Friday, January 31, 2014

Travel Planning

It's been eight days since my mom was admitted to the hospital, and seven days since her surgery.  

I've had many conversations with my dad, and several brief ones with my mom, one of which was very disconcerting just this evening, and I was still not feeling at all confident that they don't need 'help' in some way, shape or form.  With that, I grabbed the bull by the horns tonight by firmly telling my mom that I needed to find out what was going on.  I'm more assertive in this arena than she is. 

I spoke with her nurse on duty at the time, and she answered some of my questions, and then she had the doctor call me directly for answers she wasn't at liberty to share.  I then called my dad back and let him know and we pretty much decided it couldn't hurt for me to travel north.

The emotions in doing so are a mixed bag due to other family issues but I'll cross those bridges as I get to them if need be, and due to weather forecasts for driving.  I'm keeping my eye on the weather forecasts  for the higher elevations - I'm not experienced in snow/ice driving so I'm a bit fearful of that, even though I'll be traveling a major interstate highway that is heavily traveled.  Now, to determine the precise day/time to go.  It could be as early as 2:00 or 3:00 Sunday morning, or a day or days later.  I need to pack and decide what to take that I can or will work on during those times of just sitting and waiting or keeping my mom company in the hospital.  She will likely remain in the hospital for another week according to the doctor and if things don't improve in that time, possibly yet another surgery.

There's much to arrange before I go, so I think I'm off to la-la land for a good night's sleep. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Another Mom Update

My mom is still hospitalized.  It was originally believed she would be able to be released Friday (1/31), but it's now looking like it could yet be another week or two.  The nurse says they're just assessing her day by day.  

After an abdominal surgery for her ailment, the body has to resume functioning normally and as yet hasn't, and she cannot be released until it does.  She's on a liquid diet and hasn't yet held down solid foods, so those processes are slow.  She's 80 and lengthy hospital stays alarm me.

She's not a happy camper, and I'm not sure any one would be in her position, so all prayers would be appreciated.  

I'm still attempting to assess if there's a legitimate 'need' for me to travel there (my parents keep saying no), versus just going to lend support and to ease my own concerns.  I have to weigh our own financial situation with Marty's unemployment along with Nick's means of getting to school and his piano lessons.  Life can be complicated at times with decisions seemingly impossible to calculate.

Committing it to the Lord.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Toaster Oven Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Recently, I've seen a recipe floating around the social network for a cake that looked to be so easy and with only two ingredients.  That's right, just two ingredients, and both of them are a couple of my favorites.  Angel Food cake is my all-time favorite, and who can resist pineapple? 

This cake is SO simple, and SO quick.  Cake mix, crushed pineapple, and a 9 x 13 baking dish.  And my Oster toaster oven can accommodate 9 x 13 pans!  Win, win!

This is the image and directions I came across, our 'usual suspects' look like twins all around don't they?  I failed to make note of who to credit this to, so if you're out there, I'll gladly do so.

Preheat that oven to 350 degrees F.  Do you know how hard it is to take a flash photo of a digital read-out?  I had to figure out how to do a non-flash photo and that's why it's a bit fuzzy!  

If the cake mix you choose, should you choose to make this cake, has a Box Tops for Education coupon, don't forget to cut it off and give it to your school if they take them, or find a school that does if yours doesn't.

Dump the cake mix into a bowl.  I chose this one, from a set of those wonderful Pyrex bowls from the 1950s.  I have the complete set from my mom except that this bowl is actually a replacement as she broke the original.  It is slightly different from the others so maybe a different year.

Grease the pan, I used coconut oil, which was solidified because my house is always too cold for it to liquefy. 

Add the can of crushed pineapple, juice and all, and mix together.  I used a whisk, but a spoon would be fine, and next time I'll probably use a spoon myself.  As you can see, it turns frothy, and as you can also see, it fit pretty tightly in the bowl, so next time I'll use the bigger bowl.

Generally, baking in a regular oven instructs to place the pan on the middle rack.  In this toaster oven, there is no middle rack.  There is a rack that looks to be equi-distance between the upper and lower elements, but if you place the item on that rack, it places the food item quite close to the upper element.  I was concerned about this, and I was also concerned about placing it on the bottom because the bottom of the pan would be very close to the bottom element.  The instructed baking time was 30 minutes, so I thought why not bake half the time on the upper rack, and half the time on the lower rack.  After just over 5 minutes, I was already smelling that burnt sugar smell, but when I looked in, it was browning but not burnt.  I let it go another 5 minutes, and decided it would be best to switch it to the lower rack at that point.  At the switching point, I was worried that the cake would fall flat or do some other weird thing as, though it was browned on top, it was very jiggly.

Even so, the top stilled darkened even more.  The photos make it look black-burned, but it is only deep brown.  I pulled it out of the oven at the end of 30 minutes and the cake was fully cooked.  You can see the sides are that nice light color of an Angel Food cake.  I would like to say it smelled great while baking, but all I could smell was the burnt-sugar odor.  However,...

I couldn't wait for it to cool off and cut myself a piece after it was out of the oven for only 5 or 10 minutes.

The inside was perfect!  And oh so absolutely delicious.  Again, the photo really darkened the top.  The edges were a little lighter than the center of the cake and had no burnt-sugar taste.  Later in the evening after dinner, I had another piece with some ice cream on top - oh yum, yum - and that was more from the center and it did have just a hint of the burnt-sugar flavor.

The next time I bake this cake, oh yes, there will be a next time, I will consider placing it on the lower rack first and watch it.  If I find it still tends to 'burn' on the top, I will try a loose sheet of foil tented over the top.  I was also thinking of altering the recipe by maybe adding some coconut, maybe even some rum extract, I love those tropical flavor combinations.

Much of the purpose of this blog-theme is to determine what can and can't be made in a large toaster oven, and to see how well they turn out with or without adjustments.  I do not recommend this for small toaster ovens; always consult your own toaster oven's manual first and abide by those recommendations.

Now, go make a cake! 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Holding Pattern

I've spoken with my Mom since the surgery.  I'm not sure it should be considered a surgery; sounds more like it was an exploratory during which they performed a temporary fix.  She will require further surgery and I don't know when that will occur.  She will be in the hospital for at least another week.

She was pretty groggy and loopy when I spoke with her so I'm not sure I have a full picture, but I've spoken with my dad, and online chatted with one brother.  I'm not feeling very confident about things, but for now have to trust that they have things under control as much as they say they do.

My aunt Irene lives fairly close and she'll be taking my uncle into the hospital tomorrow for some regular tests he gets and she will check in on Mom while she's there, perhaps then I'll have a better idea of whether it would be wise for me to head up that way, or hold off for now.  

Perhaps I'm feeling I need to be there for me every bit as much as being there for them should they need me or if things should take a turn for the worse - one never knows with elderly patients.  Three siblings live a whole lot closer, but I have freedom of time as I don't have job commitments, though I do have a few family needs that would need to be worked out.  Marty and I have already discussed some of the possible scenarios.

I'm concerned, a whole lot unsure about what to do or not do, and I'm praying,

Friday, January 24, 2014

Waiting For Word

My mom did have the surgery this afternoon/evening.  My dad was going to the hospital at 10 tonight.  They live within a few miles of the hospital and he wasn't planning on staying long.  I tried to call at 10:45 but no answer, so he was not back home yet. I told him I'd be up until 11:00 p.m.   It may be morning before I find out how things went.   My dad just called, and she's made it out of surgery, but nothing to really report yet as she's still in recovery and he's back home.  I could tell he was pretty tired too as his speech was barely discernible and I had to listen very closely but still didn't catch all that he said.

I had planned to go to Road 2 California tomorrow, but as tired as I am, and with the situation up north, I think it's best I stay home. 

Prayers are appreciated., thank you.

Focus...Hocus Pocus...Bogus

Shoot, a word I'm trying to incorporate into action this year is FOCUS.  Today, focus needs some hocus pocus as in conjuring up the ability to pull rabbits out of a hat, not as the definition states: meaningless talk or activity, often designed to draw attention away from and disguise what is actually happening,  Maybe hocus pocus is what's interfering today.  Conjuring is bogus anyway, so a whole lot of prayer would be a really good thing.

I yawned all the way, and it's not so far these days, taking Nick to school.  I just cannot get into gear.  I've put some dishes away, and put some more into the dishwasher, run a load of laundry and folded one that was still in the dryer, swept the floors and made a mental note that they are in terrible need of a mop, refilled my water bottles, and was intent on getting the table cleared off (it's still the way it was in a photo from this post).

The phone rang.  It was one of my brothers from up in the wet land.  He so rarely ever calls so I immediately had a dread that there was a problem.  I thought perhaps something with my step-dad as he was having a throat biopsy yesterday.  Instead, it was to let me know that my mom is in the hospital with a blockage in the upper intestine.  She's 80.  Initially she was told that surgery would be required right away.  But then the doctor/surgeon said he wants to wait two or three days to see if it clears on its own.  She doesn't like this surgeon.  He's only been a surgeon for a few years (he did my emergency appendectomy in 2011 when I was up there) and performed her mastectomy in 2012 and she basically believes he's a butcher. 

In her small-ish town, he's the only surgeon at that hospital.  She was waiting to discuss some things with the charge nurse when I called her.  One of the things that had been mentioned to her when she expressed to 'someone' her feelings about the surgeon was that she could check herself out and go to a different hospital in another nearby town.  She said she didn't like that hospital either!  Lots more was said but I won't bore you.

I asked if I needed to come up there as when she has the surgery, she would likely be spending an additional five days or so in the hospital.  She's concerned about my dad, who is not very well either.  And they have two cats to care for.   She was very down.  I won't go into all the family drama dynamics as to why my siblings couldn't help.  That leaves me at loose ends not knowing if she would prefer I be there to help but doesn't want to say so, or she doesn't think it's necessary for me to help.  Additionally, I have responsibilities here that would have to be worked out first if I did head up that way and then the decision if I do go whether to drive (time factors but less costly) or fly (more expensive and would need wheels when I get there but faster).  Elders can be very hard to read when you're 800+ miles away and these elders tend to be difficult even in the best of times. 

Focus, I think I'll go sew and try to re-focus while letting all this mull through my brain.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Late Start Wednesday

Wednesdays are currently my least favorite day.  I know, most people see Wednesday as 'hump day' that point of the week when you start heading toward the weekend rather than away from it.  For us, it's that one odd day during the week when Nick's school starts late.  Instead of the school day beginning at 8:00, it begins at 9:30.  And while it's nice that I could sleep in a little longer, it throws my day off and cuts into the morning routine.  I'm sure I'll adjust, but I'd still prefer time consistency Monday through Friday!

We have a few clouds.  Very few, very high.  These will never produce shade, nor rain.
This Wednesday, after dropping Nick off at school, I had errands to run.  I had to run over to his former school and pick up his Epi-pen from the school medical office as we failed to do so before the Christmas break, and to order his yearbook.  His picture won't be in the one from his new school so he doesn't want it.  While there I spent time chatting with a friend who works in the office, and then cutting through the library chatted with another mom I knew.  

Upon leaving the school, I had to make a quick stop at a market for a couple loaves of bread, and then on to the Credit Union where I had to take care of some banking matters and then I had to stop to gas up the car before heading home.  All of that sure shortens my day for at-home stuff.

Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.
 Our winter weather is for the birds.  I'm sure there are a lot of "snow birds" from some of those super cold states that are wintering here and thoroughly enjoying these temperatures, but I'd like some rain; I pray for rain.  That 16% humidity reading is false.  This gauge never falls below 16%.  I'm sure we're somewhere closer to single-digit humidity.  It is very dry out.  You can see we're already at 82 (higher now I'm sure).  That was yesterday's high with a low of 48.  Indoors is the 66 temp with 16% humidity - which is also probably false, I need to dig out my humidifier and get some moisture into the air.

First 2014 daffodil.
I took a stroll outside to get that shot of the faint clouds in an otherwise blue sky and was pleasantly surprised to find some blooming daffodils in their pots.  I'm sure they need water, but I'll do that later, or tomorrow.  Daffodils are one of my favorite flowers, they remind me of the wet land where they grow abundantly, and often in the wild where perhaps they were originally planted by an original homesteader where the buildings have long since returned to dust.

10-day forecast
Our weather outlook through the end of the month is one of little change.  There is certainly no moisture on the horizon.  Our state governor has officially declared us to be in a drought and asked us to voluntarily conserve water by 20%.  We (us personally) are not big water consumers compared to the average household, so cutting back 20% may not be an easy task.  If it becomes mandatory, and they base it on prior consumption, we could have a real challenge on our hands, I may only shower once a week!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Toaster Oven Tuesday - 21 January 2014

It was several years ago, probably four or five by now, that I grew tired of fixing our family's traditional ham at Christmas.  We all like ham, but it wasn't special, as ham was something we easily had at other times of the year, like Easter or just whenever I'd buy the 3-count, thick-sliced ham slabs from Costco.  And for Christmas, I wanted something special, more elegant if you will.  

Christmas and Thanks-giving were the only two holidays I really decked out the table even though it's just the three of us.  We of course, do celebrate Easter, but not usually with a big fussy meal as Easter always falls on a Sunday and with going to church, there isn't the same time available to fix a special spread.

Our newest food tradition is to have a prime rib roast.  I've always purchased them at Costco as I love their meats.  I did notice this year, though after-the-fact, that Costco was definitely not the least expensive.  Local chain groceries were selling them cheaper.  I did not check on them at the groceries, so I don't know if their quality was the same or not.

This year's rib roast was a 5.5-lb piece of deliciousness...once it was cooked of course.  A five to six pound roast is usually a good size for us, and I thought it should be perfect for the toaster oven as well.

Since I'd purchased the roast almost a week before Christmas, I stuck it in the freezer, removing it just two days before to thaw in the refrigerator. 

I hadn't checked it until I took it out a few hours prior to cooking, and using my instant read thermometer discovered it was still pretty cold at it's core, like below 28° ! I had some concerns about how much time to allow.

 The first year I made the rib roast, I also found this seasoning blend at Costco and have used it each time.  It smells so-o-o good when it's cooking and tastes delicious too.

Unwrapped, ready for seasoning.

Covered with seasoning and ready to stick into the oven.  The pan I used is the broiling pan that came with the oven.  It was ideal and caught all the fat that melted off the roast.

 Oh yum, it looks and smells wonderful.  It should be obvious, due to its size and height, that I used the lower rack.  I followed the guidelines for roasting that are on the back of the seasoning package which were 14-17 minutes per pound at 325° F.  At the time it should have been done it was still quite far from the needed internal temperature and ultimately took an additional half hour or more to reach temperature, and then still had to rest for 30 minutes.  I don't believe the additional time required was any fault of the toaster oven, but rather due to the roast being still in a rather frosty state inside.

You can see here where it is plattered, that it turned out beautifully, and to just the right level of doneness for our tastes.  We ate heartily, and had leftovers that were reheated on a plate, sliced and put into a sandwich or two, and then finally, the bones were cleaned of meat, then boiled for several hours, picked again for any missed meaty pieces and the broth and remaining meat, along with some vegetables and barley were turned into a hearty soup. So while this rib roast is a pricey cut of meat, we only indulge in it once a year, and we eat from it for a number of meals. 

And once again, the toaster oven proved to be an excellent kitchen tool in the absence of a 'normal' oven.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Birds and A Dining Room Project

I just can't believe how fast time is passing, it's mid-January, already!  And with the heat and drought, you'd think it was May.  85 degrees in mid-January in the Northern Hemisphere is NOT my idea of winter.  I did see a couple of Oregon Juncos in the backyard a couple of days ago, so maybe they're precursors to finally getting some winter weather, but the 10-day outlook isn't looking hopefully.  The first two pictures below are not Oregon Juncos, they are Ringed Turtle-Doves. 

I have not specifically noticed this bird here before, but it is common to our area according to my bird books.  We get the Mourning Dove (yep, spelled m-o-U-r-n-i-n-g) which has spots on its wings and no black ring around the neck.  We also get the far more elusive Band-tailed Pigeon which is really very pretty - not your common rats-with-wings aka pigeons, but a large, shy, lavender/purple colored (although the book says gray/blue-gray) pigeon with a black-tipped yellow beak and a white half-ring on the back of the neck and of course bands on their tails hence the name. 
Ringed Turtle-Dove
When I first saw the Ringed Turtle-Dove, I thought it was the B-T Pigeon, but I've never known them to be on the ground in the backyard and these are smaller.  The pigeons had partied in the tree in the past and hung out on the power lines, but never on the ground.  So when these guys were in the grass pecking at whatever, I grabbed my camera and snapped a number of shots through the very dirty dining room window using my point and shoot with zoom.  I was afraid they'd fly off if I got too close seeing me through the glass.  They do look sweet and peaceful don't they?  I understand that doves are not always so.

And speaking of dining rooms. Yeah, pretty rough transition there.  That has been my focus over the last few days.  This is true confessions time.  For a whole lot of reasons over the last number of years, I have let my housekeeping take a back seat to just about everything else in life.  Some of those reasons included remodel of bathrooms, addition of heating/A-C on the roof with entry to the attic crawlspace through the house when the ductwork was replaced and a variety health problems.  Additionally I had some attitude problems and rebellion, lol.  

The following pictures will give an idea of how hard it is for me to stay focused and on task with the way so much is out of order.  Do you remember those books by Laura Numeroff, If You Give A Mouse A Muffin where the mouse gets one thing, then will want something else and when given that will want yet another thing and eventually the story brings you right back to the mouse wanting a muffin where he started.  That's how house cleaning and chores are for me at the moment, so follow along.
Messy dining room...and some cat toys.
Above is the dining room.  To the left and somewhat behind is the one-butt kitchen without an oven.  The card table is where I had been sewing prior to getting my Sanctuary (quilt room) remodel.  I have removed the card table from the dining room along with the stuff that was on it, and on some of the other surfaces.  That stuff had to go somewhere.  There was stuff that had to go to the recycle barrel.  As I go to the recycle barrel which is in the garage, I continually pass by messy bags holding good handled paper bags.
They are now nice and neatly placed into these milk boxes from Costco - they fit perfectly.  They were not in the dining room, they were in the garage.
These are the messy bags, and some excess bags of varying types that I decluttered directly to the recycle barrel.  The barrel is getting full!  That's a good thing.
And this table, in the living room, I predestined to send to the dining room for my rearrangement project.  Of course, IT had to be cleaned off too.  Yes, there's still a ton of dust in the picture.  Most of that stuff is Nick's gaming platform stuff, or trash.  Who needs those empty boxes for computer components?  Or those plastic packaging items that you need a Skill saw to open.  They headed to the recycle barrel too.  And that purple exercise ball?  The one I bought a year ago to do exercises for my back...that I never's now deflated and placed back in it's box, which had been in the dining room - yeah, go figure - and is now residing in the entry closet, but that may not be where it stays either.  Where does one put exercise equipment they don't use but think they may some day.  I can see the fireplace again, yay!!  Of course, it's way TOO HOT to have a fire and too windy to risk sparks flying up and out of the flue.  Red flag warnings are in effect for the next few January...when it's supposed to be 20 degrees cooler...when it's supposed to rain.
Cat Bathroom
I needed to show this, please excuse the dust - we're dry here, remember?  I was probably putting away some office supplies.  No, no, not in the cupboard but on the upper two shelves that conveniently aren't in the picture.  But what I wanted to show is, as we have no utility room which would be the perfect place to keep the kitties' litter box, and my bathrooms are way too nice to put a litterbox, not to mention pretty small, several years ago, I came up with this idea.  The armoir was a freebie from a family across the street that moved.  Not being in the greatest of shape, smelling like smoke, but quite usable, I had Marty cut a mouse-hole shape at one end, bought a large, high-sided plastic storage tub, cut an opening at one end of it and placed it inside the cupboard.  The doors open easily for cleaning the litterbox, the cats have LOTS of room, and there's some room for storing the scooper, an air freshener, and a little broom, which, ahem, needed to be used on the floor, obviously.  

The blue grate catches most of the litter from the kitty feet, and the container of clean litter is right there too.  Out of the picture at that "southwest" corner is the sliding door to the backyard. The kitties do not go outside, strictly indoor kitties.  While there when I took this picture, I probably scooped the litter box, which then led me back to the garage, where I set the used litter in another bag next to the recycle barrel.  Then I go to the bathroom and scrub my hands.  Clean hands after scooping litter is a must, and I must use the scrub brush.  For no specific reason, that has become nearly obsessive.  I cannot just lightly rinse with a little soap and water.  So once in the bathroom...
I remember the clean towels were still in the dryer, so back to the garage again.
The old-as-dirt dryer.
And my dryer works, which I'm thankful for.  Especially since it's about a year older than my 29-year old microwave oven. I have no clothesline outdoors should it stop working.  Notice there is water on the garage floor to the right of the washing machine.  That's one of "those issues" Marty and I stopped addressing, which bugs me, which I can't do anything about at present. 
The new layout, still lots to be dealt with.
The dining room table now has even more stuff on it. The table was rotated from it's previous orientation which will make it easier to get to the microwave since it's now farther from the one-butt kitchen than it's ever been.  I moved the two bookshelves over to and under the window.  I left the TV & stand pretty close to where it was.  The floors of course had to be swept, where does all the dirt come from? And they had to be mopped - hope that got rid of some of the dust. The 6' long table is against the solid wall.  That microwave oven is much heavier now than it was 29 years ago.  And I know it can't be because I'm 29 years older and not as strong.  I'm sure it's gained weight over the years, just like I have! 
Another angle of new layout.
I also have my bread machine on the long table.  It would be so nice to have home-made bread again.  I don't like using the machine to bake it, but using it to make the dough, priceless!  Watch for a future Toaster Oven Tuesday featuring bread baking...hope it's not a flop.

A plastic green and white plaid table cover was put on the long table.   It has to look better than just the bare table would.  

This was all worked on yesterday, and I did not get to my Sanctuary until after dinner.  There's still lots to do.  I didn't make any progress on it today as I had to do some Walmart grocery shopping, and then put groceries away and realized I had to clean the refrigerator and pantry, and update my inventory list. 

There were a lot more trips up and down stairs returning things at least closer to their "place for everything, and everything in it's place" locations.  It's a long road to travel, and will take time.  I may be cluttered, and dusty, but I don't think I qualify for an episode of Hoarders...but then again, you haven't seen my guest room, or a complete shot of the so-called '3rd' garage.  Three-car garages only hold one car, shelves for camping and sports gear, a workbench, and all the stuff you don't know what to do with when you can't make up your mind if you want to keep it for the day you need it, or to send it to a charitable organization, or whether to have your very first garage sale where you work up the courage knowing you'll have those who will want to haggle over every penny you hope to gain from your valuables you've outgrown or don't like any more.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Toaster Oven Tuesday - 14 January 2014

This Toaster Oven Tuesday is all about baked potatoes.  It is also a much shorter post than last week.  Aren't you glad potatoes don't require much?

 After scrubbing them, and then taking out all my aggressions with a fork on these poor defenseless potatoes, I placed them into the preheated, 400° F oven and left them there for an hour.  I used the upper rack and they did fine.  In fact, they were perfect so that when you cut them open you could put butter and sour cream and it would melt and soak right in as you mashed up the innards.  Add some S & P and all was good in the world of baked potatoes.
These were good-sized potatoes.  Five had come from a bag I bought from Smart & Final at Thanksgiving, and the sixth came from a 20-pound bag from Costco, and if you've ever bought the bags of potatoes at Costco, you might know that one potato can feed a small army.  They are huge.  At this time of year, they keep very well in our always-cold, as in refrigeration level cold, garage.

I had made extra with the intention of making a baked potato soup with them, which didn't happen for several days and by then, Marty had eaten (with my blessing)  one of them, so on the day I made the soup finally, I baked a few more.  And oh my, was that potato soup good, especially after a couple of days of the flavors blending.

This toaster oven makes excellent baked potatoes :)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Great Day

I had a really great day today. 

I was invited to go out to breakfast by my friend Panda as a thank you for caring for her kitty. We met up at her place at 8:30 a.m. and when we went to leave I couldn't find my purse.  I checked my car thinking I'd maybe left it in there.  Nope!  As I'd left home, I had my arms filled with parts to my Celtic Solstice that I wanted to show her and was carrying my coffee mug and keys and managed to miss grabbing my purse, which was right there by the door.

Panda drove and we went by my place to pick up my purse, she's such a sweet friend.  We then went to a breakfast place that we both like, but I'd only ever been there twice before.  They're well-known locally for the dozens of varieties of omelets.  We both had omelets and biscuits with gravy....yummmmy and we each took half home!  Yep, really big servings, and they had BIG cups of coffee.

We then went back to her place and as she moved into her home just last November, or was it end of October?, anyway, since her husband's passing in October, and moving into a house about half the size of her previous one, she still has a garage full of boxes, so we worked on sorting through about a half dozen or so which made her feel really good and best of all, she found her missing camera in one of the boxes.  

After that, we went inside and chatted, and discussed quilty stuff and some of her plans and just had a really fine time of friendly fellowship.  We will do this again.  And, in a couple weeks, I get to care for her kitty again, but only for a week this time, while she heads out of state to visit her son, daughter-in-law and grand-kids.

I'm sorry I have no pictures.  I had my camera, but didn't even think to get it out of my purse...there wasn't much to photo anyway...maybe a shot of a few empty U-Haul boxes might have been of interest.  Nah, probably not.

Oh, and an interesting tip that Panda shared with me so that I wouldn't forget my leftovers from breakfast, which I had put into her refrigerator, was to put my car keys in the refrigerator on my container.  Is that smart or way could I forget them!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Toaster Oven Tuesday - 07 January 2014

The first few Tuesdays will reflect those things I cooked up for our 2013 Christmas dinner.  Up first, is a pie.  Mind you, I have not made a pie in eons, I'm sure it's been eons.  And even this one wasn't entirely from scratch as I used canned pie filling.  However, I did make the crust from scratch.  I have a 2-volume set of cookbooks by Doubleday...from back in the day when it was faddish to order books through book clubs rather than download them onto some form of electronic device.  This crust recipe was ok, nothing special, and Marty's remarks were such that he was clearly expecting a sweeter crust.  This one had no sweetness at all, as you can see by the - sideways (thank you Blogger) - list of ingredients.
Flaky Pastry I - for a single crust
I decided I'd be a bit lazy and only make a bottom crust and then if there were any scraps leftover I'd do something with them on the top.
1 1/4 c. flour...oh, it says sifted - oops, totally didn't see that instruction.
1/2 t. salt (for those who don't know, small "t" stands for teaspoon, while capital "T" stands for Tablespoon, and a Tablespoon equals 3 teaspoons.
1 1/3 cups ice water, huh?  What's that for?
 I'm glad you asked.  Obviously, the recipe did not call for 1 1/3 cups water - that would make a really mushy mess of a crust, ewww.  No, what the recipe calls for is 1/3 cup chilled shortening or lard. 
 I had shortening.  Shortening, at least according to this can, contains both fully and partially hydrogenated palm oil among other things...I might be better off with lard!  Be that as it may, I had this in the refrigerator, so it was chilled. Now, on to why I needed that 1 1/3 cups of ice water.
 Usually, one would measure that 1/3 cup of shortening into a 1/3 cup measuring cup making sure to push out any air bubbles and then leveling off the top, and then scooping it out into the bowl and ending up with greasy stuff on the measuring cup, a spoon, a knife, or spatula or your fingers and your shirt and the counter and well, you get the picture.  So, something I learned wayyyy back in high school home-ec class, yeah, Home-Ec, that's what it was called and I'd hate to hazard a guess what it's called today - does it even involve cooking from scratch?  OK, before you tell me to get off the soap-box, I'll move on.  

I needed 1/3 cup shortening.  I had 1 1/3 cups of ice water in the measuring cup.  Some simple math would tell me that to get 1/3 cup of shortening by this method, the water would have to be brought up to 1 2/3 c. so I started adding scoops of shortening from the can into the water.  It really wasn't scoops because I kind of know how to reckon about what 1/3 c. is and only had to add little bits to actually get the water to come up to 1 2/3 cups.
 And, here you have it.  Notice that it is at a scant 1 2/3rds mark, that's because shortening floats like the icebergs that the Titanic hit, so you have to use your knife or spoon to gently push the shortening down a little which then raises the water level.  You can then drain the water, or scoop out the shortening with a spoon letting the water drain off, and the shortening can be plopped into your bowl of flour and salt.  I hope I didn't lose you on that process.  You can also use this method for measuring other goopy things such as peanut butter or butter.  Of course, if you find it easier to use a precise measuring cup, by all means do so, but this works for me.  Another method would be to weigh the shortening on a paper towel or plate, but you'd have to know how much 1/3 cup of shortening weighs.  Not all things weigh the same per measuring cup marker due to their density.  Molasses & honey are heavier, cheese is lighter, something to consider when choosing alternate methods.
 Back in February when we were still considering doing the kitchen remodel, I packed up all that I figured I wouldn't be using for whatever time it would take, and that included my pastry blender.  When cooking at home as a young person, we never had a pastry blender, and I learned to accomplish the same goal using two knives held side-by-side.  It takes a little bit to get it started at first, but overall still only took a few minutes and with the knives, it was easy to scrape any clinging shortening/flour mixture just by scraping the knives against each other.  I find that a lot easier than the pastry blender with all of its blades.
Shortening all mixed into the flour mixture.

 And finally, the recipe calls for 1/4 cup ice water which is added 1 t. (remember, small t = teaspoon) at a time while mixing.  It has been so very dry here, and likely too because I did not sift my flour I probably had a little more than the 1 1/4 cups called for, I had to use just a tad over the 1/4 cup of water to get the dough to the right consistency.
Mixed up dough - just perfect.

 All the while I was mixing this up, I was thinking that I'd probably have to either pat the crust out to the desired thickness, or pull a jar out of the cupboard to use because I knew my wooden rolling pins were all packed up as well.  Since I only made enough dough for a single crust pie, I was also trying to remember if I'd pack up my pie pans, whether metal or glass.  In checking that cupboard, I had not packed them, and lo and behold, there was my glass rolling pin.  I received this one from my first mother-in-law decades ago (used) but we had one like it when I was growing up, but ours didn't have the end-cap.  This one not only has the end cap, but somewhere along the line, I looked it up on the internet and printed out a sheet of paper for it and stuffed it inside.  Do you know why this is glass and has an end cap?  Why, to fill with ice cubes/ice water so that while rolling your dough, it doesn't get too warm and thus sticky.  At least this is what I've been told.  I've never put water or ice into it, thinking it would create condensation, and I wouldn't want extra water on my crust.
Patted out to about 8" before using rolling pin; on a sheet of waxed paper as I don't like cleaning gunk off my counter top.

Crust in tin.
 I opted to use a smaller metal pie plate as I intended to use only the one can of pie filling I bought.  It was a point-of-purchase display purchase at Walmart on Christmas Eve.  The pie filling was caramel apple.  Doesn't that sound delightfully yummy?  Who can resist caramel and apples?  Oh, and I believe I've already mentioned that it's been eons since I'd made a pie so I didn't bother to read the instructions on the label to see that to make a pie I'd need two cans of filling.
 This is the crust with one can of filling.  Hmmm, looks a bit skimpy to me, and I know that crust will just burn.  Well, maybe I could fold it over and make it a bit of a rustic tart-like 'pie'.  NO! I want PIE!  I've been wanting PIE for weeks!
Before baking.
So, what does one do when they don't have enough filling?  They look on their shelves in the garage to see what they have.  The choices of other pie fillings on the shelf were blueberry, and strawberry.  Sorry, strawberry wasn't cutting it for me.  Blueberry?  Well now, this could be interesting, ok, let's go for it.  Caramel apple blueberry one-crust pie.  Sure!  Oh, and don't you like how I did that fancy little decoration with the remnants of the crust?  I rolled out the remainder, cut it with a biscuit cutter into a circle, cut it evenly into eight wedges with a knife and still had a small piece left over, so I just smushed it into a rough circle and placed it in the center with the wedges out towards the crust.

After baking
The toaster oven has two racks, neither of which sit directly in the center of the oven.  This causes me mental anguish when I read instructions that say to bake an item with the rack in the center position.  I had the choice of a) using the upper rack which would put the pie top more near the upper elements, or b) placing the pie on the lower rack which puts the bottom of the pan closer to the bottom elements.  I chose the latter with the thinking that there is a pan between the element and the bottom crust, plus the pie filling sits on the bottom of the raw crust, so it would need the greater heat coming up directly from the elements.  I followed the directions on the side of the can for baking...(note to self: keep better records for the blog posts, lol)...hah! didn't note the temps or the times.
The final product, and my assessment:  the oven did fine, I will make pie in the oven again.  I think next time, I may try the convection feature and see how that does.  With this method, I would probably bake it just a little longer, maybe another five minutes.  The crust and the bits on top were a bit light - I was afraid of them burning - and the bottom crust was not as dry and flaky as I'd hoped, being perhaps undercooked.  How did the pie taste?  Well, after the big scrumptiously rich meal of prime rib and baked potatoes, the pie wasn't as sweet as I'd expected.  That was actually quite a nice result.  

Did the flavors play well together?  For me and Marty, neither of whom are picky eaters, it was interestingly good.  I enjoyed it even more over the next few days after the flavors melded, and also with topping it with a little cherry/chocolate ice cream adding the extra sweetness.  Next time, I will also try a different crust recipe since Marty really expected a "sweet" crust like one of the local restaurants has...according to him, but I've never noticed.  In the above picture, after it cooled, the filling sank even lower from the crust, so maybe a third can would have been beneficial?  But then, come to think of it, I didn't use the entire can of blueberry filling, keeping back maybe half a cup or so, thinking I was adding too much to the smaller pie pan. 

I hope you enjoyed my lengthy adventure for my first pie in the toaster oven.  I'm satisfied knowing it can be done and it can turn out well, despite my faux pas.
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