Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Miss Doris' Cookies


When I gathered the recipes from the knitting day at the lake several weeks ago, I asked one knitter to please add her cookie recipe to the collection. We didn't have these cookies that day at the lake, but she always brings them for the snack table at our knitting retreats. In my mind, I connect these cookies with knitters and knitting.

I was completely surprised when I got the recipe from her. I have eaten many (too many) of these cookies and I look forward to seeing that Tupperware container appear on the table every time we have a retreat. Some of our snacks are homemade. Some are not. There is never pressure on anyone to "make" something. And that makes the homemade goodies extra special.

These homemade cookies—yes, they still qualify as homemade—get 4 stars for easy. Because they start with cake mix! I would have never guessed.


Here is the recipe exactly as I got it from Miss Doris. The notes are hers. (Miss Doris, for the record, is very much a Mrs., but my children always called her "Miss Doris" when they were little, and the name lives on.)

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
     This is an old recipe from the side of a Duncan Hines cake mix box.

Makes about 3-1/2 dozen two-and-a-half-inch cookies.

1 box Duncan Hines Deluxe II White Cake Mix
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I use 1 cup. I like nuts. No nuts are okay, too.)
3/4 cup oil
1 egg (DO NOT try to make without egg—makes a disaster.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir all ingredients together until well mixed. Drop from teaspoon onto an uncreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes. (My oven requires less time, 7-8 minutes, depending on the size of the teaspoon drop. Just keep an eye on the cookies for the first pan full.)

Cookies will be white in the centers with a slight brownish colored edge. (The chocolate chips will burn if cooked too long.) Cool on cookie sheet for about 1 minute and then place on a rack to finish cooling.

For folks who can't have nuts, divide the dough and put nuts in only half. Sometimes I take a fork which has been dipped in water and flatten the cookie dough out after I have dropped onto the cookie sheet. This will make a thinner cookie and more crisp.

~~~~~~~~~~~


I whipped these up in no time this morning after breakfast. There was one egg left in the carton, exactly what this recipe calls for. That's as good a reason as any to bake cookies, right?

I used yellow cake mix because that is what I had. So know white or yellow cake mix works equally well.

Stir the dry cake mix to break up any lumps. Same thing with the brown sugar. I line my cookie sheets with parchment to speed the clean up. And I just moved the warm cookies to a paper towel to finish cooling.

This would be a great recipe for moms who realize at bedtime they need to send cookies to school the next morning. I typically keep a box or two of cake mix on hand. Often it's a buy-one-get-one-free deal. And it's a convenient jumpstart to dessert when time is short.

I will tell you that boxed cake mix used to be 18 ounces. It's now just over 15 ounces. That's a significant decrease in the dry ingredients. When I first stirred this up, I thought the dough was almost like batter. A thick batter, but I still wondered if they would spread too much. The dough sat a few minutes while the oven finished heating. And as the dry ingredients absorbed the liquid, it was fine. The dough spread just as any cookie recipe would.

One day I'll ask Miss Doris about her note not to skip the egg. Sounds like there is a story there!



Monday, October 15, 2018

A Willing Spirit


From time to time, people ask, "What is something you remember your mother saying?" And I think they likely mean something your mother said over and over. (In my case, that would be "stand up straight!") But a remark that my mother made exactly once has stuck with me for most of my life. 

When I was a young teen, our church was looking for a pianist to fill in one Sunday. And the preferred choice was a lady about my mother's age. Everyone said she played the piano beautifully. I never heard her because she never played in public.


So they went down the list and finally got to me. I wondered if I should do it and worried out loud to my mother about my not being nearly as good as Mrs. Johnson. (I just made that name up because I don't remember her name all these years later.) And my mother said, "Sometimes willingness is worth more than talent." And Mother encouraged me to go ahead—with my lesser musical ability—and play for the church service. Well, I played. And I survived. And the congregation survived. And I even played for a few more services while I was in high school

I'm honest about my musical ability. I fall somewhere in the middle of the line that goes from excellent to poor. I have joked that I am "the musician of last resort." The one who gets the phone call saying, "I've called everyone I can think of and no one will do it. Would you be willing to play on Sunday?"  That means that by the time I get the phone call, they have spent a week calling other people and I get the least time to prepare. And I probably need the most time! But I usually will play. I know I can do it. Not the difficult classical music that others might play, but lovely pieces nevertheless. And I survive. And the congregation survives.


Well, a couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call from a friend who pastors two tiny churches—congregations so small they could have worshiped in my living room— asking if I would play for both churches while the regular pianist was away. And he asked nearly two weeks ahead. So I said yes. I practiced and practiced. And I practiced some more. I made notes all over the music. First, in pencil. Then I used red ink to mark the more important spots. And for good measure, I added a couple of Post-It notes in strategic places. 


All of that preparation left me in good shape musically. I chose my music carefully. I marked my music well. But I'll be honest. Even when well prepared, I still get ridiculously nervous before playing for a service, mostly because I don't do this often. On the way to the first church yesterday, the nervousness reached a level that almost hurt. Then I remembered Mommy telling me about the calming technique she uses to settle her children when they are afraid, upset, or mad.

She tells them, "Smell the flowers." (Breathe in.) Blow out the candles. (Breathe out.)" And after several deep breaths and controlled releases, they begin to relax. My version of this was "Breathe in the calm" and "Blow out the nerves." I imagine there is a name for this breathing technique. But whatever you call it I was ready to play by the time I got to the first little church.

I was happy to share my music with these sweet churches that are hanging on by a thread. They value worshiping in spaces rich in tradition and history for their families. I was thankful for the chance to worship with them. I will never be an award winning pianist, but most times I am a willing musician. Thank you, Mother, for your encouragement. And for years and years of piano lessons.

This morning, I put away the music I used yesterday. And I pulled out some new pieces to work on. Just in case I get that call again.












Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Gray Blanket For Baby Boy


I have made a baby blanket for nearly every baby born into our family. At least one for each family. But this little fellow and his family almost didn't get one when he was born. I tried to tell myself that it was okay. But then I didn't want this new little cousin to wonder one day why I skipped him. (I know. I know. He probably wouldn't really care.)


But I already had yarn. And when I went to the knitting retreat at our lake a few weeks ago, I had time. A project like this is great for "public" or "social" knitting. That means it's a pattern that is simple enough that you can work on it and talk at the same time.

But after knitting three-fourths of this blanket, I decided I was not happy with how it was turning out. It was too loose and stretchy. I knew this after I had finished the first three inches. But I kept tell myself it would get better. (Knitter are ridiculous. There was absolutely no reason that it would have changed.)  And I knitted on. Twelve inches into the blanket, it suited me even less. But knitters are a hopeful bunch. I told myself that it would be okay as a really stretchy blanket. No one would notice but me.

At about sixteen inches, I finally owned what I knew at three inches. It was never going to be right. SOOOO.....I unraveled the whole thing and started over with a smaller needle.


When it was time to bind off, I got curious to find out if there was a way to bind off that better matched the cast on edge. The standard bind off I've used for most things is not as stretchy as the cast on. Google to the rescue! The "sewn bind off" is a better match. I had done this kind of bind off ages ago, but needed a refresher. This video was a huge help.

Elizabeth Zimmerman's Sewn Bind Off

If it were not for internet instructions, I would not be nearly as proficient a knitter as I am. There is always more to learn. And there is always something online to teach me. Such a fabulous resource if you don't have a friend or neighbor to explain things in person.

The lesson I should have learned this time, though, didn't need any online instruction. My lesson was that I should have stopped and started over when I FIRST realized this wasn't coming out like I wanted it to. It would have saved me hours and hours of knitting.


Pattern:  Ann Norling #32, Crib-Blanket-Afghan, Blanket D
Yarn:  Berroco Comfort, Ash Gray
Needles:  Size 7

This gray color (one of the nursery colors) worked up into a classic, tailored look. I love the end result. Worth knitting it twice! I made this a smaller size (faster to make) suitable for car seat or stroller. 

As far as I know, this pattern is not sold anywhere as a download, which is the usual way to buy patterns now. It is only sold as a printed pattern. I found mine at a local yarn shop. You can also order it from some yarn shops, like Jimmy Beans Wool, and I even found it on Amazon. There are six blanket designs in this pamphlet, with instructions for using different weights of yarn.




Friday, October 5, 2018

Chicken Salad, No Mayo

This is the last recipe from our knitters day at the lake. I didn't plan to be so long sharing, but other fun things popped up along the way. Better late than never.


I've enjoyed a few lovely "thank you" emails from the knitters who came to lunch at the lake. They did most of the work since everyone brought something to add to the table. It was fun for me to get the tables ready. We are lucky that the extra serving tables and beverage containers are stored just steps away from the porch. That makes it easy when I'm not having to haul them up from the basement or in from the barn. 


Because this was a ladies lunch, I bought flowers at the grocery store and cut the stems to put into some Mason jar cups that we had at the lake. That's a fancy as I got. But the flowers paired with bright napkins made a pretty table. 


Yes, we really did knit. It's fun to have a gathering of knitters because there is always a knitter with a problem. And there is always another knitter with a solution. That's how we've all learned to be better knitters.

I promised to share the recipes from our day. Here is another new one. (New to me, at least.) I made my usual chicken salad that we love, and then remembered that one knitter has a serious allergy to eggs—which means no mayonnaise for her. So I found a simple mayo-free recipe and whipped up a second batch of chicken salad so that she could have some. And everyone loved this one, too.

Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad

This one was different from my standard but just as delicious! And I don't say that lightly. We Southerners are serious about our chicken salad. It didn't have the yogurt taste that I thought it might. I think the honey and the sweetness of the grapes balanced the tartness of the yogurt. And the almonds, celery and grapes gsve a nice mix of textures. I'll be making this one again for sure.

GREEK YOGURT CHICKEN SALAD

3 cups diced cooked chicken breast (about 3 medium boneless, skinless breasts)
1-1/2 cups red seedless grapes, halved
3 medium celery stalks, diced
3 or 4 green onions, thinly sliced 
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
1 cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons fat-free milk
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon Kosher salt*
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Put chicken, grapes, celery, green onions, and almonds in a large bowl. 
In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt, milk, honey, salt and pepper. Taste and add more salt or pepper if needed. Pour dressing over chicken and toss to coat. Refrigerate from 2 hours to overnight to let flavors blend.

Makes about 5-1/2 cups


I made this because it was egg free. But as I was mixing it, I realized that most of the ingredients are zero points on the new Weight Watchers plan. I plugged everything in to the recipe creator on Weight Watchers and if you use this recipe to serve five or six people, each serving has 2 Smart Points. For 8 servings from this recipe,  it's 1 Smart Point. That's kind of amazing.

Shortcut: I had a bag of toasted almond salad topping in my pantry. Just thinly sliced toasted almonds. No seasoning beyond salt. I used that instead of toasting slivered almonds. It was a good substitute. 


*If you use regular table salt, use less and then taste and adjust. Kosher salt measures differently than table salt (which fills a spoon more completely.) It's the shape of the salt grains that make the difference.





Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Dinner & TV

Quick Cheese & Herb Flatbread

It wasn't supposed to be a forever thing. It was just our entertainment at the "beach girls" getaway last winter. One friend brought her computer and hooked it to the TV in the house (after a couple of phone calls to her son for tech support) so that we could all watch A Place To Call Home*, an Australian television production, that the rest of us had not seen. She said she knew we'd enjoy it.

Oh, was she ever right. We watched a few episodes each day. And on the last morning—the day we were leaving—the ladies were up and dressed and ready to watch a little more. At SEVEN in the morning! It's the kind of show where it's hard to find a stopping place.

On the way home, someone asked, "How are we supposed to know how this ends up?" And that's how the Monday night "dinner and TV" was born. The friend who brought the computer didn't know she would have us at her house weekly (more or less.) But she does. She provides her house and the TV connection. The rest of us take turns bringing dinner. And we watch three or four episodes while we eat.

This week I took dinner. After all of the wonderful vacation food I'd enjoyed last week, I needed something a little more Weight Watchers friendly. I made chicken taco soup, which I've made many times. And I needed something to put with it.

I found a recipe in a new WW Soups & Stews recipe magazine. Violating one of the rules I live by—always try a recipe before you serve it to guests—I forged ahead. And in my typical fashion, I failed to read the part that said "dough at room temperature." But it all worked out in the end. I think it would have been easier and faster if I had pulled the dough out of the refrigerator an hour before I needed to make the recipe. Learn from me. Plan ahead.

But the recipe was delicious. I made two of the flatbreads. Sixteen pieces all together. I brought home four pieces last night. The five of us nearly finished it all. That tells me it's a good recipe. Here is how I did it.

QUICK CHEESE & HERB FLATBREAD

1 teaspoon olive oil
8 oz. fresh pizza dough (from the grocery store bakery) AT ROOM TEMP!
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
1/2 crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Use fingertips to spread oil over bottom of pan.
Pat or roll dough out into a rectangle just smaller than the pan. Place dough into pan, and with lightly oiled fingers, press dough to fit a 7x11-inch (or 9x9-inch pan,) going slightly up the sides. Sprinkle with rosemary, parsley, mozzarella and feta.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool in pan a few minutes. Remove and cut into 8 slices. Serve warm, or cool completely.

MY NOTES:
~Because my dough was too cold, I couldn't stretch it out to fit the pan. It kept shrinking back. I didn't have time to wait longer, so I went with what I could do. Instead of a neat rectangle, I got a lovely rustic oval. It looked nice that way.
~The recipe called for more oil. I ended up wiping out a good bit with a paper towel. The oily pan made it even harder to get that dough to stretch to the sides of the pan. I don't think I'll ever use the whole tablespoon it called for. 
~The recipe says you can serve it warm or cooled completely. Because I was taking this from my farm to their farm 20 miles away, serving it cooled worked well. But I did taste it while it was warm. Of course warm was better! The crust was crispy. But room temp was totally acceptable. 

OH...and I forgot the important part if you are counting WW points. (Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.) Each slice is 4 SmartPoints.

And although I've posted this recipe before, I'm putting it here again because the soup and this bread was such a nice combination.



ZERO POINT CHICKEN TACO SOUP (Instant Pot) 
        ...recipe from SlapDashMom.com (check her site for other good recipes)

1 small onion, chopped
1 (15-oz) can black beans, drained
1 (15-oz) can light red kidney beans, drained
1 (8-oz) can tomato sauce
10-oz bag frozen corn
2 (10-oz) cans Rotel tomatoes (I used Mild)
1 packet taco seasoning (I used mild, low-sodium)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup water

Place all ingredients into pot. Put lid on, close and set vent to "seal." Use manual button and set to 8 minutes. Let it "natural release" for at least 10 minutes. (Longer is fine.) Then release remaining pressure, if there is any. Remove chicken and shred with two forks. Add shredded chicken back into soup. Serve. 

This is more like a chili than a true soup, but it's yummy. It's gluten-free. And it freezes beautifully. You can certainly cook this in something besides an Instant Pot. I used my IP last night and carried it to the dinner in the pot because the lid fastens securely and I could plug it in when I got there to keep it warm.


*We are into the 6th and final season of this show, A Place To Call Home. You can find it on Acorn TV, a subscription service which is also available through Amazon. It's on iTunes. And one of our local PBS stations is airing it now. According to Wikipedia, the show..."has been described as a "compelling melodrama about love and loss set against the social change of the 1950s"











Monday, October 1, 2018

Bucket List Knitting


Soon after the Georgia knitting retreat last spring, a knitter friend asked, "Would you like to come to the Maine retreat with me in the fall?" In an uncharacteristic move for me, I gave her an instant "Yes!" I tend to overthink things. Find a zillion reasons why I shouldn't go. Reasons not to fly somewhere to knit. How silly is that?

But it dawned on me. I've reached the "now or never" stage of life. The time when I'd better go while my knee and hip joints are all my own—and they all still work. That sounds a little morbid, but it's the truth. I'm past tending to children. I don't have as many responsibilities as I did years ago. My schedule is somewhat my own now.

So here we go. Take a quick look at my trip to Maine. Mostly a trip to knit. But thanks to the good friend (and fellow early riser) who sent pre-dawn texts asking "Are you up? Want to go now?" I got to see the sun come up over several rocky coastlines. She made sure I caught a glimpse of the Bush family compound across the water. And she made my picture standing beside the giant boot at the L.L. Bean store in Portland. After years of being a catalogue customer, seeing that giant store in person was a treat. Thank you, Jo, for making sure I saw a lot. But you made sure there is more to see next time.


Knitters from one corner of the country to the other.


My first lobster roll. Ever.


My total knowledge of Maine was Jessica Fletcher's "Cabot Cove" 
on the TV show Murder She Wrote.
Now I've seen the real deal.


The early bird gets the dramatic photo.


A coastline so different from the one that borders my state.


 We stayed at their guest house.


That time when my clothes matched the beach.




 Adding to my collection of sunrise photos.


You can't have just one lobster roll.


Yes. There really was knitting.


No clue why these are planted here.


Had to stand in line for a photo.


And the perfect pattern to make while I was in Maine.

Pattern:  Maine Morning Mitts, by Clara Parks
Yarn:  Patons Classic Wool Worsted
Needles: Size 7



Maine...I'll be back.

But first I'm going on another knitting bucket list trip in the spring.
That one requires a passport.
< big grin >






Sunday, September 30, 2018

Reentry


It was a grand adventure. I'll tell you about it soon.
But I'm easing back into my place here.


A stop between the bigger trip and getting back home.
A place to catch my breath.


Taking time to tell Daddy-O about the things I saw.
The new people I met. And the next trip I want to take.
And catching up on what happened at the farm while I was away.

Give me another few hours to savor this quiet and I'll share some of my adventure.