Sunday, May 15, 2022

When Unthankfuls Turn Into Thankfuls

My "puter is being persnickety. It's only two years old, but it acts as though a band of wild monkeys has been jabbing at the keys. TAME monkeys would never do that.... 

So, this week's Ten Things of Thankful are a little, well, odd, because they come from not-so-thankful events

First, there was the Covid exposure. That's not a thankful in itself, but it was the cause of some thankfuls:

--I had to quarantine for two days and miss work. I love my job, but missing work when you feel fine isn't exactly horrible.

--I have said it before and I will say it again: I hate, hate, HAAAAATE yard work of any kind, but I did a little in spite of it, and I was semi-pleased with the results.

--In my feeble attempt to do yard work, I discovered, to my pleasure, that our ginormous, overgrown holly bush with the thorns on every point of every single leaf is 90% dead, so I have a legit reason to cut it down.

--I am a weakling, plus I lack the correct tools to completely cut the holly bush down, but I made a pretty good dent in it, and I'm hoping to whittle away at it over the course of the summer. I'll figure out what to do when I get to the trunky part when I get there.

--I planted a couple of geraniums in two pots on either side of my front door, and they have lived for five days now. It's a good start.

--Covid test was negative!

A dear, dear family friend passed away this past winter. He was a second father to me growing up, as our families lived next door to each other from before I was born until I was 11. A Covid surge prevented the family from having a public memorial service for him, so it was postponed until this weekend. Funerals aren't usually on a thankful list, but this one is an exception:

--The last time I saw some of the people who attended this memorial service was at the one for my mom, six years ago (another bittersweet time). It's a shame that we sometimes don't see people we love except at funerals, but at least we DO get to be together then, and that's what makes losing a loved one a little more bearable.

--My very best friend growing up was Cherie (it was her dad who passed away). We were built-in best friends, since we were next door neighbors and our moms were best friends. Her sister and brothers were mine, and my brother, hers. Cherie and I shared our siblings, clothes, toys, parents, and memories, and seeing her made my heart happier than its been in a long time.

Wish I had gotten a better photo of us. Next time!

--My mom and Cherie's mom Earline had coffee together several times a week. There were two more coffee buddies on the block: Betty and Hazel. Guess who came to the memorial service Saturday? Both of them, along with Hazel's daughter. Another happy surge for my heart! 

--Of course, I got to visit with Earline, as well as Cherie's sister Lindy, who used to protect us by letting us snuggle up against her when we watched "Dark Shadows" on tv, her younger brother Craig, who we used to wake up from his naps just so we could play with him (sorry, Craig, if you have sleep issues to this day), and her older brother Doug, who owes me about a thousand dollars for unpaid back scratches from when we were kids and he promised us a quarter to scratch his back and NEVER PAID UP. It was so much fun!

--I got a surprise from Cherie's husband David, who I've known since junior high. He told me he was a huge fan of my blog and loved my writing. It may sound silly, but that comment meant the world to me. I have always written primarily for myself, starting my blog by documenting my breast cancer journey, and finding out that someone truly enjoys my storytelling is nothing short of delightful. Thank you, David!

--My dad and I stayed with my brother and sister in law all weekend. I always appreciate them letting me use their home as an airbnb, especially because the bed in the guest room is exceedingly comfortable and my brother cooks for us.

--I spenet some time with my daughter, who is recovering from two weeks of law school finals, and we attended the Bans Off Our Bodies rally.

Rally at Mill Creek Park


There you have it: thankfuls that could just have been unthankfuls! It's all in how you look at things.

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Sunday, May 8, 2022

Springy Spring

This is a week where I thought we might need to build an ark. Like 8 inches of rain or so in a week's time. Creeks and rivers out of their banks. Roads closed. Stupid people driving through water on a closed road and needing rescue. You know, normal life in the Ozarks. 

Today, though, the sun is shining. SHINING! I'm sitting on the couch at the lake house, and the morning sun is streaming in through the window with such intensity that I risk getting a migraine from it, but I hate to close the blinds to it. I WILL close them, because I hate migraines more than I hate blocking the sun, but you get the point.

Here are my Ten Things of Thankful for the week:

1. If our roof leaked through all this rain, it didn't do it enough to make it into the inner sanctum.

2. Basement stayed dry, too.

3. No severe weather - whew!

4. The number of ants in my kitchen has declined slightly. Not sure if this is the beginning of the end or if they are regrouping for another attack.

5. I upped my brownie game again. Forget the Hershey's Symphony bar inside the brownies, for I found a gigantic Heath bar that is wayyyyyy better tucked under the batter!

6. My friends Nikki and Julie have joined me at the lake house this weekend. We are doing a lot of eating and talking and laughing.

This is an indication of how much rain we've had. 
Seven of ten flood gates open. Lake levels 
rising. Makes a pretty pic, though!


7. My dad and husband are also at the lake house and are very patiently putting up with us.

8. My hair is finally long enough to put in a messy bun/ponytail and not look like a fluffy little knob on top of my head.

9. I have determined that I should leave the cutting of my hair to a professional. We'll see how long I adhere to that.

10. My body, my choice, and I will fight to continue that as long as I need to.



Happy Mother's Day to all the moms and like-a-moms out there! 

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Sunday, May 1, 2022

It's Over For Another Year!

 Without fanfare, here is my Ten Things of Thankful for this week:

1. The A to Z Challenge is over!


2. It's finally really SPRING!

3. I put away my winter clothes and got out the spring/summer stuff with high hopes that I have not accidentally alerted Mother Nature that I have done so and she, therefore, won't smite me with more wintery weather.

4. The A TO Z CHALLENGE is OVER!

5. I attended a lovely bridal shower for my sweet friend Emily on Saturday. 

6. I'm going to Nashville in a few weeks to visit my Person, and it's now close enough that I'm getting excited!

7. While cleaning my room, I found $50 in gift cards that I don't even remember receiving.

8. The ants in my kitchen seem to have taken up permanent residence here, so I've decided to name them and make them into pets.

9. I know my hair is badly in need of a trim, but I DID NOT PICK UP THE SCISSORS and do it myself. 

10. THE A TO Z CHALLENGE IS OVERRRRR*!!!


*until next year!

Join us every week for the Ten Things of Thankful! It's easy. You can cheat on the number, we don't care. You will meet new people.


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Saturday, April 30, 2022

Z is for Zebra Cake

 

#AtoZChallenge 2022 Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter


I have been dreading my "Z" post a bit, not only since it's one of the tough letters, but also because I wanted to go out on a high note, and I hadn't found any topic to fit the bill. Desperately scrolling through Pinterest and trying to pull up ideas that started with "Z," I finally found something: Zebra Cake.

In all my Pinterest prowling, I had never run across a zebra cake before. It looked like it could be more trouble than it was worth, but desperation will get you the day before the deadline, so zebra cake it was. I found a recipe from Half-Baked Harvest, where I got the amazing Hot Honey Chicken, but it had ingredients I wouldn't use if you held a gun to my head, namely, coffee, so I kept looking. Betty Crocker had a much less complicated version made with cake mixes instead of from scratch, and I rationalized using this one since the zebra cake is more about the process than the method. Scratch cake, mix cake, the process of getting a cake to look like a zebra was still the same, and I was REALLY over complicated recipes.

Here is my "inspiration" photo, from Half Baked Harvest:



Here is the one from Betty Crocker:



Here's the process, regardless of whose recipe you use: make a vanilla batter, make a chocolate batter, layer them in cake pans, bake, frost, done.

I made the white cake batter first, because I could transfer the batter to another bowl and then make the chocolate batter in the Kitchenaid bowl without washing it first (work smarter, not harder). That was the easy part.

What I had in the pantry

Neither source had really clear cut instructions, and this is the one time a video would have come in handy, because the directions were to put about a quarter of a cup of white cake batter in the bottom of each of three 9" cake pans followed by a quarter cup of chocolate and so on. Each layer of batter was supposed to spread out on its own, but mine didn't. They just sat there, thickly, and refused to move, even if I jiggled the pan, so I put a little more batter in, more like half a cup of each batter but with no better results. I resigned myself that it was still going to taste good, even if it looked no more like a zebra than I did, and put the pans in the oven.

Here I am, doing it wrong


It quickly became apparent that I did not put the same amount of batter in each pan (maybe because I kept forgetting where I left off) when, after baking, each of the three layers were a different thickness. I had a Papa Bear layer, a Mama Bear Layer, and a Baby Bear Layer. I decided to put the Papa Bear layer on the bottom and the Baby Bear on top, and perhaps the weight of Baby and Mama would smoosh the Papa Bear layer, and in theory, that would have worked. In practice, it did not.

Papa Bear, Mama Bear, 


The cake, when cooled, was supposed to be frosted in white, but I had already determined that this zebra was going to need vet care anyway, possibly ending in euthanasia, so instead of white frosting, of which I am not a huge fan unless it's a wedding cake, I made chocolate and I am not one bit sorry.

Layer, layer, layer

Adding frosting


So yes, I was expecting the inside of the cake to be mostly beige with splotches of brown at worst, and at best, just a marbled cake. And know what? I actually got some zebra stripes, leading me to believe that, had I not panicked and only used a quarter of a cup of cake batter with each layer, I would have had a more zebra-y cake.

My husband, who didn't see a photo of a zebra cake before I made this one, was impressed, not only with the stripes, but also the taste (I couldn't really screw that up, since I used mixes). "It's really cool!" he kept saying. He took his empty plate back to the kitchen, presumably to put it in the dishwasher, but came back with another big slice of zebra cake. 

Behold, a zebra filet!

What better way to finish out the A to Z Challenge than with a win! 


Thursday, April 28, 2022

Y is for Yamcakes

 

#AtoZChallenge 2022 Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter

Yeah, so, it's "Y" and Imma say Yippee, the A to Z is almost over!

I couldn't think of anything to do for "Y" except yams, and I don't even like them.

I'm now making something with yams....

Okay, not really, because yams and sweet potatoes are two entirely different foods. According to the University of Illinois Extension Office, yams are native to Africa and Asia and can grow to 5 feet long. They have a tough, scaly skin that is hard to remove and are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes have a thin, smooth skin and are classified as either "firm" or "soft." The soft ones become soft, moist, and sweet when cooked and typically have dark orange skin and flesh. They are native to Central and South America. 

The confusion of names began when African slaves began calling "soft" sweet potatoes "yams" because they resembled the yams from Africa. The "firm" sweet potatoes were introduced to the US first, so when the "soft" variety were first grown commercially, they were called "yams" to differentiate them from the "firm" variety. Today, the USDA requires that when "yam" is being used to describe sweet potatoes, the words "sweet potato" must also be included in their labeling. Unless you found it at an ethnic market, most likely the yams you are eating are actually sweet potatoes. 

I couldn't find a recipe for anything I would remotely eat that was made with yams/sweet potatoes, so I decided to make my OWN recipe. If I can make pumpkin pancakes and applesauce pancakes, what's to keep me from making yams/sweet potato pancakes? Nothing! May I present....

Yamcakes

15 oz can yams/cut sweet potatoes in syrup*
2 cups buttermilk complete pancake mix
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. clove
1-1/4 to 1-1/2 c. water (I didn't measure very well, so at the risk of turning into my great aunt Daisy, put in enough water to make a batter)

Forgot the brown sugar for the photo. Oops.

Drain the yams/sweet potatoes and mash well with a fork. Add the dry ingredients and mix, then start adding water until it "looks right". Lightly grease whatever griddle or pan you like to use for pancakes, even if it's a non-stick one (since the batter has sugar in it, they are more likely to stick than plain pancakes) and cook the yamcakes. Turn over when the bubbles on the surface stop popping. Remove to plate, sprinkle with powdered sugar, and serve with your favorite syrup. Makes 6-8 good sized yamcakes. 

*something you should know (or may already know if you use canned sweet potatoes for other dishes), but sweet potatoes have weird little hairy bits on them that don't always get removed in the peeling process in the sweet potato factory. I picked all of them out because YUCK


It may be part of the potato, but I
recommend picking off those hairy parts.

Sideways photo of dry ingredients.
Beyond caring about it.

Stir, stir


They smell really good.

Mmmmm!

With addition of pecans.

My husband said they were great, REALLY great, second only to the Hot Honey Chicken I made for "H" as far as my A to Z experiments went. I made him a couple with pecans sprinkled on them, and he declared them EVEN BETTER.

So what seemed like a big Yuck to me turned out to be an even bigger Yum!

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

X is for eXtra

 

#AtoZChallenge 2022 Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter


I am stretching the ol' rules of the A to Z Challenge a bit with today's post, but I have no regrets for that: I turned an every day treat into something a little eXtra!

My husband is a big fan of brownies, and he got our children hooked on them, too. I used to be uppity and only made brownies from scratch, but when the demand surpassed my desire to be uppity about scratch cooking, I started buying brownie mixes. They are certainly quick, easy, and reliable. The other three always wanted me to add chocolate chips to the brownie mix each time, and I did, sometimes, but I don't care that much for chocolate chips, especially IN BROWNIES, so I ignored them as often as I could get away with it.

The other day, I remembered some brownies I was once served at friend's home that were her "go to" for company. She took a regular brownie mix, made it according to directions, poured half of the batter into a pan, then took an almond and toffee chip Hershey's Symphony bar, broke it apart, and laid the pieces over the batter and covered them with the remaining batter. The brownies were extra moist and had a little crunch from the almonds and toffee. That's extra, right? A big candy bar buried in a brownie? 

I picked up a Symphony bar and a brownie mix at the store and set to work mixing the batter. But as I did, I felt that adding the candy bar to the brownies wasn't enough to make this recipe "extra" enough. I dug around in my baking supplies and came up with a bag of Kraft caramel bits. For those of you not in the know, the caramel bits are like you took Kraft caramels, pinched off pieces, and rolled them into balls about the size of a piece of Trix cereal (I have no idea what else to use for scale). So after I laid the pieces of candy bar all over the batter, I generously sprinkled it with caramel bits. Still not satisfied, I came up with a bag of pecan pieces and sprinkled those on next, then I scattered some mini chocolate chips over the whole thing, carefully poured the rest of the batter over all the extra stuff, and baked it. 

Nuthin' fancy, just Betty Crocker
fudge brownie mix



Symphony bars first. See all the space that
doesn't have candy on it? Need to fix that.

Okay, fixed it!





Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I found thee! These brownies are excellent! The chocolate bar melted into the brownie, making them extremely rich tasting. The chocolate chips did the same, and the caramel bits also melted into the brownie and made them extra chewy and gooey. The pecans provided excellent crunch. These brownies are exponentially better than the ones with just the candy bar baked into them.

Fresh out of the oven. Doesn't look like
much, but there's potential lurking under there.


I ate half of it before I remembered I needed a photo

If you want a brownie to end all brownies, this is exactly what you need to make


W is for Watermelon

 

#AtoZChallenge 2022 Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter

Oh, how I love watermelon!

When I was a kid, we had it a lot in the summer. My dad also loves watermelon, and his favorite kind is called a Black Diamond: solid green and more round than oblong. When HE was a kid, he got in trouble for standing in the watermelon patch and cutting just the hearts out of the watermelons and eating them (hey, he gave the rest to the cows, so no waste!). I mean, it's the best part and all. 


He also told me if I swallowed any of the seeds in a watermelon that one would start growing in my tummy. I was TERRIFIED of that happening (he also had me convinced that cows that lived in the mountains had two legs shorter than the other two, so they wouldn't tip over, among other things he told me and I believed). Now that seedless watermelons are a thing, it removes that threat and I can enjoy watermelon without fear of growing one.

I am terrible at picking out watermelons (and my dad says he is, too). I've read all the articles and hints, and I still manage to pick the worst one out of the bin on many occasions. I soldier through, though, and eat as much of it as I can before giving up. But oh, if I'm lucky enough to get the perfectly ripe, red watermelon that is dripping with juice! It's worth the sacrifice of picking out some, er, lemons, so to speak. (And for the record, I HATE anything that is watermelon flavored; give me the real thing or nothing at all.)

Probably the number one reason I get some watermelon duds is because, in my excitement for watermelon season, I buy them way too early in the season. The really good ones don't ripen locally until around the 4th of July, and the best, BEST place to find them is at an Old Order Mennonite farming community near Rich Hill, Missouri, about a half hour's drive from my dad's house. They have a booming wholesale business selling watermelon and also cantaloupes that are almost as big as basketballs and sweeter than sugar, and they also have a kind of co-op fruit and vegetable market with goods coming straight from their gardens. (Bear in mind this entire business is done without electricity, using work horses pulling plows instead of modern equipment and paper and pencil instead of calculators and computers.)

So I'm ready for some delicious, fresh watermelon, but it's entirely too early in the season, sooooo....

Nom nom nom


These Watermelon Rice Krispies Treats that I found on Pinterest were fun, not that hard, and sweet and delicious (although not juicy). 

You make them just like any other Rice Krispies treats, except you do it in two batches. Batch #1 is made with the addition of green food coloring, batch #2 is made with pink food coloring.

Melt marshmallows with butter

Add green food coloring

Stir in the Rice Krispies and pour into
9" cake pan that has been sprayed 
with cooking spray

Smoosh the mixture around the edges,
but not too firmly, or the whole thing
will be hard as a rock instead of 
squishy and marshmallowy


Do the same thing again, only
this time, make it pink




Smoosh the pink mixture inside
the green ring and make sure it
presses into the green layer 
well so it doesn't separate

Add chocolate chip "seeds" by 
pressing them into the spaces between
the Rice Krispies. Note: I picked them
out of mine before eating, because 
I prefer seedless watermelon....

And there you go! Watermelon that is in season any time and is never under (or over) ripe!


Monday, April 25, 2022

V is for Vegetable Soup

 

#AtoZChallenge 2022 Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter


I'm a picky eater, but my son? Gahhh!!! He only ate about five things from three until well into college: pizza, hamburgers, chicken legs, beans. It was aggravating, to say the least, but the fifth food he ate is what prevented him from getting scurvy or rickets or something: the kid loved soup. He would eat pretty much anything if it was in a soup. Fortunately, we are a family of soup eaters, and I made it fairly often, especially in the fall and winter. Our favorite was plain old vegetable soup.

I grew up on vegetable soup, which my mom made when we had leftover roast beef. At some point in the early to mid-1970s, though, EVERYONE'S mom in the Kansas City area started making vegetable soup from a recipe originated by the Plaza III restaurant on the Country Club Plaza and known as Plaza III Steak Soup (and which was made with ground beef and not really steak, although the restaurant's recipe says they used ground steak; I assure you, none of the home cooks were doing it that way!). I once babysat our neighbor's kids when I was in junior high, and the kids wanted leftover Steak Soup as their bedtime snack. It was truly that good!

When I went to college and eventually got an apartment of my own, my mom showed me how to make this Steak Soup. I could eat on it for a week and still have leftovers to put in the freezer. Over the years, my vegetable soup recipe took on some subtle changes from the original Steak Soup, but most of the key elements were there.

I looked up the recipe today when I decided to make vegetable soup for my "V" entry in the A to Z Challenge:




Here's what makes this soup special from any other vegetable soup you will eat: it's the butter and the beef bouillon. I know this because I haven't used those ingredients in my vegetable soup in so long that I didn't even remember that I USED to until I read the recipe today. 

I did remember a couple of changes my mom made that I fully believe are worth veering off the recipe directions. After browning the ground beef and draining it, I put the butter (and I only used half a stick of butter and felt like it was plenty rich that way) into the pan with the meat and after it had mostly melted, I stirred in the flour. I then added the beef bouillon granules, the hot water, onion, potatoes instead of carrots (because it isn't vegetable soup to my family without potatoes), frozen mixed vegetables (see? didn't need extra carrots), canned tomatoes, and pepper and brought it to a boil, then let it simmer for about an hour (or until the potatoes are done). I tasted it and decided to add a little more bouillon granules, and the soup was perfection! 

Beef browned and butter added

Gotta have taters in vegetable soup

Frozen mixed vegetables

Ingredients in a pot

An hour later, and it's hot and delicious soup!

My husband, who is NOT a picky eater but knows good food, said it was fantastic! He was amazed what a difference it made to have that butter in the soup. 

Yearning for some comfort food? MAKE THIS. Add some Easy Peasy Breadsticks and you've got yourself a meal!

Mmmmmmm!




Sunday, April 24, 2022

U is for Unused Hot Dog Buns

 

#AtoZChallenge 2022 Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter

A real perk of my job is that I get fed every day for free. I seldom eat the breakfast, as I have a nice bowl of oatmeal every morning (actually, a Solo cup of oatmeal, because I eat it in the car on the way to work), and they serve eggs a lot, which I detest, but I'm all in for lunch.

We have a lot of chicken. Usually it's grilled or baked, and most of the time it's pretty tasty (occasionally, I accuse the food service people of feeding us buzzard meat, but fortunately, those meals are few and far between). The kids prefer breaded chicken, but they'll eat pretty much anything as long as they have some ketchup. 

We have hot dogs twice a month. Since over half of the kids in the school are under 4 years old, their hot dogs are cut up (choking hazard, you know), and we only give them half of a bun as a serving. As a result there are always a LOT of leftover hot dog buns.These extra hot dog buns languish in a plastic bin on the center island of the school kitchen, never to be eaten, unless I come along and turn them into....

Breadsticks! I know it sounds crazy, but I can turn day old (or week old or even two week old) hot dog buns into delicious, garlicky breadsticks, and now you can, too! 

Easy Peasy Breadsticks

1 package of hot dog buns (day old, preferably)
2 sticks of butter or margarine
1 tsp. garlic powder

Preheat oven to 225°.

Melt butter or margarine in a pie plate or other shallow dish. Stir in garlic powder.

Cut each hot dog bun lengthwise and separate sections, giving you 4 sticks per bun. Quickly dip the cut sides in the butter, then lay on a large cookie sheet.

Stale hot dog buns


Cut each bun in half length wise and separate
into four pieces

Melt butter and stir in garlic powder,
then quickly dip cut sides of bread
into the butter and place on baking sheet

Bake for 1-2 hours. Breadsticks should be golden brown and dry to the touch when done. Very dry buns will only take an hour; fresh buns will take two hours. Makes 32 breadsticks.

Bake 'em


Done! Sorry, no artsy photo on a plate. I'm tired.


Note: you will need two cookie sheets for this recipe. Get creative with them; I usually add dried parsley or dried Italian seasoning to the butter. They can also be sprinkled with sesame seeds or grated parmesan cheese before baking.

You have to make these. They prevent waste (although not waist, because trust me, you can't stop eating them once you start). And no one will ever believe you made them from stale hot dog buns!