October 31, 2019

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween to all of my readers! Thank you for your precious time and your wonderful support! I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to run into friends and folks who come here to read my notes on everyday life and have you all there to give me advice on my projects and dilemmas. We may have relocated, but this blog lets me speak to all of you on a regular basis and you cannot imagine how much I appreciate every one of you that listens. Have a great holiday!

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October 29, 2019

The Eggsperiment

Hello and welcome! Today I'm sharing my eggsperiment. It all began when I wanted white eggs for an old, wire basket. I've have owned it for years, and once kept it filled with red apples for my red, white and blue kitchen. In my new home, I wanted to keep it simply for eggs. I looked into filling it with artificial eggs but nothing I saw came close to the beauty of the real things and they're free!

 I have respect for eggs. Almost every animal loves them and I can understand why raiding the chicken coop will never end. Take a simple egg, hard-boiled if you like, or better yet be bold and choose raw, and put it into the hands of a toddler. Of course, you can expect one to be quickly broken, but once they latch onto the idea that an egg is fragile and must be treated with utmost respect something magical happens. The egg becomes precious and awesome in the mind of an inquisitive child. I feel that way myself sometimes about such a perfect food.

I began my new, egg collection by blowing out the contents of every egg that I used in my cooking. If it wasn't to be fried it got scrambled in the shell and emptied to be saved. If you have never blown an egg out of the shell it's a simple task that requires a bit of care and patience. You simply poke a small hole into each end of the egg. I like to use a stick pin from my corkboard. Then take a long hatpin, or something similar, insert it into the hole and scramble the contents inside. Now hold the egg over your bowl, blow gently into one end and the contents should come out easily. If not, try enlarging your hole slightly or scramble the egg inside the shell again. Keep the egg for your cooking and soak the shell in soapy, hot water until it's clean inside. Now it will last forever, or until it meets with some eggy disaster.

Over the last several months I have collected a good number of eggs and I like not only how farmhouse-charming they look in my egg basket but that each one was baked into something delicious like yummy muffins or a batch of cookies. The basket is filling fast and sits on the shelves over my refrigerator.

Yet, there is one problem. All of the eggs are holey. Once I began to fill the basket I planned to repair the holes and make the eggs look whole again. I contemplated this over the months as the eggs piled up. Exactly how would I do that?

After searching Pinterest and other creative online sites for ideas, I found some beautiful paper mache ideas for painted eggs and jeweled versions, but nothing that dealt with the holes. If I looked closely at photographs of others' egg designs I saw that, unless they wrapped the egg in something, they still had holes. Once that egg is perforated it's obviously not that easy to disguise a telltale pinprick.

I asked crafty friends. We discussed using tissue paper, coffee filters and tiny bits of any paper punched out in small circles and applied with white glue in several forms. All of those ideas meant there was a wrinkly patch on both ends of the eggs. Are they going to be displayed in a museum? No, but I was on a mission now and I wanted flawless covers for the ends of my precious eggs.

My friend Marianne suggested hot glue. Now, this idea sounded great. We even discussed that hot glue comes in a variety of colors. White, hot glue. That was worth a try. Since I have no patience or white, hot glue I decided to eggsperiment with the clear glue stick I had on hand.

I melted a glob onto a few eggs, waited about ten seconds and rubbed the warm glue with a finger coated in coconut oil. I had read that you can squirt hot glue into a mold and it comes out easily if you coat it with vaseline. I choose coconut oil only because it was closer.

It worked. Kind of. It covered the hole, but I was a bit too generous with each squirt. Hot glue is never an exact science. Not only was there a bump on the egg, but the hot glue threads that pulled away from the gun were strong enough to grab and pull up the light, fragile egg. I learned quickly to slow down after one egg fatality. 


 It worked pretty well though, even in the beginning stages. My husband looked in on my progress as he passed through the kitchen to get himself a cup of coffee and suggested that I try sanding off the extra glue. I pointed out to him that the glue was rubbery and well, there's the fragile aspect of the eggs. However, I thought it was worth a shot. I got out my crafting emery boards (the beauty supply shop is a great place for tiny sanding tools) and gave it a careful shot.

It actually worked pretty well. With a bit of patience, I got the glue smooth on the eggshell and down to where there was only the glue in the hole. One problem, the glue-covered the hole well but it was clear. Now I had a tiny window in my eggs. This did not entirely solve the problem, but I was headed in the right direction. 

So I tried a dab of white paint and was rather satisfied. The hole was not covered perfectly. This doesn't seem surprising to me since after all if an egg is the perfect food it comes with a pretty perfect shell. I didn't replace nature but I don't have eggs with obvious holes any longer.

 The doctored eggs are back on the shelf looking fine!

Mr. Rooster seems happy enough about it all.

Hint: If you give a toddler a raw egg be aware than when it gets broken eggs are easily cleaned up with salt. Simply pour a handful of salt on the raw egg, wait a bit and then scoop it up with a spatula.

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October 26, 2019

Rain Gutter Wrestling

We have trees. Lots and lots of trees. There are maples, now blazing orange in the bright October sunlight. There are cedars with their lacey branches and oaks with rock-hard acorns covering the ground at their feet. But, before many of those beautiful leaves and nuts hit the ground they come to fall into our rain gutters. This creates a mission that cannot be ignored.

 Lots of leaves everywhere!

As we looked up at the overflowing gutters the plan began. They were cleaned completely when we moved into the house by the builder, but now the job is ours alone and there are many things to consider. We are not youngsters anymore. Even having to reach the third floor, we cleaned our rain gutters in our city home regularly, tackling them yearly whether we wanted to or not. Now we have one floor. Much better, but still taller than we are. The roof is easily reached by placing a standard ladder on the back deck and even alongside the house. That's great should we want to get up there. We'd rather not. We could get a longer ladder and move it a few feet or so and climb up, dig out the leaves and nuts and work our way around the building. We wanted an easier and cleaner plan.

We researched gutter guards and various gutter protecting methods. They keep many things out of the gutters, but not all. Sooner or later they have to be removed and cleaned underneath. Maybe this is a job that doesn't need to be done as often, but it's an even bigger job than just gutter cleaning. With our location, we are figuring the gutters need to be cleaned at least four times a year. At $100 - $150 bucks a pop, when there are so many more fun ways to spend money, we looked for another plan. 

We watched videos. Bless those folks who are motivated to take their precious time sharing their hobbies, jobs, and talents with the world. How did we figure out anything before the internet? So, we watched guys with drones peering into gutters. Guys with leaf blowers. Guys with poles and wires and hoses and of course tall ladders. Then we saw the videos with vacuum tubes.

Ahh, now this looks like a plan. You get a big wet-dry vac. You calculate the height of your gutters and how much power you need to reach the height you want. The vacuum comes with a couple of wands. Add your height, the length of the wands, grab a couple more to reach how far you need, order a hook piece on Amazon, get out a good extension cord and lots of determination.

I love this idea. It even had a backup plan. You pop those tubes together, duct tape on the hook so it doesn't blow off onto the roof (experience from Youtubers is great), stick the thing up into the gutter and voila! Ideally, you just vacuum out the gutters. Diabolical! Gunk too yucky for the vacuum? Turn the hose around and blow those bad boys out! I'm ready to try it!

We gathered our tools, a handful of extra wands, the big 16-gallon vacuum and started sucking up leaves. It worked! The gutters were wet and full and the project took plenty of patience. We learned that it was an easier job with two people, one to do the vacuuming and another to push along the machine and be ready to clear the tube if the end got plugged up. In the really clogged areas, it was best to move along slowly into a section, clean up to the hanger then lift it over the hanger and keep going. It took about 2 hours of work and it is a real workout for the chest and shoulders, but it did the job fairly easily and very effectively. I'm sure if we get out regularly we can cut the time in half. No ladders were required, except to climb up out of curiosity long enough to see if it was working as well as we hoped. We got it all done and ready just in time for a couple of days of good fall rain.

Here's a link to the accessory kit on Amazon if you plan some safe gutter cleaning yourself.

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October 24, 2019

The Secret of Two Posts

Last week there two - count them two - blogs published at once. Was that unusual? You bet. There is a very good reason for that second publishing. 

The culprit

Lurking in my house there is a cat. There's always been one cat or another in my house, and although each one was kind of their own "person", I can't say that I've ever had one like Secret. Most of my pets earn a name like Roxie did and the cat before that was Slats. He was very sick and skinny when we rescued him from a questionable pet shop and when we heard Lampry refer to Pinocchio as Slats the name fit perfectly.

This was not the case for Miss Secret. After having her for a few weeks we decided she wasn't going to cough up an appropriate tag and so we decided, like many strange things about her, her name must be a secret. It stuck.

Secret is a bit of a broken toy. She hides from practically every one, is terrified of things she shouldn't be and gets into things she should not. 

She's been on book covers and loves being the only feline in our new home. If she could speak, which I'm sure she would love to, she could tell you everything that goes in or out of the house on a daily basis. She follows my husband everywhere. He's the one she has trained to keep her in treats.

She watches television, I think that Breaking Bad is her favorite show. I can't blame her for that. 

Maybe she knows where things are buried in the desert?

And, as I'm sure you have guessed, Secret publishes blog postings.  She's very clever about it. She waits in the wings until I have just jotted down my thoughts, but not so long that I am done editing. She plans her move. There's a trigger, I'm certain of it. It has got to be that I sit back, or take the right kind of breath or pause in my writing just a certain way. Then she's on it. Two silent steps into the room, one giant leap and CLICK she lands perfectly on the publish button. Done. I have learned that I have a window of about 30 seconds to unpublish before the gates of cyberspace open wide and the blog flows out into the world. While I'm panicked and trying to find the mouse and the right click she jumps down, strolls over the doorway and sits there smiling and yes, she's smiling, I am sure of it. I think I'd better find her an episode of her favorite show to keep her distracted before I write again.

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October 22, 2019

Daily Sudoku

My husband is a puzzler. Give that man something to solve and his big brain begins to fire neurons and everything around him ceases to exist. He becomes entirely focused and will not rest until he finds the solution.

For example, there was the Rubik's Cube. We spent a few days visiting his parents and this perplexing toy sat on the kitchen table. Patrick picked it up, studied it briefly and then turned a section. It was about eight in the morning and he said goodbye to his father as he left for work. Pat gave the cube a second spin.

At six in the evening, when his dad returned, all but one of the rows had been solved. Pat looked up from his puzzle confused. "You're home already?" he asked Dad. "Yeah", the old man replied. Patrick scratched his head and set to finishing his challenge. In a few minutes, he set down the cube and announced, "There. It's done", and swore off ever touching another Rubik's Cube. Now, several years later I have to say I have never seen him with another one in hand. These days you can get online and find hints and even solutions for the game, but back then it was just brain cells. In our nearly 40 years together I have seen him behave this way hundreds of times over games and puzzles of all sorts.

Do not even let him see the picture of this complicated Sudoku cube!

Now we're retired and finding our own rhythms and routines. In our new location, I'm watching the local newspapers and community booklets looking for new adventures to enjoy. One little magazine comes monthly and contains a puzzle page. The first month I copied out the Sudoku puzzle and fiddled with solving it over a couple of days. I had done these types of puzzles before, but never seriously and only in their simplest forms. I left the barely solved puzzle on the table.

Would I be exaggerating if I said I smelled smoke when my darling husband turned the paper so he could look upon it? Maybe. A bit. "What is this?" he asked. In my overly verbose way, I began to explain everything I know about Sudoku puzzles and how they are solved. "I can see how you would figure this out," he said only half-listening as he was already sucked in. And so it began.

Sudoku is great for us. It improves memory health and keeps those old-folk cobwebs at bay. It took a bit of effort and we learned far more about the puzzles than we ever would have imagined. We started by putting aside the more difficult ones I found in the magazine and cutting our teeth on beginner level puzzles. Now we are rocking and rolling! We've learned the names for cells and rows and how to form chains and have yet to find a puzzle we can't solve. Yet. I found a great site where we can get a new puzzle daily and instead of sitting at the lunch table every afternoon with no purpose we take on Sudoku. We learn, we bond, we exercise our brains and eat. Pie on most days. Life is grand.

Perhaps you'd like to do a bit of solving yourself?

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Banana - Butterscotch Cream Pie

When last we looked at pie we were disappointed in the Citrus Cranberry. We have become very spoiled enjoying pie every day, while we tackle our daily Sudoku puzzle, so it was a dry week. I planned to make up for it with a really decadent pie and found the recipe for Banana-Butterscotch Cream. I wanted something truly naughty and this pie was spectacularly wicked! It was rich and sweet and filling and full of delicious and surprising flavors. It was a bit of a job to make but it's perfect for those special occasion desserts and over the top bragging.

 I found the recipe on the Betty Crocker site. All of the best pies I have made have come from my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook so I looked there to find something new but reliable, from the same folks. 

There were several steps to this recipe. One pot was needed for some ingredients, another pot for others. Once I read it through I thought it a good plan to get out all utensils and measure all of the ingredients first, mixing things in little groups so I could get right from one step to the next without distraction. This worked out to be a very good plan due to the unforeseen panic and confusion that soon followed.

Oddly every step was named "Step One" which made me laugh as I measured out the items. I mixed the brown sugar and butter as instructed, set the timer for the recommended cooking time and stirred and stirred while it cooked. The recipe said to cook it quite a while until it almost smelled burned. That happened much more quickly than the recommended time. I had already turned the heat down lower than the suggested setting and decided it was probably done enough. When I stirred in the cream, it sputtered like the instruction said it would, but the sugar mixture hardened. Like. a. rock. Uh oh. I stirred and whisked for several minutes but the hard lump remained. At this point, I wondered if this sugar mass was a fail. It kept sticking to the whisk but I decided I'd keep on with the recipe anyway. If the lump didn't break down I could easily remove it. After all, it was all stuck together. I forged on.

As I continued adding ingredients it worked itself out. The mixture liquified and then thickened nicely. Because of the unexpected whisking and stirring there was sticky stuff everywhere! My stove was a mess!

I added the bananas, filled the baked pie shell and put the pie in the refrigerator to chill. I didn't chill because I had to find my stove. I managed that and then started on the chocolate for the topping. The dark chocolate melted beautifully and drizzled over the pie perfectly. The white not so much. It was stiff and uncooperative and I had to thin it with a couple of drops of coconut oil just to get it to drip onto the pie. I looked at the photo to see how the Betty Crocker bakers made out and interestingly I can't see any white chocolate on their example at all. Curious.

Several hours later it was time to try the pie.

Wow! This pie was worth every bit of effort! At first bite, you are hit with how deliciously the firmness of the bananas mix together with the crispness of the chocolate topping on your tongue. Then the butterscotch sneaks up and puts all of the wonderful taste sensations over the top. Suddenly last week's pie is completely forgotten and all is right in the baking world. This one was wonderful. And will be all week. I think I'll go have another slice right now!

Update: Our cranberry pie neighbor returned the pie plate earlier in the week with appreciation. He  reported that they did enjoy and finished the pie happily. I sent him back to ask eveyone in the household what pie they might like. I just can't let them think my pies are always so bitter. They're deciding now between blueberry or apple. I suppose that means this story is 'to be continued'.

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October 19, 2019

Downsize Dilemma

Welcome! I've been pondering a lot about clutter this weekend. In my new home there's plenty of counter space, more in fact than I've had in any kitchen in my life. What's not to love about that? However I also love beautiful things. Some folks find serene satisfaction in kitchen countertops with nothing on them at all. I find peace and contentment when my eye falls on lovely items. This is true especially with those things that have a story associated with them like the white roosters or the old metal bowl from an antique shop next door to Roadside America. They always take me back to experiences I have enjoyed and love to recall. Then there are those things I keep just because they might match or work in my new home or maybe because I spent too much money for them once upon a time. This is what is happening with the Romertopf clay pot.

I've had this pot for years. I originally purchased it for bread baking, but I found that it never worked well for that purpose, at least for me. Next, there were a couple of pot roasts but nothing beats a good searing and then a slow bake in my big, cast-iron Dutch oven. While it doesn't work well for baking, clay does work well for proofing or rising bread. But I haven't made bread in a long while and so it has not been used. It has survived downsizing so far because I like the earthy look of it and figured I'd find more use for it once we were settled.

My kitchen fell into place rather quickly after moving in, but no matter how much we have downsized it's clear there are still far too many belongings. The clay pot got pulled from the cabinet this weekend and is now squatting and waiting for my decision. I hesitate to put it back in the cabinet. It's huge - four quarts - and doesn't fit in the upper cabinet so it has to go underneath and deep into the recesses behind everyday pots. Even after a good scrubbing, it looks a bit funky to me. It's supposed to be part of the appeal, but I'm not thrilled over oily spots. I thought I'd try an experiment by making it into a kind of storage piece on the counter. I think of clutter as those things that get left somewhere that are not put away. Keys and such fall into that category. Maybe if I clean it really well and put in a pretty cloth it could live as a storage container.

Or maybe it simply needs a new home. So I'm considering putting it up onto the Marketplace. I used the Facebook selling feature successfully before we sold our home last year. Back then I was much more determined and certain about what I was selling. I was ready to deal with those folks who always ask if your item is still available but then don't respond when you reply. Or those people who want your address but won't commit to a time for pick-up. I even had patience enough to deal with those folks who live perpetually in another time zone and don't understand why you can't or won't come out onto your porch at 3 A.M. to sell off your knick-knacks. As Buster Scruggs says, "But do I wanna wear a black suit?".

I think I'll think on this one a bit longer. Or maybe I ought to start a loaf of bread.

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October 17, 2019

What ya doin'?

Since moving to Pennsylvania's Upper Perkiomen Valley we are getting out often and enjoying the wonderful events of the area. There is an abundance of antiquing and fresh food stands. Even just something as simple as finding cozy markets for weekly shopping has been enjoyable. Each day it's clear to me we have been living in the city far too long.

During the summer months, we enjoyed a day at the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival. What delightful demonstrations of the daily life of the Pennsylvania Germans of the 18th and 19th centuries! The exhibitors were dressed in period clothing and for two days recreated traditional home skills.  When I found ladies spinning flax I was totally captivated! The food was traditional as well and I could have spent the day just eating and still had a great time. Wild horses will not be able to keep me away from next year's event.

Last week we took a ride out to a couple of local antique malls and finished our day at the nearby park with a naughty meal at the Food Truck Festival. The air was crisp with an autumn chill and live music filled the park. I was glad I had layered up a bit and worn a scarf when the sun began to set and the breeze kicked up. Once we had eaten and began to get a bit chilled we headed home to get cozy indoors and enjoy a piece of the week's pumpkin pie.

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October 14, 2019

Cranberry Pie

Good day to you! As you know, I'm baking a pie every week now and my husband and I are being adventurous trying new kinds. For example, we are not big pear eaters, but tried the pear pie nonetheless and loved it. So we decided to apply the same bravery to this pie. Though my husband is not a big fan, cranberries are fine in sauces and juices and such so we went with it.

 I have to admit I had never sectioned and diced a naval orange before and it surely was a juicy experience.

As the pie baked it looked and smelled beautiful and, as we sat at the kitchen table doing our daily Sudoku puzzle, we couldn't help but admire the lovely berries bubbling through the lattice crust. Once it was cool, and I had prepared the accompanying whipped topping, we were eager to sample a slice.

This pie was not what we expected. If you're a huge cranberry fan it might be exactly the pie of your dreams, but to us, it was a bitter disappointment. Literally. Perhaps it was in the fresh cranberries I used, but this dessert had far more pucker than we expected. Ordinarily, I love a tangy taste but that was not the case with this pie. 

Does that mean it was a fail? I don't think so. I have baked a pie now for 12 weeks in a row. Yeah, that's a lot of pies. And up till now every one has been delicious and decidedly enjoyable. This was just one exception in a long line of yumminess. But really there was nothing wrong with it; it just didn't suit our taste. I could not bring myself to just toss it so I asked my neighbor if he liked cranberries. He got a twinkle in his eye when I explained our dilemma and offered him the better part of  a tangy pie that needed a home. He went off with the warm plate and the whipped topping as well. We'll see if he comes back with that same twinkle in his eye when he returns the dishes. I'll let you know.

If you love a truly tangy pie then maybe you'd like to try this recipe yourself:

Next week I'll have to bake something very decadent to make up for this week's experience.

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