Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

I love Halloween.  Mick?  Not so much.  So, for the first few years of our marriage, we didn't do much Halloween celebrating -- except maybe having some beers with neighbors and handing out candy.  Or going to a hockey game.  But then CAM came along, and although Mick wasn't able to celebrate her first Halloween, CAM, my sister, and I all did a "family" costume.  By the time CAM was a year old, Mick was sucked into my world.  We've done a family costume every year.  We've done lobsters and lobstermen (twice, once for each of CAM and WHM's first Halloweens), the Flintstones (twice-- and NAILED it -- as in, could have won serious contests had we entered!), Gru and his minions, Brave (Merida, the king, queen, and triplets), and now this year, we put together a football ensemble.  

It's cold here in Maine.  Check that: it's cold and RAINY here in Maine, so we had to sacrifice some authenticity for warmth.  But here are a few snapshots to whet your appetite.

We've had a very busy few weeks, and I'll be posting more photos this weekend, when I can use blogging as a prize for checking piles of grading off my to-do list.


Mick was going to go as an official as well, but decided to go as a coach instead.  I had a Nick-Saban-esque straw hat in my hand last night and didn't buy it, so I was a bit disappointed.  But it works!  And be sure to check out my awesome yellow penalty flag Mick made me while I was at work today.

I took a few of these, but in this one, WHM's eyes stole the show.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Matching Socks

I hate matching up socks, because it seems to me inevitable that they are spread among various loads of laundry.  Then you get the issues where some socks are just similar enough to be confusing, but not so similar that you wouldn't know you were wearing mis-matched socks.  Or you sent your kids to school with mismatched socks.

So I usually throw all the socks in a big L.L. Bean Boat-and-Tote, and when I get to the point of desperation, I force Mick to dig through for matches.

As you know, CAM goes to private school, and that means knee socks.  Which means that phenomenon of almost-matches.

I'm over it.  Between her knee socks and my trouser socks, it has been a sock nightmare, especially in the dark early-morning hours up here in Maine where we get dressed and head to school in the dark.

But then, I determined a solution.

I took every single pair of socks we own that might be confusing (the ones with a pink or blue HANES stripe on the bottom, or with obvious-to-match ruffles not included), and flattened them out and painted patterns on the feet.

I started with a trip to our local craft store and picked up two of these.  

I folded all the socks over, and in the middles by the arch, I painted.

These are all my trouser socks.  I tried to make the designs less obtrusive, just in case I end up in my stocking feet at work one day.  God help us all if that happens, though!
This is a trial-run pair of CAM's socks.  You can see they are (a) clean-but-dirty, and (b) marked with a Sharpie.  That was my first attempt at sock-matching technique, but the sharpie both looked ugly and faded.  I switched to the paint with great success.

We have polka dots and squigglies and hearts and stars and stripes and zig-zags ... some socks are more like slippers with lots of grippies on the bottom, and others just have little designs for the sake of finding a match more easily.  Either way, now all I need to do to match socks is check that the patterns are the same color and design.

I can do it in poor lighting while I watch tv.  I can ask WHM to do it as a sorting/matching project.  It's mindless for me, but a fun game for the kids.

And now, we have sock-match assurance.

Who's brilliant*?  This kid, that's who!


*Brilliant, anal, it's all the same

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sweet As Pie: Strawberry Cupcakes

I'm late.  These are more from Trisha.

Seven (!!) years ago, I was invited to my friend Maci's baby shower.  She knew she was having a girl and this was a proper Southern shower with plenty of pink and, although it was before the days of Pinterest, all the Pinterest-esque things you can imagine.

My life was changed that day, because served at this shower was a strawberry cake.

You see, I had never had a strawberry cake before -- never, ever in my life.

And I LOVE strawberries.

This was some grave egregious oversight, but it was made up immediately with that most amazing, sweet, light, delicious, beautiful cake.

From then on, I was on a quest to make a strawberry cake.

And so I did, a few times, and I eventually found a Paula Deen recipe that was just about perfect.

(I mean, really.  If you need something Southern and decadent, Paula's usually dead-on.)

But last month CAM and I were picking recipes for Sweet As Pie, and we'd seen Trisha's episode where she also makes strawberry (cupcakes, this time) cake for a shower, and we decided we'd try it.

Verdict: Sweet, but not overly so.  Light.  Moist.  Easy to make.
Cook it again:  Absolutely.
Cost Factor: less than $5.

Mick and WHM went on an errand to South Portland today, and CAM and I decided to make these cupcakes, at long last.  The hardest part about this recipe was finding frozen strawberries in syrup.  Who knew that they were so difficult to find?!  Apparently frozen without syrup is what's popular right now ... so the real reason for the delay in making this was laziness in scouting out five -- wait, six, if you count BJ's Club -- different stores until I found the strawberries.

This recipe is very similar to the one I used from Paula, which makes me wonder if it wasn't the kind of thing that was published ages ago in some magazine and then gradually adapted and tweaked by people until they felt it was their own.

It takes a regular box of white cake mix, and a small box of strawberry Jello.  You mix them with some water, oil, and eggs and half a cup of the thawed strawberries, and there's your cake mix.

I used the whisk attachment on my stand mixer, which worked well.  For some reason I almost always use the paddle -- which is totally wrong for a cake, unless the recipe says otherwise.


The batter was really liquid-y and I had all sorts of struggles getting the batter NEATLY into the cupcake pan.  But we worked it out.

They baked up in exactly the 20 minutes the recipe said, which is unusual around here.

These little cupcakes are so simple, so easy, and they are absolutely divine.  Just sweet enough, but not overly so.  Light, but not flaky.  Moist.  Flavorful without being overpowering, which is tricky to do with strawberries.


And best of all?  Easy enough to eat plain.

The recipe called for a glaze that we were supposed to pour over the cupcakes after we stuck holes in them.  That's fine and all, but I wasn't in the mood for sticky.  So I tweaked it to be more of a strawberry buttercream, but it looked gross.  It tasted "meh," but looked awful, so I pitched it.

So far all afternoon we've been devouring the cupcakes just straight up.  You don't even need milk!

I suppose I could pretty them up with some powdered sugar on top, but I'm not sure they will last that long.

This recipe was easy -- literally 40 minutes start to finish, and that's only because I was sloooooow in the kitchen getting ready -- and well worth it in the end.  I'm glad we tried this one, and happy to report it was a success.


Shredded Chicken

Did you know that you can boil up chicken -- boneless, skinless chicken breast, I mean --

and put it in one of these ....

like this, the paddle attachment ...

... and let it go and then end up with this?

I didn't know that until recently.  And look!

I am overjoyed at the thought of never having to pull chicken or pork with two forks again.

This is life changing, y'all.

No more will I buy bone-in chicken and have to pull it apart by hand.  Unless I need to make a broth, I'm all about BSCB.

Life. Changing.


Columbus Day Weekend

I grew up on the eastern end of Long Island, which my brother-in-law has coined "upstate Long Island."  If you know anything about NY's Long Island, you know that as you get out towards the end of the Expressway, it's suburban and then very quickly rural -- all within 90 minutes of The City.

And if you know NOTHING of Long Island, then you more than likely think it's all duplexes like you see on King of Queens, and everyone grew up bffs with Amy Fisher.

While that sounds fascinating, it's wrong.

The East End is also home to the Hamptons -- some of the most expensive real estate on this planet.  And it's worth it, because it's beautiful and quaint and beautiful.  And historic.  And on the ocean.  And beautiful.

Seriously: if I ever am wildly successful (time's running out!) or strike it rich, I will move "right back home."

I put that in quotes because I grew up in one of the last towns before you "hit a Hampton."  And if I strike it rich, I'm moving to an actual Hampton.  Actually, scratch that, I'm moving out past the Hamptons, towards Montauk.  Robert Redford went to my church,* but we were actually not wealthy.  In fact, our exit off the LIE was the "alternate route to the Hamptons," as the digital signs used to say every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

In any event, because we lived out where suburbia met rural farmland, we had a wonderful family tradition of going pumpkin picking every Columbus Day weekend.  I don't mean going to some "pumpkin patch" where they've trucked in pumpkins and laid them out in rows.  I mean going to a farm, and walking the rows upon rows, acre after acre, and picking our own pumpkins off the vines.  (And then piling them all on my dad, because it was one price for as many pumpkins as your dad could hold.  I'm not sure, but I think the signs actually said that.)

Two years ago, we were able to tie pumpkin picking in with Mick's cousin Travis' wedding, and the kids got to go pumpkin picking for the first time.  Last year, we were so excited to be in Maine, and thus so much closer to NY and pumpkin picking, but our budget and schedule didn't coincide with heading to NY for that weekend.  And this year, we were going to surprise my parents and come down, but they made plans to go to Florida to visit my sister Courtney.  And then my grandmother had her stroke, and that trip got cancelled ... and so did ours.

All this is to say that instead of going pumpkin picking, we took the weekend to do nothing.  We had grand plans to take the kids apple picking or to go to "pumpkinland" up here, but instead we decided to pretty much do, well, nothing.  Saturday I took the kids to make their craft at Lowe's, and yesterday we took a friend's Flat Stanley around Maine.   We made hot chocolate and strawberry cupcakes and stayed in jammies way too long, and just relaxed all weekend.

It has been glorious!  Today, I graded just enough to get me through tomorrow, and tomorrow I'll grade just enough to get me through Wednesday.

Sometimes, it's nice to just let the world wait.


* at least once, on Christmas Eve.  And he actually talked to my mom.  That's what we get for being chronically late and standing in the back!  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sweet As Pie: Brunswick Stew

You know you're busy when it's your month to pick recipes and you don't even cook those!

We are catching up, though -- slowly -- and first up is Brunswick Stew from September's recipes.

I've shared in the past how CAM and I are huge fans of Trisha Yearwood and her cooking show on Food Network, and the recipes we picked this month came straight from that show.

Jennifer sent out the request for recipes in August, and suggested we try to stick with football-ish/tailgating food for the September menu.  Although Brunswick Stew is definitely not something you can cook while you're tailgating, it's absolutely the kind of thing you can keep on a warmer, and, like chili, come back to all day long.  Mick and I are both self-declared connoisseurs of Brunswick Stew, and thus far Trisha's recipes have been good to us, so this seemed like a natural pick as we entered the glorious time of year known as Football Season.

Jack's Brunswick Stew

Verdict: Not bad!  It makes a lot, and it is a good stew, but it's missing something.
Cook it again:  Yes, but we will probably tinker a bit.
Cost factor:  It's Brunswick Stew, which means pounds of beef, pork, and chicken.  It's not inexpensive, but it makes a good bit.  I'd say $30-ish; but keep in mind that we doubled the recipe and used San Marzano tomatoes, which are costly on their own.

First of all, I have no idea on this earth why I made the decision to double the recipe.  That made an absolute ton of stew.  We have the biggest Dutch oven Le Creuset sells, and we filled it to the top.  Thank goodness we liked the stew!

Second of all, I took absolutely no photos of this.  So please forgive me.  For that error, I will make this post a bit less wordy.

As with most Brunswick stews, there is an abundance of meat.  This recipe called for pork, chicken, and beef.  We boiled those up and then shredded them.  The recipe suggested a food processor, but I actually put it all in the stand mixer with the paddle attachment and it shredded it perfectly -- as if I had pulled it with a fork.

If you're not familiar with Brunswick Stew, it's not really a chili, but that's probably the closest description to it.  There's a strong tomato base, and in this case we achieved that with canned whole san marzano tomatoes and some ketchup.  I have to say: the addition of the ketchup in this recipe really made the stew tangier than Mick and I prefer, so if I make this again I'd likely half the ketchup and fill the balance with tomato paste.

Another thing we didn't realize was that we actually essentially pureed the potatoes as a thickening agent.  What a cool trick!  It worked well.

The stew was good -- and we've had our occasional bad ones, so we don't say that lightly.  However, it was missing something.  Here's what we settled on:

1.  In the past, the best stews we've had have used smoked meats.  We think some of the undertones of flavor were missing here because the meats were boiled.

2.  There was also some crunch missing.  We think the stew needed more corn, but also we know that other recipes that call for lima beans and okra.  We didn't want to deal with okra, so we went with lima beans.  That helped -- but we used the large ones.  I think the smaller ones -- or butter beans -- would have been a better addition.

3.  Mick prefers his Brunswick Stew a bit spicier.  I don't; I don't want it to be like a chili.  So I thought the spice level was just right on this one, but Mick wanted it to have a little more kick.  I'd say that's a season-to-taste issue, and fixable, to an extent, with adding more black pepper when it's served.  Otherwise, throw in some more spice when you're cooking.

We liked this enough to eat it for four consecutive days ... but we still had gallons we were able to freeze!  That's good news, though, because Brunswick Stew is a big project, and having some available  "on demand" up here in Central Maine where people hear "Brunswick" and think "Naval Base," is not such a bad thing.  We're still on a quest for decent barbecue up here, and having a taste of it in our freezer is a comforting thought.

(Side Note: the idea of a Sonny's in Maine makes my heart stop for a moment every time I think of it.  Alas, the nearest Sonny's is a thousand miles away.  We've found a few mom-and-pops that try (and claim) to be authentic, but even the best local place can't touch Sonny's -- and it's a chain!  There's amaaaaazing local flavor all over the place down South that I won't even get into right now.  Point is, even chain bbq is better than what we've been able to find up here... so the idea of having some Stew in our freezer is a nice comfort!)

Would we make this again?  Yes, but we'd probably research some other recipes and add additional corn and beans and okra; we'd also like to try it again when we can smoke the meats.  But overall, for a relatively quick stew that you can cook entirely in your kitchen, this recipe was definitely a tasty success.


p.s.  I did a quick Google search of "brunswick stew," and came upon this post.  The photo is exactly what a good stew should look like.  I can't attest to the recipe, but check out the pic.

Friday, October 11, 2013

This is a Test Post ... about my HoverCam Presentation

... to see if anyone is actually able to view the HoverCam presentation I gave today.

As I said, please disregard my whininess in the video part.

But otherwise, I'd love your comments and thoughts!

This image is a stock photo from  I'll post my own image asap.

{{{ Update }}}  

The file size is so big, I can't seem to find a (free) third-party site to host it.  We're talking 360 MB.  I'm open to suggestions.  Scribd won't take such a big file, and slideshare is expensive.  

If I use Dropbox here can you get to it?


Hello? Anyone Still Out There?

Hello, dear friends -- if you're still checking in.

I am finally sitting down to blog and am having one of those moments where I have so much to do -- so much to tell you -- that I don't even know where to start.  So, I'm going to be all over the place here, and please bear with me.


First of all -- Mick just came in the room and told me that Adrian Peterson's son just died.  He was essentially beaten to death by another man.  Now, two minutes ago when I sat down to write this, I had no intention of ranting about anything.  But this is bothering me. Until I had kids, I never understood anything about -- or had any tolerance for -- shaken babies and parents who couldn't be parents.  But after two infants, I "understood" -- to use the term loosely -- how it could happen.  The combination of lack of sleep and lack of control and an inability to communicate, and I could "see" how a person could have that primal switch flip and lose it.  By the grace of God, we were not raised that way, that behavior was not what was modeled for us, we are educated enough to know that we can hit a point of pseudo-rage and know we need to back away -- and how to back away, and how to cool off.  And we're not single parents trying to do it all on our own.  But I can, in a very loose sense, understand frustrations and so forth.  I suppose I can understand the triggers and circumstances that could allow for someone to lose it, even if I've never been there.  And let me be clear:  I AM NOT DEFENDING IT.  I am merely saying that I can see how a person not equipped to handle that perfect storm of stress could lose control.

But a two-year-old?  A two-year-old is not an infant.  I think of WHM, who's barely four, and who is so tiny in every way and yet definitely still a little person -- and I do. not. understand.  A two-year-old can walk and talk (at least a little) and is still so helpless!  So fragile!  So innocent and defenseless.

So I am sitting here, and I don't know Adrian Peterson, and there are surely kids all over the place who are sick and dying, but my heart is broken.  Little guy, I will be praying for you tonight.  You didn't deserve that fate.  And Adrian Peterson, you, too.  I can't imagine your heartbreak.


Now, while I'm on that subject, I may as well stick with the sad.  My grandmother, who is 99, had a stroke two weeks ago.  Although she has sort-of recovered, things don't look good.  She's 99, and she's had a long, healthy, good life -- and she has spent nearly 20 years without my grandfather.  I don't harbor some naive view that things will get better.  But at the same time, I look at my parents and cannot imagine one without the other.  And I look and Mick and I think the same thing.  It's a lonely life to spend 20 years without your husband, with grown kids living far away.  So, in some weird way, I am excited for my grandmother.  She's earned this.  I'm glad that it won't be long before she gets to be with Grandpa again.  Remember above, when I said hate wasn't what was modeled for us?  My grandparents were married over 50 years.  My grandfather bought my grandmother this (hideous, we all thought) gold and turquoise (?) pendant of love-birds on a swing, and she wore it every day.  I don't know what they were like with my dad and Aunt growing up, but I know that what I saw as a kid was two people who adored each other.  And I adored them.  I am not ready for my grandmother to go, but I realize -- or so I tell myself -- it's imminent.  And in my own little way, I'm happy for Grandma.  Grandpa's waiting, and I bet he's humming a little song just loud enough to make everyone else a bit crazy, cracking his gum, and getting pretty impatient right about now.  I'm focusing on the happy.

Ugh.  Have to wipe some tears away.


In the meantime, while THAT's been happening in my world, I've been busier at work than I have ever been anywhere, ever.  It's a strange thing to explain, and harder still to explain it without seeming like I am complaining.  And while I have some complaints, there are also some good things.  So, I will save all that for another day, when I can articulate it all a little better.

Today, however, was a professional work day, and for the first time in ages, I have to say it was both useful and cool.  We have a new (interim) principal, and we followed a format where teachers and staff hosted workshops and people got to attend three of their choosing.  I presented two different workshops.  The first I did with my "work bff" Victoria, and we had a pretty great session about Interactive Student Notebooks and Pinterest.  Later in the day, I presented a session about the HoverCam.  If you don't know what a HoverCam is (and why would you, really?!), it's a document camera.  Remember overhead projectors, with the box and the mirror and the big arm and the bulbs that died?  This is an uber-high-tech version of that; it's a video camera, essentially, that runs through your computer and displays in real time.

I'm going to post another post with the video I made for today's session.... other than the fact that my voice is crazy whiny in it, I'd love your thoughts.

And ... that's about it.  I barely scratched the surface of all the news I need to share, but I'm going to commit to coming back and writing more this weekend.


p.s.  We made the brunswick stew from last month's cooking club selection.  I foolishly decided to double the recipe.  I'll post about the recipe separately, but let me say: we'll be eating stew for a while!  :)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

First of ALL ...

First of all, I am clearly still working out the kinks of my wacky new work schedule.  Taking over the world takes more time than I realized.  Who knew?!

And then, FIRST OF ALL, I have been -- HAVE BEEN I ASSURE YOU! -- taking countless photos.  And not just selfies.  I've committed to sitting down this weekend and posting like a madwoman.

And then B, I started something kinda cool a few weeks ago.  By pure coincidence, I happened to post pics of CAM and WHM in the morning before I dropped them off at school two mornings in a row.  That got interpreted as "you do this all the time and I love it," so I decided to make that my happy thing, and now every morning I take a picture and share it to Facebook when I leave.  It posts somewhere between the kids' school and my own, and inevitably by lunch I have 15-20 likes.  It makes me smile, this new little "thing," but the best part of all is that it is apparently making a bunch of other folks smile, too.  Even work friends have stopped me in the hallway to comment.  It's fun, and it makes my heart happy.  I'm sticking with it ...

And then B again, work is going well, if remarkably busy.  I'm on new committees this year, I'm teaching an additional class, and I lost my "study hall," which although a duty, really meant an extra period to get stuff done (often enough, anyway).  It's a double-whammy and I'm adjusting.  In the meantime, my students are pretty great for the most part and I'm teaching classes I enjoy.

Before I go, though: is anyone missing any laundry?  I seem to have all of it.

Oh well.  If you're searching for anything, it's all in a big pile in the basement right in front of the dryer. Well, okay, next to it.  But it's all clean and smells pretty.  And might be as tall as I am.