Winter Snow


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Quick and Easy

I wasn’t really in a cooking mood yesterday, which is surprising for me. I usually love gathering my recipes, setting up my work space, and diving into a good cooking session. Yesterday, it just wasn’t there, though. My boys were coming for dinner, however, and I like to make them good, hearty meals. So I decided to play Sandra Lee. She used to have a show on the Food Network called, “Semi-Homemade Meals.” My goal was Chicken Pot Pie. My recipe calls for mostly all start-from-scratch ingredients, but I fixed that quickly.

I bought four split chicken breasts with the bone in. Bones add a richness of flavor when I make broth. I stewed the chicken until it could fall from the bones (around an hour or a little more.) I purchased the Pillsbury All-Ready Pie Crusts, frozen mixed vegetables (with string beans, peas, corn, carrots, and lima beans,) and Campbell’s cream of celery soup. (I also jarred the broth for other dishes.)

Once the chicken was cooled and cut into chunks, I cooked two cups of the veggies. In a large bowl, I mixed about ¾ of the chicken with the vegetables. Then I added the soup and a half can of milk. I sprinkled it all with salt, pepper, hot pepper, and dried onion flakes. I poured the mixture into the pie shell, and covered it with the second crust. I brushed the top with a little milk, then sprinkled some salt on it, and cut vent slits.

I had preheated the oven to 425°, and I baked the pie at that temperature for 15 minutes. Then I lowered the heat to 325° and baked it for another 40 minutes. I let it sit for 10 minutes to let the juices settle. I served it with a tossed salad, and it really was as good as the original recipe.

I had planned to make cupcakes for dessert, and I had all the ingredients ready for dark chocolate ones frosted with buttercream. Unfortunately, my cooking funk extended to dessert, so we just bought a Dutch apple cake. The boys didn’t notice that I had taken shortcuts, and they ate seconds of everything. I guess I pulled a good switcheroo!

Next week I want to try paella. My one son’s girlfriend is of Spanish descent (her dad was Italian from Argentina, and her mother was born in the Dominican Republic.) She introduced my son to many Spanish foods, and he loves them. My other son has a very eclectic palate. Living in the city gives him access to different cultures. So, I’ll give this dish a try and see how they like it.

My quick-and-easy approach worked, but I don’t think I’ll make a habit of it.


Chef Muff

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Deus Ex Machina

Although that title is in Latin, it actually originated in ancient Greek drama. The term means “god from the machine,” and it was a technique used by the Greek playwrights to give an ending to a play by means of an unexpected intervention, usually a new character. It’s somewhat of a copout for the writer when he/she has been backed into a corner with no means of escape. In the Greek plays, when a play reached such a point, a big crane was wheeled onto the stage, and the new character (usually a god) would descend upon the scene, and “save the day.” A good example was Medea, where a god appears after Medea has killed her children, and whisks her away from her husband, Jason. The audience understood this technique, and they didn’t complain.

Later writers employed its use also, but by then, the reader didn’t always appreciate it. Think of Dickens’s Oliver Twist, where character coincidences appear, allowing Oliver to live with Mr. Brownlow. Golding’s Lord of the Flies saves the reader from encountering the inevitable conclusion with the boys by introducing the navy officer to save the kids. Even the bard, himself, Shakespeare, used it in several plays. Is there anything wrong with using deus ex machina in writing? Not really, but it reminds me of kids writing “…and then I woke up,” to end their stories. [BTW: I never allowed that type of ending in my writing classes.]

So why did I just give a mini-lesson in literary technique? It’s because I’ve been seeing it more and more in TV shows, and even some books. While I love Mary Higgins Clarke (a fellow Jerseyite!), I’ve seen her present the same type of feature in several of her books. The reader is led to believe that the antagonist is a particular character. Then, another character turns out to be the culprit, and it’s all explained by a string of events that disclose the true inner workings of the ‘bad guy.’ I don’t mind it, but sometimes I’m a little disappointed. I like all the facts upfront, and then I can draw my own conclusions.

I particularly see this occurring in the CSI series. The viewer can be led to see one character as the murderer, then more evidence arrives and the spotlight shifts to another (or two or three) and they become the main focus. Finally, a whole slew of information enters the scene, and the culprit is a totally different person. That’s why I enjoy really good murder mysteries (or any type of mystery.) I like to become a part of the story and investigate clues. I enjoy trying to put all the pieces together and coming up with a solution. Some may say that arriving at the right solution ruins the story, but I disagree. I really like using the clues that are presented and learning if I’m correct or not.

Are any of you mystery readers, or do enjoy a good mystery on TV? Do you try to figure out which suspect is guilty? Are you disappointed if a new character or situation is introduced to bring about a conclusion?


Sherlock Muff

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Life I Was Meant to Live

Author’s Note: After all the hype yesterday, the weather people came on at 10:00 last night to say we’d have very little snow. Of course, they had to go on and on about the lows and why the storm shifted. End result? We only got about two inches of the light, powdery variety. I’m not complaining, but I feel sorry for all those schools who cancelled for today when it wasn’t necessary. That’s a lost day, and the kids don’t even have enough to play in! Enough about weather!
If you watch “Downton Abbey” or any other TV show from an earlier, wealthy era, don’t you get caught up in the grandeur? In our area, there are huge mansions, built in the late 1800s in the suburbs of Philadelphia called the Main Line. Often when the family died, or had financial difficulties, these huge estates were sold. I know of two religious orders who purchased such homes and turned them into motherhouses for the nuns and colleges. Another was sold to a retirement home and it kept the main house, but added many connecting spaces.

Here in the Garden State, most of the huge estates are in the north, where they were closer to NYC. I saw some photos recently of some of these mansions, and they were majestic. And when we visited Rhode Island, we always toured those magnificent “cottages” in Newport. Also, the mansions in North Carolina are breathtaking. Most of the homes were unique, and all of them were extremely opulent.

I love to imagine myself living in those days at one of those gorgeous homes. Of course, I’d have to have all the domestic help that accompanied these domiciles, but I hope I would have been a kind homeowner. What we see of the servants at Downton wasn’t always the case. Many of the servants were abused and very underpaid for all the work they did. Most were uneducated, but had to learn how to adapt to the strict rules of high society.

Before this season of DA began, there was a show explaining the etiquette of Victorian and Edwardian times. Now my mother taught me how to set a proper table, and the lessons stayed with me, but we never measured the distance between settings or the space between the edge of the table and the plate. Servants not only needed to know that, but they also had to learn the purpose of every fork and spoon. There was even an etiquette concerning to whom one spoke at the table! And don’t get me started on the dressing routines!

They certainly were different times when wealth abounded in the upper classes. Yet, as outmoded as the rules and ways of living are, I think I still would like to have had the opportunity to be the Lady of the Manor!


Lady Muff

Monday, January 26, 2015

It's Coming -- The BIG One

Okay, so my Friday prediction of the snow fizzling out didn’t happen. Saturday’s was a non-event, but we’re getting a big one today into tomorrow. Here’s the official notice:

Winter Storm Warning for New Jersey
Active for next 1 day, 7 hours · 
This alert has been updated.
Posted 7 hours ago
A major winter storm will impact our area today into Tuesday.
Low pressure in over the central Appalachians will track to the Virginia capes by noon Monday then intensify rapidly in its northeast turn, nearing Cape Cod at noon Tuesday and then weakening off to Nova Scotia on Wednesday.
Winter Storm Warning remains in effect from noon today to 6 pm EST Tuesday.
·         Hazard types: Heavy snow with blowing and drifting.
·         Snow accumulations: 12 to 16 inches.
·         Timing: light snow will affect the morning commute. Snow will become heavy at times late this afternoon through Tuesday morning when snowfall rates of a couple of inches per hour can occur at times. Then taper off during Tuesday afternoon.
·         Impacts: some impact on the Monday morning commute. Then significant and widespread impacts thereafter. Areas of blowing and drifting snow will add to the hazardous conditions.
·         Winds: north 10 to 20 mph with gusts up to 35 mph.
·         Temperatures: in the upper 20s.
·         Visibilities: one quarter mile or less at times.
Recommended actions
A Winter Storm Warning means significant amounts of snow is expected. And strong winds are possible. This will make travel very hazardous or impossible at times.

So, I guess we will have a big one after all.

This is by no means the biggest storm in history around here, though. Last year we had a large accumulation – over 60 inches, but it was spread out over several storms. However, I remember back in the nineties a one-day snowfall that measured almost three feet! We go by Philadelphia records here, but often, just that quick ride over the bridge means we get a bit more. I looked it up, and here’s our history:

1.  31 inches, Jan. 6-8, 1996 (27.6 inches fell on Jan. 7).
2. 28.5 inches, Feb. 5-6, 2010 (21.9 inches fell on Feb. 6). Area high: 30.0 inches in Ridley Park, Delaware County.
3. 23.2 inches, Dec. 19-20, 2009 (22.5 inches on Dec. 19). Area high: 25 inches in Swedesboro, Gloucester County.
4. 21.3 inches, Feb. 11-12, 1983 (21.1 inches on Feb. 11).
5. 21 inches, Dec. 25-26, 1909 (15.5 inches on Dec. 26, 1909).
6. 19.4 inches, April 3-4, 1915 (19.0 inches on April 3).
7. 18.9 inches, Feb. 12-14, 1899.
8. 18.7 inches, Feb. 16-17, 2003 (16.0 on Feb. 16). Area high: 24.5 inches in city’s Byberry section.
9. 16.7 inches, Jan. 22-24, 1935.
10 (tie). 15.1 inches, Feb. 28-March 1, 1941.
10 (tie). 15.1 inches, Jan. 26-27, 2011 (14.2 inches on Jan. 26). Area high: 19 inches, Verga, Gloucester County.
So, even if we get a foot of snow, it won’t make the record books.

I’ll be inside, of course, hunkered down with a good book or a TV show. My husband already ‘braved the crowds’ in the supermarket to get milk and juice. He said the shelves are emptying quickly. We laugh at that – it’s like people think they’ll never get out again when it snows. Usually the roads are cleared in a few hours. I guess it’s just a survival trait ingrained in our psyche.

My husband also heard that Forman Mills, a giant discount warehouse, was having a 50% off sale because the CEO was on “Undercover Boss.” There’s a store not far from here, so he took a ride to see what they had. He bought two pairs of heavy ski gloves and a flannel shirt, and his bill was $5.29! I should have gone with him to purchase some sweatshirts, but I didn’t want to go out in the cold.

Well, let me go get prepared for the storm. I may make some soup, too.



Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Fragments

Maybe it’s me, but I thought that week went fast! However, I still have things rattling around in ye olde brain!

Recipe addendum:  Debbie [here] asked about the potatoes I made. They’re really quite simple! I get the thin-skinned yellow potatoes. Wash and dry them, but no need to peel. Then slice in half lengthwise. Cut each half into thick slices, like oversized French fries. Dry the slices thoroughly with paper towels. (This makes them crispier!) Spray a cookie sheet with Pam, and lay out the slices on the sheet (skin side down.) sprinkle them with salt (or onion, garlic, parmesan cheese.) Preheat oven to 350°, and cook the potatoes for forty minutes (or until they look crisp and golden.) That’s it. Easy, right? My problem is that I don’t handle sharp knives well, so my patient husband does the slicing!

More Weather Hoopla: We didn’t even have an inch of snow on Wednesday, and it’s gone by now. The next drama will be tomorrow. The meteorologist whom I trust the most said it will just be a brief snow from a nor’easter, and then all rain. They’re also talking about possible snow Sunday into Monday, but I think it’ll fizzle out. Last year, we set records with the snow accumulation. This year, we’ve hardly had any. I’m not complaining, though. It’s pretty to view, but treacherous for my stumbling feet!

The Hermit: Speaking of weather, my life revolves around it very often. Last year, I stayed in a lot, when my husband would deem it too difficult for me to walk on it. That meant that I had to miss visiting my mother a lot. This year, I have no mother to visit. So, I just stay inside, anyway. Rain will leave me drenched, and ice/snow is dangerous, so the only days on which I could travel need to be dry. Yet, I still remain at home, mostly. Shopping isn’t that much fun because I’d need the wheelchair for most trips, and I hate being so powerless in it. I just get pushed wherever, and after a while, I get annoyed and want to go home. Eating out occasionally is fun, but it still means the w/c for most excursions. It’s easier to just stay home, as much as that bores me to tears!

Sports: The only sports I enjoy watching are baseball (my Phillies,) and college basketball (especially the Philadelphia teams.) I don’t like football, hockey, or pro basketball. As such, I’m not much interested in the playoff games or the upcoming Super Bowl.  I do find it funny, though, to watch/read all that’s happening with ‘deflate gate!’ What’s going on? Since the game will be on in this house (I’ll be reading, but checking out the commercials and half-time show), I’d be rooting for the Patriots just to have something to keep it interesting. They’re an east coast team, and I like their uniforms. However, now that this cheating business has come up, I’m not sure. I do like navy and green, also. We’ll see.

TV/Books:  There have been a lot of reruns this past week, so my Saturday watching will only include Downton this week. There have been some new shows advertised for late February and March, and I’ll probably check them out.
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult is fantastic. I love her books! I’ll probably read Chris Bohjalian’s Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands next because he’s another author I’ve added to my favorites’ list. The Picoult book has tons of information about elephants, but she weaves it into the story so well, you’re unaware that you’re actually learning something! She did the same with Lone Wolf and Songs of the Humpback Whale.

Well, that’s about it for this week. Stay tuned for more petty postings next week.



Thursday, January 22, 2015

Filled Bellies and Happy Souls

Well, my boys came and went safely, and my worrying is on the shelf for a while.
The dinner was yummy (if I do say so myself, but I had some help from my patient husband.)
The onion soup is quite easy, and I’ve broken it down into steps.

First, peel and slice four yellow onions. If you have a slicing blade in a food processor, it goes quickly. Just a hint: burn a candle while you’re working with onions and your eyes won’t tear.

Once the onions are sliced, melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large pan, and ‘sweat’ the onions until they’re translucent, soft, and golden.
(You can do this in some slow cookers, but we like to use liners in ours to cut down on the mess, and the caramelizing doesn’t work.)

While the onions are cooking, add a teaspoon of diced garlic, a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of salt, and a half-teaspoon of pepper.

Pour the onions into the crockpot, and add 2 containers of beef broth. (I like my own, but I have to make some more – a separate event!) Add a half-cup of red wine and a splash of Worcestershire sauce.

Let it simmer for six hours on low or four on high.

In the end, spoon the soup into crocks. Cut a French baguette into ¾ inch slices, pile them with grated gruyere or Swiss cheese, and heat the slices in the oven. Place them on the top of the soup and serve.

We had steak, homemade ranch potatoes, and a salad with the soup.

For dessert I made a quick and easy one:

Mix 1 ½ cups of flour with ¾ cup butter and ¾ cup chopped pecans. (You can add ¾ cup sugar, but I think the other ingredients sweeten it.) Press into a 13x9 inch baking dish. It’s okay if it’s lumpy.

Bake at 350° for 15 minutes and cool completely in the fridge.

Mix 8 oz. cream cheese with 8 oz. Cool Whip. Spread the smooth mixture over the cooled crust.

Spread a layer of chocolate pudding on top. I didn’t feel like making my own, so I used a tub of Kozy Shack© chocolate. The amount here doesn’t matter.

Then spread more Cool Whip on top. I usually sprinkle with a mixture of chocolate shavings and ground pecans, but I opted for rainbow jimmies instead.

Everything was delish – and I sent home plastic containers of leftovers with the boys.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

They Call Me the Worrier

When I was young, my dad always played the radio in the car. I remember a song (I think it was by Dion, but don’t hold me to that,) that was called “The Wanderer.” Well, I’ve changed the name, and now I’m “The Worrier.”  I know I wasn’t always this way, so it could be a change in my mental attitude, or maybe it’s just old age creeping in. Whatever, I seem to worry about little things these days.

Last week, I worried because my SIL said they’d hit traffic after they left our house. Would he be all right with the two little guys in the car? If someone is flying, I fret about the plane ride. When my family goes anywhere on vacation, I stew until they’re home safely. If one of my children is doing something special at work, my thoughts are: make them be ok, let them come through it in good shape.

As I said, I wasn’t always a worrier. I rarely thought about danger, I didn’t give a second thought to traveling, and nothing really bothered me. Now, I’m not myself unless there’s a furrowed brow and a figurative wringing of hands. My kids laugh at me, and they, too, know I used to be a lot more carefree. “Stop worrying. Everything’s fine,” is there constant refrain. My husband, though, really gets annoyed when I start.

Example: my boys are supposed to come for dinner tonight. There’s a small snow event coming our way. Where does my mind go? Straight into worry mode. I texted them, yesterday, to see if they wanted to change the day to tomorrow. They probably laughed when they read it. But they’re fine with traveling tonight. My husband kept reminding me that the roads would be plowed and salted, and it’s only an inch that’s predicted. Just to prove my point, I reminded him of the huge chain-reaction crash that happened on Sunday not far from here. He calmed me down by reminding me that it was a flash freeze, people were going too fast, and it was totally different.

Does all of that explanation calm me down? Not a bit! I’ll be a nervous wreck this evening, and then I’ll worry some more until they’re back in their homes. Another interesting thing: I really could be concerned with the world situation, the threat of terrorists, or the decline of our society. That really doesn’t bother me at all. I adopt a quĂ© sera, sera attitude with the big issues. It’s only the little ones that involve my family that concern me.

I think I’ve become my mother, who was a worrier. My dad was a panic freak, but my mother silently stewed. I guess those genes have finally shown themselves. There’s nothing I can do about myself, so I’ll just have to accept it. Now, I have to go make onion soup and a dessert. I hope I don’t burn the house down.