Thursday, October 27, 2016

Those Long Mommy Days

I have been grandmother-in-residence here for a full week now. Still a couple of days to go before I head home. I am in awe of how Mommy gets it all done. And I am in awe of all the mommies everywhere. The ones who stay at home. The ones who work outside the home. It is a 24/7 kind of world where one never stops, never sits down for more than a minute or two.

I have watched Mommy eat dinner (more or less) while jumping up from the table a dozen times during the meal. I've watched her wrangling those wiggly, squirming little bodies into car seats multiple times a day as they head off to school, dance lessons, choir practice, etc. I have watched her calmly take one to the after hours urgent care for a silly emergency—but still one that needed attention.

I have watched her be referee, peacemaker, chauffeur, nurse, counselor, costume designer, librarian, chef, busboy, and teacher. I have watched her firmly send one or the other to time out and lovingly welcome them back after a few minutes of quiet time. I have watched her patiently listen to a teenager who is navigating high school.

And I have watched her manage a meal schedule that might have killed me. (In reality, I did this, too, but have blocked it from my memory.) Eating healthy foods is important in this household, so supper from a drive-thru doesn't happen. That means Mommy has tried to figured out a plan that gets supper on the table even on the days when they walk back in the door at 6:30 pm. She relies on slow cooker meals, make ahead meals, and meals like this one that can be done in about 30 minutes.

When she married, Mommy barely cooked, but goodness how she's learned. I smile when I see her working confidently in her kitchen. All while monitoring the little ones who are playing and possibly squabbling. She has come a long way.

Last night I was home while she took the littles to choir practice and could help a little with the prep. (I sliced the veggies and preheated the oven.) But whether you have a grandmother helper or not, this is an incrediably easy meal to prepare. It is delicious. It is healthy. And it is beautiful. You may have seen it here on the blog before but it's worthy of another post.


2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 medium red onion, sliced (white works, too)
4 large garlic cloves, minced (or 2 tsp. of jarred minced garlic)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
salt & pepper, to taste
olive oil for coating pan
about 4 thinly sliced boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken cutlets (we had 5)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Combine tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, herbs de Provence and salt & pepper in a medium bowl. Stir to coat veggies. Spread onto a lightly oiled sheet pan. Roast at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until tomatoes have softened and onion is a little brown.

Meanwhile, season both sides of chicken with salt & pepper. Cook in oiled grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat until done. (Or, grill them outside.)

To serve, spoon vegetables over cooked chicken. Garnish with fresh basil.

Serves 4   

We decided last night that the roasted tomato topping would also be delicious spooned over grilled and sliced flank steak. Or, I think I would be happy to spoon the tomatoes onto my baked potato along with a little cheese for a meatless meal.

You know....while it doesn't feel like it now, those long mommy days will be over in a blink. All of the endless days and nights will be a memory. And then the grandmother days start.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Baking With The Littles

Pumpkin Spice Doughnuts

Dunkin' Donuts need not worry. Our doughnuts are not going to win a competition with them. And in terms of mess, this might rank right up there with play-dough or finger paint, but it was a grand way to spend an afternoon in the kitchen with Little Sister. I put Baby Girl in the bed for her nap and we went to work.

I saw a recipe video last week and thought it was perfect for grandchild baking. It's so simple that I didn't even save the video. It's easy enough to remember without writing it down. It uses only two ingredients, plus whatever you use for a topping.

Mix the dry cake mix and the can of pumpkin together "until it's all orange," advises Little Sister. Be smarter than I was and use a big bowl. I knew when we started that I should have pulled out the bigger bowl, but this one was on top. And it was orange which matched the pumpkin color. I couldn't resist. Next time, I'd use the hand mixer, too, just to speed things along. But it totally doable with a spoon.

Spoon the very thick batter into a gallon ziplock bag and snip off a corner. Squeeze the batter into rings in a greased doughnut pan. Yes. She really did this by herself.

Bake at 350 degrees for 13-17 minutes, or until done. Test by gently pressing the top of a doughnut with your fingertip. If it springs back, it's ready. I must admit, I took them out, thinking they were done, removed three from the pan and decided they needed a couple of minutes more in the oven. Even with all of that manhandling, they turned out fine.

Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove to a rack and cool. Little Sister looked at these and squealed, "Mimi! They look like giant cheerios!" I think she was right.

By this time, Baby Girl had shouted the words guaranteed to make me go upstairs and get her out of the crib. "Mimi! I need to go potty!!!" And once she was up, there was no going back. We were almost finished with our doughnuts anyway. We decided to use powdered sugar for our finish. Put some powdered sugar in a bag and add a few doughnuts and shake to coat. Little Sister did them two at a time.

You could also make a simple glaze and pour over the doughnuts. Or, sift a little powdered sugar on top and drizzle with a little caramel topping. We tried one rolled in cinnamon sugar. It tasted good, but the cinnamon sugar didn't want to stick to the doughnut.

Baby Girl was ready to get in the game by now. We let her tap the sugared doughnuts to remove the excess sugar. That seemed to be a good two-year-old job.

After tapping the sugar off two of them, she decided that helping wasn't much fun as she thought. It was more fun to eat them. You might also notice that during her faux nap, she had taken off her shirt, turned it inside out and put it back on. Clever girl can dress herself now.

After her afternoon's work, Little Sister finally sat down to try her very own pumpkin spice doughnut. And she gave it a thumbs up. We all agreed with her.


1 box spice cake mix (or yellow or chocolate cake mix—your choice)
1 (15-oz) can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)

Mix dry cake mix and canned pumpkin in a large bowl until thoroughly blended. Batter will be very thick. Spoon batter into a gallon ziplock bag. Snip off a corner of the bag. Squeeze to pipe batter into the greased doughnut pan. (I sprayed it with Baker's Joy.)

Bake at 350 degrees for 13 to 17 minutes, until done. (The size of your doughnut "cups" and amount of batter you add will determine the baking time.) To test, press the top of a doughnut gently with your fingertip. It will spring back when it's done. Remove doughnuts to a cooling rack.

Put about a half cup of powdered sugar in another bag. Add cooled doughnuts, a few at a time and shake to coat. Remove from bag and tap gently to remove excess sugar.

Let the small baker eat a doughnut. Turn on Nick Jr. or Disney Channel and let the littles watch TV while you clean up the kitchen.

 For us, this recipe yielded 12 doughnuts and four muffins.

Last words about these doughnuts:

  • Eat them sitting at the table. If you eat one while walking around, you'll leave a trail of powdered  sugar behind you. Mommy has dark wood floors in her house. There was no sneaking a doughnut yesterday. The sugar trail gave me away.
  •  If you aren't eating them all within a few hours, shake them in the sugar just before you plan to eat them. This morning, all of the pretty white sugar coating had been absorbed by the doughnuts. Now they are looking kind of naked
  • If you don't own a doughnut pan (and how many people do?) you can buy them at kitchen stores and discount stores with a decent kitchen wear selection. They are also available to order online from places like Walmart, Amazon, Target, Bed/Bath/And/Beyond, etc. I found this one for $10 at a kitchen store at an outlet mall. Ours made a dozen doughnuts. The ones I saw online varied in size. And while it sounded like a crazy purchase, I really do think we will use it again. It was easy to make these and the pan was easy to clean. Easier than a muffin pan. No corners.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Babysitting Days

Pattern:  Easy Folded Poncho, by Churchmouse Yarn & Teas
Yarn: Rowan Tweed, in Pendle colorway
Needles: size 6

Because I live three hours away from the grandchildren, I sometimes have an "extended stay" (often when J-Daddy is out of town) babysitting gig. I'll tell Mommy to schedule as many appointments as she can in a week. I will stay a whole week and help with the school drop-off and pick-up. And let Mommy get a haircut, see the dentist, or whatever she needs to do, without a toddler in her lap. All of those things that are truly difficult to do with little people in tow. I remember. So that is where I am now...spending time with the granddaughters for several days.

This trip included a weekend, because I was needed last Thursday and for appointments this week. That meant that we could do some fun things with the little girls on Saturday. Mommy said that it looked like every fall/Halloween event was happening on the same day. Of all the many choices, she decided that we would go to Boo In The Zoo. That was a perfect way to spend a day. In addition to seeing the real giant pandas and giraffes and zebras and gorillas, the little girls got to talk to the costumed animals as well. Or, as Baby Girl says, "The am-eee-alls." 

To be honest, I think their favorite part was getting treats at the many candy stations scattered throughout the zoo. Baby Girl said her favorite animal at the zoo was the cow. "It ate out of my hand." Understand that there are no cows in the zoo. But if you didn't know that, she was totally believable. Word of warning—when you are talking to a two-year-old, even though the words might be clear, they are not necessarily accurate. Two-year-olds have powerful imaginations.

Our last stop on our way home on Saturday was a quick detour by Jessica's house to deliver the poncho (top photo) and the Baable hat (pictured in last blog post) I made for her. We are finally having some cool days and I wanted her to have it now.

I am hoping to have a recipe or two to share soon. I hope that Little Sister and I will have a some kitchen time before I head home. And it's possible that Mommy will "let" me cook supper a night or two while I'm here. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fall Knitting

 Pattern:  Baa-ble Hat
Yarns:  Queensland Collection Kathmandu Aran in Mustard
 Sublime Yarns Luxurious Aran Tweed in Fauve
Lana Gatto Class in White Cream
Needles: sizes 6 & 7

I'm calling this fall knitting even though our temperature yesterday was 82 degrees. And the leaves on the trees are all still green. The mornings are cooler and maybe we will see a little leaf color soon. It can't stay summer forever. Can it?

Tucked in amid all the cooking, the hosting our visitors last weekend, and before that, the vacation at the beach, there was knitting. Often it's in spurts. A few minutes here and there. And occasionally there is the long stretch, maybe while a football game or a Hallmark movie is on television.

All of those stitches add up, quicker than you might think. And today I'm posting my latest finished projects. Jessica gets the Baable Hat pictured above. (Modeled here by her dad. Can't wait to see it on her.) She had asked for one last year, but there was about a one year delay in getting me to make it. It's too cute. The colorwork pattern wasn't as hard as it looks.


Pattern: Rewind Wrap (written for our retreat)
Yarn:  Dream In Color Smooshy, in Callous Pink
Needles:  size 6

One of my fall get-aways was the knitting retreat at the lake, where we learned about beaded knitting. I love learning new things. And knitting is a HUGE craft to explore. So many yarns to choose from, so many design challenges, that I'll never see the end. Really, there is no end. The Rewind Wrap (pictured above, worn two ways) was my first beaded knitting project. One more skill to add to my list. I've made socks. I've tackled lace shawls. I've learned to read charts. I've made baby sweaters. I've done some colorwork. I can knit cables and plackets and buttonholes. I know about left-leaning vs right-leaning decreases. I am learning about the properties of different yarns and the advantages of different needles. 

 Pattern:  Easy Folded Poncho, from Churchmouse Yarns & Teas
Yarn:  Rowan Tweed in Keld colorway
Needles:  size 6

And after all the effort to improve my skill, I'm realizing that it's hard to beat simple. There is an elegance to simple. This new poncho might be my most worn knit this season. And this is something I could have made with my high school knitting skills. When I am asked, almost in disbelief, "You made this?," I try hard not to explain how easy it is, but to just smile and simply answer, "Yes." It is the plainest knitting of all. Less complicated than the dishcloths I make. Don't overlook the simple. Sometimes that is all you need.

Monday, October 10, 2016

And Sun Came Back

This rainbow appeared in our sky on Saturday evening after the storm passed.

Our hurricane refuges were safely here at the farm for two nights. Their minds were on what was happening at their house (it flooded) and what needed to be done when they returned home. While they were focusing on beginning the salvage and recovery process, I cooked.

I learned—after I did ask a couple of times—that this was one time not to say, "What would you like to have?" or, "Do you like...?" Their minds were too tired and too full of worry to care. So I made my old standbys. Food I knew that most people liked. And food that was easy for me to make. This wasn't the time for me to get fancy or try something new. Keeping it simple was the best plan.

So we had Garden Pasta Salad along with sandwiches for lunch on Saturday. And that night for dinner, I made the Baked Ziti we love—except with rotini this time. Yep. Pasta twice in one day. But it turns out that pasta is the favorite food of the teenage son. So that totally worked for him.

And when my knitter friend came into the kitchen on Saturday with beautiful apples, which had evacuated, too, and said, "Can you use these?" I thought about this recipe. I haven't made this in ages, but it fell right into the comfort food category. And comfort was what we needed.

I'm thinking that from now on, in my own head at least, these will be "hurricane dumplings." But you do not need to wait for a weather crisis to make these. It's such a delicious dessert and it's so easy to make.


1 can (10-count) flaky biscuits
2 apples, peeled and cut into wedges

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
cinnamon (optional)

Separate each biscuit into two thin layers. (This gives you 20 thin biscuits.) Wrap each biscuit around an apple wedge. Place in two rows in a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Put water, sugar and butter in a small saucepan. Heat until butter is melted and sugar has dissolved. Pour over the apple dumplings. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Serve warm. We like them best with a scoop of ice cream on top.

The flaky canned biscuits now are mostly the "grand" size, larger than the original Hungry Jack biscuits that I used for years. (You do need the "flaky" biscuits so that you can peel them apart into thinner layers.) You can still find the regular sized ones, but they might come in the 5-count cans. If you use the larger biscuits, you could put more than one apple slice in each wrap, I think. I'd determine the baking time by the color of the biscuits.

I must tell you that my knitter friend and I mostly knew each other from Facebook and Instagram. Yes, we had met a couple of times at knitting events, but that was it. She said her men asked, "How do you know this lady?" and Daddy-O, who was instantly agreeable to hosting them, asked me, "So how do you know her?" It was the knitting. Life connections can be made in the most unexpected ways. But I'm glad now to think we really DO know each other and our friendship goes beyond being Facebook friends.

Now I cannot begin to imagine what these folks were feeling all weekend, but on Saturday night, we had the most pleasant dinner. Much laughter and telling stories and sharing food around the table, like things were normal in their world. A relaxed meal with friends. And now when we say we're friends we're more than just friends on Facebook. We're friends in real life, too.

We sent them down the road back toward the coast on Sunday to deal with whatever awaits them. I'm not sure when I'll see her again. But we'll be in touch for sure.

UPDATE:  I did get a message from her last night. They made it home. It took them 5.5 hours to drive to the coast. It's normally a 3-hour drive. The highway was backed up with all the cars returning to the lowcountry. And yes, there was water in their house. And, yes, it's going to be another long recovery process as they will have to rip out floors, baseboards and likely walls. Say a prayer for them and for all the other hurricane victims.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Any Port In A Storm

"Any port in a storm." You've heard the saying. Well, we turned out to be a "port" during Hurricane Matthew. We are at the very edge of the weather front. Just ominous clouds and wind here, so we are safe. When I received a message yesterday from a fellow knitter who lives in the low country asking if we had room for their family for a few days, I told her to come on. We can offer shelter. We can provide space. We can give a little comfort.

In my mind, comfort means comfort food. All of this happened quickly. I wanted to bake something for them (southern hospitality, and all that) and I needed a recipe that I could make with what was on hand. Mommy has made many more loaves of pumpkin bread than I have. She has shared with new neighbors, new mothers, sick friends, grieving friends (and fed lots to her girls.) It's a good recipe for giving. So first thing this morning, I stirred up a batch of this. I love this recipe because it's a big batch recipe. Three loaves, if you use the foil pans. It's a "keep some, share some" kind of recipe. And if you have no one to share it with right now, it freezes beautifully.

It's not much, but maybe a loaf of pumpkin bread, warm from the oven will be a small comfort. At least they know we care.


3-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
4 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree

Stir together flour and remaining ingredients in a large bowl until smooth.  Divide batter evenly between 2 greased and floured 9x5-inch loaf pans.*

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until wooden pick inserted into center of each loaf comes out clean.  Cool in pans on wire rack 10 minutes.  Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack.

*You can also bake in THREE 8x4 foil baking pans for about 55 minutes.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Two More Baby Heads To Warm

Pattern:  basic rolled brim hat
Yarn:  Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino
Needle:  size 6  or  size 5

I have made this same sweet baby hat over and over. For babies I knew. For babies I've never met. For babies that belong to friends. And babies that belong to people I don't know. (Daughters often request hats for their friends and co-workers.) Hats are given to babies at our church. Hats are mailed across the country to new babies in other states. Sometimes I get photos of babies wearing their hat. Other times I never know if they are worn. But they are knitted proof that someone cares.

I just counted. I've made 27 of these little hats so far. Now, I have also made another 15 hats from several other patterns. (I do love the cabled baby hat, too.) But it's this simple rolled brim hat that I love best. It is just the sweetest hat on a newborn baby. And it's pretty quick to make, which is a plus for me. 

This is not exactly a pattern, but just the most basic directions. If you've knitted hats before, this is enough information for you to make one. If you are a newer knitter, you can search the internet for more complete patterns.

 Newborn Rolled Brim Hat

I use DK or sport weight yarn (less than 50 grams) and always choose something that is machine washable. I don't worry about the "lay flat to dry" part. These little hats dry quickly.

You'll need size 5 or size 6 (16-inch) circular needles and DPNs. I have used both, depending on which needles I have empty. If your yarn is slightly finer, you might the size 5 best. There will be a some difference in the hat size with the difference size needles, but both will work for a newborn. Size 6 is usually my first choice.
Cast on 72 stitches. Join. Knit for 5 to 5-1/4 inches.
Begin decreases:
   K2tog, k6
   K2tog, k5
   K2tog, k4, etc.
Switch to DPNs when necessary.
When there are 5 stitches left on needles, work i-cord for about 6 rows. Last row, I work two k2tog to give me 3 stitches left. Cut yarn and run tail through those 3 stitches. Take yarn down through inside of stem and work in end.
Baby Girl in her newborn hat a couple of years ago

I like to wash the hats in Dreft before I give them, so that they are ready to wear. Be sure to tell the new mom. And I tag them with care instructions. For babies, I want a yarn that is machine washable. The Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino can be machine washed, but should be laid flat to dry. A tiny hat will dry quickly so that's not a big deal. There are yarns that can go into the dryer, too.

Big warning for any knitted item!!!  Make sure avoid contact—especially in the washer—with Velcro. It will grab onto the knit and doesn't want to let go. Sometimes I'll include a mesh bag (especially when giving a blanket) for laundry in with the gift. With our grandchildren, we would put the bibs with Velcro tabs into one of those bags when doing laundry to keep the Velcro away from any knitted items.


UPDATE:  This morning it looks like the hurricane will graze the coastline of our state tomorrow. But maybe as a lower category storm than first thought. The problem with hurricanes is that information keeps changing making an "accurate" prediction possible. We could see that people were taking the evacuation order seriously as we drove about 100 miles in the direction of our coast yesterday for a funeral. Needless to say our drive back home took longer than it took to get there.