Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Book Opinion - Break Shot: My First 21 Years: An Audio Memoir


I had dabbled in Audible before.  I guess I had a trial membership briefly last year, but I never listened to anything or purchased anything.  Anyway, I really wanted to read James Taylor's memoir, but I found out it's only an audio.  So, I signed up for Audible again and got Break Shot: My First 21 Years: An Audio Memoir.  It's free which was cool.  It took me a week, but I got through it.  I hope he's going to do the next few decades.  This book just started getting good musically.  

I liked the format of James Taylor narrating his early life but also singing little interludes.  His voice was calming, and I think he was very fair to places and people where I would not be as kind, but he treated himself with the same fairness.  I'm still cynical and realize that, as the author, he's still writing what he wants us to know and how he wants us to hear it, but I appreciate the care taken.  

The book touches upon milestones with a lot of time spent with his family and parents which, as a memoir that focuses on the first 21 years, you would expect.  It ends with his career (and meeting Carol King - squee!) and the introduction to drugs though that runs a bit throughout.  So, I would imagine the next 21 years are a roller coaster.  

Monday, February 24, 2020

Captain Update - Week 2

2 full weeks!  No accidents at school or at home.  He has taken to peeing standing up which is a new development.  BUT he has also successfully pooped at home, at school, and while we were out running errands.  This is a big corner and has made for a much happier household.  The household is still full of rampant hormones of the toddler and teenage variety, but this looks to be improving.  

Now we just need to work on his aim... 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Captain Update

We went to the pediatrician last week thinking we were heading into the worst, but it went well.  Captain didn't have one accident last week after a 2-day long journey with daily suppositories.  Then, after a long weekend, he had some bathroom time on Monday with everything working normal.  We continued, so far, this week with no accidents.  He's so happy - and we're so happy.

Long story short, the pediatrician thinks this can be controlled by diet.  I heard many went gluten-free so I was preparing for that, but it turns out, we're doing the opposite and doing as much fiber as possible.  So, it's whole-wheat snacks, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat pizza dough.  We have upped the amount of fruit to his diet, and he's allowed to have juice quite often along with water at school per doctor's orders.  We are continuing to limit dairy and applesauce and bananas which were off his diet for the most part already.  He's been such a trooper and asks if the doctor said it was ok to eat this before every new food.  He's embraced everything we've thrown at him, and we haven't had to eliminate treats yet (like cookies, cake, etc.)  Because he's avoiding the white flour, I was afraid it would be drastic, but we're good if it's offset enough.  I know one week isn't much, but you have to start somewhere.  Next test will be vacation, but summer vacations always have so much fruit that it's not so bad.  Fingers crossed!

Book Opinion - Golden in Death


Last night, I finished Golden in Death, J.D. Robb's 50th book in the In Death series.  As with the rest of the series, the mystery is not why I read the books.  I found this one a fun one showing the evolution of Eve and Roarke's relationship and marriage and showing Eve's growth as a character throughout the series.  Plus, any book with Mr. Mira makes me smile.  It was only one scene, but I could feel his hug throughout the rest of the book.

If you don't read the series, you get the most out of it if they are read in order (though, to be honest, I stopped reading the short stories and just read the full-length books).  The futuristic aspects kind of blend together after the first few books and aren't as distracting after awhile.  Murder is still murder.  Many don't like the violence, but I'm an odd duck.  I love a good romance, but once in awhile, I like a lot of dead bodies piling up and needing justice.  It's called balance. 

I don't think this was a perfect book, but it's always good visiting with old friends.  There's a comfort in that.  Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Peabody was the Bad Cop which doesn't happen often because she's so natural at being empathetic and the Good Cop.  So, that was refreshing and made me want to stand up and applaud. 

New Food 2020 - Vanilla Cake with Fruit Filling & Homemade Buttercream

Full disclosure: we made this recipe before as a cakelet and loaf.  It's a really good vanilla cake.  We wanted to see how it was with a fruit filling and buttercream, a more traditional cake.  We tweaked and made it for Mom's birthday.

Vanilla Cake
 
Ingredients
  • 4 whole eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar, divided
  • ¾ cup butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup shortening
  • 1 tbs pure vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp lemon extract (optional)
  • 3 cups cake flour (To make cake flour, replace 2 tbsp of flour with cornstarch per cup. So, for this recipe, add all the flour to a bowl, remove 6 tbsp and then add 6 tbsp of cornstarch. Whisk well to combine.)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 cup buttermilk, full fat, at room temperature

 


Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 325. Grease and flour three or four 8 or 9 inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper that is also slathered with a bit of butter or shortening.
  2. Separate the 4 whole eggs, placing the 4 yolks in a small bowl and the whites in a separate medium size bowl. Add the 3 additional egg whites to the other 4 for a total of 7 egg whites. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy. (*See note.) Slowly pour in 1/4 cup of the sugar, beating as you pour. Continue to beat until the meringue is glossy and stiff peaks form when you lift the whisk from the beaten egg whites. Set aside.
  3. Fit the standing mixer with the paddle attachment and cream the butter, shortening and remaining 2 cups of sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl a time or two. Beat in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
  4. Add 2 of the egg yolks and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining 2 egg yolks, beat for about 20 seconds, until fully incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  5. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg to a large bowl and mix with a wire whisk just to combine.
  6. Beating on low speed, add the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the flour: 1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the buttermilk, 1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the buttermilk, 1/3 of the flour. With each addition, beat on low speed, just long enough to incorporate. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  7. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter just until distributed. You should still see some streaks of egg white throughout the batter. Do not over mix.
  8. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. If baking 3 layers, bake for 40-50 min. If baking four layers, bake for 30-35 minutes. When done, the cakes will be golden brown and pulling away from the sides of the pan. To check for doneness, stick a toothpick into the center of one of the layers. Remove the toothpick and look for signs of raw batter. If only cake crumbs stick to the toothpick, the cake is done. You can also scoop a tiny amount of cake from the center of one of the layers to check for doneness. (You’ll be covering the cake with frosting anyway.)
  9. Let the cakes cool on wire racks for 5 minutes in the pan, then gently turn them out of the pans onto the wire racks to cool completely. If you don’t plan on frosting the layers immediately, wrap each tightly with plastic wrap. The layers can be stored at room temperature for 1 day, or frozen for up to 2 months.
 
We used this buttercream and not the one in the above link:

Buttercream
 
Ingredients
 
  • 1 cup salted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Butter Vanilla Bakery Emulsion (or vanilla extract)
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Instructions
  1.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, add butter. Beat butter on medium speed with the whisk attachment for about 1 minute, until butter is smooth.
  2. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar, and beat until combined. Repeat with 1 more cup.
  3. Add bakery emulsion and heavy whipping cream and beat until combined.
  4. Add the remaining powdered sugar, one cup at a time, beating until combined after each addition.
  5. Beat for about one additional minute, until frosting is thickened, smooth, and fluffy.
  6. The frosting should be smooth and fluffy, but stiff enough to hold its shape. If it's too stiff, add more whipping cream, half a tablespoon at a time, until you achieve the desired texture (2-3 tablespoons total).
For time, I just added Smuckers jelly as the filling (and not enough), but if you go full fruit preserves and liberally apply, I think it would be tasty.  This recipe makes a decent amount of cake.  I made 3 square layers.  That said, the buttercream did not make enough to cover the entire cake so I added the strawberries along the bottom to cover it up best I could.
 
So, the points are below.  Little Miss gave it a 6 because she doesn't like jelly.  I gave it an 8.  The average is 7 points.
 
10 possible points - Taste (possible 5), Was it worth the effort?  (possible 3), Appearance (possible 1), Would we make it again? (possible 1)
 
Standings:
Orange Chicken - 9 points
Crepes - 9 points
Vanilla Cake - 7 points

Monday, February 10, 2020

New Food 2020 - Crepes

This week, our new food was crepes.  I know this wasn't much of a risk, but there had to be some slowballs in there to balance out the ones that were going to bomb.  We used the recipe linked, but I cut and pasted it below.  I didn't add butter/oil to the pan, but our new nonstick pans are magic.  Maybe it would help with some taste, but they weren't bad.  I wanted them to be sweater, but I also don't think I added enough filling.  We filled with hot fudge and fresh strawberries and topped with whipped cream.  Little Miss really liked them.  Based on our scale (below), I rated them an 8, and Little Miss rated them a 10.  So, we averaged the rating for a 9.  I deducted points for taste.  I will say that we got the consistency and color down until I got lazy at the end.  Our scoop worked well to get the uniform shape as well (medium scoop which is about just shy of 1/4 cup).

10 possible points - Taste (possible 5), Was it worth the effort?  (possible 3), Appearance (possible 1), Would we make it again? (possible 1)


Standings:
Orange Chicken - 9 points
Crepes - 9 points


Basic French Crepes
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Resting Time30 mins
Total Time1 hr

 Course Breakfast
 Cuisine French
 Author Aline Cueni
 Servings  Crepes
 Calories per serving 108kcal
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Ingredients

Instructions

  • Add all ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth. If you don’t have a blender, mix it in a large bowl using a whisk. Let the batter rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
  • Preheat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat.
  • Add one tablespoon of butter or oil, let it melt and add about 1/4 cup (60ml) of the batter into the pan. Swirl until the bottom is covered.
  • Cook each side for about 2 minutes until golden.
  • Repeat this procedure with the rest of the batter. 
  • Serve the crepes with your preferred filling.

Notes

  • If you don’t use the whole batter, you can store it in your fridge for up to one day and make fresh crepes the next day with it.
  • If you like to use nut milk for this recipe, add ~1/4 cup of water. Nut milk is usually thicker than cow milk, therefore it’s the best to dilute it with water to prevent the batter to be too thick.

Book Opinion - Scot Under the Covers

I recently finished Scot Under the Covers by Suzanne Enoch.  I don't read a lot of Suzanne Enoch's historicals, but I loved her contemporaries.  I think it's more that I went through a phase where I just didn't read a lot of historical romance.  I like this series, and its first book (this is book 2).  I liked the characters a lot in this one, but I really didn't like some of the characters which frustrated me while I read it.  I liked how it played out, but I wanted another chapter or two before Col steals the spotlight in his book.  I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to Aden and Miranda when they finally concluded their story.  I do love these Highlander brothers though.  It was definitely worth the read, but my impatience held me back a little.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Daily Life

Captain was born with an imperforate anus.  He was lucky that it wasn't very severe and, with surgery at around 6 months, he had all working parts.  However, he is easily constipated and any change in diet really affects his body.  As a baby, he didn't have banana, applesauce, and had restricted dairy which are all foods babies eat first.  Keeping weight on him was always a challenge.  Starting last year, we started giving him fiber vitamins and probiotics as well as a weekly stool softener - except you don't want to over-correct either.  It's a delicate balance.

As a slow potty trainer, it was difficult to see how his condition would affect him long-term.  We know that the constipation is a daily, constant issue, but the bowel management/control is relatively new.  He's been trying, but we don't know what else to do.  There's either an accident or a little poop on his underpants at least 5 out of 7 days of the week.  The school seems to be impatient with it which I completely understand, but he also can't help it.  We see the doctor to see what else we can do this week.  

I've done some research online, but there are so many with such severe conditions and challenges, but I'm hopeful we can control this by diet and possibly medicine.  The next stages are much more physically taxing (daily enemas or X-rays or suppositories).  He already receives frequent suppositories which he hates.  As a picky eater, it makes diet tricky, but I think we would be able to adapt to any conditions we need to add.  So, here's hoping we get to the bottom of things.  See what I did there?  

Science Fair

We avoided the Science Fair every year Little Miss was in elementary school until the 5th grade where it was mandatory.  By then, she was old enough to do it all by herself.  However, Captain loves science and wanted to participate so bad in the Science Fair.  Except he's in Kindergarten.  Which means that an adult needs to supervise and, well, do most of it.

So, we signed up for the Science Fair after which I forgot all about it until last Sunday.  We got an email telling us about the procedure for Thursday night.  Thursday.  Night.  4 days from when I read the email.  To put this into perspective, Monday is hockey night.  Wednesday, I was having minor outpatient surgery.  Thursday was baking club.  And Science Fair.  Luckily, we had almost all of the materials.  Monday, we did the science experiment and half of the presentation.  Tuesday, I forgot to print out the photos so I ran to Staples where they allow you to email photos to print and it was seamless and easy.  Then, we finished the project Tuesday night.  Wednesday, we dropped it off at school.  Thursday, we got a participation ribbon.  I mean, Captain got his participation ribbon.  


His experiement was to see which method inflated a balloon the best.  We filled one bottle with hot water to see if the steam would inflate the balloon.  It did but only slightly and not enough to raise the balloon.  We filled one bottle with water and placed an alka seltzer tablet in there.  It inflated the balloon to standing.  We filled a third bottle with vinegar and added baking soda.  It inflated the balloon to standing and almost bursting!  Captain's prediction was correct.

Monday, February 3, 2020

New Foods - 2020

Little Miss has created the 2020 Madness of New Foods (why limit ourselves to March?)  

4 categories - Fruits/vegetables, Sides/Snacks, Main Dishes, Desserts
64 new foods
10 possible points - Taste (possible 5), Was it worth the effort?  (possible 3), Appearance (possible 1), Would we make it again? (possible 1)

First up was Orange Chicken w/jasmine rice topped with cilantro.  Technically, we didn't make this, but we went to a cooking class at Williams Sonoma.  Little Miss helped work the Instant Pot, and we did taste it.  They had 2 Instant Pots - one for the jasmine rice and one for the chicken, but I can make rice on the stove top.  It was 3-4 pounds chicken and this jar of sauce for 5 minutes in the Instant Pot.  After, cilantro was sprinkled on top.  
It was really good.  We gave it a 9, but it could have been a 10, but there were some Instant Pot quirks to overcook the chicken.  

Recipe:
1.  Sautee 3-4 pounds of chicken in a pan.
2.  Dump chicken and jar of Williams Sonoma Instant Pot Orange Chicken Sauce.  Set for 5 minutes.
3.  Serve over jasmine rice.  Garnish with cilantro.

In the past, I've cooked the chicken for my chicken teriyaki in my Instant Pot instead of cooking beforehand.  I wonder if that would make a difference.  Either way, the sauce was good.  It was too sweet like a lot of orange chicken sauces.  

It was originally supposed to be a General Tso's chicken class, but the sauce didn't come in time so I'm curious about that sauce.  If you try it, let me know.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Sexy Friday

It's been a long time, but I've been glomming all things The Good Place today after last night's series finale.  So, today's Sexy Friday is Manny Jacinto who is just adorable, and he makes Jason so lovable on the show even though I'm sure someone like Jason would be totally annoying in real life.  He's just wide-eyed on the show.  

The Good Place

I knew I would cry, and I did - early and often.  At what point, Husband just turned his head and I shielded myself yelling, "There's nothing to see here!"  I really liked this show.  I didn't fall quickly, but I liked it.  It was like a slow burn.  Then, I'd look back at the seasons and marvel at it.  I wasn't sure how this fourth season was going to go, and it took me some time to get into the rhythm, but it was a close-to-perfect finale.  It is unclear if my excitement for Brooklyn Nine-Nine next week will be greater than the hole The Good Place left.  Once I stop crying, maybe I'll rewatch and catch all those little things I missed throughout.  Sidenote: I didn't understand most of the Jacksonville Jaguar jokes.


January 2020

January was a fun month.  In the beginning of the month, we celebrated a belated holiday with the In-Laws.  We had dinner out and then went back to our apartment for dessert and presents.  I can't even handle the cuteness of all the kids together.
The very next day, Captain and I took the Metro to The Kennedy Center to see the play Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  He used to be scared of the Metro and is no longer!  Because I'm an idiot, I bought 4 tickets to the play because I can't work the Internet.  So, I gave two of the tickets to Sister-in-Law and Nephew.  We met in between the two performances for lunch.  After lunch, Captain and I did the fun virtual tour of The Kennedy Center with Pigeon on the app.  The wifi was a little spotty so we didn't complete it, but we did get a pin and had a lot of fun.
The next weekend, Husband was out of town on an annual trip.  So, the kids and I did some cooking and baking and had a movie night (101 Dalmations, the original animated film).  We did dinner out with the In-Laws.  It was a lot of fun.
The next weekend, Little Miss had a Latin party which is a total thing.  She won second place in a costume contest.  I went to a Housewarming party and a couple of happy hours.  Overall, it was a pretty relaxing long weekend.  Our Sunday Family Movie was Star Wars (A New Hope).  I did not fall asleep once through this viewing, too.
The last weekend, the kids and I went back to The Kennedy Center for Lunar New Year (China).  I think I'm going to have to skip Korea this weekend.  I just need to do some things at home.  The lanterns were beautiful, and the kids had a blast with crafts and costumes.  We also completed the Virtual Tour and got certificates of completion!  And then everybody melted down, and we came home.  

Food front:  I bought myself an Air Fryer for Christmas so we used that quite a bit.  In January, we air fried everything from veggies (butternut squash and broccoli and brussels sprouts) to pot stickers, chicken tenders and onion rings.  The kids and I made chocolate donuts in the oven, homemade baked mac and cheese, parmesan chicken tenders, chicken romano and lemon pasta, broccoli cheese soup, champagne cupcakes with champagne buttercream, the yummiest vanilla cake, and circus cupcakes.  There were also brownies and sugar cookies.  You can find our updates and recipes here on our Cooking/Baking Instagram page, @A4MinimalEffort.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

New Foods Update

Our kids are picky.  So, we've tried new foods over the year - some have been documented here.  Well, Little Miss has created a 64 food bracket (though we will be taking longer than the typical March Madness bracket to complete).  We will crown the best new food which, I mean, has to be a dessert, right?  We'll see!

So, we're in the process of negotiating our 64 foods.  They are broken up into 4 categories - fruits & vegetables, sides/snacks, main dishes, desserts.  We have a pretty solid list and both kids have participated.  Captain, for example, wants bacon onion jam and, separately, avocado toast though I have to wonder how they would be together.  Anyway, Little Miss has chosen a few.  

We are in the process of coming up with a scale to weight each of our reviews.  I think we'll start in the next few days.  So, stay tuned!

In the meantime, what's your favorite food?  

Book Opinion - The Secret She Keeps

I really like HelenKay Dimon's romantic suspense books. I love the steam and the action. I don't read for the mystery so if you want a good mystery, maybe this won't be for you. 

 This book is the second in a series, The Secret She Keeps. You don't need to read the first book to read this one though I'm a stickler for order. You just need to know that there are two brothers, Hansen (in the first book) and Connor (in this book). They have a sister who was killed prior to the books and each brother handles the murder and loss differently and on a different timeline - which, frankly, is convenient for the books. 

 Connor takes some time off from work and rents a cabin on Whittaker Island. On his first night, he's attacked. Turns out, this is the meet cute. The heroine gives him stitches. In the head. Sorry I spoiled the first two chapters for you. Anyway, they're super cute together in between attacks, threats, and a dead body, but there is also island quirk which is kind of like small town quick but surrounded by water. Solid book and, if that doesn't sell it, Connor cooks Korean food (he's half Korean). So, you know. Sexy.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Book Opinion - Almost Just Friends

This week, I read Almost Just Friends by Jill Shalvis. I stayed up late to finish this one last night (this morning?)  I really liked it because I love Jill Shalvis's characters and style.  I love that both main characters were flawed but really saw each other and that didn't change.  The romance was in figuring out how to believe in the happy ending - and logistics which are figured out easily in romance novels.  The secondary characters are also complex and fun and add to the story, are part of the story.  You have to suspend a bit of disbelief (or a lot), but I'm willing to do so if I leave a book with happy feelings.  More people should read romance for the happy.  Also, I like this series because you don't have to read the books that come beforehand, but of course, I do because I'm a stickler for book order.  That said, I have a horrible memory so I couldn't tell you anything about the previous books at all.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Book Opinion - The One for You

I read The One for You by Roni Loren last week. I really liked this one. I think it was well-rounded, and I liked the characters. As with the first book in this series, it was a tough read because of the content. I still have some complicated feelings about a series with a school shooting as part of the characters' past. This book had a lot going on which just made it that much more of an emotional read. I did enjoy it and did root for the characters to find happiness. I wish, as I always do with series, that I remembered the previous books better. As a long-time reader of Roni Loren, I love seeing her evolution as an author. I've always enjoyed her books, but I find the balance and smoother and seamless between scenes and characters and the arc very natural (or, as natural as a romance can be which is, by definition, a bit of a manipulative genre).



Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Book Opinion - The Day the World Came to Town

I will finish this book today, The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede.  I was inspired to read this after seeing the musical, Come From Away.  I knew the story from researching the play after the Tony Awards, but the details and stories are so amazing.  It's so hard to imagine a community just dropping everything to help.  I know that there are incredible individual stories centered around 9/11, of people helping strangers, but the thoughtfulness of the extras provided and the relationships formed are inspiring.  The book is currently free with Kindle Unlimited or you can purchase the paperback so your mother can read it like I did.  As much as I gained by reading this book, I think I will welcome a return to reading romance next.   

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by [DeFede, Jim]