Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Are You Sure It's Not Lunch...or Dinner...or Breakfast

What is it about chocolate chip cookie dough? When you think of cookie dough ice cream, it's usually filled with chocolate chip cookie dough. Why is that?

Well, chocolate, for starters. And there is the sweet dough. It seems to be just the right mix of ingredients and it's pretty hard to botch a batch of chocolate chip cookies. You can add walnuts or oatmeal to them but what people remember are the chocolate chips.

And it's soooo good when it's raw.

I made cookies over the weekend. The warmth of the kitchen made the butter softer than I'd like for cookies so I had to put it in the fridge to firm up. Remove from fridge and, oh gee, I need to taste to make sure they are acceptable. Yeah, that's what I'm doing, checking the quality. I didn't eat all the dough. I got most of it baked.

I also made Snickerdoodles. Those are just a sweet dough, almost a sugar cookie consistency, that are formed into balls and rolled in a cinnamon sugar mix.

Here are pre-baked doodles. And here are baked doodles.

The photo from the cell phone isn't the best. They are a lovely golden color with cinnamon sugar all over them. They were part of baking marathon that included 3 kinds of sweet bread.

Several friends were commenting on the baking posts I have up in the blog so I told them I'd send goodies. All of this was divided amongst 3 boxes and organized into plastic bags, those same plastic bags that have vexed me since I bought them. But, once they get to their destination, if the recipient has to get into them with a scissors, well, they are where they need to be and the bag won't matter. Everything shipped yesterday so I just wait to hear when the boxes arrive.

So back to the cookie dough issue. It's so good, maybe I should make more. I think the world would be a better place if you could give everyone a cookie without people worrying about ulterior motives behind said cookie. No, they aren't gluten free. I guess they would be sort of vegetarian but it's not vegan since there are eggs in the batter. If you're allergic to chocolate, you can have a snickerdoodle. I can imagine the hew and cry against someone wanting to offer people a cookie just because. There must be an ulterior motive.

(sigh) I think I'll just keep the cookie dough in the fridge and eat it. Talk about a comfort food.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


That's a Lot

The next step in the cat Christmas banner is to get the backing material and sorting through the boxes to see if I have quilt batting. I think this would look so cute if it was quilted to festive fabric with bright trim all around it. I probably have, somewhere, the appropriate fabric in one of the boxes.

I decided my task would be to empty the boxes and reorganize all the fabric. There would be a box for the scraps, for that "someday" quilt, as in "someday, I'm going to make a quilt out of all these scraps". Then I could organize the other fabric by kind or color or amount or something. All the interfacing pieces would go in another box and the bags of stuffing in yet a third. All the boxes would be labeled so I could see, at a glance, whether I have blue fabric anywhere and maybe that box of trims could go inside the box with the interfacings. Ooooh, organization! Since I would be using boxes I purloined from the office which originally held paper, they would all be the same size and would, therefore, stack very nicely in the closet. Mija's been enjoying the flat surface of one box I put in there.

Well, step one in this grand master plan is to clear off the table in the living room. So, let's see. Bill. Bill. Bill. Those go in the office to be paid. (I did that on Sunday.) Half-finished magazine. Sit down and read the rest. Chuck happily into the recycling bin. Rebate information for the wasp spray. That needs to be stuck to the fridge so I can find it. A couple of letters that need to be answered. Into my bag with my stationary so I can find them when I sit down to write.

Now, what's left are the CDs and the CD holder. I've been listening to my music as I travel about and it's time to match up the CDs with the cases and see what's left to listen to.

I kept two stacks of cases on the desk in the office behind my computer. Occasionally, I would blow the dust off the top one but it was, pretty much, just a storage spot. "You know," I would tell myself about every 6-8 weeks, "you should sort through this and match up what's in the holder with what you have here." Like the angel and the devil on your shoulder, one side would say, "That's a great idea" while the other side would say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." You can guess which one usually won that conversation. 

But the need to have a large empty work space won out this time and I moved the giant stack of CD cases to the table to match up with my CDs. (Oh the dust! Man. I had to shake out the dust rag twice, after I moved the stacks.) In the photo above left is Old Blind Dogs Play Live, middle is OBD Close to the Bone, upper right is The Best of the Nat King Cole Trio. I can't tell what the bottom left is. The middle left is Benny Goodman, Best of the Yale Archives, 1936-86 Disc 2, middle right is Preservation Hall Jazz Band Volume 2 and far right is Classical Cats, a Selection of Classical Music with Cats in Mind.  

Once I matched everything up and made sure that the CDs left in the case to be listened to had cases in the stack, I put the filled cases in my CD rack. I have two of them. One is one of those little spinner type things. It's got 4 sides and you spin it to get the CD you want. But, that was not going to hold my collection so I bought this many years ago. 

As you can see, it's almost filled. CDs aren't in any particular order other than the bottom left has non-jazz, non-classical items, such as my Beach Boys Greatest Hits  Manhattan Transfer's Christmas Album, Sons of the Pioneers Greatest Hits, etc. The bottom right has a few of my classical CDs. I have another CD holder that sits on top of something. It's two levels and I have most of the rest of my classical CDs and most of the rest of my Christmas CDs in that. It currently sits in a box. There's really no rhyme or reason to the jazz CDs here. I should come up with something like vocal on one side, instrumental on the other and group all the ones I have by the same artist together. Those are projects for another time.

I wound up with four CDs missing their official cases. I found a bunch of empty cases from a batch I bought some time ago so I had cases and didn't have to get more. I also found 3 cases without the matching CD. They have to be somewhere in the house. I just haven't found that pile. Plus, I found that CD I need to replace because it got soda spilled on it. I wiped it off, but it's never been the same since. I hope I can find it. It's rather obscure. And I found a couple CD's I've never taken out of the packaging. How did that happen?

And that causes me to think about replacing the cassettes I have in another spinner. I have some really good music on cassette that I'd love to have on CD. No no. Not in the budget.

What you can't see is the stack on the back edge of the cedar chest. It's about half as tall as this CD holder. I guess I need another tall CD tower for organization. The problem is, I need space to put another CD tower. That means finally sitting down and dealing with all the stuff sitting on top of the table to my right in the office. I can hear those two on my shoulder arguing. "Just do it. You have been meaning to for years." "Yeah, yeah, yeah." 

Avoidance of the task is an option. I think I'll order pizza. 

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


Saturday, July 28, 2012

I Thought I Was Out

Nope. There was one jar left on the shelves in the basement. This is, officially, the last jar of chocolate sauce purchased last year for Carole and David's wedding. Once this is gone, I will actually have to buy some from the store.

With the root beer gone, I have extra vanilla ice cream to use up before it gets that crystal stuff on it. I have had some with whipped cream and a cherry, but it's so much better with chocolate sauce. As it's the end of the month, I thought this would have to go on the grocery list. While taking stock of the boxes of pasta, I found this behind the farfalle.

Ever had chocolate covered pear slices? You slice a pear and warm the sauce. Then drizzle the sauce over the pears. Simple. If you get the biggest size pears you can, use an apple corer to remove the core and seeds. Peel the pear. Sit the pear upright on a plate. Put softened ice cream in the center hole and drizzle warmed chocolate sauce over the pear. Serve immediately. You can substitute whipped cream in the center hole too. I remember, a long time ago, Baskin Robbins made a pear flavored ice cream. I made this pear dessert with that ice cream in the center. It was divine. Hmmmm. I haven't been to a Baskin Robbins in ages. Wonder what 31 flavors they have now?

Excuse me. I need some ice cream with chocolate sauce.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's finest tea


Hah Bumbug


I just got on a tear and decided I wanted to see it finished. Thursday and Friday night and then this morning with my hot cereal. Stitch stitch stitch. Eat and drink. Stitch some more. Hmmm. I need a shower. I'm so close to finishing this and no one in the house really cares how I smell, so I'll just finish stitching. I even washed this and it's drying on the ironing board. The next steps are to root through the fabric for the backing material, check the boxes for quilt batting, and see if I have enough of some appropriate kind of trim for the edges. This will force me to clean out the closet to look through the boxes of fabric stored therein. This is not a bad thing.

Now what? I think I'm going to take a few weeks off stitching and read a book.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Finding a Spot

I decided stew was in order. I haven't made it in month, maybe in over a year. It's the kind of thing that makes a lot and "weathers" well, meaning it will be as good or even better, as leftovers in the upcoming days.

Thursday night, I cut up carrots and potatoes and diced a steak. I don't really like the meat stores can pass off as "stew meat". It can be kind of fatty and rather than imparting tenderizing to the meat, the fat makes it chewy. I prefer to purchase a flank or round steak and cut it into stew meat sized pieces. Once that was done, I dumped it into a plastic bag where the herbs and spices had been dumped. Shake the whole thing and stick the veggies and meat into the fridge.

In the morning, dump the veggies and the meat into the crock pot with two cans of tomato sauce. Turn the pot to low and have a nice day at work.

When I got home, the kitchen smelled wonderful. I added around 3/4 cup of frozen corn and let the whole thing cook one more hour. At 5:30, this was supper.

Scoop it out onto a plate and the aroma of hearty beef stew filled the air. 

Oh man. This was wonderful. I have 3 more meals from this. I really need to find a spot to keep the crock pot upstairs. I'd, no doubt, eat better and healthier if it was handy.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Friday, July 27, 2012


There are times I sit back and marvel at how this thing we call the "Internet" connects us. I usually think about these things when my computer takes 5 minutes to upload something or the power is out, yet again, or a friend posts a comment on Facebook and I have no idea to what it's referring. If you live on the North American continent, 95% of us are descended from someone who willingly or unwillingly, let's be real about that, left their home and came here. Some families have come recently. Some, like mine, arrived in 1842. Some date back to the 1600's. I've pondered how much guts it took to willingly leave everything you knew behind; leave your home with the knowledge that communication with mom and dad, brother and sister, friend and cousin, would probably cease. We take that mailman's delivery for granted, but that wasn't a given back in 1842. How many letters went down to the depths of the sea when a ship was lost?

So, this ability to type something, press a button and send my words into the ether is something of a novelty in human history. While we are so used to this marvel, we forget that it wasn't the way our ancestors communicated.

And yet...

This is a post about how this instantaneous communication connects people. In the previous post, you can see that I won a couple of porcelain bowls from a potter in Portugal. After I wrote that, I took some time to scroll through the blogs I routinely read looking for new posts. Michele Made Me had a new post. Oh heavenly days! It's about a comment I posted to a previous entry. The post for today has me laughing and looking at the weather forecast. Will I be able to go puddle stomping this weekend? It does not look likely but it does appear the weather will be perfect for breakfasts out on the deck. This is good too.

Now, Michele is Canadian. I would never have "met" her were it not for this Internet. Our paths probably will never physically cross, but I feel connected via a simple blog post.

Here's to the friends I've made via pixels and 1's and 0's. If our physical paths never cross know that you have enlightened me, helped me through tough times and made me laugh.

Beverage:  Raspberry Zinger tea



One of the blogs that I read, listed to the right, is Otchipotchi. I don't remember how I stumbled upon this blog but I love it. The blogger is Paula, a potter living in Portugal, and I very much enjoy looking at all the wonderful things she makes. I took a pottery class in college. It was fun, but it didn't grab me as something I would do for a long time. There are days, however, when I look at what Paula has crafted and my memories take me back to the time spent bending over a potter's wheel trying to get this lump of clay to resemble something more than a lump of clay that's taken a few too many turns around a potter's wheel. In addition to the pottery Paula makes, her photographs are gorgeous. You can tell she's an artist by her point of view in everything. Plus, she has a cat. What's not to like about that? Artistic AND a cat lover.

On July 13th, there was a post about red currants as well as a contest. I wrote up a couple of lines and forgot about it. Imagine my surprise when, checking back a few days later, my name was pulled from the pile. I was so delighted, I actually squealed, much to Pilchard's distaste as she was asleep in the chair next to me. The box came yesterday.

Both Pilchard and Mija looked at the item and deemed it boring. That means, of course, it's been thoroughly inspected, sniffed and approved and there is nothing else about the item worthy of further consideration and I shall now lie down where I cause the most impediment to your photography. (sigh)

I am not sure what I was expecting even though the contest clearly showed the bowls. The box wasn't very big. Here it is relative to my purse. I knew Paula was sending a porcelain bowl and the crunched nature of the box had me more than a little distressed. It fit very nicely in my mailbox so had there been some of this intermittent rain coming in unexpected downpours, it wouldn't have gotten wet, sitting on the front steps behind the milk box.

I opened it carefully, rather scared at what I would find. Paula's signature in her blog is the word, "Enjoy". I was delighted to see this in the package. Look! It's not a very clear photo since I have to use my phone's camera, but there is the word on a sticker affixed to the main bulk of the wrappings. Such a simple word. "Enjoy".

My anticipation grew as I removed this packet from the box. Nothing felt crunchy. You know if something fragile is broken. You pick it up and it moves in ways it probably shouldn't. Plus, there is a sound, a broken sound, coming from the parcel if it's not intact. There was none of this.

I unwrapped further and the parcel dwindled in size. Wow, I won both of them. I guess if I learn to read, I'd see both were the prize. I thought she was drawing two names. These were small. It was so exciting to remove layer after layer of tissue and a layer of bubble wrap to finally get to the reward.

Ta da! Two porcelain bowls. They are beautiful. My phone camera really cannot do justice to how delicate, yet hardy these are. They have the impression of, I think, baby's breath in them. I'm kind of a dork for not remembering since she talked about making these and showed a bit of the process.

Here's one of them outside where the lighting is a bit better.

See, the impression of the flowers? See how small they are? They came to me all the way from Paula's studio in Portugal. She knows how to pack things. There's nary a dent or a chip or an atom out of place.

You can see a bit better, the imprint of the flower here. I'll bring the office camera home this weekend and see if I can take some better photos, more representational, than these.

They are beautiful, so delicate, yet so strong. I love how they fit in my hand. I feel as if they want to be used somehow but I'm not sure what I'd put in them. I've never had anything like this before and I want to care for it properly. Right now, they are just sitting on the top of the organ in the living room, sitting with other things that have meaning for me.
The girls don't go up here unless I've cleared it off for dusting. These are in no danger of being knocked off by wayward cats.

We like to surround ourselves with stuff. This stuff represents a part of us. I have a commemorative football from my Iowa Hawkeyes, a globe made of slivers of semi-precious stones and a nutcracker. All of these are gifts and would fall into the category of "stuff". They represent parts of who I am. What about beauty? How many times do you add something to your life simply because it's beautiful? These two small bowls represent beauty to me, a simple and delicate beauty I can often overlook because I'm busy.

I am so thrilled to have received these. Thank you, Paula, for the contest. I don't consider myself very lucky but luck smiled on me when you drew my name. Enjoy? Yes, I shall.

Beverage:  Raspberry Zinger tea


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stress Buster

In making the Graham Pull Apart Breakfast Ring on Sunday, I was required to reduce a cup and a half of Golden Grahams to crumbs. I dumped the cereal into a plastic bag, pulled out the tenderizer hammer and started pounding. About half-way through the process I realized this was rather relaxing.

Think about it. You have a mallet and you're reducing something to crumbs by pounding on it. Is it a measure of the violence in society that beating on something is relaxing? Thump. Thump. Thump. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. From large pieces to crumbs.

This mallet is really designed to tenderize meat. There are two sides to it, small and large spikes. You'd use the large spikes to make swiss steak. That is created, for those who don't know, by pounding a steak and then braising it in a sauce. The small spikes are for use on chicken. Pounding the breast pieces flatter is great for chicken kiev, for instance, where you're putting ingredients inside the chicken breast and rolling it up. I use the flat side for crushing things, like cereal.

I stood in the kitchen on Sunday morning, thinking of all the things that irritate me right now. Lack of funds? Pound pound. Rheumatoid Arthritis? Pound pound pound. Cracked top on the Jeep? Pound pound. Raccoons knocking over the flowers on the deck? Pound pound pound. With each pound, I willed the offense to go away. I ran out of irritations so I had to create some. By the time the cereal was reduced to the crumb size I needed, I felt much better about the day. So, I'm going to have to remember this.

The thing is, I don't need crumbs of everything and I might wind up with bags and bags of crumbs depending upon my stress level. Oh well, it beats keeping everything inside and gee, I haven't had swiss steak with noodles in ages.

Beverage:  Water


Side Effects of Life With Cats

I wouldn't say there's much of a down side to being owned by pets and cats in particular. I think back to people I've known who don't have pets and I often wish they could have experienced the unconditional love that comes from an animal. We often say that pets don't have feelings but I know that statement is completely wrong.

Right now I'm having a bit of a conundrum with the girls. There have been times of outright hostility, with ears back, growling, and hissing. This has happened before but the growling is deep and guttural, the kind that say, "Back off or I will attack." It's been very upsetting to me to have them face off in the living room, both growling and hissing. Come on. They have lived with each other all their lives. Why now?

On July 19th, Layla of Cat Wisdom 101, had her usual vet column. A couple of the items have come at just the right time. These two struck me as appropriate to my situation.
1. Cats are social and left on their own will form matriarchal groups. However, they do not need feline or human companionship in most cases. Much research has been conducted in this area, thanks in part to the many feral colonies that in recent years have been developed with consistent care. Observing these colonies, researchers have found that mothers and their daughters tend to form groups, often sharing in kitten-rearing duties. Related males may also stay in the group, and unrelated males may join it, but unrelated females typically are not allowed in. This is one reason why housing two unrelated adult female cats in the same household can be difficult. (Emphasis mine.)
2. Cats form social groups with as few as one member in multicat households. An example: A household with three cats could have three groups (each comprising one cat), two groups (one with one member, the other with two), or a single group of three. Cats in the same group will groom one another, play together, and sleep together. Figuring out which cat is in which group can be difficult without a lot of observation over a fairly long time period, but mutual grooming (the technical term is allogrooming) is an important clue. In general, only cats that are in the same social group groom each other.
I had another incident today where Pilchard was stalking Mija. She was lying in wait around the corner of the living room where the hall enters the room. Mija was frozen in place in the hallway and I nearly stepped on her. (Memo to self: glasses in the morning.) I heard the growl and then looked down. 
I don't know what I can do about this. "Distressing" doesn't cover it. I worry that I'm going to come home to fur and blood and scratched eyes or faces. It makes the effort to trim Pilchard's claws very important. I tried playing with them last night but am not sure if that helps the arguments, burning off steam. Has the heat and the house being closed up gotten to them? 
Why the fan at the top of the post? Well, the other side effect is, as you can imagine because I have a long haired black cat, fur, everywhere. I didn't realize how much she shed until last weekend. I walked into the living room in the morning and the angle of the sun was just right. Good grief. Look at all that dust and fur. I need to clean out the fan. 
In spite of the current social misadventures and the fan sucking all the fur it can find into it, I wouldn't trade life with cats for life without cats. No, they don't tell me how their day has gone or help me puzzle out a problem or set out traps for the ants that were all over the kitchen counter last night. They provide companionship and that, alone, is enough. 
Beverage:  water

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It Was Interesting

I am on the Pillsbury company's mailing list. About every couple of weeks, I get an email with recipes, coupons and cooking tips. Most of the time, I look it through and delete. On very rare occasions, there is a recipe I try. Two weeks ago, one popped up that looked interesting.
Brown a pound of ground beef and then mix with 1/2 cup of ketchup. I think ketchup is too sweet so I added a can of tomato sauce mixed with a teaspoon of oregano and 1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt. Add 1 cup of shredded cheddar to the meat mixture and put the whole thing into a 9 or 10 inch pie plate. Take one canister of crescent rolls, unroll them and spread the rolls around the top with the point to the middle. Top the whole thing with 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar. I like cheddar so I topped it with the whole 1 cup bag I had frozen and thawed. (That was from a bulk purchase back in May. I have to remember to do that again in August; buy my shredded cheddar in bulk and freeze it in 1 cup servings. Remind me next week, okay?) Put the whole thing into a 350 degree oven and bake for 15 minutes for the cheese to melt.

It looks pretty good. I cut it into eight pieces but realized you couldn't get a good view of the inside only via an eighth.
Observations:  It was okay. It's not a recipe I will make again. The crescent rolls don't reheat very well in a microwave. Crescent rolls come out of the package as a right triangle. If they came out as an isosceles triangle, getting them to line up in the pan to cover the top would have been much easier. I used a 10 inch pie plate and had gaps in the top. I don't know if those would have been covered had I used a 9 inch pie plate which I don't own. I'm thinking phyllo dough might work better or one of their refrigerated pizza crusts. You could add all sorts of additions to the innards then. Two of the additions suggested were a cup of pickle relish and a 1/2 cup of diced onions. Neither of those will I eat.

So, I tried it. It whipped up quickly which is a plus on a week day evening when I want a full meal but don't want to spend an hour making it. Beyond that, we'll toss this into the "I tried it so you don't have to" pile.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Let The Summer Bounty Begin

Zeke stopped by last night. First of all, it was to check on the yard. While it doesn't crunch anymore when you walk across it, it's still brown. The rain we've had lately has caused the back to start to green up and it will probably need a mowing in another week. I've got all this Queen Anne's Lace everywhere but it's kind of neat.

The second reason was to see if I would like some of his excess produce.

He dropped off two cucumbers. Now, I'm not a real big fan of them, particularly when they get large. The smaller of the two, I sliced this morning and will dip in garlic dressing as a side with lunch. I like them when they are small. The larger one, I'll bring into the office tomorrow and see if someone wants it.

Zeke asked if I would take fresh tomatoes. Now, I love tomato sauce and tomato juice but raw tomatoes just aren't my fancy. The guys at work, however...

This has been a perfect summer for tomatoes, other than the need to water them every day due to the drought. Tomatoes love hot weather. Zeke said he's got dozens of green tomatoes on his plants so in the next week, he'll be bringing some over. Depending upon the kind, I can probably turn some of them into juice or sauce. The rest come to the office.

Handing me fresh picked produce makes me kind of long for a garden of my own again. I did that years ago. I grew all sorts of things. Not only were you guaranteed of fresh picked and organic produce, it reduced your food budget. I froze a lot of things. There's almost nothing to compare with fresh garden peas in January.

Wheaton has a rather large farmer's market on Saturdays just off the downtown. I've never been there. I should go see.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


All That's Left is the Outline

I get the urge, when I can see a project is nearly complete, to finish it. Other things that might need doing are set aside. Monday and Tuesday, that was the case with the cat cross-stitch. I got this far on Monday.

I could see it wouldn't take much more time to finish. It became almost an obsession to finish it last night. I stayed up a bit late but all that's left is the outlining.

I think I shall turn it into a small wall hanging as I did with the Merry Christmas stitching. I also think I might have all the pieces I need to finish this over the coming weekend without a trip to the store. Searching for the right backing materials will also force me to clean and organize the office closet. I brought home the boxes. They've just not gone anywhere other than under the kitchen table.

So, what's next? I'm thinking these dog days of summer are the perfect time to fish a book out of the pile and read it.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Not Quite 40 Years Ago

Ron Santo was inducted, posthumously, to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. He was part of the Cubs franchise my dad loved. The Cubs were so much a part of his life. He told us stories about buying a train ticket to Chicago when the Milwaukee Road ran passenger service through Northeast Iowa. The train would arrive in Monona around 2 a.m. Dad and his friends would ride the train to Chicago, hop onto the red line elevated train and take that to Wrigley Field. Bleacher seats, in the war years, cost a buck. They would sit in the bleachers of the Friendly Confines cheering on the team and, when the game was over, reverse the process to get home. They usually arrived back in Monona around 2:30 a.m. A friend would drive him home and he'd get about 3-4 hours of sleep before starting the day. I don't know how many times he did this but he loved to tell the story.

Growing up, we had an old box radio about the size of my sewing box. It was brown, I remember that clearly, with a big dial on the front that moved the red line to the various stations. In the summer, when he would go out to the fields in the afternoon, dad would put the radio in the east southeast windows of the porch, meticulously tune the dial and fiddle with the antenna until we heard the first verse of, "Lets Go! Batter Up! We're taking the afternoon off! It's a beautiful day for a ball game!" Then the booming voice of Jack Brickhouse came out of the radio, "The Chicago Cubs are on the air!" It was a marvel to me, unknowing as I was about radio waves back then, that we were listening to something going on live in Chicago. Chicago! That's another place, a big place, so different from Cedar Rapids or Des Moines, the biggest cities I'd been to at that time.

It was someone's responsibility to listen to the game and, when dad came in from the fields, after about an hour or 90 minutes, tell him what the score was. Plus, it was not just tell him the score, it was also our responsibility to tell him who had hit a home run. He was a huge fan of Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, so when they were slated to play, it was doubly important to keep tabs on the game for him. That responsibility usually fell to me, as the oldest. My siblings didn't have the patience to sit at the table and keep one ear on a scratchy radio broadcast and do something else. They wanted these summer days to be filled with other things.

When we started taking family vacations, one of the first places dad wanted to go was Chicago, and, by extension, Wrigley Field. We'd gone to a minor league baseball game in Cedar Rapids, the Cedar Rapids Cardinals, in preparation for the Chicago trip. The team at that time, was affiliated with the hated St. Louis Cardinals. I don't remember anything about that game other than it was chilly at night and my grandmother, with whom we were staying, disapproved of the excursion. But, the trip met dad's expectations for us sitting for 7 innings so he bought tickets to the Chicago Cubs vs the Houston Astros.

Somewhere, I have the program for the game. I can't tell you if the Cubs are up or in the field. This was a Friday and "Ladies Day" at the ballpark. Women got in free to grandstand and bleacher seats. We had reserved grandstand seats which were discounted. Our tickets were not mailed. We had to go to something called the "Will Call" window, a term we were unfamiliar with. The smartly dressed ushers showed us where to go and dad handed each of us a ticket. I felt like I was on top of the world. This was Chicago! This was the Cubs! I didn't know anyone in my grade who had gone to a real live major league baseball game!

Billy Williams was still with the team at this point. Santo was gone. Ernie Banks, another stalwart of the Cubs, was managing the team after the then manager, Whitey Lockman, was ejected in a May game. Dad was in his glory pointing out all the players and where he used to sit when he came in the 1940's. We walked all over the park, from one end to another. We got hot dogs, cotton candy, soda, peanuts and ice cream. Dad taught me how to keep score. The scorecard and a pencil were 50 cents. It was a bit chilly in the shade but the atmosphere of Wrigley Field could not be matched anywhere.

The Cubs lost 6-4. I remember that. Dad and mom conferred and we came back the next day. We had seats to the left, on the third base side. I remember my youngest brother had to go to the bathroom, so dad took him. During that interlude, Billy Williams came up to bat and hit a homerun over the left field wall. Billy was rounding third base when dad got to the top of the ramp to see anything. He was very disappointed that he'd missed seeing it.

It's too expensive for me to attend a Cubs game now. It's relatively easy to get there. I'd take the communter train into the city and hop on the same red line elevated train to stop at Addison Street. The park is a 2 block walk west. There are statues of Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Jack Brickhouse and Harry Carey around the park. Dad despised Harry Carey because he announced St. Louis Cardinal and Chicago White Sox games for years before coming to the Cubs. He replaced Jack Brickhouse in the announcer's booth, a move dad always resented of "his" Cubs.

All of this came back into memory as I read the stories of Santo's induction. I don't pay much attention to baseball anymore. I quit caring deeply when salaries became more than the gross national product of some small countries. I can't tell you, right now, where the Cubs stand in their division or who plays for them. I do know that it doesn't matter where they are in the standings, Wrigley Field will almost always be sold out for every game, such are the Cub faithful.

Dad never got to sit in the box seats down front. I was going to do that for him the year he died. He was going to retire and come visit for a week. We were going to take the trains to the ballpark and watch a game up close and personal. I thought of all that on Sunday. Ron Santo's induction should have come earlier but it's still important that he's in the Hall of Fame now. Some day, I should go visit Cooperstown.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


This Vexes Me #17

I want to be an environmentally responsible person, I really do. I come from a family of reusers and we also had some hard times in the early 1970's where we had to make do. It's easy, so easy, to be sucked into the life of use and toss or use in an unsustainable way. Hence, I try to find recyclable or sustainable things for all those items that I find myself using.

One of the things that gives me guilt is that lack of recyclable plastic bags. I tried the cellulose ones, but, in reality, they are just going in an anaerobic landfill where decomposition is a joke. Think about it. If landfills were truly aerobic and items decomposed. The new stuff would be reducing the size of the old stuff. We wouldn't have huge mountains of garbage because the earlier layers would be decomposing. The cellulose based bags also don't hold up as well to the rigors of a sandwich or pepper slices stuffed into them, nor are they good for freezing.

I love freezer bags. For me, they are great for portioning out individual meal-size foods when I cook in batches. I make hamburgers, put them in a pile with each patty separated by two sheets of waxed paper and stick the whole thing in a freezer bag. Then, I take out just two patties to be nuked for supper. I buy chicken breasts in bulk and separate a meal into a bag. I put the bags of frozen veggies into another freezer bag so they don't tip and spill over the inside of the freezer. Pancakes are frozen just like hambugers and one bag will hold a couple batches of muffins.

The problem is they don't have a long shelf life. Rinse out the used one, air dry and it's probably got 3 to 4 uses in in before it has to be tossed. Enter the guilt at using up a valuable resource in petroleum. So, when I needed new freezer bags, I was gratified to see Seventh Generation had a box for a comparable price to Ziploc. There is, however, a huge problem with these.

They have a two tier closure. This makes for a very effective seal but getting them open has been nothing short of exasperating. It tears right before the first closure. I have a devil of a time getting both lines of closures open without part of the top tearing. Eventually, the top looks like this.

I tried starting at the middle, at either end or a little off the end. I tried rolling the bag to try to break the seal before I attempt to open the bag. Out of the 5 I have used, only 1 opened without tearing at any stage of use. If I get the bag open the first time, trying to open it to get food out resulted in the above. I was crushing cereal when this happened.

When the bag gets to this point, I have no way of separating the closures. It's a very tight seal but that doesn't help me when I want to get the item out of the bag. I have to resort to cutting the bag open. That hardly meets the needs of recyclability. I want to be able to reuse these bags, not one use and toss. If I have to resort to that, heck, I'll buy the store brand which is made from virgin materials.

Maybe I just got a bad batch. I have 50 of these to go through. I hope it gets better.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


Sunday Breakfast

Sunday morning seems to me to be the best time for intricate breakfasts. While I'll eat breakfast any time any place, if I'm going to cook a multi-step breakfast, it's going to be on Sunday. It seems to start the week off on the best foot possible.

This past Sunday, I decided to make an ancient recipe; Graham Pull-apart Breakfast Ring. It's quite simple to make and is, in reality, a modified version of traditional Monkey Bread.

You start with a mix of brown sugar, cinnamon and crushed graham cereal. I use Golden Grahams. I'm not sure there's any other graham cereal out there anymore so this may be your only option. This cereal is rarely on sale so when it was $2.00 for the big box at the end of June, I snapped one up intending to make this.

You'll need 2 8 ounce tubes of biscuit dough. That's hard to find now, the non-grand-size biscuits. I wound up buying a 4-pack.

Turn the oven on to 375. Make the topping for the bread. It's 1 1/2 cups crushed cereal, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar and 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon. That gets mixed well. While you are crushing the cereal and mixing the topping, melt 1/3 cup of butter.

Once the butter is melted, separate the biscuits. The recipe called for a 6-cup ring mold. I don't have one of those so I used a tart pan.

Dip the biscuit in the butter and then in the topping, placing it into the pan. The pan does not have to be greased or floured. The recipe called for snipping the biscuits in half. That would be okay if I had a ring mold, but because I don't have one that size, I left them whole. All but 4 biscuits fit into the bottom of the pan. Those 4, I scattered about the top.

Put the whole thing in the oven for 15-20 minutes. If you look at it at 15 minutes and the biscuits don't look done, i.e. golden brown, leave it in the oven for another 5 minutes. Mine looked like this at 18 minutes.

If you're using a ring mold, the recipe tells you to invert it onto another plate to cool. I left mine in the pan. Let cool for about 5 minutes and serve.

While this was baking, I sliced strawberries. They are so fresh right now and the organic ones are so close in price to the mass grown ones that I can justify buying those. I served the biscuits with the sliced strawberries, a tall glass of orange juice and my Sunday morning pills. Those you can omit.

Some observations:  It's been years, years, since I made this recipe. The measurements I presented above are from the recipe but were wasteful in the amount of material they made. I think you can, if you go the route of the whole biscuit and only do the tops, cut down the topping to 1 cup of crushed cereal, 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and still have enough topping to cover your biscuits. Bear in mind, the topping is crumbly and is, therefore, messy. It's just like a streusal. I think you can also cut down the amount of butter you melt for dipping. I don't know if 1/4 cup will be enough but 1/3 cup was too much. I can't use it for anything else so I wound up tossing it and the extra topping out which, when one is pinching pennies, is tough.

I have quite a few biscuits left so I put them into bags of 4. I doubt they would freeze well but it's great to add them to lunch of for a snack or, as I did this morning, have a bag of 4 and yogurt for breakfast.

Let me know if you try this. You probably could make it with the Grands biscuits. You'd just need to modify the ingredients.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


Monday, July 23, 2012

Heritage in Yard and Stitching

It's a lovely flower. The purple of the bud is quite distinctive. It is native to the Mediterranean and north to Scandinavia working east to Asia. It's impossible to miss as it's about 3 feet tall with large branching leaves which are covered with intimidating looking spikes. It blooms pretty much anywhere although it prefers disturbed soil. It's considered a biennial although much depends upon when its seeds sprout. These seeds are spread usually by the wind although humans and animals will also spread them. Finches love the seeds and will land on the plant to pick the seed heads clean. Studies show seeds can lay dormant for 5 years but it's not considered unusual for seeds to germinate up to 20 years. Clearly, this is one tough plant.

It's called the Cotton Thistle or, more notably, the Scottish Thistle, the national emblem of Scotland. I have one growing in my yard.

I didn't know that's what it was until it bloomed. It's off a corner of my neighbor's fence and it was out of sight until the purple blooms showed up.

I remember helping dad weed these things on the farm. They are tenacious and I thought they had it in for me. You must wear heavy, heavy gloves when handling them. Dad would cut the plant down and I'd be responsible for picking it up and tossing it onto a pile we were making. He'd then take the pile to the burn barrel and torch them. Cattle will not eat these unlike other thistles and a row of them is almost impregnable, due to the thorns on the leaves and stems.

I noticed today that the first blooming flower has gone to seed. I should probably snip off this seed head and all the rest of the flowers, put them in a paper bag and dispose of it. This really isn't something I want in my yard regardless of the connection it has to my heritage. I should also probably spray the remaining plant with Round-Up to make sure it dies and doesn't flower any more this year. Given that there is one plant here, that probably means there will be others sprouting in this location so due diligence will be needed.

And yet, I'm a bit torn because I used to have a goldfinch family in the yard and this is just the kind of plant they love. Given all the flowers on it, I could feed a couple of families or more than just goldfinches, (wince) but it's a noxious weed. Really.

For a number of years, I made these pins for the women in my clan. I found the thistle pattern in one of my cross-stitch books and it was clear to me it would make an excellent pin. I haven't made any in a few years as the backing was quite costly and I haven't been able to find anything cheaper.

How did the thistle come to represent Scotland and the Scottish people? No one knows. It's the stuff of a good legend. The story goes that a group of Scotsmen fell asleep while defending the country from attacks by Norsemen. The Norsemen came ashore at night, preparing to rout the Scots and claim the land. One of the Norsemen happened to step on a thistle in his bare feet, as boots were a luxury for the fighting man back then, and screamed in agony. This awoke the Scots and they routed the Norsemen and sent them home.

Whatever the real story, the thistle growing in my yard is synonymous with Scotland. Given the anguish I know it causes in a yard, can I summon up the will to remove it before it becomes a pest?

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea



One thing I noticed on Saturday as I sat on the deck. The birds were not out singing in the yard until around 10. I thought this unusual but perhaps I've not paid as much attention to the sounds in the yard as I should. There used to be a robin, perhaps I've talked about him before, who would sing at the crack of dawn outside my bedroom window. Robins are loud, particularly at 5:15 a.m. when you're trying to sleep. I have not heard that robin this year but then, the windows have been closed to keep the air conditioned air inside. He might still be singing but I'll not hear him.

I like to just listen to the outdoors which is why I noticed the absence of bird calls. The cicadas are out in full force and I think, like a lot of things, that's early this year. That was the predominant noise from 8:30 to 11, when I went inside. The birds didn't make an appearance until around 10. It started with a couple of cardinals calling across the yard. I'm not sure where the other male was but I could hear him. I like hearing the call of the one in my trees and then the response of the other one trying to make inroads into territory by calling. I'm not sure how they decide which one of them has won a "sing off". This went on for an hour. Then the chickadees showed up.

There were 3 of them. At first, I thought they were "yelling" at one of the cats. It was how I knew where my other cats who were allowed to go outside at will, were within the yard. You just had to listen for the chickadees. I realized, however, there was not a cat outside. So what were they "chick-a-dee-dee-deeing" at. Looking up at the birds hopping around in the tree off the deck, I realized one of them was female. AHA! It was comical to watch the males hopping around, trying to impress her with song and agility. Eventually, they spotted me watching them and they all took off for the trees at the back of the yard.

I've noticed a distinct lack of grackles this year. I'm not complaining. They are very messy birds and intimidating to smaller ones. The lack of them means the chickadees and finches and sparrows have a more pleasant environment. In spite of the messy robins, the bird bath is cleaner because there are no grackles. There are a couple of cardinals and several chickadees who use the bath. They are too fast for me to photograph, however.

Perhaps the absence of song is a relation to the heat. It must be hard to forage for food and sing when it's hot and humid. I hope my keeping the bird bath clean keeps native birds in the yard.

And about the photo at the top. There's a cardinal in the bushes. A spot of red in a sea of green.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


Stitching Indoors and Out

It's a toss-up whether Saturday spent stitching on the deck or Sunday spent stitching in the living room was more productive. On Wednesday, I finished off the tail.

Outlining, when that comes at the end of the cross-stitching, will make the feet more visible. This is what I accomplished on Saturday, in between, "Get back up on the deck!" and lap scratches and encouraging them to just be outside.

Oh yes, there's a face there.

On Sunday, I finished that face.

There's a hat and wording left as well as the outlining and it's completed. Perhaps in a couple weeks, I'll be looking for a new project.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Yes Please. Full Tank Please

On Friday, I had to drive to Davenport, Iowa to do an inspection for work. "Had" really isn't the right word there. I "got" to go to Davenport to do an inspection is perhaps the better sentence. I don't get to go out of the office much anymore as someone should be there for phone calls and I can't do the heavy field work I used to do. Inspections, I can do those. It might be a lot of walking but I can pace myself and still get the work done.

It was the best day out of the last 2 weeks to be 1) driving across the state and 2) being outside to inspect a farm with 5 out buildings in addition to the house. There was a nice breeze, not a wind. It was mostly cloudy so when I was outside, I wasn't in the sun. And, best of all, the air temperature hovered around 82. Love those kinds of days.

I arrived in Davenport 30 minutes early so I drove around a bit to get my bearings. South of Davenport is Buffalo, a small river-side community. Oh my. Look at the gas prices. When I left Wheaton, I filled the tank for $3.63. This is $3.25. Once the inspection was over, I refilled my tank. I was a bit worried about being able to pay for the gas I knew I'd need.

Thanks, Iowa, for having cheap mid-grade gas. It made my pocketbook happy.

Beverage:  African Rooibos tea


I Might Have to Buy Another Chair

Yesterday was the perfect morning to have breakfast on the deck.

I'm not sure what it was about the morning, but, when I got up, it just felt like I should be outside. I opened the back door and stepped out. It was in the upper 70's. I dressed, made myself a bowl of cereal and sat on my deck enjoying the morning. This is the first day since power washing, planting, staining, planting, scrubbing, and painting that I have been able to just sit on the deck. When my cereal was finished, I brought out the scissors and deadheaded the flowers. I probably should prune the geraniums back a bit, particularly the pink one, but I think I'll wait until August. 

There was a lot that went into the compost bin, but the flowers look fresh and nice and they have a lot of buds on them so there will be more flowers this coming week.

I decided the morning deserved cross-stitch. I brought my project to the deck, made myself some tea and commenced stitching. Eventually, the girls decided to come outside, too. The first forays onto the deck included going down the stairs to the yard which is a no-no. All I had to do was say the name and "no" and the offender dashed up the stairs and back into the house. They know. They just want to see if I'm paying attention.

Pilchard came out first, after being shoed inside once for attempting to go down the stairs. It took a bit of persuasion but she hopped up into the other chair.

The whole chair was given a thorough sniffing and then, viola, she settled down.

I love the position of the ears. It's the familiar, "Must you take a photo of EVERYTHING I do" look. She stayed with me for about 20 minutes and then the novelty wore off and she went back inside. That was Mija's cue to come out and take a look around.

Sometimes I wonder what they smell. Their highly developed olfactory sense means almost everything has a scent. They just tune out what isn't important. I'm not sure a raccoon, for instance, hasn't been on the chair. It's entirely possible that it came up on the deck and climbed up into the chair looking for food. Perhaps it's another cat, although I would have seen that face they make when they've smelled another cat. They both gave the chair a thorough sniffing, legs, arms, seat and back.

Mija didn't lie down. She sat there for about 10 minutes watching for birds and bugs and swatting at the flies that would land on the chair next to her. She actually wanted my lap a couple of times in the 2 1/2 hours we were outside.

So this pleasant interlude causes me to wonder. If I bought another chair, would they each claim one and then settle down for a time? I think being outside in the fresh air is good for them and, as long as they stay on the deck, we can do this. Perhaps another Saturday morning experiment is in order. These chairs will be dirt cheap after Labor Day. Storage might be a problem, getting them in the storage container.

We went inside when the sunshine had covered half of the deck. The day was heating up as well. It was delightful and a purr-fect way to start.

Beverage:  African Rooibos tea