Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Let's Celebrate!


This past weekend was just lovely. Jessica and her soon-to-be mother-in-law came to the farm on Friday so that on Saturday we could all attend a luncheon given to honor Jessica.


I have such good friends. Friends who know how to entertain in style. Most of the ladies attending had known Jessica since she was a child. It was fun for them to spend time with the "grownup Jessica." It was just the happiest afternoon.


As the guests arrived, they were welcomed with a cranberry spritzer and the most delicious cheese wafers with cranberries and pecans. (I'll track down the recipe and share later.) 


There were beautifully set tables were in several rooms of this most welcoming home. It was so special. I totally understand why people often entertain in restaurants now. All celebrations are worthy. But it was nice to be invited into someone's home.


Except for these few photos that were quickly and discreetly made, cameras and phones were put away. And people visited. And lingered. Conversation. Laughter. Hugs. Smiles. It was the kind of afternoon that you tuck away in your memory to be enjoyed again and again.

Yes, people. Southern hospitality is real. It was good for the new mother-in-law to see where Jessica grew up and to meet the people who knew her then. She's Southern, too. In the South, we want to know "where you're from."

So. What did we eat? That would be what I'd want to know if I were a blog reader. First course was a green salad with sugared pecans and cranberries with a ginger dressing. Next came a shrimp-wild rice dish, spiced pears, broccoli and homemade rolls. Yes, homemade. And the dessert? Oh. My. Goodness. It was the best chocolate pie ever. The ladies who put this all together are famous in our town for their cooking and their hospitality. I am so happy they are my friends. 






Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dinner In An Instant—Instant Pot, That Is



I have been "missing in action" in the kitchen lately. We have tried the couple of new restaurants in town. We've eaten sandwiches because it was easy. Two nights ago it was pizza from town. By yesterday I felt a little guilty. I didn't want to drive to the grocery store, so I wanted a supper that I could make from what was here. I had a pack of chicken breasts thawing (without a plan for cooking) in the refrigerator. It was 4:00 PM when the wave of guilt hit me, so I searched the web for Instant Pot chicken recipes. I usually keep frozen broccoli on hand, which isn't as good as fresh, but it's better than no vegetable. Brown rice—the cook-in-the-bag-kind—is another good pantry staple. That was enough to make a dinner.

Before I was ready to cook, I put the chicken under cool running water for a few minutes. After that, it was about half thawed. I have read that one advantage of using an Instant Pot is that you can use frozen chicken. So I didn't bother to thaw it any more. Yep. It worked fine.

If I understand it correctly, you do not have to add more cooking time to a recipe when cooking from frozen. It will just take longer for the pot to come up to pressure. That's where the extra cooking takes place. BUT should you decide your chicken or meat needs to be cooked longer after it's "done," then put the lid back on and cook it more This whole Instant Pot thing is not an exact science. Use your common sense cooking skills. I think if you had large pieces of frozen chicken or your three pieces were frozen together in a lump, then you might need extra minutes added to the pressure time. It's a judgement call and that gets better with practice. I'm still learning.

Just so you know...it took longer to write this blog post than it did to get supper on the table. The meal was really quick. Here is the recipe for chicken teriyaki that I found on my search. I made some minor adjustments. Here's what I did:

GINGER TERIYAKI CHICKEN

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise (package was 1.36 lbs)  
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup rice vinegar (mine was seasoned rice vinegar)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic (I used the kind from a jar)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water

In a cup, whisk together honey, vinegar, ginger, garlic, black pepper and olive oil. Add chicken to Instant Pot. Put onion on top of chicken. Pour the honey/vinegar mix over chicken.

Place lid on pot and seal valve. Set to Manual for 5 minutes. Use a Quick Release. (Chicken should have reached temp of 165º.) Using two forks, shred chicken in the pot. Mix cornstarch and water and pour into chicken mixture. Cook on Sauté setting until sauce has thickened a little.


Delicious! I served it over brown rice with broccoli on the side. I only had one issue. It wasn't with the recipe. It was with my chicken. It was a tough old bird! It was truly done after 5 minutes of cooking, but it was not easy to shred. I put the lid back on and set it to cook 1 minute under pressure. And it still wasn't as tender as usual. I really think it was the chicken. Nothing to do with how I cooked it.

This was the easiest and the fastest of the Instant Pot recipes I've made. I mixed the sauce ingredients up before I was ready to cook. That took less than 5 minutes. And then when it was close to dinner time, I chopped the onion and split the chicken. Put it all in the pot and set it for 5 minutes. Actual time, from coming to pressure and doing a quick release, was less than 20 minutes, I think. I forgot to time it. During that hands-off cooking time, I made the rice and the broccoli and stuck all the dirty utensils in the dishwasher.

I'm still not going to say the Instant Pot has "changed my life." (Yes, I read that all the time from other IP users.) And I don't feel the need to cook in it every day. Nor do I want to cook every kind of food in it. But this recipe that makes me happy I have an Instant Pot.







Sunday, October 8, 2017

Is It Enough Or Too Much?

Pattern:  Rune, by Helen Stewart (Curious Handmade)
Yarn: Lollipop Yarn Sweetpea Sock MCN, in Dirty Pewter & Wild Hare
Needle: size 6

I'll never catch up. Just as I was coming to the end of this knitting project, Helen Stewart released another shawl design I'd love to make. There are so many—too many—wonderful designs that I want to make. I need to figure out a way to sort them out and decide what I can realistically make. Life does require other activities besides knitting. But somehow in my mind, if I own the yarn and print out the pattern, I think the shawl or scarf will magically appear in my wardrobe. Nope. Doesn't work that way.


And yarn! There is so much gorgeous yarn. I know I've bought too much. (Much of the excess was bought several years ago when I first discovered the "good yarn." Newbie excitement.) There was a plan in my mind (most of the time) for how to use it when I made a purchase. But then, as it waits its turn in line, I forget why I bought the yarn. I forget what I wanted to knit. I forget why I liked the pattern I chose. So the yarn accumulates.

I'm making an effort to do better. This shawl is made with yarn I bought at the Carolina Fiber Frolic last November. And here I've used the yarn before that retreat happens again in several weeks. Good for me! That's how it should work. Use up the yarn before you go back to the place you bought it. I don't always follow my own advice. But I'm trying.

Detail on center of the Rune Shawl

"Knit down the stash." "Stash diving." These are the phrases that knitters use to talk about this issue. Some knitters even talk about SABLE. That's "Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy." Assuming I live to be as old as my grandmother, and assuming I keep knitting at my current rate, I don't have that much yarn. That's a lot of assuming.


So as I wrestle with curbing my yarn/pattern wishes, these boxes arrived in my mail yesterday. Before you judge me, let me say I won this yarn in a give away! It's a gift from KnitCrate, a monthly yarn subscription. I won a box for me and a box for Jessica. The yarn just comes to me now. Maybe I'm fighting a lost cause in working down my stash. Maybe I'm supposed to have extra yarn around the house. I can think of worse problems. 😊






Thursday, October 5, 2017

Keeping It Easy

Lemon Grilled Chicken

This week has been a "recovery" week for me. Recovery from a very busy September. Recovery from driving by myself on two long trips last week. Recovery from sinus problems. Recovery from watching too much news, It's times like these that I don't particularly want to cook. But our eating out options are limited.

We do have one very good barbecue restaurant in the closest town. We popped in there for lunch last Saturday after I got home from my trip. In addition to eating there, I brought home some of their smoky chicken salad and their Brunswick stew for us to enjoy later. That's one way for us to "eat out" without driving back into town.

But I've searched through the recipes here (check out the Recipe Index at the top of this post) for easy recipes I may have forgotten about. This lemon marinated chicken is super quick and always a hit.

The chicken does not need to be marinated all day. The original recipe said not to leave it in the lemon marinade for longer than an hour or the chicken will get mushy, but this time things happened and it was an hour and a half before it hit the grill. It was fine. Now that gives me even more flexibility. I put the extra grilled cutlets in the freezer* for later. They are great sliced on a salad. Or, chopped up and added to soup. The lemon flavor is not overwhelming. It just makes flavorful chicken.

LEMON GRILLED CHICKEN

1 cup lemon juice (I used bottled juice for ease)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lemon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
6-8 boneless skinless chicken cutlets 

Whisk marinade ingredients together. Put chicken in a gallon ziplock bag. Pour marinade over chicken and let it marinate for 1 to 1-1/2 hour  in the refrigerator. (Not longer.) Remove chicken from marinade. Grill until chicken is done. Outdoor grill or grill pan—they both work.


The last time I posted this recipe, I wrote about using chicken breasts—which is fine—and pounding them to make them thinner. Using the cutlets just eliminates that step. That's my choice when I can find them. Right now I'm all about making things easier.


*Meats frozen "dry," without a sauce or gravy or broth, will not keep as long as those protected by lots of liquid in the bag with the meat. Note to self: Use this sooner rather than later.







Monday, October 2, 2017

What Do We Say? What Do We Do?

Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5

We used to turn on the television news first thing when we got up. But lately we have not done that every day. Because I had not watched in several days, I decided I should see what was going on this morning. I flipped on the TV while I was making coffee. You can imagine my horror and sorrow at what I saw before 7:00 AM. Breaking news coverage of the shooting in Las Vegas.

It was hard to stop watching the tragedy unfold. Then I realized I needed to turn it off and go find something else to do. Do laundry. Clean. Pull weeds. Do something. Do anything. But not stay glued to the news.

This afternoon I read these words from a pastor friend. She offers a positive, helpful way to deal with a horrific situation. I thank her for these words that are both positive and practical:
Some thoughts for today: 
  • Watch only enough media to be informed.
  • Pray for the living and the dead, first responders, medical teams, and caregivers.
  • Reach out in a way that brings peace to someone you come in contact with today.
  • Ask (and answer) the question, "How can I help build bridges of hope?"
  • Find a moment of beauty and thank God for that gift.
 









Monday, September 25, 2017

White Wine Cake

White Wine Cake

"What's in a name? ...a rose by any other name will smell as sweet." Even Shakespeare thought about the importance of names. I am not a fan of "crack" recipes—crack pie, crack chicken, crack cookies, crack burritos, Christmas crack, etc. Really I'm not a fan of the recipe names. And, yes, I'm probably the only one with this hangup. Call me old fashioned. Yes. I am a bit of a prude. I'll even claim the stick-in-the-mud label. Using the "crack" label is supposed to mean the food is so good that it's addictive. But it bothers me when a recipe is named–even as a joke–after an illegal drug that has caused families much heartbreak. Thankfully, recipes can be easily renamed.

Having said that, and getting down off my soap box now, here is a recipe that I saw on Facebook a few weeks ago called "The Best Crack Cake." (That means there are other crack cakes out there?) I was intrigued with the recipe. I had all the ingredients on hand, so I baked the cake, thinking I'd call it something else. And then the very next day, totally by accident, I stumbled across a nearly identical recipe called White Wine Cake. It's a more accurate, for sure, so I'm going with that name.

I love homemade cake best, but there are days when a cake mix is in order. A day when I want quick and easy. This was one of those days. We were staying inside hiding from the storm that one of the hurricanes brought. And we needed a rainy afternoon treat. Daddy-O made the mid-afternoon coffee to go with a warm slice of cake, wonderfully moist and flavored with cinnamon and brown sugar. You can taste only the faintest hint of wine, but it makes for an incredibly moist cake.



Now, it's confession time. I really did read the recipe carefully. Really I did. And I knew the sauce poured over the top called for one cup of sugar. But by the time I got to that part of the process, I just grabbed the same little measuring cup I had used for the sugar added to the cake batter.

So my sauce was made with a teensy one-fourth cup of sugar. And it was perfectly yummy. I might use the full cup next time I make this (and I will make it again) but know that you can surely use less. Good to know if you find you are running out of sugar after the cake is in the oven. Or, maybe you can talk yourself into thinking it's a healthier cake if you cut back on the sugar. It is entirely possible that after I make it with more sugar, I'll decide I like it with much less. I've written this recipe with the lesser sugar amount. You can add more if you want it sweeter.

WHITE WINE CAKE

1 box yellow cake mix (I used Duncan Hines)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 small box instant vanilla pudding mix
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 eggs
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup oil
1/2 cup white wine (I used pinot grigio)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Pour into a well-greased Bundt pan. (I used a baking spray.)

Bake for 55-60 minutes, until golden brown and top springs back when lightly pressed. Take cake out of oven and immediately pour sauce over the hot cake. Let cool in pan until just warm. Turn out onto serving plate.

Butter Sauce for Cake
    1 stick butter
    1/4 cup sugar (or, up to 1 cup–to taste) 
    1/4 cup white wine

Melt butter and stir in sugar and wine. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Pour over hot cake. It will soak in as the cake cools.

~~~~~~~~~~~

I used a little bottle of pinot grigio, the kind that come in a carton of four. These are good to have on hand for recipes. 

The cake is perfectly moist and delicious just as it is. If you want to dress it up for serving, a little powdered sugar sifted over the top would be all you need. 



I'm taking the rest of the week off to have a little beach time with the granddaughters while they are on fall break. I froze half of this white wine cake when I made it. Before I leave today, I'll set it out to thaw so that Daddy-O will have a treat while I'l away for a few days. See you back here soon.






Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Knitting In Technicolor



Pattern: Ojo De Dios Shawl
Yarn:  Queensland Collection Sunshine Coast
Needles:  size 8

In general, I choose calm colors when I knit.  Lots of earthy colors–grays, browns, tans. I love solid colors (purples and reds are favorites,) choosing to make stripes when I feel a little wild. But with this shawl I broke all my own rules for what I make.

For reasons I cannot explain when I chose yarn for this shawl, I went for the brightest rainbow colors of the possible choices. People at the retreat looked at my knitting....looked at me...and said, "Ummm....That's not the yarn I thought you would have used." Me, either. This much color is way out of my comfort zone. I could have made this shawl in grays or browns. But this time I took a leap into a rainbow!


If I'm honest, this is not a pattern that I would have chosen to make. But the shawl was a retreat project, which just means that all of us who attended the lake retreat in August started the same pattern with the same yarn–but in the color of our choice. The pattern is called Ojo De Dios, which translates as "eye of God."
The triangle design is based on the Ojo de Dio, the eye of God, an ancient symbol. The art is made of bright yarn that is woven around two crossed sticks. It dates back to the Huichol Indians of Mexico.
In Mexico, the central eye is made when a child was born. Each year after for five year more yarn is wraped around the sticks. It was a symbol of things not seen and the power to see those things hidden from the naked eye.
In Bolivia, “God’s Eyes” were made to be placed on an altar so that the gods could watch over the praying people and protect them.
Did you ever make a God's eye at camp? Cross two sticks, then wind yarn around them, changing colors so that there is a center "eye." Here's how to make a God's eye. It's a great craft for school age kids.


All of these little curled up triangles didn't look like much when they were done. But through the miracle of blocking (soaking in water, pinning out flat, letting dry) they turned into lovely, flat, smooth pieces of knitting that fit together perfectly when I stitched them up. I will say that knitting them was like eating potato chips...I kept wanting to do one more to see how the colors worked out. That's one reason I finished my shawl within two weeks.


At the retreat, we learned a few tips for making the 17 triangles that make up the border of the shawl. It was fun to see how each triangle was different. Yes. All the color changes are because the yarn is multicolored. The yarn does all the work creating these colorful triangles.


Retreat projects are always interesting. The first time I went to a retreat with a designated project, I was very skeptical about what we were making. I really didn't care for the shawl pattern. And on top of that it turned out to be a very challenging knit. But when that shawl was finished–a year later–I loved it. It's one I wear often. So I have learned to relax into the experience, regardless of my first thoughts about the pattern.

I know I'll learn something new. I know I'll have fun. And if it turns out that I really don't love the project, I am guaranteed that I will have had fun with the other knitters. This retreat was a total success, though. A fun weekend with knitting friends and a fun shawl that I'll enjoy wearing. Can't ask for more.







Monday, September 18, 2017

Grandmother TV Tips

Back at home.

There are no photos to share of our babysitting weekend. We were too busy to make any. Thankfully, Daddy-O was there for much of the time. I truly cannot imagine that would I survived without him. Well, maybe I would have survived, but I wouldn't have done well. Three girls. Three ages. Three schools. Three schedules. Two ballet classes at two different dance schools. One high school football game. (Chauffeuring only for this one.) One first grade birthday party. Keeping up with the schedule is hard enough. Carrying out the schedule is a major accomplishment.

Thankfully, they have a mommy who limits TV time. But when Mimi is in the house, I'll fully confess that I let them watch more than usual. No. It is not a free for all, but it does give me a way to get things done. Or, it gives me a minute's break. Keeping up with kiddos is not my daily routine anymore. And I'm much older than when we had our own limited TV rule.

Disney and Nick Jr. are kings of kid shows, but there are some, especially the ones aimed at tweens, that have have characters with attitudes that we'd rather not hear mimicked by our little ones. They are going to hear them other places but there's no need to reinforce them at home. Baby Girl calls them "appitudes"...as in, "he is nice, but sometimes he has appitude." Even at age three, she knows exactly what that means. Makes me long for the days of Gumby and Howdy Doody. Update: just discovered that Gumby–from the 1950s–is free with Amazon Prime!

If you are a tired grandmama and need a moment to catch your breath, or you find yourself in charge of small children–grandchildren, neighbor's kids, random cousins dropped off at your house–here are a few programs to keep in your back pocket. Google any of them to find more videos. There are other good ones out there (check out PBS), but these are some that you might not know about.


Peep And The Big Wide World (free with your Amazon Prime membership)

Most episodes are just under 10 minutes. Sometimes that's all you need. This Canadian production features a bird and chicken and a duck. It's clever. It's funnier than it sounds. (I love the colors and simple drawings.) And there is some (preschool) science and math thrown in for good measure. Joan Cusack narrates.



Pingu (free with your Amazon Prime membership)

These are mostly five minute segments. It's a British-Swiss clay animation about a penguin family at the South Pole. Don't worry if you find a version with foreign title pages on YouTube. The penguins all speak "Penguinese, consisting of babbling, muttering, and his characteristic sporadic loud honking noise..." (It sounds a little like Italian,) This non-language makes perfect sense when you watch. The mother knits—kind of fun for me. Be aware...there is some preschool potty humor in a few of these. 

Pingu is a little boy penguin, who like all little boys is playful, gets into trouble, and loves his family. Baby Girl particularly likes these. I think it's because she identifies with many of Pingu's problems. 



Little Bear

Another Canadian production, based on a series of children's books illustrated by Maurice Sendak. These gentle stories are about a little bear and his animal friends. These friends are kind to each other. The show has a calm, quiet feel that makes it a good choice before bedtime.

Both of our little ones like these. Each show is about 25 minutes and contains two stories. We can still watch these reruns on Nick Jr. Little Sister finds some shows too baby for her, but she still likes this one.



Tec The Tractor

A cute farm show from BabyFirstTV, it features a little tractor who helps out all around the farm. This is not an animated show. It's filled with real farm chores and baby animals. Each episode is around 15 minutes.


If it's a rainy day, or a sick day, or a waiting day, or a very busy day, maybe a little extra TV time is in order. Here are a few hints if you are not a video savvy grandmother:

  • All of these can be found on YouTube, so you don't need cable or satellite TV.  But you do have to get through the ads that pop up first. Yes. They are annoying, but that's why the videos are free.
  • If you are an AmazonPrime member, check out their free offerings. It's part of your member benefits. 

  • Watching on Amazon Prime or iTunes should make it harder for little ones to drift into another video, maybe an unapproved one. 
  • Videos can be bought and downloaded from Amazon and iTunes. 

  • YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and iTunes can all be viewed on a smart phone or iPad if you've added the apps. And of course, they are all accessible on your computer.





Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Some Days Call For Comfort Food

Cabbage Casserole

On Monday we got the very edge of Hurricane Irma. Howling winds. Sideways rain. Lots of limbs and twigs down. But no real damage like other parts of the southeast. There were many places around us that lost power but we only had our lights flicker a few times.

So while the storm raged outside, I stayed inside. I made soup for lunch, then I made cabbage casserole for dinner. It is the ultimate comfort food. The name "cabbage casserole" doesn't do it justice. Just know it's delicious. It's easy. It makes plenty for leftovers the next day. At least for us, it does.

I tend to make this recipe the same week as I make the "not quite free" soup. This time I made them the same day. Soup for lunch and casserole for dinner. Both recipes call for a half head of cabbage and it works perfectly to use it all up. This time I made the soup first. Then while the cabbage was out for the soup prep, I chopped the second half of the cabbage and the onion for this recipe and put it in ziplock baggies. I had even browned the ground beef the night before because it needed to be cooked sooner rather than later. So at dinner time, putting this together was a breeze. Remember it take an hour and a half in the oven. Make sure you start it in time.

CABBAGE CASSEROLE

1/2 head of cabbage (medium-size), finely chopped
salt
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1/2 cup diced onion
1 lb. lean ground beef, browned
salt & pepper
1-1/2 cups tomato juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread half of cabbage in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with salt. (Don't be too skimpy.) Add rice, onion and ground beef in layers over cabbage. Spread remaining cabbage over top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour tomato juice over all. 
Cover dish with foil. Bake for 1-1/2 hours, or until done. Let stand, covered, a few minutes after you remove it from the oven. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~

I just looked to see when I posted this recipe last. It was just over six months ago. Daddy-O went back for thirds at supper time on Monday, so that makes it worthy of a quick repost. In my notes, I said I doubt I would serve it to company.

Well, this past weekend Jessica and her fiancé were here. I decided he's "almost family" and I could get away with making this recipe. But I guess I don't know him well enough yet. I didn't know he does not care for cabbage. I'm sure he would have been polite about having this for dinner. But in the interest of not running him off before the wedding, we changed plans and went out for dinner instead. 

I think it's entirely possible that he would have loved it if I had served it. But we had a wonderful time having a progressive dinner in our tiny little town at three new establishments that have opened in recent months. (Wine bar, barbecue restaurant, ice cream shop.)

I think this recipe could really use a name makeover. Any suggestions for what to call this dish besides "cabbage casserole?"








Monday, September 11, 2017

At The Edge Of The Storm

Caramel Cake

What a weekend! Engagement photos here at the farm had been scheduled for weeks. Who would have thought about an approaching hurricane affecting us? We are about three hours inland from the coast, but the original weather forecast predicted tropical storm winds for the upstate. Our biggest threat  was that of large power outages.


Jessica and Todd only needed one hour of decent weather to have a good outdoor shoot. And glory be, that's about what they got. The rain wasn't due until today, but yesterday was extremely windy. Except for that one hour just before dusk. I can't wait to see all the pictures. The one above was just a "get the camera settings right" shot. There were many others made in different locations around the farm. I'm not sure I would have thought about our pasture as a good location for a photo shoot, but watching this creative photographer work and seeing it through her eyes reminded me that we do live in a beautiful place.


Conversation meandered this weekend, as conversations do, and somewhere along the way, caramel cake was mentioned. "You know how to make caramel cake?" Well, that's about all it took for me to prove that I could indeed bake one.

This recipe has been posted here several times before, but I never worry about posting it again. The cake is the easiest one I know how to make. And it's always good. I usually bake it in a 9x13-inch pan, but caramel cake called for layers. This does not make a huge amount of batter, so use your 8-inch cake pans, not your larger ones. Sometimes I frost it with fudge frosting. Or, we'll have it with strawberries and whipped cream.

This time my frosting didn't seem quite as stiff as usual. So after icing the first layer I nearly poured frosting over the cake. It was only a minute until it started to harden so that I could frost the sides. Pouring the frosting made the top so pretty. I hope I can do it that way the next time!

QUICK & EASY CAKE

2 cups self-rising flour 
1-1/2 cups sugar 

1 cup oil
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla 

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat until well mixed.  This can be baked in layers or 13x9x2 pan. (Greased and floured, of course; or use baking spray.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown and top springs back when lightly touched.


QUICK CARAMEL FROSTING

2/3 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
1/3 cup milk
3 cups powdered sugar (sifted)

In a saucepan over low heat add butter--melt. Add brown sugar--stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add milk--stir and cook while you bring it to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and let it cool for 10 minutes. Slowly add powdered sugar while stirring--keep stirring until thick enough to use as frosting.

(I used a wire whisk to add in the powdered sugar until it got thick and then I switched to a heavy spoon.  This frosting hardens, so ice your cake quickly.) 


Best quote of the weekend came from Little Sister. Mommy showed her an Instagram picture of this cake. She quickly asked, "So Mimi knows how to make my Daddy's special caramel cake?" Guess where he got the recipe.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


After a weekend of snacking as we watched storm updates and having more than one slice of caramel cake, I woke up this morning wanting vegetables. Checked the recipe index on the blog here and compared recipes to what's in my pantry. This easy soup was the winner. I'll toss all ingredients into the pot in a bit and we will have soup for lunch. Soup is never Daddy-O's favorite, but this one keeps for several days, so I can have it again later this week.

Not Quite "Free" Soup

We dodged the storm, but today is still unseasonably cool. We will have rain and wind but hopefully nothing like the first prediction. But soup will still be a good cool day lunch.

The "not quite free" name of this soup refers to the old Weight Watchers soup recipe that was made with mostly cabbage and tomatoes. It had no points because you didn't have to count non-starchy vegetables, hence it was "free" if you were tracking your food. (Some considered it free of taste as well—this version is tastier.) There are potatoes and corn in the frozen soup vegetables, but not many so this one is "almost free."

NOT-QUITE-"FREE" SOUP

1 16- oz bag frozen vegetables for soup
1/2 head cabbage, finely chopped
1 onion, diced (I only had a 1/2 onion)
1 15-oz can cut green beans 
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 pkg dry Ranch Dressing mix
5-6 cups water
freshly ground black pepper, to taste 

Put all ingredients into a 5-quart pot. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes or longer, until vegetables are as tender as you like them.

As with most soup recipes, there is ample room for adjustments. Make it your own.






Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Treasure The Moments


Sometimes I find these blog posts hard to write when the news has been full of sad, tragic events. There is something uncomfortable about telling about our lovely Labor Day weekend at our favorite spot when folks in Texas no longer have a spot at all. Homes are completely gone for so many. Or, seriously damaged for many, many others.


But I posted an Instagram photo from this weekend and a friend commented about my "capturing these moments as treasures." And it dawned on me...that is what we should all do. Help the flood victims by making a donation to the most appropriate relief agency and then treasure your own moments and store them up in your heart.


And we indeed had a family weekend filled with memory making times—kayaking on the lake, skiing, riding the "bumpity bump," the large float that is pulled behind the boat, fishing and swimming. Baby Girl had her own water time in the shade. She was just as happy in her pool as the others were in the lake. There was also the great shoe hunt. A dog had carried off a sandal that was left outside overnight. And miracle of miracles, Daddy-O found it in a neighbor's yard. And bigger miracle—it wasn't chewed up.


Thanks to an app and an iPad, Daddy-O got to enjoy watching his team play on Saturday. Our lake house is as simple as can be, which usually is just fine. No WiFi. No satellite TV. But there are times when a little high tech stuff is in order. The opening game of the season was such a moment. And his team won. Even better.


All meals for the weekend were served on the porch. There is more space there than inside. And we had perfect weather the entire time the family spent at the lake. Baby Girl asked at breakfast the first morning, "Is this the same lake I came to last time I was at the lake?" I love three year old questions. Hopefully one day she will have eaten enough meals on this porch to know this is her lake and have deep memories of good times here. She'll know this is the same lake where her Daddy-O played when he was a little boy. The same lake where her mommy and Aunt Jecca slept in those same beds.


Nights at the lake meant s'mores on the "pavilion" (that's what we call our picnic shelter.") And one night after dinner, we put life jackets on over the little girls' pajamas and we took them a moonlight cruise around our cove. 


The lake is still and quiet at night. The lights looked magical as the boat glided slowly on the water. It was obviously a holiday weekend with nearly all houses lit up around the cove.


And when we pulled back up to the dock, Little Sister led us up the hill to the lake house, lighting the way with her flashlight. I had forgotten how much fun a kid and a flashlight can have outside at night.

When the weekend was over, there were cheeks pink from the sun, blisters from the kayak paddles, a few bug bites and scrapes. All signs of weekend adventures. And we had only one near disaster when Baby Girl took a flying leap off the bed after giving her sister a hug at bedtime. A flying leap, but she didn't fly. She landed hard with a loud thud, followed by louder wailing. I picked her up and asked her what she hit. I was asking about her head, her arm or her knees. But she told me between sobs, "I hit the rug and through the rug, I hit the floor." Thankfully, there was no serious injury to her.


I'm usually in charge of keeping people fed at the lake. And I don't want to spend too much time in our tiny kitchen while everyone else is out on the porch. This easy meal is one we grilled at the lake a couple of weeks ago. It was delicious. So good, in fact, that I put the recipe on the side of the refrigerator where I keep a few favorites. I love having these handy for our lake cooking.


This is my version of a recipe from Skinny Taste. I'm sharing how I made it. You can certainly change things up a little to suit your family or to use what's in your refrigerator. Big Sister's words were, "Oh, I'd eat this again anytime." High praise from a teenager. The marinade gives the chicken flavor without being overwhelming. Keep in mind that chicken cutlets cook quickly. Be careful not to overcook.

HONEY BALSAMIC GRILLED CHICKEN w/VEGGIES

8 chicken cutlets (that was 2 packages at my store)
6 tablespoons pesto (I used Buitoni with basil)
2 cloves mince garlic
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
juice from 1 lime
2 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 red bell peppers, sliced in strips
2 medium zucchinis, sliced 1/4-inch thick
olive oil, salt and pepper, for veggies

Mix pesto, garlic, red pepper flakes and lime juice in a gallon ziplock bag. Put chicken cutlets into bag and squish everything around to coat chicken. Let chicken marinate for 1 hour to overnight.

Mix olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey and salt in a cup and set aside.

Put red pepper slices and zucchini in a bowl and drizzle with a tablespoon or two or oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix to coat all vegetables.

Using a grill pan or basket (designed for use on a grill,) cook vegetables on your grill about 6 to 8 minutes, turning frequently, until edges get slightly browned. Don't crowd vegetables, using two pans if needed. Remove to platter when done.

Cook chicken on grill, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until done, being careful not to overcook. (Make sure your grill grates are clean and well oiled.) Put grilled chicken on platter with the vegetables and drizzle the honey balsamic dressing over everything,

~~~~~~~~~

Don't let the long list of ingredients scare you off.  Get the chicken in the marinade early. You can also slice the vegetables in the afternoon. Mix the dressing. And at dinner time, there is only the grilling to do. And at our house, Daddy-O is in charge of that part.

You can use the vegetables you like best for this recipe. I only had red peppers and zucchini in the lake refrigerator. An onion or some asparagus would have been nice in the mix, if I'd had any.

I cooked a packet of yellow rice to go with the chicken and veggies. Such an easy meal for lake cooking. I'm sure we'll make it again at home, too.

Goodbye, summer.







Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Time For Tea


We went to the most lovely bridal tea party over the weekend. Such a wonderful day for the two families to get to know each other. And it was surely a day of making memories.


The nieces from the bride's family got to meet the nieces from the groom's family. Between the bride and groom, there are seven nieces, ages 3-16. And they were instant BFFs. (That's "best friends forever" if you don't have younger folks around to keep you up to date on such things.) All of them will be in the wedding party. They are so excited. The grownups were happy to meet each other, too.


There were many questions ahead of time from our little ones. They learned that you dress up to go to a tea party. ("But I want to wear my cow shirt!" The cow shirt had to wait for another time.) And they knew that tea party manners meant sitting still in your chair. And they were instructed on what to do if they didn't like a certain food on their plate.

We had tried to explain to our little girls that a tea party meant small sized foods. And they were relieved to learn that they were not required to drink tea. They had their own little tea pot of lemonade on the table. But they did have real china cups and saucers. Not a styrofoam cup with a lid and a straw in sight! And the smallest girls rose to the occasion and were perfect little ladies.


At bedtime that night, Baby Girl told us, "That was the best tea party I've ever been to in my whole life." She's three. And just as she was being tucked into bed she added proudly, "And I didn't break anything."


I dug back through older posts here on the blog and found a recipe that we used for a bridal shower here at our house several years ago. I love this recipe because it can be made ahead and popped into the freezer for baking later. Make them small and fill them with thinly sliced ham and they would be perfect for a tea party at your house!

SWEET POTATO BISCUITS

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup butter
1 cup cooked mashed sweet potato* 
¾ to 1 cup buttermilk

1.  Combine first 3 ingredients.  Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two forks until crumbly.
2.  Stir together mashed sweet potato and ¾ cup buttermilk; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.  (Add remaining ¼ cup buttermilk, if necessary.)
3.  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead 3 to 4 times.  Pat to a ½-inch thickness.  Cut dough with a biscuit cutter and place biscuits on a lightly greased baking sheet.
4.  Bake at 425º for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden.

Yield:  3-inch cutter makes about 14 biscuits
            2-inch cutter makes about 36 biscuits (this time I got about 48 biscuits)

* 1 (15-oz.) can sweet potatoes, drained and mashed, may be substituted.

Note:  To freeze, place unbaked biscuits on a baking sheet in the freezer.  Once frozen, place biscuits in a zip-top plastic freezer bag, and freeze until ready to use.  Before serving, bake frozen biscuits on a lightly greased baking sheet at 425° for 15 to 16 minutes.





Friday, August 25, 2017

Tiny Break — Big Benefit


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

There are times in my life when I look at a newly finished knitting project and wonder how and when I managed to make it. This is one of those times. Life around here is always busy. But it feels like we are going even faster at the moment. Daddy-O has the big livestock show this weekend. I'll miss it completely because I'm heading to Mommy's house for a bridal tea. We have a big project going on at the lake that needs attention. My car is in the shop and needs to be picked up today. There have been church commitments on the calendar. That's only this week. It's been like this all summer. All good things. But they have filled our calendar.


When life gets crazy—more crazy than usual—knitting at least a row or two each day helps me settle. In my mind and in my spirit. Knitting is not something I have to do. But it truly is something I enjoy doing. And after knitting a row here and a row there, all of a sudden (well, that's how it feels to me) there is a new shawl in my hands. 

This particular pattern is a crescent shaped lace shawl. With a modern asymmetrical border. I love the simple twist on a classic shape. It feels less like a "grandmother shawl" and more like an up-to-date accessory. It was my first time using this yarn, Rowan Softyak. It's a blend of cotton and yak. If you've knitted with cotton yarn, it usually has a hard hand. But the addition of the yak fiber makes it much softer. It had much more "squish" than I expected. I'd love to use this again for another project.


When your schedule is getting out of hand, make time for whatever gives you pleasure. It might be reading a book...or a short poem if a book is too long. Maybe you'd rather take a walk. Go outside and walk once around your house if there isn't time for going further. I also love to sit down at the piano and play something. Often it's only one verse of a hymn. It is entirely possible that cleaning out a single drawer could give you a mental break. You know what works for you.

Taking care of yourself lets you take better care of others. Yes, there might not be time for a few days away. Or, even a few hours for a project. But I can find a minute or two for what I love. I highly recommend it. Those minutes are going to pass anyway. Might as well let them add up to something purposeful. Let me know what you like to do when you have a spare two minutes.


For the record, "Joji' is pronounced "Ho Hee." She is a designer from Argentina. Thank you to the podcasters out there who are better traveled and more knowledgable than I am. I'm happy that I have heard her mentioned more than once. Because otherwise, I'm sure I'd pronounce her name just like it looks to me. 






Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TGIT (Thank Goodness It's Tuesday)


For months now, we have been bombarded with information about the total solar eclipse of 2017. An eclipse that began yesterday morning in the Pacific Northwest and crossed the entire country until it reached our coastal state, the last state in its path, in mid-afternoon. An estimated one million people  were expected come to our state to view the eclipse somewhere along its path.


Yesterday was THE day. It was like a giant party for our state. We live in the center of the "path of totality" so we didn't have to search for hotel rooms or rent a spot in someone's yard to pitch a tent like hundreds of other folks. Our lake house, with it's unobstructed sky, was the perfect viewing spot. The only search that was bigger than the one to find a hotel room was the search to find eclipse glasses. We bought ours ages ago. But there were still people trying to buy them yesterday.


This was how the lake looked during the couple of minutes of totality. This was about 2:38 in the afternoon. Yes, it really did get dark. Not dark enough to see stars in the sky, but it was definitely dark. In a weird kind of way.


I turned around and looked up the hill at our lake house. Thank goodness I forgot to turn the lights off inside the house. And then in a very few minutes, it was sunny again.


Before darkness descended, we took a spin around the lake to see how many people were set to view the eclipse. The biggest boat gathering was at Camp Fellowship that is just down the lake from us. All 50 camp beds had been rented for the night before and they were expecting 400 people to come to the camp for the day.


How did I know about the camp eclipse plans? Because I was at the camp for a knitting retreat over the weekend. We knitters were leaving on Sunday as others were arriving for the eclipse "party."


Our retreat brought together knitters from three states. It's a weekend of visiting, making new friends and learning new knitting techniques. These colorful triangles are the beginning of a shawl that was this year's retreat project. We all started the same shawl pattern, but we got to choose the color of our yarn. So they will all be the same—but different.


Sometimes I wonder if our gathering is a knitting retreat where we snack, or if it's a snack retreat where we knit! This snack table was a popular spot the entire weekend. I'm sitting here this morning drinking lots of water as I'm in "recovery mode" from over indulging in the nibble food. I'll bet I'm not the only one.


On our last day we were surprised with retreat T-shirts. What a nice way to commemorate our 6th retreat It was an even bigger surprise for me because last year I had asked Jessica to design a logo for our retreat to use on the mailing and name tags. How cool it was to see her logo on the back of the shirt.

It was a weekend for the books. A once-in-a-lifetime eclipse. A wonderful retreat with friend. But goodness. I'm glad it's Tuesday.