The Author....

My Photo
I am a mom to twin boys, full-time employee of a telecommunications company and wife to a professional musician. I work, do yoga, cook and try to squeeze in DIY projects and spending time with friends.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Event: Great American Bulb Swap

I spent part of Friday with a friend at the Great American Bulb Swap at Eastern Market in Washington DC.  I had heard about the event from the blog Gadgeteer and planned to go, then I received an invitation to attend as a blogger-- yay!

If you've read other posts in this blog, you know that I can be cheap frugal. So while the idea of spending $15/bulb is unappealing, I am certainly interested in bulbs that last 20+ years.  I also found myself with a lack of good energy efficient options for the fourteen recessed lights in our kitchen and living room.  I've bought many CFLs for these fixtures and relegated each one to little used fixtures because the light was so unpleasant.  We stuck with halogen floods for these constantly used fixtures...  not cheap at $5/bulb and VERY hot, but at least I like the light.

In a fit of energy efficiency, I broke down and bought six LED bulbs for the kitchen in summer 2013. They were a mere $10/bulb at Costco (gulp!).  They are slow to come on, and two of the six have had intermittent flickering, requiring a warranty claim and return to Costco.  Not the best experience, but the light is pleasant and they're not as hot as halogen.

Enter Cree Bulbs.  I first encountered Cree bulbs at a local energy conservation event this past summer.  I used one Cree bulb when the kitchen LED bulb started blinking, immediately noticing that it came on faster than the ones from Costco and gave off an equally appealing light.  When the other company came through with replacement bulbs, I put the Cree back in the closet in order to have a matching set in the kitchen.

Me, Bulby and Elaine at Eastern Market DC
At this event, I learned that my Cree bulb is behind the curve compared to the new ones.  The newest ones are plastic, which makes them shatterproof and less expensive to make.  They dim better than previous versions, and kept the instant-on feature I noticed in the first one.  If there's a problem, Home Depot will swap them out under warranty.  And, drum roll please.... they are only $7.97 at Home Depot.  That's 20% savings over the ones I got at Costco, and they are better bulbs.  Score!

The price is right, the energy savings is there, and most importantly, the light looks right in my house.  Time to head to Home Depot and switch to Cree!

Disclaimer: I received Cree bulbs and gift cards as a part of this event, but was not asked to write about the event or the bulbs. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two Recipes: Pecan Pancakes and Brown Sugar Sweet Potato Cake

I've mentioned before that I love to save recipes.  They are saved in folders and files and binders, and many never see the light of the kitchen.

Some, on the other hand, demand to be made.... immediately.

This post is about two of those recipes.

I'm glad they were so insistent.  I have been well rewarded for having made them (queue the applause).

First up, Pecan Pancakes.  I stumbled across this one by clicking from one blog to the next. I will be forever grateful for the time to wander, as it landed me in the midst of such yumminess at 'Blogging Over Thyme' (here).

My son prepared this recipe, doubling it as I asked him to.  We're hungry around here.  I prepped the ground pecans the night before, so that he didn't need to use the blender and wake up the rest of the household-- he's the early bird!  I think he followed the recipe as written, except omitting the ground cloves.  He put in two whole cloves; I fished them out later :-).  He did split the flour-- half all-purpose, half white whole wheat flour as the blog (but not the recipe) suggests.  The pancakes were very light thanks to the buttermilk, but hearty and delicious.

The second recipe was made just four days after I found it:  Brown Sugar-Sweet Potato Cake from the Washington Post.  I had been telling the kids I was planning to make dessert over the weekend, then lost track of time and generally backed out of my commitment to them.

This went on for several days... until I found this recipe in the Wednesday Food section.

I made the recipe the following Sunday.  I was planning to halve it (who needs cake for 16 laying around the house?!) until I realized that I had a friend coming for coffee on Monday.  That would be the perfect excuse to serve cake in the morning, right?

My friend loves Bundt cakes, and as it turns out, had not had time to eat breakfast before coming over.  She had two portions of cake, and I am thrilled she enjoyed it.

The only change I made to this recipe was to use canned pumpkin, instead of sweet potatoes.  I am also unsure of the exact amount of molasses I used.... it's really sticky, and I was at the bottom of the bottle.  I measured one tablespoon, then dribbled the rest into the bowl, straight from the bottle.

I'm just crazy that way.

You may (or may not) want to know that the molasses was older than the child I was cooking with.  I don't use a lot of it, and am not certain if I'll buy another bottle to make this cake again, or just substitute something else.  Let me know if you decide to make a substitution.

Until next time.... Bon Appetit!

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Meaty goodness!
My dear friend (the one who taught me to can) just posted on FB that she thinks my Pot Roast recipe is the best ever.  I have to agree, although I will give credit to Alton Brown for the bones of the recipe.  I am reminded that I never posted the recipe online.... this post corrects that egregious error.

This photo doesn't hurt either :-)

Even when cooking for four, I double the recipe and freeze the extra.  And yes, you MUST allow the meat to rest overnight before serving.  Alton Brown explains the impact of the heat/cooling cycle on the connective tissue in his Good Eats episode on stew

Pot Roast
2 lbs blade cut chuck roast/cross rib roast/cross rib steak
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, chopped
10 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup canned tomatoes (chopped or diced)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar or red wine
1 cup black raisins

1.  Trim excess fat from the outside of the meat and cut it into a few pieces.  Place in crock pot with remaining ingredients and cook on low for six hours, or until a fork can shred the meat.

2.  Remove the meat from the crock pot and place in a stove top safe dish.  Place in fridge overnight.

3.  An hour or so before serving, remove from fridge and skim chinks of fat from the top of the dish (this is the saving grace of using a fatty piece of meat- so much is removed in this step).  Warm the whole dish over medium-low heat on the stovetop.

4.  Prior to serving, remove the meat from the pan and place on a serving dish.  With an immersion blender, puree the gravy in the pan (it can be removed to a blender, although working with hot sauces in a blender requires skills I don't have.  If you don't have an immersion blender and don't want to blend, then skip this step-- it's all about the aesthetics, but won't affect the flavor).

5.  After blending (or not) turn up the heat to medium high and reduce the gravy by half to concentrate flavors.  Serve gravy on top of the pot roast, or pass it on the side.

Gravy goes great over mashed potatoes.

Delicious.  Time to go buy some pot roast meat!

Photo Credits:

Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole

I'm not sure what took me so long to make this.

It's a simple recipe, one my mom made for holidays and such.  A few minutes of prep and then it cooks in the oven.  It bakes for 45 minutes or so (depending on the thickness of your slices and the number of layers), but overcooking will do it no harm.

Finished product... as pretty as I can make it.
My kinda recipe... one that appreciates neglect.

My kids, who prefer their sweet potatoes mashed or in the form of fries, love this recipe.  It might be the visible cinnamon.  There is a little sweetener, but not much,  I like tart apples, but with sweeter ones, the brown sugar might not be needed at all.  Also, I prefer to leave the skin on both the apples and sweet potatoes for bonus vitamins and fiber.  Peeling them would make the finished recipe prettier.

Measurements here are by weight, since both apples and sweet potatoes vary widely in size.  The recipe scales up and down nicely to feed four or forty.  As you can see from my photos, I've used a round, 2QT Corningware pan with a lid, as well as a shallow au gratin pan (covered with foil for baking).  The pan needs to be oven safe; after that, it's all about size and aesthetics.

Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole
1lb sweet potato
1lb apples (I prefer Nittany, Fuji and Granny Smith for this, but anything will work)
2 Tbsp butter, separated
2 Tbsp brown sugar (can use maple syrup, or omit if apples are sweet)
1 Tbsp cinnamon, separated

1.  Heat the over to 350 degrees.  Grease the plan with 1/2 Tbsp of butter; set aside.

2.  Wash the sweet potatoes and apples.  Scrub well if you will be keeping the skin on; otherwise, peel them now.

3.  Cut the sweet potatoes and apples into 1/2 inch thick slices.  Shape and exact measurement are unimportant unless you want a pretty final dish.

4.  Place a layer of sweet potatoes in the dish, covered with a layer of apples and half the cinnamon.  Cover with another layer of sweet potatoes and another layer of apples.

Not my neatest attempt, but it was still delicious.
5.  Sprinkle remaining cinnamon on top of the final layer of apples.  Dot with butter and brown sugar, cover, and place in the oven for 45 minutes.

Ready to go in the oven- cover, bake, then eat.

6.  When done, both apples and sweet potatoes will be soft and easily pierced with a fork, and the kitchen will smell like fall.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Fish and Corn Pie

Not the most creative of names, but a really yummy recipe.

It all started with an email from Bon Appetit with this recipe for Fish and Corn Cakes with Tartar Sauce.  I'm not a big fan of tartar sauce, so that part got ditched.  And the recipe called for 1 1/2 lbs fish.... I only had a pound.  And many of the reviews said that the cakes fell apart, so I planned to increase the eggs, which serve as glue in the recipe.

You know, a normal recipe for me.  Find something online/in a book and make myriad changes.

But the last change was the best!  Wait for it.....

Bake it in a pie pan, not on the stove!

You see, I love making pancakes on weekend mornings.  But at the end of the day, when I'm tired and hungry, I don't want to stand at the stove flipping burgers (or fish cakes) while the rest of the family either eats without me, or stomps around, tired and hungry.  Changing this into a pie removed that burden, and got all of dinner (and the chef!) to the table at the same time.  Yay!  I will be adapting my Black Bean Burger recipe in the same way...  Bean Pie!

Note, the fish needs to be cooked BEFORE the pie can be assembled.  I oil a baking sheet, lay the filets on the pan, sprinkle with Old Bay, then bake at 350 degrees until cooked (around 15 minutes).  The Old Bay gives the flavor a boost, but can be omitted or substituted if you like.

Fish and Corn Pie (serves 4)
1 lb skinless firm white fish, cooked and broken into small pieces
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 large eggs
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn
2 Tbsp fresh chives or green onion
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), plus 2 Tbsp to sprinkle on top
1/2 tsp each Old Bay, salt and pepper (omit Old Bay if you seasoned the fish when preparing)
lemon wedges for serving (optional)

1.  Heat over to 400 degrees.
1.  In a bowl, whisk together eggs, mayo and lemon zest until well combined.    Stir in fish, corn, chives/green onion, 1/2 cup breadcrumbs and salt and pepper.
2.  When combined, pour into greased pie pan.  Sprinkle remaining breadcrumbs on top of pie, pressing them lightly into pie.
3.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until topping is browned slightly and pie is cooked through.

Note:  this recipe can be made gluten free by swapping panko crumbs for any GF crumbs.

Bon appetit indeed!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Curried Pickled Cucumbers - Refrigerator Style

I am clearly not a serious blogger.
I took no photos during this pickling adventure because I was so sure it wouldn't work.  After all, I broke sooooooo many rules of pickling!  

For starters.....

1.  I used the wrong cucumbers!

I ordered a double batch of cucumbers in my delivery from Washingtons Green Grocer expecting that they would be small, pickling cucumbers.  It ends up that Diva Cukes are relatively thin skinned, but are huge and have tons of seeds.  Not what you want in a pickler, and not what I *thought* Google told me before I placed my order.  Oops.

2.  I did not boil the pickling liquid.

Heated it in the microwave.  My new favorite way to make it! :-)

3.  Made substitutions in the recipe.

Okay, hardly a news flash there.  I am incapable of following a recipe.  Or, as it seems, checking that I have all the ingredients before I start.

That all said, these are delicious pickles!  

The recipe (mostly) came from Andrea Chesman's  The Pickled Pantry.  The recipe I made is below-- consult her awesome book for the original.  (To start, she uses the correct cucumbers and boils her pickling liquid!)    Also, her curried pickles are water-bath processed so that they are shelf stable, and will last longer.

Because I used the large slicing cucumbers, I was concerned that their high water content will make them mushy before too long.  Water bath canning, and making them shelf-stable, seemed unnecessary.  After tasting these, I'm definitely interested in doing it the 'right' way, in order to make more than one jar at a time.  I think they would also be great cut into spears or thicker slices.

Curried Pickled Cucumbers
4 cups sliced cucumbers (I sliced thinly by hand)
3/4 onion, sliced thin
1 heaping Tbsp coarse sea salt
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp raisins
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds

Mix cucumber, onions and salt in a bowl, and cover with ice water.  Let soak for 2 hours or so, until the cucumbers taste slightly salty.

At the tail end of the brining time, mix remaining ingredients in a microwaveable bowl and heat until  the sugar is dissolved and the mix is hot-- 1 minute did the job in my microwave.  Set aside.

Drain the cukes and onions, and pack into a clean quart jar.  Pour hot brine over the veggies, then put the lid on the jar and store in the fridge.  Try to wait a day before eating.  

Note:  soaking the cukes in salt water- brining them, really- is a new one to me.  I can't argue with the results!

Monday, June 30, 2014

US Capitol Building, Washington DC

I work in the wireless industry, and sometimes that makes for an interesting opportunity.  Like today, when this normally white collar gal put on a figurative hardhat and went on a site walk.  Wireless, after all, has become a utility.  Like electricity and running water, most people can't do without wireless, and most buildings need to have it inside.

After all, the phone on the desk (if you are sitting at a desk) is used less and less.  And since most wireless traffic originates indoors anyway, there need to be indoor systems to support voice and data services.

Today's opportunity was to walk the House of Representatives (HoR) in Washington DC.  When you're standing at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall, looking east towards the Capitol Dome, the HoR is everything on the right of the midline of the dome.  That line dividing House and Senate might as well be literal, but since that would wreck the aesthetics of the historic building, it's merely figurative.

The downside of this opportunity:  had to arrive at 530am.  Yup, dressed, make-up, breakfast.... 530am.  I am a morning person, but this, to my mind, is still the night before!

My cab was early-- I got there at 510am.

The silver lining of arriving at this hour was the opportunity to breathe the still, mild air of a beautiful city while standing in the shadow of a quiet, captivating, historic building.... The US Capitol.

East front of the US Capitol at 515am.... what a jewel!

Amazing.  Simply awe-inspiring.

Back to business.... the job of the day was to inspect 100+ wireless antennas inside the building.  They exist to bring your carrier's wireless signal to most every nook and cranny of this huge, historically significant space.

I say 'most every nook and cranny' because there are spaces where signal is not wanted.  Not to worry though, most of us mortals will never be inside the private Members Only dining room, so you won't notice.

I am not an engineer, but I had one with me.  He did the hard work, and I played tourist, spectator, gawker and student.  Lots to learn, both about the building and the wireless project.  And what a space to learn it in!
View from one of the private offices on the West side of the Capitol.  House Majority maybe?

While there are no wireless assets on the roof, we did get to wander out there to take in the view.  Wow!

Standing on the roof, looking up towards the Freedom statue on the Capitol Dome.

The old House Chamber-- this photo is taken from what was spectator seating (only accessible now via one of the House Speaker's private offices) 

Wireless is a utility, which means basements and attics and ugly spaces.  These are some of the cables/conduits running through the basement-- also called the Headache Chamber, because of all the VERY low ceilings!

Our day ended about 1215.  I walked 4 1/2 miles since 5am, and it was time to head home and get my actual job done.  Before I left, I walked out to the same spot as the first photo, for another picture of the Capitol.  This time, in the full light of a sunny, Washington DC summer day.

I purposely did not crop this photo.... there are people and cars at 1230pm.  Wow!

Thanks for a great day Washington DC.  You take a lot of heat for lazy, entitled politicians.  I saw only hard working facilities and security folks on my tour today, taking care of a magnificent building and the people who work there.

Cheers to you, US Capitol.  Happy early July 4th!