Friday, October 23, 2009

All Sweet Things Must Come To An End

Today’s blog posting is just a little bittersweet as it will be my last. We have had so much fun over the last year and a half but I have decided to take a small hiatus from writing “The Sweet Life”.

Life has been so good to me and I am always happy to share some of the great insights I have gained and hope that it has brought a little sweetness into your life, as well.

I realize that this is a little sudden and ending “The Sweet Life” was not really something I had ever considered as it HAS been so much fun for me. I appreciate all of your great comments and feedback, as well as all of your support. It has meant so much to me.

It has always been my goal to provide a little humor and optimism into everything that I experience and pass it along to all of you. This blog has also taught me a little bit about the value of sharing these experiences and interacting with an audience and I think that I have achieved that and so much more. I have learned so much but it is time to pursue other things.

As it can be time consuming to raise myself while also raising two rambunctious boys and wanting to succeed in a career that is truly satisfying to me, I want to make sure I am giving those efforts 110% so future posts of “The Sweet Life” will have to wait until I feel like I can give it the full attention it deserves, creatively.

And who knows….maybe in the meantime, I will be able to craft “The Great American Novel” in my head and you will see it topping the New York Times Best Seller list in the next handful of years.

Until then, I remain….1SweetMama

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Best Medicine

James Madison, our 4th U.S. President was a pretty smart guy.
An American politician, political philosopher, and recognized by many political and historical academics as the “father of the Constitution”, this man took his work seriously. However, apparently, he also made a commitment to his leisure time, as well. James Madison said, “Let me recommend the best medicine in the world: a long journey, at a mild season, through a pleasant country, in easy stages.”

And he is right.

Not realizing it at the time, I heeded the advice of President Madison and did just this. Laying my “guilty mother” and “career-gal” reservations aside, I took P.O.D. up on his invitation to spend a week with him and the G’s in Southern France and Monaco. A long journey. A mild season. A pleasant country. Easy stages. While my initial reactions to this trip focused mainly on all the things I would miss out on, I have more recently been reflecting upon all the things I have gained from this trip.

Here are a few “life souvenirs” that I picked up in my travels:


Global vision. I realize that I am not the only person living on this planet. I know that is an elementary way to express it but there are many people who never leave the boundaries of their home towns. They grow up in their own “walled cities” and live life not ever seeing that there is a whole world of cultures and languages and problems and triumphs that exist beyond their own front porch. Landscapes as rich and beautiful as the ones we call “home” abound in every hill and valley of our planet. Cultures. Colors. Foods. Music. While they are all so different, they have one thing in common…..they serve as home to someone. Those people are just like you and me but live elsewhere and it is our job to visit as many of our fellow humans in their “homes” as possible. I think this allows us to gain a better understanding that we live as one united people. One global community.


Self acceptance. This one was BIG for me. The cliché is true….French women are beautiful. And here is the thing….their beauty is much different than what Americans (especially American women) recognize as beautiful. French women are beautiful from within. Their beauty comes from a confidence that they exude like nothing I have ever seen. They are comfortable in their own skin. They are strong and independent. They eat until they are full; they drink until they are satisfied. Here is the difference…..they LIVE. I am working very hard to accept this as part of who I am. I am not a size. I am an essence. I want to LIVE like the French and, with any luck, my beauty will become a by-product of my loving life.


Deeper. Broader. Richer. On this trip, I made a conscious effort to take many “mental pictures”. I savored every taste, every sip, every sight, every sound. From the vision of a festival atmosphere in a town square in Nice, to the church bells ringing in the distance while sunning myself by the pool, to my seeing a blueness of the Cote d’ Azur waters that I have never, ever seen before in my life….these are the things that make my life richer. No t-shirt or postcard can ever capture those things. My soul has been made richer by experiencing these things and for that, I am forever changed.


Finally, appreciation of my own “good life”. Ahh. To be home again is something I cherish. Frantic schedules. The reality of bill-paying, my small, cluttered, dirty house, managing my personal dramas, feeling overwhelmed by life….kids pulling me in every direction. It is chaos. But it is my life and it is my reality. And I am glad to be back in it. I need all of that as much as all of “that” needs me. It feels good to be home.


Maybe James Madison knew all of this, already. One doesn’t rise to a position of his stature without embracing the whole “work-life” balance and knowing that one really needs to take some time out to climb off the hamster wheel and get outside of your box every now and then just to appreciate all the things you have. It truly is “The Best Medicine” to cure what “ails ya”.

One of my best gal pals, Phoebe, tells me that I am living the book, “Eat. Pray. Love.” (Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert(2006)) I, embarrassingly, have never read this book but if what Phoebe tells me of the story is true, then I am feeling satisfyingly full.

Thank you, P.O.D., for giving me a gift greater than you will ever know….and thank you to my friends who shared our travels with us and thank you to the new friends I made along our journey. Thanks, too, to the people and places of Provence for giving me a wonderful new perspective on my life.

Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dining Out: Le Moulins de Mougins

Thursday night in France was to be our “big night out”. As I mentioned last Friday, it was the precursory celebration of Mr. and Mrs. G’s 16th Anniversary. P.O.D. and I joined the "G's" and Mr. G's cousin, Sophy, at a restaurant of note in a town called Mougins, not far from Cannes.

From the moment you walked in the door, you knew this place was going to provide an extraordinary dining experience. We sat in a kind of “garden room”, enclosed on all sides by glass allowing a virtually unimpeded view of the courtyard garden outside (photo below, in the daylight).
Autographs of notable personalities were scrawled on the glass the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor….all who had dined at 'Le Moulins de Mougins' on a previous occasion.

Tonight was our night to dine there and, although we were not asked to sign the glass, we did enjoy an amazing meal. Our table opted for the “Chef’s Tasting Menu”, which is a practice of being served several (I believe we had 11) small-portioned courses hand selected and prepared by the Chef. We were tended to by a graceful and fun wait staff, led by our head waiter, Diedre.

Not far into our courses, we learned of the notoriety of our chef, Sébastien Chambru. The staff sung his praises and the plates they brought to us were probably the singular best-tasting culinary pairings that I have ever had. French and Japanese fusion. My favorite? Escalope de foie gras de canard poêlee, pain perdu á la banana (Pan friend duck foie gras, French toast banana flavor).

This being "The Sweet Life", I thought I would highlight our sweets (desserts....and there were THREE....can it get much sweeter than that??) Below are some photos and descriptions:

Ananas bounty (Coconut, vanilla, pineapple combination and pineapple sorbet)













Feuille á feuille craquante au praliné, caramel glacé (Contemporary “mille feuille” of chocolate and hazelnuts, salted caramel ice cream….and you may not be able to see it in the photo, but there was a small gold leaf draped over the wafer/ice cream presentation ….beautiful….and, for, the record….the leaf had no real taste!)






Finally….NOT on the menu, but presented to our table as a gift from the staff, was this lovely glass of custard with a chocolate topping decorated with the restaurant logo. A very nice end to the perfect meal.









We left full and happy. It was a beautiful night and the company was wonderful.

Then, just this morning, I received an email from Sophy, who excitedly explained that she happened to catch a feature on television LAST night about the restaurant and its artful Chef, Sébastien Chambru. Here is her report:

He is exactly 32 years old and has worked in Japan where he especially worked on
choosing the products and associating them. He said that 50% of the work is done
in having good products. He brought a [uniqueness to the menu of] 'Le Moulins de
Mougins' with his young Japanese experience and his brand-new French and
Japanese association of food.

He [received] the 'MOF' graduation in 2007: “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” (Best worker of France), issued from a competitive examination. There were only [seven] to be graduated in France in 2007, and only they are allowed to wear the French Flag around their neck when they are in the kitchen clothes. [You can see this red, white and blue French flag collar in the photo,below...from L to R: P.O.D., Mrs. G, Chef Sébastien Chambru, 1SweetMama, Mr. G, Diedre, Sophy]

'Le Moulin de Mougins' has two 'Macarons Michelin'
(or we can say also 'Etoiles Michelin'), Sébastien Chambru is trying to bring
the 3rd Macaron Michelin to the restaurant with his New French/Japanese Cuisine
[fusion-style menu selections].


We were the last to leave the restaurant…I think it was around midnight but everyone remaining at the restaurant was very gracious to us. If I am ever lucky enough to visit France again, I would love an encore at Le Moulins de Mougins, but….until then, you will find me on my treadmill.

If you would like to visit this restaurant, virtually, you can travel there via this website: http://www.moulindemougins.com/fr/index.php#index.php

Next Friday will be my last posting on my French adventure. Please join me as I wrap up this chapter of “The Sweet Life”.

Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nice is Nice!


(a view from our hotel room in Nice. This is the Cote D'Azur. Nice is very NICE!!!)

Bon Jour! Today is Friday and this is my last day in France. Yesterday, we m

ade the move from our hotel in Monte Carlo to our hotel in Nice. We fly out of Nice on Saturday morning….headed toward home.

Wednesday night was a truly lovely evening. We met up with more of Mr. G’s family, including a familiar face from Monday night, Coco*. There were also new faces: Jaques*, Coco’s brother, cousin Sophy*, and Elle* (Jaques’ wife). All of these people, especially the women, are truly exquisite and wildly interesting and they put out a certain je ne sais pas. They were all so welcoming and, although I could only converse about 85 percent of the time due to a bit of a language barrier of MY part, we all spoke the same languages of family, food, and the trials and tribulations of life: marriages, divorces, children, school, politics, work, and the like.

We dined in Antibes at a restaurant called Auberge Provancale d’ Antibes. This establishment specializes in Fruits de Mer (literally, Fruits of the Sea… or seafood). We ate in a romantic fauna-covered garden (jarden d’éte ombragé) outside and in back of the restaurant. If you are interested, feel free to visit the website at www.aubergeprovencale.com .

My dinner began with six (6) huitres Fines de Claires (raw oysters), followed by the main course of Pave d’espadonen croûte de tapenade (swordfish and mixed vegetables in a white wine and butter sauce), with a dessert course of Pore pocheé aux espices, caramel au noisettes et glace au rhumet raisins (pear cooked with spices, caramel sauce and nuts with rum raisin ice cream). Just for fun, the very personable waiter even set our desserts ablaze au flambé Grand Marnier.

After dinner, the group walked around the city walls of “old” Antibes and viewed the enormous yachts and ships docked in the marina. These vessels are owned by people who live lives of privelidge the likes we will never know. By this time, it was close to 1:30 a.m. and we all bid adieux and went our separate ways. We drove Sophy home and she showed us her beautifully remodeled apartment with a luxury kitchen…..very efficient by American standards but very “over-the-top” for someone living in Monte Carlo.

Thursday was a day for driving the 20-30 kilometers from Monte Carlo to Nice and for walking through the shopping districts. Our mission was to find a great pair of shoes, some souvenirs for my boys, and a great hat for me. I am a hat-wearer so finding a hat in France seemed the right thing to do. We also, of course, made some time to stop at Fennochio again for more great glace (ice cream).

While we found lots of shoe options that we did not purchase, I found myself stumbling in to a great hat shop called La Chapellerie. I must have tried on one hundred hats from the insane to the glamorous but ended up purchasing two: one very French and one very warm and French for when I return to Iowa. I also found a neck-scarf that will go well with both.

Thursday night was the premier dining event. Today (Friday) is Mr. and Mrs. G’s 16th anniversary and we pulled out the stops for dinner on Thursday night to kick it off right. We dressed to the Nine’s, met up with Sophy and travelled to a very nice restaurant called Le Moulin de Mougins (The Mougins Mill) in Mougins, France, not far from Cannes. I will devote next Tuesday’s blog entry entirely to that experience because I have never had a dining experience quite like that one…..11 courses, all small dishes recommended and prepared by the chef (The Chef’s Sampling Menu). It was the best food I have ever tasted and the entire experience with the great staff who catered to us all night was second to none. We even met the chef and had a picture taken with him. I can’t wait to tell you about that night.

Tune in next Tuesday for the full details on Le Moulin de Mougin… á bientôt!

Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

* Names are changed…..sorry, I can’t give it ALL away!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Secret Is Out!!


It was a rocky start to my travels......Friday's flight out of Sioux City: CANCELLED. It was the last flight out. One hour and forty-five minutes and several highly emotional calls to Delta operators later, I had re-booked a flight that left Des Moines at 9 a.m., which meant that I had to be on the road by 3 a.m. in order to make it to the airport. I had to unpack my BIG suitcase and had to fit all my clothes, etc. into a carry-on suitcase. The flight left on-time......I arrived to meet P.O.D on time and we made it to JFK in time to catch our international flight.

On the plane with a "nice" in-flight meal, one bourbon, and a cushy neck pillow later, I was sound asleep waking four and a half hours later somewhere over France, P.O.D. at my side. Ahh.

This is the big surprise. We are spending a week in Monte Carlo, Monaco, and Nice, France. I couldn't say anything before because this adventure was a clandestine journey to surprise Mr. G (you have previously met The Fabulous Mrs. G….or “Fab”) in the land of his ancestry, Southern France.

The trip has been wonderful so far. Our room overlooks the marina, in which high-end yachts dock and gently rock back and forth in their “parking spaces”. We look out over the Mediterranean and the breezes are warm and calm.

Being 1SweetMama and sharing a friendship with Fab, who is also one to appreciate ice cream, or glace, as it is called en France, we have made it our mission to eat as much of it as possible. So far, we have had chocolate with chili pepper, tomato basil (yes….ice cream!), a yummy salty caramel (I wrote the name down but cannot find it at the moment….I will share it with you later), dulce de leche, pistachio, avocado, and even a few gelatos…apple and mixed berry.

Wanting to experience as many gastronomic opportunities as possible, I have eaten Mediterranean Sea Bass, calamari…which actually looked like mini squids swimming on my plate (they looked terrible but tasted delicious!!), sole meunière, oysters, rosé wine at every opportunity, and South Beach diet be darned…..lots and lots of good, crusty French breads.

Quickly…today included several hours driving to tour a winery, Chateau Beaucastel, eat lunch in Avignon, and on to Hyères to visit the Catania family and have dinner with them. Spaghetti and Caillette (a chestnut and ground meat mixture wrapped in a cabbage leaf with bacon).

I will give full descriptions in a future blog entry….photos, anecdotes…..etc…. á bientôt!

Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

Friday, October 2, 2009

Bud's Big Day

It has been two weeks of travel and I have another big week next week (you will hear all about it in my blog post on Tuesday) so it comes as no surprise that Bud’s (my oldest son) 15th birthday kinda snuck up on me.

Not to be “snuck up” upon by any birthday, I was prepared. I whipped up another fabulous party last night, complete with birthday cake and Blue Bunny Peanut Butter Panic® ice cream, gifts, singing relatives, and lots of embarrassed eye-rolling from my “I’m-too-cool-for-all-this-attention” 15-year old.

The party needed to end early so that everyone could get homework done and get in bed at a decent time so that we could be up and making my first kid delivery to school by 7:15 a.m.

And since September seems to be about birthdays and cakes and ice cream, I must tell you one of my most favorite stories about Bud. One year, when he was 9 or 10, he asked for an Easy-Bake Oven® for Christmas. While this was the source of several conversations on whether or not a pink EZ Bake oven for a 9-year old boy was a good gift….come Christmas morning, that oven was under the tree and weeks of teeny-tiny cakes, baked by the heat of a light bulb, and quarter-sized cookies, baked 4 at a time, were enjoyed by all. We continue to tell stories about it to this day and Bud has even expressed interest in the possibility of pursuing a career in the culinary arts. Who knows………….maybe Chef Duff got his start with an Easy-Bake Oven and, possibly, a blow torch!

As the oldest, Bud has always been a bit of the Guinea Pig…the science experiment. From the day he was born until this morning, and for every morning hereafter, I will always look upon him with wonderment as the one who started my motherhood journey and leads me into unchartered territory on a daily basis. Bud continues to fascinate me with his compassion, kind heart, talent, and his resolute.

He is easy going and knows how to “work a room”. He has a winning charm and plays a very mean piano…..and he will always hold a special place in his mom’s heart as the one who, on this day 15 years ago, both terrified me and melted my heart all at the same time.

Happy 15th birthday, Bud!

Beware! Today’s blog post ends in a Cliffhanger!!!

Before I leave you for the week, I IMPLORE you to check out my blog post on Tuesday. It will be pretty unexpected, i assure you. Not sure the time that I will post it so keep checking back on Tuesday until you see it.

Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time To Take A Stand


OK. Seriously. Someone has to say something and if no one else does, I sure am going to. I need to take a personal stand against "those" emails…..you know the ones….you get them two or three times a day. The “here-is-a-ridiculously-sappy-email-with-flowers-or-cute-puppies-or-angels-or-roses-that-says-you-need-to-forward-to-10-friends-and-your-wish-will-come-true-at-11:37-and-besides-you-must-hate-me-if-I-don’t-get-this-back” emails.

Just recently, I was sent an email from a good friend and the subject headline read:

“Let’s see if you reply….if ya don’t it says a lot!!”

Wow! That is harsh!

My immediate reaction is, “Why would so-and-so send me an e-mail with that as the header??” I guess I better read it! I open it up to find a series of roses for love and friendship, blah…blah…blah. I am supposed to send it on to 10 friends including her, the sender. If I don’t, I must be some kind of stone-hearted person with ice water running through my veins.

My email reply to her was:


“Dear friend,

“Know that I get all of your emails like this
one but I just don't reply or forward out of respect for my
fellow cyber-friends. If I sent and received all of these "Send to 10
friends and see who replies" emails with wishes being granted I would never get
anything done. In fact, my Inbox is generally where those kinds of emails
go to die. BUT I will reply to this one so you DO
know...

“I appreciate your friendship.....here is a virtual
rose.

“Just because I don't reply doesn't mean I don't care.
Hope all is well with you and your family!

1SweetMama”

I absolutely adore the gal who sent this to me…..but I cannot stand receiving these emails. I don’t mean to be a cynic but these are the cyber equivalent to credit card offers that litter my mailbox or solicitations for donations for The Boys and Girls Home or the ASPCA with photos of starving dogs and cats on the envelopes. I can’t stand these things! I am riddled with guilt when I toss them into the shredder. I know I should respond but I never have enough money to spread around for these kinds of things. I want to give but I just can’t.

And because my money is like my time, I must carefully budget it and spending time to respond and forward thousands of “here-is-a-ridiculously-sappy-email-with-flowers-or-cute-puppies-or-angels-or-roses-that-says-you-need-to-forward-to-10-friends-and-your-wish-will-come-true-at-11:37-and-besides-you-must-hate-me-if-I-don’t-get-this-back” emails is not very prudent. Again: I want to give but I just can’t.

So….here is YOUR virtual rose, your angel, your kitty, puppy, dancing hippopotamus, shout out to the classy ladies for “Today Is Classy Lady Day” (which, according to the number of times I receive this in a year….it must occur 47 times annually). I love you all but I don’t need to forward or respond to emails threatening me to do so. My promise to YOU is that you will never get one of those emails from me, either. You might, however, get a personal email telling you how much I love you. I hope that is okay.

Send this on to 10 friends or not. I really don’t care.

Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

Friday, September 25, 2009

Duff and Geoff - The Dynamic Duo

Welcome back, sweet readers…. So you want to hear more about the cake superhero, Chef Duff Goldman, and his merry minion, Geoff Manthorne?? Well, you have come to the right place.

This past Tuesday was such an incredible experience to be able to celebrate with one of our customers, A&P, along with 50 contest winners and their guests, and – of course – Chef Duff Goldman and Geoff Manthorne (of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, Maryland) at the A&P 150th Birthday Party, hosted by Blue Bunny® Ice Cream.

The night before (Monday night), we were informed by one of Duff’s staff (his brother, to be exact) that the cake was to be finished around midnight and that one of the bakery employees would hit the road, cake loaded in the van, bound for New York City. His arrival time? 2:30 a.m. Meanwhile, Duff and Geoff would board a train Tuesday morning, arriving in NYC at approximately 8:50 a.m. We later were informed by Duff that because of our project, a new rule has been established at Charm City Cakes:


“No more cake orders for delivery on a Tuesday.”

By 9:30 a.m., we began to grow anxious at the word of Duff’s arrival. The report finally came around 9:45 a.m. – “Duff is in the Park!”….meaning, Chef Duff Goldman – The Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes” – had called to say that they were driving around Central Park in an attempt to find the Boathouse and that he feared his driver was a little lost.

Moments later, the Charm City Cakes van appeared, followed by Chef Duff, himself, and Geoff, along with Mark the road-weary cake transporter. The three of them carefully carried the main cake in – a vintage ice cream delivery truck. Then, armloads of cardboard flats containing each piece of the cake, molded from fondant icing and gum paste. Once everything was settled inside, the real work began.

The three of them set to work to finish the cake, carefully placing each piece, wiring the cake for lights and sound, smoothing out edges, shaping, molding, fussing. It was like watching a fine sculptor as he worked his medium. Two hours later, we were posing with each other next to the finished cake and Duff proudly displaying the mechanics of the dry ice smoke mist and the working horn: “Aah-ooooo-ga! Aah-ooooo-ga!” It was priceless. He was so proud of himself and we were speechless.

Duff and Geoff graciously interacted and posed with corporate executives and laughed and joked with everyone. They posed, unflapping-ly, for nearly 200 photos with our party guests (everyone got a personal photo of themselves with Duff, Geoff, and the cake). They signed autographs, listened to stories and humbly reacted to swooning fans.

The thing that amazed me the most was the number of young people who are impacted by Chef Duff and the work that he does with Charm City Cakes. Young children, fans of the show, tried to contain their excitement as they met the dynamic duo and told them how much they love the show and how much they want to grow up to be a pastry chef, too. I am also wildly aware of the impact Duff has on these kids because I see it in my own home. My own two boys and I love to watch the show. Both of my sons ask questions about culinary schools and how did Duff get his start? The thing about Duff is that he is a great role model…..he is edgy, cool, a talented artist. In fact, he makes art cool. He inspires our youth to think about career options that are not necessarily the standard doctor-lawyer-engineer-stockbroker (not there is one single thing wrong with these careers!) types but to also consider careers in art, culinary skills, music, and the like.

He wears a backwards baseball cap and an assortment of sports jerseys, baggy jeans, and steel toed shoes. He looks more like a character off of the Discovery Channel’s “Orange County Choppers” or “Ink” than a cake-decorator. One of my co-workers commented that Duff just seems like “your favorite drinking buddy”.

Geoff is an artist-type. Quiet. Un-assuming. Quirkily dressed. Humble. Thoughtful. Sincere. I would liken him to that quiet friend you can always count on to be there for you.

This pair definitely puts the “charm” in Charm City Cakes and we were honored to have them involved with our program. We look forward to working with them again and there is some talk of future meetings and grand ideas…so stay tuned. You never know when these guys might show up again in a future blog post.

Keep reading “The Sweet Life”…..next week’s posts include a funny take on “those kinds of emails” (you know the ones!) and another birthday……but we are just three posts away from a really fun blog entry……you won’t believe it until you read it.

Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Having My Cake And Eating It, Too!

Happy Birthday to me!
Happy Birthday to me!


Oh, wait….it isn’t my birthday! But no birthday of mine in recent history (okay, my 16th birthday and the cheese-ball and Jello® Jiggler food-fight that ensued during the party is probably my best birthday memory EVER) can top a day like the one I had yesterday.

Cheese-balls and Jello Jigglers aside, Tuesday was spent celebrating many birthdays other than mine. We celebrated one of our retail customers, A&P’s, 150th birthday, along with 50 winning birthday memories submitted by contestants to the Blue Bunny® and A&P Best Birthday Contest promotion. Contest entrants had to submit their favorite birthday memory and the top 50 were chosen (from over 800 contest entries!) and those winners were invited to our Birthday Party, celebrated YESTERDAY (coincidentally, on National Ice Cream Cone Day, in honor of the birthday of the ice cream cone!!) at the Central Park Boathouse in Central Park, New York City. These fabulous people with stories as great as they were joined us as we carved into the incredible birthday cake, designed and sculpted by The Food Network’s Ace of Cakes, Chef “Duff” Goldman.

There was speechmaking and gift-giving, the ceremonial singing of the “Happy Birthday” song, cake and ice cream….a real “festivus” for all involved. And Duff and Geoff?? They were the (dare I say it??) “icing on the cake”! More on these two in FRIDAY’S blog entry…tune in to “The Sweet Life” on Friday for more!!!

The cake, itself, was, in a word...awe-inspiring. The cake, created to honor the 150th birthday anniversary of A&P Stores was a one-of-a-kind creation by the Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes”, Chef Duff Goldman, and was commissioned by Wells’ Dairy, Inc., makers of Blue Bunny® branded frozen ice cream and novelties, in honor of partner retailer, A&P’s (Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company) 150th birthday celebration. The cake was designed by Chef Duff Goldman (while we watched over his shoulder…see my blog entries dated August 11 and 14, 2009) and was created by him, along with the talented artists of Charm City Cakes, Baltimore, Maryland. The cake size was 3.5’ long and served 200 people.

As the photo shows, the cake featured a sculpted vintage A&P delivery truck placed within a cobblestone street scene; a background created with fondant icing of the first A&P store in operation, located on Vesey Street in New York City, served as the backdrop to the truck. The delivery truck was wired for electricity, sound (the horn on the truck actually honked!), and dry ice “smoke” which misted out of the back of the truck, where stacks Blue Bunny product were loaded for delivery to the store. The cake also featured a modeled newspaper vendor (“selling” the Le Mars Sentinel (our local paper)) and a Blue Bunny delivery man, created in the likeness of Blue Bunny Senior Vice President of Marketing and Research & Development, Jim Reynolds.

To sweeten the cake offering, we served each piece of chocolate and yellow marbled cake with 20 containers of Blue Bunny ice cream (1-2 scoops per piece!). Flavors? Blue Bunny® Bunny Tracks and Premium All Natural Vanilla.

After the party, my colleagues and I boarded our jet plane bound for home in “The Ice Cream Capital of the World®”.

So…after 24 hours of suspending my South Beach Diet regimen and replacing low-fat and high protein meal choices with great New York food and Chef Duff-made cake and Blue Bunny Ice Cream, I am exhausted and a little bloated but oh, so very happy to have been involved with such a great project and so many wonderful and remarkable people. Remember to come back and check in to “The Sweet Life” on FRIDAY for more on Chef Duff Goldman and his incredible side-kick, Geoff – who loves eating Blue Bunny ice cream! Who knew??

Until next Friday, I remain on Cloud Nine and….1SweetMama

Friday, September 18, 2009

RATED PG-13: How Birthday Cake Taught Me About The Male Anatomy

This is your final warning that this blog entry is rated PG-13…..(according to the Motion Picture Association of America, a PG-13 rating is one that strongly cautions parents as some material may not be suited for anyone under the age of 13 – either physically or mentally…okay, so I added that last part! But don’t say I didn’t warn ya!)

Growing up, some of my most vivid memories are of my coming home from school or work and finding my mother toiling over a cake. She ran a home-business as a cake decorator and she would make, on average, about 4-6 cakes each week.

She was very good at it…..and her buttercream icing was to die for!!

I learned a lot of things from my mother and her cake business. How to make a flower out of icing…how to put a scalloped edge on a cake, how important the mixing time is for both the cake batter AND the icing……and that it isn’t just a Ho-Ho that plays an important role in a “naked man” cake.

Yes, my dear, sweet, non-assuming mother was a highly-sought-after decorator of “naughty cakes” suitable for bachelor/bachelorette parties….milestone birthday parties….whatever occasion called for a naughty cake. Now, Mom had a collection of beautiful and socially appropriate cakes that she created, as well. Wedding cakes, baby showers, Christenings….you name it. But the naughty cakes took the…..well, you know.

I distinctly remember walking in the door after school one afternoon, the house smelling of cake batter, sugar, and Crisco and found my mother in the “sculpting process” of one of her naughty cakes. Now, I had seen the multitude of female versions of the “naughty cake” in various states of undress and, because I was already familiar with the “parts manual” of the female anatomy, I was, mostly, un-phased. Grossed out…but un-phased. Bear in mind that I was probably 14 or 15 at the time.

Old enough to know but not old enough to fully understand, I rounded the corner that fateful afternoon and was confronted with the male naughty cake assembly, in process. I noted a top and bottom layer of cake, secured with a layer of buttercream frosting between them and carved into the shape of a man’s torso, from the chest area to the upper thigh. In the groin area, was a Ho-Ho (the usual suspect) and…what’s this???? Two marshmallows?? What they heck are they doing there? Isn’t the Ho-Ho all that belongs there? But a Ho-Ho and two marshmallows? …and….why is it all slanted to the left? This simply did not compute in my middle-school adolescent brain.

A ten minute conversation and clarification from my mother, probably followed by an “Ewww!” from me, and I was set straight on the male anatomy. Just like that. Apparently I never really paid much attention in Health Class but a man carved out of baked cake batter and decorated in frosting? Well, now THAT was the kind of “body language” I understood.

Obviously, the “Lesson Of The Naughty Cake” certainly made an impact.

From that day on, I was no longer shocked when I rounded the kitchen corner….but I never could look at marshmallows the same way again. Or Ho-Ho’s, for that matter.

And speaking of cake, dear readers, my NEXT blog post will be the “Day of Duff” – Chef Duff, that is! Bear in mind that it may not get posted until late, late on Tuesday night or early on Wednesday morning so keep checking back for the full SCOOP on every SWEET detail of the birthday cake and Blue Bunny® ice cream party occurring just four days from today.

Talk to you on Tuesday!

Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Birth Of The Ice Cream Cone

Photo: Blue Bunny® Ice Cream wwww.flickr.com. Find it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluebunnyicecream/3179408525/in/set-72157612280082067

Speaking of birthdays and birth days…Who REALLY “birthed” the ice cream cone?


There are so many stories surrounding the birth of the ice cream cone and, in my attempt to create a slow build of excitement to the Blue Bunny®/A&P® Birthday party with Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes”, Chef Duff Goldman, one week from today (let me hear ya say “Woo-hoo!”), I happened to realize that the actual DAY of our party to celebrate A&P’s 150th Anniversary is also the nationally celebrated birthday of the ice cream cone!


Most histories of ice cream will tell you that that the ice cream cone was invented in 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair, a fact that 1SweetMama, a native St. Louisan, is VERY proud to proclaim. Syrian immigrant, Ernest A. Hamwi gave some of his “zalabia” (a waffle-like pastry) from his pastry cart to neighboring vendor, Arnold Fornachou, who had run out of paper dishes to serve his ice cream in at his adjoining ice cream cart at the fair. Another version has Hamwi teaming up with a different ice cream vendor named Charles Menches, who also ran out of dishes. Who knows for sure….perhaps a little case of “cone envy”??


There are about a hundred other stories that sound much the same but involve different ice cream and waffle vendors….and there were, likely, a hundred ice cream and waffle vendors at the St. Louis Fair (or the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition). Whatever the story, whatever the claim…..whoever the vendor….. certainly, the one singular GIVEN is that the ice cream cone became universally popular after this date. Despite the number of claimants, most ice cream experts and associations DO give the credit to Hamwi. Way to go, Ernie!


But, for the sake of humoring me with the “September 22 in New York City” tie in - let us also consider Italo Marciony – who claimed he created the ice cream cone on September 22, 1896! He sold his cones from a pushcart in New York City, and his claim may be the best, since he had a patent for a waffle mold, granted in December, 1903, eight months before the St. Louis Fair!
So…. Seven days before my Blue Bunny colleagues and I trek off to New York City to celebrate cake and ice cream with Chef Duff and A&P, I must pay homage to the ones who gave us the foundation to do so. Cones and ice cream; cake and ice cream. No matter how you scoop it, I still find myself all giddy as a school girl. September 22 is growing ever-closer!


And, speaking of cake and ice cream…..tune in next FRIDAY as I tell you about how I learned about the male anatomy from birthday cake. You KNOW you will want to read that one!


Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

Friday, September 11, 2009

Aunt 1SweetMama Will Always have Gum!

I told you previously that there is a slight difference between birthdays and birth days and here is that subtle nuance.

Early Thursday morning, just 3 and one-half hours past the “lucky” 09-09-09 date, my sister, “Little A” gave birth to my VERY first nephew. For now, I will call him “Squeaker”, because that is what he mostly does. I only met him for the first time for just 45 minutes yesterday and he squeaked and squawked the whole while, melting his “Auntie’s” heart. His fingers and toes are long and purplish but soft to the touch and oh, so dainty. His poor little head is misshapen and bruised from hours of stress and pressure of a long and painful labor and birth.

I must tell you that, while many cultures boast the good omens of the 09-09-09 date, the best omen for our family was to finally meet this little guy. My sister, a petite (but strong marathon runner) suffered 20 hours of labor, including 4 and a half hours of “pushing” before her doctor must have finally “done the math” and realized that a 5’1” girl may not be able to successfully push out a 7 and a half pound baby. Near total exhaustion, she finally underwent a C-Section and….

Welcome “Squeaker”!

He was born on 9-10-09…maybe not the lucky date that everyone talked about on Wednesday but the luckiest date for Little A and her hubby, “Banan-er” (pronounced like “banana with an “er” at the end). He is their first-born and a definite keeper.

This little angel joins the ranks of my two nieces (from my brother and his wife) as holding a very special place in 1SweetMama’s heart. These are the people who I hope will always know that they may come to their “Auntie” for advice and, most importantly, GUM.

That is right. Let it be known that if they ever have want for gum and I am in gum-giving proximity…..I will be ready to hand it over for their pure chewing enjoyment. Advice will also be dolled out in the same fashion, should they ever decide they need it.

I know that aunts play important roles in nieces’ and nephews’ lives and I hope that I will be able to fulfill this duty with courage, dignity, humor, sweetness…..and a piece or two of Juicy Fruit gum.

So, you see there IS a slight difference between birthdays and birth days and in this instance, this particular birth day is a wonderful moment in 1SweetMama’s life.

…..and, while I am at it, how about a “shout out” to all those who I love who also celebrate September birthdays….

Corey, Maggie, Jayne, Evie, and Peanut. Congrats on another beautiful year!!

Tune in next Tuesday when we will start the countdown to Chef Duff Goldman and my “Ace of Cakes” encounter in New York City!

Until then, I remain….”Auntie”1SweetMama

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Peanut And His Tenth Trip Around The Sun

(Peanut in 2006....I love this picture...it is about the only moment when he wasn't talking...we call this photo "Peanut, at rest")

He was supposed to have been born on 9-9-99 but he just couldn’t wait. Peanut was born, instead, on September 8, 1999, and I watched, from my hospital bed, all the other mothers being interviewed on television because they had had their babies on September 9. Peanut was anxious to get started with life a day early and he has never looked back.

I also remember that he latched on to a “binky” and a stuffed animal from just days old. Peanut still cannot go anywhere without that stuffed animal, which was – we believe – a beanie-baby hamster but we began to call it “Mole” or more endearingly, “Moley”. I don’t even want to get into the whole… “But the animal has eyes so how can it be a mole?” thing….it is just what we called it and the name stuck. Today, Moley is just a stump with an eye (and no arms and legs) that Grandma Jane has to continue to perform surgery on in order to hold him together. Peanut doesn’t care.

The binky was a near permanent fixture for Peanut. When we began to grow concerned because his speech and language development was slow, the doctor simply told us to “pull the plug” on the binky and, upon its removal, the words began to pour out of his mouth like never before. He still talks non-stop and sometimes we joke with him, asking him if he ever even stops to take a breath. It is a common belief that he is making up for lost time from the binky and his “no-talking” days.

He has the wildest imagination and wants so much to be like his big brother. He says the funniest things without even realizing they are funny…which makes it even funnier.

He tells me that he likes to take showers because it is his “imagination place”, which, at first, terrified me when he said it. When I asked what he meant by that, Peanut said, “Well, I like to go in there and just think about things that are interesting.” Wow. That is deep.

Now in the 4th grade, he loves football (see my 8/28/09 entry), video games, the Nickelodeon Channel, collecting stuffed animals, and wanted nothing more for his birthday than an overly priced Nerf gun and a chocolate ice cream cake.

(Photo, middle, right, is of Peanut at his party....he held up the cake so we could take his picture and it slid off....his expression is priceless!)
His birthday was a huge hit.

Not only was there chocolate ice cream cake, Peanut received TWO Nerf guns (because what’s the point in having just one gun when you can have two and choose your opponent?), a giant slab of beef jerky (that’s his favorite), some little “fun” gifts, and the meal of his choice, which ended up being country-style BBQ ribs, Iowa sweet corn, and Grandma Jane’s applesauce.

Peanut is wildly proud of the fact that he is now a double-digit number. 10 passes around the sun and a personality that is just as bright.

Happy birthday, Peanut. We love you!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Labor Day!

Today is the last day of a crazy work week and I must confess that the minutes are ticking by ever so slowly….I know that, since it must be 5 o’clock somewhere, we all should be allowed to get out of here and go home and begin our “relaxing” weekend that is meant to congratulate workers across the globe for a job well done with a well-earned long weekend.

In case you were wondering (and this comes straight from Wikipedia. Read the full story at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day ) …..

Labor Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September (September 7 in 2009).

The holiday originated in Canada out of labor disputes ("Nine-Hour Movement") first in Hamilton, then in Toronto, Ontario in the 1870s, which resulted in a Trade Union Act which legalized and protected union activity in 1872. The parades held in support of the Nine-Hour Movement and the printers' strike led to an annual celebration in Canada.

In 1882, American labor leader Peter J. McGuire witnessed one of these labor festivals in Toronto. Inspired, he returned to New York and organized the first American "labor day" on September 5 of the same year.

The first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City. In the aftermath of the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the US military and US Marshals during the 1894 Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with labor as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. Cleveland was also concerned that aligning a US labor holiday with existing international May Day celebrations would stir up negative emotions linked to the Haymarket Affair. All 50 U.S. states have made Labor Day a state holiday.

The form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday: A street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations," followed by a festival for the workers and their families. This became the pattern for Labor Day celebrations.

Or……simply host a bar-b-que! Go camping. Have a party. Go fishing. Eat ice cream.

This is supposed to be a workers’ holiday….a time to celebrate and rest from work.

Hmmmmm…..rest from work?

Do we ever really rest? In the age of cell phones and email and smart phones and mp3 players, and Facebook, do we ever truly “turn it off” and spend some quality time just (figuratively speaking, here) sitting on the front porch and wile away the hours….resting?

If given a chance, would we?

Maybe our mission this weekend is to find a hammock or chaise lounge and put our feet up for a while and just do nothing…..or…..if you must do something productive….take a nap.

Or eat ice cream.

I have heard that you never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you've made up your mind that you just aren't doing anything productive for the rest of the day.

That moment arrived, for me, about 4 days ago.

I hope you enjoy your Labor Day weekend and PLEASE take some time for yourself and/or your family. Shut the phone off. In fact, shut it ALL off and just “be”. The time that you spend with those that are important to you is truly the remedy for the stress and strain of the work-a-day world.

There is no better way to celebrate than to do it with family and friends…..and eat some ice cream.

Have a glorious weekend and we’ll chat on Tuesday.

Until then, I remain….1SweetMama

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What The Hell Is That Thing??

We have all seen them. I know I see them as I am sitting, taking care of business, in the women’s restroom. I know! I know! What am I doing looking around when I should be quickly and efficiently “conducting my business”? I can’t help it. I look up and there it is…

What the hell is that thing??

Smoke detector? Motion detector? Both? Neither? “Big Brother” watching? Aliens? There are no signs identifying it. It just hangs there – a constant sentinel standing watch over the ladies’ restroom. There are actually two of them in there. They don’t do anything but blink…that is – a little green light alternately blinks on and off in a random blinking pattern. I am almost convinced that the blinking is in response to movement but I can’t be sure. There are also these two “eyes” that don’t do anything at all, except perhaps to watch me. They NEVER blink. Ever. Disturbing.

To test it, I sit “there”, VERY still and it doesn’t blink. After what I feel is an appropriate amount of time, I move my hand….and it blinks!! Or maybe it isn’t random at all and I am just impatient for shorter amounts of time than I think I am.

I AM aware that the lights in the bathroom are motion activated. There are times when I have walked into the bathroom and when I open the door, the lights turn on. If there is enough traffic through the bathroom, the lights stay on all day. If there is a lull in activity in there, the lights shut off.

But no one really knows what the “timer” is set at. Is that what that "thing" is for?

I don’t know!! There is no sign.

It just simply begs the question, “What the hell is that thing?”

There has been a lot of discussion in the office. We see this thing all over the corporate office and I have seen similar things in restaurants and shopping areas but it is very unsettling that a semi-intelligent woman, such as myself, cannot identify this "thing".

I know you are thinking that I am crazy for obsessing about it. Perhaps I am….or is it the aliens that are watching in me in the bathroom that make me think this way?

The mystery remains as we stare each other down in the ladies’ restroom.

Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

P.S. If I might brag….before I leave you today, I want to tell you to strap on your “sweet-belts” because the next “bakers’ dozen” (13, for those of you who don’t like pastries) of blog posts will be the BEST ever. My posts will feature LOTS of birthdays, birth days (yes, there is a slight, but related, difference!), more Chef Duff encounters, stories about cakes and male anatomies…yes, they are related…., and ONE BIG, GI-NORMOUS SURPRISE!!! But, you’ll never know if you don’t read and tune in twice (Tuesdays and Fridays) each and every week to “The Sweet Life”.

Tell your friends. Grab your laptops and wi-fi hot spots and hang on. It is going to be one SWEET ride!

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Pardon Me, If It's No Trouble..."

(Peanut is the one in the center of the photo with his "Lineman" stance. Grrrrr!)

I love my almost-10-year old, "Peanut". From the day he was born, he was always very sweet. A “cuddler” and…..a bit of a Mama’s Boy, he always does his best to do what he thinks is right.

At nearly 10 years old, he still collects stuffed animals and says “I love you, Mom” about a hundred times a day. Out of the blue, he will tell me that he loves his grandmas and grandpas, how much he adores his dog, Max, and quotes random scientific facts (“Do you know why a spacesuit is white? So that it is cooler because it reflects the sun and so other astronauts can see it. Did you know that there is gravity in space?…it is just less.”).

He is smart as a whip, loves to read, is a master Guitar Hero player, plays piano, and is starting on the viola this year. Stubborn as an old mule…but a very good heart and is one of the gentlest and kindest souls I have ever known.

This being said, I have to talk about his love and participation in football.

Peanut plays in the community youth football league. An organization, I assure you we had no idea when we signed him up for it, that is an extremely competitive, travelling league. The coaches yell a lot in practice and blow the whistle to the point of near annoyance. I painfully watch my delicate flower of a son as he lumbers around the field and when Coach makes him run two laps. I can only breathe again when I know he has successfully completed the drill. Peanut wants to always have someone at practice to watch him because (and these are his words, not mine) he might “puke”.

When we signed him up last fall for this league, we knew it was tackle football and full pads and gear. Peanut begged and begged to do it. He loves football – his favorite teams are the Vikings and the Iowa Hawkeyes. To bring down an opposing player like the “big guys” do on TV? Well, to Peanut…..this would be sheer bliss.

However, because Peanut is such a kind and gentle soul….I am not sure football is his game. He has a tender demeanor which prevents him from being aggressive on the field. He tries so hard to please the coaches and he certainly has size on his side…..nearly 105 pounds. He pushes himself through each practice and game and is learning all the skills and plays of a Lineman. Starting out as Defensive Lineman, he was moved to Offensive Lineman because he just wasn’t aggressive enough to “give it” and was much better at “taking it”.

I tell him that I am going to sprinkle a little “mean” in his cereal each morning. He laughs and gives me his sweet, little smile and says, “Mo-om!!”

Peanut’s interpretation of “bringing down the other guy” is to awkwardly squat down, wait for the hike, then quietly say to the other boy, “Pardon me, number 26, if it’s no trouble, would you be so kind as to not cross this line of scrimmage and tackle our team’s quarterback? It would be most appreciated,” while his other teammates are dragging down the other boys by their legs and hips into the mud. I, of course, exaggerate. However, Peanut DOES master the “gentle fall down” technique by tapping the opponent on his chest or shoulders, then looking for the pile-up and running to jump into it.

At least he is trying. He has stuck with his football career longer than I could have expected (and it just started three weeks ago) and I give him points for that. I am very proud of him. He loves football and I want to support him every season, if he wants me to. I must admit that he does improve with every practice and I did watch him at practice lat night actually PULL DOWN a ball carrier. Very impressive.

This may not have been the way Peyton Manning or Brett Favre started out, but one thing they all have in common is passion. Peanut shares this love for the game and tries very hard and as long as he knows I am on the sidelines with a water bottle and a friendly word of encouragement, that is all that matters to me.

Who knows? He could, one day, be the big star on the high school Bulldogs football team…..or not. But it will be fun to watch him find out on his own.

Until next time….I remain, 1SweetMama

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

...And We're Off!

(Photo: www.flickr.com , **msk - http://www.flickr.com/photos/estmsk )

It is that time of year where I have a death grip on my Franklin Planner, monitoring every hour of every day and planning and orchestrating every single move and complex decision which will help me to best manage the schedules of my life.

With my job, the boys’ lives, school, sports, music, and church schedules - my calendar is an intricate series of “so-and-so needs to be here at this time” and “so-and-so needs to be there at that time” and who is going to get them there and who is going to pick them up.

As a single mom, I have become a diligent 5-Star General, strategizing troop movement from battlefield to battlefield, with me shouting orders and commands as we go. There is no room for error, less the enemy (our crazy schedule) find the weak spot and inflict total schedule annihilation. We must be swift! Agile. Determined. We must not show fear. We must forage our path into school year territory and (in the words of Winston Churchill) never, never, never quit.

For those of you who read this and wonder why I never call anymore…..here is why:

(Bear in mind, I work from 8 – 5 Monday through Friday….)

Monday: 7:05 – leave home to drive Bud (my oldest) to chorus rehearsal followed by my racing back home to get Peanut (my youngest) ready and out the door and to school by 7:55 (my neighbor, who watches these shenanigans from his back porch, calls this “Round One” and “Round Two”). School until 3:15 p.m. Grandma Jane picks up Peanut and brings him home. I meet up with them at my house at the end of my work day; walk the dog; help feed and dress Peanut for football practice at 6 p.m. then leave to pick Bud up from High School football; drop Bud off at the house…tell him to scrounge for food (“Think ‘Man vs. Wild’”, I tell him. “Imagine you have been dropped into the mountains of Yemen and you must stay alive but instead of eating reindeer droppings….you might find a peanut butter and cracker pack or frozen microwavable pizza!”). Then I am off to watch Peanut practice until 7:30 p.m. Everyone reunites around 7:45 p.m. Piano practice. Viola practice. Drum practice. Homework. Showers. Bed. Monday nights are also game nights for Bud so on the nights that he plays, the evening schedule management must be farmed out to any family member with a car and the mental fortitude to help out.

Tuesday: Repeat morning and day schedule. Just substitute Peanut’s piano theory class for the football practice element. Everyone reunites around 7:45 p.m. Piano practice. Viola practice. Drum practice. Homework. Showers. Bed. Throw in a random Tuesday night game for Peanut and theory must be rescheduled or skipped altogether.

Wednesday: Transition day for the boys to their dad’s house. Repeat morning and day schedule. 7 – 9 p.m. is Catechism for Bud and me (I am an adult guide for the group).

Thursday: Repeat morning and day schedule. The boys are with their dad but I must remain on call to assist their father if he has a work conflict. Peanut has football practice from 6 – 7:30 p.m.

Friday: Repeat morning and day schedule. Boys are with their dad. Evening activities include 5 p.m. piano lessons for Peanut, later attending the high school football game and to watch Bud play in the half-time marching band program.

Saturday: Boys are still with their dad but he often has Saturday work conflicts so I remain on call. Meet any time (depending on the gametime) between 7:45 a.m. and 10 a.m. to drive to and watch Peanut’s football game. It is a traveling team, so this usually takes all or most of the morning. Bud has football practice from 8 – 9:30 a.m. Piano Lessons at 11:30 a.m. Catch up on laundry and house cleaning. Yard work. Grocery shop.

Sunday: Church – usually 8:15 a.m. service as "late church" is too contemporary for my preference. Lunch. Family fun activity or more yard work with the boys. Catch up on anything left on the list that didn’t get done. Evening dinner/dessert and card game activity with the extended family.

So…we are off and running. Eventually this will all become a carefully choreographed dance that we perform effortlessly and will, ultimately, master. For now, we clumsily take it a step at a time – until we fall into a rhythm.

To all you Moms and Dads out there: I feel your pain. Give me survival tips, if you have any. Just know that we are all in this together!

For those of you who wonder why I never call….please bear with me. I will get back to you when the schedule lets up….in about 8 years!

Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why I Love The Iowa State Fair

For a girl who was raised in “the big city”, I love the atmosphere and the uniqueness of the Iowa State Fair.

To remind Iowa State Fair scoffers of the significance of this event, I mentioned in my blog posts, dated August 14 and August 19, 2008, that, “You may know that the Iowa State Fair was listed as one of '1,000 Things To See Before You Die' as chronicled in a book of the same name (Schultz, Patricia. 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler's Life List. New York: Workman Publishing, 2003. p. 630. http://www.1000beforeyoudie.com/ )." Take that and add it to your list!

With this in mind, I usually try to figure out a way to load up the kiddies and make an annual trek to The Iowa State Fair. In order to fully enjoy a day at the Fair, one must, first, option a second mortgage on the house in order to pay for all the yummy food delicacies that await you while there. With an average cost of $8 per “yummy” multiplied times myself and two bottomless pits for children, let’s just say the trip is really costly (especially if you have to include gas, hotel, souvenirs, etcetera, etcetera) but it is really worth it.

This year’s adventure included all of the traditional stops: the Super Bull (“Big Black,” an Angus bull rockin’ it in at 3,404 pounds), the Big Boar (“Buddy,” weighing in at 1,117 pounds), the butter sculptures (the traditional Jersey cow and an additional sculpture commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Lunar Landing), and a stop at the Lamb Association food stand for a stick of lamb jerky or a lamb burger. You can see all of these truly fascinating features by visiting the Iowa State Fair website at http://www.iowastatefair.org/fair.php

But this year, we also managed to take in the sights of Iowa’s biggest pumpkin….nearly 1,100 pounds! Now that is a pumpkin Charlie Brown would be proud of!

But what do I really love about the Iowa State Fair? It is all about a state coming together. It is all about the wholesomeness of Iowans gathering in Des Moines to show off the biggest, the best, the tastiest, and the kitschy-est attributes of this wonderful mid-western place. It is about families and fun and home-town pride. Folks representing their communities (and the pride of the family name!) enter into competitions for events like flower arranging, quilting, livestock showmanship, talent, and cooking….just to name a few!

Speaking of cooking….this year, I was really fortunate to be asked by Blue Bunny® to judge three cooking contests featuring Blue Bunny ICE CREAM!! Yes, 1SweetMama tasted and evaluated, in all, over 35 dessert entries in two dessert categories: youth and adult. At one point during the judging, I turned to my fellow co-worker and judge, and said, “I think I have died and gone to heaven!” The capper to the day was judging nearly 20 entries in the youth “Ugly Ice Cream Contest”. This is a contest in which kids ages 6-12 must create an ugly ice cream concoction (with a Blue Bunny Vanilla ice cream “base”) in which all inclusions MUST be edible foods….but the food combinations are ghastly! For instance…..one entry featured Blue Bunny Vanilla ice cream, pickled pigs’ feet, anchovies, pickled herring, and some other unidentifiably horrific (and stinky!) ingredients. Another entry featured Blue Bunny Vanilla ice cream, mealworm larvae, and crickets (dead and dried). You get the idea.

Fortunately, judges do NOT have to taste these entries and I wouldn’t exactly have described the experience as “heavenly”…. “otherworldly” is, perhaps, more of an accurate description. However, the Bug Ice Cream Chef’s mother invited us to try a larvae and we all reluctantly complied. Tasted like a musty potato chip.

With livestock pooh on the soles of our shoes, less cash in our pockets, and mealworm larvae in our bellies, the boys and I departed for home in “The Ice Cream Capital of the World(R)” with another fabulous Iowa State Fair experience in the 1SweetMama Family history books.

A great way to round out a summer in Iowa.

Until next time, I remain….1SweetMama

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Do They "Trick Out" Riding Mowers??


Last Friday afternoon, I guess you could say that I came face to face with that famous brass ring and, finally, decided it was time to pull the heck out of it.

That’s right, boys of the neighborhood….that middle-aged, hot (mostly because my tolerance to heat and humidity isn’t what it used to be) mama sitting on her brand new, bright red, hydrostat automatic engine, 24 horsepower, 42” cut Craftsman riding lawnmower with the drink cup-holder? That’s me!!

Well…..er….for now…..it is really my oldest son, Bud. Who, yes you are hearing me right - moms and dads of the world, begged – and I mean groveled – to climb on and mow not just my lawn but his grandparents’ lawn, too. If you can at all swing it financially (which, thanks to zero interest and zero payments for one full year along with season close-out pricing!!)….I am telling you, the price of this fine piece of lawn machinery was worth it simply for the fact that my teenager was not only excited to mow the lawn….asked when he could mow it again!! He said that this mower was the greatest investment I ever made. My youngest son, Peanut, kept asking when he would be old enough to mow the lawn. I believe he even compared the lawn mowing job to his current role as “Weedinator” as being more fun than pulling weeds and that I didn’t even have to pay him to mow.

Ahhhh, Heaven. It might be that I am a genius. It might also be that I can start thinking about standing up my lawn for our weekly “date night” and begin to hand that job off to my offspring. What would I do with an extra free night? Get a pedicure? Clean the toilet?? So many options!!

Oh, yes….and I cannot forget to tip my hat to the new gas-powered Weed Eater I also purchased along with the riding mower….or “The Tractor” as we now like to call it at the 1SweetMama household. I watched in utter disbelief as Bud gave Peanut a tutorial on how to operate it. It was so sweet watching Bud shepherd his little brother through the process. Bud pulled the starting cord and demonstrated, step for step, what I had showed him an hour earlier, including safety tips like “You will be better wearing pants when you do this because it hurts when you trim and the grass and dirt hits your shins.” For a moment my kids were adults, working together, to collaborate on a home project.

Until the newness wears off, I will bask in the afterglow of my tractor purchase and watch as my children take over my lawn care maintenance. And when it does, 1SweetMama will be waiting to spring like a gazelle into the driver’s seat of my bright, red beauty. I wonder, do they “trick out” riding lawn mowers??

By the way, my boys and I make our annual trek to the Motherland of all things Iowa today! Read about our adventures at The Iowa State Fair in my blog post on Friday, August 21!

Until then, I remain….1SweetMama

Friday, August 14, 2009

Second Time Is A "Charm"!

Part 2 of 2 - Our meeting with Chef Duff and Charm City Cakes

The two large wooden doors closed behind us and there was a moment when we all paused…reflected internally on what had just happened…then, we – under the watchful eye of the Charm City Cakes video surveillance camera, I am sure! – exploded. We had done such a good job at remaining professional and composed for an hour and a half while we met with Chef Duff. Not able to physically contain ourselves any longer, we, on the street corner there in front of the bakery, jumped up and down, hugged each other and screamed. We had just completed Part 1 of a very successful cake conceptualizing meeting at Charm City Cakes in Baltimore.

One of my colleagues from the marketing agency, clutched a small white bakery box, with the Charm City Cakes sticker on the top, close to her chest. Outside was written her name and the flavor samples of cakes that were contained inside. Inside thebox were six small cake samples, each a different flavor. The chosen flavor would be the flavor of the final cake. The samples included Mint Chip, S’more, Chocolate Peanut Butter, White, Chocolate, and Marble.

We hustled over to Dizz’s where we sat at a table, placed a small order for nosh (potato skins and sweet potato fries), then proceeded to dive in to the sample box. Two minutes later….only crumbs remained.

After careful consideration and much discussion, we opted for the Marble flavor. Mint Chip, S’more, and Peanut Butter –while very good – might overwhelm the flavor of ice cream that we will be serving along with the cake on September 22. White and Chocolate were both delicious – probably the best chocolate flavor I have ever tasted – but a little bit of a yawner as a stand alone. We chose Marble because it combined two traditional and very tasty flavors into one interesting cake flavor that will be fun to look at.

As we ate, we must have checked our watches a thousand times and shook our heads in disbelief, “Can you believe we met the Charm City Cakes crew today?”

“Can you believe we were invited back?”

“Wasn’t Duff so incredible??”

When we felt we had allocated enough time for Chef Duff’s 3 o’clock meeting, we hustled back over to Charm City Cakes. Time for our second meeting.

Again….the intercom. Again…..the exchange. Again…those ominous-looking doors opened. This time when they did, we were welcomed with recognition and enthusiasm. Chef Duff and his gang…glad to see us? Wow…that is pretty cool!

Mary Alice helped us to fetch our ice cream and we spread our containers of ice cream and ice cream toppings out on the conference table where we had met just one hour earlier.

The artists of Charm City Cakes flocked to the table where we filled their Blue Bunny® color-changing bowls (they change from white bowls to bright blue when you add cold ice cream!!) with heaping scoops of Blue Bunny® Bunny Tracks, Blue Bunny® Mint Chip, Blue Bunny® Homemade Chocolate, and Blue Bunny® Neapolitan (Duff took that one!) ice cream. We gave them a few mementos to commemorate our visit, we chatted with the group and ironed out plans for our September event in Manhattan for our promotion’s party (not sure what the promotion is? Check it out here). I also made lots of small talk with Chef Duff about his show, his band, and the possibility of him visiting us here in the Ice Cream Capital of the World® and some fun ideas he has for ice cream flavors, if we were ever interested in considering them.

An hour later, we bade our farewells to our new friends at Charm City Cakes, feeling fabulous about our day. Cake and Blue Bunny ice cream….what can top that?

This can…..just yesterday we discovered that Charm City Cakes blogged about our visit, too. Check it out here: http://www.charmcitycakes.com/blog It was the cherry on top of one delicious experience.

Ahh, life can be so sweet.

Until next time, I remain…1SweetMama

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

....I Think I Heard Angels Singing....

(Chef Duff Goldman at work)

…and there we were……

After a day of travel to Baltimore and a breakfast planning meeting and a trip to the local Harris Teeter store to buy all the Blue Bunny® ice cream and toppings fit for a good ‘ol fashioned ice cream social we found ourselves standing at the threshold of all that is good and sweet and oh, so right. A world of cakes and fondant and creative artists and bakers….and Chef Duff Goldman, himself.

We grinned stupidly at each other – none of us believing that we were actually at Charm City Cakes’ front door. A plain, grey-ish stone building with two giant citadel-like wooden doors that no one could breach, no matter how strong their sugar craving.

I rang the intercom bell:

Voice: “Hello?”
Me: “Blue Bunny ice cream team is here!”
Voice: “Okay….just a moment.”

We exchanged glances…giddy as schoolgirls.

The doors opened. I swear I think I heard angels singing.

There it was. The interior of the bakery. In all of it’s crazy pop-art colors and decorations, the crew busily building fondant cake “wraps” (not sure this is the technical term, but they sculpt the designs on cake molds and then wrap it onto a cake once it is baked, later in the week) and applying some of the most beautiful and intricate artwork I have ever seen. “Dummy cakes” – not real cakes but fake cakes built for display only of some of their finest works rimmed the conference table area. The most intriguing “dummy cake” was a bust of Marie Antoinette with her throat slit, blood oozing from the incision. Chef Duff explained that while it was really interesting, it was very macabre. It took our whip-smart intern to exclaim, “How interesting, since she was the one who said, ‘Let them eat cake!’” Duff stopped and looked at her, incredulous and flattered at her insight…. "You see?” he said softly, “No one gets that!”

Chef Duff was a gentle, crazy, awe-inspiring genius that gracefully led our team (five of us, in all) through the creative process to design a cake concept that would include lights and dry ice smoke. Unbelievable. His mind just floated from our concepts (which we thought were good in the first place) to something a little more intriguing and unique. At one point during the meeting, I turned to him and said, “Is there anything you have always wanted to do for a cake but never have?”

His eyes danced and he leaned back in his chair for a moment to reflect. The Willy Wonka of cake-making, a story-telling, good-hearted, soft-spoken, yet creatively outgoing master of his art leaned forward and took a pencil in hand and sketched. We talked. He talked. We watched him work. Dream. We collaborated and finally ended up with a cake that will be an amazement to all who attend the event in which it will be unveiled.

He wrote up the contract. Quoted us a price. Ouch (but worth it). We signed it. Paid our deposit. He proceeded to present us with some samples of cake flavors we had requested for our cake and he wanted to visit more. At the two-hour mark, Mary Alice (oh, how we lover her, too!) reminded Duff that he needed to “shut up” (Duff’s words, not mine) and get ready for a three o’clock appointment they had.

But the ice cream social had not yet occurred.

Chef Duff told us to go across the street to “Dizz’s” restaurant (oh….yummmy place to eat) and come back in about 45 minutes.

Invited back? Us? To Charm City Cakes?

Find out how the rest of the visit went in Friday’s blog post. But until then, I remain….1SweetMama

Friday, August 7, 2009

How Sweet It Is!

(One of the Charm City Cakes creations "Nightmare"...see this and many others on the Charm City Cakes website http://www.charmcitycakes.com/)

There are times when I love my job and there are times when I love LOVE my job. This is one of those times…..

I often tell folks about how there may be six basic food groups to most people, but, to me, there are eight: Grains, Fruit, Vegetable, Dairy, Meats/Poultry/Fish/Nuts, Oil, Dairy, chips and salsa, and birthday cake. It is very important that you include items from each of these food groups every day in order to manage a well-balanced diet.

Well, I am thrilled to report that next week, I get to weigh a little heavy on the birthday cake portion of that food pyramid. In fact, I have been training intensively for my trip to the center of the universe for birthday cake: Charm City Cakes to meet the Wizard Himself (note the capitalization of his title…like “His Holiness” or “Her Majesty”), The Ace of Cakes, Chef Duff Goldman. As a big fan of his Food Network Show (Ace of Cakes)….and a fan of cake itself…I can barely believe that my feet will trod upon the hallowed grounds of Duff-dom and his merry minions. To be in the very presence of all that cake and frosting and fondant icing…..I can barely find the words to articulate my excitement.

My training this week has simply been to hone my body’s tolerance of sugar, tame my willpower so that I will not be tempted to dive, head-first, into vats of cake batter and/or frosting, and to practice my skills at dialing down my desire to act like a Duff fanatic. Always, the professional, I have had to increase my exposure to cake and frosting and the show so that I can resist the urge to overindulge with both my emotions and my sweet tooth.

The purpose of this visit is to conceptualize a cake that we (Blue Bunny) are commissioning with Charm City Cakes for a customer promotion we are doing with A&P in the Northeast. For complete contest details and rules, visit the promotion website at http://www.chefduffpromotion.com/ .

This trip will mark my journey to Mecca. The motherland. The tip of the frosted layer-cake of confectionary art and design. The gastro-trip-the-light-fantastic adventure to the ONLY place to go if “birthday cake” exists as a piece of your food pyramid.

Look out Charm City! Here comes 1SweetMama and HER gang of merry minions. We look forward to a very sweet collaboration.

For my fellow readers….you an expect a full report on Tuesday morning.

Until then, I remain a sugar buzzed 1SweetMama.