..And To All A Good Night!

Hello friends!

Happy Holidays!

We had a pretty wonderful, low key holiday. It was a much needed calm for the whole weekend.

Christmas Eve we hung around and finished up the last minute things before heading to a family potluck and cookie exchange. We had all kinds of cookies, but also five different versions of peanut butter bars. Not that it was a competition at all, all peanut butter bars are delicious and deserve love, but mine were unanimously voted the best. To Be fair, however, I’ve also made mine the longest, everyone else was trying out new recipes so it makes sense that I’ve honed mine a little. I also got mine from a genuine church lady, I don’t know where she got it, but little old church ladies generally either have the best or worst recipes, there’s no in between. So, what I’m saying is, my peanut butter bars are bomb. Not that it was a competition. But if it was, they’re pretty great. But it wasn’t. At all. 

We also had gingersnaps, fudge, a couple kinds of sugar cookies, I made my maternal grandmother’s almond butter cookies, and my cousin made these super cute reindeer out of Graham crackers and melting chocolate. 

My sweet mama stood and helped with every part of the cookie baking this year, her help was invaluable

We had a lovely time singing carols, eating yummy potluck, and watching my 16 year old cousin try to show off by sliding an icy donut in his little truck only to be chewed out by his girlfriend and my grandma. His girlfriend fit in perfectly by the way, which is a pretty terrific trick considering we are all crazy. She was in on the jokes, helping with the cookies, and playing with the kids. Pretty brave for a little 16 year old, I don’t think I’d have been that poised at that age. 

I ended up leaving before the church service this year, it was too snowy and icy and I didn’t feel comfortable driving on all that after dark. But it worked out because it gave me some time to be Santa’s elf. I had some last minute things to finish up.

We did our usual tradition of “something cozy for Christmas Eve”. It used to be “jammies on Christmas Eve” but we changed it because some of us stopped growing in the 6th grade and simply did not need more jammie sets. So I got a cute sweatshirt, my dad got socks (he requested them), got my mama a cute jammie set, and Christopher got a hoodie.

The tradition of finding the most ridiculous socks I possibly can for Christopher for Christmas continues

I once again proved that I have no spatial awareness and my stocking stuffers mostly didn’t fit, but I swear that’s becoming family tradition. Christopher tried to stay up and help me but he’s been working long shifts starting at 2 am so he was being super helpful, and then not so much, and when I looked over, he had fallen asleep mid stocking. But points for the effort. I got him to bed and Pat Saget kept me company via reruns. 

Christmas day we got up, I made some cinnamon rolls, and then we slowly started opening presents while snacking on a Hickory Farms box my grandma gave us. We were meant to have a roast but yours truly remembered she didn’t defrost it until 6 pm so… we had it today (I’m writing this on the 26th, for the record).

We had a lovely afternoon watching movies and eating far too many cookies, and all the critters got some kind of special treat. Then I started working on the kiddos gifts. They were at their moms for the weekend, but I knew they were coming home in the evening, so I set out their newly stuffed stockings, set out their gifts, and made sure they had some “Christmas Eve cozies” even though they were getting them a little later than expected. We had also set them up with a bunch of the cookies from the exchange, and a local charity had helped their dad get them some gifts from him. If squeals of delight were any indication, I think we attained at least a little Christmas magic. Mission accomplished. 

Overall the holidays were lovely. I’ve been lucky to have a boss that let me burn my PTO before it expired so it’s been calmer than usual and I’ve been able to catch up on some of the crazy that’s been going on. It was a much needed low key holiday after burst pipes, long term guests, a haywire heater, an ice storm, and a broken water trough. It’s been a December folks, but the holidays were bright and the new year is looking brighter. 

Until we chat again my friends!

Look, Sometimes I Think I’m Funny…

Hello friends!

Anyone else talk to themselves and the household appliances whilst they clean? No? Just me? Welp, Christopher thought it was funny too, so here’s the transcripts of a few snippets he recorded from my latest cleaning day, hope you laugh as hard as I did. Don’t worry, Christmas content will be next week.

Ode to the Kirby (or Cleaning Plaster Dust Out of EVERYTHING)

“Alright, it’s been a minute, vacuum”

“Look, all we gotta do is work together, neither of us wanna do this all day”

“Why aren’t you going?”

“ROLL D*MM*T”

“Why the h*ll do you weigh so much?”

“Why? aren’t. you… oh wait, neutral, got it”

“Down, down, down, down…”

*vacuum chokes on rug*

“Too much! Calm down, I didn’t mean to suffocate you with the rug”

*pops the head up a level so it can breathe*

“Freaking need a license to run the vacuum”

“Let go of the rug. Let. Go. Of the. Rug”

“Fine! Eat the rug, see if I care!”

*bangs wall* 

“Oops sorry.” 

*bangs it again* 

“Sorry, again.”

“How do I…”

“Ooh that spins”

“Does that move?” *clanking noise* “sh*t, yes it does”

“Hey Dad… no, no, house is fine, we’re fine… yea, no, hypothetically if I wanted to put the hose on the Kirby… *chorus of okays* …so the whole nose piece DOES come off…”

*waving the hose attachment wildly* “Come at me dust!”

*humming along to the vacuum* 

“rooms gonna be SO clean” 

*more humming* 

“let go of the rug. Unhelpful”

“Oooh I can reach the top of the mirror!!”

*humming*

“Oh. But how do I know when it’s clean?” 

*confused in 5 ft*

“Well that’s between God and the dust mites now”

*accidentally sucks up an earring* “welp…that might as well happen”

*aggressive mocking of the dust bunnies*

*accidentally sucks up pencil* “how even…”

*realizes why you don’t get plaster dust wet* “no it’s fine, I wanted to skim coat my entire floor”

*realizes I did the same thing to the desk* “…uuuhhhhmmm, welp….”

*panic kicks in and a mad dash is made to the kitchen for paper towels* “sh*t, sh*t, sh*t,sh*t…”

*aggressively mocks the plaster dust*

*bangs into wall* “okay, look, that one was partially on you” *bangs wall again* “okay, that one was me”

“I wonder…”

*pops Kirby into neutral whilst vacuuming and now can gently pull the body along while vacuuming with the hose*

“H*ll yes, just a genius over here”

*trips over rug the Kirby pulled along with it*

“Nope nevermind, just your garden variety idiot”

“Down, down, down, down…”

*vacuum chokes on the rug*

“Too much, I get it, I get it”

*accidentally sucks up earbud that mysteriously decided it didn’t wanna do its job anymore* “are you f****g serious?!”

“Hey Dad… no, no, house is still fine, we’re still fine… yea, no, hypothetically if i wanted to pull the bag off the Kirby…” *chorus of okays* “…no, no, gotcha, big mess, makes sense…”

*staring at giant pile of gross on the floor* 

“a smarter human would have put cardboard down”

*disappointed sighing*

“But, we are not the smarter humans”

“Seriously, stop eating my rugs, you’re a 22 year old vacuum, you know better.”

Okay, I know it’s not the normal content, but I really did laugh at the fact my brother was so amused at my conversation with the vacuum, and I wanted to share something a little lighthearted since this time of year can be stressful. I can’t share the actual recordings because my sweet brother is a little self conscious of his adorable laugh, and he’s laughing at me through the whole recording.

Second point to note, I absolutely adore the Kirby, not sponsored or anything, but that vacuum is a workhorse and very versatile, and almost as old as I am with a way better work ethic. It’s just a little big and unwieldy for someone of my size (remember I stopped growing in the seventh grade). 

Until we chat again my friends!

The Kirby in question

It’s a Busy Home…

Hello friends!

My house smells so good right now! One of those rare moments when I wish the blog had smell-o-vision (although, etymologically speaking, shouldn’t it be tele-olfaction? …anyways). Usually you probably wouldn’t want to smell the blog, I’m guessing it smells a lot like horse manure, eau-de-farm-doggie, and diesel. Just a hunch. 

But, for real, we made almond butter cookies and my house smells like a hallmark movie. It literally smells like a good day in here. It smells like christmas! (It smells like warm vanilla, almond, and unsurprisingly, butter, but let’s be poetic for just a moment).

I generally don’t super enjoy baking, and admittedly Christmas cookies aren’t an exception, but I ABSOLUTELY LOVE eating Christmas cookies so I will do my part to get the reward. Love almond butter cookies. They are a bit involved so even though every year I say “I should make these more often”… I don’t. 

It’s been a crazy week on the farm. We had a water pipe go south on us that required digging up a part of the yard and calling a plumber. Then calling a diagnostic imaging company because they couldn’t find the pipe. THEN calling back the plumbers when we found the pipe four inches from where they dug the first giant hole. I’ll attach a photo of the yard now, because you can only dig a hole so many times before it turns into mud. I’m not exactly sure why it happened, something about a nylon joint going bad, but I’m just so grateful it wasn’t the septic system. It also put it on my radar that I should really have the septic system serviced in the spring. Added to the planner.

Second thing that happened was two of my lovely cousins, who are skilled tradespeople (or skilled tradespeople in training) came over to put in an outlet for me. So my cloffice is official! I have power! Now to get shelves and such. I need to paint, because the wiring in this house, and the wall covering too, is a thing of its own. So we had to punch a few holes, and accidentally turned the power off on my dad mid shower, but it’s in and other than the color differences there’s no sign that plug in wasn’t always there. It was so cool seeing my cousins work, and my cousin who did the electrical is an apprentice, so she was really excited to do a solo job. I had to wash everything because I traded plaster for sheetrock in those holes, and both create just the most invasive dust. (Side note, there’s some potentially very dumb cleaning content headed your way, it made me laugh too hard to not share, so you’ll all have to cringe along with me next week).

My room is currently a pretty, but faded, green, and I like it a lot, so I might try to match it, BUT, I’ll add a couple pictures of the room as it is currently, and if yall have ideas I’m all ears. I’ve also, occasionally, had the urge to do some fun paint or wallpaper tricks, so I’m open to those, but wallpaper, even the peel and stick kind, is seemingly out of my price range for now. And honestly, paint feels a little less like a serious commitment, and I don’t know if I’m looking for a long term relationship with my decor choices. I don’t want to feel bad doing a refresh a couple years down the line, ya know?

The snow of course made both of these things a little harder, since windows couldn’t be opened and the ground was frozen. So obviously paint will be waiting for warmer weather. But thinking about it now will prepare us for spring. And it’s just kinda fun to day dream. I’m also minorly entertaining the idea of painting the cloffice a soft pink. Of course with that thought came my brain replaying that scene from steel magnolias on loop:

“My colors are blush and bashful”

“Her colors are pink and pink”

Might be fun though.

Until we chat again, my friend

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells

Hello friends!

I am once again calling on your expertise! It’s Christmas time officially and I need some no cost holiday fun ideas for little kids. We’ve been a house of busy working adults for so long that we sorta have our Christmas spirit in batches, and the kids are losing their minds about it.

I also need some very inexpensive but very fun Christmas gifts ideas for these kiddos. Santa is really broke this year because they’ve literally tripled my food and utilities costs and I wasn’t exactly pleased with the budget beforehand. Gotta love when a single tank of gas is your entire commute budget for the month. But I digress. 

The boys have been loving napping under the tree

I plan on making some reindeer snacks for Christmas eve (and the reindeer will enjoy them sometime after the kiddos go to bed). My parents always made it look like the reindeer were super messy eaters, and I think this year that sloppy reindeer might just make a comeback. Carrots and apples for sure, and cookies for Santa.

I was planning on involving them in the cookie making process if they wanted. We always make almond butter cookies instead of sugar cookies, they have a little bit of a deeper flavor and are just a little less sweet. I’ve never heard any complaints so I think the kiddos will like them, and they make up very similarly to a sugar cookie and can be decorated just the same. We usually make a batch of chocolate almond butter cookies too, as well as a couple specialty cookies. Although I learned my lesson a couple years ago with red velvet cookies. It’ll be a while before I try those again. Messy and gross to boot. I think I messed something up, but frankly you have to use so much dye there’s not really a second chance. 

I’ve added a new sweet treat to the mix since I’ve taken over the cookies portion of the holiday. We now also have no baking peanut butter chocolate bars, a recipe given to me by a friend of my grandma’s. They take about ten minutes to make and about an hour to chill (you melt and reset some chocolate) and then you have super cute little snack sized bars to eat. They are super rich but super addictive, so I always have to put them somewhere out of the way to help prevent calamity. I love little treats like that though, because for the most part, I almost always have the ingredients on hand and, other than the small scale crisis caused by attempting to measure peanut butter, they are really easy to make. Same principle as keeping premade cookie dough in the fridge, you literally never know when you might need a sweet treat.

Pretty sure we are going to have something akin to a white Christmas. I don’t know if it’ll snow or have a lot of accumulation specifically over those days but I definitely think that the conditions will be there and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Last year it was -2 degrees Christmas morning, we had around a foot of snow, and it started snowing more that afternoon. Made it difficult to feed the animals but it was really quite beautiful. 

It was really funny though too, because, and I think I showed you guys in pictures, the little walkway that I throw food into the barn from was completely covered in snow. There was a large pile from the roof to be climbed every time we wanted to feed in the barn. I definitely fell off that pile several times and the horses definitely laughed at me several times, which…fair.

This year so far the snow has been… mushy? Not structures building snow so it doesn’t build into drifts or create those wind balls. Kinda just gets everything wet and muddy. I think the kiddos would like it a lot better if it was the fun fluffy stuff. 

I’m somewhere in the realm of 80% done with my Christmas shopping. I’m one of those weirdos that starts planning in October and as soon as we get Halloween squared away I start slowly enacting my plans. Doesn’t always work, I definitely still have to do the December 23rd quick trip. But I’m getting more organized each year. I have to, my holiday season is packed, have you seen the size of my family? I have events every weekend of November and December and lots of weekday craziness too! This year there’s a color-coded spreadsheet. You know I’ve hit full first born, obsessive planner mode when I bust out the excel formulas. Putting on our serious Santa hats.

(It’s really quite pleasant to see all those pretty little cells though, you gotta admit).

Until we chat again my friends!

Calling All Recipe Sharers!

Hello friends!

The weather is really starting to get to me. Anyone have any good tips for cabin fever? Bemoaning old man winter is becoming a hobby in its own right and I don’t think I like the person I am when I’m stuck inside haha. Grumpy is an understatement. People are crossing the street when they see me. My RBF is strong this time of year.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty, but I think it’s a textural thing for me, I despise being wet for no good reason. Swimming? Fine. Bathing the animals? Fine. Watching the rain from a  window or porch? lovely! But I despise being soaked because of the rain or snow. And I cannot deal with being cold. I’d flourish in the tropics…maybe.

The girls haven’t been loving it either. The blankets are heavy. While it’s better than shivering and being cold soaked, it’s still not ideal. They have a place to go and stay dry, but sometimes I think hell will freeze over before we get to that point. They would rather stand out in a blizzard than go into the warm barn, and I’m pretty sure if I forced it there would be a small scale mutiny. Nice, warm, cozy barn with multiple heat lamps? Nah, we have a random stretch of fence to guard tonight. Nellie sometimes decides she’s simply not having it and spends the evening, or overnight if she prefers, without a blanket because she is bigger than me and some battles are just too dangerous still. She’s got a pretty nice winter coat so I figure she’s old enough to know if she’s not interested. Doesn’t mean I don’t spend the whole night worrying about her. 

Joe is also a big blanket fan

Honey officially has all her initial shots and blood work and is properly spayed. She was such a good girl for the whole ordeal. She was pretty upset in the car and during the initial checkup understandably. I was really worried after being locked up for fasting, left at the vet, and then being on bedrest for a couple days (starting in the Joe sized travel kennel and then in the woodshop) that as soon as she got her freedom she’d take permanent leave of us. But she’s such a sweetie, she marched right up to Christopher and demanded some cuddles. She’s definitely his cat, or more accurately, he’s her person.

She might have a small meltdown when she realizes that she needs a booster shot very soon. But it’ll still be a lot less traumatic than the whole surgery thing. She’s a trooper.

In other news, I’m in need of cost friendly, large scale dinners if anyone wants to share. The kiddos that moved in with their dad are all growing like weeds and eating me out of house and home. I’m over here trying to not go broke and still make sure they are getting all they need, I’m trying to teach myself to coupon, and I’m upping my bulk buy game. 

I’ve been making some pretty wild leftover “casseroles”, which just sounds better than “threw things in a pot and hoped it worked”. I hit on a pretty good one yesterday, leftover taco chicken, garlic rice, frozen spinach, and some cream of mushroom soup, plus a little seasoning. Topped it with some fried onions and let me tell you, it sounds weird but was quite warm and tasty. It was a big hit in our house, and wasn’t hard at all. I’m pretty brain dead after work, so easy is the name of the game.

Haha so ya know, not a big ask, just super cheap, super tasty, super easy meals to feed 9 people. Simple! Easy! No biggie!

(If this suddenly turns into a cheap eats blog, you know I’ve officially lost my mind. Also, if you have a favorite cheap eats blog, send me links! This girls gone full on frugal).

We do have some very cute elementary school art projects on the fridge now, the littlest one came flying in from school yesterday to tell us all about it, so it’s all worth it. I’m a sucker for a happy little kiddo. And these are some ridiculously cute kids.

All in all, I think it’s going to be an interesting holiday season. I had planned my holidays this year around the idea of relaxing calm, since last year’s holiday season was crazy busy and stressful. I definitely don’t think it’ll be calm anymore, I don’t think my house will be calm for a while, but I think it’ll be fun!

Until we chat again my friends

Talkin’ Turkey

Hello Friends!

Happy Thanksgiving! I know it’s a day late, but I was in a food coma for a good portion of yesterday.
How was everyone’s Thanksgivings? Did you see family, or get to have a friendsgiving? Or if you don’t celebrate, how was your Thursday? Hope traffic wasn’t too bad.

Per usual, I had a crazy amount of people in my house for the holidays, although it was a little shorter than usual as there’s now lots of couples who need to split their time between houses. Honestly, as much as it was a little bittersweet to see them go, having my house cleaned up and put back together by midnight was a novel concept. Usually I look at it after everyone’s left and go, “eh? Tomorrow”.

Due to the fact that all my Thanksgiving Photos have family faces in them, please enjoy some artsy décor instead

We always potluck our Thanksgivings because there’s just too many people for one person to take on the brunt of the cooking. I got desserts this year so I made our usual Gork, a peach cobbler, and a whole host of pies (I did not scratch make the pies, I worked all week and didn’t have the time or the patience for that). Each family member picked a side or a few dishes to bring, and we always try to break it up so it’s easy, for example, since I am hosting I got desserts because there’s a lot of wiggle room in that job (whoever invented premade freezer pies deserves sainthood). Usually we make sure the new mamas don’t have to bring anything, or if they want to, we set them up to bring drinks and such. Easy peasy things that they can do without cooking. My uncle almost always does the turkey because he likes to fry it, and the rest is sorted out as it comes. A lot of times I’ll get a text beforehand asking me to preheat my oven, and someone will bring a hot dish that needs a little assembly, or stovetop fixings that can be made on site. It’s always so fun to be busy setting up and making food in the kitchen with my cousins, but also it’s super nice because ninety percent of it is done ahead of time so no one is majorly stressed out.

This year we had four youngsters and their dad with us, so they got to be a part of the festivities. I think their dad was a little confused about our non-traditional holiday, but he caught on quickly, and the younger kids thought it was great because they are the perfect ages to hang out with my little cousins. Honestly, it made me so happy to see them laughing and playing out in the yard (it was absolutely freezing, but sunny, and very little stops a little kid from playing in the sun). The older two slot in more with the teenagers, but obviously that’s a little more awkward, because everything is a little more awkward at that age. I was really hoping the oldest girl would find some fun in chatting with my cousins, and I think that might have happened, but everyone in that group is so painfully shy, the world may never know for sure.
The kiddos had the whole week off school for Thanksgiving, and at first I think they had planned to spend a good portion of it here with me while I was working. Thing is, I had a million things to do and I am not against chores for wee ones, so they had some light things to help me with (like sorting out the toys that needed repair, testing some of the lighting decorations, sweeping, nothing major, just little helps) and I think they realized it’s a lot more fun to go hang out with their Dad in town. Totally understandable, I would be the same way. 

My cousin Abby deserves a full knighthood after showing up at my house Wednesday morning while I was working, with mop and vacuum in hand. By the time I got off work my big brick fireplace and floors were cleaner than I’ve ever seen them, she is a wonder worker. I want to find a little something to get her as a thank you, I was thinking maybe a little gift card to a nail salon, or maybe to the coffee shop. She saved me hours of work when I signed off and I was able to get the pre baking done and dinner on the table with none of the pre Thanksgiving stress. She’s amazing!

Well, anyways, I’m going to go have Pumpkin Pie for breakfast and discuss christmas lighting plans with Christopher, as is tradition, so, I’ll talk to you next time.

Until we chat again my friend!

Rampin’ Up

Hello friends!

We are officially in the “i really should move to phoenix” time of year. I am trying to remind myself of all the good things about winter time, but I AM COLD and being unnecessarily dramatic about it. I’m currently under two blankets, with Watson hiding between them, in front of my heater, hugging a mug of warm tea, and hunting and pecking at my keyboard in an attempt to uncover as little from the blanket as possible. Cold. 

But I have very, very exciting news. My trailer is back! It was living temporarily with a gentleman across the river while he built a custom ramp so Nellie Belle could have an easier time getting in and out. He did a fantastic job, I’m so so so pleased!

Isn’t it nice? It’s a little dirty here because I was standing out in some very severe winds. It was freezing but I was excited!

Currently there is one small, teeny, itsy bitsy little problem to resolve before it’s absolutely perfect. It weighs more than me and as such, I can lower it down, but it’s unwieldy enough that I can’t quite get it back up on my own. I kinda think it’s as simple as adding a second grappling point so I’m not trying to lift it straight from the ground to eye level, instead I can maybe swap to a better hand position half way through. But Dad thinks for safety it might be better to have a little bit of an assist. I tend to agree since in my last determined attempt I dropped it on my leg and I have some pretty serious bruises. But it’s a fixable issue, I’m wondering about a pulley assist or maybe something spring-y? We just haven’t puzzled it through yet, but the trailer is still very much work in progress and as we are getting colder I’m not in a huge hurry. (If anyone has cool trailer ramp lift assist ideas, I wanna know, share please!)

But overall I can not overstate how truly happy I am with this ramp, it’s so nice. The guy put a really nice non-skid mat on it for Nellie and the angle is perfect and he reworked the door handles and latch system so everything lays flat when it’s all closed up and it’s so perfect! I cannot even express to you my excitement. 

I have a couple more metal works projects I’ve been putting off on the farm so I fully intend to ask my “trailer guy” to help me out again (that’s the designation next to his name in my phone, does anyone else do that? I have “Name McName (New Farrier)” and “So and So (Grandma’s Friend with the Peaches)” for example). He was such a gentleman, first of all, which I really appreciated. While I consider myself a pretty independent human, I’ve taken to bringing my dad or brother with me when meeting with new people, especially guys, because so many don’t take a girl seriously (or worse, but we don’t need to have that conversation today). Around here it’s incredibly common for me to call a service professional only to hear “sure, but can I please speak to the man of the house?”. I hate that but I’ve also learned to roll with it a little more in order to get things done. My dad, for the record, is a total legend about that and when they ignore me to talk to him he just puts his hands up and says “talk to the boss, she’s in charge”, and refuses to answer the questions. I was a little more understanding when I was a fresh faced 20 year old trying to get stuff done, but uh, I’ve got some patina on me now, no one’s accused me of skipping class or truancy in a very long time.

We’re going to paint it for rust proofing, but I didn’t have the correct paint on hand yet. It’s on the list!

But anyways, got off topic, my trailer guy is such a polite human, and absolutely went out of his way to help me out. He even delivered the trailer for me when he was done because he felt bad it took a while, even though we had decided it was no rush whatsoever (because he was doing a big job for one of the GIANT ranches around here and that’s the kinda job you want callbacks and referrals from). I really wanna get him some cookies or a coffee card or something to show some extra gratitude (I’ve mentioned before on this blog how important it is to be friendly with your favorite tradespeople, they truly make this world go ’round and can do things this girl can only dream of) but I’m worried about stepping on boundaries since he’s new and not used to my loud personality. Maybe I’ll just wait until I call him for the next project and give him something then. 

Anyways, I’m off to go stare at my pretty trailer again, shout if you need me.

Until we chat again my friends!

Okay Google, How Do I…

Hello friends!

It’s officially pumpkin bread season, as I have been reminded by my brother repeatedly. I haven’t made much this year yet because everyone was on and off sick for so long and frankly, it’s a lot of work if no one’s going to feel good enough to enjoy it. It’s literally the only recipe I sift flour for, I do not know if it helps, but it’s my grandma’s recipe and I don’t want to disrespect it so, we sift.

It’s also soup season, and while usually I have to beg, plead, and be sneaky about soups for dinner this time of year (I’m pretty much the only soup lover, my moms ambivalent, and the guys are generally more against it) this year the family has surprised me and have been asking for my soups more. This is doubly surprising since the weather is still absolutely lovely. Colder yes, but even in the afternoons it’s been totally livable outside. I’m not complaining though, soups and warm weather? I’m being absolutely spoiled over here. 

We’ve been digging egg drop soup around here lately because the mixins can make it an entirely different meal for each person. My moms a purist, she just likes the soup itself, sometimes with a little white rice. I like the soup itself a lot, but also I really like rice and some shredded seasoned chicken, a couple sprinkles of soy sauce and sesame oil. Dad’s favorite is whatever leftovers are in the fridge, so last time he added corned beef and some spaghetti noodles. For those who are freaking out, don’t worry, we keep our sauce and noodles separate for spaghetti, because yours truly can have lots of tomato based products, thanks to a latex allergy, and I usually make my own creamy Alfredo, so when I say he adds noodles, I just mean noodles. Christopher usually eats some combo of the above… or a pizza. He’s still my most stubborn soup holdout. But that’s fine, I appreciate that he tries every new weird thing I make, I don’t mind if it ends up not being his most favorite thing. 

My Egg Drop Rice Chicken … thing

Christopher has been asking for my loaded baked potato soup again though, and I haven’t made that in so long; I’m really hoping I wrote it down somewhere. I’m really bad at making something yummy and then totally forgetting how I made it. I’m slowly getting better at that. Since I got a newer phone with a pen it seems easier to just scribble notes because I don’t have to bring a notepad with me. Downside is my handwriting is even worse than usual on a screen so deciphering my notes afterward leaves a lot to be desired. But I’ve always liked the tactile feel of physically ink writing over typing or tapping on a keyboard so this is a nice compromise for me. Just don’t tell my boss his software engineer just said she’s not a big fan of typing on a keyboard, that might not go over well.

I’ve been seriously thinking again about writing a little book of things for the family, in the event I’m or someone else is not around for a period of time for some reason. I’ve often thought about making notes like “here’s how to make [a specific food that Mom’s super into right now]” and “here’s how to doctor a minor dog wound and when to go to the vet”, Dad could add things like “which breaker is the microwave on” and “what to check in the basement in a rainstorm”. Those kinda things, ya know? Because I’m always striving to be as reachable as possible, but let’s face it, rural connectivity just fights you for no reason sometimes. I’ve been sitting at my desk, literally waiting for a phone call, and still missed the call because my phone didn’t ring. I’ve heard similar complaints from the boys. I sometimes think that maybe having a house “manual”, that everyone contributes knowledge to, would be a solid plan. Could also be a place for emergency numbers and health notices, that kinda thing.

The idea is not particularly new. When I initially moved out I created “Amanda’s Big Book of Adulting” full of things like how to check my car’s fluids and laundry tips and tricks. It’s analog and grossly outdated now obviously, but during its heyday it was an absolute essential that just lived in my desk. When Mom first started having issues I realized just how much I hadn’t asked her and simply can’t now, and I started to debate making a “dear future children…” book that explains things like taxes and how to license your car. Thing is, as time has gone on, I’ve become less and less certain I intend to have kiddos, and taxes have changed a little too. So, I’ve scrapped that idea until I actually decide if kiddos are happening. I think that’s probably the best course of action. 

Regardless though, there’s data that needs recording, and a manual is the best option I can think of to make that work. I’m thinking it’ll live digitally, always growing and changing, with a physical binder bound back up, and then every so often we will print the changes and update the physical as needed.

Sounds like quite the project though, wish me luck.

Until we chat again my friends!

Nesting

Hello friends!

Well, it looks like everyone’s got the bug! Well, two bugs technically. 

That was a bad opening line, but look, sometimes we just need a little cheese in our lives.

Anyways, first bug: everyone sans yours truly has had some sort of cold. Poor Christopher suffered for a couple weeks with a pretty solid sinus infection. He was miserable, the poor kid, and had to take a little time off work. No shame in taking time off if you need it, but Christopher’s a lot like me, it’s only fun to take time off when you can enjoy it. Why waste sick leave on being sick, ya know?

Then Mom ended up with an ear infection and a sinus infection, plus pneumonia. It hit her really hard post stroke, because on top of just not being that strong normally, she just doesn’t have the wherewithal to take the basic steps to help herself, and being fiercely independent, she’s not a big fan of being babied. But she had a pretty nasty, very persistent fever which is never good for anyone, but especially not someone who’s been expressly told to not get too hot. One doctor’s appointment later and she’s one the mend.

Poor Dad has been a little under the weather now too, although he refuses to admit it. He’ll be okay though, I think his shakes out to a cold and caregivers fatigue. Hopefully some rest and peace and quiet will sort him out.

Me? I’m lysoling everything like my life depends on it, gloving up like I have surgery on the schedule, and making egg drop soup like I’m a bona-fide line cook. Side note, egg drop soup is great for colds, because it’s basically broth with lots of protein. Aaaaannnd it’s great because you can make a bunch of white rice, some garlicky chicken, chop some scallions and set out the sesame oil and soy sauce, tada, a full on meal for the un-sick of the house. Just add whatever mixins you’re feeling that night. To be honest, it’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite meals so it’s no hardship to make it a couple times a week.

The second bug I was speaking to is the room reorganizing bug. See, in late July, I decided my birthday gift to myself was to start changing my room from “a place where my stuff lives” to “a place where I am happy and comfy to work and sleep and craft, etc”. I wrote about it then, and I’ve been slowly ticking off to-do list items since. It’s a slow process because I really wanna make intentional choices towards making it work the way I want, but I can say for certain putting my desk behind closet doors was the best decision for work life balance ever. Still lots to adjust and do but I’m terribly pleased with how it’s shaping up.

And it seems it’s catching. Just about everyone in the house is thinking about how to readjust their personal spaces so they work better. In some cases, like with mine, the pieces I’m slowly gathering are relatively minor, so my “reno” is pretty inexpensive, mostly a case of rethinking how to better use what I have. In other cases, like my brother, he’s slowly realizing the furniture from his youth is all bite sized and it’s causing a bit more of an issue. The boy needs a full sized dresser, he has no room for socks. He needs room for socks, it’s as simple as that.

He also really needs some bookshelves, he’s quite the collector of vintage and current video gaming memorabilia and his collection is starting to outgrow his space. A beautiful way to display those things is just what the doctor ordered.

Dad’s been redoing his den too. It’s sorta a den by accident, he started out in the front room, then got evicted from there when we needed the dining table back, then he worked at my grandmother’s antique desk in the master bedroom, but we recently decided that was the more accessible option to make into mom’s little craft corner (plus it weighs more than my horses so there’s no way it moves… probably ever again haha). We decided it was probably wise to get all his paperwork out of the bedroom anyway, so he wasn’t staring at it while trying to sleep. So now he’s down in the basement, which he’s made super cozy with lamps and memories. The wifi…. It almost sorta reaches, enough to check email and such if you’re patient, so it works for him, at least until we can get a reliable extender. He is slowly organizing it; we gifted him a set of shelves and a cute corner desk, and a fancy phone charger organizer thingy, so he’s feeling quite official. He’s also super excited he can have his music up as loud as he likes and we won’t complain (he listens to great music, he’s just losing his hearing so… ya know).

And, of course, you know what’s next: mom’s slowly making her little craft corner. I don’t think she has a plan quite yet, but the teacher in her is happy to be collecting her pens and stationary, and her yarn craft supplies all together. When she sorta works out what she needs, I promised a trip to the office supply store. She’s quite excited.

I’m pretty sure most of this is a natural response to the colder weather. We’re all just nesting so we have a cozy space to hide out in the winter. Won’t stop us from slowly going crazy with cabin fever by February, but we can try haha.

Until we chat again my friends!

…And Half a Cup of….

Hello friends!

I can’t bake. This really should shock no one, baking is a precision science and I’m far too blase in the kitchen. But it’s deeper than that you see, because even when I give it my best shot, with the small exception of a couple tried and true cookie recipes, I can’t bake. 

Seriously, ask me about the great fudge disaster that happened on New Year’s Eve 2019. It made for some lovely garden pavers. It single handedly cursed me to the the family’s “bad cook” reputation holder for about two years. I could not smokehouse mac and cheese my way out of that title, couldn’t homemade gnocchi soup my way out of it, even my fried pickles didn’t win them over (and yes I just used mac and cheese and soup as verbs, it’s legal….probably). It wasn’t until my cousin made some truly disastrous pumpkin pie bars that I was off the hook. Funnily enough she didn’t inherit the title… but I’m grateful nonetheless. 

Did I get weird looks for staging this photo of eggs? Yes, yes I did

Thing is, I still end up on the hook for a lot of the birthday cakes around here. Why? Because I’m friends with the bakery ladies at my grocery store. Aaaaand because I can zhuzh a box mix with the best. Lemme explain.

(For those staring at the spelling of zhuzh, I was mad about it too)

Box mix cakes ask you to use foolproof ingredients so that people like me, chronic baking failures, can still achieve a pretty, fluffy, tasty cake. It’s usually something like a little bit of oil, some water, and an egg. Mix it up, throw it in a greased pan, Bob’s your uncle. Nice, satisfying cake.

But! Water and oils do not impart much flavor, so we can swap them out with relative ease. Butter is, unsurprisingly, my favorite swap for oil, as it gives you that warm, rich, buttery undertone and sometimes can make for a better texture (in my opinion). The taste of butter really starts to matter in lighter flavored cakes, think vanilla or lemon, so make sure you like it before swapping it out as a permanent solution. Also, important safety tip, salted vs unsalted butters taste, obviously, quite different and can drastically change your intended flavors.

Swapping in milk for the water works wonders too. I remember Alton Brown saying on Good Eats, my favorite cooking show ever, that most of the time, water in a recipe is a good chance to swap in flavor. You’ll almost always find me swapping stock or broths in for water in cooking recipes (it’s life changing for rice) and milk in my cake mixes. Buttermilk works too, makes it creamier, but you gotta add more. And it requires you to have buttermilk on hand which I rarely do. I have a friend who subs in cream cheese sometimes, but I’ve never been brave enough to try it.

Real talk? I have one recipe I sift for, and I don’t use my grandma’s antique sifter. But, my little mesh thingy-ma-bobber isn’t as photogenic

I’m also a big fan of adding extracts! Obviously vanilla is a go-to, mostly for punching up the flavor in vanilla cakes but also for helping along the flavor in others. Chocolate loves vanilla, as does red velvet (basically chocolate on steroids) and caramel. Lemon seems to usually prefer lemon extract (i know shocking right?) But it does not hate vanilla.

Chocolate cake does well with so many additions, I think because chocolate cake can taste the most flat. Depending on my goals I’ll add anything from a little peppermint/spearmint or almond extracts, or if you have no one in your house with an aversion coffee (specifically espresso, but to be honest I’ve just added the last of whatever was brewed that morning), coffee is a fantastic compliment in chocolate cakes. It just elevates the richness in the chocolate, unless you add lots and then it lends its own flavor profile. It’s at this point we could probably talk about the solid flavorings like sprinkles and candies and things, but those require a whole level of know-how to prevent the sugars from burning, the chocolate from running to the bottom of the pan, etc. It’s generally something I’ve not played with because it worries me and I have a bad habit of walking away from the oven during cook time. While I don’t really have experience with solid mix-ins like chocolate chips or candies, and I know those can go terribly wrong, I do love a little food coloring to tailor a cake to its event. Obviously you’re more tied to vanilla cake at that point, but it’s worth it for the effect occasionally. You can get away with lemon if you are using warm tones for your colors.

The trick with all of these though, food coloring or flavoring, is remembering that you are adding extra liquid and to adjust other measures accordingly. Especially with red velvet cakes, you have to add a terrifying amount of coloring, and all that can throw off your milk/water ratios or risk making your batter too loose.

If you use pre-made icings, adding food coloring can actually be a much needed help to loosen them up a little. I don’t remember this being such an issue on the coast, although I didn’t bake nearly as much there, but for some reason here if I buy pre-made frostings they are for sure going to need some work before they are usable. So, food coloring and a little milk to make it spreadable, and extracts to lend flavor if needed. Otherwise it’s a solid sugar brick, regardless of brand.

Again, do I use my mom’s fancy stoneware measuring set? Not even a little bit. But let me pretend to be Joanna Gaines for a couple minutes and keep my well-loved hand-me-down plastic measures to myself

Otherwise, decorating is an art all of its own. I’m not terribly patient, so I tend to frost and eat, but I have tried little chocolate ghosts, and I oven dried some pineapple into flowers once. I tried a couple star wars themed cakes, we don’t need to talk about those, but they proved people like candy on their cakes. As long as you remember the crumb coat and keep a patient spirit (and your cake is cooled) you can probably get away with a lot more than you think. 

Alright, I’ve procrastinated enough, time to post this rant and go actually make some cake… or maybe cupcakes? Either way, I need some blue and pink desserts for a gender reveal and I’ve written myself out of time. Wish me luck!
Until we chat again, my friends.