The Lost Summer

Back in mid July, I started drafting a blog post entitled, “Walking is Our New Running.” Hubby is no longer able to run so we were trying to embrace walking together. We had been doing pretty well the previous few weeks, walking 4-5 mornings/week, seeing pretty sunrises. I was going to include pics of the pretty sunrises and scenery in the post, like this:

Hubby’s body even managed a 4 miler, which was our last real walk. In the third week of July, we said goodbye to our Summer.

Who here has ever heard of Babesiosis? It’s a tick borne parasite. Only a very small number of you? I hadn’t heard of it either, until my dad contracted it. Here is some information:

https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/babesiosis/index.html

From the “Disease” page, some important information that pertains to my dad is that Babesiosis can be a severe, life threatening disease if you do not have a spleen. My dad does not have a spleen and he became critically ill. We are pretty certain that if his family doctor (whom I called and thanked), did not immediately think to have his blood tested for this parasite, my dad would not still be with us. It’s been a months long recovery, and his red blood cells are still being monitored.

I share this, in more detail than the happenings in the rest of our lost summer, as a heads up, a plea, to be vigilant about checking yourself and your pets for ticks. My parents are not outdoorsy. The chances of them getting a tick bite are very slim, let alone my dad getting a tick bite from a tick with babesia. All of the doctors and researchers are saying that Lyme disease and other tick borne diseases are on the rise. Please don’t take any chances.

At this point, let’s just say that the bad news Summer continued. We lost both of my in-laws, 10 days apart, and learned that a close family member has terminal cancer.

It’s been hard on the girls, and on us, that they’re so far away. With the eldest no longer in college, she moved further from campus. The girls don’t see each other as often, so when they sent us a picture together, it helped our hearts.

The pergola and pergola space got finished, but we haven’t had been able to really make use of it (pergola post to follow later).

It’s been hard to give Fargo The Terrible the time he deserves. He did his best to hang in there (always more Fargo pics to follow later).

It’s been hard to do anything in the house beyond the basic dishes/laundry. (I can’t bring myself to share a pic of the messy house to illustrate). As you may have noticed, there have been no blog posts for a long time. It’s been hard to find the energy to do more than the bare minimum. We are lucky to have friends/neighbors who made us food. THANK YOU, you know who you are!! It has been hard keeping up with the garden produce, and a few things did end up going to waste.

We randomly had enough hours and energy, at the same time, to be productive. We are attempting to make sauerkraut, which is currently smelling up the closet in which it resides (sauerkraut post to follow later).

We got one batch of peppers canned. We are calling these (and any batch of cheesy roasted peppers we make) Pepper Roulette this year. Every once in a while, there’s a HOT one in the mix and it can be from any of the three varieties.

We made a first go at pickles (pickle post to follow later).

And we just got the sweet potatoes harvested last weekend. They are smaller and many are unusually shaped, but hopefully they are yummy.

A more positive and productive Fall is welcome.

(Not Actually) Gluten Free Berry Crisp

As I type this, there is a 4th rendition of this recipe in the oven. I originally found it in an attempt to make a gluten free dessert for company. Although it was delicious and I used GF flour, I failed because I thought rolled oats were inherently GF, and they’re not. In order to be gluten free, (if I’m correctly remembering what our company said) the oats need to be certified not to have been grown where wheat/etc. was grown for at least 3 years and processed where wheat/etc. are not processed. Luckily, he was happy to have vanilla ice cream instead.

Each time I’ve made this, I’ve (of course) tweaked it some. The best tweak has been to use 4 cups of berries vs 3. How can more berries NOT be better!?! I’ve used blueberries and black raspberries every time, but different ratios. I think I like it best with about 3 cups of blueberries and 1 cup of black raspberries. This picture is from the first time I made it and it’s about a 50/50 mix.

I followed the rest of the recipe pretty exact. Maybe it’s so good because of the 1/2 cup of butter?

One of the things I like about this recipe is that it has you put half of the “crisp” on the bottom and then bake just the bottom for 5 minutes. It’s pretty fun to have the berries surrounded by crisp.

The version in the oven right now is almost all black raspberries. We used 10 cups of blueberries to make some possibly burnt jam (more on that later), so we’ll see how the mostly black raspberry crisp comes out.

Berry-Cherry-Palooza!!

This has been my life the past two weeks!

Resulting in 24 jars of

4 Quart bags of frozen strawberries and multiple

Hubby’s first go at homemade crust was a home run

Meanwhile, first big year for this guy

I spent many hours pitting (which is a pretty good excuse to watch Netflix/TV)

So we could have

Between strawberry and sour cherry, I think we ended up with 6 pies. I froze 4 cups of cherries, and there are more staring me in the face right now. Also…I noticed some black raspberries ripening…

Panzanella, Potatoes and (a) Porch Step

It was a busy week, but there is some fun stuff to share. We took the new grill on its maiden voyage, moving it from the garage to the patio and then testing it out.

In case anyone is wondering, far left is for searing, next is a gas grill, next is a charcoal grill, and last is a smoker. This is one large monster of a grill. Happy birthday/early Father’s Day to the hubster.

We used the grill to cook ingredients to try a Smitten Kitchen recipe, Grilled Pepper and Torn Mozzarella Panzanella. I mostly followed the recipe, though I used balsamic vinegar instead of sherry vinegar, I didn’t peel off the pepper skins, and I added a few kalamata olive pieces. We put our finished product on a bed of lettuce and let me tell you, it was so good that there were NO leftovers. A friend mentioned that she had never made panzanella (which beat me because I had never heard of it) because she thought the bread would be soggy. This bread was not at all soggy after being grilled. I predict this will be a summer staple.

As for potatoes, a quick check in on the sweet potato slips that, so far, look pretty good.

Other than replacing two tomato plants, we always keep a few extra til we’re sure, the rest of the garden seems to be hanging in as well.

The patio step project is on the list because both of the steps leading from the back of our house are rotting. Here is a picture of the right side step.

Here is the left side, pulled away from the house. Gross. We don’t even use that step and the wood is disintegrating at the meeting point.

So, hubby spent a good bit of time designing new steps, keeping in mind the pergola that is going up (SOON I HOPE!!!). The original design had two steps on each side, one step on the same level as the house. After building the bottom step, we are going to wait a while and see if we think we need two, as we like the way one looks. I do think, however, that we might have made it a board width smaller if we anticipated only doing a single step. It’s a large step.

Maybe we should call it a steck? It’s almost a combination of a step and a deck. Bottom line though, it’s a vast improvement over what was there and hubby did a pretty great job.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.