Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pancakes, anyone?

For the last few weeks I've been making pancakes and bacon for breakfast on Sundays.  I think I'm going to try and stick with this routine; I feel like it makes the weekend a little more special.

I make my pancakes from scratch.  It's not terribly complicated once you get the hang of it and I love the flavor.  Not to mention the good feeling I get from making something from start to finish.  I use the recipe from my Fannie Farmer cookbook.  Doubling the recipe is a must because it doesn't take much longer to cook and then I get to have the leftovers for breakfast or snacks for a few days afterward.  The recipe below is already doubled so you don't even have to do any math.  Here we go!

1 3/4 cups milk
4 tablespoons melted butter 
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour  
4 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

First off, a few notes.  The Fannie Farmer recipe only calls for 1 to 1 1/2 cups of milk, but I like my pancakes to be a little lighter, so if you want a denser pancake use less milk.  It's also very important that the milk be at least at room temperature; I usually pour my milk into a measuring cup and then microwave it until it's slightly warm to the touch, but not hot.  As for the melted butter, let it cool off for a few minutes before using it.  It's important that the milk not be too cold or the butter be too hot, otherwise the butter will congeal when you add it to the milk, and that messes everything up.  Try to get the eggs slightly closer to room temperature, too.  Basically, you want the milk, eggs and butter to be as close to the same temperature as possible.

For real now, let's go!

Mix the milk, eggs and butter together.  In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  Add the dry ingredients all once to the wet once.  Stir until just combined, lumps are okay!  I find that putting some of the batter into a spouted measuring cup makes for easy pouring onto the pan.

 See the lumps?

Speaking of which, once you finish the batter, go ahead and and turn on the stove to medium/medium-low heat for your pancake pan.  You'll know the temperature is right when you flick some cold water onto it and the water droplets dance around and sizzle.

Pour the batter onto the pan in small amounts (I probably use about 1/8 cup of batter per pancake).  When you see bubbles coming through and bursting, go ahead and flip with a spatula.

Wait a slightly shorter period of time on the flipped side before removing them from the pan.  I heat up a plate ahead of time to help keep the pancakes warm and also use my microwave cover on them.  It's perfect because it keeps the heat in but lets the steam out so they don't get all soggy.

Part way through making the pancakes I heat up a pan and start cooking my bacon.  I'm still trying to master the art of properly cooking bacon, but it gets better every week.

Serve your pancakes with some maple syrup, jam or even plain.  Yum!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Meet Dave!

Dave is our very first foster dog of 2010 (we had to go on a brief fostering hiatus due to Lenny's allergies, but that's a whole other post in and of itself).  I have to say, Dave has one of the best dog names ever - completely hilarious, but fits him perfectly and he already responds to it!  Dave is a yellow lab (mix?) and is about a year old.  He was rescued from a high kill shelter in Southern Illinois February 9th and came to our home on February 17th.  Dave has one of the sweetest temperaments I have come across.  He is very loving and gentle.  Great with kids, other dogs and knows that cats aren't snacks!

Check it out, Dave's enjoying a doggy cupcake from one of our favorite places, Bentley's Corner Barkery.

Mmmmm....tasty!  Looks so yummy I even wanted to take a bite!  Don't worry, I restrained myself (although it's made from human grade ingredients, so I could have if I wanted to).

Really, you don't notice right away that there is anything different about Dave.  He's very responsive to commands.  He walks so nicely on a leash and even sits or lays down for you to clean his paws when you come back inside.  Just all around a fantastic dog. 

But Dave is special.  Dave likely has some neurological damage; this causes his tongue to always go out the right side of his mouth and makes eating a bit difficult (and messy!).  His pupils don't dilate properly either.  He probably has damage to his 6th, 7th or 8th cranial nerve.  There is no way to know for sure (except perhaps an MRI), but given how young he is, the most likely explanation for his neurological damage is head trauma.  I can only hope that Dave was involved in a terrible accident and didn't suffer at the hands of a human.  But even if Dave was abused you would never guess it if you met him because he is so loving and friendly.  And now that he is rescued and safe, the journey begins to find the family that can look past what some might call imperfection for a wonderful dog.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

No-bake cookies

The hubs has been asking me to make these for a while, so in honor of the Superbowl I decided to find a recipe for some no-bakes to try them out in hopes of having them live up to Thomas' expectations.  I snagged a recipe from a friend and tweaked it just slightly based on a few other recipes I saw.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/4 pound of butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups oatmeal
3/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)

For anyone trying to cut calories, she has this to say about the butter, "It's VERY important to not use tub margarine in this recipe. If you do, the cookies will turn out black and will never properly harden."  So let that be a warning to you all.  And let's face it, butter makes everything better.  And I'd rather put something natural in my body that happens to have a bit more fat in it than something with less fat but is laden with chemicals, so that's my two cents on the matter.

Back to the cookies!

Combine the sugar, milk, butter and cocoa powder in a large sauce pan on the stove.  Heat until butter is melted.  Be sure to stir continuously so nothing burns to the bottom of the pan.  Bring the contents of the pan to a full boil and let it boil for a full minute, timing accurately.

Remove the sauce pan from heat.  Stir in the peanut butter, salt and vanilla until well combined.  Tip: if you give your measuring cup a little shot of Pam before measuring the peanut butter it will be much easier to get out of the measuring cup and clean later.  Add the oatmeal and coconut and stir.  I used regular oatmeal, so I put the lid back on the pan and let the residual heat work on the oatmeal for around 5 minutes to soften it up a bit.  If you used quick cooking 1 minute oats then you don't have to do that.

Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper (or a silpat) and let harden.  If you want to speed that up a bit, pop them in the fridge.

I made two batches, one with coconut and one without.  Both were equally well received.  I thought the coconut gave it a little extra chew and structural integrity and overall liked them more, but both were good.  Most people couldn't really tell the difference between the cookies with and without coconut, so take that for what you will.

We also found out that if you're from Minnesota you call these something else, because upon entering our friends' house and announcing that we had brought no-bakes we were met with a resounding chorus of "Oaties!!".

And yes, they did live up to Thomas' expectations, so this recipe lives on to be used again another day. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Baxter Update

On January 30th we were lucky enough to see Baxter - aka Dr. Tiny Cat because he used to look like this guy

Baxter was our first (and to date, only) cat foster and has been in his new home for almost two months.

On a Saturday morning in September last year, I was getting ready to take our foster dog to the weekly adoption show when the hubs (aka Thomas) got a phone call from one of his co-workers.  His son was home from college and had brought a little surprise with him.  No, it wasn't mono (they knew about that), it was a tiny kitten!  And not only were animals not allowed in the apartment the kid lived in, but his mom is anti-cat, so the kitty had to go.  An hour later I arrived to pick up the little bundle of joy.  The kid had gotten the kitten a week earlier from his neighbor, whose cat had had kittens.  This means that poor baby Baxter (as he had been named) was separated from his mom and siblings when he was only 4 weeks old - way too young!

I scooped up Baxter and off we went to see "the cat people" from our rescue (we're usually on the dog side of things).  After confirming that Baxter was, indeed, freaking adorable and making a few phone calls we secured a vet appointment for him for that afternoon so we could make sure he was healthy.  As it turns out, he had fleas, ear mites and an eye infection, but overall was a healthy little guy.  He would need a topical flea treatment, drops in his ears, medicine squished in his eyes 3 times a day for 2 weeks and oral antibiotics twice a day for 2 weeks.  It seemed a touch overwhelming as the vet tech demonstrated his eye medicine and antibiotics, but after a day or so I got the hang of it.  It also helped that he was little enough to still have the reflex to do this:


Basically scoop up his hind feet but immediately relax and quit squirming when you picked him up by his scruff!  Hilarious, adorable and convenient all at once!

Why yes, I am holding him with one hand!  Look at how tiny; he only weighs about a pound!

Baxter was awesome.  He was already eating solid food in addition to wet food (impressive for a kitten his age!) and was a total piglet, so getting him to eat enough was easy.  And he was a pro at using a litterbox - score!  He would play for hours on end and was extremely cuddly.  Because he was so adventurous we actually kept him in a dog crate when we weren't with him so he wouldn't hurt himself by doing something silly like jumping off the dresser.

 Cruising around in Thomas' shoe

Chilling out in a big mug

Unfortunately (sort of), about 2 weeks after we brought Baxter home we left to go on a much anticipated month long trip to Spain (which was fabulous, by the way).  So Baxter went off to another foster home.  I sent him with food, a favorite toy and a note asking for updates from both his new foster family and hopefully the family that would adopt him, since we were certain he would be adopted before we would return.

Much to our surprise, Baxter was not adopted while we were gone.  I got in touch with his foster mom asking for an update.  As it turns out, she was feeling overwhelmed and long story short, after a month of very frustrating emails, we got Baxter back just after Thanksgiving (a special thanks to our friends John and Mary for assisting in picking him up!).

This time he was big enough that he could be left safely in a bedroom instead of having to be in a crate when we were gone.  Baxter's personality was really starting to blossom.  And he had developed an adorable new habit of suckling on fleece blankets and ears.  He actually started waking me up in the morning by trying to suckle my ear while purring loudly.  It tickled soooo bad but it was so cute I'd let him do it as long as I could stand it.  But I thought the weirdest part was that this was a habit he had developed recently, and I would have expected something like that more when he was tinier.  Look at how big he's getting!

Enjoying the sunshine by the windows

Window watching with Lenny

Tearing it up on the scratching post with Lenny

Baxter's other adorably notable habit was that when he would wake up from a nap, he would immediately start meowing loudly while beginning to wander around the house as if to say "Hey!  Where is everybody?  I'm awake - pay attention to me!".  He'd stop meowing once you picked him up and gave him a cuddle.

Baxter met his future mom at the very fist adoption show we took him to (the first he'd been to in over a month when he was supposed to be going to them weekly).  As a bonus for us, Baxter and another kitten were intended as non-surprise Christmas gifts for the children of the woman adopting them, so we got to keep Baxter until right before the holidays.  He now shares his home with 9 and 11 year old human children, Tigger (another kitten who is a month younger than him) and his new mom.  Baxter is still suckling away on blankets and continues to play non-stop.  He's also a model big brother and has taught Tigger how to groom himself and fun ways to get into mischief.

 I think he remembers me!

With Thomas - look at how long he is now!

With Tigger and their new mom

We loved every second of having Baxter around and are happy that his new mom gives us updates!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Can I brag a little?

On Saturday I went bowling and in my second game I was on fire!  Strikes and spares abounded.  Although the turkey eluded me since someone kept bringing it up and psyching me out.  Check out my score (I'm C)!

 Probably my highest score ever!  The identities of B and T will remain a mystery to protect them from the shame of losing to me, but in their defense, this was the third or fourth game for them since I had to duck out for a bit after the first game.  Although B certainly had a more than respectable showing (and actually got 184 in a previous game, making my score only the second highest of the night) and T was trying out a new throwing technique.  In the end, a fun time was had by all.  And I won.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Heaven in bed

We've had it for a while, but I just have to rave about our heated mattress pad.  It's awesome.  I don't know about you, but I feel cold pretty much from October to April.  And I can't sleep if I'm cold.  This usually leads to me bundling up all winter, even to go to sleep.  But no more unnecessary layers at bedtime!  And no more of the hubs yelling at me when I try to warm up my icy cold feet on him (I can't help it if he's always warm!).  This thing is heaven.  You turn it on before you get in bed so the sheets are already warm when you get in and it stays toasty warm all night.  Makes getting up in the morning that much harder, but it's so pleasant it's worth it.  We have this one (no, that's not our room):

I like that it automatically turns off after 10 hours so you don't have to worry about it being on all day while you're gone.  Not that I'm so much worried about it starting a fire, but I feel like they weren't designed to be on for 2 days straight and I wouldn't want to fry the wires and have to buy a new one.  But if I had to, I'd buy a new one.  Definitely.