear—he's obviously a lot smarter than me), I got into the car with him. Not only did I burn the back of my leg on the seat, the sauna inside undid the shower I had just taken thirty minutes before.

Bear still refused to move.

I hauled them both out, one squirming under each arm, and kicked the door shut before they could escape back into the car again. And I actually found myself wondering why these two couldn’t be as well behaved as our cat, Frisbee.

Anyone who has a cat knows you don’t own a cat—they own you. You don’t tell a cat what to do. When they want something, they’ll let you know. Otherwise, you’re supposed to leave them alone to manage their own life. Frisbee does a fine job of that. She’ll rub against my leg and purr once or twice a week (as long as Milo isn’t jumping around her head), but other than that, she keeps to herself. I’ve never had to fish her out of my car. And I’ve probably gotten some open rebellion from her a time or two, but let’s face it, you kind of expect that from a cat.

So anyway, twenty minutes later, water bottle and dogs in hand, I finally made it out to my office.  My dogs are now at my feet, pretending to be little angels. And now it’s lunch time. I’m reluctant to disturb them to go into the house. It was enough of an ordeal last time that I’m seriously considering skipping the meal just to keep from having to fight my way through the yard again.

Except I made Tiramisu for dinner last night. Yeah, that’s a pretty big motivator. My daughter studied abroad in Florence, Italy, so naturally, I went over for a visit while she was there. I took a cooking class from an Italian chef who taught me how to make the best Tiramisu I had ever had in my life. No joke. I’m not a huge coffee person (don’t tell anyone around here I said that—I think they can blackball you from the South for not drinking coffee), but he told me I could use amaretto instead of espresso. The trick is to dilute the amaretto so the flavor doesn’t completely take over.

Okay, I’ve talked myself into it.  I’m going back inside.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

4 fresh eggs (room temp)

1 lb Mascarpone cheese

Lady fingers (to make gluten free, use gluten free vanilla wafers--just soak them a bit longer)

12 teaspoons sugar

Unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup amaretto

2/3 water

Separate eggs. Beat whites till soft peaks form and set aside. Combine sugar with yolks and mix till blended, then fold in Mascarpone. Fold whites into yolk, sugar and cheese. Spread half of the mixture across the bottom of an 8 x 8 casserole dish. Mix the amaretto with the water, then dip the cookies into the amaretto mixture, one by one, and lay across the cream mixture. Spread the other half of the cream mixture on top of the cookies, then dust with cocoa powder. Chill for two hours to let the flavors soak in together.

Contains raw eggs, which can increase the risk of food borne illness. Use fresh eggs (if you drop the egg into a bowl of water, it should sink), and eat within 2 days.