Monday, August 14, 2017

S E V E N


This weekend we celebrated Little Sister's birthday. Somehow, in the blink of an eye, she changed from a tiny new baby weighing less than five pounds into a seven year old who just started first grade. Celebrating her birth is also a celebration of this blog. The blog didn't start until a few months after she was born, but it started because of her.

I was her "baby keeper" for many months. If you've ever kept a new baby, you know there are long days—precious ones, for sure—but long days spent with a tiny person who mostly sleeps and isn't much of a conversationalist. She came very early, so the doctor advised keeping her away from crowds for a few months to let her immune system catch up. So we stayed home. Alone.


These were the months when I learned to knit a sock. I made the most adventurous gorgeous knitted hood for Jessica that had cables and ribbing and seams and a placket and buttonholes. Goodness knows I had plenty of time to learn new techniques while this tiny baby slept nearby.

Somewhere along the way I learned about blogs. I had joked for a while that if I could ever come up with a title for a blog I would write one.  My one outing while being the baby keeper was my ukulele band. I was the director of a senior adult ukulele band that played across the upstate. I was also the one who booked the gigs. Gigs. Grandmother. Ha! I love alliteration. And The Grandmother Gig was born.

This blog has been my journal, my recipe box, my photo book. My record of what happens in our family and in my life. Of course, it doesn't include everything that happens. I write when I have time. And it does not include every recipe I cook. Sometimes even good ones don't make it here. But it has provided space for record keeping.

My grandmothering role has changed over these seven years. That sweet family has lived in two more states since Little Sister was born. Then the family grew when Baby Girl came along. I am no longer the full-time grandmother like I was in the beginning, but there are plenty of "grandmother gigs" on my calendar.

Today, back at home I plan to go back to the beginning of this blog and see how Little Sister has grown. And next time I'm there I know the little girls would love to look at those photos. I know I'll find reminders of funny things I have forgotten. I'll see recipes that I need to make again. (Don't forget there is a Recipe Index tab at the top of the blog.) I'll read comments from you, dear readers, you readers who have become friends.


So Happy Birthday, Little Sister. Our sweet girl who loves music and dancing, who is kind of heart, who is a list maker like her mommy, and who has a smile that lights up the room. We love you!








Monday, August 7, 2017

Knit Here, Knit There, Something To Knit Anywhere


Pattern: Coastal Walk, by Joji Locatelli
Yarn: Rowan Softyak DK, Colorway: Cream
Needles:  size 7

There is knitting. And there is knitting. I know a (very) few knitters who faithfully finish one project before they begin another. I know some knitters who love starting a project much more than they love finishing a project. They might have many works-in-progress. (Knitters call them WIPs.) So, what do I do? Here is what I'm working on right now:

Coastal Walk, pictured above, is my "I need to focus on this one" project. I started this one in early summer, then had to set it aside for weeks while I went to a Rocky Mountain wedding, had a big family gathering at the lake, visited a wedding venue, drove down to babysit, tagged along for wedding gown shopping...you get the idea. Keep good notes on one like this so you can find your starting place when you get back to it.

See that pattern for Coastal Walk? A chart. Written directions. Several sheets of paper. I like having a project like this one that needs focus. But it stays at home. Or it goes with me only when I know there is ample quiet time. I love a project like this that requires a little more of me. So much fun to knit, but I know when I need to put it down and find something simple.

If I had a project with three different colors of yarn, I would save that for knitting at home, too. Too easy to get everything tangled up.



Pattern: Boneyard Shawl, by Stephen West
Yarn: Rowan Felted Tweed, Colorway: Rage
Needles: size 8

My second knitting category is what I call " travel knitting" or "social knitting." This is a project that I can take to our knitting group and work on it while we chat with minimal danger of getting lost in the pattern. It might go along with me while I wait for a doctor or sit while Little Sister has dance practice. Boneyard Shawl falls into this category. It would be a good choice for car knitting. It's easy to stop and start anywhere along a row, without needing to counting every stitch. I do need to keep up with how many rows are between each ridge. But that's easy enough to do.


Pattern: Sunny Baby Blanket by Lucie Sinkler
Yarn: Knitpicks Mighty Stitch, Colorway: Alfafa
Needles: size 8

I also have a bright green baby blanket that I've worked on since spring. There is no rush to finish this one, so I've been able to work on it and then put it down for a few weeks before I pick it up again. I like to work on it when I'm between other big projects. Choosing the next "big" project takes some thought to find a good match for yarn and pattern. But I can work on the blanket while I'm thinking.

The blanket has more happening in a single row than the Boneyard Shawl. But everything is even and once I get going, I only need to count the rows on the actual knitting to keep up with the pattern. No need for the written pattern or stitch counter. I use markers to remind me to change from knit to purl and back to knit. I've also made several of these, so it's a familiar pattern. I remember that the first one wasn't quite so simple.


Pattern: Grandmother's Favorite & Waffle Knit Dishcloth (bottom)
Yarn: Lily Sugar & Cream
Needles: size 7

And if there's nothing else to knit, or if I need a grab-and-go project as I run out the door, I make dishcloths. Don't need to find the pattern. It's useful when it's done. If I make a mistake along the way, it will still wash a dish! So what if I forgot a yarn over. The dishes won't care. They wear out so there is always a need for a new one.

What's your knitting style? One project? Lots of projects? We are all different. It's all good. There is no right way or wrong way. But I'd love to hear how you do it.





Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Man Cannot Live By Bread Alone. Or, Can He?

Sourdough Bread

From the time Sawyer was a little boy, he loved the bread I brought to the family Thanksgiving dinner. I think maybe bread is his favorite food. He loved the Thanksgiving bread so much that some years I would take an extra loaf just for him. In high school he started baking bread on his own, using a bread machine.
 

But the bread machine never quite duplicated what my little granddaughters call "Mimi bread." He had asked a couple of times about how I did this without a bread machine. So we compared schedules and found the one day that we could bake before he heads to college in a few weeks for his freshman year. Yesterday was the day. He came for a long morning baking lesson. His mom tagged along to watch, to be our photographer and our dishwasher. She also was our kitchen director, keeping us in the proper place in the recipe as we worked quickly through two long recipes.


To make it possible for Sawyer to do all the steps without waiting for all of the long rising times, I prepped the recipe like I used to do things when I worked. Cooking demonstrations were a regular part of my job. I would always make multiple batches of a recipe, stopping prep at various points, so that I could show the entire recipe process without any long waits for simmering, baking or, as in this recipe, rising time.

I mixed the sourdough the night before and let it rise overnight. When Sawyer walked in on Monday morning, that dough was ready to be punched down and shaped and plopped into pans, covered and set in a warm place to rise. When he was done with the shaping, Sawyer mixed another big bowl of dough and set it aside to rise. I wanted him to do all of the steps so he could do it again at home.


We had a few hours until that bread was ready to bake. I suppose I could have sent him home with rising dough at that point. But I wanted to make his day worth his trip to my house. So we made cinnamon rolls, another kind yeast dough that was mixed and handled differently than the bread he had just done.


The cinnamon roll recipe is quicker than the bread, so we could do this entire recipe, beginning to end, while we waited to put the sourdough in the oven. In about three hours, pans of cinnamon rolls were sitting everywhere in my kitchen. Oh, the house smelled so good!


The picture I wish I share was right after the rolls were finished. The expressions on the faces of the baker and his mom said it all. (I was also busy eating, so there is no photo.) They both had a look of pure pleasure as they bit into those sweet fragrant cinnamon rolls. Tasting the cinnamon rolls was soon followed by eating hot bread, which was also delicious, spread with soft butter.

This is the same sourdough recipe has been posted here before. But I will tell you that baking it in the summer was a little different that in the winter. I made no changes in the actual mixing of the dough, but I needed to use a little more flour on the board we kneaded and shaped it for the pans. And the rising time was faster.


Even though we were in an air conditioned kitchen, the outside temperature and humidity must affect the flour and the dough. Use your good judgement as you go through this process. Use a little more flour on the work surface if the dough is sticky. And the bread is ready to go into the oven when it has risen to the top of the pan—regardless of whether that's 4 hours or 6 hours or 8 hours. Just watch it. It's ready when it's ready.

SOURDOUGH BREAD

1 cup starter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups warm water
6 or more cups bread flour (use the extra to flour the surface for kneading)

Mix bread ingredients. (I use a wire whisk to mix in the first 3 cups, and then use a spoon for the last three cups.) Place in large bowl sprayed with PAM.  Lightly spray dough with PAM.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let stand and rise at least 8 hours.
Punch down dough and knead on floured board about 10 times.  Divide into 3 parts.
Spray three 8-inch loaf pans with PAM.  Shape dough and place in pans.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap. 
Let stand and rise until pans are full, about 5 to 6 hours.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, or until brown and bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Whole wheat bread:  Use 2 cups whole wheat flour and 4 cups bread flour.

To feed starter:  Remove 1 cup for baking (or discard) and feed with 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tbsp. instant potatoes and 1 cup warm water.  Mix well and let stand 8-12 hours.  Then refrigerate.  Store in plastic container with slits cut in lid. Feed every 3-7 days. (My favorite container for storage is a large Cool Whip container. Cut an "X" in the lid to let the starter breath.)

To make starter:  Double the feeding recipe.  Put in a glass or plastic container, loosely covered.  Let set out for 4 days.  Then add one pack dry yeast.  Let stand another 24 hours.  Use 1 cup for the first batch or store in refrigerator for up to 7 days.

This bread freezes beautifully. It makes a great gift.


I'll be honest. When we were done, I was tired. (He probably was, too.) We had made eight pans of cinnamon rolls and three loaves of sourdough bread, then I finished up that second batch of sourdough and baked another three loaves of bread about supper time. Yes, I was tired, but it was the good kind of tired. It made me feel good that a teenage boy would choose to spend one of his rare free days with me in the kitchen. And it made me feel good to pass on some of my kitchen skills to a young person. That's how we preserve those skills...by passing them along to a younger person.


I know you want to know about the rolls. We used the Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Roll recipe. You can also find that recipe on my blog here. It's exactly her recipe, but written with tips you might find useful. Also a word of caution for you Southern bakers—do NOT use a southern all-purpose flour, like White Lily or Martha White. These are great flours for other baking, though. But this recipe needs a "northern" wheat flour, like King Arthur. We have made this recipe more than once with White Lily, and you just have to keep adding extra flour for the dough to reach a workable state and the rolls, while delicious, are a little heavier. And we found the dough harder to handle.

If you want to make these for the first time, you might find it helpful to both look at her photos AND read my tips.

Is it possible to have a cinnamon roll hangover? I think I might have one. Those last few rolls are not tempting me this morning. I am done with the sweet treat for now. We divided the pans of rolls, so I have a couple of pans in the freezer for later. Lots later. I think today our menu will be all vegetables!





Monday, July 24, 2017

Instant Pot Honey Bourbon Chicken


I'm still not a member of "the Instant Pot has changed my life" camp. But this recipe totally earned my Instant Pot's space in my kitchen. I've done hard cooked eggs many times and yes, they are perfectly done and easy to peel. But I could hardly recommend that you should buy an Instant Pot just to cook eggs. I've done a teriyaki chicken that was delicious, and similar to this recipe. I've made a couple of other recipes that we liked enough to make again. But this recipe was a total winner.

I'm still learning about the Instant Pot (IP) in general. There is a huge Facebook group, Instant Pot Community, that gives so much information and answers questions. I think that is where I first saw this recipe. Folks generally share the links to the recipes they've used. Anyway, if you have an IP, it's worth checking out the Facebook group. There are also many, many videos of people showing how they use theirs. There are also people who share their Instant Pot disasters. That's useful information, too.

Is the Instant Pot an "instant" method of cooking? Not exactly. Some things are quicker. Some take about the same length of time when you factor in the "come to pressure" time, the cooking time and the pressure release time. But what I am beginning to appreciate is that once I've put the lid on the pot, I can walk away and do the rest of the dinner prep and not think about what's cooking in the IP until I hear the timer beep. Last night, while the chicken was cooking, I made the rice on the stovetop and made salads for us and never had to remember to stir anything.

Like all cooking methods, there is typically more than one way, one recommended cooking time for most recipes. And eggs and chicken breasts come in different sizes, so there are variables. You have to do some figuring out what suits you. I like my hard cooked eggs done for 6 minutes and then do a "quick release" of the pressure, and then plunge eggs in a bowl of icy cold water. I've seen other who cook them for 8 minutes. And, there are others who do 5 minutes under pressure, 5 minutes of natural pressure release (NPR) and then quick release (QR) of remaining pressure and then 5 minutes in the ice water bath. They call that the 5-5-5 method. I just saw an Instant Pot reference chart that said eggs took 4 minutes. I know I want mine more done than that. But you might not.

I finally realized that it all depends on what you like. Just like cooking on the stovetop, we all do things differently and have different expectations of the outcome. You just need to find the way that suits you. Find some recipes that sound good to you and use them as starting places.

And I would suggest that you make a note of the cooking times you are happy with. It all starts to run together in my mind. And, when I've looked to find a recipe again, there will be a dozen of the same recipe name—but all with slight differences in ingredients and cooking times. Make sure to save the one you like in the beginning. Or, you might be like me and never find that exact one again.

Well, this honey bourbon chicken recipe suited us perfectly. I'll make it again for sure and I won't change a thing. (Unless I use a little less honey. The taste was great like it is, but I felt a little guilty for making a main dish that was sweet.) If you look up the recipe online, you'll find many versions of Honey Bourbon Chicken. But I'm posting this particular one here so that I know where I can find it the next time.


After dinner last night I put the remainder of the chicken and sauce in a quart ziptop freezer bag and put it in the freezer for later. My almost son-in-law is always asking me about freezing foods. One day I'll write more about that in general. But this recipe is one that will freeze well, partly because of all the liquid. The process of freezing pulls moisture out of food. Proper packing helps prevent that. And foods with a sauce usually freeze well because of all the extra liquid.

Please take a minute to visit the recipe I used for this. This wonderful site gives more information about freezing the ingredients ahead for IP cooking later. There are many comments from other users that are helpful, too. They ask many questions and someone usually answers.

Here is my version of their recipe. You'll notice there is NO bourbon in this recipe. According to the internet (and we know it's never wrong! Ha.) the recipe was named after a restaurant on Bourbon St.

INSTANT POT HONEY BOURBON CHICKEN

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1-1/2 lbs)
a sprinkle of salt & pepper
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic (from a jar)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
1 cup honey (might try using 3/4 cup next time)

add after the pressure cooking
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water

Place all ingredients—except cornstarch & water— in the Instant Pot, lock cover in place and turn steam nozzle to "seal."
Cook on chicken setting or manual setting for 15 minutes.
Naturally release pressure for 5 minutes, then quick release remaining pressure.
Use two forks to slightly shred chicken. (I did this carefully right in the pot.)
Set pot to Saute. Combine cornstarch and water and add to chicken mixture. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until thickened.

Makes 4 servings


We served this over brown rice. I'll confess I used a boil-in-bag rice because I needed quick and easy last night. That rice takes 10 minutes to cook—after the water comes to a boil. For the record, I started the rice immediately after I put the lid on my Instant Pot and turned the valve to "seal." The rice and the chicken were done at exactly the same time. That 10-minute rice takes considerably longer than that when you add in the time it takes for the water to boil. So, the Instant Pot is as "instant "as the nearly instant rice.







Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mimi Camp Muffins

Sour Cream Blueberry Banana Muffins

Here is the muffin recipe that I promised. The one that Little Sister made during Mimi Camp. We chose this recipe because I had all of the ingredients here. No extra trip to the store required. And we chose it because smashing bananas is great fun when you're six!

The texture of these muffins is a little different than other muffins I've made. You can see that the tops are flat, not rounded as you might expect. But the taste? I ate three of them for breakfast two mornings in a row. (They were little, y'all. Don't judge.)

I saw the recipe on online. The pictures from the original source were thin, flat muffins, so it wasn't our mixing that made the difference. It's just how this recipe is supposed to be. Whatever the shape, we were happy with the flavor.


In the process of making these, Little Sister learned she had to wash her hands before she started and after cracking the eggs. She learned about measuring and leveling with the back of a knife. But when we got to the two bowls—one for the banana mixture and one for the flour—she exclaimed, "Oh! We're going to add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients." Pioneer Woman and Trisha Yearwood (her favorite TV cooks) should be proud.

SOUR CREAM BLUEBERRY BANANA MUFFINS

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, use a mixer on low speed to combine butter, sugar, eggs, bananas, sour cream and vanilla.
In another bowl, whisk together flour and baking soda to combine. Gradually add the flour to the banana mixture and mix until combined.
Gently fold in blueberries.
Grease muffin tins, or use paper liners. Spoon batter into cups (about 1/4 cup each) into tins.
Bake at 350 degrees for 17-22 minutes, or until golden brown.

The recipe said it made 24 muffins. We got 22 muffins.


Our batter was almost a liquid instead of a thick batter. I went back and found the online recipe post and asked the author how she measured her flour. I am in the "gently scoop into measuring cup and level." But she said she just scooped it up out of the canister. That would give you a little more flour and a thicker batter. Next time I'll do it that way. And one day I'm measuring one cup of flour both ways and will weigh each cup to see how much difference there is. Yep, I'm a kitchen nerd like that.





Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Mimi Camp Highlights

She had a fishing lesson from Daddy-O and she caught three fish this year.
She baked a pineapple angel food cake all by herself to take to favorite cousins.

She baked and decorated cookies. With LOTS of sprinkles and icing.
She learned how to cut flowers for a table centerpiece. Long stems are the secret.
The cookies and flowers looked so pretty that she decided we should have a party.
Daddy-O was guest of honor at the dinner party.
She painted a mask for his special gift.

We had a girls lunch out one day and stopped by the town fountain to make a wish.
By now she was a expert at cutting flowers.
This time we made vases and delivered them to special friends.
She did a little "basement archeology" to check out the old Happy Meal prizes.
This summer she could use the mixer by herself.
She is a fan of TV cooking shows and has mad kitchen skills for a 6-year-old.
Blueberry Banana Muffins (recipe coming soon)

The photos just are only a few of the things we did. We didn't have much of a formal plan for Mimi Camp this year because of all the coming and going that preceded our week together. This might have worked out even better.

Our cookie baking session evolved into the high point of our camp—a surprise "formal" dinner in the dining room for Daddy-O. (I had only planned to bake cookies.) Tablecloth, fine china, silver tray for the sandwiches, and fresh flowers for a centerpiece. We dressed for dinner and chose Yo-Yo Ma for our music. The menu was ham sandwiches cut in triangles (so they will be fancy,) sliced cucumbers and grapes.

I would have never thought to plan this as an activity. But it was the single best thing of the week. The next morning, Little Sister looked at Daddy-O and told him, "That was the best party last night." She was right. It might have been the best party in the history of parties.





Sunday, July 16, 2017

Why This Blog Has Been Quiet


1.  We made a quick weekend trip to the Rocky Mountains for a July 1 wedding. That's two-thirds of the way across the country from here.

2. We hosted a large family annual gathering at the lake for the 4th of July, a little over 24 hours after returning from the wedding.

3. The immediate family stayed at the lake for the rest of the week.

4. Car problems kept Mommy and Baby Girl with us at the farm for a couple of extra days after the lake week.

5. When Mommy headed home, we kept Little Sister at the farm for a week of Mimi Camp.

6. We drove Little Sister back home this weekend.


For the first time in about 2-1/2 weeks, we are home alone. Sitting still for a change. Craft supplies put away. Pink electric car parked in the garage. Toys stashed until the next visit.

Bear with me while I rest up from all the fun we had. I'll be back here soon.