Wednesday, December 31, 2008

fun with cooking

I just realized that I don't have a copy of my final biscuit roll recipe written down, so here it is.

Biscuit Roll Recipe
modified from Seattle Times food blog recipe, 11/20/2008

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
5 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter
2 cups buttermilk

1) In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Set aside.
2) In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or using Kitchenaid mixer until mixtureresembles very coarse cornmeal.
3) Add buttermilk to yeast mixture, stir briefly, and add to flour mixture. Stir until mixture is just moistened. The dough, will be very soft. (You may covered and refrigerate it overnight at this point.) Let the dough rest and rise, covered, for at least a half hour, or up to several hours, punching it down asneed be during the longer rise.
4) Lightly grease muffin tins. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. (If refrigerated, remove dough from refrigerator and let rise an hour. Then punch down the dough and knead it briefly, about 2 minutes, on a lightly floured surface.) Pinch off quarter-sized pieces, roll them into rounds between the palms of your hands and put 3 small balls into each muffin tin. Alternatively, put one golf-ball size roll of dough into each muffin tin for more biscuity appearance. Let rise for 30 minutes and bake about 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden.

I have found that less rising time will give more dense biscuity rolls, and more rising time will give fluffier dinner rolls. Both are tasty, of course! Yesterday I also found that in my oven I can bake them at 330 degrees for a longer time and get a fully-baked roll that is very light in color, which I personally prefer.

Yesterday I made a batch of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies for Chris, which I made by doctoring a gluten-free cookie mix with a heaping teaspoon of ground coffee and another teaspoon of vanilla. They came out really well, according to him, so those were both excellent additions - he says the coffee flavor is really subtle but works to bring out the chocolate flavor even more. I also made a batch of regular chocolate chip cookies, and I think I finally have that nailed down to a science - use a preheated baking stone, keep my oven at 330 degrees, and bake for 16 minutes per batch. All of the cookies came out just right, not too dark or crispy, with enough rise to be a bit chewy, and with the slight sheen on the top from the butter. I also learned that they cool better if I peel them off the stone immediately, rather than waiting a few minutes as I had done previously.

Yay for successful baking!

Monday, December 29, 2008

disaster averted

On Saturday evening, I noticed a bit of ice pulling away from the "ceiling" of our upright freezer, but didn't think much of it because we had been in and out of it a bit that day. First thing Sunday morning, however, it was clearly apparent that the freezer had died - ice on the shelves was melting and the freezer was making no sounds at all. With only a few things we could check ourselves, we called around looking for someone to come out but failed to find anyone available. Chris moved things around to pack in the dog/cat food together to retain temperature, moved as much as would fit into the garage fridge's freezer, and moved the human food upstairs into our main fridge freezer, but there was still four full crates of dog food (160lbs total) and at least 12 bags of cat food (72lbs total) left in the freezer. Oh, if I had only "gotten a round tuit" and bought the temperature sensor for the freezer like I had meant to since we brought it home in October - we might've known early on Saturday of its demise!

With nothing more to do yesterday but wait, we put the worry aside and enjoyed our last evening together with my mother and sister, including flyball practice and a trip to Burgermaster. This morning we took them to the airport at 8:30am, and on our way home we were called Seattle Home Appliance (Bothell) and they had a technician who could come out later this morning to look at the unit. After a quick stop at both Home Depot and the SHA store itself, both to scope out replacement options, we picked up some dry ice at QFC to help hold over the meat in the freezer and returned home. Interestingly, you must be 18 or older to purchase dry ice, which greatly amused both of us.

The wonderful technician from SHA showed up before lunchtime, and was able to repair our freezer! There was an issue with a bit of wiring, and he was able to patch it out and get the freezer running again for just a moment - the dry ice had done its job all too well, causing the temperature to drop to -10 inside the unit itself, so that the freezer immediately turned back off due to the cold. We are monitoring it, and expect it to be running on its own power sometime late tonight or tomorrow morning, depending on how quickly the dry ice burns off. Most importantly, we are out far less than the cost of replacing the freezer or replacing the compressor, and of course the expense of replacing 240lbs of meat without a bulk purchase group. That is a relief!

A much smaller failure occured early last week when I killed our small Cuisinart rice cooker, as it has always had trouble cooking rice for more than two people and I overdid it with rice for four. In its place we now have a shiny new Zojirushi fuzzy logic rice cooker, which can make several kinds of rice, has a pressure-cooker seal to keep it from boiling over (huge messes were the signature of the old one), and can even cook via timer. I'm excited to use it for the first time later this week, and if the quality of our Zojirushi water kettle is any indication we will be happily using it for years to come.

And now, I'd like a quiet day with no drama.....although in a way, the house is almost -too- quiet with only us and our own critters here now.....

Sunday, December 28, 2008

it was a white Christmas after all!

As will come to no surprise to those in the Seattle area, we did indeed have a white Christmas this year. There was about 14" of snow on the ground Christmas morning, and we got another 3-4" throughout the morning and early afternoon. We've never seen this much snow since we moved here in 2001, and according to an acquaintance it's the most snow they've seen since a storm when they moved here in 1993. This picture is the view out of the living room window, taken Christmas morning - you can see the snow falling, the new accumulation on the shoveled half of the driveway, and the massive pile of snow on the corner of the roof.

Our Christmas at home was truly lovely, with my mother and sister arriving in town just before lunch on Monday with no further delays. We spent Monday evening settling in, and then Tuesday morning we did a portrait session with Ann Chase for up-to-date pictures for Mom. That night we went to the Melting Pot in downtown Seattle, despite the heinous ice on the roads there, although in hindsight it might've been smarter to not go at all, but we did travel safely (if slowly) and really enjoyed our dinner. That evening I also met a friend of Ben and Deb's to pick up Ari, who we have through this evening's flyball practice while they are on vacation together in Europe. Wednesday and Thursday were spent at home doing family/holiday things, including Chris making lasagna on Christmas Eve and Mom making a lovely beef roast for Christmas Day.

And of course, what is Christmas without a tree full of presents? I admit I may have gone a bit overboard, but I love buying presents for those I love and it was a special treat to have my family here in person, so it was worth it. The tree was lovely, the gifts were all beautifully wrapped (even the awesome "patchwork" one Chris did for me), and we had a relaxing morning going through our stockings and opening the presents from each other and from family far away. Highlights included new computer parts and a new motorcycle windshield for me, a silver shaving set for Chris, designer perfume for Jade, and a custom-embroidered Timbuk2 tote bag for Mom. I was also the recipient of a pair of silver earrings that Jade designed and made in one of her classes this semester, and I like them very much. They are a little pointy, however, so I will need to wear them mostly when my hair is up, but that is a small price to pay for a unique piece of jewelry!

On Friday we went to see the Tacoma Museum of Glass, which was very interesting but a lot smaller than I thought it would be. There is a "hot-work" shop that is open for the visitors to observe, complete with someone answering questions and explaining what the artists are doing. That was the best part, in my opinion, as I haven't seen glass worked in person so that was fascinating. The exhibits were pretty good, with one by a single artist, one massive Chihuly installation, one collection of vessels by one artist, and an "intro" exhibit that explained the differences in glass art. I really liked the "intro" exhibit, as it was very good at highlighting different techniquest - such as a "heavy" cast glass cinderblock next to a "light" spun glass moth - and even had tactile sections for feeling the glass types. It's too bad the museum isn't larger, I would have liked to see more than the space could support.

Yesterday we picked out photos from our session earlier in the week, and then ran a few errands before returning home. We have also introduced Mom and Jade to Rock Band, with Mom playing bass and Jade trying out both guitar and vocals during the week. This morning we went up to Salish Lodge for brunch, which was delightful as always, and tonight we will be attending flyball practice to finish up our day. Tomorrow is when Mom and Jade fly home, sadly, but we have had a wonderful week together and I am glad to have enjoyed a lovely Christmas with family here in my home.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

walking in a winter wonderland

Over the past week, we have had record-setting winter weather here in the Seattle area. First we had some ice last weekend, followed by frigid temperatures in the low teens for several days. Next up we had a snowstorm hit Wednesday night, dropping a quarter-inch of ice followed by about four inches of snow. And finally, we had a second snowstorm hit yesterday evening that has dropped another 4-5 inches of snow. All in all, we have about 8-9" of snow on the ground at our house, certainly the most we've seen in our eight winters here!

So what do you do with that much snow? You take the dogs out to play in it, of course! First up, we have Curzon, whose dark fur picks up the snow beautifully, thus highlighting his features:

Next is Ezri, who isn't fazed by her first snow at all, and enjoys romping through packed and powder snows chasing her brother or a ball:

Third up is Jadzia, who doesn't care what is on the ground as long as she can fetch a ball somehow:

And last but not least is little Phoebe, who has had great glee in demonstrating her previously unknown talent for burrowing in the snow to bury/uncover/bury/uncover a tennis ball:

They've all had a great time romping in the snow, and hopefully they will now sleep for a while. Yesterday we took them to get baths at a place we hadn't been to, the Bow Wow Fun Towne at the corner of 61st and Lake City Way, and that was enough to tire out the (terrified) puppy to sleep most of the day.

Chris has been working from home since Thursday, having brought home his laptop and using a combination of ventrilo and our cell phones to take calls. I stayed home on both Thursday and Friday due to concerns with getting out of the house safely (plus the police were telling people to stay home already), but whether those days will go down as sick time or weather time is yet to be determined. I'm on vacation starting tomorrow, so no further worries for commuting for me until January 5th!

On a more disappointing note, my mother and sister are still not here despite being scheduled to fly in yesterday. Late Friday night, United Airlines preemptively cancelled all flights going into Chicago in fear that the weather forecast would be horribly wrong. Of course, nothing happened at ALL yesterday in Chicago, meaning that the cancelled flights were nothing more than an insult to the thousands of passengers stranded. The best they could do was to put them on a flight tomorrow, thus cutting short our visit by two days and actually making it far more dangerous for us all, as instead of them coming in between storms they will be coming in at the end of one. I'm hoping the roads will be clear tomorrow so that I won't have too much trouble getting out and going to the airport, in addition to hoping the airport is running well enough for their flight to get in. Overall, I'm really pissed at United right now for doing this for absolutely no good reason, as they've cut my time with my family and put us all at greater risk during the rescheduled travel. Well, nothing I can really do about it now but hope, I suppose. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

snow, trees, and singing

On Saturday Chris and I went out to get our Christmas tree from Mountain Creek Tree Farm in Snoqualmie, WA. Our friends Barbara and Jared introduced us to the place in 2006, and this is our third year returning to get a lovely tree and other decorations. This time we wanted something different than the typical Douglas Fir, especially since we couldn't find one that we both liked. I initially wanted a Frazier Fir, but again there were no trees that we both liked - Fraziers tend to be a bit spindly, and of the few that were full enough to make Chris happy there were none that were even enough to make me happy. We looked at the few Turkish Firs present, and also meandered through the Noble Fir section, but nothing really seemed to fit. As we were going through the Frazier section again, we wound up finding a mis-located Grand Fir, which we both liked immensely and decided to bring home. We cut it down ourselves, had it baled, put it on the roof of the Subaru, and brought it home. Right now it's up in the stand in the dining room (drinking ungodly amounts of water), and we're planning to decorate it tonight. I also got a lovely wreath for the front door, and a small sprig of mistletoe that is currently hanging decoratively on a cabinet.

Saturday night brought our first snowfall, along with a truly Artic cold snap that this area hasn't seen in about forty years (according to the radio personalities this morning). We got about 2" of snow Saturday night, which was enough for Ezri to run about in for her first experience with snow - not that she really noticed anything new! I think it will be interesting to see what she does the first time she sees nice deep snow, as Curzon's first experience at just 10 weeks old was rather entertaining and adorable to boot. Perhaps there will be enough snow in the mountains to make snowshoeing feasible during my week off after my mom and sister leave. At any rate, the cold snap is expected to hold through Christmas at this point, with few if any excursions above freezing. There is quite a bit of ice on the roads in various places, including the flyover bridge I take to get into our work campus, so yesterday I drove myself and the remainder of the week I am riding in with Christy so that Chris has the car to drive himself to work. Between the cold and the ice, it is just not worth the risk of a bad spill or frostbite, so no riding for us this week. It is supposed to snow again tonight, and possibly snow Sunday-Tuesday as well, so we may have a serious white Christmas this year!

I have posted a few new videos up on YouTube for anyone who is interested!
Ezri and Riker, 12/06/08 -
Ezri and Curzon, 12/08/08 -
Ezri at Flyball Practice, 12/14/08:

Ezri was five months old yesterday, and her flyball training is coming along beautifully as seen in the videos linked above. She's single-stepping most of the jumps, has a nice high quick boxturn, and an excellent recall back to her squeaky tug toy. I had a teammate time her on Sunday and she ran a 5.26 as her best time - pretty awesome for such a little thing!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

three teeth and a dewclaw - just another flyball weekend

Last weekend was the annual Christmas tournament put on by the Dogwood Pacesetters and Kaotic K9's, this time held in the heated cement-floored barn in Abbotsford. The tourney went very smoothly, with racing done by 4pm on Saturday and by 2:30pm on Sunday - a record as far as I'm concerned! Our entire team had lime green Santa hats that I had ordered online, so we got plenty of comments about those, and overall I had a great weekend.

Ezri has now reached the point in her development where her adult teeth are coming in, and so she has started losing her baby teeth. On Friday afternoon before we left, I found one on the floor where Phoebe was snuffling after something, and put it on my desk for safekeeping. Sunday morning we were playing fetch when she started bringing back a bloody tennis ball, which prompted me to find where the tooth had popped out and slid against the wall. Just a few hours later, the tennis ball was once again crimson as she dropped it into my hand along with one of her lower incisors....this time covering my hand in blood, right before I had to take Jadzia into the ring for a race! I have all three teeth in a little baggie on my desk right now, as I want to keep them even though I have no plans for them at the moment. We never found any of Curzon's baby teeth, so I'm kind of tickled that I've managed to catch three of Ezri's.

Sunday after Curzon was done with his scheduled races (although I could have used him in the last one, as it turned out), Chris took him outside to play fetch. And, of course, he promptly tore one of his dewclaws off again, the same way he did back in September. Luckily Carol was on-hand again and was willing to pull out the remaining claw and then clean and bandage it up properly for us. So I'll be cleaning and rebandaging his leg every 2-3 days for the next two weeks or so, just like I had to do in September. I called the vet to find out the cost and pros/cons of surgery to remove the claws, and it sounds like it is a very painful surgery with a long recovery time, almost disproportionately so. I'll probably talk to her in person at some point to see when they think it is reasonable to do so, and see how that goes. I don't want to put him in pain (especially to pay money for that!), but if the pain is similar to ripping it out then it might save him in the long run.

We got the photos back from the photographer yesterday, and they're gorgeous. She provided two that were downsampled for use on Facebook, and I'm sharing those here. I absolutely love her work and just wish the prints weren't so darned expensive....sigh.

Me with all four dogs, taken next to the stream on the photographer's property.

Chris and I with all four dogs - this is our 2008 Christmas card photo.

It's amazing how much Ezri's grown and changed in just the six weeks since these photos were taken. It's also pretty impressive what the photographer can do to the photos - both of the little dogs were wearing slip leads in the photos, which have been mostly removed (there is a bit of one visible in the photo with me alone). So if you are reading this and want a card, make sure I have your address!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving wrapup and Christmas preparations

Our Thanksgiving dinner turned out very well, with good food and excellent company, and a good time was had by all. I learned that my new(ish) crockpot will actually cook if left on "low," so next time I need to hold mashed potatoes I have to figure out how to turn it to just "warm" or else just leave it off until shortly before serving. The potatoes weren't bad, but they were sort of twice-cooked which made the texture a little weird. As for the buttermilk biscuit rolls, the changes I made to the dough recipe - 3/4 cup Crisco and 1/4 cup butter, 2 tsp salt - came out fantastic. The first batch baked on Thanksgiving burned quickly, however, and so I think the baking temperature of 400 degrees is just way overkill especially if you're putting the rolls on the bottom rack. I made up the last of the dough on Friday and used 375 degrees instead, and they came out absolutely perfectly. They could probably even be baked at 350 degrees and turn out just fine, which would be helpful since so many chicken and pork things I make are baked at 350.

The bacon-wrapped turkey was fantastic, with lots of bacony flavor in the meat. We may not repeat this, as I think both Chris and I prefer a more traditional turkey, but it was very good and I'm glad I did the experiment.

Yesterday I put up the Christmas lights on the house, as I try to do each year over Thanksgiving weekend if the weather permits. It just gets dark too early to try and do it after work in the evenings, so a weekend or vacation day is really the only opportunity to do it safely. I pulled out the Bin O' Outside Lights and started testing them - four icicle strands had bit the dust, but luckily there were three boxes of new icicle lights in the bin so I figured I was all set. Up to the roof I went, after going up and down to set up the extension cord off the side of the house and into the garage, and the long string of icicles went up first with no problems. I opened up a new package of lights, only to discover they had polarized plugs (one blade bigger than the other) - and the first set I had put up did not, so I couldn't chain them together. So I had to take down the long string, and start over using the new lights...which worked great until I found that the new strands were much shorter than the ones they had replaced, meaning I didn't have enough to cover the roofline that I wanted to cover. Back down to the ground I went, on to the computer to look up where to buy them, a call to Home Depot to see if they were in stock, and finally a trip to go buy more.

By the time I got home with the new lights, Chris had gotten up and was ready to work on the ground stuff while I finished up the roof. The new icicle lights finished up the roofline handily (and I really like them much better than the others - GE Commercial Grade Icicle lights), and I now have three strands of multicolor lights available since we bought LED lights for the tree this year, so those went up on the roof as well. I was able to make a double line along the edge of the gutter (just above the icicles), as well as outline the little detail roof peak above the garage. Chris put the blue and white lights into the bushes, outlined the walk with the green rope light, and the front door in purple lights. I want more blue/white lights for the bushes and maybe another rope light for the other side of the walkway, but what we have looks good for sure.

And last night I got to come home after flyball to a lit-up house, which is a wonderful thing.