Our “Tornado Smashed” Gingerbread House!


My tornado memoir – “Twisted” was released on 05/22/12! click here for more details, or to purchase!

Back on May 22, when a tornado smashed our house, I had no idea how long the road ahead of us would be. I had no idea that, coming up on Christmas, I would be without a kitchen, would still be fighting the city, and that I’d only be beginning to process the trauma of the whole thing.

In fact, up until a few days ago, I was pretty sure I’d dealt with the trauma. I was convinced I’d managed to just put it aside entirely, and get to work. I thought that we were so “over” the tornado, that we could have a bit of fun with it.

I have no idea why we thought it would be a good idea / funny to make a gingerbread house representation of our house on May 23. No clue. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and hey – I’d never made a gingerbread house before. If it turned out looking horrible, I had the ultimate excuse: It being “tornado smashed”, it’s SUPPOSED to look awful/be falling apart.

So, I did a bit of research. I obsessed over fellow Food Bloggers of Canada member Barry Parsons’ Rock Recipes Blog – where he has detailed instructions for making gingerbread houses. He does just phenomenal work, you should check it out!

tornado gingerbread house

Anyway, armed with Barry’s gingerbread house recipe and TONS of source material photos from back in May, I set to work. (more…)

Aspergers and Tornadoes Don’t Mix!

Tomorrow will be mark 6 months since the May 22nd tornado… that smashed our house. A news team just came to our house to interview us about our experience, and the subject of Aspergers came up.

When asked “What is the first thing you noticed?”, I blanked out. I had no idea how to answer that… everything was such a mess. I ended up blurting out “Um… I have Aspergers. I was overwhelmed, and was sitting on the front steps just screaming. I have no idea what I noticed first.”

Up until the tornado, I thought I’d managed to learn to keep things under control. Most people would never guess that I have Aspergers. (Except, apparently, other Aspies. Found THAT out the other night!). The day of the tornado? TOTAL meltdown.

I’ve already posted about what happened that day, from a matter-of-fact point of view… but I didn’t really get into the Aspie aspect.

The truth is, I completely lost my shit. Running the 3 blocks from our car to our house was the most traumatic experience of my life. I really need things to be where they’re supposed to be, and running/jumping/climbing over downed power lines, trees everywhere, and seeing a ROOF laying on the ground… I just don’t even have the words.

To add insult to injury, the police and EVERY news station in the cities had helicopters up in the air. I’d never had a problem with helicopters, but that MANY, in that situation? Totally overwhelming. Ever since, even the sound of one helicopter really frays my nerves.

Helicopters, trees on the ground everywhere, my house destroyed, not knowing where our 4 cats are, chainsaws going off in all directions, and people everywhere? Yeah. What a nightmare. On the upside, as far as overstimulation goes… I think I’ve seen the worst. I don’t think I’ll ever have to face anything THAT crazy ever again.

The first 5 months after the tornado were hard to deal with, on a daily basis. Months of chainsaws (especially bad for the first 2 weeks!).. The sound of roofing EVERYWHERE… constant banging, nailing, people everywhere… so much NOISE. There were contractors in and out of the house every day for months. I REALLY don’t like strangers in the house, or people “messing with my stuff”… and we had absolutely NO routine whatsoever.

To make matters worse, in an effort to save as much money as we could… we were in and out of different hotels for 6 weeks. Our insurance didn’t cover hotel while the house was unlivable, so we had to find the best price online… for only a few days. Then another.

At the end of 6 weeks, we just sort of gave up and stayed in the house anyway. It may have been messed up, but at least it was OURS, and we could establish a BIT of a routine. We still have a LONG way to go, but at least the worst of it is behind us.

Caturday: Brew Day!

In late May, we had a “brew day” scheduled… I think it was for May 29th. On brew days, we rack our wines, bottling if needed, and generally take care of the many carboys we have brewing. Wine making involves a bit of “babysitting”.

Well, it’s now September 18th. Not only did the May 29th Brew day not happen – we haven’t had a brew day since. We DID check the carboys right after the May 22nd tornado – they survived, even if the kitchen IMMEDIATELY above them did not! – so we know that much at least.

Anyway, in the interest of NOT losing all that hard work – and as a result of the rainy forecast today – we’re having our first post-tornado homebrew day!

Yes, it’s partly to get to work on cleaning out & organizing the basement – which needs to be done before my husband can start building the kitchen cabinets. Yes, with the amount of wine that was left THAT long, it’ll be a lot of work. (We have a TON of small 1 gallon batches in different flavors!). You know what though? I’m going to consider it a “day off”. Yesterday was a long day of exterior work. Porter worked on caulking all of the small cracks in the stucco and bricks, also re-laying a handful of bricks, while I started painting the garage. It’s pretty! Anyway, I digress – I think that convincing ourselves that this brew day is some sort of a vacation would be a good thing.

What does this have to do with Caturday (Catunday!)?

Well, I think it inspires a great Caturday theme!


Creamy Blueberry Amaretto Pie Recipe

Today is the 3rd “monthiversary” of the North Minneapolis Tornado.

I don’t know why this one is harder to deal with than the past two, but I’ve been really down and sort of morbid today. I actually looked at my tweets from the day of the tornado – the first time since tweeting them. If that wasn’t bad enough, I actually called up the alarm company and asked about getting the audio of the calls they made to us that day, which they’ll be emailing to me within 48 hours. I was on the phone with them as we drove into the area, and started seeing the damage. I’m sure it was nothing but a bunch of incoherent screaming … but curiosity has taken over.

I’ve just been in a really weird place all day, my apologies if you’ve been putting up with my tornado nonsense on Twitter and Facebook (and now here!) today!

So, trying to brighten the day a little, I’d like to share a new recipe: Creamy blueberry amaretto pie. This is the recipe that I worked out in a dream, as mentioned in my recipe for Southern Comfort Peach Pie. Lucid dreaming comes in handy sometimes! I tend to do a lot of problem solving and creative prep work while fast asleep.

This isn’t a traditional blueberry pie for two reasons:

– The introduction of amaretto adds a new level of complexity to the filling.

– The addition of cream cheese makes the filling almost a cross between a blueberry pie and a cheesecake.

The creaminess works well with the amaretto and blueberries, and this results in a well-structured pie that doesn’t ooze all over the plate. (Once cooled, anyway!) It’s delicious warm or cold, and is easy to make.

As always, if you like dessert recipes that gain a little extra something by flavoring with liqueurs… check out my first cookbook, The Spirited Baker.



Tornado Aftermath Updates – 08/05/11 (Tons of photos!)


My tornado memoir – “Twisted” was released on 05/22/12! click here for more details, or to purchase!

It’s been a while since the last update on our Tornado Recovery. It’s now been almost 2.5 months since the tornado, and… wow. I just had no idea that it would take this long to get anywhere.

For a while there, we were really motoring along. Once we had the shower tiled, and the kitchen “finished” (IE: new ceiling, walls, and floor.. ceiling textured, lights in, walls painted, floor tiled. No cabinets), it really started to feel like we were getting somewhere. Now, it seems like weeks are passing without getting much further forth, for the most part. Here’s where we’re at (photo heavy post): (more…)

Making Spanakopita in the Tornado Kitchen (Recipe)


My tornado memoir – “Twisted” was released on 05/22/12! click here for more details, or to purchase!

Can I just say that I’m sick of not having a kitchen?

Yesterday I had a bit of a meltdown. I got myself out of bed (I was on day 2 of bedrest on account of heat stroke, and bored out of my mind!), went down to the grocery store* with a rough idea of what should be in Spanakopita, and set about to make some – for the first time. I’d been craving it recently, and had a fairly disappointing experience with the ones we picked up at a local cafe.

Yes, I’m aware that it was a stupid move with regard to the heat stroke, and I’m paying for it this morning. It sounded like a good idea!**

Yes, I’m aware that the kitchen was NOT ready to be cooked in. We have no cabinets or counters. we haven’t even grouted the floor, and shouldn’t be doing anything messy/dirty in there at ALL until we do. It’s more accurately an unfinished room with a fridge and a stove randomly tossed in it, rather than an actual kitchen.

Yes, I realize that one would traditionally follow a recipe the first time. Gleaning a basic idea and winging it from there is FAR more my style, though. I don’t know that I had the reading comprehension skills to follow a recipe yesterday, anyway…

No, I didn’t have any measuring utensils, and all of the ingredients listed below are a “best guess” on what I did, from eyeballing it…

Oh, but it was SO worth it! (I do think I earned some Badass Points as a result of the whole deal, too!)


Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe

Ah, the best laid plans… or intentions. What is it they say? I don’t know. Got so overwhelmed by scheduling all of the remaining tornado reconstruction over the past couple of days that I had a mini breakdown yesterday. Awesome. Don’t really know up from down today! This has to be done before that, THIS can be done only on weekends… we need a permit for that, and THAT takes X number of days… don’t forget to buy X,Y, and Z before we do THAT… man, it gets overwhelming. Never mind that we’re talking about several major projects – kitchen, bathroom, patio, and deck… concurrently!

So, my big plans to do a week of cookie recipes went right out the window. Sorry about that! If you need a cookie fix, you should invest in the ridiculous shopping list of ingredients required for my “Sweet Ecstasy Cookies” recipe, and make a batch. I swear it’s worth the cost and effort. Insanely addictive!

So I’m planning a special blog entry for tomorrow, and realized that I haven’t posted an extract recipe yet. Well, it comes in handy for tomorrow’s recipe, so here we go – how to make your own vanilla extract at home! (This involves a couple of months of waiting, so plan ahead.)

The first chapter of my first cookbook(“The Spirited Baker“) is all about making ingredients from – and for – liqueurs and cocktails. Sweet and sour mix, various syrups – including homemade grenadine.. SO much better than the store bought versions! – and even various baking extracts.

Just be forewarned: Once you’ve tried fresh, pure, homemade ingredients, you’ll have a very hard time settling for their commercially available counterparts in the future!

Making flavor extracts at home can be rewarding on several levels. It can be more economical, provide a better tasting product, provide *more* of a product (convenience!), and also allow for a greater variety. In addition to being great to use in your own kitchen, homemade vanilla extract makes an excellent gift for the foodies on your holiday list. Present the extract in a pretty bottle, add a vanilla bean for added visual interest, and maybe wrap a ribbon around it. Done!

Homemade Vanilla Extract.

3 cups good quality vodka*
8 Vanilla beans

Cut vanilla beans in half, lengthwise. Place in a sterilized glass jar or bottle, cover with vodka. Store in a cool dark place for 2 – 4 months, giving the jar an occasional shake. Strain out the vanilla beans and bottle
the extract

*If you so desire, try using a less-than-neutral spirit for a more complex taste. Rum, Bourbon, Brandy – all can produce an interesting variation on vanilla extract!

Chewy Chocolate Mint Chip Cookie Recipe

46 days. A month and a half. 6.5 weeks… this is how long we’ve been without a kitchen – since the North Minneapolis tornado smashed our house. Having never had to deal with renovations before, I’m constantly amazed at how long things are taking!

It’s coming along – we have a new ceiling and walls in there now – just one more mud/tape and some sanding, and then they’ll be ready for paint/etc. Then we should have our new floor by the end of this week, maybe early next week. After almost 7 weeks of drama, it sounds like we’ll finally have our walnut tree hauled out of the yard and off to the mill sometime today – YES! That’ll be a huge relief – I’ve been terrified that we’d end up losing it to rot, insects, or whatever. That would be absolutely devastating, for the loss of that gorgeous tree to be a complete waste. So… keep your fingers crossed that today is the day!

Ah, yeah… kitchen. So now that we’re finally seeing progress – and are thoroughly sick of eating restaurant and convenience foods – I’ve been thinking: What should our first meal from the new kitchen be? Should we go fancy and celebratory? Something simple, as to not mess up our pristine new kitchen? Go the other way, and do something super complicated that uses a ton of dishes, just because I can? Comfort food?

So – like I tend to do – I took to Twitter and Facebook to ask what YOU would do. If you were to go 2+ months without a kitchen, what would you cook as your first meal back? The most popular answer by far? COOKIES.

Me, I’m sorta leaning towards a roast turkey, with all the trimmings. It’s mostly healthy, definitely comfort food… and it’s the sort of home cooking that’s impossible to replicate with any restaurant meal. Salty, crispy skin… MMMmmm…

But…you guys want cookies! I happen to have photos of a lot of my cookie recipes, and no ability to make/photograph anything more seasonally appropriate quite yet.. so let’s have a week of cookie recipes!

This recipe was always popular when I’d make it personally for Christmas gifts, and eventually professionally in my holiday cookie trays. It also formed the basis of the Chewy Mint Chip Cookie Mix, which was a popular flavor before I discontinued the non-caffeinated mix flavors. It’s fudgy, soft, chewy, and rich… SO tasty.



Updates, Bathroom Renovation … and the Demolition Playlist!


My tornado memoir – “Twisted” was released on 05/22/12! click here for more details, or to purchase!

Whew. It’s been a crazy few days. If you’ve been following on Twitter, you know the gist of it, but for the rest of you…

.. so it turns out, bathroom was damaged. We didn’t know, at the point the adjuster came by, but it doesn’t really matter – we blew past our coverage $30k in damages ago, so it’s a moot issue. Basically, the window dislodged – probably from the trees and crap that had gotten tossed between us and the neighbor on that side – and there’s a lot of water damage.

The guy who owned the house before us didn’t do the best job of … anything, really. House hasn’t had a permit pulled in over 30 years! So, after the storm, the window is sort of sagging – there’s about 1/2″ gap above it, straight out to the outside. Ew. That could explain some of the nasty bugs that have been getting in! Had we been living here / SHOWERING here, we might have noticed it earlier, but… like I said, moot point. We’d been planning to redo the bathroom anyway, so it’s not a HUGE catastrophe. We weren’t planning on having to make all these decisions / put out the money now, but… we just want it done. When the contractors are done in here, I want them done. I want all of the transitional crap, destruction, bare walls, and CHANGE done. I can’t see waking up ANYTIME soon and saying “hey… let’s tackle the bathroom now!”. We decided we need to just rip the bandaid off. Suck it up, get it all done. That’s what credit cards are for, right?

We picked out the new tiles for the bath/floor, and all of the stuff to do it. Then, the adventure began! (more…)

Tornado Aftermath Updates: 06/16/11


My tornado memoir – “Twisted” was released on 05/22/12! click here for more details, or to purchase!

Well, I’ve been sitting here for over an hour, staring at the blog title and wondering where to start.

Basically… I’m at the end of my rope with all of this. It’s been more than 3 weeks since the tornado. I’m trying to be strong, but it’s difficult. I could use any words of advice that may be available.

The two BIG problems: (more…)