Back From South Carolina

I spent the past week in South Carolina attending Lauren's various family Christmases. Good times. We left on the 21st in the midst of whiteout. Getting from home to the Battle Creek area was a nightmare, and in retrospect we took a HUGE risk driving that morning. At the same time I understand that the weather got worse the next few days and we never would have made it out had we not left then. All in all the roads were terrible for 90 miles and then dry and windy for the last 900. If you're wondering what kind of toll driving 16 hours and 1,000 miles twice in just over a week takes on your spirit, check out Lauren's dog:

This is essentially a "before" picture, taken Christmas night or sometime between Thursday and Sunday.
Here is a "during" picture, taken in the car during the daylight driving hours:

Later in the drive, after the sun went down:At home, after the car was unpacked:
As you can see Josslyn seems to get the crazy eye in photos when she is happy. And yes, that is a hooded soccer sweatshirt that she is wearing. Its made for dogs and it draws a lot of attention.

We were stopped at a Subway in Jellico TN mid-afternoon and realized we were out of dog food. We packed what we thought would be enough, but ended up being about a half a day short. So we head inside, and as always Joss jumps into the driver's seat for whatever reason. So we order our two subs, and then Lauren says "actually we're going to need a third, make it a six inch oven roasted chicken breast on wheat." and then declines to have it toasted, microwaved or heated in any way by saying "cold is fine, its for my dog". Then during the toppings portion of the sandwich assembly she says "and that one (the dog's sandwich) needs tomatoes and carrots" without any further explanation, at which point our sandwich artist chimed in about things her dog does and doesn't eat, making things slightly less awkward. Finally I explained our situation so that we weren't the yuppie couple that regularly feeds our sweatshirt wearing dog fast food sandwiches, to the local residents of some random town in Tennessee.

Adopt A Class

This is how I have basically spent the last week of my life. What you see below is the finished product. I was involved in every step but the good parts. Lauren's company adopted an area pre-kindergarten class for Christmas, collected some money and then purchased presents for 31 kids. My role was that of the informal budget consultant. Lauren was in charge of the creative part of the project so I tagged along to chip in the occasional "this is half off" "31 x 5 = $150" "look these markers are $3.49 for 8 and those ones are $2.99 for 10". So we spent last Thursday night at Jo-Ann Fabrics buying enough fleece to make 32 fleece handbags. Lauren was the one with the sewing skills, so after Thursday night I was there primarily to draw straight lines, make cuts and pin fabric. Pretty much every night between Thursday and last night we were marking, cutting or sewing fabric for these bags. The rationale being that when you have 31 kids wrapping paper is going to cost you about $40, which is $40 less you can spend on presents. So by stuffing the presents in these fleece bags (which cost about the same in raw materials) the kids would have something useful to keep afterwards.

Each bag contains: a hat & mitten set, Crayola crayons and markers, construction paper drawing book, a Dr. Seuss book, 2 canisters of Play-Doh and a wooden Christmas ornament with the student's name inside.

So every night in the past 7 days have been spent doing some part of this project. If it wasn't going from Meijer to Costco in search of better pricing it was going to the fabric store to pick up some odds and ends or simply spending 15 hours on the weekend marking, cutting and sewing fabric. Last night however was especially brutal because Lauren and I tried to get Christmas cookies (for a separate project) baked at the same time we were finishing threading the drawstrings on these gift bags.

Long story short, we finally went to sleep about 4am with the bags finally finished and about 150 cookies baked and decorated.

It was worth it though. I may revisit this post in the near future, but I am dead tired right now and I go on vacation to 72 degree Charleston South Carolina in 2 days. My mind and body are limping to the finish line.

Well, That Didn't Last Long

In my last entry I lamented the new emphasis on healthy foods only that I was being dragged into. Today I am pleased to report that this appears to be over, or least scaled back to an acceptable compromise. A week from Saturday Lauren and I leave for South Carolina, where we'll spend 9 days or so with her family. This means we need to have our own Michigan Christmas responsibilities taken care of by next Friday.

Last night we decided it would be nice to give people some baked goods as a small but thoughtful Christmas present. We were inspired by the Food Network's 12 Days Of Cookies celebration. Lauren's cookies will be going primarily to co-workers and mine will be given to friends. But before any of that can happen we need to choose at least one recipe and give it a trial run. So last night we selected Paula's Loaded Oatmeal Cookies:

* 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
* 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
* 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
* 2 eggs
* 1/2 cup buttermilk
* 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon ground ginger
* 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
* 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
* 2 1/2 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
* 1 cup raisins
* 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* Brown Butter Icing, recipe follows

Using an electric mixer, cream together butter, shortening, and sugar in a bowl until fluffy. Add eggs and beat until mixture is light in color. Add buttermilk. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice; stir into creamed mixture. Fold in oatmeal, raisins, walnuts, and vanilla, blending well. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Drizzle with Brown Butter Icing.

Brown Butter Icing:

* 1/2 cup butter
* 3 cups sifted powdered sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 3 to 4 tablespoons water

In a small saucepan heat the butter over medium heat until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in 3 cups sifted powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in enough water (3 to 4 tablespoons) to make an icing of drizzling consistency. Drizzle on warm cookies.

The only thing I would change from this recipe is the amount of icing. The recipe makes about 50 cookies. You could hit 60 if you're really anal about your portions. However the icing recipe makes enough to dunk 60 cookies like an Oreo in milk. If you're just drizzling you can cut the icing in half, unless you're big fan of diabetes. We baked them for the full 15 minutes and they still came out very moist. Even Lauren liked them, and she doesn't like Oatmeal Raisin cookies.

In The Doghouse?

Clearly this is an advertisement for some kind of jewelry company, but it is hilarious nonetheless. I find it especially funny because I know I am destined to wind up there in the very near future. I am not sure how or when, but I can feel it. In fact I feel like Phil Collins in that song.

The reason being that there was no food lab this past Saturday night. Someone, I won't say who, decided that "we can't eat like that anymore" because "I've gained like 5 lbs since Thanksgiving" and all the other post-Thanksgiving complaints you can imagine. I believe that sentiment is being compounded by the fact that this person will be seeing members of their extended family in a couple of week while attending two or three Christmas dinners.

So last night we went grocery shopping and in the final salvo of good eating for the foreseeable future we got ingredients for a white chicken chili, which I proceeded to screw up by forgetting to add the shredded cheese and sour cream. Subconsciously I was already defeated. The remainder of our grocery store bounty included the following:

Whole Wheat Pasta
Baby Corn
Red, Yellow, Orange Bell Peppers
Fat Free Lactose Free Milk
Raspberry-Acai Berry Juice
Ground Turkey
Lighty and Zesty Italian Dressing
Blackberries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Pineapple, Mangoes
Long Grain Wild Rice

I can't even remember the other things we got, but needless to say I am not overly excited. The food itself is fine, most of it was on sale, its going to taste just fine and its healthy. But just seeing it all at one time in the shopping cart or listed in this blog entry is really devastating.

And if she ever finds out I wrote this I am definitely going to be in the doghouse.


If you have a laptop, do yourself a favor and don't eat anything near it. Its an easy rule to follow when you first get a laptop and the pain of paying $800-$1200 on something that can easily be knocked over or dropped is still fresh in your mind. But as the years go on you tend to take your laptop for granted. Well I made the mistake of eating next to my laptop this morning, as I do many mornings in an attempt to stave off hunger until lunchtime. Stupid trail mix. I was typing an email when I noticed that the H and J keys were awfully firm. So I took a peek and noticed a tiny peanut shard resting underneath them. I figured it would be easy enough to pop the keys off, remove the obstruction and move on. After all I've done it on my desktop computer many times. Wrong.

Fearing that I had broken something I decided to pop off two of the lesser used keys Q and Z so I could examine the assembly of the key's undercarriage and put my H and J keys back together. This worked for a little while, and for a brief moment I considered leaving everything intact and sliding the Q and Z coverings into the H and J slots, since I don't look down while I type anyways. But I quickly found out that in popping the keys off like a desktop computer, rather than gently sliding them off I managed to damage the metal lock that keeps the key in place. There are four tiny little clasps, thin as a than safety pin with the durability of a wet noodle. With these broken I really had no hope. So I (barely) managed to get Q and Z back where they belong, J was damaged only to the point that the back of the key sticks up when you press the key. The H is gone forever.

While I was tying this entry I got the bright idea of again using a less important key to put in the space of the H, since the bottom clasp of the H is only damaged, not broken. I figured at best it would give the H the exact opposite problem I am having with the J key. Amazingly it worked. So now I have no - key, and a - where my H should be. Its confusing when I do look down.

Of course replacement keyboards for laptop computers aren't something you can ever find locally. So I have to order myself a new keyboard. Its going to put me out about 3 days and anywhere from $12-$50. The local repair shops need the same three days to order the same keyboards I've found, but they're going to charge me $75-$100. Its good to be your own computer guy.

Lesson learned: Don't eat peanuts or trail mix near your computer. And if you do, please me more cautious in removing the keys on your keyboard when you spill.

Breakfast For Dinner

I had breakfast for dinner last night. French toast with a side of sausage. It was awesome. I haven't made this French Toast in a while, but the best part about it is how well it freezes. I can make the full recipe on Sunday night, freeze it and have breakfast on the go for the rest of the week. Just turn the toaster dial about halfway (so it heats for about 2-3 minutes), put your frozen French toast in and you're done.

I think the original recipe is from Great Harvest Bread Company, but since they seem to be dying off where I live I am going to claim it as my own.

I use Texas Toast for this recipe. I mention this because usually when I tell someone this recipe they either don't know you can buy Texas Toast at the grocery store or they get confused and think I'm disgusting for using garlic bread to make my French Toast. With the internet and hyperlinks I can quickly illustrate the difference.

6 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk, can be skim or any other
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cinnamon, optional
Nutmeg, optional

Mix everything together, batter your bread, throw it on the griddle and cook until golden brown. It will make an entire loaf of Texas Toast (plus an additional 3-5 pieces), which is roughly twice the thickness of normal bread.