Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Basement Electrical


We have been working long hours in the basement.  Well, Lee has been working long hours.  I have been working medium hours.  In my defence, I have to feed the animals...and us...and write this blog!

Lee, somehow or other, has learned to do just about anything an electrician can.  We have done remodels on all of the houses we have owned and he has done the electrical work.  He added a plug here and there and next thing I know he is doing whole rooms.  This has saved us close to moolah dollars, by my calculations.

The framing is mostly done and now we have to put in the boxes for plugs and switches and Lee has to figure what we want where and string the wire.  We are putting in a lot of recessed lights.  I counted 25.  So those have to be wired and put in.  In  order to figure out what lights go where and where to put the switches, Lee stapled orange tape that we use to tie up baby trees in the appropriate spots in the ceiling.


He has books to tell him how many lines have to be on their own circuits.  Each bathroom needs its' own circuit.  And then there is the kitchen! 

Some switches need three-wire cable and some need two wire.   It is made of copper, so you don't want to buy too much...very pricey.  We have to figure where we want televisions and run cable for them.  They will be wall mounted, so boxes for them, too.  Don't forget the heater for the bathroom...and all the vents.  So he does the brain work and I do the grunt work, rather the electrician assistant work.


He tells me where to drill holes through the studs and I do it.  He cut two pieces of wood to guide me.  We had some issues with the planning department over the permits, so we want the inspector to be impressed and find nothing to complain about.  The holes for the plugs and switches will all be the same height.  No higgledy-piggledy work for us!


The hardest part was where there were four 2X6s all together.  There was no way to drill through them all with any bit we had.  We finally had to buy a bit extension and start from either side and meet in the middle.  I'm pretty proud that I (we) figured that out!

Tonight we buy a couple of contractor's packs for the recessed lights and a bit more lumber for the framing.  We made a few decisions after the contractor left, so it is on us.  We can do (and have done) framing, but we didn't want to do the whole thing and REALLY didn't want to figure out the framing for around the ducts and the tray ceiling.


We are getting bids for dry wall soon, so need to finish up all the stuff inside, or behind, the walls.  It would be great to have the walls finished and painted by Thanksgiving!

Steel Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries


Steel Cut Oatmeal is way better than the Quaker Oat version, except for one thing. It takes a long time.  It doesn't even look like the same thing. 


The Quaker Oat version is steamed and rolled and very tasty, but not as good as the steel cut version. 


But I wanted some.  So I made a batch.  From getting things out of the pantry to eating takes about 45 minutes.  So I started the water and then I fed the animals.  I added the oatmeal and then I emptied the dishwasher.  Made the coffee and poured my first cup.  Stuff like that.  So it didn't seem too long to wait.  It was worth it.

Steel Cut Oatmeal with Blueberries

4 cups water
1 cup Steel Cut Oatmeal
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoon brown sugar
2 Tablespoons walnuts
2 Tablespoons cream

This is a perfect cold morning meal.  Put 4 cups of water in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Add the oatmeal and stir.  Steel cut oatmeal Bring it back up to a boil and stir from time to time until it starts to look a bit creamy.  Then turn it down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.  You will still have to stir from time to time.

While it is cooking, get out the frozen blueberries you put up during the summer.  Or just any old frozen blueberries.  Place 1 cup in a small saucepan with 1 Tablespoon of sugar on medium high heat.  It started hissing and didn't get all melty like it does when I make a larger amount of blueberry sauce, so I added 1 Tablespoon of water.  Heat to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer.  If you cook it the whole time you are waiting for the oatmeal to cook, it should have cooked down to a lovely sauce.  Add an extra Tablespoon sugar if you like a sweeter sauce.  You will also have to stir this pan every once in a while.  I use a wooden spoon.  Just know that it may get a blue tint!


While everything is cooking and you are sipping from the coffee, get out the walnuts that you also have frozen.  Well, of course you do.  You buy in bulk and keep them frozen so you can have some any old time you want to bake!   Chop up a small handful.  I guess I did about 2 to 3 Tablespoons chopped, but I didn't measure.  Place the nuts and the brown sugar in small bowls and place on the table.  Place the cream on the table.


When the oatmeal is done divide it up into two bowls.  Put half of the blueberry sauce on top of each dish.  Add the walnuts and sugar to taste.  Float a small amount of cream on top and swirl it around.  It will turn a pretty color and be warm and filling...and nutty and delicious.

Lee said.  "It's good.  Why don't they call them purpleberries?" 

No clue.


Trista said, when told we had oatmeal and blueberries for break, "Sounds healthy!"

Sure it was.  Until we added the sugar and the cream.  Still, it was MOSTLY healthy!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thoughts on the Weather


Last night was pretty windy.  The rain blew sideways and I worried about our fruit trees that I have nurtured for years snapping off.  The lights went out a few times and then came back on.  So I worried about losing power and not having water or heat.


This morning it started snowing.  That's the earliest it has happened since we have been in Virginia.  It only lasted for about 30 minutes and then it must have warmed up a degree or two, and turned to rain.  Now it is very cold, but dry.  The wind last night was enough to blow most of the pretty leaves off our trees.


Then I turned on the TV and watched in sadness.  People died.  Houses burned or destroyed by wind and water.  How lucky we are. 


I saw that Romney stopped campaigning and asked for donations and suggested the Red Cross.  Maybe that's what those of us who came through this storm unscathed should be doing to give thanks.  Give money$

Monday, October 29, 2012

Peanutty Asian Lettuce Wraps


I love lettuce wraps.  You can get all the yummy goodness without the bread.  Don't get me wrong.  I love bread and tortillas, but I am trying to avoid them.  I found this recipe while roaming through my old recipe box and made a batch for us.  It is wonderful, easy and so delicious.  There are a lot of ingredients, but most of them are just measured out and there's not a lot of chopping to do.  In fact, everything came together more quickly than I expected. 

Peanutty Asian Lettuce Wraps

1 1/2 lbs. lean ground turkey
1/2 cup shredded carrot
2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
4 garlic gloves, minced
1 can 8 oz. water chestnuts, drained and chopped
4 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh snow peas
1/3 cup teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
3 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
12 Bibb lettuce leaves


In a large fry pan, cook the turkey and carrot over medium until the meat is no longer pink.  Drain the meat.  Add the ginger and garlic, cook one minute longer.


While the meat is cooking, chop the water chestnuts.  And don't leave them out.  You can find them in the Asian or International food section.  If OUR grocery has water chestnuts and Hoisin sauce, YOURS is SURE to. 


I bought a piece of ginger root, but it was rotten clear through.  That will teach me to try to find a little piece.  Get a big hunk and then you will always be able to find a part that is good!  I just put in about 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger and called it good.  But it would have been BETTER will REAL ginger root.


I used minced garlic from my fridge and then quickly sliced the green onions.  Now, our grocery did not have snow peas.  Except mixed in with other vegetables with frozen stir fry veggies.  I bought some frozen sugar snap peas and just thinly sliced then.  I will use the rest in another recipe. It is back in the freezer, so no rush.


After you have drained the meat, add everything else except the lettuce leaves.  And speaking of lettuce leaves, our grocery ALSO did not have Bibb lettuce.  Sheesh!  That's OK.  I substituted Romaine heart leaves and it worked great.  So feel free to substitute.  I might have used head lettuce, but we were shopping on a Sunday and they looked gross and brown.  Not fond of our grocery!


If you are very careful, you can fill the lettuce leaves, roll them up and eat the wraps like a taco or burrito.  If you are sloppy, you will get a few bits dribbled on your plate and then you will need a fork.  It will be yummy no matter how you do it.


Don't leave out any of the ingredients.  The Hoisin adds a sweetness you need to counter the peanut butter.  The ginger and the water chestnuts add some crunch.  So good.  And the turkey makes it low in fat.  We both ate too much and still have leftovers.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mount Vernon


My brother and sister-in-law live in Alexandria.  We keep inviting them down here and they keep inviting us up there.  Unfortunately for them, I took them at their word and went up for a visit.  They have a big, beautiful home in Alexandria and I went up there with a friend for a few days. 

Lee got to stay home, work tirelessly in the basement on the electrical system and take care of the pets.  He worked tirelessly until his wrist gave out, so now he is watching football tirelessly. 

Roland and Jane (the previously mentioned bro and SIL) live close to Mount Vernon and I had never been, so we spent a day there.  I love that people have preserved these homes from the past.  I have been to Jefferson's home, Monticello and we have plans to visit his Poplar Forest home soon.

You can get a glimpse of what lives were like back then.  It is also important to recreate the slave quarters.  The dichotomy of these great men who gave selflessly to their new country and wrote a Bill of Rights that allows the freedoms of today, against the horrible backdrop of slavery, is hard to grasp. 


So I had to push those thoughts to the back of my mind and concentrate on all the fascinating vignettes of their lives. 


The kitchen garden looked wonderful.  I wish I had espaliered fruit trees for easy picking! 


I took several views of the house using my fancy camera and all the fun things it can do.


The back of the house is the front of the house from the river view. 

We walked down to the threshing barn where they separated the wheat from the chaff. 


There were sheep and cows around and I was told at other times there were mules, so even the smells were appropriate to the day!

They were able to take over a million fish from the river each year.  With all the gardens and fruit trees, wheat and livestock it was a self sustaining enterprise.  They even made a profit selling back to England.  Of course the import duties on tobacco and the tax on tea changed a lot of that!


Mount Vernon has a blacksmith working there to make all the metal bits needed to keep the house and dependencies in good repair and authentic.

I was not aware that Martha Washington was a wealthy widow and had two surviving children when they married.  I love a fun day when I learn something. 

And here is what I have to say about teaching kids history.  Teach them the hows and the whys and use the dates to just orient them to the right times in history.  I hated, and was bad at, learning the dates.  So I tuned out on a lot of the facts and ended up learning more about history from historical novels I read as an adult than I ever remembered from history classes.  And that is the way it should be taught.  The dates aren't as important as what happened and why and that should be the emphasis.  Pardon me while I step off my soap box.

There are so many interesting and historical things to visit here in Virginia.  We kind of forgot that as we went about our daily lives and while both of us worked.  Now that we are both at home, I want to plan a lot more trips.  It is one of the reasons we chose Virginia for our retirement and now we have to get out there and see it!

 And while I love kids, even large groups of them, I recommend NOT going to visit historical sites on the same day that many (many) bus loads of school kids are doing the same thing.  Just sayin'.

Friday, October 26, 2012

New Quilt

I am starting a new quilt.  The class starts next month, but I went and bought the fabric on Wednesday.  I thought I was supposed to buy it early so I could wash and iron it.  You wash it to make sure any shrinking and bleeding is done before you put it all together and have to wash it in the future.  All the work could be ruined  by uneven shrinking or the red bleeding into the white or something.

Because most of it is dark, Caroline at the Trinity Quilt Shop assured me the fabric I chose was OK and even preferable to wait to wash it.  I am trusting you Caroline!


This quilt pattern is called Keyboard Kaleidoscope. There is a striped keyboard pattern border and instead of doing all that piecing, the idea is to use a striped fabric.  I love easy, yet wonderful.  The quilt shop recently got in the most beautiful fabric with dark rick colors thinly outlined in gold.  I love them and I am so glad I can use them in this quilt.


Caroline helped me pick out some coordinating colors and I am so excited to get started.  The class is only for one day, so I hope to get one star and all the middles cut out.  It is a modified stack and whack type of process.  I have never done it and I am not willing to experiment.  I still feel more comfortable taking classes.  I know I will go off and have to finish on my own, but getting started and learning all the shortcuts from an expert is only way I want to make a quilt.


A new quilt!  And I think I will keep this one!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bacon and Cashew Caramel Corn


We have friends from back in Lee's FedEx days.  They also have a blog on my blog list, Alfonso Family News.  Recently Cindy posted a story and mentioned that she had made some Bacon and Cashew Caramel Corn.  So naturally I had to ask her for the recipe.  She got hers from Epicurious. 

Back when we lived in Northern California I had a friend named Wendy Hunt.  She was a Nutritionist and taught at a Sacramento State University.  She gave me a wonderful Caramel Corn recipe.  It became our kids' favorite and we made it most years at Christmas.  She had two wonderful kids that came to my day are and we saw each other daily during the school year.  Sadly, she developed ALS.  I think of her every time I open my recipe box and see the recipe from her.  It is in her handwriting and I often wonder if I should send it to one of her boys.

I decided to combine the two recipes and this is a Cindy/Wendy Caramel Corn!

Bacon And Cashew Caramel Corn

1 bag plain microwave popcorn, popped
10 slices precooked bacon
small can of cashews, I used most of one, the recipe called for 2.5 oz.  Not enough nuts for me!

Here the recipe from Cindy called for Kosher salt and cayenne pepper.  I used just a pinch of the salt, because I used salted cashews, not raw and I didn't use any cayenne.  Neither Lee nor I can eat that stuff any more.  Old people stomachs!

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 oolong tea bag
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup

Preheat oven to 350.

The recipe from Epicurious made 15 cups.  It did not use Crispix, but Wendy's did.  I really prefer the Crispix so I did half and half.  After popping the corn, put it in the biggest bowl you have.  Then dump the same amount of Crispix on top.  Then dump as many cashews as you want.


After cooking the bacon for 2 minutes in the microwave, drain them on a few paper towels.  When they are nice and crispy, crunch them up in the paper towels.  I wanted them in even smaller pieces, so I chopped them up on a cutting board and then added them to the bowl.  Add 1 teaspoon of the Kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the cayenne if you wish.  I didn't wish.  Mix everything up.  At this point I had to sweep the floor.  So I got out another big bowl and mixed everything up in two bowls so I had room to work!

I would love to show you lots of pictures showing all these steps.  And I would if I hadn't accidentally deleted them while trying to delete some other things.  I did not want to make a double batch (30 cups!), so I am using what pictures I have.  Sorry! 


Bring the cream and the tea bag to just starting to boil and remove from the heat.  The recipe called for oolong tea, but we drink Red Rose Tea.  It is our favorite for the flavor, but every time you open a box, you get a little ceramic collectible. 


I usually give them to our daughter, Tara.  She used to love them when she was a child but now she is a growns up, as we say in our grown up fashion, and has no idea what to do with them.  But once you start collecting something, you may not stop.  This is something hoarders understand.  But these are wee things and don't take up much room....So use oolong if you have it, I didn't.

Let the tea steep for about 15 minutes,  You can press gently on the bag with the back of a spoon.  Discard the tea bag.


I have a large roasting pan. In years past I have used as many pans as I had, but my big roaster held it all.  Line it with parchment to save in the clean up.  Oh, you will still be washing bowls and pans and counters...and floors, so save when you can!  Spray two wooden spoons with Pam.

Put the sugar, water and corn syrup in a heavy pan.  Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and then turn it up to high.  My high was too high, so I dropped it down to medium high.  At this point you stop stirring. You want the sugar to caramelize and turn a dark amber.  Pick it up every once in a while and swirl it around so it cooks evenly, but no stirring.  It takes about 13 minutes from when you turned it up.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the cream.  It will bubble up.  Keep stirring until blended and then pour over the bowls of popcorn/Crispix.  Using the sprayed spoons, stir until evenly coated.  Then transfer to the large roasting pan.

Place the pan in the oven for 10 minutes.  Take it out and stir to try to evenly coat everything.  Put it back in for 10 more minutes. 

While you are waiting for the last ten minutes, wash all the pans and bowls so far.  Then using the soapy rag wash the counters down.  Then rinse and wash again.  You can let the mixture cool in the roasting pan, and keep stirring to break up the clumps, but this is easier and faster.  Especially if you have nice cool granite counter tops.  But they have to be really clean.  So rinse again and if you need to dry them use a clean paper towel.


Get out the pan and stir one more time.  When everything is coated and still warm and pliable, dump it out on the counter tops.  You may have to respray the spoons during each step.  Then use them to spread out and break up clumps.  It is also a good idea to pull out any unpopped kernels.  They are called Old Maids.  I don't want to speculate whether it is because they are left behind unwanted or if this is a comment on their virginal status.  Just use this time to get rid of them so they don't break your teeth!


By now the corn has cooled.  Put it in large airtight containers .  I like to use a pastry cutter to pick it up and transfer it.  Due to the bacon they should be kept in the refrigerator.  I am taking some on the road.  A friend and I are going on a road trip and you always need junk food for a road trip.  I think it is a law!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Banana, Bran, Molasses Muffins

I decided I wanted to make something healthy.  All this baking is wonderful, but I wanted to look for something I could feel happy about eating, not guilty.  I had a recipe for Bran Muffins, but that wasn't good enough. 

When we were in Bedford last week we went into a few antique stores.  One was particularly delightful and one of the reasons I love small towns.  They had antiques and a small restaurant.  They also sold some organic produce and had a Big Dog Rescue.  How can you beat all that in one store?  Well, you can't.  So I bought a few old things and a few very ripe bananas and decided to put them in the muffins.  I WAS going to use some Cheerios, too, but they had magically disappeared, so I will do a Cheerios thing later.

Banana, Bran, Molasses Muffins

1 1/2 cups All Bran cereal
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 or 3 mashed bananas, enough to make 1 cup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

a few Tablespoon brown sugar

Preheat the oven 400.  Spray a muffin tin with Pam.

This was a mix of several recipes, or I would let you know what I used.  A lot of the recipes used buttermilk for the milk.  Feel free to do that.  I didn't have any and only use it for baking so I wasn't going to buy some for 1/3 cup.


You have to soak the All Bran for a bit until it is mushy and can mix well.  All the recipes called for 1 cup milk and the ones that call for bananas use 1/3 cup milk.  So I put the All Bran in the bowl and covered it with the meager 1/3 cup milk. 


Not gonna work.  I added the egg and the molasses and swirled it around.  Now we're talking! 


So I added the oil and stirred with a fork.  I plopped the bananas right down on top and mushed them with the same fork.  Make sure you take off the strings and any brown spots, but very ripe is a plus.  I also take off the little black spot at the bottom of the banana as it is very bitter.


Add the brown sugar, baking powder, flour and salt.  Mix everything up.  Use a large scoop to fill the muffin tins.  Don't quite fill the scoop and you will have just enough for 12 muffins.


I know I was going for healthy, here.  You saw the bran, molasses and bananas, right?  So you can take a few Tablespoons of brown sugar and put them in a bowl.  Take a pinch and sprinkle it all over each of the muffins just before baking.


Bake for 20 to 25 minutes,  Mine was done at 20 minutes.  Let the pan cool a few minutes and then loosen the muffins and remove to a cooling rack.  Serve when just warm.  Remember that whole healthy thing?  Well, I cheated.  I put a small pat of butter on it and let the warmth get it all melty.

I realize I am not being consistent.  In order to make it even more healthy, I took half of the muffins to the library so that I can't eat them.  How healthy is that?