Saturday, December 31, 2011

My oldest daughter's 25th birthday was Thursday. When did she get to be that old? And what does that say about me? GAH! Not a one of us looks fully humanoid in this picture, except Mark and Shannon, the birthday girl.

Mark took special price in this birthday celebration, because he decorated the cake. Oh, I did the lettering, but he drew the pictures.

Here's a closer look: the yellow creatures are ducks, and the green one is a bunny rabbit. There are flowers all around them. (They weren't that easy to identify; thought I'd help you out!)

One of Shannon's presents was a pair of frames for her diplomas (gotta decorate that office!) and a promise that "we" would mat them. By "We" the clear implication was that she would select her mat colors, and I would cut the mats and frame them. I think they came out rather well!

While "we" were at it, "we" matted Mark's Christmas present, too. You all probably have the inkling that my little guy is a huge football fan. For Christmas, we bought him one share in the Green Bay Packers. (The Patriots aren't available, at least not in my price range). So I wrapped his certificate, letter of ownership and frame in a big box, and while "we" were cutting mats, Mark chose his color and we framed his ownership certificate. (Now he thinks we're going to Wisconsin for the owner's meeting in July. Not bloody likely, folks, not likely.)

Lastly, as long as the equipment was out, remember that thousand books Jeffrey found me in the newspaper for $300 about 18 months ago? Well, in one of those books was this pretty little picture. It was evidently a Christmas card, hand printed in 1977. So I chose a remnant and matted it, as well. All it needs is a frame, and I have one ordered.
So, I guess this was kind of an artsy day hereabouts. Dan's bringing home the special "New Year's Eve" foods, and we're all going to hang around enjoying each other's company!

Happy New Year to all of you, my invisible friends!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Recap

Christmas morning is always a circus, but one I've managed to keep under control by some excellent planning and training. First, the kids open their stockings, while I get coffee for my dearly beloved (who really suffers mornings) and tea for myself, and then get myself looking somewhat humanoid. Silly little toys, some candy, everyone laughs.

Then, they migrate from the dining room to the breakfast room for the Sugar Fest. Added to the table, you might notice punch bowls at either end. Our punch is simple and almost nutritious: orange juice, diet cranberry ginger ale, sliced bananas, frozen strawberries to keep it cold, and that's it! Isn't it pretty?
Skip the presents and whatnot; there's no dog in the paper to make us laugh.

Here's my Jeffrey carving the standing rib roast (done in the convection oven in about 11 or 12 minutes per pound, and simply fabulous):

And the table set up for the hungry hordes:

From the other end (Note GMarie's pretty Christmas napkins on the plates):
And a close-up of the roast.

The hungry hordes began to arrive! The menu:

Standing rib roast
"Party Rice"
Creamed Spinach
Steamed broccoli
Pullman Bread
Oat Rolls

And my plate (I didn't photoshop out the rice Ryan dropped when helping to serve me. This is reality, you know).

The extra guy (bespectacled) in some of the pictures is Cass' boyfriend. He's a nice guy, and decided he'd rather spend Christmas with our family than his own. He was blown away by the food, and spent days raving about Mickle's Dad's Oat bread. So, for those of you who can distinguish who is who, that's who the extra person is!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Eve Recap

Many years ago, I began taking each child on a shopping trip for presents for the siblings. They had a budget and had to figure out how to buy 6 appropriate presents for a given amount. Then they exchanged presents with each other on Christmas Eve, after our special dinner.

So, Christmas Eve dinner remains Shrimp Scampi with angel hair pasta and a spinach salad.

And then everyone hauls their presents down from their rooms and sets them up in the family room. Jeff was last to arrive, and wanted to know why we had a brown paper wrapped body near the tree. 2 sisters and 2 brothers had teamed up to buy this for Jeff, and don't you think Dan did a brilliant wrapping job?

But, the present looked short next to Jeff, so Shannon came to demonstrate how life sized he is!

After a couple of hours of opening presents, talking and laughing, everyone went to bed. Everyone, that is, except my elves. (I'm pretty sure I have the biggest elves around).
Santa filled the stockings; some wouldn't balance on the hangers properly (we can't drive nails into a marble mantle, of course).

And then I set out the Christmas morning feast: 2 pans of brownies, 2 loaves each cranberry, banana and lemon poppyseed bread, a 2-color cake and a chocolate cake. Not on display: peanut butter pie and the Christmas punch. Everyone loves Christmas morning breakfast!
Next up: Christmas. It has been a happy week.

Monday, December 26, 2011

What Happened Before Christmas!

Random images from the week before Christmas!

When you need to take the tag off the top of the Christmas tree, which makes more sense? To have the tall guy reach it, or have his short sister stand on his knee, hang onto his head, and stretch? Yeah, that's what happened.
Of course, the girls made Christmas cookies.
These were some of them. Mom got wild animal cookie cutters for her birthday, so our Christmas cookies were moose, porcupines, squirrels, and other things, rather than traditional silly things like trees and angels.
And Doug the Fish! I've never had fish! So who'd have believed that one of our kids had an aquarium in his closet? Doug likes this better than the Rubbermaid container.
And our tree was ready tor the festivities on Christmas Eve!
More updates when I have a few minutes more, and can select a few more pictures!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Miscellany

The boys hung wreaths outside this weekend,
And I hung bows on the light posts.
Nursing school daughter brought home her fish, Doug. He'll be cute hanging around with lawyer daughter's birds, but they're no Thor insofar as entertainment value.
And, for Faye, here are my Philadelphia fabric purchases:
3 lightweight knits, perfect for next spring.

Background here: a dark olive sweater knit, topped by a pink knit remnant, a tan floral rayon remnant that's pretty heavy, a pink crinkly lightweight remnant, and a white sweater knit remnant (which just might stir my interest once the holiday circus is over).

Hope you're all doing well at getting ready for your Christmas and other holiday celebrations. Me, I'm just as overwhelmed as ever!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Getting Some Christmas Spirit

On the heels of the news about El'bow, this ornament arrived in my mailbox today from Nichole.

I'm floored. Really, I am. This was a very thoughtful gesture, and one I will always appreciate.

So, we went Christmas tree shopping tonight. This ornament needed a place to live. We did not have our chief shopper, so it was rather a subdued affair. However, since only 5 of us were home, we were able to fit in the "little Cadillac" and ride comfortably to the farm (as opposed to last year, when 9 of us went in the Suburban, and Jeff lifted me into the truck because I can no longer climb. That was kind of funny, actually).

And this little one decided that my dearly beloved was her new friend. Sadly, since she wouldn't stand still, I didn't get one clear shot of her. But she made us laugh.

So, tomorrow, we'll be decorating - finally.

A Farewell to El'bow

I just received news that Thor's friend El'bow, the English Mastiff from Belgium, crossed over the rainbow bridge yesterday.
My heart breaks for his family.
Farewell, El'bow! I will miss you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Garden Tuesday: Migration

It was only 25 yesterday, but the sky was picture perfect.

The birds were not impressed. They're leaving town.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Buttermilk Biscuits

Over the weekend, it was cold here. That's no surprise, right, given that it's December? Anyway, this was a great weekend for stew: beef stew on Friday night, and chicken stew on Saturday night. And with stew, what's better than biscuits? I went looking for a new biscuit recipe, found and adapted this one from a 1999 Good Housekeeping cookbook recently adopted at a used book sale.


2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp buttermilk powder
1 cup water
1/4 cup softened butter or margarine

Stir all ingredients together (you might need up t6o 1/4 cup more flour if your dough isn't stiff enough). Drop the dough by tablespoons onto a greased baking sheet. Bake at 450F for about 15 minutes (420 Convection for 13 minutes). Makes about 15 biscuits.

My boys raved about these biscuits. I made a double batch each night, and none were left by 3 the next afternoon (and that's with only 3 sons home)!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Dishwasher

It finally got installed!

All of the controls are push buttons on the top of the door, leaving only the handle on the front of this dishwasher, along with the giant Whirlpool logo at the front.

The tub is stainless steel, so it's dark inside. But it holds up to 15 place settings, which is a great deal from my perspective. You can see that with all of the dishes for 5 people for one day, plus a bread pan, it's nowhere near full. And it cleans the dishes just fine.
So things are wonderful here in my little corner of the world!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Zucchini the Cat

I returned my daughter to Philadelphia after Thanksgiving; it was a great excuse for fabric shopping with G-Marie while I was there.

Turns out my daughter's roommate has a big cat named Zucchini. Z
ucchini doesn't even pay attention to my daughter's birds. Mostly, he thinks he's a small dog, following people around, and bringing them his catnip mouse and his feather on a string to play with. He was pretty funny
I thought Zucchini would like to join Pam for Weekend Cat Blogging.

Thor would have liked Zucchini. He was a friend to all small animals.
Happy Weekending, everyone!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Convection Oven: A Learning Curve

I've been experimenting with the new convection ovens for almost a week now. I'm ready to declare them a success.

First, look at this stove top. Two dual sized burners at the front, 2 small burners at the back, and the circle in the middle is a "keep warm" burner. Yep, poke a little button on the control panel and it will hold something at a warming temperature, so you can use the real burner to cook something else. I'm thinking it would be handy for something like mashed potatoes.
I've never seen an oven with 3 racks before. My girls will have to try out baking 3 racks of cookies at once when they get home; I really and truly don't like baking cookies. That's probably because I know at least 5 or 6 dozen will never make it beyond the cooling rack, and it's frustrating to have little to show for all that work. But the girls will spend a few hours together baking quadruple recipes of cookies that won't last more than 2 days, and enjoy beating their brothers off with wooden spoons. It's very entertaining, really.

Now, on to what you want to know: cooking.

Meat: Fabulous. I've made turkey breast, boneless chicken breast, ham, roast beef and fish with the convection oven. I cooked them all at the same temperature as I would have used in the conventional oven, but for 1/4 to 1/3 less time, and using exactly the same seasonings I've always used. The flavor was much better. Everyone has said the same thing every night. My dearly beloved and I don't even like boneless chicken breast (it was a goof by my food supplier), because it tends to be dry, but the flavor was greatly improved. Katie, I'll be happy to give you more specifics if you want them; just let me know.

Baked goods: Yeast bread: Winner! The crust is evenly browned, and the loaf cooked in about 19 minutes instead of 25. The crust was also a little crunchier and nicer, but not thicker.

Cake and Banana Nut Bread: Not as big a fan. Both cooked about 25% faster (28 minutes for the Bundt cake instead of 39 to 42, and 48 minutes for the nut bread instead of 65 minutes). Because the rising of goods leavened with baking powder and baking soda is dependent upon oven heat, my yellow cake and nut bread didn't rise as much, and were therefore denser. They got eaten (as the end of the banana bread here shows), just weren't as much enjoyed. I made another yellow cake and a loaf of cranberry nut bread using the conventional bake cycle, and they were exactly as expected. So I'll be baking these goods with the conventional cycle unless I'm in a huge hurry.

Brownies were a resounding success. I made 3 batches of brownies this week, using the Pampered Chef stoneware pan and fudge brownie mix (my kids hate scratch brownies). None lasted more than 18 hours, including sleep time. They were fudgy throughout, no raw spots in the middle, no hard edges. 24 minutes cooking time instead of 32 minutes. This will be the formula for brownies in my house forevermore. Thank you, Chan, for the stoneware pan, which I would otherwise never have tried. (She sells great Pampered Chef stuff without you having to attend a party, if anyone wants something. Just saying.) No pictures of brownies, what with them not lasting and all. Sorry.

But I can't leave you with all this food and no recipe, so how about that chocolate frosting on the yellow cake above? Ryan found it in a cookbook and begged for it (he always wants "exciting" frosting).

1/4 cup butter
1 pound confectioners sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup buttermilk OR
2 tbsp buttermilk powder plus water to thin the frosting

Place all the ingredients in your mixing bowl. Start with the smallest amount of buttermilk or water, then add more to make the frosting creamy. Plenty to frost a 9x12 cake, 2 round layers or a Bundt cake.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend, not too stressful before Christmas, Hanukkah or whatever other holidays you celebrate!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

From 55 to Snow in 2 days.

It rained Tuesday and Wednesday. It rained a lot, maybe 2 to 3 inches. But then, around 7, the rain changed. And this is what we awoke to.

Thor used to love going out to frolic in the snow with his boys. Last year we had to make him come in after a short while so he wouldn't be too stiff the next day. But this is where he liked to be best after a snowstorm: with his boys.
Happy Snowy Thorsday, everyone!