Friday, July 30, 2010

pie wrecks

I looked.  There is no complement to the Cake Wrecks website for pies.  There should be.  I could contribute regularly.  Not often, but about once a year I decide that I ought to be able to make pie crust.  My mom makes great pie crusts.  I finally blamed my tile counter tops (not flat for rolling) and quit.  Then I got a marble slab from my mother in law and I had to look for something else to blame.  I did, and I quit.  But I would be inspired for Thanksgiving, or for a quiche. And it would be a disaster.  And I'd quit.  I'd try rolling the store bought crusts a bit thinner, but it still haunted me, so I'd try again.

I watched America's Test Kitchen last week and they made a beautiful blueberry pie. Seeing that I have two gallons of blueberries here, I thought this would be perfect.  They've perfected pie crust and explained the how and the why.  The crust uses vodka in addition to water for extra moisture, to make it easier to roll out.

So, yesterday I did it.  I measured, I spilled flour, I mixed, I refrigerated, I rolled.  I squished. I added more flour.  I cried.  I called my mom.  I added more flour.  I patted.  I debated taking a photo (you know you're a blogger when....) and I re-read the shortening package.  Oh. I thought that seemed like more than 8 tablespoons.  I'd read it twice because it seemed wrong.  And it was.  I debated adding more flour, again. I scraped the blueberry goo out of the pie crust.  I threw the crust in the trash.  I cleaned up the floor.  I cleaned up the counter.  I cleaned the dishes.

I tried again today.  Full of confidence.  If I'd only had the right amount of shortening it would have worked.  The Test Kitchen works out the kinks.  It will be successful today.

Yeah, right.  Now, I do have confidence in the taste.  (If I don't burn it in my horrid oven.)  The blueberry goo looked fabulous, and can't have done anything but improve with a night in the fridge.  But the crust? 

Pie wreck.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

secret stash

When I was a kid I knew that I could get Red Hot candies from under the kitchen towels.  Sister MD and I both ate them.  We knew not to finish a bag and we knew not to open a new bag, but a small handful of candies were never missed.  I think we told our mom about this sometime after we were out of the house.  She'd never known.

I'm not a cinnamon person.  I'm mostly a buttery caramel person, but I'm incapable of keeping anything like that around.  It wouldn't last long enough to bother hiding.  Although I have kept sticky buns hidden in the back of the freezer.  And Girl Scout Trefoil cookies.  But I think that's all.  Unless I truly forget they're there, (which has happened) they never last long.  But occasionally, I need chocolate.  I can stop after just a tiny bit of good chocolate without getting hooked into eating it all.  So I keep it around.  A bag of Dove dark chocolates hides behind the tea boxes in the tiny can't-get-your-hand-in-it-well cabinet.  Or at least they've hidden there for nine years.

Yesterday a very helpful Pook was putting away some clean dishes.  I had him put my travel mug up with the tea.  Oops.  "There's chocolate in here."  He stated it very calmly and I decided to not respond.  He didn't say anything more.  But now I have to decide.  Can he handle the knowledge that I have a secret-ish stash of chocolate and not eat any noticeable quantity? And not tell his brother?  (Bug has more of a sweet tooth.  I wouldn't trust him with my chocolate for a moment!)  This morning I impulsively moved it to the top of the pantry, by the booze.  But I think I'll put it back.  I should wait to see if anything happens before I hide it away. Plus, the cabinet is more convenient for chocolate emergencies.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

triple digits

We just spend a long weekend in Chattanooga.   We just spent the hottest weekend of the summer outdoors in Chattanooga.  We almost melted.  We drank tons of water and still never needed to pee.  (You wanted to know that, I'm sure.)

I've been wanting a long weekend up there for ages.  I kept hearing about their children's museum and about an amusement park for younger kids and yet, we never got up there for long enough.  We'd drive through town on our way to Nashville or Indy, but never have time to stay around.  So this time I planned the trip to be just Chattanooga, no need to hurry on to grandparents.  And it was good.  And hot.

We visited Lake Winnepesaukah (hereafter known as "Lake Winnie") on Friday.  They let us bring in a picnic and our own water bottles (which we filled up in every bathroom in the place, adding 25c cups of ice from concessions) and we'd brought Coke cans for two 50% off tickets, so the day was amazingly affordable.  I wish we'd visited before the kids went to Six Flags because the rides would have really impressed them a month ago, but still, despite having fewer thrill rides, there were lots of good things to do.  The lines were all manageable, if seldom shady, and I rode most of them.  Or at least a lot of them.  I was willing to do spinning rides, but the log ride equivalent is the most I'd do of the roller coaster variety.

We stayed in a lovely hotel, right downtown, and took the free electric shuttle rides to most places we went for the rest of the weekend.  We spent hours at the Tennessee Aquarium Saturday morning, stopping for lunch and to see a good IMAX movie about ocean life.  Afterward, I wanted to go to Coolidge Park so the kids could splash in the fountains.  I'm not sure that was worthwhile or not; the aquarium has a wonderful splash area right out front and there was an ice cream place across the street.  Instead, we took the shuttle across the river, splashed in a fountain and didn't find ice cream until it was too late.  But we rode an antique carousel and ate dinner nearby-- all of which was good.  When we finished we walked back on the world's longest pedestrian bridge (The Walnut Street Bridge, 1/2 mile long).  If I had not been hot- or if it had not been that hot-  or if we had not just waited for 20 minutes for the shuttle before discovering it had stopped for the night- or if I had not been outdoors in the heat quite so long- or if I had still wanted to walk across the bridge as I had in my original Chattanooga planning, then it would have been a lovely walk.  I tried.  I really did try to change my attitude.  But dang I was hot and tired!

I'd done some sleuthing to find an activity for Sunday morning, and was pleased to find that the Creative Discovery Museum I'd so wanted to visit, was open.  I was concerned that it would be too babyish, but instead we could have spent more time there than we had available.  It was Honey Harvesting Day, so the kids helped with honey extraction, made honey based soap and lip balm, and a beeswax candle.  They messed around with musical instruments, learned to make a stop action film (although poor clay Baseball Dude didn't hold up to the performance) and studied Grossology.  We had to leave before exploring a robot and electronics exhibit we'd just found so that we could get to a Lookouts baseball game.  In 100 degree temps.

We swapped our good seats (behind the dugout, four of us for $36) for shady cheap seats and enjoyed a ten minute rain mid-game. We had ice pops and ice cream and cold drinks (I think Bug had ice cream on the brain where baseball is usually located, but it is hard to concentrate on anything in the heat, so I'll excuse him).  They won the game 2-0.  And the kids got to run the bases.  Why they wanted to do that I don't know, but they did. Have I mentioned that it was hot?

Did we have fun?  Oh, yes.  Would we go up there for another weekend?  Absolutely.  Do I want to ever be that hot again?  Not on your life.

Oh!  I almost forgot to include the Keeper Quote of the Weekend.  Bug ordered calamari at dinner Saturday.  The waiter wanted my confirmation that this was ok and was clearly amused by a six year old wanting calamari.  It arrived and Bug tasted it and looked disappointed.  "This isn't the best calamari I've ever had," he announced.  CD tried it and confirmed the review.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

must eat salsa salad

Some of those recipes are worth their weight in gold.  Which is a poor way to state their value since they were written on paper.

Tonight we had a salsa salad, served with couscous and leftover steak from CD's birthday.  I could eat that salad as the entree, easily.  The paper I used to make it was a pencil list of ingredients without any measurements, making me wonder if I made up this fantastic summer salad myself!  (I'll estimate quantities.)

(Mix this up early so the flavors can do what flavors do.)
chopped fresh tomato (two good sized pounders)
fresh corn, off the cob (two ears or one can if you must go that route)
can of black beans, rinsed
purple onion (about 1/2 c. from what I grew myself!)
cilantro (1/4 c.)
garlic (1 clove)
red wine vinegar (2 Tbs)
lime juice (2  Tbs)
olive oil (2 Tbs)
red bell pepper (I didn't have any today, but maybe one small pepper)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

addicted to recipes

Based on a quick survey of two people, it seems that others have a meal repetition of two weeks or less.  Meaning, the fact that CD and I usually complain that "we just had that" when the kids suggest something we last ate three months ago is unusual.  Based on my sample size of two.  But I suspected this.  My kitchen has too many recipes.  I have several cooking blogs I check regularly and all have great ideas that get printed out.  I have a subscription to Southern Living which has great recipes.

There is, in my kitchen, a file box of 3x5 cards for recipes I use a lot, piles of cookbooks I use very little, an organized binder of recipes torn from magazines, all of which I've tried and liked and want to make again, a binder of recipes torn from magazines that have never been made, but have gotten organized enough to be shoved into the pocket of the binder, (maybe even 3-hole punched, but I'm not sure) and also a pile of recipes on the counter which are recently printed/torn out/written down. ("Recently" is a loosely defined word here.)  There is a printed list CD and I made of menu ideas (a few years ago) which has two columns and still takes two pages to print.

How do I get control of this?  I must stop.  I must stop tearing out recipes.  I must stop printing new recipes.  I must get control over the number of recipes in my kitchen.  But I love making new recipes!  (Smitten Kitchen has a great sounding scalloped tomato dish today!)  And I love variety!  And sometimes a recipe makes it into the regular repertoire and we make it often. ("Often" apparently defined as less than once in three months.)  So, while I can see that I have a problem (the beginning!), I don't yet see a solution I can live with.  Meanwhile, I am resisting the printer icon as I look at that tomato recipe.

Monday, July 12, 2010


We haven't had a significant rain since early in June. (The chalk drawings on the patio are slightly blurred, but not washed away.)  My yard is dried up and cracking.  The forecast looks good, with rain predicted for the next ten days, but it seems the "scattered" and "isolated" T-storms skirt our house and the rain falls elsewhere each time.  Perhaps this will be the lucky week.

Two weeks ago one of my farmer friends gave me a sweet potato plant to try to grow.  As in, to grow sweet potatoes.  But she said to wait to plant it after a rain and I'm not sure how much longer I should wait.  I may just put the hose on the garden for a long time before planting.  The garden is one of the few areas I've watered.  The front area of coneflowers also has tomato plants, so I've watered there too, but most of the yard must fend for itself.  If the plants can't handle Georgia heat and drought, I just can't invite them back.  I have too much yard to attempt regular watering. Plus, Atlanta will put us under water restrictions the day I decide to pull out the sprinklers.

Today I have two extra boys at my house, K & A.  I heard thunder a bit ago and grew optimistic, but then it faded away without a drop.  Half an hour later I heard thunder again.  Hoping to tempt the fates, I sent the boys out to (1) play (2) water the plants and (3) wash the car!  Everyone was wet even before it began to rain!  And, while the rain was brief and didn't do much for the plants, at least the car is cleaner!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

recovery room

I had given in to peer pressure.  I was in Kings Island's "The Beast" Recovery Room.  I lay on a cot and was given a button to pin onto my shirt.  It read "I survived The Beast", although clearly I had not.  I was given coupons for a free soda and burger.  I passed them quickly to a friend, not interested in thinking about food just then.

I gave in once more to Roller Coaster Peer Pressure and rode The Racer at the same Cincinnati park another year.  Then I remembered an experience with my uncle when I was seven.  He and my father had taken me and Sister MD on the then-new Space Mountain at Disney World.  When we finished the ride my father commented on my sister's screams.  My uncle replied that it was precisely because of her screams that he had instead been worried about me in my silence.  Remembering my Recovery Room day, I decided that there was a good chance that my reaction to a roller coaster was to hold my breath.  This explained all the roller coaster experiences I'd had and it put an end to them forever.

Except.  (Of course there is an except.  Otherwise there'd be nothing for me to write about.)  Our school uses free passes to Six Flags over Georgia as an incentive to read.  Not that my kids need an incentive, but they both came  home at the end of the year with free passes.  For the past several years, Pook's pass has just gotten lost-ish and never discussed, let alone used.  He didn't know what Six Flags was and his brother was too young to be going out there.  And Six Flags for toddlers does not fit into my Don't Up The Ante philosophy.  But this year they both had passes and they both knew what the passes could get for them.  Ugh.  I wasn't looking forward to going, an experience of waiting in lines for hours punctuated by watching others ride three minute rides.

And then in came L&P!  Riding on white horses!  (or at least a red minivan)  They volunteered to take my children to Six Flags!  I accepted!  They scheduled a day and they went!  I worried!  (some)  They had an amazing time!  I went to dinner with my husband!  They spent almost 11 hours with my children!  (Do the number of exclamation marks adequately describe my happiness over not going to an amusement park with my children?)

The following is a sample of the day, dictated by Bug:

Six Flags
I went to Six Flags with my friends A and K and their mom and dad, and my brother Pook. The first one I did was the Wile E. Coyote Canyon Blaster. Everybody except for K went on it.  I went on it two times.  The first time, since it was the first one I did, it was just like a regular roller coaster to me.  The second time it wasn’t scary at all and I had my hands up the whole time.  

One of the roller coasters I went on was called The Ninja.  All The Ninja was was twists, upsides downs, corkscrews and sidewayses and hills and diagonals over a lake.  It looked kind of scary to me but it wasn’t to me.  It was all smooth except for a part at the very beginning when you just bumped down.  The upside downs weren’t very scary, they just felt like the other parts.

I was not quite old enough to do bumper cars all by myself because I couldn’t reach the gas pedal.  I did bumper cars two times.  I did the steering and the two times I traded grown ups doing it with me.  The grown ups did the gas.  I could reach the gas but not very well.  The second time I bumped into K on purpose.  I smashed into him!  I almost got Pook.  There was a big traffic jam at the end.  It will be very cool if the bumper cars had horms because you’d be honking them all the time.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I'm ready to be done with the Fourth of July.  It has been a long holiday!  The arrival of the holiday on a Sunday seems to have upset the planning of the area festivities.  When they made a decision about what to do, they never consulted each other.

Therefore... we started on Saturday and are just finishing.  Saturday began with a few errands.  We returned a billion books to the library and checked out another trillion.  Both boys have been reading up a storm all summer; finishing a book a day sometimes.  I think they've spent more time reading than with lego.   I remember summers like that, and since we head to the pool to play with friends almost every day, I know they aren't just reading out of boredom.  Our other errand was to buy a new chair for our den, replacing the hand-me-down chair which replaced the two hand-me-down chairs before it.  I needed something small and wanted an upholstered rocker.  I finally found just the right one on Friday and took CD back Saturday to choose a fabric for it.  It'll be a while before it comes in, but since we've waited eleven years I think we'll be ok waiting a few more weeks.

We swam at the pool for a while and then prepped for the area fireworks display which was Saturday night.  My parents joined us there and we had a fried chicken and potato salad picnic while the kids ran around and jumped in bouncy things with lots of neighbors and friends.  The fireworks are set off at one end of a soccer field while the audience fills the far end.  They're huge and they're close.  I love it every year.  A cover band of high quality played hits from the 60's and 70's (and a bit beyond) during the display.  We oohed and aahed as new bursts of color and booms of sound continued for ages. We tossed the kids into bed around 10:30.

I had committed to helping at Sunday School in the morning, and had a fun time with Bug's class.  When we came home he and CD went down to the ballpark to spend time in one of the batting cages.  He'd been asking to do this for ages and I think they both enjoyed it.  We cooled off for an hour in the pool and then returned to pull together another picnic.  We met friends at another area fireworks display taking place Sunday night.  This one was in a town square and had a concert band performing. The kids climbed on statues and cannons until dark.  This location had better music (think 1812 overture) but I think I preferred the fireworks above treetops to those above buildings.  And it was a bit further away so we didn't get the boys into bed until 11pm. We crashed at the same hour, hoping everyone would sleep in.

And yet I just knew they wouldn't.  At 7:59 I heard a quiet voice saying "Bug, wake up. It's parade day!"  They knew that the town nearest us was having a parade bright and early on Monday morning.  This is the Candy Parade, as it seems every float, politician, and marching group tosses candy to the kids.  Last year they filled a grocery bag with candy, so this year we aimed to sit closer to the end of the parade route, hoping most of the candy would be gone!  There were more politicians than normal (primaries in three weeks) but just the right amount of candy (an adult handful collected between the two of them), plus a Frisbee and two patriotic leis.

Following lunch at home, we set off on a family bike ride- another request they'd made repeatedly all weekend.  We aimed for the home of some friends who live about four miles from us.  We'd called to be sure they were home and were surprised to meet them on the bike path halfway between our homes.  The route changed a bit and continued on until we arrived at a local ice cream shop in a retired train caboose.  It was the break I needed! On the way home we encountered a wonderful crop of wild blackberries and we rested again to fill ourselves with warm, sweet berries.

Soon the boys will have more stamina than I.  The bike ride home was mostly downhill or I'd never have made it.  And, as for three days of July 4, I think I'll be happy to celebrate just once next year!