Monday, January 14, 2019

Pet sitting


Jane has gone to Florida, and I am bereft. We caught the edge of winter storm Gia Saturday. I sent her a picture of the snow coming down with a text that said, “What you are missing.”
What we had Saturday that Jane was missing in Florida

She sent back this picture with the same message.
What Jane had that we were missing

Note that in both pictures the ground is white. The similarity ends there.

She has also sent pictures of a roseate spoonbill and a pair of bald eagles.
Roseate spoonbill outside Jane and Jan's condo

A pair of bald eagles
Meanwhile, Terry and I are looking after Skippy, as we have for the past several years. Unlike previous years, Jane’s box turtle (technically a tortoise, since she lives on land), Dutchy, did not enter hibernation this year, so she had to come visit us as well. Up until Jane’s departure, Dutchy ate a little cucumber every couple of days. I hoped that she would go dormant shortly after coming to the cool of our house, but no such luck. And yet, she only stares at her food. Sometimes she lies on top of the food bowl with one foot in her water bowl. It is hard to know what will make a turtle happy. We found Dutchy in Michigan some 20 years ago and brought her back for Jane’s mom. She was very cute and tiny back then. After all this time, I’d feel bad if she died on my watch. I guess she’ll eat if she wants to.
Dutchy not hibernating in her birch bark tunnel

Skippy, on the other hand, is ravenous all the time. He is supposed to be losing weight, so I’ve been trying to keep him to a fixed amount of dry food every day. He would rather have a lot more. For the most part, he has settled right in. He sits on my lap and purrs quite a lot, which is a comfort if I’m not doing anything else. When I am trying to use my laptop, he insists on sitting between me and the keyboard. Occasionally, he will give me some respite by sitting on top of the futon (now covered with a sheet to protect it from cat hair).
Taking a break from nap time

If I am not the first one to sit down, he claims my chair as his own.  
Skippy laying claim to my chair
The good part about his diet is that whenever I really need to get something done and can’t watch him (while he chews on electrical cords less than when he was younger, I still don’t trust him), all I need to do is put a little food in his bowl. He walks right into the kennel, and I shut the door. Easy peasy. He has his snack and curls up in his bed for a nap.
I’m back to work for meetings on Thursday. Classes begin next Tuesday. Skippy will have to be in his cage all day then. He’ll be stuck to my lap like glue when I get home. It’s nice to be needed.

Monday, January 7, 2019

A new year begins


We celebrated New Year’s Day with the traditional caramel pecan rolls followed by napping through the Rose Parade. I’m not sure why I’m still napping. It was perfectly reasonable to sleep most of the morning when I stayed up until midnight on New Years’ Eve, but this year I was in bed by 9:00.
New Year's morning breakfast
And here we are. The holidays are over, and we have to turn our full attention to surviving the rest of winter. It didn’t seem so bad for the last couple of days. The sky was blue and the temperatures above freezing. It was 52°F Saturday. I went for a walk without coat, hat, or gloves. Today is still warm, but I can hear the wind howling and the rain beating on the windows. It makes me want to sit here under my electric lap blanket in my jammies and bathrobe all day.
As much as I enjoyed entertaining and making food for friends and family, I’m ready to resume my usual routine, which is why I will get out of my chair and onto my exercise bike after I’m done with this post. I have been overeating since December 17, when my brother and sister-in-law came for Christmas Observed. With each event, there were leftovers that had to be eaten or frozen. It was such a responsibility! Ham, lasagna, roast chicken, more ham…. I froze most of the Christmas cookies, defrosting enough for a few days at a time. I have said it before, but it bears repeating—I don’t know why people go on and on about sugar cookies. No chocolate, no inclusions—what is there to recommend them? I ate a few toward the end, after all the good ones were gone. Finally, the last cookie was eaten on Friday, after three solid weeks of nothing but cookies for dessert.
Saturday I used up the last leftovers from Christmas, which was the buttercream frosting from cookie baking day. I recently learned from Alton Brown that, by definition, frosting stays soft while icing hardens up. Thus buttercream frosting vs. royal icing. Some people (including Alton Brown) prefer royal icing on their sugar cookies, which in my opinion gives them even less to get excited about. It is made of egg whites and confectioner sugar. Ick. The only advantage to royal icing is that it hardens, which makes the cookies easier to pack. Even though my cookies are messier and require wax paper between the layers, I prefer the buttercream frosting. Keyword: butter.
I made a chocolate cake to use up the frosting. It was a dilemma. There was not enough of either the chocolate or the vanilla frosting for the whole cake, but too much of each for half the cake. My solution was to pile it on. It turned out fine. Terry summed it up: “Chocolate cake is really good! I’d forgotten how good it is.”
Chocolate cake with buttercream frosting

Yes. Yes, it is.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Lefse


It all started when I saw Molly Yeh make lefse with her husband’s aunts on Girl Meets Farm. We like that show because Molly lives in North Dakota on her husband’s farm. It reminds Terry of home. The North Dakota setting also explains why Molly was making lefse, a traditional Norwegian bread.
I know I’ve tried lefse before, but I can’t recall the circumstances. At the time, I was unimpressed. Still, they are made with potatoes, butter, flour, and salt—what’s not to like?
I found a recipe in The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. While indexed under “lefse,” the recipe was actually titled, “Rich Potato Flatbread,” and described as an “Americanized version.” I was going to make the lefse on Friday until I read that the dough had to be refrigerated overnight. I mixed it on Friday and cooked it on Saturday.
I began by peeling enough Russet potatoes to make two pounds. It was more potatoes than I would have though, a priori. I used up all of the little runty Norkota potatoes that were not suitable for baking. I used my potato ricer for potatoes for the first time ever. I bought it to squeeze water out of grated zucchini before putting it into a tart. Ricing potatoes is not hard, but is messier than just mashing them in the pan, so I am not going to convert to making mashed potatoes with the ricer.
I stirred in the butter, milk (which was supposed to be cream, but I didn’t have any), and salt. When that was thoroughly blended, I added flour and put it in the refrigerator.
King Arthur let me down the next day when I set to rolling out the extremely sticky dough. There were no instructions on flouring or not flouring. A novice would despair. I, on the other hand, started dusting all surfaces in contact with the dough liberally with flour while I preheated a cast iron skillet.
My first attempt was disastrous. It was firmly stuck to the rolling mat. I tried with my largest spatula and longest palette knife to free it, but it bunched and tore. I wadded it up into a ball again and started over. 
Exceptionally sticky dough on rolling mat with palette knife
By the third attempt, I gave up on the rolling pin. When I patted it out with my hands, I could tell when it was starting to stick and add more flour underneath. I also began transferring the flattened dough to a well-floured piece of parchment paper for the final patting out. I shook the paper to be sure the dough moved freely. If not, I snuck more flour underneath. The disk then slid smoothly into the skillet.
Dough patted out on awell-floured parchment paper
While one cooked (can you say baked if it’s in a skillet?), I rolled out the next. Luckily, it did not seem to matter how hot the skillet got. I kept the burner on the whole time, but none of the breads burned even though I checked infrequently. The last few lefse puffed up in the middle, which I took to be a positive sign that they were cooking through. I also concluded that hotter was better.
Cooking in a cast iron skillet with flour everywhere
The lefse was really good plain. I reheated them in a skillet and served them for dinner with chicken noodle soup. It was even better with butter and/or red raspberry jam.
When I first looked up the lefse recipe, I was delighted to discover that it was in a chapter devoted to crackers and flatbreads. I have always wanted to make good crackers and have tried various recipes over the years without much success. I recipe for potato, dill, and onion crackers caught my eye because it used leftover mashed potatoes, which had been languishing in my refrigerator. Upon measuring, I found I had exactly the right amount for a half batch.
The recipe suggested rolling the dough out on parchment paper and then just transferring the crackers on the parchment to the baking sheet. After baking for the requisite amount of time, I discovered that an instruction was missing—separate the crackers after cutting them. The book said they would get crispier as they cooled, but even at room temperature the crackers in the middle of the pack were tough and flexible. I spread them out and put them back in the oven. It helped some. Another problem was that some were thicker than others. I loved the taste, though. Next time, I will put the dough through the pasta maker.
Potato, dill, and onion crackers after the first (unsatisfactory) baking

I had fun with my little experiments. Perhaps when I retire, I can devote myself to making a perfect cracker. I’ll have to pace myself so I don’t weigh ten thousand pounds by the end of the first year.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Volo Auto Museum


Terry and I continue to check off items on our List of Things to Do Over Christmas Break. There’s nothing especially Christmassy about the Volo Auto Museum except that we had a buy one/get one coupon for admission (a $15 savings!) that expired on December 31. We set off in heavy fog Thursday morning, driving 45 minutes to Volo, IL, where the museum is located. The parking lot was mostly deserted. We wandered around a bit before discovering the main entrance. In fact, there were arrows everywhere, and I’m sure the staff members slap themselves in the forehead every time somebody asks where they can get tickets. I know the feeling. No matter how much effort you put into making something as obvious as it can be…
We got not only wrist bands, but a map and a Souvenir Yearbook ($5.95 value, according to the cover) with our paid admission. The first room we came to was the Dusenberg room. I would have sworn I took a picture of one of these fabulous cars, but when I downloaded them, it was conspicuously absent. You’ll have to Google it. Duesenbergs are very elegant and luxurious. Think of some filthy rich person in the Roaring 20’s, and this would be their car.
In the Duesenberg room and here and there in other locations, there were automated musical instruments. Here is a Mortier Dance Organ, built in 1947 for the Crystal Palace. It didn’t say which Crystal Palace. The only one I know of was in London, and it burned down in 1936. It was not until I was looking through my pictures that I noticed that one can request a free demonstration. Perhaps next time.
Art Deco Mortier Dance Organ

There was a replica of the first automobile in that same room, patented by Carl Benz in 1886. The car had a single-cylinder gas motor, and could go 8 mph. No original cars exist today. Daimler-Benz had a limited number of replicas made to celebrate the 100th anniversary in 1986.
Replica 1886 Benz automobile

We passed through a walkway to Building 1 on the map. I took this picture from the Photo Op location indicated on the map. 
Building 1 Showroom
I had not realized that most of the floor space of the Volo Auto Museum is actually a showroom for vintage cars. The Souvenir Yearbook said that they sell almost 2000 cars a year. If they sell cars every day they are open (which is all days except Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas), that averages out to 5.5 cars/day. Amazing. I would not have thought there were that many people interested. Someone with a car to sell can take a cash payment, put it on consignment (with a fee of only 2% of sale price), or trade it in on another car.  
Terry was like a kid in a candy shop. He loved that every car had a price on it. Two prices, actually—a list price and a lower “no haggle” price. Some were worth more than he figured, others were, in his opinion real bargains. He walked from one car to another narrating when he or one of his friends had owned a car just like it.
Corvette Sting Ray from the late 60's (Bobby L. and Larry S. had cars like this.)
1957 Ford "Not nearly as desirable as a '57 Chevy" according to Terry

I wandered down a side hallway with antique arcade machines in apparently working order.
Arcade machines

We took a side trip to the military exhibit (Building 14). The most fascinating thing I saw was this little scooter with extraordinarily tiny tires, the Cushman Model 53 Airborne. 
Cushman Model 53 Airborne
It was dropped from planes by parachute for land transport of paratroopers and their stuff during World War II. I wonder how long it took the troops to find the scooters on the ground and if anyone was injured by having a scooter fall on him. Delivery was probably a bit tricky. It was stunning evidence of how much smaller people were 75 years ago. I could not image a 200-pound person on a scooter this size.
We went back through Building 1 to Building 2, the Hollywood Car Exhibit. This middle of this Building was also cars for sale, and the Hollywood cars were around the outside. On one end was one of the original fiberglass Pep Boys rooftop statues. Built in the 1930’s, it is only one of six statues ever made.
Rare Pep Boys rooftop statue

A nice feature of the Hollywood cars was that there was a monitor above the car showing video clips of the car in the movie or TV show. This was good for me because I don’t get out much and was totally unfamiliar with many of the movies. The bad part was that throughout the museum, the noise made my ears hurt. Loud music was everywhere, and the sounds of the movies (or bombs, as in the military exhibit) were cranked up so they could be heard above the music. Here you can see the monitor above the car from the Dukes of Hazzard.
Car from the Dukes of Hazzard with video above

Here is Luke Skywalker’s little transporter from Star Wars.
A vehicle from Star Wars

A side room on our way to Building 3 had a display of early snowmobiles, including this converted Model T.
An early snowmobile has skis instead of wheels in front

Building 3 was the “Bizarre Car Exhibit,” but it too had a lot of movie or TV vehicles, such as the 1966 Batmobile.
1966 Batmobiled

And Elvis Presley’s 1974 custom made Cadillac that he personally drove back and forth between Graceland and the airport.
Elvis Presley's Custom Cadillac
 Wait a minute—the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll drove a…a…station wagon? How uncool. He had to have it custom made because Cadillac didn’t make a wagon, and he needed the room for his equipment and sequined jackets. It has only 8000 miles on it, but that’s a lot of trips to the airport.
I had a photo opportunity with the Simpsons outside Building 4, Treasures of the Vault/Kids Exhibits. I didn’t sit down because the bench was wet.
Hanging with the Simpsons

One of the first exhibits was a replica of an 1885 Daimler Motorcycle. 
The first "true" internal combustion motorcycle, the 1885 Daimler.
Note that it is made of wood. The original burned up in a fire. It was the first motorcycle to have a one cylinder internal combustion engine. Like the 1886 Benz auto, its top speed was 8 mph. The plaque described the ride as “bone-crunching.”
Previous attempts at motorcycles were steam powered bicycles, also wooden. There was an example of one of those as well, with a small boiler under the seat (ouch! Wouldn’t that be hot?)
Steam-powered bicycle

Next we passed through a hallway of historic pedal cars (left) and cute little scooters (right).
Pedal cars, left; scooters, right

I loved the pink “Kidallac,” which even has a side rearview mirror.
Pink Kidillac pedal with side mirror

The pedal car hallway opened on the Classic Kiddie Rides, all apparently in working order with a change machine standing by. Here Terry is looking at a small carousel.
Kiddie rides

This picture shows a ride on Superman’s back, a knight’s horse “Lancer” and “Ride with Geronimo,” Geronimo included.
Superman, Lancer, Geronimo

This is the car from the Cat in the Hat movie.
Car from The Cat in the Hat

And the movie version of the Flintstones. Terry noticed right away that it was not powered by feet as in the cartoon.
Flintstones

There were a couple of places that had Disneyland Toy Factories. I have not been to Disneyland, but Chicago’s Museum of Science Industry had similar plastic-injection molds for sale, and I begged my way to having more than one. I am certain it was not $5 at the time. Probably closer to 50¢. This one was out of order anyway.
Disneyland Toy Factory

Herbie the Love Bug had a motion sensor that lit up his eyes and dropped his front bumper as we approached. This car was from a sequel, Herbie Fully Loaded.
Herbie Fully Loaded
Herbie was the start of several Disney displays that had been made for parades and whatnot. I was not particularly interested, not being the target audience.
In between the rides and the Disney stuff were the Treasures of the Vault, i.e., cars of modern day filthy rich people, such as Princess Diana and Oprah Winfrey. I was underwhelmed. Sure, they were Rolls Royces, Mercedes, and Vipers, but they just looked like ordinary cars. If I am every filthy rich, I’m getting me a Duesenberg.
At the end of the hall, however, was my hero, SpongeBob SquarePants.
Me with my buddy, SpongeBob

I was getting tired, but we took one quick spin through the history of camping trailers and mobile homes, beginning with the 1949 Spartan. 
The 1949 Spartan Motorhome
It started out as a special order from a wealthy Texan, but the company went out of business. One of the employees bought it unfinished and fixed it up for his own family. The story turned out to be a common one. After a vacation, the bus was parked, the owner died, and there it sat until the family that owns the museum bought it in 2016.
Spartan interior

We went through a small building with a covered wagon and a chuck wagon with LOUD narration of life on the prairies. That led to a small overnight cabin and then to a building with early travel trailers, such as the 1932 “Covered Wagon,” also parked in a barn and abandoned in 1939. The curtains, beds, floors, and wood-burning stove are all original.
Kitchen of the 1932 Covered Wagon with original floors and curtains

Sitting area of the Covered Wagon
And then there were the early RVs. This boxy looking thing is a 1928 Ford House Car, the first motorhome, built by Henry Ford.
1928 Ford House Car

Interior of Ford House Car
It was lunch time. We went to Show Biz Pizza for something to eat. We could get anything we wanted as long as we wanted sausage pizza, cheese pizza, nachos, or a smoothie. And there was only one piece of sausage pizza left. Terry took that; I was fine with cheese. There were only two other people there. Terry got to fretting that they were going to run out of pizza when two grandparents showed up with a grandchild. Only one piece of cheese pizza left!
Someone must have asked for the free demo. A player piano started playing. Note at the top (above the pipes) that the music is on an extremely long piece of paper that unwinds at the left and piles up willy-nilly on the right. It was hard to imagine that it didn’t get tangled, but it all seemed to go off without a hitch. I liked the stained glass parrot chandelier also.
Player piano with wad of music at the top

Two more “animatronic stage shows” played as well. One of them was a pirate, his mate, and a parrot, which cost $385,000 to build and was totally not worth the money, if you asked me.
It was fun. We didn’t see nearly everything. There were outdoor displays and antique malls that we skipped. Perhaps another day.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Chicken troubles


The sun rose on a frosty morning Sunday.
A frosty Sunday morning
The day before, I noticed that Miss Clavelle (a Dominique) was camped out in a nest box. I put a leg band on her so we could determine if she was in there all the time and therefore broody. We haven’t had a broody hen for awhile, so I’ll review. The primordial chicken had to hatch eggs. After laying a clutch, her hormones shifted so her body temperature increased, especially on her breast, so that she could successfully incubate or “brood” the eggs. Many modern breeds have had the broodiness bred out of them. Those folks who want to raise chicks instead of picking them up at the post office have to raise breeds that will still go broody. The rest of us try to avoid broody breeds.
The first time it happened to us, it was a crisis. The hen never wants to leave the nest box, even to eat or drink. Since the unfertilized eggs will never hatch (and we keep removing them), this could go on until she starves. I did my research and ran to Tractor Supply for a rabbit hutch, the preferred containment for broodiness. The rabbit hutch has a screen bottom so the hen can’t keep her breast warm. As her body cools, the hormones go back to normal. Broodiness cured!
Sunday morning, Miss Clavelle was still in the nest box. I got the rabbit hutch out of storage and found the bowls for food and water.
Broody Miss Clavelle  in the nest box--what are YOU looking at?

I also noticed that Hilda’s special chicken-friend Layla did not look good. When all the other girls were out having their scratch grain treats, she was hunched on the perch. She was a bit puny last week as well, but she seemed to rally when I put her outside. This time, though, Carmella was on her in an instant, pecking. I pushed Carmella away several times, but she was really persistent! Finally, I put Layla back on the perch, where it seemed safer.
Layla on the perch, not looking good

After Hilda and Dad were done with their usual Sunday brunch, I got Hilda to help put Miss Clavelle in the rabbit hutch. Alas, Layla was on the floor, dead and stiff. She seemed to have died peacefully. I asked Terry to dispose of the remains. We stroked her beautiful golden-edged black neck feathers one last time. She was over two years old. She should have gone to the butcher in July, but it was dark, and I was up north. Terry and Hilda did the best they could, but two one-year olds were butchered and Layla and Bella survived. This is, however, a reminder of why we decided to only keep the layers two years. After that, they die anyway. It will be interesting to see how long Bella makes it.
When we were done morning, Hilda pulled Miss Clavelle from the nest box with some difficulty. Miss Clavelle somehow got purchase on the box with her feet and was loathe to let go. When Hilda finally had her securely tucked under her arm, I opened and shut the various doors until Miss Clavelle was in the hutch. And she was NOT happy.
An unhappy Miss Clavelle in the rabbit hutch

And yet, she started eating ravenously in a very short time. Tuesday morning, we put her back in the run. So far, so good. We miss Layla, though.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christmas Cookies!


I’ve had some busy days since classes ended, which is why this post is late. The semester officially ended with Commencement on Saturday. Kate and I went to lunch afterwards and then to my house. Jane got there shortly after. We started in on the sugar cookies because they had to cool before frosting, and the frosting had to dry before packing.
We made little boys and girls, Christmas trees, stars, holly leaves, and candy canes from the plain sugar cookies.
Boys and girls


Holly leaves and stars
We made Christmas bison (which, with their stubby legs, thick necks, and big heads, are more structurally sound than reindeer or moose) and some giant penguins. The penguin cookie cutter is Kate’s, and the flippers are totally not structurally sound. Jane had to glue one of them back on with frosting.
Bison and candy canes


Penguins with fragile flippers
Even with the giant penguins, we ended up with lots of bison. While Kate photographed and Hilda watched the oven, Jane put on the chocolate frosting, and I did the wreath and bow around their necks.


Jane puts on chocolate frosting while I do the wreath and bow

The handoff
When the cookies were baked and frosted, we got the Mexican wedding cakes (not shown) done quickly, since that only involved rolling the dough into balls, baking, and rolling in powdered sugar.
Then it was on to the sour cream pockets. Jane made that dough. The recipe is three sticks butter, three cups flour, and ½ cup sour cream. Really, they should be called butter pockets. I did the rolling and cutting. Being the compulsive person I am, I used a ruler to make 2” squares.
Measuring and cutting

Jane and I filled each one with a tiny, tiny bit of apricot or raspberry pie filling.
Filling and pinching

And then we pinched up the corners, baked them, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. So much powdered sugar!
So much powdered sugar

I can’t remember when we got done, maybe 4:00 or so. Hilda and Jane went to get pizza and wings while Kate and I packed cookies, wiped down the table, and washed the dishes that didn’t go in the dishwasher. Dad and Terry joined us for dinner. It was a fun day, and at the end of it we had all those cookies to show for our work!