Friday, October 31, 2014

Dinner in a pumpkin

aka - I lose my mind trying to carve a pumpkin.

Ryan's mom has this fun tradition of making dinner in a pumpkin on Halloween night.  So we have adopted the same little tradition.  The idea is super simple and pretty healthy.

This year at Belvedere Plantation, they had some super fancy pumpkins that are supposed to be amazing flavor wise.  So I got a medium sized pumpkin for our Halloween dinner.

These crazy little pumpkins are super thick - which I didn't know when I tried to quickly pop the top and fill it.  I ended up butchering the damned thing and cussing like a fighter pilot trying to break this thing open.

It is almost funny what things make you so mad you literally cuss - apparently for me it is carving pumpkins - good to know.

Dinner in a pumpkin recipe (more or less):
1 pound of ground beef
1 diced onion
2 T crushed garlic
2 T soy sauce
2 T brown sugar
1 can cream of something soup (or a white sauce - which I like better, but was in no mood today)
2 cups cooked rice
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the ground beef and onions, add garlic, soy, sugar, and cream.  Mix well and then add the rice.  Pack in a cleaned out pumpkin with a face drawn in sharpie.  Bake for about an hour at 350.  Or until the pumpkin flesh is soft.  Scoop some of the pumpkin flesh out with the rice mixture when serving.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cookie #1 - The Classic Chocolate Chip cookie

To start the 89 cookie challenge, it made sense to go with the most popular cookie in the Milk and Cookie cookbook - chocolate chip.  This recipe is an amazing twist on the quintessential American classic. In addition to chocolate chunks, the recipe calls for chocolate shavings or curls.
Chocolate chip cookies and a jeweled mason jar of milk - keeping it classy!

After reading a few amazon reviews on the cookbook itself, here is what I did:

 - Butter - I waited for the butter to get to room temp and then I beat the tar out of it, till it was super creamy. The book says to whip the bitter until light and creamy, so this isn't different from the book, it's just different from my usual throw the sugar, eggs, vanilla, and butter together then beat method. The amazon reviewer emphasized the importance of actually beating the butter for a good 3-5 minutes, so I did, it worked well.
 - Oat flour - The recipe called for oat flour from processed oats,I just threw the oats in my blend tech and one I had flour, I added the rest of the dry ingredients into the blender too, no point making another bowl dirty says I.
 - Ingredient variations - salted butter, chocolate chips, salt, eggs - My slight variations on the recipe based on what was in my kitchen at the time of baking: I used salted butter rather than unsalted which it calls for, I used chocolate chips instead of chunks, I are a touch more salt, I used extra large eggs rather than large eggs. 
 - Baking time - The only real difference in my preparation was the baking time. The recipe said to bake the cookie for 15 minutes, which seems like an unconscionably long time to bake a cookie. I live comfortably in the world of under done cookies and I just could not cook then longer than 10 minutes, which is the longest I have *ever* baked a cookie (on purpose anyway).  The recipe called for cookies that were big, I used my 1/4 cup measuring cup as the scoop.  For such big cookies, 10 minutes worked.  When I decided to make the cookies a bit smaller - ie my normal cookie size, my normal baking time worked well too - 7 minutes.

Big cookies - only 6 per sheet.

The result was amazing! I liked it better than the one i had at the milk and cookies store itself - probably the extra salt and the underdone softness.  Seriously one of the best cookies I have ever made and I am known for my cookies. The shaved chocolate gives melted yuminess in every bite. The oat flour gives it a nutty taste and a heartier texture. It is really good. The other thing I like about the recipe is the amount of vanilla - 1/2 tablespoon. I wanted to shout amen! I *always* add substantially more vanilla than most cookie recipes call for because it is such an important ingredient. And my vanilla is already stronger than most store bought vanilla because I make it myself with good vodka and hand scraped Madagascar vanilla beans.

I loved this recipe, but the ass pain associated with grating 2 while bars of chocolate may keep me from making it as often as other cookies in my repertoire. Perhaps I'll source some chocolate curls and then it will be in my regular rotation for sure, it is that good.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The 89 Cookie challenge

Many years ago my dear sister William went on a food tour in New York and discovered a lovely little place called Milk and Cookies. She loved it so much that I had to visit that cookie shop the next time I was in town. It was really amazing. The cookies were delicious and the milk was so fresh. 
Naturally, I was thrilled when I happened across the cook book written by the proprietor sharing her famous cookie recipes and gave it to Will for Christmas. 

The cookbook of 89 Cookie Challenge
Last weekend as William and I were cleaning out her kitchen and she was getting rid of cookbooks I asked if I could take the Milk and Cookies cookbook off her hands, she gladly agreed and said, "I'll probably get more use out of you having the book anyway."

Apparently, she has prophetic tendencies...

I was just perusing the book this morning and there is such an amazing variety of cookie recipes and I love making and eating cookies.  Honestly, I think cookies are my favorite dessert. So I decided to take on a challenge. I am going to attempt to make *every* cookie in this book. There are 89 different cookie recipes, so this challenge will take me a bit of time, but I am excited!!

My neighbors already call me the Baker neighbor, I think they will be willing taste testers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ohio visit to Lehman's

Weary traveler looking into the sun for a selfie in front of Lehman's
My trip back to DC from Chicago was a great adventure. I took small country roads through most of Ohio and it was breathtakingly beautiful especially this time of year.  It was not a fast drive.  If I ever have time to just drive through out the country, I hope to take lots of small country roads.  That is when the drive is really pretty.  I certainly appreciate road trips via the highway for speed, but the beauty found down the country roads can't be beat.

Cast Iron Cafe - seriously cute!
I finally pulled up to Lehman's and was super excited, hungry, and a little weary.  This place is huge! I immediately headed towards the "Cast Iron Cafe" but was a bit disappointed that they were out of soup and the specialty was hot dogs.  I asked what the most popular item was and purchased a bratwurst with swiss cheese and sauerkraut along with potato chips made with lard and a Lehman's brand root beer.   Whether it was my hunger or the food, I don't know, but it was all surprisingly good.
Made with Lard Potato Chips - quite tasty.
The store was organized like no store I have ever seen, it was amazing.  The sections I saw: gardening, dairy, canning, stoves, sewing, laundry, lighting, oil lamps, soap making, cleaning materials, toys, books, food, clothes/hats, kitchen, grain milling/grinding, and a fudge counter. There were real Amish people there too, with their horse and buggy parked out back.  Lots of people in overalls (it made me really wish I hadn't cut mine up into a denim quilt...).
Dairy section - above the for-sales items, displays of antique items
I thought the dairy section was neat.  They had milk pales, cheese making supplies, butter churns, butter presses (which I almost got to make cute designs in butter for holidays).  

There was an exhibit of wood relief art.  I wish my photography were better, because this art was truly amazing.  These pictures do not do it justice.

I think my favorite section was the wood stove showroom, which was rather warm with a couple of the stoves lit. 
This is an old fashioned look to mostly modern appliances - they had it in red too!

Dreaming - me and my homesteading stove

The dream stove in all its own glory.
The section I did not take a picture of, but should have, was the laundry section.  They had a variety of washboards, glass, galvanized steel, and several sizes too.  I almost got one - just for the coolness of a washboard.  They had all kinds of drying contraptions - and that was a real temptation (but I did not have the room in my vehicle).  Well made drying racks are hard to come by and they had so many sizes and types and they all folded down, some attached to the wall and folded into a nifty shelf.  

After a good meander through the store, I ended up purchasing a bag of white popcorn kernels, a thick square yardstick, a stainless steel colander, and a paring knife.  Practical souvenirs from an impractical visit to a practical store.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Our first crash

Audrey rode her own bike to school yesterday and I rode Big Bleu with Meredith on the front. The rain held off until we got back but then it was raining most of the day. Luckily the rain cleared as we needed to leave the house to get Audrey, but the ground was rather wet.

Big Bleu in the garage, safe and sound.
While Audrey wiped her seat and handle bars dry, I warned her against going too fast, especially around the first corner, which is a sharp steep turn. So of course, that is right where she fell. She landed in the grass, so she was quite lucky, except for one thing.  She landed on a previously sprained pinky and that really hurt. She couldn't really ride her bike, so I did just what any person with a cargo bike would do, I strapped the bike into the back of mine. The only tricky thing was that my only way to tie up the bike was a bungee net that was holding the back pack.  After a bit of pulling and tugging it worked. 

We were quite the scene, a kid in front, a kid in back with a backpack and an extra bike attached to the back.  We went slowly up and down our hills, but we went! It was awesome.  I love having such a functional bike!

The bungee net that I wrapped around the back of my bike and the front of Audrey's.

Friday, October 10, 2014

I love yarn day

Yes, there is such a thing and I wish I was celebrating it properly. What a great reason to buy lots of beautiful yarn at a local yarn store or sit on a comfy sofa knitting the day away.  Instead I'm heading to see William!!! Yay. A very good alternative. :)

Happy I love yarn day everyone!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Kids say the damndest things

We were driving to school a few weeks ago - prior to getting Big Blue - and Meredith brought her baby doll, Shelly Sheryl along with Shelly Sheryl's car seat into the car for the wait in the car line.  (Incidentally, both she and Audrey like to bring their babies on Big Blue too, but the babies get put into the panniers and randomly call out things like - "I wish I could see something!")

Meredith pulled Shelly Sheryl out of the car seat and handed Shelly Sheryl to Audrey and forcefully told Audrey to hold her and make her talk. So Audrey says in a sweet little baby doll voice, "I am so glad I don't have to sit in my damn car seat anymore."

I thought I must have heard that wrong, so I asked Audrey to repeat what she said and sure enough, Audrey was making Shelly Sheryl cuss.  It was so funny I was busting a gut trying not to laugh out loud as I informed Audrey that she wasn't supposed to say damn like that.

Meredith and a slightly shaken Shelly Sheryl...

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Lehman's here I come

I like old-fashioned and home-made things.  I value making things myself whenever I can.  I love to learn a little more and improve my domestic skills all the time.  I read books, blogs, and articles on cooking, preserving, knitting, and homesteading.  Someday, I would love to have some acreage of my own to grow a big garden and raise some chickens, maybe even have a milk cow too.

Because of my love for old-fashioned things, I have a bit of a fascination with the Amish too.  I love their simple (yet hardworking) ways.  I like sparkle, shine, and the internet too much to ever join the Amish, but I do admire their culture.  So naturally, I have been hoping to go visit Lehman's, a store that specializes in old-fashioned and Amish tools.   This weekend I am going to go visit Claire in Chicago to help her get ready for her upcoming move and I have decided that I am going to finally stop by Lehman's on my way.   It is about half-way between me and Claire, but I usually have the girls in tow with me and they make a long drive so much longer, so I haven't wanted to extend it even more with a bit of a side trip.  This time it is just me and I am super excited.  My plan is to leave early Friday morning and have lunch at Lehman's and wander around the store for about 45 minutes, then continue on my merry way to Chicago perhaps with a new colander.  

Monday, October 06, 2014

Errands via Bicycle

There is something awesome about biking as a means of transit.  It is such a pleasant way to get around.  I literally can't help but smile as I am taking Audrey to school.  That is the only route so far that I have completely stopped using the car.  It's funny, I rarely think about my mode of transportation in any terms, let alone one that makes me happy.  Aside from extremely bad weather in which I usually feel super grateful to be in a climate controlled bubble of my car, I rarely feel happy (or anything) to be driving.  But riding a bike just has a fun factor that I truly underestimated.  I love the fresh air, the sounds of the birds, the exercise - it is just awesome.

I am getting more comfortable riding again (I used to ride my bike in Japan as my primary mode of transit) and I think I am getting stronger too.  Last week, I took some dirty clothes to the dry cleaners after dropping Audrey off at school.  Today, I rode to a grocery store that is about 5 miles away on bike after dropping Audrey off.  I also learned that one pannier is not quite enough for grocery shopping.  It could hold all of my groceries just fine, but two gallons of milk plus the other stuff I was getting actually made the bike tip over - which is pretty hard to do with the double kick stand.  So I returned one gallon of milk and then rode back to the house.  The system still needs some tweaking.

Other system "tweaks" are more critical than double panniers.  My main concern for now is what to do with Meredith.  She is just barely within the weight limit for the ibert seat on the front handle bar stem - so that is what I use when I take her.  However, the ibert has its limitations, namely it is not compatible with the front basket, and most importantly, I can't comfortably stand on the ground with the ibert.  I lowered my seat considerably, so now the tips of my toes can touch the ground while I am seated and even though that does not give me the best angle for pedaling up hills, I have electric assist, so I am cool with that.  However, Meredith is just a pound shy of the weight limit and she is not old enough to hold onto the handle bars behind me on her own.  I am looking into other options, but I think a trailer may solve that and winter weather problems in the short term - craig's list here I come.
Big Blue sans front basket with the ibert attached and the big pannier

Visibility is my other main concern.  As the days get shorter and if weather suddenly changes, we still need to be visible.  I rode to Audrey's Back to School night last week and realized as I was getting the bike out of the garage, that I had no front light.  I put a spelunking light on top of my helmet and I tied an LED hand-cranked emergency light that is also a radio into the cup holder on my handle bars and turned the cup holder so that the light would shine on the ground ahead of me.  That worked surprisingly well.  But as the light bounced out of the cup holder when I crossed the first road and I had to hold it with one hand the rest of the way, I realized, it was not going to be a good permanent solution.  I would love to install dynamo lights - they never need batteries because they use the power of the bike's movement, but I have been told (by my local bike shop) that I cannot have both the electric assist motor hub and a dynamo motor hub on the same front wheel.  That makes sense.

In the meantime, to improve our overall visibility, I  ordered bright neon yellow reflector jackets for me and the girls and we wear them every time we ride now over our regular clothes.  There are not a lot of bikers in my area yet, so cars do not look for bikes.  I want to make sure that car drivers see us.

Long-term I think the Yuba elMundo, Big Blue, has true staying power.  This surprises me a bit.  I thought this would be a good proof of concept bike to see if biking was something we could do in our area for our local adventures.  I thought I would see how things went and then eventually replace this bike with a bucket bike that could protect the girls and any cargo from the elements.  However, I am becoming more convinced that this bike is capable of comfortably taking me and the girls to our local spots for a long time to come.  Bad weather may change my mind - time will tell.