Friday, December 31, 2010

Scottish Oatmeal Cake - The Saga Continues

I have been putting off unmolding my oatmeal cake this morning.  I went to the grocery store first to get that out of the way.  Once I start cooking, I do not want to have to stop to go to the grocery store.  I just want everything already in the house so I can cook until I pass out.

After unloading all the groceries and putting them away, it was oatmeal cake cooking time.  I unmolded the cake and for the first time EVER in all the times I've made this, the cake was not all gooey!  This time I used heaping cups of oats instead of level cups and maybe that is what fixed my problem.  Oh this is exciting.  This is big.



I sliced the cake, sprinkled with sugar, and put it in the oven.  I set the timer for 10 minutes, then I opened a bag of black beans, washed them, picked through them, and got them on the stove to get boiling.  After that I put in a load of laundry.  Then I washed the cutting board and the knife, dried them, and put them away.  I still had 5 minutes to kill so I sat on the floor in front of the oven and stared in at the oatmeal cakes, cooking away in all their firm glory.  If I could multitask like this all day long, I could really get a lot accomplished!  Dude, you'll be lucky if I finish cooking oatmeal cake before I go take a nap.

After 10  minutes, I took the oatmeal cakes out to inspect them.  They weren't done enough, in my opinion, because they were still pretty pale.  By this time the beans were boiling, so I turned them off to sit for a while.  I'll get back to them later.

I flipped one of the oatmeal cakes over to see how the bottom was doing, and it was pretty wet.  So, I flipped all of them over, sprinkled another tablespoon of sugar over them (over ALL of them, not a tablespoon of sugar on each one).   Back into the oven for another 10 minutes.

When that 10 minutes was up, I took them out of the oven to inspect them again.  Much darker!  While the broiler heated up, I decided to flip all the cakes over again, to get the now-melty-sugar-covered side up under the broiler.  When they were finished broiling, I was happy to see the best-looking Scottish Oatmeal Cakes I have ever cooked.  Happy new year to me!


That's what I'm talkin' about.
And here is a picture of my breakfast!  A little Greek yogurt, homemade granola with cranberries, almonds and walnuts, and a drizzle of honey. 


This is so good for me, and so decadent!  These are the nutritional stats for the cake, not including the yogurt and granola and honey. 


nutrition facts

Scottish Oatmeal Cake a'la The Country Tart (Part 1)

This recipe is another simple but delicious good-for-you treat.  The Country Tart (aka Lynn) posted this recipe on NutriMirror ages ago, and I have made it several times with varying results.  Lynn has lots of great recipes on her blog.  You should check it out!

The Country Tart

In Lynn's picture, there is an elegant slice of oatmeal cake with carmelized sugar on top and chopped walnuts, along with beautiful fresh fruit.  Gorgeous - who could resist?



Country Tart Scottish Oatmeal Cake - beautiful!

My attempts have never come out looking nearly as appealing as hers.  It always tastes great, though. 

Here is the recipe:


SCOTTISH OATMEAL CAKE    A COUNTRY TART RECIPE

INGREDIENTS:

3 cups of uncooked old fashioned oats*
3 cups water
2 cups almond milk (or lowfat milk or water)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dried cranberries
Turbinado (raw) sugar (approximately 1/4 cup), can substitute regular, granulated sugar

* Note: Steel cut oats are a really great treat to use instead of rolled oats, but you will need to increase cooking time per package instructions. 

INSTRUCTIONS:

1 - One day before, place oatmeal into a pan with water, almond milk, cinnamon, molasses and salt.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low, and continue to cook for about 7 to 10 minutes or until all liquid has been absorbed.  Stir in cranberries. 

2 - While oatmeal is cooking, line a loaf pan with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, draping over all sides so that entire "loaf" may be easily pulled out later. 

3 - Pour oatmeal into prepared loaf pan.  Cover and place in refrigerator overnight. 

4 - In the morning, cover a jelly roll pan with heavy aluminum foil.  Set aside.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 degrees farenheit. 

5 - Remove cover from oatmeal loaf and, using the overhang of foil or wrap, pull entire loaf out of pan
and place onto a cutting board. 

6 - Pull sides down and cut loaf into 10 equal slices. 

7 - Spread slices out onto prepared pan, and sprinkle 1-2 teaspoon of brown sugar onto the top of each slice and place pan onto middle rack in preheated oven.

8 - Heat cake slices for approximately ten minutes or until heated through.  When they've been heated
through, turn on broiler and allow to cook for about thirty seconds to a minute more or until sugar has melted and is beginning  to caramelize (this can also be done with a kitchen torch instead of the broiler).  

9 - Sprinkle with chopped walnuts or pecan pieces. 

10 - Serve with fresh fruit and creme fraiche. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Right?  It sounds simple enough.  Make oatmeal, mix in cranberries, let sit in fridge overnight to firm up, slice, bake.  What could go wrong?  I'll tell you what could go wrong.  You could make this recipe over  and over again and never get the texture right.  But if you are like me, you will keep on trying until you get it right.  I am not sure where I go wrong.  Usually I take it out of the fridge after its overnight stay, unmold it, and have to cut slices out of a gummy gooey loaf.  I flop the gooey slices onto the cookie sheet, and bake for the time indicated.  Then when the slices are still pretty gummy after 10  minutes in the oven, I flip them over and bake a while longer.  The sugar goes on but doesn't melt, even under the broiler.   I think that these issues are mine, as other people have followed this recipe with great success.   Maybe it's the oats I use.  I have no idea.  I will never give up, though.

This time, I used heaping cups of oatmeal instead of leveling them out.  I cooked everything until it didn't look like it could absorb any more liquid.


After I cooked it, I let it sit for a few minutes, and then poured it into my prepared loaf pan.  After the first spoonful went into the loaf pan I remembered the cranberries, which were RIGHT THERE next to the pan on the stove in their measuring cup!  So I sprinkled a few cranberries over the oatmeal in the loaf pan, and mixed the rest of the cranberries into the rest of the oatmeal.



I poured the rest of the oatmeal into the loaf pan and evened it out some.


In my attempts to get this recipe right, I have used different materials to line the loaf pan.  Here is a hint that will save you lots of misery:  do not line the loaf pan with waxed paper.  Waxed paper turns to mush when it sits overnight in the fridge soaking up oatmeal juice.

OK, now cover it up and let it sit overnight in the fridge.




This morning I will unmold the oatmeal cake and see what kind of texture it is this time.  I'm going to the grocery store first, early, to avoid the crowds.  I will continue this recipe in Part 2, later this morning.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gingerbread Trifle Part 2

YAY!  It's morning and time to finish my trifle.  Last night I made the berry sauce.  After I made it, I was on NM and one of my NM peeps sent me the link to a video of Bobby Flay making this trifle.  I watched the video and laughed.  As usual, the Food Network website shows a recipe that doesn't exactly match what the chef actually did.  I'm used to this, the recipe is never right but usually between reading all the reviews and remembering what the chef did on TV, things work out.  In this case, Bobby mixed the cake totally differently than it showed in the recipe.  The ingredients were the same, but he didn't cream the butter first and just kind of dumped all the liquid ingredients in at the same time.  Also, in the berry sauce, he used some water.   That wasn't in the recipe, and I didn't add water to mine.  Also, as a recovering alcoholic, I don't keep random liquors in the house so didn't add the framboise.  I'm sure it's going to be just fine.

Put all the berries in a pan with the sugar and bring to a boil.


Turn down the burner and simmer for a while.  When the berries are soft and the sugar is all dissolved, and in my case when I thought it looked done, take off the stove.  Transfer to a blender.  As I was getting out the blender, I remembered that the last time I used it several months ago, I found out the carafe was broken.  Technically just the plastic thing at the bottom that holds the stuff in the carafe.  This took a while to negotiate.  First I threw the whole thing away.  Then I thought maybe I could buy a new carafe or plastic thing, so I took it out of the trash and put it in the laundry room.  Then I got out the Magic Bullet, and put about half the mixture into one of the cups. 

The lid didn't screw on correctly so some of the juice came out while I was mixing it.  I transferred everything into a different cup and tried again, and this time everything worked.   After blending, pour the mixture into a sieve over a bowl to drain out the seeds.  I'm really glad that I thought to do all this in the sink!



After I sifted out the seeds, I poured the sauce into a container and put it in the refrigerator.  Based on a taste test (or 12), this sauce is going to be delicious with the lemon curd and gingerbread. 

See that wooden spatula?  This was a Christmas gift back in the 1990s.  A coworker gave it to me, along with a smaller one.  His father makes them.  It turns out his father is a woodworker and makes all kinds of awesome things.  His mother is a weaver named Celeste.  Matt was raised by hippies, it seems.  We shared an office, and his birthday was the day before mine (only about 20 years later).  Matt was one of the funnest people I've ever worked with.  I like these spatulas so much that I ordered another set off of Matt's Dad's website, and over the years have ordered more of them for gifts.  Here is the website, if you'd like to see what else Matt's Dad makes.   It's worth a look.



Now to make the whipped cream.  You know what to do.  Chill your bowl and beaters, then pour the cream into the bowl and whip it until it becomes whipped cream. 

Pour the lemon curd into a bowl and whip it around to fluff it up.  Fold half of the whipped cream into the lemon curd.  Save the other half for the top of the trifle.



Now you just start layering the ingredients in a trifle bowl.  Cut the gingerbread into whatever size chunks you need to fill in the spaces.


I had about 1/5 of the cake left when I was finished making the trifle.  (yay!)

After the gingerbread layer, put in 1/3 of the lemon curd mixture, and then 1/3 of the berry sauce.

Don't try to be neat - it's supposed to look like this
Make two more layers, and then put on the rest of the whipped cream.  I didn't have enough whipped cream so I kind of swirled it with the top layer and spread it out the best I could.  I had saved some berries to put on top, but forgot about them and left them on the counter all night.  I used them anyway. 


I will probably shave some chocolate over this before I serve it, to make it look prettier.  This is going to be delicious!





Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bobby Flay's Gingerbread, Lemon Curd and Berry Sauce Trifle

Here's the thing.  I love cooking, but sometimes no matter how closely I follow a recipe, things can go wrong.  I'm going to attempt this trifle and really  hope nothing bad happens.  I have already had to change the name of the recipe since I couldn't find blackberries.  I bought mixed berries instead.  I'm sure it'll be fine.  The recipe had really good reviews.  I haven't made trifle in a while, and I've always made the same kind (pound cake with some kind of fruit jam on it, vanilla pudding, and whipped cream).  I thought gingerbread and lemon curd would be good, so I googled it and found this recipe on the Food Network website.  Blackberry sauce - I never would have thought of that!  Thanks, Bobby Flay.

Here's the recipe:

Gingerbread and Lemon Curd Trifle with Blackberry Sauce

Recipe courtesy Bobby Flay

Prep Time:  20 min
Inactive Prep Time:  4 hr 15 min
Cook Time: 30 min
Level: Intermediate
Serves: 8 to 12 servings

Ingredients

Gingerbread Cake:

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • Lemon Curd Filling, recipe follows
  • Blackberry Sauce, recipe follows

Directions

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Spray 1 half-sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; spray paper. Sift flour and next 6 ingredients into medium bowl. Mix in crystallized ginger. Using an electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in brown sugar. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Gradually beat in molasses, followed by 1 cup boiling water. Mix in grated lemon peel. Gradually mix in dry ingredients. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the pan sides. Turn out onto a rack and peel off paper. Cool and cut into 1-inch cubes.

To assemble:
Using a trifle bowl, start with an even layer of gingerbread cubes, top with 1/3 of the lemon curd mixture, and 1/3 of the blackberry sauce. Repeat 2 more times. Top with remaining whipped cream. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving.

Lemon Curd Filling:
  • 2 (11-ounce) jars prepared lemon curd
  • 2 cups heavy cream, sweetened with sugar and vanilla, beaten to soft peaks
Place lemon curd in a large bowl. Fold in half of the whipped cream until combined. Refrigerate if not using immediately. Reserve remaining whipped cream for the top of the trifle.

Blackberry Sauce:
  • 2 pints fresh blackberries, or 1 bag frozen blackberries, thawed
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons framboise (raspberry liqueur)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
Place blackberries, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and cook until the berries are soft and the sugar has melted. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour through a strainer into a bowl. Stir in the framboise and lemon juice. Set aside until ready to use.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Take a look at all the ingredients.  Just gathering them together took 10 minutes.


Wonder if I'll need the bandaids....
 You have to line the baking sheet with parchment paper, which is never easy.  I took my time and was very careful and managed to get my parchment paper the right size and shape.  I don't expect this recipe to be hassle-free of course. 

One of my Nutrimirror friends sent me an awesome set of NM measuring spoons!  I used them making the cake, and it was awesome being able to put the spoon into the spice jars with no problems.  I highly recommend these measuring spoons.  Carla thank you so much!!



Awesome measuring spoons from Carla!

If you may have noted, the inactive prep time is 4 hours and 15 minutes.  I have not been able to determine by reading the recipe what the heck is going to take so long.  I guess I'll find out.  I just hope it's not waiting for the ambulance or something. 

OH!  I see it - I have to let the finished trifle sit for 4 hours before serving.  In that case the total time is more like 5.5 hours, if you include gathering the ingredients, cutting the parchment paper, grating the lemon zest, pouring a cup of molasses first out of the bottle into the measuring cup and then into the blender, and personally I think there should be some clean-up time counted in there because I made a huge mess mixing up the cake.   Not to mention the time it takes for the cake to cool. 


There was molasses on the counter, too. 

The batter was very thin, which I assume is because of the cup of boiling water you have to add.  I poured it all in the pan and it's in the oven!



Seriously, the batter was very runny


Waiting....waiting....

OK it's done!  It looks and smells wonderful.



Now it has to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, and then I'll flip it onto the rack and peel away the parchment paper.  Then it has to cool down completely.  I am going to finish the trifle tomorrow, with the lemon curd and berry sauce.  I'll let you know how it goes.



Sunday, November 28, 2010

22nd Anniversary

Happy Anniversary to Greg and me! :)



We eloped to the Leesburg Courthouse, with our two best friends being the only people who knew we were getting married. I had carefully calculated the numerology around when we should get married, and chose 11/28/88 at 11:00am. It was a Monday morning, a beautiful Fall day. After the ceremony, we stood on the steps of the Courthouse for pictures, and then took Doug and Missy to lunch. Then we ditched them, and spent the rest of the day drinking champagne.

As we were taking this picture, I remember that a trash truck drove by.  It was obvious we had just gotten married (I mean look at the picture!) and so the trash truck guys waved and "yay'ed!" at us and honked their horn.  Greg whispered "do you know those guys?" and, even though I didn't, I whispered back "not all of them, honey." 

We announced our marriage to family a few days later, bringing on lots of anxiety from everyone because we had only known each other for 4 months. LOL Hey, we were young and stupid and in love (and alcoholic - I'm sure that influenced our decision as well). And here we are 22 years later, still happy and in love, even though we sobered up!

I pulled this picture out of the frame it's been in for 22 years, to notice little red dots all over the photo. I don't know what they are. (Also, I weigh 10 pounds less today than I did in this picture at the age of 35!)

We fell asleep watching TV very early last night after eating turkey dinner leftovers. LOL Now it's 2:00am and I am wide awake, drinking a cup of tea. We are planning a very low-key celebration later today, where we will decorate for Christmas, and next weekend we will visit our friends on the Eastern Shore.
I pulled out my numerology book, to remind myself why I picked that particular date. Here is some of what it says:

This is a master number period which requires more, and in return, gives more than any other number vibration..... share your good fortune with others....extravagance can lead to losses, so keep a balance ... marriage under this vibration is fruitful and successful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

San Francisco



I'm happy to report that "Graceland" by Paul Simon is no longer stuck in my head.  That one set a new record for longevity in my head - about 2 months.  The previous record was held by "Lady of Spain" on accordian, which was in there in 1988 for at least 3 weeks of my life I will never get back.

The head-unsticking song is San Francisco, as sung by Jeanette MacDonald.  I was watching the movie San Francisco on TV last night, starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Jeanette MacDonald, set during the 1906 earthquake that demolished San Francisco.  I started nodding off to sleep.  I was jolted out of my drifting by Jeanette, singing this song like she was at a big parade.  Her voice soared through high notes I've never even heard.  I sat up and watched the rest of the movie. I didn't know who that lady was, because I've never seen a Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald movie (I was raised by wolves, I guess). 

When I woke up this morning, that song was stuck in my head.  I googled the movie and found out it was Jeanette singing.  That made sense - I'd heard she was a really good singer.  I have been listening to this song on youtube this morning.  Here is the link, if you'd like an idea of what it feels like to have this song stuck in your head.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvK_gD3ulaw

I told Greg that I can't stop hearing this song.  I was in the kitchen baking muffins, and didn't realize he was behind me.  I burst into San Francisco and started sashaying around the kitchen like Jeanette did in the movie, waving my arms and marching.  Greg laughed.  He said why are you marching?  I told him because Jeanette did, in her big fluffy dress.  I told him we should go to karaoke and let me sing it and march around.  He said he couldn't wait to hear me ask the DJ if they had the #1 song from 1906.   The movie was not filmed in 1906, that's when the big earthquake was.  The movie was filmed in 1936.  But seriously, what DJ has hits from 1936, much less 1906.

Greg said in Barbra Streisand movies, when she bursts into song the whole town joins in and marches along with her.  Like on the Simpsons, when the whole town does everything together.  He said he's never seen that in real life.  I reminded him of when we were in Las Vegas on Fremont Street, and they ran the light show of Don McLean singing American Pie.  I told him that is probably the only place in the world where everyone joins in and dances and marches; he reminded me that 95% of those people are drunk on their butts. 

Enjoy the song, and you might want to watch the Judy Garland version too, where she makes fun of Jeanette MacDonald singing in the ruins of the Great San Francisco Earthquake.  She sings a much vampier version.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fj6X0l2QgY&feature=related

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cranberry Mandarin Orange Relish

I am so winging this one.  I have various recipes for this relish, so I'll be using them as a guide but not really following any of them.  My grandmother made the most awesome cranberry relish, but when I was a child I didn't like it one bit.  It was way too tart, too choppy, too chunky, too adult.  Now that I eat cranberries like they were m&m's, I can't wait to eat a chunky cranberry relish! 

I hope this turns out well.  Grammie's recipe, as I recall vaguely somewhere in my  mind, had celery in it, and possibly pecans.  I'm not using celery or pecans.  I might change my mind about the pecans; we'll see. 

I'm using one bag of cranberries, 2 clementines (peel and all), and 1/2 cup of sugar.  I will just chop everything up in the food processor.  After Greg wakes up from his nap, that is.  In the meantime, I'll get everything ready.

Wash the cranberries and remove any that are mushy or icky looking.  This bag only had two losers in it!


Beat it, losers.

Then put the cranberries in the food processor, and pulse them until they are chopped up.







When the cranberries were chopped up, I added 2 clementines, washed thoroughly.  The peel goes in too.  I used clementines because there are rarely seeds in them and plus, they are so delicious.  I wish I didn't have to buy a big crate full of them but that's the way they are sold around here.  I try to eat them all; sometimes, I just can't.



Now, this gets a little embarrassing.  After I ran the food processor with the clementines, and then added the sugar and pulsed it all up, I forgot to take a picture.  When I tasted the final result, I got so excited that I dumped it all into a tupperware and put it in the fridge.  I completely forgot to weigh it, for my recipe on NutriMirror, and I forgot to take a picture of it.  It tastes SO GOOD!!  Sweet, tart, awesome.  I hope I still have some left when Thanksgiving rolls around.

While Greg was napping, I was keeping quiet in the other room.  I heard Pedro and Ozzie making their bird noises, and when they got really loud I went in to make sure they were ok.  There in the window sat a cat!  The cat was staring intently through the window into the bird cages. The cat was on our locked screened-in porch.  Very cute black and white tuxedo cat.  I went out to get the cat off the porch, and it got all friendly and rubbed around on my legs.  I scratched his head and he purred, and I felt kind of sad that he's not my cat.  I finally got him off the porch and locked the door again.  I wonder if he got in there while Sadie was outside this morning, while it was dark, and then got locked onto the porch when Sadie came in.  There is also the chance it came in through the part of the screen that has come disconnected from the frame.  How do cats find these things?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Chicken Piccata a'la Giada DeLaurentiis

OFFICIAL PUBLIC NOTICE:  This recipe was copied off of the Food Network website.  The picture, too.

I'm planning to make this tomorrow.  I'll let you know how it goes!

OK, it's tomorrow now and we had this recipe for dinner.  I beg you to try it.  I am well aware that it's loaded with butter and olive oil.  It is worth it.  We had it with a three grains blend from Trader Joe's, rice/barley/spelt.  Freaking awesome!  There are no pictures, sadly, but picture me with a big smile on my face.  Greg ate two servings of grain; in fact, he picked it out at the store.  I was really glad he did and a little surprised.  I'm extra glad it was so delicious.

This recipe isn't hard to make at all.  I had none of my usual setbacks!

Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis


Prep Time:  15 min
Cook Time:  25 min
Level:  Easy
Serves:  4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, butterflied and then cut in half
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Directions

Season chicken with salt and pepper.
Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil.
When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes.
When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes.
Remove and transfer to plate.
Melt 2 more tablespoons butter and add another 2 tablespoons olive oil.
When butter and oil start to sizzle, add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides in same manner. Remove pan from heat and add chicken to the plate.
Into the pan add the lemon juice, stock and capers.
Return to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor.
Check for seasoning.
Return all the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove chicken to platter.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously.
Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Puzzle Season

I have loved jigsaw puzzles ever since I was a little girl.  I like the way you can tell how far along you are, just by looking at the pieces, and by seeing how the picture is progressing.  I like that in real life, too.  If I'm working on a job for you, for example, please let me know what your final goal is, and if you have any specific requirements along the way.   Otherwise I'm going to do it the way I think it should be done; lack of communication could end up with both of us pissed off.  

When the days get shorter and it's dark all the time, I get the old urge to work a jigsaw puzzle.  I'm a big fan of Americana-looking landscapes.  Not a fan of the kind with wood pieces, the kind that are all the same color, the kind that glow in the dark, or the kind with less than 1000 pieces. 

In 2008 when the jigsaw urge came upon me, our niece was living with us, with her cat and dog.  I love the animals, they are awesome.  However, the cat, who I shall refer to as Sage to protect her identity, also loved jigsaw puzzles.  In the evenings I would sit on the couch with my card table all set up and work my puzzle while I watched TV, or sometimes just in silence.  In the mornings, I would look at my puzzle to see that Sage had been playing with it while I slept.  Sometimes just a few pieces were batted to the floor.  Sometimes an entire section that I'd JUST FINISHED was scattered all over the place.   It took a lot longer to work a puzzle with Sage in the house.  Inevitably when I got to the end, there would be at least two pieces missing. 

When our niece bought her own house and moved out, Greg and I gave her almost all of our furniture, because she had none.  She was happy, we were happy.  We wanted to buy new furniture, that we picked out ourselves, to replace the mish-mash we had accumulated over the years.  My dresser was actually the childhood dresser of one of Greg's previous girlfriends.  LOL  It really does come from everywhere.  Anyway, we gave her all our furniture and went shopping.  Our new coffee table is glass, and big enough to work a 1000-piece puzzle on.  It gets a little disorienting sometimes working a puzzle on the glass coffee table, because the coffee table is sitting on a Oriental-style rug with lots of movement and color to it.  I could always put a big towel under there, to make a one-color background behind the puzzle I'm trying to work, but doesn't that seem like it borders on OCD or some other type of issue?  I don't know. 

To celebrate having no cat and a big coffee table, I bought a puzzle with a big announcement on the top of the box:  "Wooden Pieces!"  That sounded like a good idea.  Sage the cat had bent lots of my puzzle pieces along the way and a nice, flat, fully-interlocked jigsaw puzzle had a lot of appeal.  I picked a puzzle that was an impressionistic painting of a street scene in Italy.  Beautiful.  What I found out was, with an impressionistic painting there is no real pattern to the colors, making the puzzle really really hard.  What didn't help was that the wood pieces would be harder to take out if you put one in the wrong place, which was easy to do because you could only go by shape of piece to figure out where it went.  By the time I finished that stupid puzzle, I had two pieces left, two holes in the picture for pieces, but neither one of the pieces fit in either of the holes.  At that point I hated that puzzle so much that I just laughed maniacally and threw the whole thing into the fireplace. 

At the retirement community where I work, the residents are forever working jigsaw puzzles on a table in the arts and crafts room.  There is a bookshelf in that room with about 30 puzzles on it.  I have taken my puzzles in and traded them for ones on the shelf that I haven't worked yet.  The Americana landscapes are popular among the residents, too, so I have lots to choose from. 

I was about to start yakking about my card table, and how I wish I had better lighting,  but the new puzzle I just dumped out of the box is calling to me!




Oh boy!


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili

I've been wanting to make chili all week.  Yesterday my friend Kel's column TGIF on NutriMirror included a recipe for a great sounding chili.
http://www.nutrimirror.com/people/TGIFwithKel/journal/1289532337/tgif-with-kel-is-it-chili-where-you-live-11122010    Kel's recipe sounds so delicious!  Today I wanted butternut squash and black bean chili, but I've bookmarked Kel's recipe so I can find it again in the future.

Last night, Greg said he's been thinking about chili lately.  That did it.  I know synchronicity when I see it, so today is Chili Day!  I surfed the web for some recipe ideas and ended up on a vegan website, that had a simple recipe.  I printed it out, crossed a bunch of stuff off the recipe and added a few of my own ideas, and went to the grocery store.

Here's what I ended up using:

Black beans, freshly cooked  1057 grams
Butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes  661 grams
Onion  184 grams
Red bell pepper 205 grams
garlic 25 grams (that's 5 cloves)
Olive oil  2T
Canned organic diced tomatoes  794 grams
frozen corn 175 grams
Cumin  2T
Chili powder 2T
Cocoa powder 1T
Cinnamon 1t



I forgot the corn for the picture, and ended up not using the chili pepper in the tube
 I've been having a hard time using NM today; I click, but nothing happens, or it goes really slow.  So I haven't entered this recipe yet, and don't know the stats.  But look at the ingredients - the stats are going to rock!

The first thing to do, because it is such a hassle, is to peel the squash.  I usually cut it in half, then peel each half.  Then scoop out the seeds and chop up the squash.  Peeling a butternut squash can be difficult but it's totally worth the effort.  Hm.  Technically, the first thing to do is cook the black beans.  I did that this morning.


One half peeled


I know lots of people save the seeds and roast them; today I am not one of those people.  By the time I got done peeling the squash I was already over it, and not in the mood to deal with the seeds.  I have heard people say they roast cucumber seeds, for heaven's sake.  What's next - banana seeds?  I am not interested.

After the squash was peeled, I moved on to chopping the onion, garlic, and red pepper, and put them in the pan to start cooking while I chopped the squash.


Cooking the aromatics
 Chopping the garlic, and then the squash, got pretty noisy and woke Greg up from his nap.  I was in the kitchen and he came staggering in, went to the stove, and turned on the oven.  I told him I would be done soon and he could have the kitchen.  He said he was just preheating the oven for the spare ribs he's going to cook.  I wish he wouldn't do that.  It gets really hot when you are standing at the stove and the oven is on.


By the time I was finished chopping the squash, the oven had preheated so it was really hot in the kitchen now. I finally had to open the back door and stand on the porch to cool off a little!  I came back inside, put the squash in with the aromatics, then cooked for about 15 minutes. 


After that, stir in the spices and let them cook until, as it says in the recipe, "the spice aroma fills the kitchen."  I love when the spice aroma fills the kitchen! 




Srsly, you should smell this!
 At this point, I added a can of diced tomatoes and cooked for a few minutes, then added the beans and corn.  While I was puttering around at the stove, Greg said I should put in my blog that if a man doesn't want to eat this chili because there is no meat in it, some ground bison could easily be added.  I told him that men not eating vegan chili was really not my problem, but I would be happy to add that helpful hint.  Then I asked him if he planned on eating any.  He said he will try it, and then he asked me if I remember Jiffy Pop popcorn.  I do remember Jiffy Pop.  He said "remember how happy everyone was when Jiffy Pop came out?"  I laughed and asked him if he remembered how the bottom layer of popcorn always burned when you made Jiffy Pop.  He did remember that. 

Now the chili is simmering away on the stove, waiting for spare ribs to go with them.  Here's what it looks like now:



Greg has spare ribs in the oven now.  He made a sauce for them out of bottled bbq sauce, and the ends of a jar of peach preserves and a jar of currant jelly.  It tastes so good!  He's cooking the ribs in a low oven for a couple of hours, and then he'll make some cornbread to go with everything.   I can't wait for dinner!

I was able to log the recipe on NM and decided it is 10 servings; I'll adjust that after I weigh the batch.  For one serving if the batch makes 10 servings, look at these great stats!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Please, Love Yourself

I frequently hear people say that they disgust themselves.  They follow that by saying their friends and family love them, God loves them, but they don't love theirself for one reason or another.  The reasons range from I'm too fat, I'm don't have enough willpower, I drink too much, I smoke, I don't have time to do everything everyone wants me to do so I feel guilty, on and on with reasons they should not be loved by anyone, much less theirself.  (I don't know if theirself is a word but themself seemed too plural-singular.  It's been a long week.)   If you sit around thinking you aren't worth love, there is a good chance that the Universe will reflect that back to you as no love in your life.  But you do have love in your life, so change your thoughts to match that before your thoughts create the reality of no love. 

I want to tell you something.  My personal belief, that I know is shared by many, is that we were created from Spirit, or in the likeness of God, however you want to put it.  To me, this means that we are made from the same exact material that Spirit is made of.  We ARE Spirit.  We are not like Spirit, or created in the likeness of God but of some different material; we are created of the same substance.  Granted, we are in physical bodies, but what is animating us is pure Spirit.  We are here.  This means that we are supposed to be here. 

In my opinion, our individuality is vital to Spirit.  We were each created for a specific reason, to reflect whatever facet of spirit that we reflect.  Therefore we are also each vital to each other.

What is not required is perfection.  All of us together, blended into the whole of Spirit, is perfect.  Our individualities don't have to be, and probably can't be anyway.  Everyone has a different definition of perfect.  Mine is probably way different than yours, so if you do achieve personal perfection but I don't think perfect is the same thing you do, you are not perfect.  It's not gonna happen.  And maybe your definition of perfect is inaccurate.  Are you including everything?  It's not necessary, anyway.   What I feel IS necessary is that we all learn to love ourselves.  We all learn to embrace the spark of life that we are, and love it, nurture it, enhance it, grow it, and project it.
There is only one you.  Life itself needs you to be you, or you would not be here. 

Sometimes I think people start feeling guilty if they have anything nice to say about theirself.  Why?  It is not wrong to be happy with the person you are.  It is, in fact, the goal!  If you feel you have faults, like the ones listed above, change them.  Nobody else can change your self-image; that is your job.  If you think you are fat, go to NutriMirror and get your nutritional balance under control in a way you can measure and tweak.  If you don't have time to be everything to everyone, make a boundary and respect it.  If you respect it, everyone else will too.  If you feel you have faults that can't be changed, embrace them.  Worrying about it all the time is counterproductive, and only serves to make you and the people around you, who love you, unhappy. 

In summary, please don't wallow in misery when it is totally up to you to change it!  It is a beautiful journey, the journey to self love, and worth every effort you put into it.  And when you can love yourself like everyone else does, you can do things you never imagined yourself doing.  Please, love yourself.  You are worth it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blueberry Vitamuffins

Greg was sick yesterday; he had a fever and was all congested.  He stayed home.  Today, he went to work and after work he had a meeting in the next town, 15 miles away.  It's 7:15 and he's still not home.  I know he's probably exhausted and not feeling too great.  So, I made some blueberry vitamuffins.  It makes the house smell welcoming.

My grocery store stopped carrying vitamuffin mix.  Why, Harris Teeter - WHY?  I know, I can order the mix online.  That is not the point.  When I found out they were discontinuing them, I bought 4 boxes of chocolate muffin mix, and a box of blueberry.  I like the chocolate ones better, obviously.  I had to choose tonight between chocolate and blueberry.  I can sometimes manage delayed gratification, and I did that tonight by saving my one remaining box of chocolate vitamuffin mix for sometime in the future. 

These are so easy to make; the ingredients are 1 package of vitamuffin mix, 1 1/4 cup water, 3 egg whites, and 1/4 cup blueberries.  The directions say fresh blueberries, I used frozen.  It makes 12 muffins.  Baking them myself is a whole lot cheaper than buying them from the freezer department.  A box of mix costs about the same as a box of frozen muffins, only you get 12 if you make them yourself and only 4 if you buy them already made.




I decided to use my big muffin pans for this batch, to see how they come out.  I mixed all the ingredients and the batter looks kind of soupy.  I don't remember if the chocolate ones look like this at this point.  The first time I made vitamuffins I didn't bother to put on my glasses and only used 1/4 cup of water instead of 1 1/4.  They were really hard to mix.  While they were baking, I put on my glasses and read the directions.  Oh, I thought.  1 1/4 cups of water.  Oops.  They came out kind of dry and tough (but I ate them anyway). 

Too soupy?
Into the muffin pans, as even as I could get them.  Then, you sprinkle 1/4 cup of blueberries among the muffins. 


Bake at 400 degrees for 23-28 minutes.  My oven runs a little hot and these were baked by 21 minutes. 


Since I used the big muffin pan, they came out kind of flat and vitatop-ish.  I love vitamuffins.  So much nutrition for 100 calories.  I realize that this isn't a fresh, natural food, but they are great to have around when you need a snack that isn't full of empty calories!

Sadie had a bath on Sunday.  She loves to swim, so I don't know why taking a bath bothers her so much. She loves all the attention, the rubbing and brushing, the rinsing, the getting-dried-with-a-towel, and the after-bath cookie.   You'd think she'd be thrilled to be in the bathtub and she would splash around and enjoy herself, but she doesn't.


Greg's still not home.  :(



Saturday, November 6, 2010

Road Trip and Meatloaf


Greg is cooking meatloaf as we speak.  He likes to cook.  Having this new kitchen has made it fun to cook together.  In the past there wasn't really any room for two people in our kitchen.  We would try to cook together and it could get a little tense.  Not these days! 

He said he was ready to cook meatloaf, and he had made everything look pretty in case I wanted to take a picture!  He said I could show my NutriMirror friends that it is possible to not be on NM, but still be conscious of my preferences and make something (relatively) healthy.  I thought that was really sweet.  Technically, there is ground pork, ground beef, and bacon in this meatloaf, so it's not all that healthy.  However, if you will note, he grated a carrot to put in the mixture!  AND - he grated onion, and he didn't cut himself at all. 

When Greg makes meatloaf, he likes to put cut up potatoes all around it, and cover it in tomato sauce and bacon.  In the past he would also add a tunnel of mozarella cheese in the middle of the meatloaf.  I was never a big fan of that (I still ate it, of course).  I prefer mashed potatoes with meatloaf.  Today he did not add a tunnel of cheese.  So between no tunnel of cheese, and adding carrots, and making it look all pretty so I could take a picture, I'm feeling all blubbery about how great it is to be married to him.

Greg has also started eating a thing of yogurt every day.  I seriously doubt that he will ever stop drinking soft drinks, or join NutriMirror.  However, I love seeing him change small things in reaction to the changes I have made.  I have never tried to get him to change.  If I cook something really nutritious, I will mention that when we are eating.  Like this:  "this is giving us 80% of today's vitamin C needs!"  If you are involved with a man, you are most likely familiar with the difference in communication styles between men and women.  Sometimes in response to my comments, he will say "oh!" and sometimes he stares straight ahead.  This is a response common to lots of men I've known.  They don't understand that women like to hear an actual word, or sentence, or grunt, to indicate they have heard us.  Anyway, I haven't asked him to change anything, yet he has made some small changes, and he knows a lot more about nutrition than he used to, like me.

Here is Greg's meatloaf before it went into the oven.  I asked him if he would like to be in a picture and he said no, he prefers to be mysterious.




I am assuming my food log will be red today in fat, and pretty close to red in sodium.  That's fine, my home page is green.   I'll throw together a salad and we'll be good to go.

Yesterday my sister Robin and I drove up to DC to visit some Nutrimirror friends who were here from California, where they are based.  It is incredible to be around these people, who invented and gave us the website that is changing so many lives.  They are also just really nice people who are fun to be around.  They were attending a trade show in DC for companies involved with physical therapy, which is the business they are in.  One of my NM BFFs, The Country Tart, was there too, working in the booth and promoting the book.  Some other local NM members who we know from the journal room met all of us for dinner.  Dinner was delicious, and the company was outstanding.  Around 9:15 Robin and I hit the road to come home, arriving back at the beach around 1:15.  Robin and I had a great time together, like we normally do.  She's awesome on a road trip. 

This 200-mile trip usually takes about 3-1/2 hours.  We stopped for gas and water, then twice along the way at rest stops.  It rained while we were driving along, but not a torrential downpour.  That helped to clean all the crud off my windows that had been deposited on them when we washed them at the gas station.  Never do that at night, after people have been cleaning their windows all day with the same bucket of water. 

I have no real point to this post.  It's just a random update, and pictures of meatloaf.  I would like to mention that Greg made this recipe with nothing bad happening to him, or it.  It was delicious; great comfort food this chilly evening!




Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Granola – Monica’s recipe

My friend Monica made delicious granola and had some at work one day.  She let me try some.  It was really good!  I make this recipe every 10 days or so.  The first time I made it, I followed her recipe exactly, only adding a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses to increase the iron.  Since then, I've changed up the recipe depending on what nuts and dried fruits I have on hand.  One time I tried putting chocolate chips in it, but didn't wait long enough for the granola to cool after baking and let's just say, next time I will wait for the granola to cool completely. 

This is a moist kind of granola, not all hard and crunchy.  Nowadays when I run out of homemade and buy granola at the store for convenience, I don't care as much for the store-bought stuff.  I miss my Monica granola.

Here is the basic recipe.

Granola – Monica’s recipe

Preheat oven to 325.
3 c oats
1 peeled & shredded apple
½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg

In a separate bowl, combine
1/2 c honey
¼ c canola oil
¼ c brown sugar

Pour over the oat mixture.   Spread on a sheet pan and bake for about 20 minutes, flipping after 10 minutes. 

Once you pull it out of the oven & it cools a bit, add
½ c dried cranberries
½ c slivered almonds

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Tonight when I made it, I used a superfruit blend of blueberries, pomegranate and cranberries; some extra cranberries; walnuts; whole almonds.  I used way more than the 1 cup total shown in the recipe.  I like the extra fruit and nuts in my granola.   I didn't use nutmeg because I don't care for it; I added 1 T blackstrap molasses; and I only used about 1/8 teaspoon of salt.  I also put the oven at 350, because in the past this has not cooked enough to my liking at only 20 minutes in a 325 oven.  I cook it for about 12 minutes, then stir, then another 10 minutes.  Basically, I guess I don't use Monica's recipe at all anymore!  Just the general idea of it.


I also needed bandaids.  My new kitchen gadget for this recipe is a box grater with a little cup on the bottom that holds the grated apple.  Oh, this reminds me - it wasn't until about the 8th time I made this recipe that I noticed it said "1 peeled and shredded apple."  I have never peeled the apple, just grated it down to the peel.  That worked great on my old grater, a flat thing that looks like one side of a box grater and lays nicely on my cutting board so I can shred flat.  This new grater, even though it looks all helpful, was kind of a pain.  I had a hard time getting the little box to stay on the bottom, and ended up kind of balancing the grater on the box.  Also, it  is really sharp and I sliced my thumb.  Next time I use this grater, I will go ahead and put  a bandaid on my thumb first, to save time.




OK, so mix the oats, shredded apple, sea salt and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, mix the oil, brown sugar, honey and molasses.  HELPFUL HINT:  If you measure the oil first, then use the same measuring cup for the honey, the honey won't stick to the measuring cup. 



Now mix everything together well.  Spread it out on a baking pan kind of evenly.  I used to cut my parchment paper to fit the pan.  That never worked out well, no matter how careful I was.  The paper never did fit perfectly and lay totally flat, like it always does on The Barefoot Contessa.  I'd love to know how her parchment paper assistant does that.  Now I just put a piece down that's big enough to cover the pan, and call it a day.

Right after I took pictures of the oat mixture and the honey mixture, my camera stopped working.  It won't unload the pictures, and I get an error message that says "can't download, don't know why, write down this number: 83085725 in case you decide to research this error."  First of all, I wouldn't even know where to start.  Second of all, I have a backup camera, which was dead.  Luckily I had backup batteries.  So the camera with all the beginning pictures is waiting for the battery to recharge, and the backup camera is doing just fine so far.

While the granola is cooking, I put the nuts into an oven-proof pan and roast them in the oven at the same time.  Don't forget they are in there.   Take them out when you stir the granola!



After another 10 minutes take it out of the oven and let it cool.  This time mine got slightly darker than I had hoped.  I attribute this to having to cook it on the very top rack in the oven.  All my screwing around with bandaids and cameras and batteries and the threat of research took up a lot of time, and Greg had a roast to put in the oven.  So I used the top shelf and he used the middle shelf (the good all-around baking one) (just sayin').



Too dark, but totally edible

Chop up the nuts, and now you just have to wait while the granola cools completely. 


Almonds and walnuts, roasted




Almonds and walnuts, chopped

When the granola is cooled, pick up the parchment paper and dump the granola into a cannister.  This never goes as smoothly as I think it's going to go.


#!&%!

Make sure to get all of it.  It goes everywhere.




Then, mix the granola with the nuts and fruit.  I just dump the nuts and fruit in and put on the lid, then flip the cannister all around.  Now, go to bed so it will be morning and you can eat some fresh, homemade Monica granola in your Greek yogurt, with honey drizzled over!



Oh good, the camera battery has charged up enough to download the pictures!  No research required after all.  Good.  Between cooking and bleeding and camera maintenance, it has taken me about twice as long to make granola as it usually does.  Seriously, before I started writing a blog, I could cook pretty much any recipe without all this drama!

PS:  I can see that the font size is all over the place.  Let's just ignore that.

These are the nutritional stats not for the original recipe that Monica gave me, but for my latest batch, which has different nuts and fruits than the original recipe (and more of them, too).
nutrition facts