Spring ’17 Continued

I have been having fun taking flower and Fargo pictures.

Tulips in the morning.

Same tulips in the afternoon.

Fargo loves being out in the sun, but I’m not sure he’s really able to relax.

With a ton of help from Fargo…

The first round of veggie garden weeding is DONE! Unfortunately, there will be many more rounds because the only thing we don’t have to work hard to grow is weeds.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cake

A few weeks ago our neighbor dropped off a yummy treat. As soon as we tried it, I asked her for the recipe because it was amazing. Apparently, it’s an old recipe, so old that she can’t remember where it originally came from. In addition, she has tweaked it a bit, so there is no link and I am crediting our neighbor. I have now made it twice, and I tweaked it a bit too which I will mention later.

The first thing that stood out to me about the recipe instructions, was to combine boiling water and the oats. (I just noticed that my finger is photobombing this picture…nice…)

I had fun trying to spread the chips and the walnuts evenly and prettily across the top.

Finished product.

The first time I made the cake, I mostly followed the recipe, just used dark chocolate chunks in the batter vs chips. It seems to me to be fairly low in sugar to begin with, but the second time, I replaced a bit of sugar with honey, and used all dark chocolate chunks, no chips. The dark chocolate chunks from Trader Joes seem less sweet than the chips. It is still delicious the second time around, even with my tweaks. I froze and mailed some of the first batch to the kiddos, hoping to get a taste test report soon.

I have not yet figured out how to add recipes so that they are easily printed. SORRY!!

Recipe:

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine 1 3/4 cups boiling water and 1 cup of old fashioned or quick cooking oats and let stand 10 minutes.

Sift together:

1 3/4 C flour (I used 1 cup of white wheat and 3/4 cup freshly ground hard white wheat)

1/2 t salt

2 T cocoa powder (I used Special Dark Cocoa)

1 t baking soda

 

Add to oatmeal and mix well:

1/2 c butter

1/2 c white sugar (I used a little less and subbed in honey)

1/2 c brown sugar

2 large eggs

Add flour mixture and 6 oz chocolate chips. Pour into a 13″ x 9″ greased pan (I use coconut oil for greasing) and sprinkle top with 6 oz chocolate chips and 1 3/4 c chopped walnuts. Bake about 40 minutes.

In between the baking, cooking, cleaning, volunteering for a dog rescue, blogging and yard work, I humor my spoiled empty nest pup when he wants me to hold his chew toy while he chews.

I got out twice this past week for just over two miles each time. I’m trying to get back into the groove, but it is darn freaking hard. I may sign up for a half in early November to try and motivate myself to do better. I just wish I knew if it would actually motivate me, or just make me feel guilty if I don’t get miles logged.

Beautiful Blooms 2017

It’s that time of year again when there will be lots of outdoor pictures. In between the never ending hours of weeding, I’m definitely trying to appreciate the beauty of the blooms.

This is a Star Magnolia baby from the in-laws’ tree. First year it has bloomed.

Bleeding Heart

Candy Tuft ground cover

Fargo The Terrible is looking at the flowers on the Flowering Plum Tree

I did get all of the tall grass cut. I’m working my way through the perennial beds, they are all raked out and last season’s growth is all trimmed. I took a first go at the upper third of the veggie garden this morning.

We took a few minutes away from the weeding/project list to get out for a walk yesterday morning. It’s been a while since we’ve taken Fargo, but that’s a longer story for another time.

Brookie Pie

The last week has included hours and hours and hours of weeding and yard work. There are still many hours of work left. I haven’t even touched the large perennial beds in the front of the house, or the garden yet. I have barely kept up with the dishes/laundry and the rest of the house is a disaster.

In the midst of it all on Saturday, I wanted chocolate. I went to my favorite blog, Sally’s Baking Addiction, and searched by ingredient. I should mention that a trip to the grocery store and to Trader Joes was way overdue and not on the agenda, so I had to narrow down options by what was in the house (and to what I could borrow from our neighbor).

Although pretty much every recipe I looked at sounded amazing, I settled on Brookie Pie. Here is where I admit that being married to an avid fisherman somehow made me think the title of this dessert was related to Brooke Trout. I am embarrassed to say that it took way too long to put together that the title was a combo of Brownie and Cookie…wow….

Hubby took a break to help so we divided up the batter duties. Two people baking, in a kitchen with little counter space, makes for quite the baking clutter.

Hubby’s cookie layer went in the pie dish first.

Then my brownie layer.

As I often do, pretty sure I over baked. I kept testing and it just didn’t seem to be getting done in the middle. Hubby thinks it may have had something to do with using the Trader Joes dark chocolate (red wrapper) vs semi sweet baking chocolate. I’m not sure since I’ve used it in other recipes. You can see the over done edges here.

It was on the verge of hot when we ate it the first time and it was yummy, but on the sweet/rich side for me. A friend suggested adding ice cream (which we got the next day) and that was an excellent idea. I shared some slices with two neighbors and haven’t heard back yet on their thoughts. Hopefully when I do, they will be honest in their reviews (hint).

I might try this one again, maybe in a larger baking dish with sides to protect the edges a bit more. Maybe trying to reduce the sugars just a tiny bit. It really was pretty darn good with the ice cream.

 

Catching Up, Cornbread and Signs of Spring

Hello, sorry it’s been so long. I had to travel for work (which is a rarity), then we were away to see family, then I was trying to catch up from being away for 5 days, then there were actually a few hours of nice weather and I used them to get started on the yard work. But here I am and I have a few things to share.

We bought a cast iron skillet! We have dutch ovens, but never had a skillet. I have seen a number of recipes for desserts baked in a skillet and I saw one for cornbread that looked pretty fun, so we bought a Lodge 10″. Before buying ours, we borrowed the in-law’s skillet (in pictures below) and because hubby loves cornbread, that was the first thing we tried.

This Honey Skillet Cornbread recipe uses corn kernels (we used the corn we froze last Fall) and a lot of butter.

It looked beautiful out of the oven, nicely browned, and even a bit like the picture in the recipe for a change. My “hunny” jar, a gift the youngest made at school a few semesters ago, was perfect in this picture because honey was just the right thing to drizzle on this bread.

It didn’t last long, that’s for sure.

I have since tried another recipe, but it was definitely not as good. I’ll try a few more, but I’m not sure there is a better one.

Happily, the seeds (except for the ones I forgot to order) have almost all sprouted and the seedlings are doing well.

We are supposed to have rain/snow showers tomorrow, so planting is still a ways off. Next step here will be thinning and/or transferring to new cups if I think I can fit more plants in the garden or I have friends who want some. It’s painful for me to actually just get rid of a healthy start for the sake of thinning, but I know it’s necessary, both here and when direct seeding in the garden.

Fargo was very helpful yesterday while I was working on cutting back the tall grass.

I only managed to get to about a third of it yesterday, so it’s still on the overall “to do” list.

I have spent hours weeding two of the perennial beds. There are hours and hours and hours of work left to do. I always have big ideas of how to improve or expand the beds to add more natives, but by the time I get even a fraction of the weeding done, there’s no time left to go above and beyond.

Here are some of the first flowers to show their faces.

I am hoping to take the fancy camera out over the weekend, weather permitting, and take some flower pictures. The grape hyacinth is up, the lace peonies are are working their way up and the dogwood buds are pretty.

In the next few posts, I’ll have the master bathroom re-boot project to share, a new and very exciting outdoor project that will be starting soon, and pictures from a very quick trip to Vermont. I have no Hobby Adventures update for March, as I’m still finishing up one last cross stitch. I will not likely have a report for April, given the mess of yard work waiting for me, but maybe.

 

Chocolate Stout Cake

Last year, after hearing a friend talk about Irish Car Bomb Brownies, I decided to try them. Wowza, were they amazing!! I made them more than once, shared with friends/neighbors, froze them to get some to the kiddos, and ate way more than we should have right here. This year, around St Patrick’s Day, I opted to try another adult beverage themed dessert, Chocolate Stout Cake. Hubby was not upset at the prospect of having some extra Guinness to drink.

This recipe uses a bundt pan, which I actually have but haven’t used. My bundt pan, however, is apparently much skinnier than the one in the original recipe which I noticed after the cake was baked and on the cooling rack.

I had to re-read the recipe to confirm that it actually said to put the Guinness and the butter in a saucepan together. That was a new one for me. I used my early birthday present, pretty saucepan that matches my last year’s birthday present, pretty saute pan. (Aside: we are slowly working on updating the cook/bakeware, some of which we’ve had more than 20 years, and which REALLY needs to be replaced.)

Every time a recipe has hot ingredients that get mixed with eggs, it does give me a bit of worry, but it typically turns out without any eggs getting scrambled. And I must admit, I don’t especially enjoy working with cocoa powder, though I do enjoy the results. I followed the recipe fairly closely, though I probably used just a touch less sugar.

In the oven, with just a little mess up while pouring it in the pan.

And, looking good after baking. I gave it an extra minute or two, though it may not have needed it. The toothpick came out clean, but the cake just seemed too soft. Looking back, I’m guessing the sour cream added enough moisture to make it that much softer. Luckily it was not at all dry with the extra oven time.

I let it cool completely in the pan and then it popped out beautifully. This is when I realized it was a lot skinnier than the pan used in the recipe pictures.

I almost broke it when I moved it onto the cake stand. We had a guest over for dinner, so I used the fancy stand. The ganache turned out much thicker than in the recipe pictures, but it also meant it was less messy, and still pretty in its own way.

This cake was delicious. I was surprised, but I could taste the beer in the first bite, but after that, I couldn’t pull the flavor out again. After the first bite, the flavors melded and it was really pretty amazing. The ganache was good, but actually a little sweet. I used a combo of Trader Joes chocolate chips and chunks. I think the next time I will use the big squares of dark chocolate from the red wrapped bars, which are less sweet. I think it will still be sweet enough, but not too sweet to take away from the rich chocolate flavors.

I was pretty proud of myself on this one.

 

Seed Starting 2017

I took the first day of Spring 2017 literally. I lined up my plastic cups and my seed packs and I got busy.

Unfortunately, I somehow messed up my seed order from Fedco Seeds and forgot to order banana peppers. I’ll need to find seeds locally (which I thought I would have done by now, but those particular cups are still empty). I started three types of tomatoes, three types of peppers, broccoli, cabbage and basil.

Hubby set up the little shelves and lights.

And this morning my brassicas showed their might.

Also, Fargo still loves his new ball.

And when we just can’t take any more ball and we “hide” it in the bathroom he still lets us know he wants it. No one is getting into or out of that bathroom without him knowing.

Special Guest Post

I am super excited to have a special guest on my blog today. I’ve mentioned my friend of many years and fellow empty nester, Beth, in this blog a a number of times. I had thought it would be fun to add a new feature of posts by empty nester friends, and she was gracious enough to agree to my request. I hope to have more empty nester guest posts over the next few months, and maybe Beth will even stop back again. After reading her post, I may finally use my Instant Pot for more than just yogurt.

THANK YOU BETH!!

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When Mara asked me to write a guest post for her blog I was flattered and slightly nervous at the same time. It took me weeks to figure out what to write about. Mara and I have a lot in common so there are many directions I could go. We have been friends for over 30 years, we are both runners and empty-nesters, both have puppies attempting to refill our empty nests, and we both enjoy cooking and crafting.

My empty nest puppy:

I decided to go in the cooking direction and talk about my latest cooking appliance, the Instant Pot.  I had been intrigued for the past year after reading many articles and blogs about people who adore their instant pots. For anyone not familiar, the Instant Pot is a multi-function pressure cooker with additional settings to be used as a slow cooker, rice cooker, sauté pot, steamer, warming pot, and yogurt maker. I finally purchased one because I thought it would complement my cooking style.

I’ve been doing much more food prep over the past year or so. This is part of my “empty nest”  routine as I no longer cook a meal every evening as I did when my son was at home. Instead I tend to cook a couple of times each week and make larger batches of food that my husband & I eat for multiple meals. For example I may roast a tray of chicken, a tray or two  of vegetables, bake some potatoes and cook some grains. Then we mix and match for different meals all week. It’s a great way to save time while eating healthy.

Back to the Instant pot. After reading the instructions multiple times as well as reading and watching various online tutorials, I finally felt confident that I wouldn’t have an explosion in my kitchen and was ready to do some experimentation. The first thing I made was hard boiled eggs. They had a five-minute cooking time, came out perfectly and were very easy to peel. (Does anyone else have a hard time with stubborn shells that are a pain to peel?) Next I baked purple sweet potatoes (10 minute cook time), quinoa (1 minute cook time!), and chicken breasts (5 minute cooking time). Keep in mind that each food takes a few minutes to get up to pressure and then to depressurize after the cooking time so the actual time is a bit longer but this gives you a comparison to traditional cooking times.

Perfect chicken:

My first attempt at an actual recipe was Thai Chicken Coconut Soup.  This involved first using the sauté mode for the onion and chicken for a few minutes, then adding additional ingredients and letting the Pot do it’s thing on high pressure for 10 minutes. The finished product was absolutely delicious, with tender chicken and bright flavors.

Outstanding soup:

There is still much more experimenting I will be doing with the Instant Pot, but so far it is definitely a winner in my kitchen. It’s great for food prep as well as being able to turn out dishes quickly without having to “babysit” them at the stove. I expect the Instant Pot to be in frequent use in my kitchen.

Empty Nest is (still %$#@ing) Hard

We are closing in on the three year mark of being Empty Nesters. It feels like longer though, as our youngest was functioning pretty independently the last year she was here. For some reason, I thought it would get easier, but it hasn’t. There is something to be said for “out of sight, out of mind,” but it definitely doesn’t apply here.

Of course, there is less laundry, fewer dishes, fewer piles of shoes, less clutter, less chauffering, etc. We don’t miss the sisterly bickering, but boy do we miss the giggling, debates, brainstorming. It’s great to have Fargo to snuggle with on the couch (when he wants to), but we miss seeing the girls snuggling on the couch.

I’ve hypothesized before, that maybe it’s harder for us because so many of our friends’ children go to school close enough that they can see them more often. When we did the empty nest thing, we REALLY did it, and only see our kiddos 3-4 times/year. Yes, there are things that are easier to get used to, but too many that are not.

Every once in a while, hubby will say, “it would be really cool if the kids could just come over for dinner.” He is right. We are definitely grateful for technology and the ability to text, Snapchat, Facetime, email, whenever possible, but it’s not a replacement for big, huge squeezes.

Just because they’re far away, doesn’t mean we (especially me) worry less. The eldest was sick last week during her Spring Break, and if she were closer, could have come home and been coddled. The youngest traveled abroad for Spring Break and though she was abroad for an entire semester last fall, it’s harder to have her even further than usual.

The eldest is graduating in a few weeks, which brings along so many emotions, and may be why I’m writing this post. How did we get from this…

…to two kids graduating from college in the next 13+ months? How did the years go by so quickly?

I try to keep this blog pretty upbeat. I try to use my free time wisely (for the most part), though I’m not always sure what that means. The hubby and I enjoy being a couple again (for the most part…haha ). Fargo lucked into being a spoiled empty nest puppy, and I’m glad we can spoil him. But whether they choose to live where they are, or move back to the East Coast, they will likely never live close enough to just “come over for dinner.”

If I’m going to be an honest empty nest blogger, this part of it needs to be shared as well. As proud as we are of our amazing daughters, empty nest is (still $%#@ing) hard, even three years later.