For the last time

HI. I’m moving to another blog again and I’m pretty sure this will be the last time.

Over the years (I’ve been blogging regularly for five years or so!) I have posted willy-nilly about all kinds of things with no purpose whatsoever other than to ramble. There was no structure until recently, no concern for how I might feel about something I wrote or shared when I looked back on past posts. Can I be honest with you? Some of them actually make me cringe.

The titles of my blogs have always been some kind of word to represent where I was in my life at that moment. That has changed many times over and, as you may recall, resulted in blog title modifications that confused me even more than they confused you. Trust me on this one.

Two Girls and a Road is now Two Girls and a Guy with Three Dogs in Oklahoma. Ludowe was the Polish word for folk but I’m more German than Polish and, sadly, still haven’t attempted to build my own pierogi. Floridahoma is the obvious combining of Florida and Oklahoma but with my record of moving to a new state every few years, this blog could end up being Floridahomanoisinconsintana. It’ll get even worse. And no, this isn’t my way of saying we’re moving to Montana or anything.

I’m starting new with a blank slate. No transferring of blog posts, no archives going back to 2008, no reworking the WordPress URL to express yet another name to a blog that hasn’t been that close to my heart for a while now. Beginning July 1st, you can find me here. Why that name? Well, Big Blue Marble was already taken. I hope to see you there.

*For those of who were hoping to keep up with the Great Adventures of Schnitzel the Starling, know that he is back home with his mother. He ate enough dog food and mangoes to build up the strength in his legs. He managed to climb the last few inches into his nest when I pushed him under the porch roof as far as my hand could fit. I spoke with him this morning, as a matter of fact, and he’s doing well.

autopilot

It is an unusual story, how I came to befriend Rachel. To be honest with you, I don’t even remember how or when we met. But we did meet quite a few years ago and I’m very happy about that.

When my daughter was around three years old, she attended day care at the local church where she became involved in a children’s choir. My parents came with me one night to a choir presentation and Dad kept looking at the pastor, “I know that guy from somewhere.” It turns out they played Little League together in Fort Myers, Florida, when they were just kids, forty years earlier and 300 miles away from this small Baptist church in Jacksonville. And they picked up a friendship as if no amount of time had interfered.

Eventually, Pastor Dave and my Dad got all their children together and introduced us to each other. Rachel invited my brother and me to karaoke – she loved to sing. I took her up on her offer a few times. She and I never did share the same belief in faith and Christianity, but we did share a belief in the power of karaoke.

To this day, I cannot hear the songs Love Shack and I Wanna Rock! without thinking of her.

Rachel was a kindergarten teacher, a popular one at that, and the first teacher I ever got to know outside of the classroom. She supported me as a fellow single mother, encouraging me through the entire course of getting my degree. Because she was so darn likeable, she even convinced me (more than once) to show up for church sometimes so I could hear her perform a new song she’d written. Musically gifted, she’d strum her guitar and sing words of praise to the God she lived her life to please.

Rachel is with Him now. She died yesterday at the age of 29.

Maybe because my family and I are still trying to process the loss of my grandfather only two days ago, Rachel’s passing has left us teetering on a ledge, somewhere between grieving and autopilot.  There are the expected moments of sadness and anger, part of the whole grieving process, followed by a hour-long stare-off with the computer and the inability to do something so simple as paying the bills. The work of mourning is an exhausting checklist of procedures to endure. Twice now I have walked away from boiling water, wandered off into a fog, only to return and find the water had evaporated. Even cooking rice in a bag is a grueling task these days.

Tomorrow, we will go to church and say our goodbyes to her while in the company of those who loved her most.

Thank you, friend. We will miss you.

Internment

I recently returned to Florida but only so that I could ask for permission to leave. This is the reason why I haven’t been able to define home for quite some time. Let me explain:

Ten years ago when my daughter was born, I took my first steps into the muddy waters of Florida’s family court system. It is a tedious, confusing, illogical, and often emotionally exhausting slog through dismissals and denials, continuances and motions, mediations and judgments, oftentimes resulting in orders that will only lead you back to more dismissals and denials, continuances and…well, you get my drift.

The lifespan of a family law court case can drag on for years – case in point:  my last trial by judge in 2009 took one and half years to build and it was over with in less than three hours. It cost me, a single mother receiving no child support or state assistance, approximately $18,000. I am going into my third court hearing  – you do the math. These things (petitions, motions with and without prejudice, supervised visitation center policies, etc.) make absolutely no sense to most normal people and this is why lawyers are so expensive. They are professionals who have been trained to translate statutes and codes into English. Lucky is the client who finds a lawyer who cares for you, your child, and your case. I am one of those lucky clients.

After my 2009 judgment landed me sole parental rights of my daughter, my lawyer and I learned that no other parent in the state’s history had ever proved a better case for the rights to be taken from the opposing parent. Interestingly enough, Elle’s biological father was the initiator of this particular fight. I just happened to have more fight stored up inside me than he expected. My big courtroom win was unprecedented, historic, and damn well deserved, I’d say.

My daughter’s biological father, who I will only refer to as K, has had little to nothing to do with Elle in recent years. Not once has K exercised his right to visit Elle with his parents as the appointed supervisors.. He has been fighting his own demons for the better part of a decade and failing miserably, even with the court-ordered treatments and multiple hospitalizations that I can only imagine are the result of never getting the court-ordered treatments. Until now, I have done my fair share of being diplomatic and tolerant, even going so far as offering excuses to my daughter for why her father isn’t around. “He’s sick.” However, I refuse to be compassionate and supportive. There are only so many ways I can spin the truth to protect her and only so many years that I can justify doing it. Time is up.

And that’s all I can say about it.

In January of this year, Matt and I knew that we were willing to do whatever it took to be a family, to provide Elle with a two-parent home and all of the support that comes along with it. Florida has no jobs and Matt’s job in Oklahoma would provide for us. We filed a petition with the State of Florida to relocate Elle and me to Oklahoma City. A Petition to Relocate is a legal request in which the custodial parent (in this case, me) must prove in good faith why a move away from her current address is justified and in the best interest of the child (job availability, high-ranking schools, family support, etc.). The non-custodial parent, no matter how involved or uninvolved he is in the child’s life, gets a first crack at the petition, either by giving permission to allow the child to be moved or by refusing to allow the child be moved.

FYI: this means anywhere outside of a 50-mile radius from their current home. And, to nobody’s surprise, K refused to allow my petition to get through.

I want you to imagine that for a moment. Your future, your happiness, and your family’s circumstances, whether changed by marriage, death, job loss, a home foreclosure, a job promotion that requires you to transfer to another city or town, anything, are now going to be decided by someone who has never had your child’s best interests in mind and your future could potentially be determined by a court trial.

The kicker? Our case should have been heard within 90 days. Matt and I are now wading through MONTH SIX.

And this is why I returned to Florida. This is why I drove 20 hours from Oklahoma to Jacksonville.

I was supposed to appear in court two hours south of here. I was supposed to be ushered into a room after paying a mediation fee and swearing on the bible. I was supposed to negotiate and be free of this by 4:30 this afternoon.  But K couldn’t make it. He’s sick. We’ll try again next week to make progress. If I’ve learned anything about the family court system, it is how to wait.

And so Matt and I wait, separated again by the 1,100 miles, to find out if we can, in fact, be a family in the traditional sense of the word, to go home and be home. Some people have asked me why Matt and I got married knowing we might be denied the opportunity to live together as a family in Oklahoma. My answer is simple: It was the only decision we were allowed to make on our own.

We needed nobody’s permission.

Flower Power: Gazanias

That Gerbera daisy wasn’t the only thing that came home with me the other day. I also decided to take on an already-potted plant filled with white, yellow, and orange flowers – Gazanias. I had never before heard of such a thing (but then again, I’m new at this). Through the course of a normal day, it’s pretty fun to watch these flowers live out a complete daily cycle of opening and closing with their spindly petals protecting them in the nighttime. I’ve compared the look of them to a Venus Flytrap when they’re closed (maybe I’ll be able to get a shot of that sometime). But when they’re open, in the daytime, they look like this:

gazanias waking up

waking up…

gazania

almost there…

gazania

awake!

fully opened!

wide awake gazanias

Kitchen & Bath. Now I'm Broke Again.

I’m really bad about putting together a plan and sticking to it. I always leave room for other plans, changes and additions…things like that. This is not to say that I never follow a plan, only that I am easily distracted by really awesome stuff that just happens to be nearby. Especially when that stuff is on sale.

My single plan for today, as unremarkable as one might believe it to be, was to go directly into the mall by way of the food court, turn left past the Sbarro, walk all the way down to The Body Shop, spend no more than $25 on myself, avoid eye contact with any other humans in the building, and then get the hell out of the mall as quickly as possible.

I hate malls. I hate mall parking lots. I hate having to walk for what feels like miles between stores, especially if these anchor stores are located on opposite ends. I hate kiosk employees who harass me like I’m walking through a Moroccan bazaar. I hate when the guy from the food court stands in my way and offers me a free piece of orange chicken on a toothpick and asks me in broken English, “You like to try?” I hate the teenagers who block up the entire walkway seven-people wide and won’t let other shoppers successfully get past them.

Oh, who am I kidding? I just hate teenagers, period. They should be banned from public places altogether.

But back to my plan for today – The Body Shop.  I did exactly what I intended to do. I went directly into the mall by way of the food court, I turned left past the Sbarro, I walked all the way down to The Body Shop*, and I spent $32.34 on myself. Okay, so I went a little over my budget but it was all paid for by Santa money so I feel no guilt whatsoever. Plus, with all the shower gels and body butters I bought, I am going to smell downright delicious for the next 4 months.

And this is when my one plan for the day, my totally-super-and-very-well-thought-out-plan, went completely and utterly awry. I went against my own rule and made eye contact with a woman walking past me. She was holding a Williams-Sonoma bag. It was over for me at that exact moment.

I headed downstairs and spent about 45 minutes inside Williams-Sonoma.  This store is usually too expensive for me, realistically speaking, and I have accepted my current lot in life to be that of a window shopper of sorts at Williams-Sonoma, a hands-on browser and holder of exceptionally fun kitchen thingies that I can’t take with me when I walk out the doors into the real world. But today, there was a sale.

Sale. Sale. SALE!  Sometimes there just isn’t a more magical word.

I touched and felt every item on that clearance table, everything from the decorative cupcake papers to the baby food strainer to the artfully designed dipping bowls.  Oh, the perfectly exquisite dipping bowls…wanna see them? BECAUSE I BOUGHT THEM*.

Original price: $39.99
Sale price: $8.99
Actual price: $6.99

Then I found an adorable set of measuring spoons in a tubular container, multiple sets of them, actually, that had just been tossed into a mix with other small things on clearance.  I pulled some out and immediately started talking myself into taking them home with me.  I asked myself, “Do you NEED them?”  Of course, the answer was no.  But I just couldn’t shut up and so I asked myself, “Do you WANT them?” Of course, the answer was yes.  I BOUGHT THEM, TOO*.

Original price: $9.99
Sale price: $6.99
Actual price: $4.99

I cut myself off after Williams-Sonoma and it helped that very few people were in the mall.  Fewer people means fewer chances of making eye contact and … oh, but wait. The woman at Cinnabon greeted me with a cheerful good morning! and I bought a cinnamon roll* from her. But that’s it. Oh, and the iced coffee* from Starbucks but seriously, I was parched after all that shopping.

*all paid for with Santa money!

Books Worth Reading: Part One

Since Christmas, I have accumulated a healthy number of new books to add to my recently depleted collection and I don’t feel bad about it one bit. I should, but I don’t.

That depleted collection was part of a purposeful goal I set for myself a few months ago, to rid myself of the paperbacks and hardcovers that I had faithfully read time and time again but that also seemed to be overwhelming me simply because storage space had become such an issue. The books had taken over the bulk of square footage in my bedroom closet, the hallway closet, and even the closet in the spare bedroom.  I’m pretty sure there were also a few boxes of books stored in the garage.

Clearly, I needed to restructure my literary preferences – the first books to go belonged to the Twilight Series (yes, I read them…what of it!?!?), the first book to stay was Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. I have twice attempted to finish that novel and I have twice been so aghast and heartbroken that I just couldn’t.  I know how it ends but I am not ready to see the last few pages with my own eyes quite yet.  Although when I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I was so horrified by the story that I wanted to jump off a bridge and into the path of an oncoming tractor-trailer just to make it stop, yet every night I convinced myself to keep reading it to the end. Maybe it’s the brand-new-life/end-of-life contrast involving both tales. Whatever it is, they’re both emotionally exhausting.

Anyway…

There was a community yard sale back in October and whatever wasn’t sold was donated to the Vietnam Veterans of America. This included clothing, shoes, knick-knacks, stuffed animals, and boxes and boxes of books. I didn’t feel the twinge of sadness I thought I would, watching them go away while being clutched in the hands of garage-sale shoppers or hauled off by charity volunteers. I felt freed.

Another reason I supposed I could finally purge all those books from my life is because I acquired a NOOK on Christmas the year before last. It took me only a short while to adapt to the idea of having books stored inside the brain of such a small, portable machine (remember, I’m technophobic) but it was quite liberating, I must admit.  Before too long, I was plucking titles from the Barnes & Noble NOOK bookstore and carefully placing them in order by date or author or however I wanted to arrange them on my virtual NOOK shelves.

Over time, though, maybe over the course of just a few months, I truly began to feel like something was missing.  Like some of the simple pleasures of reading had been taken from me in the absence of tangible pages and backstrips and edged paper. The weight of the book, the font and spacing of the words, the photographs and illustrations…I pined for them.  Certain books – whether cookbooks, poetry and short story collections, or favorite classic novels – have earned their way into my life. And maybe not permanently, but undoubtedly for the time being.

Tomorrow I’ll post the list of books that I’m currently reading …
(Hint: they’re ALL non-fiction, with one exception, and involve breadmaking, cannibalism, lead poisoning, ocean zoning, and how to behave on an airplane when it’s obvious you’re about to lose your shit.)

Seafood Market

On New Year’s Eve, Matt and I had to prepare for my family’s annual NYE seafood feast. We drove out to the village of Mayport to check out a fresh seafood market called Safe Harbor Seafood where we planned on buying a few pounds of crab and another pound or two of local shrimp (the Mayport/Fernandina Beach area of Florida is where one will find the best shrimp in North Florida). There was mention of a restaurant inside the market and since we would be arriving around lunchtime, it seemed just as good a place as any to grab a quick bite to eat and carry on with our seafood shopping errands for the day.

As soon as Matt and I saw the restaurant menu, we were impressed and immediately began strategizing over who would order what dish, what dishes we could split between the two of us, and whether it was such a good idea to eat a seafood lunch mere hours before we were to sit down with my family and gorge on pounds of this stuff all over again.  Each time we changed our orders and began salivating over a new item it became clear to us both that we would be stupid to not do it.  I mean, our only major problem was that we’d have to eat two full meals containing fresh shrimp and crab in the same day?

Do you really feel sorry for me?  I didn’t think so.

Matt ordered a shrimp taco, a fish taco, and two shrimp tempuras. I chose a shrimp taco and a spinach cake. Then we went outside on the deck to enjoy the view of the St. Johns River and all the shrimping and fishing boats docked outside.  These are the shrimpers and fishermen whose hauls from that morning were feeding us that afternoon.  This is what it’s like to eat fresh, fresh, fresh seafood.

As you can see from the photographs below, we didn’t dine alone.  The pelicans behaved like a very polite bunch of domesticated neighborhood ducks, mostly civil and slow to anger but eager to be fed the scraps from the fish cleaning station. I couldn’t have been more than a few feet from some of them and only once did one ruffle its feathers at me and announce that it wasn’t comfortable with me getting any closer. Since I’ve had a few run-ins with nasty pelicans in the past, I have nothing but respect for this particular gang of plunge divers. Compared to the angry, bitey pelicans in Cedar Key on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the Mayport pelicans were an absolute pleasure to be around.

We finished our lunch and Matt, who has traveled up and down both the east and west coasts, declared, “Now THAT is the best fish taco I’ve ever eaten!”. He and I walked back inside to check out the market’s selection of fresh seafood.  The prices were quite reasonable and the place was packed, which is always a good sign.  I’ve only eaten snow crab and king crab so I was a little hesitant to approve buying a few pounds of stone crab, but if we wanted to eat that night, we had no choice.   An additional two pounds of shrimp later, with heads-off, of course, because I don’t know how to prepare shrimp – I just eat it – we strolled out of the market with the most important ingredients for our New Year’s Eve feast safely contained inside an ice-packed travel cooler.

New Year’s Eve is pretty much the only time of the year we all sit down at the table together and get our hands dirty – peeling the shells from local Mayport shrimp seasoned with Old Bay and cracking open the meat-filled legs of a succulent crab. The crab is usually the star of the meal, giving bragging rights to whoever pulls the largest chunk of meat from a claw. There is usually a mess when all is said and done – pieces of shrimps legs falling halfway from a plate, spilled dipping cups once filled with melted butter, cocktail sauce on someone’s brand new shirt. We don’t even use napkins during this meal as only a thick, dampened washcloth will suffice.

NOTE: This year, more wine than usual was consumed – by the cook and by the recipients of the meal – giving the chef (aka my Mom) a slight delay in reacting to an unfortunate stovetop pot of burning crab.  The smoke in the house was so thick that Matt, Elle, and I decided to finish our wine outside on the back porch (like we really needed more wine, and no – Elle did not have wine). The stench from our house even kept Crazy Rex indoors.  All in all – BEST NEW YEAR’S EVE EVER.  And my favorite part?  I got to kiss Matt at midnight.  Happy 2012, peeps.

Herbs!

In the beginning of the summer, I decided to try my hand at gardening.  I failed.

Surprisingly, I do not think that I’m necessarily bad at this gardening thing.  Considering it was my first real planting/tending/cultivating endeavor, I have since comforted myself with the fact that I simply neglected to do any in-depth research on how to care for my unfortunate botanical victims. As if that wasn’t bad enough, especially because I knew better, Florida also experienced months of drought that resulted in choking, thirsty plants all over the southeastern United States and the city of Jacksonville committed to very strict watering limitations.  Those are the real reasons I wasn’t successful (and I’m sticking with my story).

This time around, I resolved to try again on a smaller scale.  There will be no blueberry bushes or blackberry vines or fig trees to raise and care for.  Instead, I am affectionately looking after a trio of herbs – thyme, peppermint, and chocolate mint.

from front to back: chocolate mint, peppermint, and thyme.

I brought them home Saturday afternoon from the market after getting some good information from the actual grower.  He recommended that I use any container that was not made of terra cotta as the terra cotta pot itself will rob water intended for the plant (unless the pot is soaked ahead of time but this still leaves the plant vulnerable to drying out as the pot will also eventually dry out and, again, begin soaking up the water from the plant).  I stood there dumbfounded, taking in this obvious piece of information that now makes so much sense. Then the man carefully added to his Q&A session with me that most people are not aware of that little fact. He also assured me that my herbs would most likely die by the time Northeast Florida’s temperatures become intolerably hot and humid.  Finally, I can be confident that the circle of life will not be interrupted by my jerky fits of gardening ignorance.  The plants will DIE…on their own and not by my hand (unless I consciously decide to not care for them, understandably).  His kind words helped me to feel more like a novice who is willing to learn and less like a lackadaisical plant killer.

My herbs are now happily taking root in their own pots (complete with a pair of gnomes keeping watch over them) and I’m eager to tend to them as they will be used to complement some of the new recipes I’ll soon be trying.

The chocolate mint is the one I’m looking forward to playing with the most.  It is supposed to be a very lively grower so you can imagine how disappointed I will be with myself if I actually botch this one.  I have already found a ton of ideas posted by other enthusiastic chocolate mint owners on how to make already delicious foods even more delicious simply by adding some chocolate mint leaves.  Hot cocoa, vanilla or chocolate ice cream, cake frosting…really, the possibilities are never-ending.

The peppermint is probably the most versatile one for me as I do more baking than cooking.  Again, I can pair this with any chocolate-, lemon-, or basil-based dish and still expect a delectable culinary treat no matter what.  My biggest challenge will be the thyme, but only because I am not a cook.  At least, not yet. I’m hoping that this herb will encourage me to try my hand at creating some small meals with chicken or scalloped potatoes as opposed to my usual of tomato-based pasta sauce.

The one thing that thyme has going for it, though, is that the spelling of the word itself is what attracts me to it. The others, the chocolate and peppermint…I mean, who isn’t attracted to chocolate OR mint? And then to find myself in possession of a single herb that combines the two? Yes, I’d call that a sign and I can’t wait to put these beauties to work.

 

 

Devil's Millhopper

Devil’s Millhopper is a geological state park located in northwest Gainesville, Florida.  To call it simply what it is – a sinkhole – would be an inefficient and laughable description.  This ecological gem actually holds three distinct environments within itself: the sandhill, the hammocks, and the swamp. Shark teeth have even been found at the bottom of the sink.

The boardwalk leads you down 236 steps to the bottom of the sinkhole, 120 feet below. Here is a more temperate climate, much cooler at the bottom of the sink than up at the surface where temperatures can hover in the 90s during the summer with full humidity.  The dry parched grasses and trees of drought-stricken Florida are not found in the sink.  Only green moss and lush ferns cover the floor of the sink, aided by the many waterfalls surrounding it.  The spring water pushes through the limestone walls, sometimes in a trickle but other times in a flood (depending on the rainfall conditions in the area). 

It’s peaceful at the bottom.  All you can hear is the sound of air rushing through the trees up above or the occasional whistling bird and spirited squirrel. Even at its busiest of seasons, most other visitors I’ve encountered seemed to appreciate the site for what it is and vowed to enjoy the calm and serene atmosphere by being calm and serene themselves.  It’s a quiet corner of the city, possibly the only one at times.

 

Lemon & Thyme Panna Cotta

I woke up on the morning of New Year’s Eve determined to make panna cotta. My shopping list was kind of all over the place as I needed to buy enough heavy cream to start the base of my panna cotta, but Matt and I also wanted to visit the Safe Harbor Seafood Market to pick up our fresh crab and Mayport shrimp (if you’re not familiar with Mayport shrimp, I suggest you visit the village of Mayport now and eat lots of local shrimp). After that, we needed to head a little further south to Neptune Beach’s Green Market where I could find some scallions, herbs, and berries.

With most berries being out of season, I wasn’t sure which way to go with the panna cotta variation. My recipe suggested a Sweet Herb, Orange-Saffron, or Pumpkin Pie, but I just wasn’t feeling it with any of those options.  However, while Matt and I were at the Green Market visiting with Twinn Bridges Farm, I learned about this wonderful lemon thyme he had available. It was at about this moment that I decided I wanted to make my panna cotta with this herb. Seeing as I still had another giant-sized lemon at home waiting to be used, did I really have a choice?  Besides, adding my spin onto a never-before-tried recipe is my small way of living, and eating, adventurously.

Another woman and I bombarded the vendor with so many questions and I hoped he had more than just the one lemon thyme for sale. Sadly, he did not, but the woman who called dibs on it first was sweet enough to allow me to pull off just enough of the herb to add to my panna cotta. I was lucky enough to be able to swipe the very last chocolate mint plant he had for sale, though.  In reality, I walked away with everything I needed…and then some.  I’m still recovering from the $6.00 carton of free-range eggs but totally looking forward to breakfast in just a few hours.

To clarify that last statement, it’s 2:30 in the morning and I can’t sleep – HAPPY NEW YEAR! And please do yourself a favor and make some panna cotta! Play with the flavors as much as you want since this allows you to taste as you go…and long before you take the final steps in creating the whole darn thing.  It’s easy. Probably a lot easier than you think.

FARMHOUSE PANNA COTTA (from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper)

2 tablespoons of cold water
1 ½ teaspoons of unflavored gelatin
3 cups of heavy cream
½ cup sugar (more to taste, if needed)
pinch of salt
1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 cup (8 oz) of sour cream
(my additions: 2 teaspoons of lemon rind and a finely chopped sprig of lemon thyme)

  1. Put the cold water in a small cup and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let it stand for 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a 3-quart saucepan, warm the cream with the sugar, salt, and vanilla over medium-high heat (If you are making the lemon & thyme variation, add the lemon rind and lemon thyme in after it the mixture has become mostly heated). Do not let it boil. Stir in the gelatin mixture until thoroughly dissolved. Take the cream off the heat and cool for about 5 minutes.
  3. Put the sour cream in a medium bowl. Gently whisk in the warm cream, a little at a time, until it is smooth. Taste the mixture for sweetness.

At this point, if you’re happy with the flavor of your mixture, start pouring it into muffin tins, coffee mugs, custard cups, whatever you’d like! I used a mini-cup muffin tin but I had so much mixture left over that I began filling up small Tupperware bowls to freeze with the lids on for future eating.

The panna cotta needs at least 4 hours to freeze (and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours) and is easily removed from the muffin tin by placing the tin on top of a cookie sheet (with high sides) and pouring hot water onto the sheet itself.  Once thawed (try not to melt the panna cotta, which can happen quite easily as we learned tonight!), carefully spoon it out and place it in a bowl.  If you used a coffee mug or custard cup, just grab a spoon and go for it.

This will come out with the consistency of a soft ice cream. If you prefer a firmer texture, it is suggested that you use 2 teaspoons of unflavored gelatin.

The panna cotta is so rich and delicious and thick and creamy, you’ll probably get a belly ache so don’t eat too much at once. If you do, just be prepared to moan and groan in a happy-but-I-ate-too-much kind of state.  According to those who did that on New Year’s Eve, it was so worth it.