Saturday, November 18, 2017

I struggle no more

The perfect omelet is now in my grasp.

Isn’t this Denver omelet a thing of beauty?

I couldn’t be more pleased. This is actually the first omelet I’ve had in some time. I just stopped trying to make them because they always came out messy and unappetizing. That is, they used to, until I bought new All Clad non-stick skillets. I could not be more pleased with these pans.

No matter what the endeavor, good tools are essential. The same holds true for cooking. I finally decided that if I was ever going to work on my culinary skills, I had to give myself the best chance, even though I doubt I will ever be a great cook. I can follow a recipe, but I lack the imagination to just ‘come up with ideas’ that make a dish exciting and delicious. That’s OK. There are so many recipes out there, that I suppose I don’t need to go that extra mile.

By the way, this omelet was delicious!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Bringing the outside in

It is always a sad time when I have to bring the plants inside for the winter. On the other hand, it is nice to enjoy the ‘outside’ plants indoors.

While I didn’t have a plethora of plants this year, there were a few that are already doing quite nicely inside.

I love petunias and I hope I can keep this plant alive long enough to plant it outside again next spring.

In the meantime, I plan to enjoy this pretty purple petunia on my back porch. There are actually a couple of plants that are blooming, so the odds are pretty good that I’ll have petunias next year.

That just makes me happy.

I grew these in a pot on the deck where they did so much better than they ever did in the ground. I need some major soil amendments to be able to grow any flowers in what I hope will one day be a perennial garden.

I’ve always thought the purple coneflower was the perfect flower with its simplistic form and perfect color—my absolute favorite.


I still have a pot of the pink begonias that I dug out of the ground two winters ago. They have been simply thriving in our south-facing sun porch.

I hope to be treated with hot peppers all winter long.
Then last but not least of my noteworthy selections, is the Serrano Pepper plant that is still producing. I wasn’t going to leave that outside to die. So I brought it in as I have done in the past.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Great fall breakfast

There is no better way to start out a dreary autumn morning, than with a hearty breakfast. This morning, I made my all-time favorite. I could eat this for breakfast, or for a snack, or for dessert even. It is just that versatile and that good. It is Big Apple Pancake.

The version that I make is an adaptation from a recipe by Gale Gand, the pastry chef who delighted us with her delectable goodies on the Food Network’s Sweet Dreams in the early 2000’s. For me, she took the intimidation out of baking. She made me think I too could make delicious deserts. The recipe is as follows:

Ingredients:

3 tbsps unsalted butter
2 large apples, peeled, cored and sliced ¼” thick
¼ cup light brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
1 tsp granulated sugar
Pinch salt
½ cup milk
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 450º F. In a large ovenproof skillet (preferably with curved sides), melt 2 tbsps of the butter over medium heat. Add apple slices and cook, stirring until tender; about 10 minutes. Add 2 tbsps of the brown sugar and stir to combine.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, milk, and flour. Pour this batter over the apples in the skillet, transfer to the oven, and bake until puffy; about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the cinnamon and remaining 2 tbsps brown sugar. Cut the remaining tbsp. of butter into pieces. When the pancake puffs, remove from the oven, dot with butter, sprinkle cinnamon sugar, and return to the oven to bake until browned, about 10 minutes more. As the pancake comes out of the oven, squeeze the lemon wedges over the top. Serve in wedges right out of the pan.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Binge-watching Australian television is the best!

Image result for map of australiaI keep telling my husband we should move to Australia so we can just sit down all day to watch TV. Their programming is wonderful, rather like ours used to be.

Since John became disabled, we spend lots of time looking for something we can watch on television. We’ve binge-watched all kinds of programs, starting with Breaking Bad. Since then, we’ve watched Madmen, Longmire, House of Cards, Ozark, and probably many others that fail to come to mind at the moment. This is such a great way to watch television.

As a baby boomer, I grew up with television. It is part of who I am and therefore, part of my comfort zone. I fondly remember the days when there was a moral to the story, happy endings were believable and hopeful, and commercials didn’t interrupt the on-screen drama, practically in mid-sentence. Characters were always important to me. Back in the day, there was no such thing as violence, and sex; Lucy and Ricky never even slept in the same bed.


My first experience with Australian television was probably last year when a friend recommended McLeod's Daughters. She knew I was a fan of Heartland, a Canadian-based family now in its 11th season. I started watching it on Netflix and was hooked from the first day. For me, it is the horses that first attracted me, not to mention the characters, and story line. Heartland remains a favorite of mine.

It must have been the horses. I’ve always loved them, even though sadly, I have had very little interaction with them in my life. I’ve sketched them, painted them, and admired them as they graze in nearby fields. I’ve even ridden them a time or two. I always enjoy them on television and in movies. I’m drawn to them and have seen every horse-movie on Netflix-even the really hokey ones.

There is a similar theme in McLeod’s Daughters, which is about the daughters of the late Jack MacLeod who operate his ranch in Australia. From the first episode, I absolutely fell in love with this series. By the time I finished all 8 seasons, I felt like I knew these people. I laughed with them and I cried with them. This show is available on You Tube, since it originally ran in Australia from 2001 to 2008.

I was so taken with MacLeod’s Daughters, that once it ended, I felt a little lost. I started watching it again from the beginning. I called it “my happy place,” especially the first few seasons when the characters seemed to be at their very best. During the summer nights when it was too hot to go outside and absolutely nothing was on TV or I didn’t feel like watching another movie, I sat down to watch my favorite characters.


Since then, I’ve found several other Australian shows to watch. John and I have enjoyed them. On Hulu, we watched 7 seasons of Offspring, a light-heart, really funny show about an obstetrician named Nina Proudman, who came from a very wacky family.

I wasn't completely smitten with this show until about the third episode, and then I was hooked. It just kept getting better.


We also watched three seasons of Rescue: Special Ops. This was, as its name implies, Australia’s version of a medical/emergency drama that began in 2009. 

It was available for viewing on You Tube. It was easy to like these characters. Just the concept exemplifies heroism. And the episodes seemingly got better and better every week. 

Interestingly, I chose this show because the characters--the fictional characters that is--since I read that some of the cast members from McLeod’s Daughters’ had a role in some episodes. Sadly though, the final season ended abruptly.


And finally, another Aussie show that captured my heart was 800 Words. This show, currently in its third season, is about a recent widower who takes his family from Sidney to a remote town in New Zealand to flee memories of his late wife who he misses. What he finds in the little town of Weld is sometimes enchanting, and sometimes zany, but always entertaining. He writes a column for a newspaper in Australia which is always 800 words long.

I don’t know what it is about Australian television, but I admit I’m hooked.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Just chillin'

yearling doe
Every now and then I catch a glimpse, out of the corner of my eye, of movement. The windows overlooking the backyard often reveal a herd of deer grazing in the grass still wet with dew. But on this day, there was a lone critter, a yearling doe. The seasons are changing—it is Fall now—so this little one will soon have her new coat. I didn’t realize until I uploaded pictures I took of her, that I noticed the spots along her back are faintly visible. It wasn’t long ago that she was a fawn, tagging along with her mother.

Oh how I delight at the sight of a new fawn in the neighborhood. This one was likely born nearby, which is why she comes back. I wonder if this was one of the fawns I’ve enjoyed watching run and play like a new puppy scampering through the yard. Or perhaps she is a second or even third generation of one of them.

Some of the other deer I’ve seen in the last few days have already grown their winter coats; it is a completely different dark gray color than the tan color they wear in the summer. One doe that came to visit recently was actually dappled with splotches of dark gray-brown on her light-colored coat. It was not a good look.

I am always delighted to see the critters that live among us. This year has been a particularly active year for wildlife siting. Along with the birds I feed regularly and the hummingbirds that come and go every year, we’ve seen families of skunks, raccoons, fox, squirrels, chipmunks, opossums, and even a stray armadillo to add to the menagerie. Of course there are always black snakes, lizards, and frogs, not to mention a very healthy population of insects and butterflies. And there are always animals we hear but don’t see, like the coyotes and a variety of owls whose unmistakable sounds fill the night.

I love living in the woods. There is a kind of peace that surrounds us. Living with nature is the best way to live. I know I’ve tried them all. I was born in the city. When I was little, our family moved to the suburbs. I spent the bulk of my growing up there. Then, as a young wife and mother, our family lived in a small farming town. But this—life in the woods surrounded by the animals that let us live among them—is my favorite place to be.

I love living among the animals. I can only imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago when so many more animals lived together on this earth. I am saddened to what has befallen them and what will come of the rest of them as an unchecked human population crowds out anything that isn’t of immediate benefit to man’s existence.

Personally, I consider the wildlife in these woods to be beneficial to my very existence. I admit that when a yearling doe comes out of the woods to munch on grass and clover in my backyard, I relish it. And when she is comfortable enough to lie down there, even knowing that I’m watching, I’m a little bit flattered. The whole experience just makes my day.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Not just a plain old pot rack anymore

To some it may be just an old wooden pot rack, but to me, it is a precious piece with a story to tell. It is a part of the family now, and is well traveled, having been in three states.

It all began several years ago when my sister-in-law Jean joined me in selling at our garage sale, which has now become an annual event. With the miles between us since my husband and I moved to Arkansas, our sales are also a family reunion of sorts. It wasn’t like that in the beginning, when we all lived in Illinois.

One of the items she was selling was a wooden pot rack. I always admired it in her kitchen. I immediately professed my love for it and said I had to have it.

Despite this stroke of luck, the fact is, I never got to use it. My daughter, Jenny, decided it would look great in her apartment. I was ready to fight her for it, but my husband piped in and said she could have it. I’ve been pouting about it for the last 15 years.

Finally, Jenny, who moved it with her to Massachusetts, decided she didn’t want it any more. She was moving into a new house in Rhode Island and didn’t want to bring it with her. She figured she would sell it at a garage sale until I told her I still wanted it. So, she mailed it to me. I will be paying the postage, but it will be so worth the $21 to finally have my pot rack. Finally, I’ll be enjoying it in my own kitchen for the first time. I couldn’t wait to install it.

I actually have a small rack that I hang cast iron skillets and a couple copper pots from. It is very utilitarian, but I love it because it is a relic from an old railroad depot in the town where we used to live. I had hoped to hang both racks, one above the other.

I took everything down from the wall, giving me a chance to clean behind, under, and around everything that was there. I positioned my new, (actually 25 year old) pot rack and drilled the holes. It was a really tight fit and I had to place it all the way to the edge of the wall. What I didn’t know was that the corner of that wall was reinforced with metal. The screws just stopped dead in their tracks when they hit it. Upon further inspection, if I hung it there, my cabinet wouldn’t open fully. I realized it wasn’t going to work. And, I had no other wall big enough in my kitchen. I was crushed.

I was having a garage sale of my own in a few days. I entertained the idea of selling my precious pot rack, but then thought better of it.

Then it hit me. I don’t have to hang pots from it; I can drape a quilt onto the rung that would normally hold the pot hooks. So that is what I did. I turned my precious pot rack into an even more precious quilt rack.

I have just painted my bedroom, something I’ve wanted to do since we moved into this house 12 years ago, but never quite found the time or energy to do it.

So, now it is done. And the first thing I hung on the newly painted wall was my quilt rack. On it I’ve displayed my favorite quilt. It hangs above the cube shelves where I store my fabric stash. This is also a new endeavor. I used to keep all my quilting material in tubs under the bed, but now, it is all organized. One portion of my room resembles a quilt studio. I couldn’t be happier.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Burning desire

For the past several months, I've wanted to burn some brush in the yard. The timing just never seemed right, until today. This morning, the sky was partly cloudy with a chance of rain in the forecast. Temperature was a balmy 80º. Despite the myriad things I had to do today, I figured this was as good a day as any to take care of the pile of branches and twigs already thrown into my makeshift burn pile.

I set out with my trusty Bic lighter. I thought I could start the pile by simply igniting a few dried leaves. That was a good idea, but not quite good enough.

Undaunted, I went into the house, grabbed some dryer lint and stuffed it into an empty toilet paper tube. I read somewhere that was an excellent fire starter. It might have been, had I not used too much of it. It was packed too tightly and just smoldered with that sickening smell of burnt hair. Oh, and it it died out before it could ignite any of the branches.

By this time, I had run the lighter out of fuel. I headed back to the house for a box of matches. I knew I had some, but I'd be darned if I knew where they were. Finally, after rifling through several kitchen drawers, I found a box of 36. That should do it, I thought.

I got several small fires started, but they quickly went out. I was starting to think this wouldn't be as easy as I thought. So, I tried a little more of my homemade firestarter. I used a tiny twig that was strong enough, yet small enough, to push some of the tube's contents back out. My twig also worked to rake a few dried leaves into the newly ignited flames. I used tiny twigs to catch on fire from the burning leaves. Finally, I coaxed larger twigs until I could get the branches to burn. It was a success. As the fire died down, I found more twigs and dried leaves in the yard. There is an abundance of both. Finally, I had a nice fire going.

I never learned how to build a fire. I was never a girl scout. Ironically though, when I was about 13 years old, I was a Camp Fire Girl. I don't recall ever learning to build a campfire.

Building a fire is such a primal activity. As I was arranging the burning pile and adding new dried leaves, I felt a real kinship to my ancestors. I just know my father had done this many times as a boy growing up in Michigan. It was probably a part of his routine summer chores. Thinking about that made me feel close to him.

I'm terrified of fire, so I will never abuse the practice, but burning is such a useful tool in rural areas. So much falls out of the trees that need to be disposed of. I want to make this a regular activity. I really enjoyed myself today.

Since my husband's illness more than two years ago, I find myself doing things I never did before, especially outdoor tasks. This is one of them that I really found enjoyable. There is a real sense of accomplishment when I look at the former tangle of branches in the circumference of my rock-lined fire pit. All that remains there now is a smoldering pile is ash.