Thursday, December 20, 2012

Santa, Are You Reading?

I keep an electric hand mixer around for small jobs or when I just don't want to lug out the heavy Kitchen Aid.  I've been nursing mine along for a while -- one of the beaters had a broken wire.  And then today:

That peppermint filling was just too much!

Hello Santa, are you reading?

My lovely daughter got me a new KitchenAid handmixer for Christmas!  Yay!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Dark and Stormy Christmas Cookie

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house and kitchen, the cookies were baked and frozen -- to prevent the spouse from snitchin'!

Last week, when I shared my Orange Chocolate Chippers, I mentioned that I had tried another new cookie recipe this year.  I'll admit, I snitched one of these before I packed them away in the freezer.  Well, after all, a girl has to make sure they are edible before sharing them with the family, right?

I clipped the recipe for Dorie's Dark and Stormies from a Chicago Tribune 2008 cookie contest article, but I never tried them before.  Now I kick myself for waiting so long.  Easy to make and so chocolaty scrumptious.  The recipe is available online on page two of this article from the Tribune archives.  The recipe says it makes three dozen cookies, but somehow I only got two dozen.  I did not use Dutch process cocoa, I used regular Hershey's.  For the chocolate bits, I chopped up five ounces of Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate.

You know you want one.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Crafty Christmas Touches

Once upon a time, I was a Christmas decorator at a local house museum.  It was then that I began making Christmas decorations.  A good friend was my decorating partner, and we had some crazy ideas.  Being co-chairs of the event, we even got to foist our crazy ideas onto the other decorators because we chose the themes.  One year was jewel tones. One year we insisted on all blue and silver.  There was some grumbling from decorators that it was more Hanukkah than Christmas, but the house was unique and sparkly.  Another year, we chose a prairie theme.  Now that was unique! We pulled an enormous dead evergreen wreath out of my garage and hung it in the rotunda.  All the needles were still on it and they had turned a marvelous copper color.  We put sheaves of wheat in the windows and tied dried cockscombs to the staircase.  A flower shop created a tree from corn husks for the library, as I remember.  The house was wild.  Visitors either loved it or hated it I guess, but they'd certainly never seen anything like it.

Anyway, being cheap and creative -- as an artist, she is much more more creative than I -- we made a lot of our decorations.  The rooms in the mansion are large with very high ceilings.  What we soon realized, is that large rooms eat your decorations up.  Something that looks huge at home looks puny at the museum.  So we made do.  One year we decorated the maid's room with food.  (I've forgotten what the theme was that year.)  We made cinnamon cookies that we loaded with lots of extra cinnamon for smell, and then decorated with glitter.  Not edible glitter, just glitter.  We also made gumdrop trees.  My daughter was especially fond of those gumdrop trees, so we used them at home the following year or so until they looked mangy, and later made new ones.  This year I found a few old gumdrop trees in the attic.  I don't know how old they are, but they are well past their prime.  Some of the gumdrops were falling off and the color was a little weird too.  But instead of throwing them away, I decided to "frost" them.
Awaiting their finishing touches of fresh greenery.
I am using a lot of white in our dining room this year, which started with the coffee filter wreath I showed you last week. I completed the buffet under the mirror with white Dresden angels my mother passed down to me this year, crystal candle holders with white candles, and a white poinsettia.  I had the idea that I wanted some white trees on top of the hutch on the other side of the room, and here were these old gumdrop trees.  First I gave them a lightish coat of white spray paint.  Spray paint doesn't cover gumdrops all that well, but I wanted some of the original color to show through, so that was okay.  Then I saw Nici at Posed Perfection's blog post about using Epsom salt to frost pine cones. Brilliant! I picked up three pounds of Epsom salt at Walgreen's for less than four dollars.  That's some cheap craft supplies!  I slapped Mod Podge on the gumdrop trees and coated them in Epsom salt.  I like the way they turned out.  I won't be able to save them, but that's okay, they were due for the trash anyhow.

Another little touch of white is my farm animal collection.  I made some of these last year after seeing them on Viva Revival, a great blog by Michelle, a jewelry designer and all-around creative gal.  I made a couple more this year because my little barnyard needed to grow.  Check out Viva Revival for the how to's.

The lighting isn't good, so you can't see that they are sparkly.  
The last item is a picket fence we use to keep Alfie from bumping into the food tree.  The husband made this from inexpensive wooden garden fencing.  We also have a single panel that he put "feet" on that we use to keep Alf out of the living room.  It's much cuter than the old baby gate we used to use!

I can see that I need to center the tree a little better in the fence.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Orange You Glad I Made Cookies?

Remember that old knock-knock joke?  Orange you glad I didn't say banana?  Well, I made a new Christmas cookie that's no joke -- Orange Chocolate Chippers.

Christmas cookies are a big thing at our house.  There are some traditional favorites that I make every year, like the Italian Wedding Cookies, Candy Cane Cookies, and Butter Cookies that I shared with you last year.  I also like to add in something new.  Last year it was Martha Stewart's Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies, which became a favorite of the husband's, so they made it back onto this year's hit parade.

Orange chocolate chippers

This year, I added two cookies to the repertoire.  Today I'll share the first one, Orange Chocolate Chippers.  I found a recipe in an old-ish cookbook from my husband's uncle's collection.  The book has an insanely long title: Senior Pilgrim Fellowship, United Church of Christ, Beacon Falls, Connecticut.  If there was another title, it didn't leap out at me.  This is one of those great cookbooks where all the ladies contributed their favorite recipes to raise money for their organization.  I like this kind of cookbook because the recipes are not trendy or "foodie;" they are tasty, do-able recipes that regular women made for their families and bridge clubs.  

When I saw the recipe for an orange and chocolate cookie, I knew I had to try it.  I changed the original recipe a little bit to include orange juice and baking powder.  I used orange peel and juice from some fruit my father-in-law had sent from Florida.  I don't know what variety they were, but they were not navel oranges; they were much more flavorful.  In looking at the website of the grower where he shops, I think they might have been Robinson tangerines, which is a cross of 3/4 tangerine and 1/4 grapefruit.  With navel oranges, I don't think you'd get the same strong citrusy pop that my cookies have, so I recommend tangerines or tangelos to really get that citrus flavor.

Orange Chocolate Chippers
Adapted from Audrey Gendron’s recipe in Senior Pilgrim Fellowship,
United Church of Christ, Beacon Falls, Connecticut cookbook, 1982

Orange chocolate chippers closeup
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
2 tablespoons grated orange/tangerine peel
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon fresh orange/tangerine juice
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside. 

Cream shortening, sugar, and cream cheese.  Add eggs, orange peel, vanilla, and orange juice.  Beat well.  Add flour mixture to creamed mixture.  Mix well.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet.  Bake about 7 minutes at 350 degrees F.  Cool on wire racks.

Makes approximately 56 cookies.

Printable recipe

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Measuring Out My Days with Coffee Filters

filter wreath closeup
With apologies to T. S. Eliot and J. Alfred Prufrock, I cannot measure out my life with coffee spoons because I don't drink coffee. Recently, however, I measured out a couple of days with coffee filters.

For the last several years, I have hung a white feather wreath on our dining room mirror at Christmastime.  Loved that wreath; I got it at a local gift shop long before feather wreaths were at the big box stores and everywhere else.  With each succeeding year though, the wreath got a little more bedraggled.  This year, I decided sadly that I really shouldn't bring it back out. What to replace it?

I liked the look of some of the coffee filter wreaths I've seen on Pinterest, and it sounded easy, so I got the supplies and got to work.
filter wreath supplies
coffee filters, glue gun, glue sticks, old t-shirt, scissors, straw wreath
No matter how good my iPod playlist is (and, honeychild, I have some good stuff on there), there is a limit to how long at one sitting I can fold and crunch filters and burn my fingers with hot glue, so it took me part of two or three days to complete my wreath.
filter wreath collag
wrapped in t-shirt strips                                                               the inside edge of glued filters
I'm not going to write a tutorial since there are scads of them online already.  I will just say I used a fourteen-inch straw wreath, which I wrapped with strips of old t-shirt, and about 280 filters.  I started out trying to place the filters in rows like the tutorials suggest, but I wound up just sticking them in as close together as I could, which no doubt explains some of the finger burns.
filter wreath back
back of the wreath
After I had glued on as many filters as I could, I trimmed the edges slightly, but my wreath is not perfect.  It's kind of cockeyed, which suits me just fine as I'm a bit cockeyed myself.  I initially planned a ribbon hanger wrapped around the wreath, but soon scrapped that and filled the entire thing with filters.  I attached a length of ribbon to the back with straight pins and hot glue.  I used one of those cool 3M Command hangers directly on the mirror.  In years past, I took the mirror down and hung the feather wreath from a ribbon taped to the back of the mirror.  The 3M hook was so much easier -- love that!

filter wreath on mirror

For those of you who have been wondering why I haven't posted lately, I have indeed been busy, but I had also run out of photo space (again!) on Picasa.  I am now trying a Flickr account.  I hope this will be the ticket.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Frosty Times Call for a Frosty Dessert

Winter is almost here, at least in most parts of the U.S., so why am I writing about ice cream?  This year on Thanksgiving, I served ice cream in addition to pumpkin pie.  Not pumpkin pie a la mode, after all, whipped cream is the proper topping for pumpkin pie.  (In the husband's case, lots and lots of whipped cream.)  In our family of four, there are only two pumpkin pie eaters -- the husband and our daughter.  Daughter likes it so much she has even been known to request a pumpkin pie for her month of May birthday!  Our son and I, however, are not pumpkin pie fans.  So when I asked him what he wanted for his Thanksgiving dessert, he asked for "that ice cream dessert."

I got the recipe for "that ice cream dessert" when we lived in the little town of Harvard, Illinois.  Harvard is the end of the train line, so when we were ready to move out of our Chicago condo and into a single family house, that's where we wound up.  We just kept going out until we found something decent we could afford and, before we knew it, we were at the end of the line in Harvard.

Harvard is a really small town.  When we lived there, the population was around 6,000 people.  It has increased since then to more than 9,000.  At one time, Harvard was the center point of an area with the greatest milk production in the nation.  Thus, the big event in Harvard each year is Milk Days, complete with a parade, a carnival, a Milk Queen, bed races, and big wheel races.  Our daughter was in preschool when we lived there, so the big wheel race was important. She competed and lost.  Our neighbor, whose daughter was the same age, put his child in training for the big wheel race.  I am not making this up.  He took his four-year-old daughter to an empty parking lot several times before the race for training.  She won her age category.  In a couple of years, she was entered in the Milk Days Princess competition and eventually was crowned Milk Queen.  So I suppose that early training paid off.

The logo my husband designed.
I belonged to a women's group named Women for Harvard.  It was a good group of women, mostly young. We raised money to stock a little store that was set up one weekend in December for Shopping with Santa.  Children could come in, visit with Santa Claus, have their picture taken, and be taken into a secret store -- no parents allowed -- to shop.  Gifts cost no more than a couple of dollars.  There was a sample of each item and the rest were wrapped, so the child could surprise a family member on Christmas morning.  That was such a wonderful event.  Sadly, I don't think they have the store anymore.  What they do have is the same group logo that my husband designed for them twenty years ago.  It features Harmilda, the town mascot.  I really can't believe they are still using a cow logo for a women's group!  Anyway, we always had dessert at our monthly meetings, which rotated among the members' homes. One meeting, Julie, that month's hostess, brought out this yummy ice cream dessert.  All the women, including me, raved!  We had to have the recipe.  Julie kind of laughed about that.  It's the easiest thing in the world, and you can change up the flavors any way you like.  I have made this with mint ice cream, pecans, any combination would be good.  For Thanksgiving, I made the original version, Peanut Bar Ice Cream Dessert, one we might call the Buster Bar Dessert if "Buster" wasn't trademarked by Dairy Queen.

Peanut Bar Ice Cream Dessert

40 Oreo cookies, crushed into crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 gallon softened vanilla ice cream
15 oz. hot fudge topping
2-3 tablespoons chocolate syrup
8 oz. Cool Whip
1 cup peanuts

Reserve about 2-3 tablespoons of cookie crumbs.  Combine remaining cookie crumbs and melted butter in small bowl.  Press crumb/butter mixture in bottom of a 9x13 inch baking pan and refrigerate for about 15 minutes.

Layer remaining ingredients as follows, spreading each layer as evenly as possible:
Cookie crumbs, ice cream, fudge sauce (fill in bare areas with a little chocolate syrup), nuts, Cool Whip, reserved cookie crumbs (these should not fully cover the Cool Whip)

Freeze several hours until firm.

Note:  You can use any flavor of ice cream you wish and change the nuts as well.  Chopped pecans make a nice change.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Excuse Me, What? Word Choice and Rocket Chicken

I love words.  As a writer and an editor, I guess that's not much of a surprise.  Written or spoken, words are what get me.  I've never been a fan of action movies, for example, or slapstick.  Give me good dialogue anytime.  Take this classic scene from The Thin Man.  William Powell and Myrna Loy are unbeatable actors, but the script by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on Dashiell Hammett's novel, also gives them a lot to work with.

I love witty dialogue, especially when it doesn't rely on curse words to get a laugh.  I also get a kick out of unintentionally misused language.  Years ago, I got quite a chuckle when someone on PBS said the network would be having a special program during pledge time featuring "Pearl Bailey and just a list of guests."  I imagined Pearl Bailey standing onstage with a scrap of paper.  No way, old Pearl knew it takes at least "Two to Tango."

A parkway --
or is it a devil's strip?
Another fun thing about language is regional variations.  In the United States, for instance, there are numerous ways to describe an Italian sandwich -- submarine (or sub), grinder, hero, hoagie, po' boy, and doubtless other variants.  And you can wash that sandwich down with a soft drink, a Coke (as a generic term), a soda, or a pop.  When it's cold, one can wear long johns or thermals depending on where you live. The strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street?  What I call a parkway is also known as a tree lawn, a nature strip, a sidewalk buffer, and even a devil's strip.  When I was a teenager, my group of friends was fond of decorating people's yards with toilet paper -- what we called rolling yards.  The first time I heard a Midwesterner refer to tp-ing a yard, I honestly had no idea what that meant!  It even took me a while to figure out why it was called tp-ing (duh).  Having a mother from the south and a northern father, I got to hear some different word choices growing up depending on which side of the extended family I visited. My northern grandfather called flowers "posies," which I found charming, and which led to the name of this blog, and instead of saying something was small, he would say "little wee," as in "Look at the little wee posies."

Of course, if we start comparing American English to British and Australian English, we could go on forever with the different words for things.  In my work, I edit employee surveys for consulting firms.  One company that I used to work with has a lot of clients in Australia.  The first time I came across an employee saying "here at the coal face," I found that expression fascinating and much more evocative than the common U.S. expression "on the front lines."

Okay, you're no doubt saying, what the heck does all this have to do with chicken and what is rocket chicken anyway? Well, one of my favorite word variations has to do with food.  What we in the United States call arugula is more commonly called rocket in England and Australia.  When I adapted a Gordon Ramsay recipe for Sticky Lemon Chicken into a less sticky dish with more sauce and served it on arugula, I decided Rocket Chicken sounds much more fun than Arugula Chicken.  Rocket Chicken will blast your taste buds and take you places!  (Well, maybe it won't transport you, but it will blast your taste buds.)

Rocket Chicken

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, well trimmed (slice in half if needed to reduce thickness)
Salt, freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon powdered thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, cut into halves or thirds
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
3/4 cup hot water
1 bunch of arugula (salad rocket)

Season chicken very lightly with salt and with freshly ground pepper and the thyme.  Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over high heat.  Cook chicken and garlic, turning as needed, until cooked through.

Add vinegars and cook over medium heat for about five minutes.  Add honey, lemon juice, and soy sauce.  Mix together.  Add hot water.  Cook at medium to medium high for 20-30 minutes to reduce liquid.

Place chicken on bed of arugula.  Drizzle sauce over top of chicken and arugula.  Serves 2-3 people.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pumpkin Festival

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere, and not a pie in sight!  Pumpkins have invaded the courthouse lawn in Sycamore, Illinois, so it must be Pumpkin Fest.  Each year right before Halloween, the town goes crazy for pumpkins.  Pumpkin Fest has all the usual small town festival trappings -- a big parade, a carnival, a craft fair, food booths, and actually it's not true about not a pie in sight because there is a pie-eating contest on one of the festival days.  The festival also has something a little unique (and my favorite part) -- a pumpkin display and contest which covers the courthouse lawn for four days.  Carved pumpkins, painted pumpkins, funny, scary, silly, ugly -- all kinds of pumpkins and jack-o'-lanterns.

Pumpkin Fest began in 1962, and the pumpkin display is quite a popular feature with local folks.  Parents bring their children to see the pumpkins, and I imagine many of them came as children themselves with their own parents twenty years earlier.

This section contained large groups of pumpkins from preschool and school groups.

There are eleven categories for the contest, five age groups, and first, second and third places, so there are lots of winners. The categories are Theme Pumpkins (this year's theme is "Happiness is . . . the perfect pumpkin"); Happy and Fancy; Weird, Ugly, and Scary; TV, Nursery Rhyme, News or Current Events (weird combo, huh?); Carved; Scarecrow; Youth Organization; Adult Organization; Family Entry; Adults -- Carved, Scarecrow and General; and Largest Pumpkin.  This year there were 1,146 entries and, since some entries contain multiple pumpkins, there are lots and lots of pumpkins.

I'm glad I managed to make it to Sycamore this year to see the pumpkins.  I have no interest in the other festival events with the big crowds, but it is fun to tour the pumpkin display. Even on an early Friday afternoon, however, there was a sizable crowd milling around -- young parents with strollers, some school-age children, middle-aged folks with or without grandchildren, attorneys taking a break from court, and a few elderly people walking carefully along the storm fences which enclose the display.  The pumpkins made me smile even as they made me a little wistful for the days when my own children were young.

The Big Winner

Monday, October 22, 2012

Rainy Days and Mondays

Front porch wreath, burlap wrapped for fall
Today I am relaxing and working at home on this rainy Monday to recover from a whirlwind weekend.  Both children blew through for a couple of days to celebrate the husband's birthday. When they are here, it's a firestorm of cooking, laundry, and activity.

Will we ever need to eat again?  Big breakfasts of sausage cheese balls, omelettes, and pancakes.  Lasagna stuffed with cheese and meat sauce.  An enormous dinner at the local steakhouse.  What a dinner that was!  I tried flaming saganaki for the first time and think I'm smitten!  For those of you who are unfamiliar with saganaki, as I was, it's a dish of fried kefalograviera cheese, flambeed in brandy and topped with lemon juice.  If only our waitress had been a little more exuberant with her "Opa!"

Just a sample of the leftover goodies.

And the baked goods, which are still around.  I had made shortbread, the daughter brought a coffee cake, I made a fresh apple cake for the birthday boy, then the son wanted chocolate chip cookies to take back, but he left behind the slightly overcooked ones, and I had a craving for chocolate haystacks.  I didn't use enough chocolate in the haystacks, but they are still pretty tasty.  Daughter took some of the cake, shortbread, and haystacks away, but there is way too much still here.  My waistline does not need this!  I'll have to try to get a little disciplined again before holiday feast time rolls around!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Scenes from My Ordinary Life

I haven't had a lot to write about lately, but I thought today I'd share a couple of images.

My office is a little cubby under the stairs, not quite as small as where Harry Potter had to sleep because there is a bay that bumps out and makes room for my desk.  I bought the desk around 1984 at a little hole-in-the-wall antiques store in Chicago called Clyde's.  It was painted red and black.  The top had been stripped, but the wood was badly stained, so Clyde had given up on stripping it and sold it to me for $50.  It's kind of small (only 42 inches wide) and one drawer is falling apart, but it's been with me a long time.  I feel kindly toward my old desk, and it fits perfectly in this space.  Plus the stained top doesn't bother me since I very rarely see the top anyway.  The little green table came from Ikea unfinished.  I painted it to match the fabric shades I made.  I'm glad you can't see how wonky and crooked the bias tape edging is on the shades.

Anyway, the point of this seemingly pointless story is not what my office looks like, it's the two windows on the sides of the bay.  Late this summer, gnats got wedged in the screens. Whether they got stuck there and died or simply came there to die, kind of like a gnat hospice, I don't know, but last week I was sitting at my desk, and two goldfinches* decided to snack on the dead gnats.  The birds clung to the screens and walked up and down, picking out the gnats as I sat a mere three feet away.  I had never seen anything quite like that.

*Update Oct. 24:  I've just learned from my very knowledgeable bird-watching brother-in-law that these are not goldfinches at all!  They are migrating yellow rumped warblers in fall plumage.  I'm glad to be able to correct my error.  The things you can learn by blogging!

The final image I thought I'd share is a sunset over the prairie.  Yesterday evening we were walking Alfie in the prairie as the sun went down.  The few clouds and jet trails made for an interesting sky.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Chicken Palaw to Fill a Bare Table

"Beware the barrenness of a busy life."  When Socrates said this, I doubt he was talking about my dinner table, but he might as well have been.  When I get too busy with work or home projects or whatever fills my days, sometimes the dinner table takes on a barren, forlorn look, as though nothing of value will appear there -- a mere baked potato, pasta with sauce from a jar, or take-out.  I can only take so much of this, however, before I crave "real" food.

Recently I've been busy moving furniture, painting, patching, ripping out carpet, and more painting.  After a while, though, a girl needs a good meal to keep her going.  So the other day I got the urge for Chicken Palaw, a recipe I copied out of Country Living magazine many years ago.  (Maybe I was inspired to cook this by those viewings of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, who knows?) As you can tell from the name, it's Indian influenced, but not really authentic Indian fare.  Still, it's quite flavorful and a change of pace for a weeknight dinner.

Chicken Palaw

From Country Living magazine

1 1/4 cups basmati rice 
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large carrots, cut in 1/8-inch julienne strips
2 whole boneless chicken breasts, cut in 2-inch chunks
1/4 cup apple juice
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons pistachios
2 tablespoons sliced almonds

In heavy 5-quart stock pot, heat 2 quarts water to boiling over high heat.  Stir in rice and 1 teaspoon salt.  Return to boiling and cook, uncovered, 10 minutes.  Drain rice.

In same pan, melt butter with 2 tablespoons olive oil over low heat.  Spoon half of the rice into pan and press down with back of spoon to make a firm layer that covers the bottom of the pan.  Spoon remaining rice loosely on top, then top this with carrot strips.  Cover top of pan with linen towel and a tight lid.  Cook 35-40 minutes or until bottom layer forms a crisp, golden crust.

Meanwhile, in large skillet, sauté chicken in remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat until golden on all sides.  Add apple juice, spices, and ½ teaspoon salt.  Stir until chicken is coated with spices.  Cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is cooked through and liquid is evaporated, about 5 minutes.

To serve, in large bowl, combine steamed part of rice/carrots with raisins and nuts and toss to blend.  Top with chicken mixture.  Break bottom rice crust into pieces and place around the edge.

The rice base before adding the chicken -- rice and carrots tossed with pistachios, slivered almonds, and raisins.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Mrs. Haggard's Divine Coffee Cake

In the fall of 1981, Mrs. Haggard made the best coffee cake I had ever tasted.  I was in my first year of graduate school. Mrs. Haggard (did the woman have a first name?) was the wife of the department chairman.  The Haggards invited all the first years over to their home one evening early in the year to mingle with the faculty.  I was kind of nervous, and I don't think I actually talked to any faculty, but I did discover the most amazing coffee cake.  At the end of the evening, another student (Tracy) and I begged Mrs. Haggard for the recipe.  She very kindly sent it along with her husband the following week.  I have been making that cake ever since.  I expect Tracy, who was from South Dakota, probably still makes it too.  These days, my daughter is in grad school, and she bakes this cake for her friends.  It is always a big hit, and not just with starving graduate students.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

1 cup margarine or butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cream margarine/butter and sugar together.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix well. 

Sift together dry ingredients and add them, together with sour cream, to butter mixture.  Beat well.

Spoon half of batter into a greased Bundt pan.  (If you do not have a Bundt pan, a tube pan will work.)  Add half of topping.  Then remainder of batter.  Sprinkle on remaining topping.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 50-60 minutes.  Turn upside down immediately.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fourteen New Crochet Squares

I have been a hooking fool, ya'll.  Since my last post about my crochet square project, I have made fourteen more squares.  This has become my evening relaxation -- sitting in a comfy chair, watching a movie, and crocheting a new square.  One evening last week, we rented "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" through OnDemand.  That was one of the most enjoyable movies I've watched in a long time.  I liked it so much that I watched it again the next day (and worked on another square!) as I was waiting for the carpet man to stop by for measurements.  Since I watched the movie, I have found myself thinking, "Everything will be all right in the end.  So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end."  Isn't that a comforting philosophy?  How intriguing to think about setting off on such an adventure when one is "elderly and beautiful."  If you have not seen the movie yet, I highly recommend it.  If you have, what did you think of it?

Here are my latest squares from 200 Crochet Blocks for Blankets, Throws, and Afghans by Jan Eaton.  One is even called Marigold!  Bear in mind, these have not been blocked yet, so they are a little curly and misshapen.

Top row: #80 Blocks and Shells, #31 Primrose Square, " 83 Diamond in a Square.
Bottom row: #100 Pastel Delight, #137 Criss Cross, and #113 Wisteria

Left column, top to bottom: #20 Colorful Bobbles, #149 Solid Square, # 87 Peony. Middle column, top to bottom:
#85 Lemon Stripe, #51 Bright Flower, # 78 Briar Rose. Right column: #209 Marigold and # 22 St. Petersburg.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Borrowed Recipe for Rosemary Parmesan Chicken

You may remember my very blackened Spanish chicken from about a month ago.  It was flavorful but not very pretty. Recently, Ann, from On Sutton Place, posted a recipe for a different kind of baked chicken.  I felt a little trepidation, but hers looked scrumptious, so I felt like I should give it a try.  I'm so glad I did.  As she says, it is "truly a one-dish wonder."  Rosemary Parmesan Chicken, where have you been all my life?  Please stop by her blog and check out the recipe (and the rest of her blog, for she is one talented lady).

The recipe couldn't be simpler.  I followed it pretty much to the letter only I used fresh garlic instead of garlic powder. With rosemary from the garden, bread crumbs made from potato rolls, and paired with a salad of mixed tomatoes and basil, it was delectable.  Please click here to go to On Sutton Place for the recipe.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Good-bye Old Friend; Hello Sleek New Friend

Well, I finally did it.  I dumped an old friend.  After nearly 24 years, we'd been through a lot together, but he just wasn't holding up his end anymore.  So it was good-bye Old Electrolux.

Faithful Old Electrolux
My husband and I bought the vacuum cleaner as our mutual gift on the first Christmas after we got married.  Old Electrolux was sleek and powerful in those days.  It was a huge step up from my old round Hoover.  But things changed.  Old Electrolux just wasn't picking up like he used to.  His days were numbered.  I started scoping out hot new vacuums online.  Then Miele caught my eye.  Sleek, compact, and powerful.  I'd found my new friend.  So I put Old Electrolux in the trunk and dropped him off at Goodwill.  I felt a little sad about it.  Still, maybe he can be rehabilitated and someone else will befriend him.

Sleek New Miela Callisto
How do I like the new Miele Callisto?  It has been an adjustment, but so far so good.  It is powerful yet much quieter than my old vacuum cleaner.  I like that three of the most commonly used attachments are stored right in the canister, and I have found the suction control very useful.  I turn the suction to low and am able to vacuum cloth lampshades without worrying about damaging them.  The canister is lighter weight than the Electrolux because it is plastic.  I do wonder if it will be as durable as the old metal machine.

See the hair?
What don't I like?  I wish it had come with two wands.  I would rather snap off the whole wand to change heads rather than reach down to detach the head.  Depending how expensive it is, I may purchase a second wand.  Also, the bags seem a little small. We produce a lot of dirt around here, and I think we'll go through bags pretty quickly. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Alfie!)  My biggest gripe, though, is the plastic canister I just praised for being lightweight.  It develops a static charge or whatever, and dog hair clings to the bottom.  That means I have to frequently spend time vacuuming off my vacuum cleaner.

All in all, though, I am happy with my new friend, Miela.  Which is a good thing, because Miela is pricey.  I just hope he's worth it.

Note: This is my honest opinion.  You all know Miela, the company, doesn't know I exist and did not ask me to review their vacuum cleaner or compensate me in any way.  If anyone from Miele is reading, however, I wouldn't say no to some free vacuum cleaner bags!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Misadventures in Painting

My husband was out of town this past weekend, so I decided it would be a great opportunity to repaint his office and the attached sitting room.  This space used to be an apartment.  The second floor was expanded during the Depression to add on this space which, when you take out the bathroom (I showed its renovation last February), is a kind of funky L-shape.  The section that is now an office used to be a wee kitchen.

Right after the tenant moved out in 1996.  The door beside the sink leads to the tiny bathroom.
After the tenant moved out, we took out the kitchen, stripped some of the woodwork, changed the light fixtures, replaced the linoleum with cork flooring, and put in new (now old) carpet.  For some time, I've been wanting to replace the carpet again, but can't do that until after repainting.  Anyway, this seemed like the time.

Part of the trouble is there is way too much heavy furniture in that room -- a set of three wood lockers we use to store DVDs and tapes, three antique armchairs, two bookcases, a heavy oak desk, an oak filing cabinet, a TV, and a couple of small side tables.  Since I couldn't move all this by myself, especially through the narrow doorway into the hall, I dragged it all to the center and covered it with plastic.  That seemed like a clever idea until I found that there were areas along the perimeter that were too tight to set up a ladder, so I had to paint some parts of the ceiling perched on a ladder unsteadily propped against the wall.

Another way I was being clever was by using paint we already had.  I'm all about saving money when I can.  I had almost a gallon of ceiling paint, which I managed to eke out to cover the whole ceiling.  I thought.  Then Saturday evening as I was taping the woodwork in preparation for Sunday's wall painting, I noticed a good sized area I had missed.  So I scurried off to Lowe's to buy another gallon of the exact same Valspar ceiling paint.  I'll just touch up the missed area and some other "thin" areas, I thought.  The gosh darn ceiling paint isn't the same!  Can you see it in the picture below?  It depends on the light and the angle, but I can clearly see the areas I touched up.  Sigh.  So there is more ceiling painting to be done.

For the walls, well, I found an almost full gallon of Sherwin Williams paint in the basement clearly marked "office."  It looked a little different to me, but I figured it must dry a bit darker.  After seeing how the ceiling needed more than a gallon, I knew I'd need more paint, so on that trip to Lowe's, I also stopped at Sherwin Williams, paint in hand, to ask for another gallon of the same thing.  They no longer make the EverClean paint the young man said.  He was amazed that the paint was still good.  In fact, all three employees (it was dead in the store) came over to look at the paint and discuss the options.  I asked for a comparable paint in the same color.  No problem, and the paint was 40% off, my lucky day -- until he rang it up.  $44 dollars for one gallon of paint (at 40% off!) and an edger.  So Sunday, I cracked open my extremely valuable Dover White paint from Sherwin Williams and, after edging, realized it was the color from two paintings ago.  I'm thinking the paint was from 1996.  No wonder the guys had been amazed that it was still good; they were hardly more than toddlers when that paint was mixed.  So the paint is now not the warm, pale-butter-white I wanted, but a generic white-white.  Oh well, at least it will be clean and fresh.  If I ever get the room completed, I'll show the end result.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Like Traveling Pants, Only Not Wearable

Late last week I received a large envelope in the mail.  Inside was a notebook.  It was the Traveling Notebook from Chantal Loves Vintage.  Chantal is a wonderfully wacky Brit who, well, loves vintage and blogs about vintage goods, classic movie stars, as well as other things, like her travels to France.  A while back, Chantal got the idea for a notebook that would travel around the world being filled in by bloggers and others.  "Sign me up," I said.  And then the notebook arrived, a blank page waiting just for me.  I'm not going to lie, there was pressure to do something creative and awesome.  Not being a creative, awesome gal, I settled for doing the best I could.  What a surprise -- my page involves yarn and food.  Here's a little peek.

To read more about the Traveling Notebook, check out Chantal's blog.  I can't say for sure, but it might not be too late to get in on the fun.  As for the notebook, I put some traveling pants on that baby, and it's on its way to the east coast of the U.S.  Happy trails, little notebook!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Vintage Photos

My daughter and I were sorting through old photographs during her recent visit.  We had a drawer full of photos from my husband's family that needed to be identified and sorted.  That led our daughter to decide to "borrow" a few old family photos and scan some others to create a photo wall in her apartment.  I thought I'd share a couple of the photos that she scanned.  There's something about the utter seriousness of vintage childhood portraits.

This picture is of my grandfather with his sister and older brother.  His brother looks so intense it makes me wonder what the photographer had said to them.

The second photo is of my husband's great-grandfather and his sister.  There were two portraits made the same day. This is the "fun" photo of them with their toys.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Late Summer Rambles

This morning, Alfie and I went on one of our rambles around the prairie and the countryside.  I've written about the prairie before (here and here), but today, rather than our usual circuit, Alfie and I went to the "dog prairie."  The dog prairie is the section where dogs are allowed off leash, in contrast to the main prairie where everyone lets their dogs run illegally.  The dog prairie is a much newer section which is being restored to prairie from corn fields.  It shows.  It's basically a flat field with mown paths.

Views of the dog prairie
Still, Alfie had a good time, running and sniffing, wild and free.  And while many plants were still in bloom, like goldenrod and sunflowers, there were others beginning to go to seed.  I love the texture of the dried seed heads.

Coneflower and Black-eyed Susans (I think)
Driving home, we took a roundabout way down country roads through the fields.  Around here the main crops are corn, soybeans, and wind.  There's something great about driving down a gravel road on a cool, sunny morning, windows down, through acres of corn with huge wind turbines stretched out like a row of sentinels.

And then a gorgeous red barn before turning for home.