Monday, September 30, 2013

Loaded Brownies

This is probably the quintessential chocolate lover's dessert.  Or, to clarify, perfect for those who love chocolate baked goods.  I don't like them.  I'll take my chocolate straight up.


1 large batch brownie batter
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup salted peanuts
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
whipping cream

Make your batch of brownie batter from your favorite recipe, one I posted years ago, or even from a box (Betty has a good low-fat boxed mix; my boys like it, if you need a testimonial).  Stir in the chocolate chips and peanuts with a rubber scraper; spread in a greased 13x9 pan (I use my Pampered Chef stoneware pan).  Bake at 350F: 28 to 30 minutes for convection baking, 32 to 36 minutes for conventional.  Let cool.  For cocoa frosting, stir together the confectioner's sugar and whipping cream; add the butter and vanilla and beat together, adding just enough whipping cream to make a spreadable, thick frosting.  Hand them out with a fork, because everyone will have sticky fingers otherwise.

Ryan and Dan raved so greatly about them that my dearly beloved had to have one of these brownies, too; they all thought they were terrific.  Mark said they were "sickeningly sweet," but then, that kid hates everything, so I'm not surprised.  I did not have one, due to my dislike for chocolate baked goods.  Just as well; I surely don't need any extra calories following me around.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Book Review: The Poe Shadow

This book was another find at a used book sale.  Of course, you're thinking; where else would she get books?

by Matthew Pearl
copyright 2006

This book has a beautiful dust jacket.  The paper is heavy and a little textured; as you can see, the art is nice.  The lettering is raised and shiny.  Historical fiction?  Perfect; it's a genre I just love.

Quentin Clark is a lawyer in Baltimore in 1849, son of a lawyer who left him a well established legal practice and a comfortable amount of money, along with a very nice house.  He's engaged to a girl he's known all of his life, Hattie.  He's had a passing acquaintanceship with Edgar Poe (who did not use the name Allen during his lifetime, due to a disagreement with his foster father), and corresponded with the man to some degree.  Quentin Clark has even agreed to help finance the magazine Edgar Poe is trying to start.  So he was stunned one morning to awaken and find a small article in his morning paper announcing that Edgar Poe had died.

Quentin becomes obsessed with finding out the truth of the circumstances surrounding the death of Edgar Poe; he neglects his law practice, leaving it to his best friend and law partner, Peter, to carry on.  He neglects his fiancee, Hattie, causing her aunt to forbid Hattie to marry Quentin.  He carries on for more than two years, writing to various people he believes might have been the model for Poe's super-sleuth, Dupin, and ultimately traveling to Paris to meet two of those men.

It was a great premise. It should have been a fine book.  However, it was just too drawn out.  Fully half of the book, right in the middle, was spent with Quentin watching August DuPonte, the man he decided was "the real Dupin", read newspaper articles from two years earlier, when Poe had died, running errands, etc.  The beginning of the book was not much better, and the end of the book was more drawn out yet.  Worse still, I never understood Quentin's empetus in devoting his life to solving this mystery, to the point of losing his livelihood, his fiancee, and even having a relative sue to take away his house, and losing 3 years of his life in the process.  While I was reading this book, I actually stopped to read not one, but TWO, Kindle books by P. G. Wodehouse, recommended by a reviewer in the Wall Street Journal, to relieve my brain.  I really finished this book because I wanted to find out what the author had concluded was the real cause of Poe's death.  His afterward makes clear that he did myriad historical research and had, in fact, reached a conclusion which could have been reached at that time.  So, Mr. Pearl, while you may be a bestselling author, this book only merits a 2/5.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Apple Oat Bars

I wanted a fast and easy dessert the other night; one further requirement was that it should be lunch box friendly.  After all, I would never want poor little Ryan to feel unloved because he doesn't have a special dessert made by his Mom!  That would be awful, right?

In the cookie section of the red plaid cookbook, I found this bar cookie.  With a little tweaking, I made it my own.  And everyone enjoyed it, especially my dearly beloved, who deemed it "Portable Apple Pie!"


1 Cup flour
1 cup oats (quick or regular)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup margarine or butter

3 apples, shredded
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp water
1-1/2 tsp cornstarch

Stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar and baking soda.  Cut in the margarine (or use your mixer at low speed, which is what I did) until the mixture looks like coarse grains.

Cut the cores out of the apples, and shred them - I used the shredded disc for my food processor, and left the skins on the apples.  Trust me, no one will care if you carefully dice the apples, or if you're lazy like me.  Put the apples in a 2 cup measuring cup, and stir them together with the sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch.  Sprinkle the water over the mixture, and microwave for 4 to 6 minutes, until it bubbles and thickens.  Stir 2 or 3 times during the process.

Grease a 13x9 baking pan (I used the wonderful Pampered Chef stoneware baking pan I got from Chan, which makes the best bar cookies on the planet).  Press 2/3 of the flour mixture into the bottom of the baking pan, then spread the cooked apples over the top of the flour mix.  Sprinkle the balance of the flour mixture over the apples, and bake at 350F Convection or Conventional - about 20 to 22 minutes for the convection oven, or 23 to 26 minutes for a conventional apple.  Let them cool somewhat.

I served them with whipped cream for the boys, although I had a small one unadorned.  Everyone enjoyed them so much that after Dan had breakfast, there were just 2 little pieces left for Ryan and Mark's after school snacks.  Not a bad reference, right?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: A Present

Dan brought me a present from Philadelphia's Chinatown:

with fancy wrapping.

(OK, almost wordless)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Garden Tuesday: Scranton: An overview

Last Saturday, I took Ryan to the tailor's shop to pick up a suit for him.  This tailor's shop was actually featured on American Pickers last year, in case anyone's a fan.  The place is just adorable - and the 80-some year old proprietor is terrific.  Plus, the prices were extremely reasonable.  I actually went back and bought a blazer for Mark to wear to school, even though I didn't need it.

On the way back, not paying attention, and enjoying conversation with my boy, I blythely blew right past the very small sign for I-81, and ended up climbing a hill which I'd never before ascended in the southern end of Scranton.

These pictures were taken from a scenic overlook built in 1938 by the WPA.

Ryan played photographer.

Of course, he couldn't resist taking a picture of one of the first trees to show its fall colors, from above, naturally - an angle we don't often see.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thorsday Book Review: Return of the Native

This was one of Ryan's summer reading books.  I didn't have high hopes for it, since it was written in the mid-1800s, but was quite surprised.

by Thomas Hardy

First, a definition.  It drove me nuts until I found a large enough dictionary to define this.  Reddle is red chalk, most likely polluted by iron ore.  It's used for marking sheep before they're taken to market.  Reddlemen are recognizable because their clothing, skin and belongings are all tinted red.  While society seems to look down upon them somewhat, in reality it seems they can make a good living.

Diggory Venn, a reddleman, is returning to Egdon Heath, with Thomasin Yeobright a passenger in his van.  She had gone to a neighboring town to marry Derek Wildeve, but the marriage license he had obtained was only valid in a different town.  So Thomasin is fleeing home to her aunt's house on Egdon Heath feeling disgraced.  Wildeve, who owns an inn, should make arrangements to get a valid license at once, but he dithers about, hoping Eustacia Vye will give him another chance.  (She moved to Egdon Heath about 3 years earlier with her grandfather, and hates the place.  Some locals consider her a witch.)

About 6 weeks later, Thomasin's cousin Clem (the returning native) comes home to Egdon Heath from Paris, having been there for several years.  Eustacia Vye learns of this, and positions herself to meet Clem, who is said to be handsome, and who presumably will be returning to Paris.  She also advises Wildeve to marry Thomasin, as she will not be marrying him.  A few months later, Eustacia does indeed marry Clem, and is distressed to learn that he has no intention of returning to Paris.

Ah, the interwoven lives and scheming occurring in this book! It was faster paced and livelier than most books of that era.  Not only did I enjoy it, so did Ryan, and we laughed at each other while delivering the Cliff Notes version to my dearly beloved just before school began.  Added bonus: It's available free for the Kindle.  4/5
Happy Thorsday, everyone!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Garden Tuesday: Apple Time

My apple trees are laden with fruit, and it's ripening nicely.

The deer will doubtless eat most of the apples.  And that would be OK, if they left after dining, and didn't destroy everything else on the property.

Brutus got to play apple with Dan a couple of days, because early ripening apples had fallen, and Dan kicked them for Baby Brutus to chase.  It was joyous.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Monday, September 16, 2013

It's finished.

I finished reorganizing my office.  Karin might appreciate the difference.  Where I knew before where everything was to within plus or minus 2" vertically and horizontally, I now know where it is to within plus or minus 1/2" horizontally and vertically.  Trust me, it's great.

Sharp eyes will note that while you see my computer components (including wireless keyboard and mouse), I also still have plenty of old-school tech: the IBM Selectric III, adding machine, fax, 3 land line wonder my kids say I'm a dinosaur.

And here's what was behind me as I took that photo: reorganized fabric!

And reorganized shoes!  And my photo printer.  Yes, this dinosaur has real photo albums, and printed photos, and all of that.

My office is 6'x9'.  The desk occupies 2 feet at one end of the room, and the file cabinets another foot or 2 at the other.  So, in order to keep my scholars at bay, I bought a wireless color laser printer, set it up on our home network, and the boys can print from their computer without invading my office.  It's a win.

I had most of this reorganization done before we lost Brutus, and for a week or so, every time I came in here to work, he came in here to work on his bone.  I miss the little dude.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

20 Hours

We had some incredible thunderstorms roll through our area last night.  Thunder and lightning started around 3:45, and although rain didn't start until 4:30, we lost our power at 4.

3 or 4 people in the area were struck by lightning (all survived).  UPS called me to tell me that my driver couldn't get here for our 5:30 to 6PM pickup, because trees were down everywhere.  We got at least 4" of rain in 3 hours, flooding roads at a much lower elevation than us, and it took Ryan 40 minutes to drive the 1-1/4 miles from the golf course down the road where he works almost to our house (he parked in the town hall parking lot and trudged the last 3/8 mile up the hill).

But my generator worked!  I laughed at the weather!  I baked a cake!  I  watched TV and read!  And I didn't take upset at the fact that it took until noon today (20 hours) for the power to be restored.

Here's how the electric company's robocall to us around 6 last night went:

Your power is currently out.
(no duh.)
This interruption in service is due to a weather event.
(ya think?)
All of our crews are working to restore power as quickly as possible.
We have no estimate as to when your power will be restored.
(Right.  Because the 5 customers on this transformer are unimportant.)
We will call you with further updates.
(What fun.)

They did send a crew out at 8 this morning, because there were live wires in the street, and it took them 4 hours to cut up the tree and put back the wires.  I guess live wires make us more important than we otherwise would be.  They did leave these tree remnants along the street, as seen from inside my yard.

OK, maybe you can see them better when I get the camera right next to the fence.

Meanwhile, fresh thunderstorms have started here, and our power is out again, a mere 5 hours after it was restored.   I might have to go bake some bread.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 2001

It was a day like any other.  I'd had a sleepless night, not unusual, so after sending the middle school and high school students out the door, I went back to bed until 11, when I got up to awaken Ryan for Kindergarten.

It was bright and sunny.

My alarm clock/radio was announcing that all state buildings had been evacuated, and Penn State had cancelled classes statewide, but no incidents had been reported.


After preparing Ryan's oatmeal, I turned on the TV to learn that we had been attacked.  The principals of openness and equality which we hold so dear had enabled 19 terrorists to hijack four of our jets and turn them on us.

How to understand this?  And how to explain this to an innocent 5 year old, who might very well hear of this at school?

I told him on the car ride to school that he might hear from others that bad men had stolen airplanes and crashed them.  But here in our little town, we were safe.  All was well.  He could count on that.

And we are.  Air travel is less pleasant, even unpleasant.  But we have remained safe.  And we remain free,  willing to celebrate our commonalities rather than our differences.  This is a solemn day of remembrance, but, like most others, it's a great day in America.

9/11.  We fly our flags.  We will never forget.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

One Last Brutus on Thorsday

I had planned to post this today, but had hoped for another picture.

Mark started high school this week. It's a Jesuit high school, and so his uniform is a suit.  Last week, there were two Freshman orientation days: one, an afternoon picnic, and the other a day for the new students to learn their way around the school, attend a short intro to the classes, meet the teachers, have lunch, student ID photos taken, etc.  Of course, he had to wear his suit that day.

Equally obviously, Baby Brutus noticed that Mark left without him.  So when Mark got home, Brutus raced up to him in greeting.  Mark scurried to the laundry room to change out of his school clothes, and into his play clothes (expressions that no one under 50 has even heard).  Brutus laid outside the door, patiently waiting for him, not understanding why anyone wouldn't want dog hair on his suit.

And then Mark had to spend quite a while sitting on the floor, hugging his puppy, reassuring Baby Brutus that he will always return home.

I was too slow with the camera to get a picture of Mark in his suit being chased by Baby Brutus.  And I didn't worry, because there would be another 178 days in which to get that picture.

It's not fair that the next school day never came for Baby Brutus.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Oh, No.

We lost Baby Brutus at 2AM today.

He ate, played, slept and was perfectly normal Sunday, until I went to bed at 5AM.  Then he wouldn't get up for Dan on Monday around 9, so the boys rushed him to the emergency Vet.

He had an inflammatory disease, along with a fever; they also found elbow dysplaysia.  He was on IV antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.  He started going downhill around midnight, and, just like that, it was over.

We are all brokenhearted, and poor Dan is devastated.  Dan was Brutus' person, and we all knew it.  I don't know how to comfort him.

Farewell, Baby Brutus.  We only had you for 3 months, but you were loved, and you will be missed.