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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Welcome Poppy & Apple Cider Sangria

I was downloading pics from my camera to the computer and realized just how many posts I've neglected to write about over the past few months. I'm off today with a quiet are at school. Hubs is at work. It's cold outside, so I'm none too anxious to get out if I don't have to. I'm trying to think of something to do besides crawl back in my bed and take a nap.
Just wondering what I should fix to take to Thanksgiving dinner at my brother & sister-in-law's house. Last year I made mashed sweet potatoes, green bean casserole & macaroni and cheese. I have to work Wednesday and Thursday this week which means whatever I do will have to be make ahead. There are recipes for Apple Cider Sangria all over pinterest, and I made a "test" batch last week, so I'll probably make that. Of course, with the weather being unseasonably cold for November (we Texans are used to playing football in the fall leaves in jeans and a sweatshirt on Thanksgiving Day...not temps in the 30's!), I don't know if folks will want cold spirits. I also found a recipe for sweet potato cookie pies which look tasty...a sugar cookie shell filled with sweet potato/cream cheese filling topped with a dollop of whipped cream, a pecan half and a drizzle of caramel. That's not really all that "make ahead" with the whipped cream topping, etc. *sigh* suggestions are always welcome.
On a completely different note, I am in love with a certain little critter that became part of our family on August 10, 2013. Her name is Poppy and she is an adorable guinea pig (even if she did bite my finger and draw a little blood yesterday when I was trying to corral her so I could clean her cage). Let me let you all see for yourselves...She's growing by leaps and bounds. I was kind of concerned about her and Missy the dog whose track record reveals, "does NOT play well with others."
Poppy loves her timothy hay!
Aren't her markings beautiful!
So far they get along just fine. Not fine enough for me to leave Poppy unattended with her favorite piggy-sitter, but fine enough as long as there's a cage between the two of them. She roams the house in her big plastic sphere while her cage is being cleaned. She has escaped before on a couple of occasions. She has this thing about the pillows behind the couch and in front of the fireplace, so it's pretty easy to figure out where she's gone when she gets loose. Who knew guinea pigs had such a vertical leap? She is very entertaining to watch when she gets excited (usually about a treat of some sort). She bucks like a miniature bronco and squeals excitedly while running around her cage at break-neck speed. Very amusing. She enjoys fresh fruits and veggies: apples, sweet potatoes, spinach leaves (well washed and in moderation, of course), carrots, oranges, etc. I fed her a couple sprigs of parsley which she appeared to enjoy immensely...until she started scratching her ears and rubbing her face. No more parsley for this little pig!
I took her to the vet for a nail trim & those suckers grow back fast. I guess I'll need to learn to trim them myself. Of course, she is Alisa's critter, so maybe she should be the one to trim the claws!
Let me post the recipe for the Apple Cider Sangria in case you all would like to add it to your Thanksgiving menu (and so I'll be able to get to it again since I can't remember my pinterest login info LOL). Here goes...

Apple Cider Sangria
One standard size bottle of Pinot Grigio
2 1/2 cups apple cider
1 cup club soda
1/2 cup ginger brandy*
3 honey crisp apples, cored and chopped or sliced
3 pears, cored and chopped or sliced

Combine all ingredients and chill several hours or overnight. This makes for a beautiful peach-colored beverage with fall fruits floating in it. I used one large honey crisp apple and two pears in my test batch and it yielded about 2 quarts.
*I could not find ginger brandy anywhere, so I substituted peach brandy and added some peeled, sliced fresh ginger with the fruit. This drink is only moderately sweet. If you prefer a sweeter drink, you may wish to substitute a sweeter white wine or add a bit of simple syrup (combine one part water to 2 parts granulated sugar. Microwave on high stirring every 30 seconds until sugar dissolves. allow to cool. It should be consistency of pancakes syrup. Store in airtight container) to taste.
When I make it again, I am going to substitute ginger ale for the club soda and see how that turns out! Let me know if you try a variation and how it works for you!
Until next time...

Carrot Cake as promised!

Well, I'm having a little technical difficulty copying and pasting the recipe for Awesome Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting from so that I can tweak it and tell you what I did. I guess I'll just go for it and re-type the whole thing. I made some adjustments based on others' reviews that the cake was too oily and too sweet. Here goes...

"Carrot Cake a la E"
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp apple pie spice*
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 cups grated carrots (about 6 medium carrots)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 individual cup natural apple sauce (about 1/3 cup)
4 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 8-oz can crushed pineapple with juice
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Cream cheese frosting
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar (about one pound)
1 8-oz pkg Neufchatel cheese (or regular cream cheese if you're not worried about calories)
1 stick butter, softened (not melted)
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit (reduce by 25 degrees if using a dark pan). Grease & flour a 9x13 inch baking dish (or 3 8-inch pans if you want a layered cake). Set aside.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spice & salt. Add remaining dry ingredients: sugars, carrots. Stir in oil, apple sauce, eggs, pineapple, vanilla and nuts until well-combined.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes.
If using 8-inch round pans reduce baking time to 25 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick into center of cake. It should come away clean if cake is done. Adjust cooking time as needed.

*apple pie spice is a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. You may use whichever spices suit your taste. Original recipe called for 1 tsp cinnamon but many reviews said it wasn't enough.

For the frosting, combine room temperature cream cheese, softened butter and vanilla in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until well-blended and desired consistency. You may add the nuts to the frosting. I frosted the cake and then pressed the nuts to the sides of the cake. Frost completely cooled cake(s).
According to my family, not too sweet, not too oily but just right!
Until next time!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hot chocolate for Fall!

Moving right along with my Friday Night Football feeding frenzy. The Hubs and I ate big bowls of hot and spicy chili before leaving for the game. And was I ever glad I did! It was cold out there (okay, so I know the 50's isn't exactly what some folks would call "cold" but remember it's still in the 70's & 80's during the day, so we thin-blooded Texans notice that 20 degree drop when the sun goes down!)
 The game was nonstop suspense! 7 to 7 in the first quarter. Then 7 to 14 followed by 7 to 21 (started to sweat just a little in spite of the cold north wind) and finally 14 to 21 at half time. We moved up 21 to 21in the 3rd quarter (I think) and made a field goal in the 4th quarter. Our opponent got the ball in the last 54 seconds of the game, and the running back was about 10 yards from scoring a winning touchdown when he was tackled and the buzzer sounded announcing "game over"! Our team beat the undefeated team 24-21 and won themselves a chance at the play offs! Woo-hoo! Go Team Go! It was so cold at the game I just knew I would need a cup of hot chocolate once I got home. The kids would probably appreciate something to warm their tummies as well. I popped a pan of sugar cookies in the oven (okay, so I cheated on the cookies. They were the pre-made break apart & bake variety from the grocery store) and went to my favorite to see what I could see. I started with "creamy hot cocoa recipe" but tweaked it a little. I'll post mine below.

Hot cocoa
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 t. instant coffee
1/3 cup boiling water
3 1/2 cups milk

In a 2 quart saucepan combine cocoa, sugar, salt & instant coffee. Add boiling water and bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly for two minutes. Slowly stir in milk and heat, stirring occasionally until heated through but not boiling. Serve with marshmallows or whipped cream if desired. Makes four servings.

The original recipe called for 3/4 t. pure vanilla extract, but I forgot it and it tasted fine without it. The original recipe also called for 1/2 cup cold half & half divided evenly between four mugs before adding the hot chocolate. Maybe that would have cut the sweetness a bit, too.

I think if I make this again, I'll try reducing the cocoa to 1/4 cup and the sugar to 1/3 cup and see what happens. Or perhaps adding 4 cups cold milk vs 3 1/2 cups. The above version was still very sweet in my opinion even after drinking it with sugar cookies on the side. I'll keep you posted. Until next time...

Almost Homemade Chili

On this my first day off in an entire week (see older post, "Oh me, oh my" for more on that), I woke up excited about (1) a day off, (2) carrot cake, (3) high school football, and (4) fall weather.
Earlier this week the Hubs went to the grocery store for wings (Wings are one of his favorite "meals" parked in front of whatever sport just happens to be on television. I would complain, but at least he only spent $10 in the grocery store deli vs $20 at Wing Stop for less food. I've learned to choose my battles! LOL). Anyway, while he was cruising through the store he spotted a carrot cake on sale for $4.99. He was tempted to get the cake but his will-power (read: voice of wife angel on shoulder) kicked in and he left it there. Just the power of suggestion, however, remained with us both. Hmmm...carrot cake does sound good. I was at the grocery store getting the last couple of items needed to make a homemade carrot cake (like grate-able whole carrots vs the baby carrots I had in the frig) when I was called in to work. So, this being my off day, I whipped out the box grater and shredded carrots and sifted together flour & get the picture. I'll share the recipe I used a little later (in my next post after I actually taste the cake and make sure it turned out okay).
Today was also Friday as in Friday night high school football. I wanted something besides fast food for dinner before the game. A big pot of chili sounded just right. Before I started the carrot cake, I started a pot of chili so it could simmer while I baked the cake. I usually make chili by "feel"since it can be adapted to suit anyone's taste; however, I'll try to recall what all I used this go round.

Almost Homemade Chili
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
1/2 of medium bell pepper, diced
2 cans (14.5 oz each) diced tomatoes, undrained
2 cans (15.5 oz each) chili beans**, undrained
1 T. chili powder
2 t. ground cumin*
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. garlic salt
1 t. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 to 1 t. black pepper (to taste)*

In a large skillet, brown ground beef with about 1/2 of the chopped onion (I do this because I dislike the smell of raw meat when it's cooking). Drain.
Spray a dutch oven (large pot) with cooking spray and add remaining chopped onion, garlic, celery and bell pepper. Cook over low heat until onion is translucent. Add ground beef and remaining ingredients to large pot. Mix well and bring to a boil stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer 45 min to an hour. Top with a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheese, fresh chopped onion or sliced green onions if desired. Serve with corn chips, corn bread or crackers.
*I sometimes use about a tablespoon of whole cuminos and black peppercorn mix in place of the ground cumin & black pepper when I have them on hand. Not a substitution for the faint of heart (or tongue!)
If you prefer a thicker chili you could always drain one or both of the cans of tomatoes and use the juice for another recipe. **You may like "western-style" beans or plain pinto beans instead of the chili beans.
This is easy to turn vegetarian, too. Just add a drained can of whole kernel corn and rinse a can each of a variety of beans in place of the ground beef (black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, etc.). Diced zucchini added with the onion, garlic, celery would be tasty, too. Bon apetit! Until next time...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Oh me, oh my!

Well, folks, I labeled this "All Saint's Day" but in reality it's already Nov. 2. Oh well. Talk about a day of ups and downs...and good food to balance it all out.
Let me begin with work-related saga, if I may. Last week I worked 12-hour shifts on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday. This week's schedule was supposed to be Sunday, Thursday, Friday. On Monday my job called saying that they needed a nurse to cover 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. I explained that it would put my in overtime, but they must have been really desperate because they said that was okay. I ended up working 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. On Tuesday the Central Staffing Office called stating that there was a "need" on my floor again. And again, I explained the OT thing to them. They called my floor manager and then called me back saying that it was approved. So, off to work I went again Tuesday for the 7 p.m. shift. I was sent home at 11 p.m. No worries on my part. I still have a day off between my last two days to work this week, right? Note, I have been at work every night at this point since last Friday.
My telephone rang at 9-something Wednesday morning. Can you guess whom it might have been? Do the initials CSO ring a bell (look six lines up if they don't). There was again a "need" on my floor for 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. or 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Seriously people? Is there no one else answering their phones or what. I explained the OT situation yet again but offered to take the 3p-11p shift if they really needed me. The CSO said they would call my floor to get it approved. I received a call back from a nurse on my floor saying, "Thanks, but no thanks. You stay home and get some rest. We're about to discharge several patients and we'll just keep our fingers crossed that the rooms don't fill up. Cool. I planned to enjoy my one day off and bathe the dog, order Mama's pizza for dinner and watch Modern Family with my family. At 5:50 p.m as I was scouring the aisles of the grocery store for hot cocoa mix and tea bags, I received a call on my cell phone from the charge nurse on my floor asking if I was still available for the 7p-7a shift. Again I say to you, SERIOUSLY?1?! At this point I'm wondering if I am being a Team Player or the Team member being played, but as I just wrote a substantial check for senior graduation announcements, cap & gown, yearbook, etc...I shuffled home, wolfed down a slice of pizza, jumped into my scrubs and scurried back out the door to work. The nurse who had called me earlier to say stay home and rest thanked me profusely for coming in. As a favor she took me off of the schedule for Friday. So my OT wouldn't be as substantial, but every little bit helps. I was telling all of my patients as I met and examined them that I would be their nurse until 7 the next morning. Want to guess what happened at 11 p.m.? Charge nurse wrote me right off of the schedule since I was overtime. I handed off my patients to a nurse coming on at 11p.m. and I went home early again. I thought to myself, I'm not going to know how to work a 12 hour shift by the time I get back on track. Dang!
Bear with me, I'm getting to the conclusion of this saga...So, yesterday (Halloween-trick or treat!) I donned my scrub top with ghosts & bats & jack-o-lanterns and set off to work for my originally assigned 12 hour shift. I got a little nervous as I saw that we had several empty rooms. If more patients didn't appear from surgery or the ER there would be no way to justify having a full nursing staff. I picked up my patient assignment and went to meet them all. I dared not say that I'd be with them until the morning. Sure enough at the stroke of 10:30 (shift change) I surrendered my patients and was sent home early.
This morning I did the math. I ended up working 12+8+4+4+4 hours this week. That's only 32 hours!! Not only did I not get 1 minute of overtime, I didn't even get all of my regularly scheduled 36 hours. With the three extra trips back and forth to work I lost money and time! I was angry with myself for not figuring that out beforehand and insisting that I stay for my entire shift last night. I passed on this revelation to our timekeeper and my unit manager. I'll definitely speak with my manager face to face when I have the opportunity. I explained that I wasn't trying to be greedy by accepting the OT, but I thought I was helping my unit and being a "team player." I guess not. It's never a good thing to work short staffed-not for the patients or the overextended staff. Now I see why people call in at the last minute and don't think twice about it. They have probably been burned in the past, too. I'm going to bring this to management's attention. Hopefully, this will not happen to me or my coworkers in the future.
I'm going to end this post right here because it's longer than I originally thought it would be. I'll start a new post for tomorrow. Good night. Until next time...