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Adventure in Ovens

The party was a success!

The cookies were good, the candy was appreciated, the brie and apples were munched upon, the spinach dip and bread were gobbled up…. And even the apple crisp was enjoyed despite its brush with doom.

Oh yes, the brush with doom.

Aka, an example of just how NOOB-y I can be in the kitchen.

And yet, from the smell of brunt plastic rises the makings of another Kay’s Cooking Adventure!

I got the recipe for Apple Crisp online from a great slow cooker blog (Here!). I have used this site to make slow cooker mac-n-cheese which turned out pretty good, so I was excited to use it again.




It started off pretty simple…. 9 smallish apples. Well, okay, not so simple. What constitutes a “smallish” apple? If I go to the store and buy 7 regular apples… is that about the same? 

And… I know I am chopping them up but due to a severe fear of knives and a general discomfort with cutting things, I know I cut off more apple core/seeds/tough part than the average apple chopper. So should I use 8 regular apples?

I settled for 7 and a half regular apples and crossed my fingers.



One other note… I copied the recipe from a blog… which meant that then I had to up the font and reformat it so that I could read it off a word doc on my laptop’s screen with the laptop propped up on a tuperware container on the kitchen counter.

Anyway… here are the first few steps….

 “Chop up the apples and plop them in the bottom and cover with the remaining ingredients.
Cube your butter.
Toss the orange juice, cubed butter, brown sugar, vanilla and apples together.

I actuals find cubing butter fun.
I love the blog, but… for newbs like me these instructions seem out of sequence. Here is my slightly easier to follow directions: 

1. Chop up apples.
 2. Cube your butter, 
3. Mix butter, brown sugar, vanilla together. 
4. Add to apples, stir.

So there you have it, apples and such in the pot… and only then do I realize that I missed the first instruction (because it somehow got formatted up with the ingredients) of “Preheat your slow cooker on high and butter the inside of the stone ware.”

Le sigh.




I pour the apple mixture out of the stone ware and butter it and then put the apple mixture back in. I also plug the thing in and let it start heating.

Next: the topping.. this was easy, 2 cups crumbled graham crackers and 2 table spoons of brown sugar mixed up and then sprinkled on top… now it’s ready to cook!

Oh… except that it needs 3 hours on high… and it was only a smidge after three pm. The party starts at 7. So. How about… an hour and a half on high… and then two hours on low? Maybe that will work? Sure! Why not! Let’s live a little!


So… time passes… I do other things, the apple crisp smells good!


Guest arrive, food is laid out, I am keeping my eye on the timer… The last note in the recipe said to broil the stoneware in the oven for 4-7 mins for a crispy top.


The timer goes off, the crisp looks yummy… I pop it in the oven…

… And suddenly become aware of a burning plastic smell.

See… one must always take the plastic lid OFF the stoneware crock pot before placing the stoneware crock pot into the very very hot oven.

The lid had melted.

I waited for it to solidify and it popped right off… and only one guest even knew soething was amiss.

 I went ahead and served the apples (more like baked apple mush than apple crisp) and they got gobbled up. So… not a total fail, but a near one.Oy! Live and learn, yes?

And then today The Maifan-San and I got to do online research to find a replacement lid.

Which we found and should arrive in a few weeks and didn't even cost us an arm and a leg. I should clarify, he did the research and I enjoyed left over sweet apple mush and left over Mom's Holiday Butterhorns. Not bad, not bad at all!




I think I will try again before I share the recipe.  Oh, and I will actually make a New Years Resolution this year…. Don’t Burn Anymore Hunks of Plastic in the Oven!

Happy New Years!

Goals and Promises

It is almost the end of the year… time when a lot of people make Resolutions.

I, for one, don’t make New Year Resolutions.

I do, however, make Birthday Promises and Goals.  My birthday, conveniently enough, is early December but I give myself the whole month to nail down these Promises and Goals which means around New Year’s I too have something to talk about in terms of aspirations.

This year I turned 30.

Which… was kind of a big deal for me.  Yes, I know, 30 isn’t OLD (unless you are my 20 year old sister)… but it isn’t really YOUNG either.  I will never be YOUNG again. And that is taking a bit of getting used to.

I had a fair number of Goals and Promises for my 30th birthday.

A few examples:

Goal: write and publish a book
DONE!
Promise: find a hairstyle you don’t hate
DONE!
Goal: have a reason to get a psssport
DONE (twice! Tokyo and London!)
Promise: get out of this (current) bad situation
DONE! (I did this in my mid 20s, it was well worth it)
Goal: reconnect with parents and sisters
DONE!
Promise: be okay with your geeky weirdo self
DONE! (mostly)
Promise: find someone who loves you for who you are and love them back
TOTALLY DONE!!!!!!!!!

A few things that didn’t quite make it….

Goal: Maintain weight of 135-145
I’m not off this goal by much, but enough that it bugs me.
Promise: Take better care of your teeth
Sadly, no.
Goal: Be in a good career.. or at the very least, in a job you enjoy.
I was until about 3 weeks before my birthday.
Goal: figure out the answer to the Baby Question
Currently working on it.

Not bad.

I have a few year specific goals to do before I am 31, (write another book) and promises (really… take better care of your teeth!).  I have some long term before I am 35 goals (write 3 more books, go to Greece) and promises (find a way to have kids in your life, finally drop that last 7 – 10 pounds).

If I succeed, great! If not.. well, there will hopefully be another five years or so to work on them!


Happy New Years!





Machine Bread

In my continuing desire to be awesome (or rather, more awesome than I already am) I made my first loaf of bread in my brand new bread machine today.

(Aside: New additions to our home: casserole dish, bread maker, baking sheets, nice glasses.  Can we say “Nesting!”?)

Ahem,

I never considered myself a Bread Machine sort of person, but I think that warrents a whole post on its own… I want to tell you about how Attempt 1 of baking via machine went.

First I read the instruction manual.  Like many strategy board games, it didn’t make a lot of sense, but I figured it would be easy to understand once I got started.



Next, I found a recipe to try. I picked Cinnamon Raisin Bread because Mark ate some last week and bragged. Also, it has been years since I have had Cinnamon Raisin Bread so if it didn’t taste quite right, I might not even know.


Ok, time to gather the ingredients.  Flour, oil, salt, yeast, cinnamon… easy! Oh wait… I need Baking Flour.  I will also need raisins since we don’t keep those on hand… and umm, yes, something called “dry milk solids.” Off to the store!

At the store: No Baking Flour. No “dry milk solids” (a quick google search in aisle 3 tells me that this is an old-timey way of saying “powdered milk” but alas there is no powdered milk at this store either.  Let me note here that we are at the Vons aka Safeway. We buy the raisins.

At the next store: SaveMart! Yes... here is Baking Flour... here is powdered milk... wow, you have to buy a lot of powdered milk. I better need this for every other recipe I want to do!


Home: Ok. The manual says to be very precise with measuring and also with the order you put the ingredients into the container.  I can do this. A quick motivating speech in the bathroom and some loud bluesy music on the itunes and I am ready.

Water. It calls for 1 and ¼ cups plus 2bsp.  Odd but sure.
2tbsp of oil Easy!
3 tbsp brown sugar. Firmly packed.   Have you ever tried to pack brown sugar in a tablespoon? It is… strange.  Also, even though the book says that layering the liquids on the lower level and putting all dry ingredients on top is the ONLY way to go, my brown sugar immediately dissolved  when it hit the water.  Ok, moving on.
2tsp salt. Back to easy!
2 tbsp dry milk solids aka powdered milk.  Weird stuff.
1 tbsp Cinnamon. Mmmm smells lovely.
4 cups Bread Flour. Done!
Walnuts… nope, skipping.
2 and ¼ tbsp yeast. Ok… up until now I have always used recipes that just call for a package of yeast.  So that is what I have on hand.  I attempted to measure out 2 and ¼ tbsp of the yeast… I don’t think it was exact.

“Indent holes in the dry layer for the yeast.” Ummm okay… I poked my fingers in (careful to not go all the way down) and poured the yeast into the holes.


Going to say this is the oddest recipe I have ever followed.


And now… place container into machine, chose “sweet course” and …wait. There is no “sweet course” as an option.  Frantic rereading of the manual…. Eventual take-charge-risk-assessment-decision made: I chose “Nuts/Fruits course” Then remember to add the raisins into the little fruit/nut  compartment.  (I skimp just a bit on these as well not being totally wild abour raisins.)

Ok: Start!

Loud grinding churning sounds emit from the machine… a full 25 minutes of loud churning sounds. Also though, a delightfully yummy scent of cinnamon and dough….





 It took 3 more hours to bake. So... more of a dessert tonight......

At last... it beeped and we knew it was ready!

Kaylia preparing to pull forth a thing of wonder...

You can't see the bread in this photo, but doesn't my hair look lovely?

Omg.... here it comes!

Hmm, ok.

Add caption
Ta-Da! Bread from a machine!


Well, not the prettiest of loafs.... but still.


Turned right side up after cooling on a wire rack, it looks normal... except... wait...


Notice anything odd.... about the Cinnamon RAISIN bread? How about the extreme lack of raisins.... I checked, they are all still sitting in the little fruit compartment of the machine.  Oh well.... I guess this is a Cinnamon Bread... that is only vaguely cinnamon.

Le sigh

The Maifan-San approves of the taste and texture though, even cut off a big chunk to have for breakfast tomorrow as he heads back to the field. So, it wasn't a total failure. In fact with the speed at which it is getting eaten, I'm going to put this in the Almost A Win category.

Now to wash the machine.....




The Trashy Part of Christmas




One would think that the garbage people would realize that the post Christmas trash is rather a big deal and not cut down on the number of dumpsters and recycle bins available to the consumers.

Or am I crazy?

Anytime there are gifts, big meals, and excess of STUFF, people are going to generate more than normal amounts of trash.

Which is why I was dismayed to find that our normal dumpster to resident ratio of 2:This Row Of Apartments has been dropped down to 1: This Row of Apparently Really Trashy Apartments.

There I stood, cat pot trash bag in one hand, kitchen/bathroom trash bag in the other… and lo… only one dumpster.

Also, a rather impressive pile of trash.

Quandry: Do I add to the mammoth pile? Do I take my trash home and keep it on my patio until the dumpster gets returned or at the very least this one gets emptied?

It is Monday and I have the vague idea that Trash Day around here is normally Fridays.

Last Friday was Christmas Eve, this Friday will be New Years Eve. Is there any garuntee that they will actually come this Friday? Can my trash wait that long?

I split the difference and add my trash to the heap.

Also, I make a mental note to try to be as trash-lite as possible for the next week or so.

This got me thinking about trash… In my family and now in my home we don’t generate a lot of excess trash around the holidays. We are big fans of reusing wrapping paper… there is wrapping paper pieces that date back to the late 80s in my Wrapping Box for example and we use a lot of bags and such. But like a lot of people I sometimes don’t wait until the trash bags are totally full before chucking  ‘em toward the dumpster.  I have been guilty of using Kleenex for only one blow. I don’t always recycle my plastic bags.  Even though I own a dozen cloth grocery bags, I still manage to bring home a lot of shopping bags. Etc.

But no more! I promise to be more trash conscious!

How about you?

Writing… writing… writing…



I love writing but sometimes I like the idea of writing more than the actual pushing key after key aspect.

Like right now.

December was going to be my month…. Oh, I was so full of bravado and plans!

But then…


… I took a week off to spend with my newest niece.

…I took a week off to be horribly sick and to prepare for Christmas.

… and honestly I spent a fair bit of good solid writing time as a gnome warlock.

So here I am. Recharged. Ready. Mostly over my cold.

And….

Well honestly I am a bit intimidated.  I have ten good ideas.  Ten, I think, really good ideas. 

Ten separate good ideas. 

Three of which are actually collections sort of ideas: a collection of six, a collection of ten and a collection of –gulp- twenty smaller parts.
Three others of which are actually trilogy of novels sort of ideas.
And then, thankfully, four ideas which are just stand alone novel length ideas.

Once again that is

36 short stories
13 novels

49 things in total I could be working on

49 things that are all started. That all have rough or semi vague outlines. Some of which have first second and third chapters written.  A few of which are almost ready to go to the editor.  Many more are still inthe first paragraph and general plan sort of stage.

They all sit here on my computer and wait. They all have their own Word Docs.  They all have their own collection of characters. Who all have loud voices and personalities and a strong desire to have their say.

My brain is a bit tired just thinking about it. 

I have a week! I have no job! I currently have only the smallest kernel of a plan for New Years! I have a Maifan-San who has promised to keep me in good supply of milk, French bread, clam chowder, cookies, and popcorn.

Once more into the words I go…..

The wheels on the bus....


Today I had my first Fresno Bus System adventure.
The Fresno bus system, by the way is called FAX: Fresno Area Xpress.  I… sort of want to make a snide comment about the “Xpress part (something along the lines of “how much I hate ‘leet’ speak and misspelled words in logos and marketing campaigns), but… I sort of like the acronym, so Xpress gets a pass.
I took FAX to Target!
First, I checked my handy google maps and it told me I had 9 mins to get up the road to the bus stop. This sounds easy but in fact the bus stop near my apartment is one of those bus stops disguised as a random pole in the middle of shrubbery.  However, I found it and stood there hopeful, waiting, optimistic. The bus pulled up (3 minutes early and a good twenty feet behind the random pole) and off we went.
Pros for FAX:
The busses are in decent repair.
            The busses announce all the stops! All of them! They even tell you what other lines you can transfer to and what is the main draw of the stop such as “Wal-Mart” “Sierra Vista Mall” etc. –Side note, I keep wanting to call it Sierra Mist-a Mall.—
            If you are 65 or older, you get to ride the busses for free. Pretty sweet.
            The drivers were friendly.
            The busses have an auto voice that says things like “For the courtesy of others, please keep your conversations at low volume.” “For your safety, please don’t talk to the driver while the bus is moving.” Is it any surprise that the bus patrons were all quiet, well behaved, and friendly?

So… go FAX, you have a fan.

Google maps on the other hand…..

Ok, so I finish at Target, I go back to Target because I forgot something, I finish at Target again, I walk a bit to the pharmacy to buy stamps, I get on the bus to come home…. While on the bus I look at the map. It tells me to get off at 9th and walk.  But… I know better.  I know that there isn’t a crosswalk at 9th, I look closer. The google maps has my little purple path walking through 6 lanes of traffic.

Yeah, so… I got off the bus early and walked.. because… Shaw is a really big street and despite Google’s faith in me, I can’t fly.
Anyway. Now I know how to get to two malls, several coffee places, the grocery store, two different pharmacies, the Target, the Wal-Mart, and a handful of yummy restaurants.  Next up: how to get to the bookstore, the library, the post office, and the bank!

Basically, I am totally “getting” Fresno thank you very much!

Size Matters: Adventures in Cooking

I made dinner last night. It was the first day at the new job for The Maifan-San and I figured the least I could do was make something yummy for dinner. 
I also really wanted to try and stretch myself, so I decided to make something I had never made before… but I am a bit of a cooking “noob” so I needed something sort of simple.
Tuna Noodle Casserole!
I found a recipe online that promises ease and made a shopping list. Then I walked to the store ( 1.3 miles each way… Go, Go, “I don’t need a gym membership” legs!) At the store I ran into my first (of many) problems.
First ingredient: 2 Cups Macaroni.
This shouldn’t be a problem. I am standing in the noodle and pasta aisle. I see…. Rotini, Angel Hair, Lasagna, Pene, Egg, Spaghetti…. Okay. Yes, this is the epitome of stupidity… but are they all macaroni? Is there a type of noodle that is Macaroni specifically… or can I buy any kind I want?
I did mention the whole cooking noob thing right?
I must have stood there for five minutes trying to decide…. Before I called my sister who assured me Elbow or Pene would work. Ok! Hard part out of the way… off we go to…
“1 Package Cream Cheese” Ummm, what size package?
“1 can tuna” Agh! Tuna comes in multiple sizes of cans!


Less than 9 bucks. Not bad.

At this point, I am getting frazzled. I am also running behind schedule and it is getting dark outside… not normally a problem but I still had the walk home on unfamiliar streets to deal with.
I figured I would wing it and if it sucked, well, he would love me anyway and we could eat pizza.




At home I set about preparing… first, cook pasta. Easy! Even I can cook noodles in water!


Second: “In casserole dish mix…” (Are all casserole dishes the same size? Is mine going to be okay? (Is it okay if I mix it in a different bowl  and then transfer it into the dish?)
When did I become so obsessed with size?
Moving on: I mixed the cream of celery, the cream cheese, the milk…. I couldn’t get it smooth without enlisting the help of my mixer. I also managed to fling cream of celery soup/softened cream cheese/milk in small dollops all over the kitchen.
Added the tuna, the garlic, the dry mustad, the onion… oh crap, I forgot to chop the onion.  Not to get back on the size wagon but I bought the smallest onion I could find but it still seemed huge.  So, okay… adaption. I put in ¼ cup minced onion. Look at me… taking kitchen risks like a pro! (or a very scared noob… did I mention that The Maifan San is now home from work and this thing still has to cook for 45 minutes?)
Okay, it is mixed with the noodles and in the casserole dish. Wow. It fits. Nice.
Next: the recipe wants a topping, they recommend grape nuts and butter. I refuse to buy an entire box of a cereal I don’t like for this one thing… so again with the improvising I am using chopped almonds and butter. The almonds are slivered and spread pretty easily.
Into the oven!

***

45 minutes later… Ta-da!

It turned out pretty well. I think next time I will add more salt and pepper to it, we like things spicey in this house, but it went perfectly with some steamed veggies and there was leftovers that will make for some yummy lunches this week.
The Maifan-San had seconds (so did I) and thus, I am going to claim this as a success!
And… if you want my updated changed version of the recipe, here it is:









Kaylia's Version of Tuna Noodle Casserole
Ingredients:
2 cups elbow pasta
1 can Campbell's Cream of Celery Soup
1 can tuna (small)
1 small package cream cheese (8 oz)
½  teaspoon garlic salt
½  teaspoon dry mustard
¼  cup milk
¼ cup minced onions
½  cup slivered almonds
2 Tablespoons butter
Directions:
1.    Preheat oven to 375. Cook pasta.
2.    Mix cream of celery, softened cream cheese, and milk until smooth. (Feel no shame in using a mixer)
3.    Add drained tuna, garlic, dry mustard and onion.
4.    Place pasta in casserole dish and then add mixture. Mix well and flatten.
5.    Melt butter and mix almonds into the butter. Spread mixture over top of casserole. 
6.    Bake for 45 minutes. Goes well with steamed veggies.

Getting Shot



I recently got a flu shot. Not any old flu shot… my very first Flu Shot Ever.

I know there are people on both sides of this one, so I thought I would tell you why I got a flu shot this year.

Baby Noelia, born Thanksgiving! 

Isn’t she cute? Well, okay.. isn’t she tiny and vulnerable and innocent? Doesn’t she deserve to be as protected as possible?

I had considered getting the shot in the past… but I had some reservations.  Here are some of the more common reason people give to not get the shot (some of which I used to give myself) and my newly enlightened responses.

1.       Aren’t there a limited number of shots available? While this used to be the case, it isn’t anymore.  There aren’t shortages of flu shots… just shortages of people getting ‘em.

2.       It might hurt! It is expense! Not the most altruistic reason, but still… You know what? It DIDN’T hurt! It cost me $30 without insurance. It was quick and easy.

3.       I have never had the flu. Yeah… but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it, it just means you have been lucky. Remember, the flu virus changes every year.. so your body is fighting off a New and Different version than last year.

4.       I know this one gal who got the shot and then she got sick. Yeah. Sure. It happens.  Getting sick is part of life. She would have gotten sick anyway, at least from that strain. Thankfully, now she will be able to avoid getting the strain of the flu that she got the vaccination for. That's how vaccinations work.  Also, see my next point.

5.       The risks are too high….  Nope. At least not for me. See the more healthy people in a society, the healthier the society as well as the very real fact that you can Carry The Virus, Not Get Sick, and Still Pass It On To Others. So, even if you never get all the way sick, you can infect others…. And in the words of my friend John (paraphrased a bit) “I’ll see your slight chance of getting sick and raise you the fact that you will make dozens or more other people sick… some of whom are kids and the elderly and people without insurance or who can’t afford to stay home from work and will thus spread it even more….” (A very loose quote that, Forgive me John). And let's not forget that a lot of "risks" aren't really there, but they do add nice flavor to slow news days.

So. Since I have a new baby niece who I hope to spend time with. Since I have altruism. Since I have the desire to live in a community of people who put the needs of others at least on the same level as their own….

I got the flu shot.

Comfort in Cliches


As many of you know, I am currently writing my 2nd book. (First one, Links, still available from amazon.com) 


It is another short story collection... this time dealing with change and transitions.


The process this time around is very different from when I wrote the first collection. That time, I didn’t know what I was doing. I took a loooong time with each story editing them as I went.  I was also working full time, dating regularly, and really only working on the stories as the mood and muse hit me.

This time I have given myself a deadline, I am not working full time, and I have vowed to write a little bit every day.

Also, this time I have already written a book. I have already put my creative offering onto the alter of public opinion. That was the scariest part last time… and it is again this time as well.  See, most people liked my book. It got good reviews, it has made it into many homes, and I think it surprised people. Yes, it wasn’t crap. Hooray!

I have this fear that I will never write anything nearly as good. I have this fear that my best words have already been typed, edited, and published.

But then… then I see things like this:


And this:


And they remind me that here really isn’t anything NEW under the sun… there are just new WAYS of seeing the same things.  That’s comforting because it means I don’t have to reinvent the wheel, I just get to play with it, dress it up in clothes of my own making, roll it down my very own imaginary hill, take it to tea with other wheels and let them have adventures…

You know what I mean.

So… once more into the writing trenches I go!