April 06, 2012

Time for a Spot of Tea

Though in England they’re just muffins, and our muffins are “fairy cakes.”  Chips, biscuits and crisps, oh my!

For some reason I’ve never thought about being able to make English Muffins at home until I found a new book at Barnes and Noble.


The first section is about breads from various regions of the world and was pretty interesting.  Then there was a section about tools and techniques.  Finally, the rest is recipes.  The only thing that disappointed me about the book was that there are only about 110 pages of regular oven recipes, and about 250 for a bread machine – which I don’t have.  One of the best things about this book is that it includes metric measurements which I like so much better for baking.

My first recipe to try was the English Muffins which turned out to be ridiculously easy to make.  Some company that starts with a “T” and ends with “homas’s” has been ripping us off charging $3-4 for a six-pack of muffins that are mostly holes.

These can be mixed by hand (though a brief turn in a stand mixer would be easier on the arm).  Surprisingly, they are cooked on the stovetop on a griddle!  I didn’t have any semolina – that cornmeal-looking stuff that goes everywhere when you cut the muffin – so I just used some flour which may have been why some of them got a little burnt.

I forgot to take a picture of the inside, so below is the one from the book.  As you can see, they have a much finer crumb than what we are used to, but I kind of liked it better than the other.  Plus, it was easier to spread the butter!


The Recipe
450g (4 cups) unbleached white bread flour
7.5ml (1.5 tsp) salt
350-375 ml (1.5-1.66 cups) lukewarm milk – 105 to 115F
2.5 ml (0.5 tsp) caster (superfine) sugar
15g (0.5 oz) fresh yeast
15 ml (1 tbsp) melted butter or olive oil
rice flour or semolina, for dusting

Mix the milk, sugar and yeast; set aside.  Sift the flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl, then make a well in the center.  Stir the oil into the liquid mixture and pour into the well in the dry ingredients.  Mix well until smooth and elastic.  The dough will be soft, but will just hold its shape. 

Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.  (I always just use a tea towel to cover my dough.)
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and punch down.  Roll out to 1 cm (0.5 in) thick and cut with and floured 7.5 cm (3 in) round cutter.  Dust with rice flour or semolina and place on a generously floured non-stick sheet pan.  Cover with a towel and leave to rise for 20-30 minutes.

Lightly grease a griddle and warm in over medium heat.  Transfer the muffins in batches to the griddle and cook slowly for about seven minutes on each side, or until golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Tips (from the book): Muffins should be cut only around the edge and then torn apart.  Try toasting the muffin before cutting it for a crunchy outside and soft middle.
Some of mine got a little burnt trying to follow the seven minute instruction, turns out it was only about five minutes on my burner with my big 12” non-stick skillet.


Cook! Eat! Repeat!!!

February 13, 2012

Biological Weapon

Oh, The Toddler.  The light of your life, the bane of your existence.  Born with the genetics to perfectly infuriate at least two full-grown adults simultaneously.  No matter how different the buttons of two parents are, The Toddler can push them all.

With today's advances in genetics and cloning, the Army should be taking advantage of this.  Just get a sample of DNA from whatever enemy you wish to defeat and create a ton of clones. Wait until they're two, then send them in to wreak havoc.  Make sure half of them are tired and hungry and tell the other half they are going to a birthday party and the mean man has hidden the cake.  Guaranteed victory in five minutes or less.

But then what do you do with 1,000 tiny Hitlers?  Since everyone knows that clones age extremely rapidly, they will all die of natural causes before their "third" birthday.

The Modern Toddler

Emotional instability allows The Toddler to go from hugging you, to slapping you in the face, to laughing hysterically at nothing in particular before you even know what has happened.

Short attention spans make incessantly repeating the same annoying behavior an art form.

With their selective memory and uncanny knack for inappropriateness, The Toddler will forget every rule you've ever told them.  However, they will remember exactly that rude thing you accidentally said in the kitchen the day before when you dropped an entire sandwich on the floor, the dog ate it in one bite, and then immediately puked it back up and repeat it in the grocery store...at top volume.

Attempts to reward good behavior with praise will earn you the response, "you're welcome!" to let you know that they were, in fact, rewarding you.

What evil lurks in the mind of The Toddler?  Let's hope we never see the full extent.

January 30, 2012

Forget Evil Robots, Watch the Animals

Ever since we moved to this neighborhood four years ago, there has been a constant supply of feral cats that live near the entrance.  I'm beginning to think that, with each successive inbreeding, these cats get more and more insidious.  There is one, whom I've dubbed Psycho Death Cat, that has made multiple attempts to cause my own dear, hairy children to kill me.

One day recently it would have been really embarassing and extremely funny if someone had been filming us on our daily walk/jog.  I was jogging (the dogs were walking fast) when Psycho Death Cat made an appearance.  Since we already had some forward momentum, I was powerless to stop them; I have to brace my legs and use my entire body to stop them if they both decide to charge after something at the same time.

My jog became a sprint as I was forcibly dragged forward by the 120 pounds of dog attached to my right arm.  I'm yelling, "Stop! STOP!!!" while thinking that I was surely going to fall and break something.  Or worse, hurt my teeth!  I was just about to let go when they lost sight of Psycho Death Cat and stopped. 

Good workout, guys.  Thanks.

So, if you see two brown dogs on the same leash tangled up in a tree somewhere, they're probably mine.  Approach at your own risk because I'm sure the Cat will be lurking somewhere near awaiting a fresh victim.

January 25, 2012

Photo Essay

Since yesterday's post was kind of a downer, today I give you:

Why Grampa is Out of Toilet Paper

After all of that, she didn't even go.  Le sigh.

January 24, 2012

Faking It: My PSA About PPD

Well, I had a really shitty summer last year.  In my usual nothing is sacred way, I will tell you about it. I'll warn you that there is some heavy stuff ahead, but I promise I am doing much better. 

Two years after the partum, the depression finally struck.

I definitely had the "baby blues" after having Sweet P, but pretty much everyone does.  I pulled up my big girl panties and carried on.  It started less than an hour before she made her grand entrance when the nurse said, "I'll go call the doctor, it's time to have a baby!"  My reaction: panic, tears, blubbering.  Fear of giving birth?  Nope, something more like, "Shit, I'm actually having a baby.  I'm going to be a Mother.  Why did I ever think that this was a good idea?!?"

You would think this would have occurred to me at some point in the previous 35 weeks.  Not so much.  Luckily, it was an easy delivery without any drama.  It was actually so fast that she still had some fluid in her lungs and after getting to hold her for a few minutes she was taken to the nursery to get fixed up.  I'm sorry to say that I did not have the immediate connection with her that everyone expects.  It was just kind of, "well, I guess you're here.  Now what?"  Then everyone followed her to the nursery and I'm there, alone with the doctor and nurse.  The old, broken eggshell, forgotten as soon as the Golden Goose hatches.  Exhausted, starving, paralyzed from the waist down, sad.

The act began in the hospital, putting on a happy face for visitors.  Trying to eat, though everything tasted terrible.  Finally free from the fear of Listeria, I didn't even enjoy the cold deli sandwich I had been lusting after for months.  There was a moment the first night when the nurse had brought Sweet P into my room around 2 or 3 a.m. Doug was asleep and I looked down at the bassinet at the foot of the bed.  She was awake, and though I know she couldn't see more than a foot in front of her, she was looking right at me with those tiny, dark, newborn eyes.  Realizing that there was truly a life in my hands, I fought the rising panic and made a silent promise to her to do my best.  It may not be the best, but it would be my best.

I cried the whole way home from the hospital.  I couldn't believe that they actually sent her home with us.  I had been expecting someone to come in and report that I had been determined unsuitable and couldn't have her.  I mean, I lose things.  I drop things.  Couldn't they tell I was going to be a horrible mother?!?  It just seemed wrong somehow.  Irresponsible.

When we got home, I laid in my bed and tried to figure out how I could get out of it.  I didn't want anything to happen to her, I just didn't want to have to be in charge.  I wanted my former life back, the one with less responsibility.  The emptiness I felt was mirrored by the literal hole in my stomach left behind where she had lived when it had been so easy to keep her safe.  Babies start by rearranging your internal organs, and then your entire life.  The knowledge that nothing would ever be the same again was oppressive.  I knew I loved her, but she seemed like a strange alien creature to me.  I had no idea what I was doing.

Things did improve in a few weeks.  You quickly learn to accept being second fiddle to the newborn, and even to enjoy the short times of not constantly holding the baby.  Life goes on.  Smile.  Nod.  Yes, yes, very happy.

Forward two years to the summer of 2011.  I had been having a hard time with the toddler. I just didn't have the patience I needed to deal with a two-year-old, and that made me feel like a failure. She was happy and wanted to play, and I just couldn't.  I felt numb.  I found joy in nothing because of my own guilt.  I was a terrible mother and a terrible person and I didn't deserve to do anything fun. So I would do chores. Go to sleep. Go to work. Repeat.

I still don't know if it was me or just chance, but I was having trouble keeping up with things at work.  Not the actual work, just what people were talking about.  We do tend to get quite technical at times, but I felt like I wasn't getting any of it.  So now not only was I a bad mother and a bad person, I was also stupid.  I got paranoid about my friends not liking me anymore, as if I were still in high school.  What I felt was my inability to do anything right turned into anxiety...about everything.

Every part of my life was affected, and it had to get that bad before I would admit that there was a problem.  I got very good at the act and no one even knew that there was a problem.  Doug was suspicious, but I even hid the seriousness from him.  Below is text from the actual e-mail I finally managed - after 5 days of crying and hiding in bed - to send to the most fabulous work nurse anyone could hope for:

Hi Kay,

I left you a message earlier. I wanted to talk to you to see if I have any options for taking some time off of work. Things have been building up for a while and came to a head last week. The stresses and disappointments of daily life have piled up until I just feel buried by them and the thought of going to work makes me feel panicky and sick to my stomach. I have trouble driving anywhere because I get so nervous and stressed out by the other drivers. I feel like I'm about 80. I want to find a therapist and most likely start taking an anti-depressant to see if I can get my life back.

Please call me so I can find out what I can do.

Kay, you saved my life.  I needed someone to tell me exactly what to do: "You have post-partum depression.  Call your doctor, and don't worry about work."

It's one thing to realize that you need help and another thing completely to actually say it out loud; even to your own family.  Depression makes you incapable of the simplest things, even just getting up out of bed.  Those TV commercials about depression where they show the lady sitting on the edge of the bed?  That's right before she gives up and lays back down.

I just didn't see the point.  There wasn't anything I wanted to do.  Nothing I was good at.  No one wanted me around.

It sounds silly now, but I truly believed it at the time.  I thought it would just be easier for everyone if I was gone.  Especially me, because then I wouldn't have to worry about all of the things I wasn't getting done or doing wrong.  Part of the reason I didn't want to drive was because I would find myself thinking about how easy it would be to just turn the wheel into a tree, oncoming traffic, whatever.  The strange thing was that it all seemed so logical, like I was thinking about these things so clearly.

I knew it was selfish and not what I wanted to do, but I still spent days hiding in bed too afraid to get up because I wasn't sure what I would do.  After the first dose of Prozac stopped working, I was worse than I had been before.  I laid in bed thinking about the 6.5 Xanax tablets on the bathroom counter.  I didn't know what they would do to me, but I considered finding out.  Then I realized that if my death wasn't accidental, Doug wouldn't get any insurance money.  I'd have to think of a different way.

Fortunately, it never came to that.  The increased dose worked and I slowly started to feel human again.  Prozac worked, but had way too many side effects.  So began the battle of finding the right drug.  I am now on Zoloft which only kind of works.  I have an appointment on Wednesday with a psychiatrist to find a new anti-depressant.  I see a therapist about every two weeks; just having a safe place to talk about things helps so much.

The  irony of depression is that it makes it so hard for you to get the help you need.  I am guilty of thinking that someone who is depressed should just go and get help.  Duh!  It's so easy, right?  Now I know how paralyzed you feel, incapable of mustering the energy to do the smallest things.  If I hadn't had people who depend on me and care about me, I fear I might have been lost.

Don't let the people you love get lost, help them.

I am not weak, I am human.
I am a wife, daughter, sister, granddaughter, cousin, niece, and aunt.
I am family.
I am a boo-boo kisser, bath giver, doll finder, puzzle-doer, book reader, song singer, and tucker-inner.
I am a mother.
I am a listener, a commiserator, a laugher, and an advice-giver.
I am a friend.
I am a chef, dishwasher, laundress, duster, folder, wiper, mopper, scrubber, and shopper.
I am a homeowner and a neighbor.
I am a member of the Quality Team, party planner, meeting facilitator, poster-maker, presenter, consultant, report writer, experiment planner, and a good employee.
I am a scientist.
I am a blogger.
I am a promise-keeper.

January 11, 2012

Crazy Daisy

So, we thought it would be a nice idea to get a new a dog about a month ago.  Dozer had been sad since we lost Kaleb (us, too!), and we thought a friend might cheer him up (see the post titled Kaleb: A Dog With Great Character, since fb apparently thinks it is "unsafe or spammy" and won't let me link it).  I also like having two dogs.  Here she is the day we brought her home, unsure about the whole deal:

We got her at the Wake County Animal Center - same as Dozer - and nothing has been the same since.  Now Dozer aka Bubba has a friend to bark at ladies with babies and little girls walking their dogs with:

Someone to wrestle with.  Here they are recreating the title bout between Kang the Destruc-Tor and Nellie Nine Nipples:

They've even been working on their formations:

Every day brings something new and interesting.  Today I walked in through the laundry room to this:

Hmm, something seems to be missing...

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Your guess is as good as mine.  However, seeing as she often eats like this:

I suppose I can see the appeal of a carpeted surface.

P.S.  The food stations were removed to the laundry room because Daisy has a drinking problem.  Approximately 85% of the water that goes into her mouth flows back out creating both a marsh-like area immediately surrounding and under the placemat as well as a nice long drippy trail.  This varies in length between 10 - 20 feet, depending on the speed at which she leaves the water bowl.  Daisy's massive water consumption causes some amount of distress for Dozer, because he will not eat unless his water bowl is full.

I will leave you with this:

People don't have dogs, dogs have people.  So it follows that two dogs have me.

October 24, 2011

Do You Know What I Love About Fall?


Pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie...especially the most awesome pie in the whole world:

French Apple Pie!

My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Thanks to my Mom for introducing us to this wonderous creation.  This fall I have found that it is especially delicious when made using fresh, local apples.  Specifically, Mutsu, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, or a combination of varieties.  I would love to taste a pie made completely with the super-tasty Arkansas Black apples, but I only have a few and they are so good fresh!

If you have "The Gift" like my Mom, you can make your own pie pastry.  For the rest of us, the pre-rolled Pillsbury pie crusts are pretty darn good!  Here is how you can make your own 8 little slices of heaven from Betty Crocker's recipe circa 1978:

French Apple Pie

Pastry for a 9" pie

Pie Filling:
3/4 c. Sugar
1/4 c. All-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. Ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. Ground cinnamon
Dash of salt
6 c. thinly sliced tart apples (about 6 medium)

Crumb Topping:
1 c. All-purpose flour
1/2 c. Packed brown sugar
1/2 c. Firm margarine or butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Line 9" pie plate with pastry.
Combine dry ingredients for pie filling in a large bowl; add apples and stir to coat.
Turn into pastry-lined pie plate.

Combine Crumb Topping ingredients with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly.
Spread evenly over apples.

Bake for 50 minutes, cover topping with foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.
Best served warm.

  • I am not a huge nutmeg fan, so I use about 3/4 tsp. of cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. nutmeg in the filling.
  • I put the apples in the pastry about a cup at a time and spread them out to evenly cover the pastry and to lay flat.  (Purely aesthetic and obsessive, re. Me).
  • I add salt and cinnamon to the topping as well.  About 1/8 tsp and 1/4 tsp., respectively.  Maybe a dash of nutmeg, too.
  • Any apple will do.  This pie is perfectly delightful when using Red Delicious (when the Produce Box provides you with 16 of them in one week!)  However, it does take on a completely different attitude when tart apples are used.  It's up to you.
  • A surprisingly tasty pie resulted from me forgetting to put the salt in the apple filling.  I sprinkled it on top of the (Red Delicious) apples and added some salt in the Crumb Topping for good measure.  There was a great contrast between the sweet, spicy apples and slightly salty topping that was really nice.

Enjoy!  And remember:

Who needs cake when you can have pie?!?