Friday, December 6, 2013

Ice Day

Despite my insistence that it wouldn't happen, school was cancelled. Work too, for Casey, by the power going off at his office.

We didn't go to the HP Christmas Tree Lighting or Tom's party Thursday night, since we didn't want to go out in the freezing rain, so we stayed home and made our own holiday party, decorating sugar cookies.

Indiana was very excited about getting to put on sprinkles. He helped cut out cookies too. There were a couple dinosaurs and trucks among the bells and gingerbread men.

 Mommy and Daddy were mostly excited about eating cookies...and taking pictures.


The next morning, the storm really did hit. Casey and I were awake at 4 am, listening to sleet/hail sliding down the roof. Casey went to work until the power went out.
Indiana and I bundled out and braved the elements to go around the block. Lots of crunching and a little slipping on the, ducking under branches weighed down with ice.
It's frozen out there! Thankfully, we're safe and warm inside, and we've had no power outages around here. But, we were almost out of bread, so I made some. It's a new recipe for Easy Sandwich Bread from Cook's Illustrated, and turned out perfectly. It took about two hours, and on a day like this, I don't think fresh bread could be found faster.

 Finally, we found out that the Dallas Marathon was cancelled. I was sad. Casey was happy. I think he would have been fine running the race, but was dreading doing it in bad weather. The race organizers probably made the right call, but as it was the last race of my Half Marathon training program that I've been doing since June, it was a little sad not to get to run it. Another year, I'm sure.
But to end on a good note, earlier this week, we had our 20 week sono, and got to see our little girl. Super exciting. She is just perfect, right on track, everything where it needs to be. We got some really cute pictures, too.

Sweet little profile. She was really cooperative on the picture taking, so we got good views of her heart, brain, spine. It was really nice to see how nicely she's growing. I've been feeling her move for the last month or so, but it was great to see those little feet I feel kicking and little arms I've felt stretching. I can't wait to meet our baby girl.

Monday, October 7, 2013

September Fun

It's been a good late summer, early fall. I miss running with them weekday mornings, but I'm enjoying training with them Saturday mornings. These guys and girls really motivate me.

This picture was before a 3 mile cross-country race. Jumping over hay bales before attacking a monster hill was a beast. Thankfully, normal running around the lake is hay-free. I had a really great run a few weeks ago when it was cool, finishing a muddy 14 miler really strong, despite slipping in the mud. Eh, I got back up and kept up the 7:28 pace (for 4 miles).
 Indiana is getting bigger, smarter and more fun. Sassier too. He had so much fun playing with Casey at the hardware store.
 He eats corn like a big boy, too. :-)
 Sampling mommy's baking.
 Being silly, riding on a tiny tractor.
 Cindy came into town to visit and baby sat Indiana while Casey & I chaperoned the homecoming dance.
 Indiana got a haircut, at his own request, and we had a lovely Sunday morning together last weekend.
During which, Casey raced and got 2nd place in the Stonebridge Olympic distance triathlon.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer Vacation: Galveston

Last week, we went to Galveston. It was a good little break for the grown-ups and a little adventure for Indiana. We stayed in a little house close to the beach, so it was very homey and relaxing. I've documented most of the trip via Instagram, but for my own memories, I thought I'd post a little more about it. Casey and I always enjoy reading back and seeing where we've been and what we were up to in years past.
My mom-in-law, Cindy, joined us for a few days. It was nice getting to spend time with her. :)
We went the beach several mornings and one (very hot) afternoon.
 Casey did lots of training (biking, swimming, running) but he got to play and relax too,.
 Cindy took us to the Moody Gardens Aquarium and Rainforest exhibit. 
 It was a blast, mostly because Indiana loved it. He was super-excited about all of it.  Turtles, seals...
The penguins, or as he called them, "piggins!" I tried to correct him, but then he called them "big ducks," piggins, it is.
I really liked the atrium that you had a giant tank all around creepy to have a shark swim over you. The seals were neat too, and Casey really liked the otter.
 I also learned that my name is on the list for possible Hurricane names! Not Virginia, but Virginie! Wacky.
On the second trip to the beach, Indiana was much more into the beach thing, with lots of help. I held him and we went out into the water too, to jump the waves. That was really fun.
 And demolishing the sand castle too.
 Casey and I got to go on a movie & dinner date, since Cindy graciously offered to baby sit. It was really fun. I loved sitting out on the patio of Jimmy's on the Pier. It was probably my favorite restaurant experience of the trip. We'd had better food, but the atmosphere was outstanding. 
The last evening, I wanted to cook, since I was getting a little tired of restaurants, we went to the pier and got some delicious snapper and shrimp. Very fresh fish, sauteed in a little olive oil, lemon, served with pasta. It was delicious, if I do say so myself!

Galveston was fun, but it also made me appreciate Dallas more, particularly the running! So much easier (and cooler, with less wind and softer running surfaces) to run on the Katy Trail, or White Rock Lake or just around nice neighborhoods, than running on the Seawall or in an unfamiliar (and not very scenic) neighborhoods. But it was a nice change of pace and good family time.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Homemade Peach Jam

I've been experimenting with pectin-free jam making this summer, gradually reducing the amount of sugar used each time. But I've been using different kinds of fruit as well, based on what was plentiful in the garden or store: blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and peaches. Each one has turned out differently, a little thicker, thinner, sweeter, tarter, but all much more flavorful than store bought, and they make nice hostess gifts as well.
I've also been experimenting with my camera to see if I can take better pictures. I had a friend (try) to explain a little to me...but I think it's much easier to make jam than to take pictures of it!

Anyway, I started with washing the jars in hot, soapy water, and putting the glass in the oven at 250 to sterilize. Then, I zested and juiced two lemons (but a third wouldn't have been amiss, oh well!).
 Then peeled and chopped up six pounds of peaches. It didn't actually take that long. I added two cups of sugar.
 Then, the cooking! In a heavy pot (or two), set the heat to high, so that it bubbles vigorously.
I had a candy thermometer in there, goal temp being 220 degrees. This is the first time I used a thermometer and I don't think it's really necessary. I used a potato masher to break up the fruit a little. Spreads nicer that way, but not into puree. I like chunks in my jam.
 When it looks like jam, thick and syrupy, it's jam. I love how the caramel color of the final product. Lots and lots of flavor. 

Carefully spoon in jars and seal, not too tightly. The hot jam in the hot jars will do the sealing work for you.
 Enjoy! This batch made 8 jars, so there's plenty for toast and extra to give away. I've definitely earned some cooking cred by handing out jars of homemade jam. And with about a hour and a half of effort (including clean up) it's an easy project to be accomplished during a toddler's nap. :-) The final result is a jam with a lighter, less sweet consistency with lots of soft chunks of peach. Yum.

Homemade Peach Jam
Yields: Eight 1/2 Pint Jars

6 lbs white peaches, peeled and chopped into small chunks
2 lemons, zest and juice
2 cups sugar (more or less, to taste)

Combine ingredients and put into two large heavy pots, cook on medium high, stirring often to avoid burning, until the jam reaches 220 degrees or thick and syrupy (about 25 minutes), but before it gets dry. If necessary, mash the fruit for a finer texture. Carefully spoon into clean, hot jars and seal lightly. After the jars are cool you can tighten the rings, if necessary.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Backyard Makeover: New Patio!


Blah. Grass, stones, eh.



I'm a little late in posting this, as we've had the patio in place for almost a month now. Love it. As it is summer, I mostly sit out there in the evenings and we haven't done any outdoor entertaining yet, but I have used up a tank on the grill already. Flank steak fajitas, steak, chicken breast, whole butterflied chicken, smoked (a little) chicken, burgers, squash, corn and even flat breads.

Buttermilk & Rosemary marinade on delicious, healthy chicken kebabs. This is what I made for the 4th. Tasty.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blackberry Lemon Jam

My parents have copious amounts of blackberries growing on their 4 acres, and as much as I love eating fresh berries, like with Greek yogurt and Homemade Omega-3 Granola from The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook (it was only a little bit burnt)...
One does dream of more complex uses, ones that involve much more sugar. Like jam! I read several posts about jam making and the one that seemed the most reliable I tried out, but since I didn't really stick to even that, I'll explain the method and what I did. I recommend you follow your taste rather than anyone's recipe, though. If it doesn't work out, you can blame it on me. ;-)

I took some process photos because I always like to see what kind of work is involved before I commit to a project.
One boiling vat of hot sugar and fruit. Don't stand to close to me.  Don't stand, don't stand... Sorry, has a Police flashback there.

I made a slap-dash effort at sterilization.  Please don't send the food safety police after me. I did wash everything in hot soapy water and then put the glass in the oven at 250 while the jam cooked.
If there were heeby-jeebies on dem jars, dey dead. And this jam won't last long enough to spoil.
*Cue Space Odyssey theme music* Behold: I have made jam!  Okay, I've made it before, whatever. But this is really good jam. It has a good balance of fresh berry and lemon flavor, and big whole berries still in it. I love seeing a chunk of the real stuff in what I'm eating. No baby food, thankyouverymuch, I have teeth and I will use them, even on jam.

Other than the sterilization stuff, the jam making process was pretty easy. Toss it all in a large dutch oven, cook on medium high heat so that it bubbles, stir so it doesn't burn, and cook until thick. I initially used 10 cups of blackberries, 4 cups of sugar, 2 lemons and their zest.  For me, it was way cloyingly sweet, so I added one more lemon, juice and zest and 1 cup raspberries, and cooked it a little longer. It was probably 45 minutes in all. I smashed some of the berries with a spoon, but not too much. Carefully! spoon into jars, seal and cool. Good to go. 

The flavor was nice, fruity and with fresh flavor from the lemons, but no sourness at all. It was still a little too sweet, though. I'm going to start with less sugar next time and taste and see. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Potato Chip Cookies & First Week of Summer

You read that right. Not cookies & potato chips, but cookies with potato chips in them. So wrong.

But so right.

I've had this recipe, pulled out of Martha Living, on my night stand for at least a month, so it was time. I followed the recipe, except skipped the nuts (chips are enough!) and the skipped the salt (oops...baking with a toddler), but missed neither. The cookie base is buttery and not overly sweet, with a good combination of crunch from the edges and chips and softer, chewy centers. Heaven. Thankfully, I only baked a few and the rest are safe in the freezer.  Indiana, the light eater, ate two, so I'm guessing they're kid-friendly. Mom friendly too.

•    2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
•    3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
•    3/4 cup granulated sugar
•    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
•    2 large eggs
•    2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
•    1 teaspoon baking soda
•    3/4 teaspoon coarse salt, optional
•    4 cups coarsely crushed salted potato chips (about 2/3 of a regular bag, 8 ounces), divided
•    1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped, optional

1.    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat together butter and sugars with a mixer on high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add vanilla and eggs (one at a time, allow to mix for 30 sec), and beat on medium speed until just combined.
2.    Add flour, baking soda, and salt, and beat on low speed until just combined. Stir in 2 cups potato chips and the nuts.
3.    Roll dough into 2-inch balls, and then roll balls in remaining potato chips to coat. Place cookies 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheet.

What other, that cookies, have we been up to this week?
 Looking at trucks. Indiana jogged two blocks to see this truck close up. He LOVES trucks. So funny.
 Chalk. Indiana usually sits on whatever I draw...but we all have fun out there.
 Casey and I did a relay triathlon this morning, as Casey still doesn't have Dr.'s permission to run, I did the running for him. We beat the pants off the other relay teams and had an overall good time doing the race together.
Also, on Wednesday, we got a grill. It's gas, so's not hard-core fire cooking, but I'm hard core about the cooking part, at least. We've already made fajitas (yum) and now Rosemary Buttermilk marinaded Chicken Kebabs. Healthy and tasty. I plan on doing some strip steaks, whole butterflied chicken, whole-wheat flatbreads, corn and garden squash on the grill this week. It's a whole new branch of cooking, and I can't wait to try it all.