Monday, October 27, 2008

Birthday and Caramel Apples

Thursday, October 23 was my 24th birthday.

I'm a huge fan of my own birthday. I get so excited when October rolls around and the 23rd nears. It's always right around the time of year when the last reminders of Summer are packing up and Fall is moving in, my favorite season. Stores are full of Halloween (my favorite holiday) items and candy. Starbucks starts selling yummy lattes like pumpkin spice and you are reminded of all the Fall and Winter recipes you love. The crock pot gets tons of use, pumkin and cinnamon are included in dessert variations. The front porch is decorated with Fall themed hay and pumpkins, and you snack on apples and pumpkin seeds instead of watermelon and chips.

In honor of my birthday, I always make the celebration into a multi-day event. This year was no different.

Johnny is a web developer and perpetual geek. This equals long hours on a computer, both at work and at home. I am also a computer addict, and we love watching an episode of a favorite show while eating dinner. One of my requests this past week was to ignore technology, except for necessary things. This allowed us to eat dinner up at the island and talk, as well as play Yahtzee or Rummy at night instead of zoning out.

Thursday, my actual birthday, I had to work. This always reminds me of Jim Gaffigan's stand-up routine where he says "I can't believe I'm going to work on my birthday," which is so true. After work Johnny took me out to dinner at 94 West. I enjoyed the lobster bisque, a house salad and grilled mahi mahi. My entree also came with grilled pineapple, a tropical fruit salsa and a side of grilled asparagus. Delicious and I was beyond stuffed, but still managed to sample some of Johnny's amazing NY strip and garlic mashed potatoes.

Friday we had Broadway in Chicago tickets to go see Dirty Dancing. My mom got them for me for my birthday present. I've always loved Dirty Dancing, probably watched it like 30 times. In middle school my Girl Scout troop even raised enough money to take our "camping" trip at Mountain Lake, the fictional "Kellerman's," where it was filmed. I just didn't realize there were people out there who loved it as much, even more, than me. It was CRAZY! Women were hooting and hollering like we were watching a Chippendale's show. We were all singing and clapping along. It was pretty much identical to the movie, word for word, except for some new scenes extending storylines from the movie.

Saturday was the day I planned for Johnny and me to spend together. Last year we stayed at a B&B in Utica, IL to explore Starved Rock State Park. It was so beautiful, just as the leaves were turning. We didn't get a chance to horseback ride, though, so we've always wanted to go back for that. This year we just went out for a day trip.

The first thing we did was ride on the LaSalle Canal Boat ride - where a mule pulls the Canal boat! It was something I wanted to try, because where else would a person get a chance to try this? Apparently Abe Lincoln rode the canal boat during his campaign, as part of the travel.

Next we were going to go to the Hegelar Carus Mansion. BUT they are forever tainted in my mind due to their idiocity. We called for reservations last week. They called us back. We get there and tours are cancelled for the day, due to some event. Um? So we went up to the door anyways and some guy let us in. We waited in a room while some buffet thing was going on. Eventually a woman came in and said she'd just called us -- you mean at our home an hour and half away literally minutes before our tour was meant to start? She let us know it was impossible to give a tour due to the annual event that always occurs on the same weekend. If it happens every year at the same time don't you think you'd be better at booking people's tours around it? Just maybe? Arrrgh.

So we went to the horse back riding place early and thankfully they let us on the 2 p.m. ride instead of the 4 p.m. ride we were booked on. My horse's name was Cheyenne and Johnny's was Sparky. :) It was an hour-long ride that was really enjoyable. Not as much actual trail riding as I'd like, but we still got to see 2 canyons and the beautiful Fall colors.

Saturday we also planned a cooking day together. I'd wanted to try and make 101 Cookbooks' caramel apples and treat myself to the secret family cheesecake. Both turned out delicious, but I can only share the caramel recipe with you! ;)

The ingredient list and instructions are Heidi's from 101 Cookbooks.

6 - 8 small apples, unwaxed, cold
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup honey

Special equipment: candy thermometer, and lollipop sticks

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Push a lollipop or popsicle stick deep into each apple - in through the stem.
Fill a large bowl 1/2 full with ice water and set aside.

In a medium, thick-bottomed saucepan heat the cream and salt until tiny bubbles start forming where the milk touches the pan - just before a simmer. Stir in the honey. Bring the mixture to a boil. Now reduce the heat to an active simmer and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 15-20 minutes minutes or until the mixture reaches about 255-260F degrees. To stop the caramel from cooking, very, very carefully set the bottom of the saucepan in the bowl of cold water you prepared earlier - taking special care not to get any of the water in the caramel mixture. Stir until caramel begins to thicken up - you want the caramel to be thin enough that it will easily coat your apples, but not so thin that it will run right off. If the caramel thickens too much simply put the pot back over the burner for 10 seconds or so to heat it up a bit.

I tilt my sauce pan so all the caramel forms a pool on one side, and use my other hand to dunk and twirl each apple until it is thoroughly coated with caramel. Place each apple on the parchment lined baking sheets and allow the caramel to cool and set.

Makes 6 - 8 caramel apples.

We rolled some of ours in crushed pecans. I also rolled together the extra caramel and pecans into little bite-sized treats. I had read in her comment section that if you use Sue-B or cheap honey it's too sweet and gross. So I shopped in the organic honey section and bought a milder jar.

In honor of turning 24, Johnny got me 24 roses. He accidentally broke the stem of one while putting them in the vase so I have the 23 in the bedroom and the 24th in the kitchen.


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Christina!! A few days late. I also love my birthday. I announce it to everyone when its coming! I have a twin sister and we usually take the day of of work and meet each other for Starbucks in the a.m. followed by shopping and lunch. I'm glad you got to do what you wanted! It sounds like you had a great weekend!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!

"nobody puts baby in the corner!"

I just saw that movie again this past weekend - doesn't matter where it is, if I channel surf, and its on, I watch it to the end!

Anonymous said...

Hey, that's my twin sister Jenn that commented before me! Didn't realize!

Yes, we like to prolong our birthday as much as possible!

Christina said...

Thanks, guys!

In the play when they got to the end where Johnny comes in - the whole theatre filled with the sound of his motorcycle and then he walked DOWN the aisle and hopped up on stage. The whole room was like electric with energy, leaning forward in our seats for it. When he said "Nobody puts baby in the corner" EVERYBODY screamed!! Haha you have to go see it - it's only here until December and then goes off to NY.