Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Making My Own Snopes

Have you ever seen photos of impossibly large dogs? We were just looking at one on Facebook the other day. My mom thought it was photoshopped, but I thought it was just the perspective of the camera. She looked it up on Snopes, and found that, yes, indeed, it was a forced perspective. The human in the photo is farther from the lens of the camera, exaggerating the already grandiose size of the dog. Snopes had a link to some other pictures of huge dogs using the same fools-the-eye technique.

I decided to have my own fun and see how big I could make Finley, the English Springer Spaniel. I could already picture the headlines...."World's Largest Springer Spaniel Discovered in North Dakota!" Of course, Finley is no Newfoundland, so the effect isn't as grand, but it still shows how perspective can change everything.

Of course nothing would do but for Jackie, the Beautiful Border Collie to get in on the action. From World's Largest Border Collie....

To World's Smallest Miniature Border Collie.

All within the space of 2 minutes. Perspective is a fun toy, isn't it......

Cookbook Review

I guess I'll have to treat my little supermarket cookbook with a little more respect now. I wanted to post the information about my "Fall Baking" cookbook just in case anyone was intrigued enough by the recipes to want one of their own. I can't find it anywhere...apparently it was a limited edition and I got the only copy produced or something. Anyway, if anyone sees a recipe in my review that they want to try, I'll be happy to give it to you. I just don't want to publish the complete recipe collection online because it is someone's book.

Apple Pecan Stuffing

Chicken broth
Corn bread stuffing
Chopped pecans

Saute the onions and butter, then add the apple. Cook about a minute more, then add the broth and bring to a boil. Stir in stuffing and pecans, bake for 30 minutes, and you're done.

An easy recipe that tastes decent; I've never added an apple to my stuffing, so that was new. It was a little plainer than I'm used to, and I ended up adding the stuff we traditionally throw in---chopped olives, peas, cashews, veggie meat, that sort of thing. I also added fresh sage and thyme because that's what I always do.

Banana Nut Cake with Brown Sugar Topping

Brown sugar
3 bananas
Chopped nuts
White chocolate chips
Baking soda

Brown sugar
Chopped nuts

Mix flour, brown sugar, chopped nuts, white chocolate chips, oil, milk, egg, and baking soda with electric mixer for 2 minutes or until well blended. Pour into greased and floured round pan and bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool and cover with brown sugar topping. To make the topping, you combine the butter and sugar in a saucepan and cook until smooth.

Quite frankly, this cake amazed me. I thought it would be a complete failure; I mixed the ingredients according to the directions and had to add almost an extra cup of milk before I could even get it to mix. Even then, it was a heavy, thick batter that I expected to form into an inedible brick. It has no salt and only 1 tsp of baking soda for leavening.

I can't say the finished product was the most delicate thing I've ever eaten, but I was just so impressed that I could eat it at all! The cake did rise, though it is on the hearty side of things, and tasted pretty good. I've been eating a little bit for breakfast each day. I would definitely make this recipe again as an alternative to banana bread if I had a bunch of bananas that needed using.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Magic Pillowcases: A How-to

So fast and easy they're.....MAGIC!
This is a really fun, fast, and super-easy sewing project. I enjoyed making them and I'm sure you will, too, if you give it a try.

Standard size pillow case:
Main fabric: 3/4 yard
Trim: 2 inch strip, width of fabric (I made it with these dimensions--I think I prefer a wider strip for next time)
Cuff: 1/3 yard

1. Fold the two inch strip in half and iron with wrong sides together. (It helps to have all your fabrics nicely ironed)

2. Lay the cuff fabric on a table right side up. Place the trim fabric along the top edge of the cuff, matching raw edges. Place the main fabric on top of the trim fabric with the right side down, wrong side up. Pin layers together along top edge.

3. Roll up the main fabric so that a few inches of the cuff fabric shows along the bottom.

4. Bring the cuff fabric up over the roll of main fabric. Match up all the raw edges and re-pin. You should now have a long roll of fabric with all the layers encased in the cuff fabric.

5. Sew a straight 1/2 inch seam along the raw edge of your fabric roll.

6. Turn the pillowcase right side out by pulling the main fabric out from inside the cuff.

7. Press your trim and cuff fabrics. Looks good, doesn't it?

8. To finish the pillowcase, you will be making a french seam along the two unfinished edges. Place the raw edges together with right sides out using a 1/4 inch seam. Sew along the side and bottom of case.

9. Turn pillow case inside out and sew the seams again, using a 1/2 inch seam. Turn right side out, press, and enjoy.

See, that was easy, wasn't it? Here are some things I learned making my first one that helped my second one to be better:

Even if you read the directions in my blog and they seem confusing, I promise that if you get your fabric and try it step-by-step with the pieces in front of you, it will make sense. Pinky-swear.

Taking your time and keeping your raw edges nice and even will make your pillowcase look better when it's finished. My first trim fabric waved around a little because it wasn't pinned quite evenly.

Even though you're using the whole width of the fabric, bolts may vary slightly in size, so be prepared to trim some of your edges to match. A rotary cutter (which I don't have yet, but intend to get) works great for this.

I found that ironing my french seam before sewing the final seam made it go a little better. Also, make sure your loose threads are trimmed off those edges of fabric or they will poke out of your nice, neat seam.

I finished these two pillowcases in under an hour, and that was with stopping to photograph each step. They're lots of fun and can be used for birthday, wedding, house warming, or just-because gifts.

Go crazy with your creativity!

97 and Counting

My grandpa is dying. That may seem a rather abrupt beginning to what is normally a pretty cheerful blog, but see, we've gotten used to it. After all, he's been a professional die-er for almost two years now. I personally think he's going for the coveted Longest Running Hospice Patient award.

He got his first terminal diagnosis when the heart specialist told him that with a heart like his, he should already be dead. He'd had one or more silent heart attacks in years past and almost all of his heart tissue was non-functional. He was given 6 months to live.

A year later he was given his second terminal diagnosis. Not only did he have heart that was barely pumping enough oxygenated blood to sustain life, now he had a blood cancer that was making his blood unable to carry a full load of oxygen. This time the doctor guessed about 3 months. Silly doctors! They need to quit predicting, 'cause he ain't listening.

So Grandpa remains in Hospice care, getting just enough worse each re-certification to allow him to continue in their excellent program. And we get to have our Grandpa stick around for, well, who knows?

Thus it was that this past Saturday we celebrated his 97th birthday. Thankfully, it was a very good day for him. Some days he's very tired and under the weather, sleeping all day. But this was one of his lively days, and he so enjoyed all the cards and birthday calls that he received.

I baked him a double layer lemon cake with lemon filling. It was pretty tasty; I forced myself to have a piece even though I had a touch of a cold. He has to be fed because most days feeding himself is too much effort for his oxygen-starved body. It was hard to get a picture of him with his cake because every time my mom put it in front of him, he opened his mouth, trying to get a bite. I guess he liked it, but eventually we got him to smile for a photo.

He couldn't always remember that it was his birthday, so he got a little suspicious of the whole group of us standing around grinning at him and taking his picture. We had to keep reminding him there was a reason for our odd behavior.

It was a good day for us, too, because he was much more like his old self. And his old self was a delightful, brilliant, funny man who loved his family and loved his God. I hope I can leave even a fraction of the legacy that he will leave. Whenever he's finished toying with the medical professionals, that is.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cookbook Review

At last, at long last, I leave the stupid pie section behind me. Today's recipe is the final one in that section; I've also moved out of main dishes and into sides. By now, I'm almost a third of the way through the cookbook; I figure I'll finish about next Thanksgiving!

Sweet Potato Fries

Large sweet potato
Olive oil
Ground red pepper
Honey or maple syrup (optional)

Super-easy recipe here. Simply cut the potato into spears, toss with seasonings and oil, then bake at 350 until done, about 45 min. The honey and maple syrup are for dipping; I tried one of each for review purposes. The effect is interesting, but VERY sweet; I still prefer ketchup.

I have been waiting eagerly for this recipe---I love home-made fries and sweet potatoes in almost any form. I added some Italian seasoning for a little extra flavor, but the whole thing was delicious. I will definitely be making this one again.

Pecan Pie

9 inch pie crust
Butter or margarine
Corn syrup
Pecan halves

This pie was a little more complicated than some of the others. It requires beating the butter til fluffy, adding the sugar, then adding the eggs one at a time while mixing with an electric mixer. I didn't pay attention to the directions, so I dumped all my eggs in at once, but it doesn't seem to have been catastrophic. After everything is blended, you pour it into the pie crust and arrange pecans on top. Then off to the bottom shelf of the oven for about an hour at 350.

This is a difficult recipe to review because I hate pecan pie and always have. Egg pudding. That's all it is. Having made it, I consider it even grosser than I did before, because I've seen it in it's virgin state. Unbaked, it looks like omelet pie. But my dad likes pecan pie, and he said this one is edible. He did say there was something weird with the sugar, like maybe my sugar didn't dissolve. Maybe I'll take the rest of it to potluck, because I think it's asking too much of any man to expect him to consume a whole pecan pie himself.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Super Ninja Ghost Cat and the Fresh Snowfall

This morning I woke up to two things: fresh snow and a fresh cold. I'm only excited about one of them. There's been such a famine of snow this year that any is exciting and this was (sad, but true) one of the heaviest this season. Snuffly nose notwithstanding, I grabbed my gloves and camera and headed outside.

Finley was super excited because, while he loves the outdoors, he loves it better if I'm with him. Typical male, he runs off and does his own thing once I'm out there, but he wants to be able to see me if he looks for me. Anika was already out and ready to come in and warm her paws, but when she saw we were headed out, she turned around and came with us.

The snow was piled up, fluffy and white, on every horizontal surface. It looked like I'd been transported to the South at the height of cotton season. Only quite a bit colder.

I wandered about, happily snapping photos, unaware that my steps were shadowed by an unseen presence.

Actually, I could see him, but didn't want to crush his fragile spirit by telling him so. It was Super Ninja Ghost cat! It's hard on him, being a white cat in a land of browns and greens. But when it snows, Snickers comes into his own. At last he can lead the life of super-cool invisibility he's always wanted.

I've been spotted!

If I hold still, they can't see me.


Awwwwww, Mom! You weren't supposed to find me.....

Can YOU find Super Ninja Ghost Cat?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Blessed Reprieve

What a relief! I was able to get all of my appointments completed in one day. No tedious, repetitious trips sucking the life out of my schedule like a giant brain-eating slug. As you can tell, I wasn't looking forward to my week. And God worked it out so I had the fun of a trip to Williston and the rest of my week free besides. Sometimes it's easier to see the "all things work together for good" than others.

While between appointments I was able to frolic amongst the thrift stores and downtown shops to my heart's content. I got a few nice things at the thrift shops, but the pinnacle of my shoppiness happened at J.C. Penney's. The Williston Penney's is a nice store, but on the small side. So when they need to change stock, the old merchandise gets clearanced HARD. I don't even shop at Walmart because it's too expensive, but I like to duck in Penney's at change-of-season and see what they have to get rid of.

Yesterday was a good day to go. Oh, yeah. They had a whole rack of women's clothes for $2 each. I loaded up, getting some things for me and some things for Christmas next year. See, the beauty of that is that by next Christmas the clothes won't be the rejects that nobody else will take. No, they will be hard-to-find and exclusive fashion because they won't be in any of the shops anymore.

I got $398 worth of clothes and I only spent $26. The funny thing was, at my appointment just afterward, one of the questions was, "Do you feel guilty about your last purchase for yourself?" Uh, NO WAY! How about "flushed with a sense of triumph and pleasure"!

This morning I tried taking some pictures of my loot to post (with little black squares hiding the identity of the gift items), but it turns out that even kitty princesses can't resist a good fashion bargain. Ceecee was obsessed with all the silky fabrics, buttons, and little clearance tags---the girl has good instincts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Herding Cats

This is going to be a busy week for me; I have appointments on three consecutive days down in Williston. Unlike most people (maybe all!) I actually enjoy going to Williston for my monthly shopping expedition. But three times in three days!? Even for me, that's a bit much.

Last night I was feeling a bit of the stress, already tired before I'd even started my crazy week. I really, REALLY wanted to go to bed and get a good night's rest. Unfortunately, all my cats were having their nightly wander. It's supposed to be a short dash outside for exercise before bed, but there have been nights I was up until almost midnight, trying to corral the last straggler. One of their favorite games is to trickle in one at a time, then, when I open the door to let the last one in, they all rush back out.

So as I went to the door, I prayed an automatic prayer that I would be able to get the cats in easily. I have to confess, I didn't really expect an answer. But as soon as I opened the door, they rushed in one by one, right down to Lazarus Boopsie and Snickers, always the last cats to surrender.

Of course, now I'm a little worried, because it seems like every time I get a hug from God it's because I'm about to need it. But I'm thankful for such a nice reminder that God cares about the small things in our hectic lives---even herding cats.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cookbook Review

I'm sitting here typing this while wrapped in my Christmas snuggie because I just drank a bunch of smoothie and I am cold from the inside out---why do I always get smoothie obsessed in the winter time when it's freezing? Blogging about some warm comfort food will be just the thing right now.

Turkey and Green Bean Casserole

Slivered almonds
Herb-seasoned stuffing mix
Chicken broth
Cream of mushroom soup
French-style green beans
Cooked turkey, cubed

This is a beautiful recipe of stir-and-dump simplicity. The stuffing mix is poured into the bottom of a pan (using non-stick spray first turns out to be a good idea), tossed with the broth, and then covered with the soup/turkey/green bean mixture (of course the turkey was of the veggie variety). Sprinkle toasted slivered almonds on top, bake and enjoy.

This recipe is one of the reasons I've been slogging through this stupid cookbook; I knew I would love it, and it did not disappoint. I even made it for potluck without testing it first, I was that sure. It got good reviews there, though like I said earlier, non-stick spray would have made things a little easier. But by the time people had the stuffing scraped out of the pan they'd worked up a good appetite!

Sour Cream Squash Pie

1 package frozen winter squash
Sour cream
Pumpkin pie spice
Evaporated milk
Graham cracker crust

This was another first in my pie making career---I've never had, let alone made, squash pie. The recipe was simple to make; just mix all the ingredients, pour them in a pie crust, and bake. I used soy milk instead of evaporated milk and it still came out OK. I did have some difficulty getting the sour cream mixed well because I used a substitute that has a firmer texture, but I'm sure no one minded the little white blobs in their dessert.

This was a decent pie. I may make it at least one more time since my dad, in his eagerness to please, got me twice as much squash as I needed! I took the pie to potluck and people seemed to enjoy it. I'm still looking forward to the end of the stupid pie section in this cookbook; only one more recipe and I'm set free into the Classic Cakes and More section!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Three Birthdays Down, One More to Go

My parents' birthdays are both in January, but we wanted to surprise them this year so we saved their parties until February. Don't be silly, it had nothing to do with not being ready on their actual birth dates. We just wanted to celebrate when they least expected it.

Somewhere along the way between January and February, I got the great idea to recreate their favorite dishes from King Tsin, the family's gotta-have-it Chinese restaurant in California. At the time of our move, we offered the establishment the chance to go with us and be our personal chefs, but they were short-sighted enough to turn us down. Their loss. Thus I was forced to cook all the yummies myself.

Never again. There is a reason that Chinese restaurants have something called "staff". I pressed Caleb and Tiggy into service as my rather reluctant sous chefs, but even that wasn't enough. Plus I had limited space and equipment so I could only tackle one dish at a time. Good thing Chinese food tastes good at room temperature!

My mom was banned from the premises while we were cooking and my dad was frowned at fiercely if he went in the kitchen. I would have banned him, too, if he'd a-listened. At last everything was ready, cooked to perfection, and some dishes quite a bit past perfection in the quest to keep them warm while I frantically finished the rest.

The menu makes my mouth water just thinking about it...

Sizzling rice soup: a watery soup with water chestnuts, snow peas, and mushrooms. When served, hot rice is poured in and sizzles in the steaming broth.

Egg rolls: nuff said!

Deep-fried asparagus: a seasonal favorite dipped in tempura batter, fried, and served with sweet sour sauce.

Tofu-chicken salad: an iceberg salad with cucumbers, carrots, snow peas, crunchy noodles, and crispy tofu slices. It is drizzled with a sesame dressing and mixed right at your table.

We also had our traditional family dish of shish kabobs with homemade gluten steaks and a sweet sour stir fry on rice.And for dessert, we had fortune cookies and some lemon shortbread bars I made.

The whole clan was there, I'm sure primarily to honor my parents' birthdays, but it also helped that EVERYONE loves King Tsin. The dishes got many positive reviews, even though they weren't identical. My rice didn't sizzle and my egg rolls weren't as good as store-bought, but hey, it's the thought that counts, right? The asparagus was spot on and there was enough of it to have leftovers---that's never happened before.

Just a few days later it was Devon's birthday. Since this week is Spring Break for Westbians, the Gibbs family was taking advantage of the time off and planned a road trip that began the afternoon of Devon's birthday. It also ended on Devon's birthday, but that's another story.

Since Devon was going to be gone in the afternoon of his birthday, we decided to hold a surprise Breakfast Party. Hit 'em when they least expect it, that sort of thing. So I was over at my parents' early to help my dad get the waffle feast ready. When everything was just so, we sent out the word for the kids to head over. Then we waited. And waited. And waited.

It had snowed the night before, and Damon was supposed to do a quick sweep of some businesses downtown, something that would normally take about 15 minutes. He'd been gone about an hour by now. Caleb watched from the window and kept us informed as Devon joined Damon up the hill.

"They're still up there. Still up there. Now they're headed this way." Ten minutes go by.

"Caleb! How are they doing?"

"They're almost to the end of the driveway, but they've stopped to play with a branch."

Maybe we should have told Devon that there was a birthday party inside. At last they made it to the end of the driveway and I took position in front of the door, ready to capture Devon't shocked expression as he entered. I waited. And waited. And waited.

"Caleb! How are they doing?"

"Now Devon fell down."

At last Jack came in and forced the boys inside. I don't think surprise Breakfast Parties are a good fit for this crowd. Devon and Damon are like Billy from Family Circus and Tiggy didn't even show up; she'd slipped back to bed when no one was looking and Noni had to go back and get her.

At last we were all assembled and ready to partake. SOMEONE had forgotten to get party plates, but we had Thanksgiving plates left over. We tried to tell Devon we were using them because we are so thankful for him....I'm not sure he was convinced.

Noni was busy preparing for their epic trip, so I made the birthday cake. I used a blueberry muffin mix, but poured it in a pan and covered it with a crumble topping. It turned out pretty well and was just the thing for a Breakfast Party. We had quite a bit left, but that was only because the rest of the food was so yummy no one had room for much cake.

Then it was time for presents. I had gotten Devon a scratching post for his beloved cat. My mom delved into more fiendish territory; she got Devon a book on folding paper airplanes and three packages of paper. Right before a road trip. I think someone may have a touch of latent hostility there! (Actually, it was my idea, so I'd better not say too much...)

We had a great time, and now we can look forward to my Grandpa's birthday on the 25th. He'll be 97, two years past when he was told he was dying, so it'll be an extra-special occasion.

My breakfast swatches....

Cookbook Review

The kids still complain about the Thanksgiving where I put 1 bite of everything we were having in the blender, pureed it, and made them each take a taste. It really wasn't that bad because of the complimentary flavors of the holiday, but do they whine! Hey, I'm in the business of building memories here....I never said they'd all be good ones.

Cranberry-glazed Ham

Cranberry sauce
Dijon mustard

There were a few substitutions or exclusions in this recipe. Actually, by the time I was done, the only ingredients left were cranberry sauce and the 2 spices. I loathe mustard, and not much chance of this vegetarian eating (or cooking!) a ham. But sweet potatoes are round and colored---practically the same thing. Otherwise the recipe was pretty basic. Blend the ingredients together and spread evenly over the "ham" several times during baking.

While I'm sure this dish was nothing like the original, the cranberry glaze on the sweet potatoes was interesting. I am looking forward to trying a dish of sliced sweet potatoes baked with a bit of brown sugar and some cranberry sauce. I think it will be quite good and will be a little bit of variety from the traditional preparations we've always used.

(The photography is dreadful for these two dishes as I didn't have the right camera. In person the dishes were more appetizing)

Cranberry Pear Cobbler

Ripe pears
Orange peel

Yellow cake mix
Brown sugar

I followed the recipe pretty closely for this one except I had no buttermilk and I'm sure that affected how the topping turned out. I also added more sugar to the filling right out of the starting gate since every other desert that involved cranberries has been way too tart. Pretty easy recipe; blend the filling together, dump into pan, and cover with blobs of the topping mix.

I really liked this dish; I'm not sure if I'll ever make it again just because how often do I get pears to use for cobbler, but it was very good. The pears and orange peel gave it a very delicate flavor and the cranberries saved it from being chokingly sweet (cranberries are good that way!) Caleb really liked it, so maybe I'll have to put in the shopping effort and make it again sometime.