Sunday, November 30, 2014

Two Kitchen Wonders

I've been making a lot of bran muffins lately. I make a dozen one morning, and they are gone the next day...especially when Peter is home.



The muffins are not one of the kitchen wonders. The muffin liner cups are. I came across the PaperChef Culinary Parchment Baking Cups by chance at Target. I bought them because they were on sale. I figured they were a cheap off brand. I was wrong. These are the best muffin pan cups I've ever used. Muffins slide right off these parchment liners. No sticking at all. I imagine they work very well with cupcakes too. Highly recommend them.



For Cling Wrap challenged folks, ChicWrap is the answer to your prayers. Not only are the boxes very chic, but the wrap is more heavy duty and sticky than Cling Wrap and Saran Wrap. It stays where you put it.

The box has a slot for the wrap to come out and a built in cutter to trim it. I love this stuff. It is a little expensive to start out ($12.95 for a box of 250 feet). But after that runs out (and I think it will last me a year) I can get four refills for $19.95 (which will last me the rest of my life). It is worth not having to wrestle with my wrap.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Serial

As you may know, I listen to many podcasts to get through long drives and long walks alone. Sometimes I listen to them when I'm having a difficult time falling asleep. Here is a list of the podcasts I listen to regularly:

Midday Connection

Moody Radio's Open Line

The Portfolio Life with Jeff Goins

Read-Aloud Revival

Inspired to Action

How They Blog

Java with Juli

History Chicks

Stuff You Should Know

Revive Our Hearts

Within the last two weeks, I've become aware of another podcast that I may look into. It is a different kind of podcast. I first heard of it in The Skimm daily news email, then Daniel told me he was listening to it. I told Katherine about it because she and Josh had an 18 hour drive to Florida ahead of them, and they love it. The podcast I'm referring to is called Serial.

I say I'm looking into it because I'm a fraidy cat when it comes to things like suspense. It's really ridiculous. The podcast is called Serial because you have to listen to the episodes in order. Each episode leads into the next. It's similar to radio shows our grandparents sat around listening to when they were growing up.

The Serial podcast is produced by the makers of This American Life podcast. There are 12 episodes with a new one coming out every Thursday. They are currently on episode 9. Season 1 is an investigation into a 1999 murder of a teenage girl. Her boyfriend was convicted in the case and sent to prison for life. He still claims he is innocent. The way the podcast is aired, listeners go back and forth thinking he did it and then he did not do it.

If you like detective stories, I'm sure you will love this podcast. I just might go for it. It will prevent me from getting bored while exercising.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Smallest Thanksgiving Ever

Over the years, we've had up to 17 people for Thanksgiving dinner. Today we had only four. Even with four people, I was in the kitchen from 4:00 Wednesday to 4:00 Thursday except for the eight hours I was sleeping.  I still made pumpkin pie, apple pie, pumpkin chocolate chips cookies, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls, gravy, turkey and a couple of appetizers. How does that happen?

Katherine and Josh drove to Florida on Tuesday to have Thanksgiving with his family, so it was just me, Don, Daniel and Peter this year.

The turkey weighed in at 17 pounds.

Peter did a fine job carving while Riley looked on.

The table setting was low key and stress free.

I tried two new recipes this year. The first was knotted rolls with Parmesan, herbs and butter, a recipe that was floating around Pinterest. Everyone loved these. Very simple to make.

Easy Garlic Parmesan Knots

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 T. grated Parmesan
3/4 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. dried parsley flakes
1/4 t. salt
1 16 ounce tube refrigerated buttermilk biscuits

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat baking sheet with nonstick spray.
In a small bowl, whisk together butter, Parmesan, garlic powder, oregano, parsley and salt. Set aside.
Halve each biscuit, making 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a 5-inch rope, about 1/2 inch thick. Tie into a knot.
Place knots onto prepared baking sheet and brush each knot, using half the butter mixture. Bake until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. 
Brush rolls with remaining butter mixture.

The other was a pumpkin pie with a graham cracker crust. Very simple and yummy. I found this recipe in Allrecipes magazine. Watch the crust. Mine got a little too brown. Next time I will cover the crust edge before baking the pie filling.

Poetic Pumpkin Pie

For Crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 t. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, powdered sugar, and cinnamon in a 9-inch pie pan using a fork; press lightly into bottom and up the sides of pan. Bake until crust is set and lightly browned, about 7 minutes; remove from oven to cool. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees.

For Filling:
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. ground ginger
1/8 t. ground cloves

In a bowl, whisk together pumpkin, condensed milk, eggs, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves until smooth; pour into cooked crust. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until filling is set and edges of crust are dark golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Cool completely on a rack, about 2 hours.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

IKEA and Burgatory


After a long day of math class observation, Peter was ready to hit the town. He came back to the hotel, took a shower, and we were off to the suburbs of Pittsburgh. First stop was IKEA.

We spent some time walking around the showrooms admiring all the furniture we weren't in the market for. Along the way, Peter took a seat to chat with Kendall who was on her way home from Ohio State.

Eventually we made our way to the Marketplace where each of us picked up a few items to take home. I bought a wok, a beaker-style measuring cup, four 4 x 6 frames and a candle for Katherine.

For dinner, we stopped at the local Burgatory. Here you can get Helluva burgers and Heavenly shakes. We skipped the shakes.

Peter ordered off the menu, but I created a custom burger from the custom creation menu. We had a fun evening together. Tomorrow is early dismissal at the high school, so we can head home around 1:30!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Avenue of 444 Flags

Peter and I are hanging out in Mercer county Pennsylvania for a few days. His college is closed this week, so his dorm is closed this week, and he has to be here to get observation hours in a classroom.

We are staying at a hotel for two nights. While he goes to class, I am working on my Christmas shopping and other projects. In the evenings, we are going exploring.

Tonight, we drove to Hermitage, PA. The sight we wanted to see was the Avenue of 444 Flags. This is a War on Terror Veterans memorial.

On November 4, 1979, the Iranian Hostage Crisis began in which 52 Americans were taken captive in the American embassy in Tehran, Iran. On the 100th day of captivity, 100 flags were raised in Hillcrest Memorial Park in Hermitage. One more flag was raised each day after that until the hostages were released 444 days after they had been taken.

We got there just before sunset, and the wind was whipping like crazy. My phone photo doesn't do it justice.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Chicken Stew

This recipe comes from the December 2014 issue of Real Simple magazine. I made it last night, and it was super easy and very delicious. I will be making it many times during the coming cold months. It tasted just like Italian Wedding Soup.

Chicken Stew with Couscous, Spinach, and Parmesan

Ingredients:
3 T. olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1/2 cup pearl couscous (also called Israeli couscous)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper
1 bunch spinach, stems discarded and roughly chopped
Grated Parmesan for serving

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and couscous. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and the couscous is lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, 1-2 minutes.

Add broth, chicken, 1/2 t. salt, and 1/4 t. pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and the couscous is tender, 15-20 minutes. Remove the chicken and using two forks, coarsely shred; return chicken to pot. Stir in spinach. Serve topped with Parmesan.

I made the following adjustments and it turned out just fine:
1. I could not find pearl couscous, so I used Moroccan couscous. You could also use a small pasta like Ditali,  Pastina or Orzo.
2. I did not have fresh rosemary, so I used dried.
3. I didn't have any Parmesan, so I left it out.
4. I bought a large container of chicken broth which had 6 cups, and I used it all.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Five Jobs I Would Not Like

from nytimes.com
I miss working. Sometimes I daydream about what I could do part time with flexible hours. Many jobs come to mind that might work: bookstore clerk, library circulation desk, research assistant, writer.

However some jobs would just freak me out.

Number one: Beekeeper. Look at the man in this picture. He doesn't even have gloves on. Bees sense fear, and they would be all over me. I'd be stung a million times and have to be hospitalized. I probably wouldn't get workman's compensation either.

Number two: In-Car Driving Instructor. I was behind a student driver the other day, and all I felt was pity for the poor woman in the passenger seat. Even if you have one of those additional brakes on your side of the car, it wouldn't be enough. Talk about having to be alert on the job. I taught my three children how to drive, and I was so excited when that phase of life was over.

Number three: Gardener. I wouldn't know where to start, and I'd be fired after the first growing season. Just ask my sister.

Number four: Physical Education Teacher. Although this job might keep me on my feet most of the day so that I could burn extra calories, I would not be able to stand the constant whistle blowing and yelling to get the kids to stop running around long enough to hear the next instruction.

Number five: Manicurist. Doing manicures wouldn't be so bad, but if you are a manicurist, chances are you have to also be a pedicurist. I don't like other people's feet. I can barely stand my own.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Beautiful Salad


This salad is what I call an "arranged salad" because instead of mixing it all together in a large bowl, you put each individual salad together on a serving plate.

The Beautiful Salad recipe comes from allrecipes.com. It can be ready in 10 minutes flat, and it will impress your friends. I'm going to serve it as part of our Thanksgiving meal.

Beautiful Salad

Ingredients:
Baby spinach
Red onion, sliced and rings separated
Mandarin oranges, drained
Dried sweetened cranberries
Honey roasted almonds, chopped or sliced
Crumbled feta cheese


Directions:
Layer ingredients in the order above on as many salad plates as you need. Serve with balsamic vinegar dressing.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Yaktrax


Maybe I'm getting old, or maybe it's because I went through shoulder surgery, or maybe because I bulged a disc last year, but I've become afraid of falling ... very afraid. And it is that time of year when snow and ice make falling exponentially more likely.

My favorite winter friend is a pair of Yaktrax. I don't leave home without them. Yaktrax give me traction on ice, and I feel much more sure footed.

They slide over any sort of shoe or boot you might wear, and they stay in place as you walk. Just don't get a pair that is too small or they will be constantly popping off your feet.

I first bought these because my walking friend Becky had them. I thought they were a great idea. We are able to walk all winter long because of them.

They cost about $20, and the price is worth not ending up in the hospital. I highly recommend them for the over-fifty crowd.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Life After Life

Back in July, I wrote about wanting to start a book group in my neighborhood. We have a neighborhood in which the association is sort of picky about sending emails to everyone, so I put together an email and sent it off to our association president asking if it would be alright to send it out. She never got back to me.

In the meantime, I decided to join the already established book group at Barrington Country Club where we are members. I am not a very active member, so I hardly know a soul there. Part of my thinking was it would be good for me to get out and meet some people.

Last month I attended the planning meeting for 2015. We all sat around and talked about books we would like to read and books we had read that we loved. A schedule was put together, and then we had dinner.

To finish out 2014, the last book they were reading was Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I never would have chosen this book to read on my own, but that is part of what book groups are for. So I read it. We will be discussing it this Wednesday night.

My rating would be 3.5 out of 5. I liked Kate Atkinson's style of writing. It flowed easily, and the characters were well developed and interesting. The main character, Ursula Todd, is born and dies multiple times during the story. Each time she lives her life again, she has strange premonitions that cause her to alter her actions so that something terrible doesn't happen.

Most of the story takes place in and around London from 1910 to the end of World War II. Ursula's path crosses that of Adolph Hitler at one point, so when she re-lives her life for the last time, she stops him from living past 1930.

Friday, November 14, 2014

It's Not Winter Yet


I woke up this morning and was shocked at how much snow fell overnight. I thought we might get a dusting, but we have almost a foot. It's been snowing all day.

The first snow is always the most beautiful, mostly because we haven't seen it in awhile.


I took Riley out to play in it. It took his mind off his itching wound. He didn't want to go back inside where the big, bad cone awaited.

The white flakes of snow were all it took to get me in the mood for the holidays. Now I can't wait to decorate the house, bake cookies and go shopping.

Hoping it will be a White Christmas.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lab Results

Even though Riley looks quite under the weather, we are happy to have good results back from the lab. His growth was not cancerous. It was called something with four long words beginning with Lymphocytic. The vet lost me after that. These growths are caused by a bug bite or something foreign entering the skin such as a splinter. A lot of trauma for that.

Riley's incision is 3 inches long, and it is driving him nuts today. I was letting him live without the cone during daylight hours while I am with him, but I rolled him over this afternoon and discovered that somehow he escaped my attention long enough to rip out the top layer of stitches on a third of his wound.

I apologized to him as I snapped the cone on his head. Sorry Riley but we can't have you sneaking around like that.

I don't know what's going through his mind, but I am guessing it is something like - what did I do to deserve this monstrosity around my neck?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cone of Shame

The only thing worse than having to skip a couple of meals is having to wear the surgical collar.

Fortunately, his surgery went well. It will be about a week before we know what the suspicious tissue was.

In the meantime, I'll have a grumpy dog on my hands.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Grumpy Riley

Riley is grumpy tonight because his mommy would not give him his evening treat. He's having surgery tomorrow, and he's not allowed to have any food after 7:00 p.m. No water after midnight.

You think he's grumpy now, wait until tomorrow morning when he doesn't get his breakfast.

Riley is having a suspicious lump removed from his groin area (if a dog can have a groin area). We are hoping it turns out to be benign.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Road Trip to Grove

Daniel had never seen Peter's college campus at Grove City, even though he has been there 2.5 years! So today we took a road trip to visit him.

We started out bright an early because our first stop of the day was the Grove City Outlets, and I wanted a good parking spot.

By 9:00 a.m. Pennsylvania was welcoming us, and by 9:45 we were inside Banana Republic. Peter met us there about that time.

At 10:00 we came across Peace, Love and Little Donuts (that's really the name of the shop). This place had some special donuts.

Daniel chose the "chocolate chip pancake" and I chose the "apple pie" - Peter refrained from adding more calories to his tummy. He has such willpower.

We got right to work walking off the donuts.

Kendall was visiting Grove City this weekend too, so she joined us around 11:00. Daniel could not decide which watch he liked better at the Fossil shop.

By 12:30 we were hungry for lunch, so we went over to the Elephant & Castle pub. Daniel ordered the traditional "Bangers, Beans & Mash" which consisted of sausage, baked beans and mashed potatoes. The rest of us ordered normal food.

After lunch, Peter took us on a tour of the campus, we hung out in his dorm room, and the boys played some ping pong across the hall.

It was a great day with my boys!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pin It

Tonight was the 3rd annual Pin It night with Christ Community Chapel in Hudson. Becky and I have gone all three years. Each year I come away with one or two fun recipes or crafts that I can use for gifts. All of the crafts were found on Pinterest.

Tonight, my favorite was the Modge Podge Coaster set.


Supplies needed:
4 tile squares from Home Depot - 16 cents each
Bottle of Modge Podge
Scrapbook paper in any pattern or a photograph printed on copy paper
Sponge brush
Spray sealant
Felt squares for each corner of the tiles so they don't scratch the surface you put them on
Ribbon to tie the tiles together

Instructions: 
Cut paper to fit just inside tile squares.
Using a sponge brush, paint a coat of Modge Podge on each tile.
Place paper on top of coated tile. Let dry 5 minutes.
Apply one coat of Modge Podge to top of paper. Let dry 10 minutes.
Apply a second coat of Modge Podge to paper. Let dry completely.
Spray sealant on top and let dry.
Apply small felt square to each corner of underside of tiles.
Stack coasters and tie together with ribbon.

Two of the other things we made were:

Two ingredient pumpkin muffins.

Stuffed pumpkins made from men's dress shirt sleeves.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Spinach Pasta Alfredo

The Pollan Family Table, a recently published cookbook, features recipes that are tried and true in the Pollan family. The Pollan family consists of Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food, Cooked, Food Rules, etc.), his three sisters (one being Tracy Pollan who is married to Michael J. Fox) and his mom and dad.

Michael Pollan doesn't have anything to do with this cookbook except for his part in writing the foreward. The recipes are from his sisters and his mom, all fabulous cooks.

Tonight, I tried one of the recipes. It was easy, delicious, and relatively healthy. I have lots of leftovers, however, because the recipe made enough for six people and it was just me and Don here tonight.

Creamy Spinach Pasta Alfredo with Crispy Pancetta

3 T. extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/3 inch cubes (I got some at Heinen's already cut up)
Kosher salt
1 pound fusilli pasta
2 cloves garlic, minced
One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove excess liquid
3/4 cup heavy cream
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Freshly ground black pepper
4 T. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup plus 1 T. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Line a plate with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat 1 T. oil over medium-high heat. Cook pancetta until brown and crispy, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes, taking care not to burn. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper towel-lined plate to drain. Discard fat from skillet. Let the skillet cool slightly, then wipe it out with a paper towel.

Add 1 T. salt and the pasta to the pot of boiling water. Cook until al dente, about 1 minute less than directions on package. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water and drain in colander.

Heat remaining 2 T. oil in skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add spinach and mix well. Add cream and stir until well heated, 2 to 3 minutes. Season with nutmeg, 1/2 t. salt and 1/8 t. pepper. Reduce heat to low and add cooked pasta. Stir in 3 tablespoons reserved pasta water. Add the butter and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, stirring to make a creamy sauce. If the mixture seems dry, add additional pasta water.

Transfer pasta to serving bowl. Scatter pancetta over the top and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper. Serve hot.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Too Many Clocks

Yesterday, before Don and I returned home, Daniel stopped over at our house to pick some things up. While he was here, he thought he'd be helpful and change our clocks back one hour.

While he was at it, he checked our answering machine messages, left us some money, and ate one of our Sweet & Salty bars. He also left a trail of post-it notes.


On the counter in the kitchen, the first note I saw said, "Here is the money I owed you. Also, I set all of your clocks back already."


Each clock had a note stuck to it.


"FASHA" is father in DSR language.

Ha, ha!!

"MASHA" is mother. What, no thanks for all that painting I did?

Some of our clocks require winding. Only the master clock-winder can set them back.

By the time he got to this one, he was tired. It's true, we have too many clocks.

He was nice enough to jot down our messages for us.

I'm so glad he told us he took a Sweet & Salty bar. I would have thought we'd been burgled when I counted them and one was missing.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

My Favorite Foods



I don't like to dwell on food too much, but I'm hungry right now, and I'm craving some of my favorite foods. What are my favorite foods, you ask? Here are some with recipes ... just in case it's my birthday or something.

Entrees:

Chicken Picatta from Giada de Laurentiis

Baked Salmon from Inspired Taste

Side Dishes:

Sweet Potato Fries from Pioneer Woman

Baked Asparagus from Natasha's Kitchen

Dessert:

Blueberry Pie from Epicurious

Pumpkin Cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory