Friday, November 30, 2007

Roller Coasters in School

In Calvert School this week, my 6th grader had to design a roller coaster, in order to understand potential and kinetic energy. Well, this is what the little brother got for his birthday: a K'nex roller coaster. This thing is way too cool for words. They had to assemble the thousand-plus pieces, including a chain that pulls the coaster cars to the top for release, powered by a battery operated motor. Naturally, this science lesson transformed into a roller coaster play session, then both boys had to draw roller coasters. It's fun to be able to play in school. (Fortunately, Thor has no interest in playing with this particular toy.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cranberry Muffins

Just in case there's anyone in the world left who's not sick of cranberries, other than me, these are splendid little bite sized morsels. I needed something not-too-sweet for dessert last night, and these were ready in 15 minutes. I made 3 dozen, and this is what's left as of this morning. My husband keeps attacking, telling me that they are calling him. I always have a couple of bags of fresh cranberries in the freezer. Before using frozen fresh cranberries in this recipe, pour the berries into a one cup measure, and fill the cup with hot water. In 2 minutes they'll be puffed up and pretty, and ready to be chopped. I ran the cranberries through the food processor using the "slice" blade, and they worked well.


1-3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1 cup whole cranberries, sliced
1/4 cup chopped walnuts.

Mix all ingredients except berries and nuts until moist; lumps will remain. Stir in sliced cranberries and chopped walnuts. Spoon into greased mini muffin pans; sprinkle about a teaspoon of sugar on top of each. Bake at 375 for 12 to 14 minutes, or until done. Makes about 3 dozen. Sweet enough to satifsy the sweet tooth, but not enough to induce "sugar coma".

Monday, November 26, 2007

"3 Flakes of Blue Paint"

This is Jeff, about to be a college junior, with his Dad and little brothers, in front of his 1991 Lincoln Town Car. I bought this car for Jeff when he turned 18 for $2000, because he was 6'3" and still growing. (the car only had 92,000 miles on it). Last night, he called me when he got back to college to say there had been a minor fender bender on his 275 mile trip, but there appeared to be no harm. He called today to expound upon it.

Traffic had been crawling on I-70 in Maryland. Suddenly, the cars in front of Jeff slammed on their brakes; he did too. The guy behind him did not. About that time, while his sister and her roommate were screaming in hysteria, one of his brothers called. Jeff was rear ended by a Honda, which had a smashed headlight and grill, folded hood and spider web cracked windshield. He saw no visible damage to his car, so his brother advised him to not call the police & wait a couple of hours for them to show up, since Honda guy was begging Jeff to take Honda guy's name, phone number and mother's business card and let it go. Honda's mother called Jeff today to ask what damage Jeff had that she needed to pay for; his response was, "I found 3 flakes of blue paint on my back bumper. My mother will paint it next spring." Honda & his mom are happy, and I am delighted that I got my big son a big, safe car to drive. Jeff swears he'll never let his Town Car go.

A potentially terrible situation averted. Thankfully, all of my other college kids got back safe and sound.

Post-Thanksgiving Report

Well, presumably we all survived Thanksgiving, safe and maybe even sane. I "only" had 15 people to feed - hardly a crowd at all! Our eldest son didn't make it home, since he had to work the day after Thanksgiving...the muni bond market was open, after all, even if no one noticed. He was able to duck out early Friday and catch the 4PM flight home, to get here at 5:30.

I did most of m
y cooking on Wednesday. About 8 hours' worth, between nut breads (cranberry & banana), yeast breads, desserts (although one guest brought 2 pumpkin pies - Hooray!), peeling potatoes and sweet potatoes, etc. I'd highly recommend that program. It leads to much less exhaustion on Thanksgiving itself. I conscripted Dan to do the carving; he was happy to help, and sample the turkey in advance. I was pleased to learn that it was edible.

My "Chernobyl Turkey": explanation for Paula: I have many fans of dark meat. Turkeys only come with 2 legs, sadly. So, I took up making extra legs. About 5 years ago, my niece, then 8, asked me how I got 2 turkeys to have 12 legs. I told her they came from Chermobyl. Everyone over 30ish laughed uproarously; everyone younger looked at me like I had 2 heads. Chernobyl Turkey it remains. If you can count on the platters, you'll see 10 legs from 2 turkeys. Hmmmm...must've looked mighty strange wandering around like that.

My bread cornucopia was beautiful, at least until Dan stuck parsley antlers into it. His rationale was that deer season opens Monday.

This is the table. I had to make this tablecloth, since they aren't sold at around 18 feet long. I do love the white china against dark green.

All of our Thanksgiving food was gone by Friday night, save enough turkey for 2 small sandwiches. That's about 60 pounds of turkey, 10 pounds of mashed potatoes, 5 pounds of mashed sweet potatoes, and about 3 gallons of stuffing. Very impressive eating on the part of my boys.

Dan's 22nd birthday is tomorrow, so we held his party Saturday, when everyone was home. He had become very angry a couple of weeks back when he had a flat tire an
d had to drive on the donut spare, looking like a complete idiot, so I went to a scrapyard and showed them a photo of Dan's car. They sold me a matching wheel with a reasonable tire on it for $50. Dang, what a deal! And, I guess if it isn't in your trunk as a spare, a wheel and tire make a fine stool.

Hope everyone had a fun weekend! Now, get back to the grind. And Christmas is coming - begin shopping! (Ack! The Stress!)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Expect the Unexpected

I don't have time to post today. Honest. That being said, the unexpected occurred today. My little guys were playing with the boys next door, when they heard that another family needed to give away their guinea pigs because the parents had decided that dog, cats, pigs and rabbit were too many animals. Of course, I'm a softy, so when big brother Jeff volunteered to take them to the donors' house to get the pigs, I acquiesced. This is when they first got here. Notice that Thor has to join in the fun, too; maybe he thinks either he's a really big rodent or they are really small dogs? Then, one of them got brave, and went to visit Thor. Now, we have had guinea pigs before, and Thor takes his role as protector of small rodents very seriously. He really did sit beside our old guinea pig in the lawn for countless hours over the course of a couple of summers. Nonetheless, Thor was a little surprised when the new guinea pig nibbled at his nose.
The next unexpected thing was the weather. Yesterday, it was raining, as it has been all week. The leaves haven't yet fallen off the trees, which is remarkable. About 2PM today, THIS started:
Yes, those bright white spots are actual snowflakes. Yes, that is the top of our riding mower's seat in the foreground of the picture. And, yes, that is snow weighing on my trees. It's really pretty on the crabapple tree right outside my kitchen window, which lost its leaves a while ago, so it's just snow on bare branches. It's even pretty sitting on the tree leaves. But it isn't going to be so pretty when it starts breaking my branches off. Ah, well, I should read and remember my title.

Back to cleaning and pre-cooking.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thanksgiving: T Minus 5 Days and Counting

This picture is for Paula, who misses the changing of the colors in her midwestern home. These are burning bushes in my garden. I'd never seen "burning bush" before I moved here, but we have a whole bunch of them, and I love them. They are the only color we've seen this year, save our dogwood trees; most everything else is still greenish, or, in the case of the fruit trees, the leaves turned brown and dropped. We've never had a fall when the leaves weren't all gone by the first week of November. It's been raining most days for the past week, so this picture was actually taken through my French door looking out to the garden. The boys are going stir crazy, because they have been unable to get outside and romp with Thor. I'm just thankful that this week of rain hasn't been snow, because we would have lost a lot of tree limbs due to the weight of snow on the leaves.

I finished my Thanksgiving dress last weekend, although I haven't hemmed it yet. 2 of the kids got home from college last night; after my daughter finished raving about my wonderful stew and bread, she oooohhhed over my dress; I think she may try to steal it after it's hemmed. Well, it does have a lilac background, a color she loves, and, as I suspected, she loved the shiny silver.

The Thanksgiving menu is planned, finally; really, there's never much deviation, now, is there?

Thanksgiving Day/Thanksgiving Eve

4 loaves cranberry bread
2 loaves banana bread
4 Caramel Nut Coffee Cakes

These will be laid on the table for people to graze as needed. Around 2PM Thanksgiving, our friend Greg will arrive, with about 5 pounds of shrimp, peeled, and cocktail sauce. It's the only thing anyone has ever brought, and I love it. (I usually snag some, and hide them in a small bowl in the back of the fridge, so I can enjoy them in solitude on Friday afternoon.)

Thanksgiving Dinner:

Chernobyl Turkey (2 18 pound birds and 8 to 12 extra legs)
Harvest Stuffing (stuffing with diced apples, onions, celery, shredded carrots and walnuts)
Mashed Potatoes
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Whole cranberry sauce
Jellied Cranberry sauce (canned)
Green Beans Almondine
Steamed Broccoli
Orange/almond salad (spinach, canned mandarin oranges & almonds with vinagrette dressing)

Bread Cornucopia (maybe - if I can find time Tuesday to make it from Italian Bread dough)
One loaf each:
Honey French Bread
Vienna Bread
Babylonian Bread
Sourdough Bread

Pumpkin Pies (2)
Apple Pie (1)
Lemon Meringue Pie (1)
Chocolate Sheet Cake
Orange Sponge Cake
Orange Mousse

Beverages will include water, milk, iced tea, Pepsi & Diet Coke. I'm not a big drinker, my cooking with wine habit notwithstanding; I know there are bottles of hard liquor in a cupboard which are 30 years old. Well, if they are still sealed when I kick the bucket, maybe the kids can sell them off as collectors items. Estate planning at its finest *giggle*.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Coffee Cake!

I've been making this coffee cake on weekends for years now. Usually, I make 2 or 3 with varied fillings, because so many very large people show up to eat it all. This recipe is for just one cake:


Dough: 3/4 cup warm milk
3 tsp yeast
2-1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp. butter

Mix all dough ingredients together in bread machine, or with mixer for about 10 minutes, or until smooth. Roll out into an oblong with a rolling pin, and lay into a greased pie plate.

Fillings: Choose: (1) Cinnamon Sugar: sprinkle 1/2 cup sugar on the portion of the dough in the bottom of the pie plate. sprinkle cinnamon on top of the sugar, then evenly pour 2 tbsp. melted butter over it. -or- (2) Apple filling (shown above): grate 1 apple per coffee cake into a microwavable bowl. Add 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and microwave with 1 tbsp butter for 1 to 2 minutes. (I leave the skin on the apple, so it turns that pretty pink, and adds fiber to everyone's diet). Spread over the dough in the bottom of the pie plate. -or- (3) the easiest of all, I often use canned lemon meringue pie filling in the center of this cake. Much of my family and I love lemon meringue pie, but I'm not about to stand over a double boiler to make a coffee cake filling.

After the cake has been filled, fold the 2 ends into the center of the coffee cake, brush with egg white, and let it rise for about 20 to 30 minutes. Bake at 375 for 22 to 25 minutes.

I found this recipe in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago. I've made it twice, and even with only 5 people home, it's gone in about 12 minutes.


Warning: Do not preheat the oven! Really!

Batter: 1-3/4 cups flour
6 tsp yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup very warm water (about 120 degrees)
2 tbsp melted butter

Put all of these ingredients in a greased pie plate and stir with a fork until it forms a relatively stiff dough. Press into the bottom of the pie plate and set aside for a minute.

Caramel Nut Topping:
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
2 tbsp. melted butter

Mix all of these ingredients together (I use my 2 cup measuring cup) and pour over the cake dough. Sprinkle the top with 1/4 cup white granulated sugar, and 1 tsp. cinnamon.

Put the cake in a cold oven, turn it on to 350, and leave in for 25 minutes, including oven heating time. I love caramel, and I loved this cake. The recipe originally called for pecans, but I had only walnuts in the house, and it's splendid, anyway!

I expect to put a couple of each of these on the breakfast room table on Thanksgiving morning, for free range grazing (translation: stay away from my kitchen!). I'll have to get a slice first, because it will probably be gone when (if) I get to sit!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Menu Planning

Here's the menu for the week around Thanksgiving:

Breakfast every day: eggs, waffles, or oatmeal.
Lunch every day: homemade bread with whatever meat may be left in the fridge, and soup. It's likely I'll just make a gallon or 2 of chicken rice soup and let people reheat it as desired. (Yes, that's a gallon or two. And it'll only last maybe 3 days,)

Dinner menus:

Friday, November 16 (2 kids home)

Beef Stew
Quick Sally Lunn bread
Chocolate (sheet) cake

Saturday, Nob. 17

Chicken with Pineapple & Carrots
White Rice
French Bread

Sunday, Nov. 18

Viennese Turkey
Pasta Carbonara
Portuguese Sweet Bread
Yellow (sheet) cake

Monday, November 19

Steak (for kids)/Fish (for parents)
White Rice
Babylonian Bread
Orange Sponge Cake

Tuesday, November 20 (2 more kids home)

Chicken in a bag
Party Rice
Homestead Bread
Minted Peas
Glazed Carrots
Brownie Tuesdays

Wednesday, Nov. 21 (1 kid plus relatives from CT arrive)

Roast Beef/gravy
"Rock" potatoes
French Bread
French Apple Cobbler

Friday, Nov. 23 (eldest son home)

Leftover turkey, stuffing, etc.
white rice (for the oldest son, who won't eat most starches(

leftover dessert by the ton

Saturday Nov. 24

Roast Leg of Lamb
Parsleyed potatoes/white rice (for aforementioned son)
French Bread
Birthday Cake for Dan

One of my sons is bringing his girlfriend home for Thanksgiving, so someone who is not used to the normal lunatic pa
ce of this house will be arriving during one of the looniest weeks of the year. Ah, well, I did tell him that she's invited at her own risk!

I'm still working out the sid
e dishes for Thanksgiving. However, now that the rest of the week is written down, I have to cook it this way! What a relief not to have to think about those days!

And, of course, you all know who will be "helping" me, with his 275 lb self underfoot all week!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

2 Weeks To Thanksgiving!

Yesterday's paper had articles about planning for Thanksgiving. The first suggestion was that next Wednesday, we all need to assign chores to all household members. Yeah, right. I can, at best, tell the kids to make sure their rooms are clean, and I can lead the cleaning parade through the formal rooms (I'll wipe the heat, you dust the paintings, you dust the tables, etc.). Hubby, wash the floor? He'll just bust a gut laughing. Sometimes I wonder where these so-called lifestyles writers get their notions.

Anyway, this weekend I start by makinig my Thanksgiving dress. This is the fabric. I was going to make a really fancy dress, but my husband asked me to make my regular, plain (classic princess seamed) dress because the fabric is so fancy. When he makes a request, I like to comply, if possible. Well, it'll be easy, only a couple hour long project.
This was my crowd for Thanksgiving 2 years ago. I won't have as many people this year, because 4 of these people aren't coming from California. My husband's sister hasn't called me back yet to say if she & her family are coming, and his mother has pretty much announced that she's 88 and never leaving her condo again. However, our "orphan" friends, Greg and his 2 adult sons (their mother left the 3 of them about 1985) are coming, along with a couple of other "orphans". My oldest son won't be able to get here, because the financial house he works for offered him either Thanksgiving week or Christmas week, and he chose to come home for Christmas. He did want to come home Friday night, so we can get the family Christmas tree on Saturday night, and celebrate #3 son's 22nd birthday that day, too. As for menu planning, well, I'm starting with my famous "Chernobyl Turkey" - 2 turkeys, each about 18 pounds, and 12 extra legs. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, several kinds of bread, whole cranberry sauce, jellied cranberry sauce (from a can), maybe of the orphan friends has a vegetarian girlfriend who won't eat salad. I'm never quite sure what she eats, other than lots of dessert.

I am working on my menu plan for the entire week, to account for houseguests and day visitors, and my dessert menu. I'm sure I'll have more on this subject in the next week, at which time I'll have to start really working!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Vienna Bread

This is a nice, rich bread. The recipe comes from Beth Hensperger's Bread Machine Cookbook. It goes well with soup, and makes a nice chicken or tuna sandwich. It's also great toasted in the morning with orange marmalade.


3/4 cup warm ater
3/4 cup warm milk
4 cups flour
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. butter
6 tsp. yeast

Combine all ingredients; let rise for 15 minutes. Split into 2 loaf pans, and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Bake at 375 for 22 to 25 minutes. My crust is relatively light because I took it out at the minimum time. Note: as with all of my breads, I double the amount of yeast called for in the original recipe, so it will rise faster.

Orange Sponge Cake

You can probably tell that I like citrus flavor. My husband and several of my children don't have that big a sweet tooth. Sponge cake is a perfect dessert: not too sweet, but nicely flavored.


6 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar

beat egg whites until foamy. Slowly add sugar, and beat until stiff but not dry.

6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp orange peel
6 tbsp orange juice
1/2 tsp lemon or orange extract

Mix egg yolks with sugar. Just before adding to whites, add juice & extract.

1-3/4 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt.

Sift these together.

When egg whites are stiff, mix in half of egg yolk mixture followed by half of the flour mixture, remaining egg yolk mixture and remain flour mixture. Mix just until blended, then pour into greased Bundt cake pan. Bake at 350 for 34 to 38 minutes. Top with sifted confectioner's sugar.

This is the cake after it was cut last night. My husband attacked it again this morning, so it's considerably smaller. It's great with morning coffee or tea, precisely because it's not too sweet. This may well join my Thanksgiving menu.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Happy All Saints Day! The boys had a great time Halloweening last night with friends; their big sister went as a teenager, of course. She's a very good girl; always willing to help out the little guys. She drove them to a friend's house about 8 miles away, managed to get lost and took 45 minutes to get there....Poor Kellie!

Mark's costume was, of course, store bought; it's hard to make a knight costume. Ryan was a druid, compliments of Mom's sewing shop. The cape was just grey fleece, with a brown cotton tunic. The beard was tricky. No one sells long white beards at Halloween, so I bought 2 white wigs, took them apart, stitched them back together with narrow white seam binding to hold them together and elastic to go around his head, and he was ready!

We don't have much fall color yet, but I was amazed by my Hydrangea. This has always been a white flowering bush; on income tax day this year we had 10" of wet, miserable snow. It took down several 2 story high arbor vitae, and we had a tree guy come in to stand them back up, wire them in place, and fertilize them. Some of the fertilizer must have gotten close to the hydrangea, because it has changed color! I know that they are white, and become pink or blue depending upon the ph balance of the soil, but this amazed me. The flowers will dry out and hang on this bush all winter, putting a little color into an otherwise somewhat drab corner.