Painty Painty!

I’m not blocked; I have just been busy with other stuff.  Like Pinterest, Netflix, and family stuff.  Nothing serious.  Oooh, I had one job interview.  Haven’t heard yea or nay on that yet, so that’s good.

It’s hard to get into a pattern of behaviors and tasks when one is unemployed.  I find that things just slip through my fingers and suddenly I have spent all day making my Sims grow tomatoes.  A definite weakness upon which I promise to improve.

One thing I did recently was I helped my brother move.  Moving is an integral part of the twenty-something lifestyle.  As we grow older, we tend to become less migratory and sometimes we even establish ourselves enough to be able to afford movers. A more common milestone at my age is having enough stuff to move that a truck rental is necessary.  We all have that list of pals who we have helped in the past and now owe us a favor or two.  When the time comes, we call in favors and ask friends with pickups, painting experience, or just nothing better to do to come over and spend the weekend moving.  If you are like me, you also have a huge family that may not even call in the owed favors.

I like to imagine that when we get together to do something constructive or creative, my siblings and I form a small but effective work force called the Handy Dandy Sibling Construction Company.  Together we can garden, paint, move, design, decorate, bake, and cook our way to a magnificent display of craftsmanship and old-fashioned know-how.  For all that I spent most of my childhood wishing I was an only child, I appreciate the way I can mesh my skills with those of my very different but very similar brothers and sisters.  Like most siblings, we each have unique personalities and interest, but the commonality that occurs among us is unique to large families.  We were raised in the same way by the same parents in very tight quarters; we can almost read each other’s minds as we negotiate our tasks and chat to catch up.

So, my middle little brother, Jed, moved last week and neglected to ask for a lot of help.  He called in favors to friends but not to family.  Actually, I found out about the move because his wife posted something on Facebook.  (sidenote: Facebook is an excellent tool for stalking family)  Jed helped Chuck and me move a few years ago, and he has also used a shovel quite a bit around my property, so I guess I sort of owe him.  It’s natural enough for me to demand that my younger sibling drop everything to help me when I need them; that’s just how big sisters are.  Plus, Jed is pretty much the biggest workhorse I know.  He’s huge, strong, good-natured, and smart.  It’s hard to believe we are full-blooded siblings, really.

Summer 2011: My tall, thin, hairy, blond-haired, blue-eyed little brother Jed and me (with crazy eyes). His beard is worse now.  Ke$ha would be all over him.

I suppose I felt guilty about always using Jed’s muscles, and also a bit bored and useless since I am unemployed, so I volunteered to pitch in.  Jed and his wife hated their old apartment – a dim basement hole with little light and no charm.  My brother’s new rental is awesome and as I am handy with a paintbrush/terribly lazy when it comes to lifting and hauling, I immediately volunteered to help paint.  The dining room is red so I ended up with a Dexter manicure.  Pretty sweet.

Then we painted the den/craft room with a taped-off chair rail look.  My SIL Alice, Jed’s wife, is very crafty so the room needed to be inspiring.  It took all day, but I think she likes it.  Also, I helped move furniture around and told embarrassing stories about my brother when he was not there.  As is customary, I was provided with food (Thai, Taco Bell, and pizza!) in return for my help.  Overall, it was not a bad way to spend my day.  Much better than going to two football games with Chuck.

……………..

Painting for Jed made me reminisce about my oldest little brother’s last move, too.  As I was painting the den in Jed’s new home, I recounted this conversation between Jon, his wife Angela, and me:

Angela: I want the living room to be red and tan, with a white chair rail.  Can you help me pick out the shades of paint?

Me:  Of course!

Angela: Should we put the red on top or on the bottom?

Me: Your couch is red, so I would say the red paint should be on the top.

Jon: I read on the internet that if you have a darker color on the top half of the walls, it makes the room seem smaller and the ceiling seem lower.

Me: It’s your living room, not a palace ballroom.

Angela: Trust your sister.  She is right.  We will buy the paint and the chair rail tomorrow when you are at work.

Jon: Chair rail was invented to protect the plaster walls in dining rooms from being dented by chairs being pushed into them.  The living room does not need chair rail because it is not a dining room and we have drywall, not plaster.

Angela and me:  Shut up.

Jon says he does not understand the chair rail but he also freely admits that aesthetics are lost on him. Good thing he is so easy-going!

Xoxoxoxo I love my brothers and their wives!

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BETTER Bay Biscuits

Not EVERYTHING we entered in the town fair’s baking contest won a prize.  But we did well enough.

I’m competitive about a lot of things, but not sports because I don’t “do”  “sports.”  Baking is more of an art form than a competition, but I still enjoy submitting my creations every year.

I found out last night that my apple rhubarb pie won the official apple pie contest, so I get to take it to the State Farm Show.  All night, I was like,

They called me this morning to be sure I could participate next January.  Not a problem, since I already try to go to the PA State Farm Show every year.  Yes, our state fair is in January.  We don’t have scary kiddie rides or painted ladies, but we have looots of kids in FFA and 4-H who are competing for prettiest cow awards, or something.  It’s a grand time.

…………

I had a brief conversation friends yesterday about homemade food.  The consensus was that we would all be rotund if we bothered to bake and cook at home all the time.  On those occasions when you do cook or bake, it is important to go all the way and not “Sandra Lee” your recipe too much, especially avoiding high fructose corn syrup and fake gravy.  The exception in this recipe is bottled salt-free seasonings, which I adore with cheese.

These biscuits, which won third place in their category in the 2012 Manheim Farm Show and are on display until Friday night, do take advantage of a no-salt dried spice medley, but they have way more butter and cheese than that skinny wench Sandra Lee would ever allow in her recipes.  It pairs nicely with soups of all kinds and since they bake up in minutes and you don’t even need to soften the butter first, you won’t be pressed for time when making them.

BETTER Bay Biscuits

2 c. flour

1 T. baking powder

1/4 t. baking soda

1/2 capful Mrs. Dash (can use more)

1/3 c. butter, slightly softened

Shredded cheddar (Start with at least a cup.  More cheese = more biscuits.)

3/4 c. buttermilk

Butter, melted

1. Start by mixing the first four ingredients (the dry ingredients).  Whisking these together beaks up any clumps in the flour.

2. Use a fork or pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour mixture.  If you’ve never made a pastry before, it may seem like it’s not working.  The goal is to break the fat (butter) into tiny pieces (no bigger than a pea) that are completely coated in flour.  Once the liquid is added, you are done, so do your mixing now.  don’t stress out if it seems very dry or like there is too much flour. There’s enough!

I don’t have a pastry cutter and I do kind of wish I had one. Some alternatives include a food processor (I’d own one but I have no desire to clean it), a fork, two knives, or just your fingers. Only use your fingers if they are cold – you don’t want to melt the butter. Just pinch the large chunks of fat into smaller chunks. It’s fun. My hand model, sister, and co-baker, Emmi, is using a fork.

3. Add the cheese and gently toss into the flour mixture.  The cheese is also a fat (for the love of the goddess do not use low-fat cheese in this recipe – just use less cheese) so you want to coat it with the flour mixture a little bit as well.

4. Make a well (hole) in the center of the mixture and pour the buttermilk into it all at once.  Use a fork or wooden spoon to juuuust mix the liquid into the dry ingredients.  It you have more than a few tablespoons of dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl, add some more buttermilk.  DO NOT OVERMIX.  As the butter melts in the oven, it will incorporate extra flour. It’s better to be a bit dry.

5. Drop dough onto a cookie sheet.  I usually make 1/4 c. biscuits but you can also make smaller 2 T. biscuits if you eat like a bird, are for some reason simultaneously watching your weight AND eating pastries, or if you are feeding a crowd.

6. Bake @450º for 10 minutes.

7. Brush baked biscuits with melted butter.    The remainder of the stick you cut up in the beginning of the recipe should do it – about 2-3 T.  Just melt it in the microwave while the biscuits are baking.

mmmm melted butter…..

These biscuits are rich, buttery, and cheesy.  The Mrs. Dash contains onion, celery salt, citrus peel, and garlic, which are all typically found in seafood seasonings, but there is no added salt, which would make these biscuits too salty.  Butter, cheese, baking soda, and more butter all add enough salt.  BTW I usually use salted butter for this recipe, and I have substituted Earth Balance products as well.  I still use cheddar, but as an aged cheese it contains little or no lactose and when I am baking these just for my own enjoyment I do try to eliminate as much lactose as possible. Lactose intolerance sucks and sometimes I just give my baking away because I can’t eat more than one serving.  I suppose you could also substitute vegan “cheese” and make these into vegan biscuits.  I bet they would be delicious with non-dairy parmesan…

This is *the* award-winning biscuit at the Farm Show. YUM!

I usually make these to pair with soup, not fish.  Soups and biscuits seem to go hand-in-hand.  Try with creamy potato or hearty chicken noodle.  Or some concoction you made up from the crap in your fridge, like I did this afternoon.

Sneak Peek!

My middle little sister and I have sore feet and fuzzy teeth today.  We have been baking almost nonstop since Sunday morning!

The town in which I live hosts a fair every year that celebrates the farming traditions that built the local economy.  There are livestock auctions, terrifying kiddie rides, food stands hosted by every volunteer organization in town, and dozens of contests in which any county resident can enter.  The items that can be entered into each contest include but are not limited to goats, pigs, cows, sheep, soybeans, feedcorn, various garden produce, preserves and canned goods, decorated pumpkins, homemade lard, indoor plants, photography, textiles, cut flowers, and baked goods.  As I have not sewed much in the last year, my garden is pathetic, and my sole houseplant is not currently blooming, I only entered a few cut flowers and a disgusting amount of baked goods.  My middle little sister, Emmi, lives in the county, too, so she came over to contribute to the baking.

I dropped off some flowers on Sunday, but the baked goods are not judged until Tuesday at noon.  Tonight, we went to the show to drop off cookies, brownies, cake, and pie totaling 14 entries in all – 6 for Emmi and 8 for me!

Since we were there, we trotted over to the flower displays and guess what?  My mums won 4th place and my Russian sage and iris each won 1st in their categories!  That would be $10 in my pocket, people.  And yes, I have an early-blooming iris that usually reblooms in October.

Tomorrow I will go to the show again to see which of our baked goods entries won prizes,  Keep in mind, anyone in the county can enter so really I could be up against some steep competition.  Or not.

I’m too tired to write more.  Here is a sneak peek at some of our delicious food:

Weddings Part I: DIY Cupcake Tier

At my age, everyone is having babies and getting married.  Weddings in general make me barf.  Well, that’s an exaggeration.  I usually only gag.

If I’m a total cynic about weddings, it may be because I was raised by wedding cynics.  My parents recently celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary and they eloped, only telling a handful of people of their plans.  Chuck and I announced our intention but didn’t invite anyone to our 30 second JP ceremony in Arlington, Va.  Best decision I ever made.

I have been a bridesmaid two and half times and that’s really enough for me.  The cost, the stress, the cost, the scheduling, the cost, and the general nonsense are really too much.  Chuck recently sent me this funny article on being a bridesmaid.  I can’t say I’ve ever had it this bad, but I don’t want to try.

Chuck has missed several weddings in the past several years due to football.   These include the weddings of two of my brothers.  Before you jump to conclusions and call him selfish, please remember that weddings are pretty darn selfish as well.  Chuck likes to remind people that he only has about a dozen football games to attend each year so as long as an event takes place outside of those days, he will attend.

Out of 12 grandchildren, four of us are now married, but this was the first of my cousins to be wed.  I have to say, she did an excellent job at keeping it beautiful, low-key, and budget-friendly!  It was my honor and privilege to bake a “cutting” cake and 4 dozen cupcakes for this wedding.  I also designed and built a tier for the cupcakes and I made custom toppers for each of the cupcakes.  This helped coordinate them as there were a few other bakers also contributing.

Here is how to make a cupcake tier:

1.  Make cardboard discs:  You can buy these at the store but I have tons of clean cardboard left over from my new kitchen cabinets.

I used some twine and pens to make three compasses. This way I was able to make six circles, two of each size. I decided to double the cardboard to reinforce it.

Just use the pens as a compass to make perfect circles!

Use craft glue to stick two circles together. I made sure that the “grain” of the cardboard went in opposite directions.

2. Cover the discs to make them pretty.  I used wrapping paper, but I suppose you could use contact paper/shelf liner as well

Use a gluestick to adhere wrapping paper to one side of each disc.

Trim the wrapping paper to 1/4 inch.

This is too much. It needs trimmed.

This is perfect

Use hot glue to fold and adhere the edges of the paper

I used decorative ribbon to trim the edges of the discs.

Just hot glue the trim along the unfinished edges.

clean and simple!

Finished edge. Fold over the edge and stick it in the back when you construct the tier.

Ta Da!

3.  Construct the layered tiers.

I used canning jars and glue to make the tiers, but you can also use dowels, soup cans, TP rolls, or paper cups. Double-sided foam tape is also very helpful for sticking the glass to the cardboard.

4. Add the finishing touches!

Cupcake Toppers – I only made 1/3 of the cupcake for this wedding. To coordinate the cupcakes made by three bakers, I made these cupcake toppers using circle punches, scrapbook paper and embellishments, toothpicks, and hot glue. Super easy and super cute!

I only brought 1/3 of the cupcakes to the wedding. This is what 4 dozen cupcakes looks like!

This is the cupcake tier before all of the cupcakes were added.

This is what 144 cupcakes looks like. All but about 10 fit on this tier.

Dessert table complete!

More wedding musings and photos to come, and then Farm Show pictures!

Bloomsburg at Millersville, or, Banana Beer Bread Test

I’ve been meaning to fiddle with beer breads again, and I found the perfect opportunity today.  Last night I bought a 4-pack of Wells Banana Bread Beer.  I had been thinking of a cherry wheat with craisins and apples, but this beer simply spoke to me!  Previously, I have made beer breads with cheese and Mrs. Dash, and also with cheddar, apples, and cinnamon.  The Manheim Farm Show starts this week and I want to enter the quick breads category with something unique.  Well, here goes!

I had to test two recipes because I was unsure about the flavor of a sweet beer bread.  One was the clear winner.  I’ll gobble these loaves for breakfast and make another batch of the winner to submit to the show.

Banana Beer Bread

    • 3 C self-rising flour
    • 1/2 C sugar
    • 1/2 C mini semisweet chocolate chips
    • 1/2 t cinnamon
    • 1 ripe banana, mashed
    • 1 bottle Wells Banana Bread Beer
    • melted butter and raw sugar for topping

Combine flour, sugar, chocolate chips, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Add banana and beer, stir until just mixed.  Pour into parchment-lined loaf pan.  Bake @375º for 50 minutes.  Brush top with melted butter and sprinkle with raw sugar.  Bake for another 5 minutes.  Cool on wire rack and devour.

This bread is moist and chewy, with a crunchy, sweet, buttery crust.  It’s unlike any other banana bread you have ever tried.  Yum!

Awesome stuff I did today besides skip out on a football game and bake bread:

  • Went to my favorite diner for brunch:  I had a bacon, cheddar, and veggie omelet and did the puzzles in the newspaper
  • Prepped some other stuff for my entries into the farm show, including pie crust and rhubarb curd
  • Pinned a bunch of cool stuff on Pinterest:

Gannon at Bloomsburg, OR, Hershey Park is Still Awesome

I did not manage to get to last week’s game.  Due to the occasion of my cousin’s wedding, we had house guests.   The wedding was on Friday (and I promise to discuss weddings further in a future post) so Chuck was able to attend! My oldest little brother, Jon, and his wife stayed with us for the weekend.  On Saturday, instead of venturing out to enjoy the foliage and watch Bloomsburg thrash Gannon, my brother and I spent the whole glorious day at Hershey Park.

This amusement park is home to some of my favorite memories.  My first trip was with the Daisy Girl Scouts at the end of my kindergarten year.  I almost died on the Comet, an old wooden roller coaster.  My skinny little self held on to the lap bar for dear life on every camel hump- since then, they have added lap belts to this ride as well.  One year my family went to the park and we ate concession food (a huge treat!) for lunch, paying for it with the change Mom collected from the laundry all year.  Sometimes I went to the park with Aunt Mary, Mom’s baby sister.  Once, Mom, Dad, and every single one of us kids wore a purple t-shirt so it was easy for us to find each other.  Dad thinks it’s hilarious/practical to wear eye-catching clothing (like a neon yellow hat or shirt) at the park.  He figures it’s the best way for everyone to find him again if we get separated.  Really, it just made me grateful when Jon and I were permitted to roam the park on our own.

Jon is my oldest little brother, only 21 months younger than me.  He and his wife live three and a half hours away so whenever they come up to visit family (most of my immediate and extended family lives in central PA), they bring the dog and stay in my guest room. My cats hate their canine “cousin” but otherwise it is always a fun time.  Growing up, we were best buds.  Now he is my favorite house guest and roller coaster partner.

I did not take any photos this weekend because my brother is incapable of being serious when having his picture taken. This is the face he makes when you ask him to pose. It means “this is dumb so I am going to make a face and you will know I am a supremely sardonic being.”

Are you a roller coaster person?  The most frustrating thing about visiting amusement parks, besides the long lines, is finding a riding partner who likes roller coasters.

After breakfast on Saturday morning, I dressed for the park and came downstairs to ask Jon if he was ready.

“I can wear my sandals?” he asked excitedly when he noticed my flippies.  “I wasn’t sure.”

We grew up mostly barefoot, and both of us still prefer to be as shoeless as possible.  Jon is a major MANdal  proponent.  His current mandals are Invisible Shoes (Huaraches), which are pretty darn cool.

Here is how to have an awesome day at Hershey Park with your brother instead of going to a football game:

  • Have an awesome grandma who hooks you up with free tickets.  Mine has a friend who works at the park.  If you don’t have an awesome grandma, go to AAA or the grocery store to get discounted tickets.
  • Get to the park on time.  Arrive at or before 10am, when the park opens.
  • Run or speedwalk or just match your brother’s loping pace to get to the rides with the longest lines.  Dodge strollers.  Circumvent families with children on leashes.  I recommend you queue up for Fahrenheit first as the trains only hold 12 people at a time and the line is often loooong.
  • Meet up with friends!  My uncle just happened to bring his kids to the park on Saturday, too.  Bumper cars are the best with a large group!
  • People watch while you are waiting in line.  I spotted a delicious pair of Amish teenagers in full rumspringa gear – English clothing with terrible bowl cut hair.  My cousin Joelle is single so of course I tried to get her to exchange numbers with them. She was pretty sure they weren’t her type.
  • Eat funnel cake.  It’s no more expensive than any other funnel cake you would find at a fair or carnival.  We had chocolate funnel cake with chocolate chips and chocolate syrup.  Be jealous.
  • Wait to ride the Comet until dark.  It’s better at night, when they turn on the lights.  Ride the Great Bear and the SkyRush during the day – the views are spectacular.
  • Do not sit on your huaraches when you ride The Claw.  They might fall out of the seat when your butt lifts up.   True story.
  • Bring a bottle of water.  I threw a 32 oz. Fiji bottle in our backpack.  The security guard who checks bags will hem and haw over the size, but the square bottle will confuse him.  If he questions you, remind him that you only brought one water bottle into the park for two people.   Also, it was just filled with filtered water from my tap.  Don’t have a cow.
  • The green car on the Lightning Racer roller coaster usually wins.
  • Stay until the park closes.
  • Pretend you are not exhausted and old.  Then sleep all day on Sunday.

I got sick on Monday and had a horrendous head cold for a few days.  Sudafed makes me totally hyper, so I went from being exhausted for two days to being mostly manic for two days.  Feeling better now.  Tonight is First Friday for Families at the LPL.  See you there!