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.

 

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.

Fargo’s Balls…A Pictorial

Fargo The Terrible loves his balls, his many, many, MANY balls. Yesterday, Grandma and Papa got Fargo a new ball to replace one that was leftover from Gus. We had purchased the original from Cabela’s way back when the Hamburg, PA store first opened. It had a ball inside a ball with holes large enough for paws to get through. (Note the two other balls in the background)

The interior ball finally dry rotted enough to break into pieces. Apparently the larger ball is not nearly as interesting without the smaller ball inside of it.

Before revealing the new one, let’s first reflect on Fargo’s other balls. This is not, however, an all inclusive list.

ball destruction

fargo snow ball 2

blue ball

You get the point, he loves them all. But since the new one arrived, almost 24 hours ago, he is a DOG OBSESSED!!!!! If we put the new ball in the bathroom to give it (us) a rest, he sits outside and stares at the door. He even decided it needed to come up on the couch with us.

He is one entertaining piece of work!

 

Molly on the Range Recipe Round Up Part II

I didn’t think that I had taken so many pictures of the Molly recipes, but when I started typing out and putting together the post, I realized I needed to break it into two. Here is the second half. Hopefully I will test out even more in the near future, though tonight I’m going with a Spicy Cauliflower Burger from Pinch of Yum. I’ll report back on that one soon.

Unfortunately, Molly doesn’t have an online link to her Shakshuka Couscous, so I have a link to a post by Sarcastic Cooking. I haven’t spent much time on this site, so I don’t know much about it. Molly does not use Adobo Sauce, she uses Harissa seasoning. I had never heard of Harissa before, but luckily my mom happened to have some and she gave it to me. As a side note, I just saw Harissa Salsa at Trader Joes, though I didn’t try it yet. Molly doesn’t use pepper jack cheese, she uses feta. I believe these are the only two ingredient differences.

The onions, garlic and seasonings smelled incredible.

Molly says you can make this without the couscous if you don’t have time to let it cook. She has a whole backstory to this dish which is fun to read. I used the veggie broth base and I think I should have added a little more liquid.

This was interesting. It took way longer for the eggs to cook than I had anticipated.

Molly says you can leave them uncovered if you like a runnier yolk, or you can spoon the tomato/coucous mixture over top if you want more of a buttery textured yolk. That’s what I opted to do, especially since they were taking so long to cook. That is why you can’t see the eggs below.

Hubby thought it was excellent. I thought it was a little thick and overly tomato-y. I liked it a lot, but will definitely try to adjust just a tad next time.

My Ex-Boyfriend’s Meatless Balls was a MUST just because I thought the title was great. As mentioned in the previous post, the link goes to a video that Molly made. I have to give her credit for saying you use nuts without laughing. In the book, she gives the option to choose walnuts or almonds. I went with walnuts and I toasted them in the frying pan for a few minutes.

Then everything goes in the food processor, and blend. I tried to mix too much vs pulse and my blade began to lift from the bottom again. I had to mix more by hand. Also, I need to figure out how to fix my burner because the frying pan is tipped enough that the oil isn’t evenly divided, thus the bizarre looking arrangement below.

Let me tell you, these are AMAZING!! We tried one on its own and then we did the actual pasta with sauce/meatballs thing.

You can’t even tell by looking at them that they are meatless. And did I mention they were AMAZING?? Hubby, the meat eater, was super impressed. We were both very excited for lunch leftovers the next day. Definitely bringing these back for a repeat performance soon.

Fargo was, once again, worn out by all of the food excitement.

 

Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookie Peanut Butter Swirled Brownies

I baked over the weekend. I baked using refined sugar. I baked something I saw on Instagram, something that called out to me. I baked Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookie Peanut Butter Swirled Brownies!!! It has almost all of my favorite components (missing pumpkin/squash). After so many weeks of trying to avoid sugar, I figured go big or go home. Or so I thought, but really, this recipe only has 1/2 cup of white sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar, which is way less than a lot of recipes I’ve made.

I was definitely in a chocolate mood, so lots of melted chocolate was a good way to start. Add in some cocoa powder and instant coffee and mmmmmmmm….

choc cocoa powder

choc mmmmm

Once the brownie half is done, it’s on to the oatmeal cookie half. The recipe gives the option to use a more flavorless oil, or to use coconut oil. I opted to try coconut oil, especially as we’ve been enjoying it so much on popcorn. It was a good choice.

oatmeal batter

As with the brussels sprout latkes, I was concerned as I put the two batters together, that they wouldn’t meld/mix/combine or that they’d combine too much, etc.

choc dollops

choc and oat

Ready to bake, crossing fingers.

choc oat pb

I think I may have left it in a minute or two long because I was unsure if the brownie part was really done, but overall, looked pretty decent.

choc oat pb done

This was a really great choice for the baking comeback. It was not in any way too sweet. Using all dark chocolate and unsweetened peanut butter helped. I really liked the little bit of coffee flavor that came through in the brownie bites. Definitely a winner!

choc oat swirl

Fargo watched me trying to get a good picture of the finished product. I didn’t really get a good picture, but it was funny watching him watching me.

fargo plate

I took all of the pictures with the fancy camera. I definitely have lighting issues, as there are lots of yellow tones. I don’t have picture editing skills yet. I am still also failing on indoor vs outdoor light settings.

pic failure

It’s obviously going to be a long learning curve for me.

 

Playing With The Fancy Camera

One of these days, I’ll understand the light issues/adjustments. But otherwise, I’ve been having some fun. A few turned out pretty neat. I could literally take sunrise and sunset pictures every darn day and never get bored. Of course, I never seem to get bored or tired of taking Fargo pictures either.

Three of the many balls in the yard.

Poor attempt at fixing color issues due to incorrect light settings.

More playing with color adjustments.

Quinoa Snack Bars…Who Knew?

I have been a quinoa fan for quite a while. I have used it as a side, cooking it with both water and with veggie broth. I have used it in chili, for additional texture since my chili is meatless. I have used it as the base for a Greek themed salad with cucumbers, feta, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, chick peas, and whatever other veggies I have available. What I never thought about using it for, was a snack bar.

We are still working on eating as little refined sugar as possible, and Sally’s Baking Addiction’s 1 Bowl Quinoa Crunch Snack Bars fit the bill. I happen to have tri-color quinoa on hand.

tri color quinoa

The recipe calls for coarsely chopped almonds…my food processor seems to favor either big chunks of nut or nut meal.

not coarsely chopped

The colors of the ingredients are fun!

quinoa snack mix

I used peanut butter, as usual, because we love it (as does Fargo, who always gets to have a tiny bit every time I open the jar).

Sally says you can use an 8 or 9 inch casserole, but I think 8 inch may be too small. I baked slightly longer than called for and I think that slightly thinner bars would be better.

quinoa baking dish

As much as I love dark chocolate, I opted out of the drizzle. Honestly, these were amazing without it. Chocolate makes everything better, so I’m sure they would be more amazing with it.

finished quinoa bars

finished quinoa bars II

Unrelated, I am starting to try and increase my visibility via twitter and instagram. Feel free to follow and share. If you have recipe suggestions, feel free to share those as well.

 

 

To (refined) Sugar, or Not To Sugar

A few years ago, the hubby and I tried going gluten free for 10 days. It took a lot more planning and a lot more thought, but we tried it to see if it improved how we felt. I would say that we did notice some small differences, overall there was not enough of a noticeable change to continue.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about the effects of sugar on our bodies. There are opinions and facts and diets and recommendations galore, if you go looking. There is a information stating that it is addictive. Our diet at home is generally very low on sugar besides fruit and what I put into baked goods. We buy very little in the way of prepared/processed foods. We are careful about reading ingredient labels when we do buy something in a box or bag. We bake our bread without sugar. We make our own unsweetened yogurt. We don’t drink much juice, zero soda, unsweetened coffee/tea, etc. etc.

We did have a habit of eating a small dish of ice cream each night, usually the Turkey Hill All Natural variety with only milk, cream, vanilla and sugar. Sometimes we went crazy and added hot fudge, or bought chocolate ice cream with peanut butter, or even Ben and Jerry’s, but usually it was the vanilla. I chose the word “habit” carefully in describing the nightly ice cream.

After chatting about it for a few days, we decided to see if eliminating what little refined sugar we had in our diet would make a difference in how we felt or in our weight. We opted not to eliminate grains, legumes, and other foods that some diets indicate, just refined sugar. We tried this for two weeks. We tried to make sure we were drinking a ton of water.

The only goody I baked was Healthy Chocolate Granola Bars, which didn’t look much like the picture, but which were delicious. I’ll be making them again.

choc date bars

Instead of ice cream, which was missed, we had a date bar, popcorn, or nothing. We walked by sugary treats in our respective work places. I we ate out, we tried to choose foods least likely to have sugar added. I’m sure we weren’t perfect, but tried to stick as close to it as we could.

After two weeks, there was no weight lost (of course, actually getting back to routine exercise might help there). I missed baking. We don’t feel any different mentally or physically. I do think we will continue to forego the nightly ice cream. I do think we will continue to be thoughtful about ingredients, to pass by sugary stuff at work, and to be conscious about moderation. But I will go back to baking. I already try to use as little sugar as possible in my baked goods, but I’m not going to worry about cutting it out completely.

Meanwhile, Fargo will continue to play with, and to destroy, his balls. This is why we can’t have nice things.

ball destruction

Who me?

who me?