Saturday, December 29, 2007

Chicken and Dumplings

Mom wanted me to post this recipe so that she didn't have to write it down and keep track of it for the trip home. I got the recipe from the Whole Foods website and then made some modifications.

Chicken and Dumplings

4 carrots chopped
1 onion chopped
2 leeks chopped
2 stalks of celery chopped
2Tbs. butter or olive oil
5 or 6 chicken breasts chopped (recipe calls for 1 whole chicken quartered but I was going for simplicity)
2 cups water
1 qt. chicken broth
1/4-1/2 tsp dried chili flakes
~1 1/2 tsp. of ground rosemary
~1 1/2 tsp. of dried thyme

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached white flour (or use 1/2 cup of each flour and 1/2 cup of cornmeal. I don't have cornmeal lying around so I just use extra flour instead and it still tastes great).
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
ground black pepper to taste
3 Tbs. cold butter
1/4 cup green onions or chives
1 egg
1/2 cup of milk
sprinkled parsley
In a large pot heat olive oil or butter. Add carrots, onions, leeks and celery. Saute for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add chicken and continue to cook until chicken is browned (another 5-10 minutes). Add water, broth, chili flakes, rosemary and thyme. Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer, covered for 2 hours.
Remove chicken (if you use the whole chicken option), de-bone and shred meat into bite-size pieces. Return chicken to stock pot.
Prepare dumplings by combining flours (and cornmeal opt.), baking powder, salt and pepper in a bowl. Cut in butter or shortning. Stir in cives. Add the egg and then slowly the milk until a soft dough forms. Do not over-mix the dough.

Carefully drop walnut size dumplings into soup. Cover tightly and simmer for 20 minutes. These will expand and rise to the top of the liquid.

Serve soup with dumplings on top. Garnish with parsley.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Out 'n About

I don't want to give the impression that we stayed in all the time. We went out somewhere nearly every day, to do something, no matter how simple the pleasure. The Waffle House is a southern must-try if y'all head out this direction for a visit.

Mom finally agreed to sit at the Waffle House bar since all the boothes were full. And since it was something different for her, we had to document with a picture. Heather and I had grits and waffles to stick to southern traditional.

Trying on some hats at Target-- us girls ended up getting matching ones.

And then as you can probably guess by now, we had to go see the house. We checked it out from all angles:

From the front...

From the back...

And we checked out some other finer points...

We did some bird watching... or so it would seem from this picture

And back at our apartment, some new friendships were formed. Ok, so it started with bribery by chow mein noodle, but now as the days have gone by, it's turned into a grand friendship between bird and man.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Baking Tournament

My family and I hope you have had an excellent Christmas with your families and friends! We miss all of you back home in California and England and were sorry we couldn't be in both places.

My family was not super anxious to do loads of sightseeing this trip since Christmas is special enough in itself. So mainly we've been hanging out. It's been all fun and games, starting with the Christmas baking tournament. Competition was fierce but we all maintained our smiles and good manners. Sometimes we teamed up to form "The Storming Sisters" (Heather and I) or the "Gruesome Twosome" (Paul and I) and the "Sassy Seniors" (Mom and Dad), but mostly we maintained our independence with our recipes.

Below, is "Mighty Mom" scoring super points with her classic Southern Boiled Custard drink that we enjoy every year as a tradition.

She also doubled as "Dishwashing Dame" engrossed so much in her work that she would be seen with steamed up glasses from time to time.

Introducing my sister Heather, "Burbee The Baker" making another classic, Nanna's Shortbread, with a bonus twist of whole wheat flour. These were delicious! She scored points for having made the recipe that was polished off first.

Dad, "Gary 'The Pot Stirrer' Man" scored points for his chocolate dipped pretzels as his tasty salty yet sweet snacks were gone before day 3.
I made my cinnamon rolls that I make every year and as my nickname at home is normally Care Bear, I got the title "Kare 'The Bear.' " Here I'm demonstrating the very cool dough hook that comes with the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.

Paulie Pie, my code name for Paul, went by the fierce name of "Paulie 'The Mincer' Pie" making a classic English dessert for Christmastime: Mince Pies. To score extra points, he added everyone's initials to the top crust and was the first to have an added accessory, vanilla ice cream.

Stay tuned to see the outcome of this event.
My sister went home today :-( and my parents will be here for only another few days. But I have enough fun pictures of this exciting trip to post blogs for days. I'll pick some of the highlights and post them at a later time. For now, we have movies to watch!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The sleeping Arrangements

Well we have all survived spendidly over the past few days and it has been so fun having house full of laughter and good cheer. And what good sports everyone is with the tight quarters! For movie watching we bring Clementine's cage slightly forward, move the chairs a little to the side and then make sure someone is not sitting on the side of the couch closest to the tree, for the tree blocks one side of the TV and Clementine blocks the other side.

For sleeping...

We have Mom and Dad wedged between the coffee table and couch with their pillows under the tree. Dad keeps knocking the lower ornaments off the tree and the tags off the presents everytime he turns over. But my parents are always good sports (they consider this camping) and say they've been real comfortable. They've even turned down the air mattress to sleep in a "bedroll" for ease and practicality.

Now, Heather, the super sport of a fun sister that she is, said, "Hey, I'll just sleep in the doorway of the spare room." There was no room to fit all the way in the room and not much room in the dining room unless she slept under the table. But this has worked out, and she brought her electric blanket, so she's been good.

We had some grand plans for sight-seeing this week, but we've been having so much fun watching movies, eating, talking and driving around town, that we've decided to just take it easy on this visit and just enjoy Christmas and being together. Next time we'll do the trip to the beach and the mountains for dad to try the fishing, etc.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

At the 17th Hole

When most people were at work on Friday, I was out on the golf course. But the reality is: I was still working. Tracy and I were sent to Virginia to collect a groundwater sample from a monitoring well that was stationed strategically on the fairway between the tee and Hole 17. We were briefed by the site maintenance supervisor ahead of time to bring our hard hats and take all safety precautions at the well. It was recommended we start sampling before 10:00 so that we would be done by the time the golfers made it around the first 16 holes. Not to be. We started sampling at 12:00 about the time when all golfers made it to Hole 17. So, we situated the SUV between us and the tee so that we would be shielded somewhat. Tracy worked hard to calm my nerves by explaining that she's done plenty of golfing and everyone is usually pretty good about their aim. Besides, our well was slightly off to the side and not smack in the middle of the fairway.

We were taking our first readings, looking up each time a golfer set up on the tee to make sure we kept our eyes on the ball. Not more than 5 minutes passed when a line drive came barreling straight into the back of the SUV. No damage done, and so we waved the golfers on and tried to look relaxed. Throughout the day a few balls landed in the trees overhead, a few to our right, a few to our left. We ended up being there all day because our pump wasn't working and the well went dry. What was supposed to be an hour on the golf course turned into 3 and we were there to wave at all the golfers, cheer them when they made a good hit and look the other way when the ball landed in the sand pit. I think we made them nervous, and yet they were good sports asking if we got hazard pay and, "surely that's not your personal vehicle you have parked there." And then, "you are brave souls, and "any oil in that well?" We have never had so much company when sampling and I felt kinda like we were on the boardwalk at the beach back home.

Starting Saturday, Paul and I have been really busy lately getting ready for my family to come out for a visit. :-) We have the furniture situated to make the most of the little floor space available for sleeping, a drying rack set up for all the towels and the fridge stocked. Oh, and we got garland and a tree up and decorated. That's what we've been doing for the last 3 days.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Small Things that Make a Difference

We got a flyer on our door last night from our apartment leasing office. I saw it and thought, "uh-oh. Now what?" There's always a lot of activity going on that comes along with maintenance, as with any apartment. The doors need painting, the siding needs re-done, etc., etc. Fairy and Clementine aren't too keen on strangers, so it can be a lot of upheaval for them, especially when we aren't there.

But this time the flyer said something to this effect, "come join us for a complimentary holiday breakfast on your way to work." A nice surpise! But then I proceeded to forget all about it and it wasn't until this morning as I was riding through the complex on the way to work when I saw the staff outside the office with a big picnic table full of food. Cars were pulling in, Missy was running food to the cars with a big smile, and then the folks would drive off to work. I was greeted by name (which I am still amazed that they know since I'm hardly ever in the office)from halfway across the parkinglot and asked if I would like breakfast. Missy offered to take my Christmas cards into the office to save me a trip to the mail box and Nadine unpacked the breakfast kit so that it would fit in my backpack. I got a choice of bagel from Panera and an orange juice. It was such a simple gesture, but the whole swift 2 minute exchange was so warm and inviting that it really changed my whole attitude about going to work this morning. I could smell the cinnamon wafting from my backpack as I was pedaling down Sharon Rd.

Although I'm excited to move into a house, it will be sad to leave the Hamptons and the real nice community feel that's there and the top-notch staff.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

All the Trimmings

It's so exciting to watch the progress of our home! The cabinets and wood trim really adds a lot of dimension, I think, and we are extremely happy with the cabinet style. I'm going to love living in this kitchen! In case you can't tell from all my recipes I post, I love to cook (well so far anyway).

Plenty of cabinets to store all the gadgets, and a nice big pantry for my can and jar collection.

I love the fact that there's an island, too- oh the possibilities! I may never make it to Hawaii, but I can legitimately say, "I have an island of my own."

Small but classy details...

Upstairs looking from the master bedroom to two across the way.

They put the banister in!

And the pillars and faux balcony (Paul is in there for scale. Geologists usually use a pencil or penny, but a man will work too).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Mavis, the maple we adopted earlier this fall, has finally decided she better catch up with the big girls and drop her leaves for hibernation. It was probably our nice, cozy, sheltered patio that made her lazy. But the cold week we had last week was frigid even on a sheltered patio, so I'm sure that's what initiated defoliating. I have to admit, I wasn't sure if very young maples went through the rigors of dropping leaves and regrowing them in the spring, thinking that the first year might give them a break since life is already tough enough just trying to break out of a seed. But, lo! I went out to water this weekend and there she was with a few leaves less! She didn't bother going to the bright red for showy display, but rather, a mellow yellow.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Spare Room

I don't know what got into Paul the other night, but he came home from work and went straight into the Spare Room and started pulling out box after box after box.... "What the heck are you doing?" I asked, a bit concerned. "Looking for the Christmas decorations," he replied casually. If you know Paul, you'd realized how highly unusual it is for him to jump straight into a chore after work. He's more of a save-it-for-the-weekend kind of man.

I was ecstatic because I've been dreading the adventure for weeks, not having a clue where the decor was admidst the many boxes that we are storing in that room awaiting our move to our new home. We never bothered unpacking most of our things, knowing we were going to be moving in 6 months or so. Happily, Paul knew exactly where everything was because he methodically packed the room before he got his job.

After about 1/2 hour, Paul had blockaded himself into the back corner of the room by stacking boxes in the walkway he created to get there, so in the end I could not see him from the doorway.
"Paul, where are you?" I called out to the endless pile of boxes. "Over here!" he waved a hand at me over the top.
I was worried that something was going to fall on him, so I worked at clearing a pathway for myself to get to where he was, upsetting the strategic box placement that he made.
"Ah, there you are!" I think he was happy I came to help. :-)

A while later, with nothing more than a backache for catastrophe, we had all our boxes and Christmas tree out for decorating this weekend. We have one heck of a busy weekend planned!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

An Unintersting News Flash

This is to quickly report that as of 12:30 my last bowl of Butternut Squash Soup has been consumed, and Paul's was probably finished about a half hour earlier during his short lunch break. I think that was a record for us -- the longest lasting leftover being whittled away one bowl at a time. Mental note: cut the recipe in half next time. On to new leftovers! Yippee aye yeah!

My Favorite Soup

It is the weather for soups for those of us above the equator, especially for those of you in the northern states experiencing the bitterest of temperatures. It's been cold here in Charlotte, but nothing in comparison! I feel it especially because of my twice a day bike ride to work and back, and yes, it's been cold in the afternoon as well as morning, but mainly due to the breeze.

The best thing to warm the joints and bones is split pea soup. It's so easy to make in the Crock Pot if you have one, and I prefer to get it all prepared the night before, stick the pot in the fridge (I have a crock pot that has a removable pot that fits inside the metal cooker part), and then just set it in the cooker in the morning and plug 'er in. Who has time to cook after work when there's lots of spinning and knitting to do?

Here is my favorite, classic recipe for split pea soup:

1 lb. bag of dried, split peas
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 small onion, chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped (add the leaves whole on top to add to flavor, and remove after cooking)
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 ham hock
~1/2 tsp. ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste (the ham hock is quite salty so make sure you don't add to much)
1 Herbox vegetable bouillon (does not contain MSG)
~6 cups of water

Add everything to the crock pot, no need to dissolve bouillon, and cook on low heat. I leave mine in for the whole 8-9 hours I'm gone to work and it turns out great. Remove celery leaves and serve.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Fairy's New Home (amongst other things)

Saturday was one of those days that you wake up with a list of to-dos by the side of the bed. I marched Paul out of bed at an early hour and we got ready to do a number of errands, some of which I would have done during the week if I wasn't riding my bike. Paul, being the organized one that he is, organized our list into two circuits. Trip one: cleaners to pick up ties, Target to return an item (Star Wars), Trader Joe's for groceries, come home to drop off groceries. Trip two: K-mart to return an item (Star Wars, of course), Parrot University to get seeds and treats, and Costco to get more groceries.

We conquered the list, and in the order outlined by Paul, with one slight deviation: we came home with a new home for Fairy from Parrot University. All cages are on sale 20% and we found one perfect for her with wheels (big plus). We had been planning this for about a year because although she's a small bird, she's got a big personality and needs lots of toys to keep her from being bored stiff. She's been looking a little stiff lately, when we leave for work, clinging to the side of the bars and staring at us as we leave. She doesn't play with her toys, and so we figured maybe there wasn't enough room to hang the number of toys she needs to stay occupied. A nice thing is that this cage doesn't take up any more floor space than her last one - it's just taller.

Do you see her in the back near the top? Notice how the doors are all open and she's happy inside.
Coming out to say hi....
With a chow mein noodle in hand, she is the happiest of birds!

She practically leaped onto her new home when it was assembled and she has been so happy playing. Today when I left for work she didn't cling to the bars, but was sitting on a toy ringing the bell and swinging. Tonight, when I let her out as usual, she didn't come running out like she usually does, but sat in on one of her perches quite content. What a relief she seems happier!

On Sunday, we were going to intersperse the day with trips into the spare bedroom to pull out boxes and search for Christmas decorations. But in the end, the day was busy enough without that upheaval so we have to save it for next weekend. Instead, after church I cut Paul's hair because he was complaining he looked shabby and we just putzed around. I did get some spinning in for Trish and some spinning in for The Sweater, but Trish will be pleased that I did two of her skeins to 1/2 of The Sweater skein (my "recreational spinning," as she calls it).

Oh, and I thought I'd say that we are still plowing through that Butternut Squash Soup that we made before Thanksgiving. Did I mention that it was enough to feed an army? Poor Paul gets more for his lunch tomorrow, because today afterwards he made the mistake of saying that it was "tasty with some cheese and bread to go with it." Wait till he sees that he's got it packed in his lunch bag for day 2!