Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pumpkinfest! (and cars!)

We had beautiful weather today for Pumpkinfest (otherwise known as the Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival, 20th Annual, I believe), and the pumpkins were in fine form this year! 

As impressive as the great pumpkins (and watermelons) were, we spent even more time admiring the old cars. Ed is keen on cars, and the kids were feeling indulgent.

This one was Katie's favorite. I think it looks like Milo's car, from The Phantom Tollbooth.

We didn't make it to the library book sale (I volunteered sorting books for several hours on Thursday, and I did see a few alluring books, but Ed really wore himself out this week sorting out issues with the water heater, which expired unexpectedly, and subsequent plumbing necessities, so dragging him through a book sale seemed unkind.), but we did see various crafty booths and enjoyed the people watching. Cute babies, well behaved dogs, and a leprechaun.

Having just finished My Southern Journey, by Rick Bragg, I was inspired tonight to pull out my cast iron skillet and fry some chicken, and venture into new territory by making hush puppies. The chicken turned out beautifully, though a certain non-responsiveness on the part of our smoke detectors suggests that it's time to test batteries. The hush puppies were a bit less successful. The first two batches fell victim to neglect while I debated with Travis over whether or not the chicken needed to be cut into small pieces before being cooked, but the last batch came out beautifully. Livy really, really wanted to try the chicken.

And there have been some more desserts! This is the raspberry cheesecake. It was delightful -- Travis says it is the best so far. I think it might be my birthday cheesecake.

And this is a pumpkin bourbon cheesecake. I thought it was a little on the bland side, but Ed and Travis liked it fine. And Not pictured is the chocolate cappuccino cheesecake we ate most of tonight, which, I believe, rivals the raspberry cheesecake (as with the others, I adjusted the recipe to make it grain and dairy free). The lovely people in the produce department at Ingles have promised to keep stocking Go Veggie Cream Cheese, so I feel a certain obligation to keep up my consumption of the stuff!

And Finny didn't forget to dress up again this year for Talk Like a Pirate Day! Well, actually, his "aargh" was more despairing than ferocious, but we put on his hat and made him pose anyway! Maybe next year the hat will fit Livy, and she can be our pirate.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

But... the Weekend?

Somehow I'd pictured having the kids in school as being more restful than it's been so far. Not that I'm complaining, exactly. I'm thrilled that Katie is having a good time with her dance classes and with programs at the library, and I know we're lucky to have found a new piano teacher. But... the driving is cutting into my reading time more than I'd imagined! Still, it's going far better than I'd dared to hope, and I did get a couple books in last week (here you see me caught in the act of allowing Finn to play lap dog). 

I read "H is for Hawk" the second time this week, this time for the library book group I'm leading. I enjoyed the book even more on the second reading, but my book group meeting was a flop. I was all prepared with discussion questions and all, had baked cookies, and even made it to the library with fifteen minutes to spare. One person came. A woman who had not liked the book and did not want to discuss it at all. So I got in my two cents about what a good book it is, regardless of her opinion, and we talked about other stuff for an hour. I would give up on the thing, but the librarian has already published flyers with the books and times for October and November, so I'll just hope for better attendance in the future. Could happen!

Finn is getting used to having the kids off during the day, but when they get home he's all ready to play!

(Pardon the messy shelves. I am working on them.)

(Finny after a bath!)

And I've been having lots of fun with my pressure cooker! It makes a fabulous lemon curd, and it is just as easy as all get out!

And I made Ed an adorable (6 inch wide, but it's actually not mini, because it is deep) vegi quiche in the cooker. He said it was amazing. Amazingly good, for you cynics out there.

These were not made in the pressure cooker. Pecan tassies -- a small batch -- and there was left over pie filling so I made a grain free crust for my own personal (6 inch) pie. Bliss.

A pressure cooker cheesecake. 7 inches of peanut butter and chocolate goodness. Heavens but it was tasty! (Ed actually has a piece left, hidden away in the freezer, because he likes frozen cheesecake. It actually is quite wonderful that way.)

(I cut into it the first day, when it was good, but it was better the second day. Mellower.

Notice Livy's glamorous artificial nails! She does Not like them. Katie puts them on, and Livy immediately begins pulling them off. We trim her nails faithfully, but she still is a bit inclined to scratch furniture and we are working on discouraging her.

Some of the lemon curd went into this darling little trifle! I still have plenty left over for the lemon tart I plan to make with a grain free crust. Tomorrow?

And I made an adorable little (5 inch) raspberry cheesecake, but it doesn't have its decorations on yet (I'm planning a thin raspberry glaze, with a bit of melted chocolate drizzled on) and it's shy about appearing half dressed. I'll try to post a picture of it next time, though!

As a last note, our new priest(ess) is doing very nicely indeed. We're still adjusting to her higher pitched voice and enthusiastic style of presentation, but I think she's going to be just fine. Today's Gospel reading was a doozy -- Luke 16: 1-13 -- and she didn't dodge it, but actually came out with something pretty good. She said it was okay if your reasons for forgiving people were maybe not so honorable, just as long as you forgive. Ed remembered some other sermons on the same reading that focused on how the people getting their debts reduced benefited (I may not have that quite right, but frankly I was stunned that Ed could remember a sermon from three years back -- sometimes he really dazzles me!), but I liked what Mother Stephanie (testing this. pretty sure it doesn't work for me) did with it. It makes me think of Pascal's Wager, but it's even better if Jesus is the one suggesting that our motivation isn't as important as what we do.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Guess Who's Playing Fetch?

Livy chases balls like a champ, but she doesn't bring them back, but, after a year of finding the idea completely incomprehensible, our Finny has finally grasped the concept of "fetching." And I am So excited! He's like... a real retriever! Both yesterday And today he chased down his tennis ball and brought it back. Multiples times!

It is just possible that I have the Tent Revivalists at the park-across-the-street to thank for Finn's intellectual leap, too! I'd like to give them credit for it, anyway, because in other ways I've found their six days of revivaling to be a major inconvenience and, to be honest, annoyance. Their revival is being held on top of My walking trail. Theoretically I could walk there anyway, but I don't want to distract anyone from being revived, and, coward that I am, I don't want to risk the chance of being invited to join in. They appear to be having a fine old time, but it's not my sort of thing. So, anyway, Finn and I have been deprived of our walks for almost a week now. I think it's just possible that Finn's pent-up need for exercise triggered a certain shift in his little brain, allowing him to make the mental leap of recognizing that when I throw a tennis ball across the yard, an object he previously would watch, and occasionally would sniff or even pick up, that my deepest desire is for him to chase after the ball, pick it up, and bring it back to me. This is so great, because a tired Finn is, generally, a less destructive Finn.

(Here, caught in the act of eating a box he should Not have been eating. I think Livy was egging him on.)

(And here he has stopped eating the box, but I don't think he looks penitent. I took the box out of reach.)

Other things.
Katie has now finished another week of school! She still is enthusiastic, but today she came home feeling under the weather and went straight to bed. I suppose that with school comes more germ exposure, and we'll want to get our flu shots asap. But I hope she's better soon.

(These are from yesterday, when she was feeling better than she is tonight. Finn is very excited when she gets home from school.)

And, did I mention my pumpkin pie? I can't remember. Anyway, I made a pumpkin pie in the pressure cooker, with an almond flour crust and lactose-free milk. It makes me very happy. As does the sweet little cake box I found! 8" across -- just right to hold a 7" cake or pie!

Monday, September 05, 2016

Lovely Long Weekend!

Well, it's been a really nice Labor Day weekend! Not that we actually did anything, but we did nothing special together, and it went well. You know what I mean.

Yesterday's church service was the first with our new priest, and that was rather exciting! Not that she did anything exciting or out-of-the-usual, but... there she was! The new priest(ess). We've waited a year and a half to get our new priest, and it's just lovely to finally Have her. And, despite her being female and all, and having to figure out if we should call her "Mother ___" or "Reverend ___" or just, (I shudder, but some in the congregation do this, and I try to be charitable) "_____," she seems, on first acquaintance, to be quite lovely. Pleasant, intelligent, humorous, straightforward. My impressions are all from our conversation over breakfast, since she didn't preach this week, but so far so good!

About breakfast! This was also our "farewell" service with our bishop. He's retiring, and we'll soon have a new bishop, as well as a new priest. And the new fellow (he is a fellow) has an impressive act to follow. Anyway, Katie and the other young girl who is of an age to be thinking about confirmation, were invited to a special Breakfast with the bishop and the new priest. And, since there were just the two of them, the families of the potential confirmands were invited too, to round out the table. So we breakfasted and chatted, and the bishop talked about confirmation, and Katie and the other girl were quiet but nodded at all the proper moments. And they nodded themselves right into agreeing to add a "recognition of new catechumens" bit to the day's business, which was originally just a service with a baptism and a whole bunch of "receptions into the church" (which is how this bishop handles bringing in members who were already adult members of other denominations). The girls got a script for their lines, and Ed and I dutifully memorized our "I will," and it all went beautifully! And now Katie is, at least officially, started toward confirmation. Whew!

But wait, there's more! I almost forgot to mention one of our new priest's already evident charms! Turns out, she has even more food sensitivities than I've managed to accumulate (as well as grains and dairy, she can't eat eggs or, I'm told, chocolate! Perhaps she can manage nightshades and squashes -- I didn't inquire -- but even so it seems that this will encourage people to provide fruit salads, which will be very nice!). The spread for coffee hour, after church, featured so many tasty things I could eat that I wound up quite stuffed. Definitely points in her favor.

And I baked today. Katie had a friend over, who stayed for dinner, so I thought a dessert would be appreciated, and Ed's been suffering more pains than usual, so I wanted to do something he'd specially like. Thus... the Ridiculous Vanilla Cake.  (It's from the Cookies & Cups site, which has many excellent looking recipes.)

Ed says that this is "awesome" and the "best ever." Which is what I was trying for, so that was good. And everyone else was enthusiastic too.

And I made another batch of the oatmeal-raspberry jam bars that Travis likes for breakfast. And then I made myself an absolutely wonderful batch of rice pudding in my pressure cooker. With coconut milk and rum-soaked raisins. It is superb. Well worth the heartburn (which does seem to have been lessened by switching to reduced fat coconut milk!). And, because Katie starting school means that it must be fall, because that is where my brain goes when I think "back to school," I needed to make a Pumpkin Thing. So I made a pumpkin pie. In the pressure cooker. With an almond flour/coconut crust. I think it is going to be really delicious, but I won't know until I have a piece for second breakfast tomorrow! Happy thought.

And now, because my lamb needs to be at School tomorrow at the Crack of Dawn for a before-school club meeting, I'm off to bed!

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Saturday -- Drones, School updates, and Chocolate things!

Katie is Loving high school, but she was also excited about her first "real" weekend, especially since it's a nice long one! Apparently weekends don't really "count" when you homeschool. Something about your teacher being still right with you, I suppose. But, at any rate, she's finished her first week at the high school and so far she's come home every day full of excitement about her classes and the kids she's met. It's pretty fantastic. And over dinner Travis asks her about school things. I asked if he's sorry he didn't go, and he says "no," but he's curious anyway. His community college classes seem to be going okay too, though I'm having to do a lot of reminding about assignments. Still, so far it's looking good on both fronts.

And Finn seems completely recovered. Today (it's cool but gorgeous out) he and the kids played with Travis's drone.

Finn, asking sweetly if it isn't his turn to play with the drone now.

Finn Really wants to get his mouth on the drone.

Katie clipping on Finny's new, retractable leash.

Katie running from the drone!

Here Finn is sulking, having realized that his "endless" leash isn't really endless.

And you can see Livy peering out the door. She wants out. She complains loudly.

Harry likes to sleep under the pool.

This time it was Finny's turn to flee the drone!

And I've been playing with my pressure cooker! I "invented" (well, combined some other people's recipes and made adaptations) two gluten-free, lactose free desserts. They are both good, though no matter how free of perilous ingredients I make them I find that I still need to limit myself to very small quantities of sweets or I suffer. Still, limited sweets are a whole lot better than no sweets, so I'm happy!

Here's my cheesecake...

It has no cheese. It's made with cashew "butter," and it's a little grainier than a a real cheesecake (I also made a glorious lemon cheesecake, using Tofutti cream cheese. It really was utterly blissful. And it's gone. But Tofutti cheesecake is very hard to come by around here, so it's cashew butter cheesecakes until my next trip to the Big City.) but after a day or two the flavors really mellow together delightfully.

In case you should need such a thing, here's the recipe.

Mocha Chocolate Cheesecake

1 1/2 c. almond flour
1/2 c. sugar
4 Tbl melted butter
pinch of salt

Mix all the things together. This makes a pretty thick crust, and it's good, but next time I'm going to try cutting it back by about a third. Or using the crust for the Chocolate Fudge Crumb Bars I'm going to show you next. Still, this is nice, and it doesn't distract from the filling.
Anyway, press the crust stuff into the bottom and up the sides of a 7" springform pan and put the pan in the freezer to firm up while you work on the innards. Or you could try doing an 8 minute pre-bake. I think I'm going to try that next time.

1 1/2 c. raw cashews, soaked in water (in the fridge) overnight and now drained
2/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. chocolate milk (I used Lactaid milk, with cocoa powder and sugar)
1/2 c. very strong coffee (I dissolved a generous spoon of instant coffee and a spoon of sugar in hot water)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbl Kahlua
2 Tbl coconut oil

Blend the cashews in the food processor, and once they are smooth-ish add the next seven ingredients. Blend several minutes, getting the mixture as "ungrainy" as possible.

Add 2 Tbl coconut flour and 1/4 c. chocolate chips. Blend briefly, so the chocolate chips are broken up but not atomized or even molecularized.

Take your crust out of the freezer and fill with the filling. Yum!

Put the trivet and 1 1/3 c. water into your pressure cooker (I have the 6 quart Instant Pot, which I got during a great sale at Amazon. It is a joy and makes my life complete.) Make a sling out of foil or come up with some other clever way to get the pan back out of the cooker when it's really hot, and carefully lower your lovely little proto-"cheesecake" into the pot. Set the pot to "Manual" and the timer for 55 minutes. At least, that's what I did. That makes a very fully cooked cheesecake. If you gave it a bit less time it might be softer, and you might like it even better. I don't know. I might take off five minutes next time, but 55 worked, and everyone around here is fine with a firm cheesecake.

Anyway, when the timer goes off, allow 10 minutes to elapse ("natural pressure release" time) before removing your cake. Isn't it lovely? It is! Now cool it on a rack for an hour. Then on to the freezer for 4 hours, before moving it to the refrigerator. Now give it some time to "unfreeze," and you can try it. But, it will be better if you wait a day. Smoother. But you won't know that for sure unless you try a piece the first day, and then another the second day, and, Lord willing, another on a third day. Does it keep improving? Are you sure? Maybe you should make another, just to verify!

Despite some serious modifications, I based this on a recipe from someone named Maya, on the Dreamy site, and she certainly deserves credit. So here is a link to her Vegan Mocha Chocolate Cheesecake. 

And then I happened upon this recipe, for Chocolate Fudge Crumb Bars, from "All Day I Dream About Food," run by Carolyn. I changed it to work for me, but my recipe is like hers, only with sugar and without lactose. And cut in half.

Chocolate Fudge Crumb Bars

1 c almond flour
1/2 c. sweetened shredded coconut

Combine these two in the food processor for... 30 seconds? You should still see smidgy pieces of coconut, but not big ones. Now put the flour and coconut in a bowl and add...

1/4 c. sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 c. melted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract.

Combine until you have coarse crumbs that hold together. Press 2/3 of this mixture (or a little more) into a greased  8x8" baking pan. Bake in preheated (325 degrees) oven for 8 minutes and work on your filling. After 8 minutes your crust  will be very slightly gold around the edges, probably.

a little over 3/4 c. (and less than a full cup) of fat-free evaporated milk, which you treated a day or more ago with Lacteeze drops. Since the original calls for whipping cream and my version works fine, I would suppose that the sort of milk you use is very flexible!
1/3 c. confectioner's sugar
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1-2 oz milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips. (Again, this is flexible!)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2-2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in just enough water to be liquid-ish

In a heavy saucepan, heat the milk and sugar, stirring until it comes to a simmer. Remove from heat. Add the chocolate and stir until it's melted (you'll still see those chocolate particles, but that's okay). Stir in the vanilla. Now, return the pot to medium heat and, stirring, add in the cornstarch. Keep stirring until the mixture comes to a simmer and simmer for a full minute. Just one. Your mixture went from thin and spotty looking to thick, chocolatey beauty. Doesn't this make you happy?

Pour the filling onto the crust and spread to all the corners and edges. Sprinkle the remaining "crust" mixture over the top and very gently press, just a bit. Bake at 325 for 22-25 minutes, until the topping is a light golden brown. Oh my word but it's pretty!

Now cool completely (in the fridge). Cut and eat. Thank you, Carolyn!

I'm thinking next time of adding 1/4 tsp espresso powder, or maybe orange extract or rum. Clearly I need to make several more pans of these. But just as they are they are delightful!