Friday, July 29, 2011

Cupcake Deux

We have been notified that the vanilla cupcakes we made were, in fact, not THE Ultimate Vanilla Cupcakes. Only 29% of the 50 bakers thought they were the best, and 80% had to think so in order for the cupcake recipe to be considered a winner. So Stef at the Cupcake Project is busy this week conjuring up a new recipe for us to try. We must bake the new cupcakes between August 1 and August 7 and report our results again via a survey. Since I am still out of town at my in-laws, I will need to bake mine when I get back to St. Louis. I think it is only fair that I use the same oven and pan that I cooked the first batch in. Wolter the Explorer is not finished with her adventures yet.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Corroded Artery

Last Wednesday I drove up to Charles City, Iowa because my mother-in-law was having surgery on her carotid artery Thursday. I came up by myself and am staying until the upcoming weekend because the Wolterman family reunion takes place this weekend in Okoboji. Jim will drive up this Thursday to see his mom and attend the reunion.

On surgery day we had to be in Mason City (a 45 minute drive from Charles City) at 9:00 a.m. for a surgery that was scheduled at 2:30. I'm sure this makes sense to someone, but certainly did not to any of us. Jim's sister works at the hospital in Mason City, so she took a couple of days off work to help out as well. The four of us (Mom, Dad, Jenean and me) left Charles City at 8:00. We waited in the surgical waiting room for awhile before they took Mom off to prep her. Then we waited in a pre-pre-op room for a couple of hours before finally moving to the pre-op room around noon. By now Jenean's husband had joined us so we sent the guys down to the cafeteria to get some lunch while Jenean and I waited with Mom. They had tried three times in the pre-pre-op room to get her IV in and finally decided to let the nurse in the pre-op room have a go at it since she is "the best" at doing it. During her sixth attempt the anesthesiologist came in for the pre-surgery conference, and he said he would like to try. After three unsuccessful tries, the nurse gave one last attempt and finally got it in. Now remember that for each attempt they had to give her a shot of lidocain, so the poor thing ultimately had 26 needles going into her! Then they needed to put in the arterial line, and that too was not going to be easy. At 2:20 they decided they were going to wait until she was under anesthesia to put it in since she was fairly traumatized by now.

After they wheeled her out for surgery, Jenean and I headed downstairs to eat. Oops - cafeteria fine dining ends at 2:00. So we had to settle for cold sandwiches out of a machine. Yippee. They did have a bag of pretzels and a Cherry Coke Zero, so all was not lost. Then it was back to the surgical waiting room. The surgeon came in at 4:45 to let us know that everything had gone well, and that Mom would be taken to a room in a couple of hours. When we finally got in to see her I was grateful that Jenean had warned us that she was very pale. Was she ever! But she was awake and able to talk to us. She felt nauseous and had some pain, but otherwise not too bad.

We stayed at the hospital until around 10:00, and then Dad and I headed back to Charles City. Jenean decided to spend the night in the room with Mom. I knew she wouldn't be getting much sleep, and I was grateful she had offered to stay. Friday morning we drove back over to Mason City, and we were able to spring Mom out of the hospital around 3:00. She looked so much better than the day before! Night and day difference.

So far she has done great. She is sleeping through the night and only taking one Tylenol with Codeine each night before bed. Otherwise she uses regular Tylenol during the day. We are very grateful for all the love and prayers people have sent her way. Obviously someone was listening! I have been enjoying having this time alone with my in-laws without the rest of my family here. But it will be nice to see Jim on Thursday.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What a Crock!

Peach Butter
After finishing up with the cupcake challenge on Sunday, it was time to turn my attention to the 40 peaches that were sitting in the garage for ripening. Since I had already canned the other batch of peaches, this group was destined to become peach butter. Making peach butter is usually an all day ordeal as the concoction has to slowly cook, while quickly splashing every nearby surface with sticky goo, for hours. To my initial delight, I had found a recipe that enables you to use the crock pot. While there is still splattering involved, the website declared that you could put your peach mixture in the pot and cook it on medium all night (up to 12 hours), and then can the next morning. Woo, hoo! No more standing over a hot stove frequently stirring the peaches so they wouldn't burn on the bottom of the pan.

I followed the instructions, except that my crock pot has two settings: low and high. No medium. Hmmm...I elected to go with low since I knew I could let it cook a while longer in the morning if need be. The mixture is supposed to reduce by half. At 8:00 Monday morning it had maybe reduced an inch. This was 12 hours into the cooking time. I bumped my setting up to high and by 2:00 in the afternoon I still had a soupy mess. So out came two large pots and I ended up cooking it on the stove the rest of the afternoon anyway. What a crock! And the biggest sad side note to the whole story is that I only got 6 pints out of the whole batch. Such a lot of work for so little reward. Every year I wonder why I go to all the trouble when you can buy a jar of peach butter for a few bucks at the store. But then in the middle of the winter when we open up a jar I think, "Oh yeah, this is why I do it!" It is incredibly good stuff. So I might need to make another batch while peaches are in season.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cupcake Update

So I got my batch of cupcakes made this morning. I waited until all three of the tasters were present for us each to try one. And the result is.... Sorry, you will have to wait until after the Explorers program closes to hear my review. But I can tell you that I was able to take the remaining cupcakes and frost them with Stef's recommendation of her chocolate cream cheese frosting. Here is what they looked like:

I have quite a bit of the frosting left. What shall I make next?

Cupcake Project Explorers

I was very excited to find out this morning that I was one of 50 people selected by the Cupcake Project to test what she hopes will be the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake recipe. When Stef posted on her blog that she was looking for 50 people to be Cupcake Project Explorers, never did she imagine that she would end up with nearly 700 people throwing their oven mitts into the ring! As she narrowed down the list of hopefuls, she wanted to have a nice mix of novice, intermediate and expert bakers. I admitted in my submission that I have NEVER made a cupcake from scratch. A sad but very true statement. I suspect that is one of the reasons that I was chosen. But whatever the reason, I can't wait to mix things up!

In a nutshell, the rules are that we must follow the recipe exactly, we must make the cupcakes between July 17th and July 23rd, a feedback survey must be completed, and we cannot release the recipe until after Stef gives us the go-ahead. If 80% or more of the Explorers agree that this is the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake, then Stef will declare it as such and let us release the recipe. If not, she will make modifications and the Explorers will try again. The Explorers are allowed to talk about the project however, so I am blogging, tweeting and Google-plusing about my experience.

My first step this morning was to come up with a name for myself during this experience. Kim the Explorer does not have the same ring as Dora the Explorer. Stef suggested Wolter the Explorer, so I shall hence become known as Wolter the Explorer. (At least for today.) Next up was a trip to the store as I did not have all the necessary ingredients on hand. I was chatting with my favorite checker about the test, and he was trying to convince me to bring a cupcake up to him so that he could lend his "expert" opinion. Ha! I told him I would let him know how they turned out next time I see him.

My batch of cupcakes is now in the oven. I will post an update later today.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Everything is Just Peachy

My daughter had her wisdom teeth taken out last Thursday. Did you know that, according to her oral surgeon, wisdom teeth are named such because they appear around the age of 18 when people should be gaining wisdom? Who thought of that crock of crap? At any rate, things went pretty well except for the fact that both nasal cavities were nicked in attempting to remove the long roots of the upper teeth. So she has a couple of stitches there as well as in her gums, and isn't supposed to blow her nose for a week. Good thing she was already over her cold. After seeing all she has gone through, I am really grateful that I never needed to have mine removed. I have all four but they never came down, and don't bother me at all. She is flying to Chicago on Wednesday to interview with 3 people at a communications agency that has offered her an internship in Shanghai while she is studying there this fall. This is the same agency that her class worked with in Prague this summer, so obviously they were impressed with her. I just hope that the flight poses no problems for her mouth. The surgeon said it was okay for her to fly.

Around playing Nurse Nancy, I picked up some peaches at the Kirkwood Farmers Market on Saturday. The vendor assured me that the peaches (which were seconds) would be ready to can on Sunday. Hah! They were barely ready to be canned today. It took me three hours to get the job done, and all I have to show for it are six quarts and one pint of peaches. Every year I wonder why I go to the trouble, but then in the winter when we open them up I remember why. So nice to have fresh peaches in the winter. I also make peach butter every year, so I need to go back out and get a second batch of peaches. I should have made the peach butter first, because it is an all-day ordeal as you have to cook the peaches for hours before canning them. Oh well. The peach butter is definitely worth all the work. I think I will wait for the weekend because then I might be able to coerce Jim into helping me peel and de-pit the peaches. Hate that part!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy Birthday, America!

This past weekend seemed really long, which is a good thing. Saturday night we finally got around to celebrating Father's Day. Katie was in Prague and Jim on his motorcycle trip on the actual day. We took Jim to a new restaurant in Webster Groves called The Block. It is an interesting concept in that they have a small butcher shop inside the restaurant. So if you love their pork chops, say, you can buy fresh pork chops to go and they will tell you how to prepare them. It took me forever to locate their website (not good, restaurant owner!) so that I could see what their menu looks like. They bill themselves as a family restaurant, but the menu is definitely not kid-friendly. When my kids were young, they would not have liked anything on the menu. I never could find the hours on the website, so I had to call to see when they are open. (Not good, restaurant owner!)

When we arrived a little after 5:00 (this being the time they open), all of the wait staff was sitting in the dining room going over the specials for the evening. We were seated anyway, which was more than a little weird. I ordered the burger and fries with coleslaw, Katie got the mussels appetizer (see what traveling abroad does?), and Jim got the pork chops. I am not a very adventuresome eater, thus my dinner decision. But the burger was grass fed beef with a strange little spice in it, the fries had salt and pepper and something else on them - maybe sage or oregano? - and I don't know what was up with the slaw, which I usually love. Katie said her mussels were good, though not as fresh as Europe. Go figure, right? Jim loved his meal. So there you go...I would not rush back there, which is too bad. I like patronizing the local businesses.

The Block        

On Sunday we drove about 30 minutes from St. Louis to a friend's lake house. The day had been sunny and hotter than Hades, and we were looking forward to a boat ride and swimming in the lake. As we were driving, lightning lit up the sky and it began to rain. And it rained for the entire time we were there. So we were cooped up in a small house with 7 adults and 3 kids. But we played games and were still able to grill, so it turned out fine.

On the 4th Jim, Kirby and I walked over early to claim our spot on Gore for the Webster Groves parade. Fortunately I had brought umbrellas, as we ended up getting a nice little downpour for a bit. People improvised on keeping dry as you can see in the pictures.

But they were still able to get the parade in, and in fact it was not so ungodly hot for a change. Then in the evening we walked up to the railroad tracks behind Schnucks to watch the evening fireworks. I drug my tripod along as I wanted to see if I could get any decent photos of the fireworks if I used it. The show was really good, but only lasted 15 minutes. We spent that much time trying to navigate through the crowds to walk home. Is it really worth it? I found a super nice cell phone on the tracks as we were leaving, and debated what to do with it. The owner might come back for it. Or one of the PAS persons might steal it. Do I take it home? Take it into Schnucks and turn it in to the courtesy counter? I ended up bringing it back to the house with us. We turned it on and went through the contacts until we found Home. I called that number and probably really confused the man who answered the phone. He thought it might be his father-in-law's phone, which made no sense to me. Katie said it looked like a woman's phone, not a man's. I gave him my name and phone number to call if someone in his house reported it missing. Then the cell phone rang. To answer or not to answer, that is the question. Thinking it was probably just a friend calling, we didn't answer it. Katie went into the Facebook account through the phone and found the gal's name, along with the fact that she recently married the guy who had just tried calling the phone. (All of this felt like a huge invasion of privacy to me, but I couldn't see any way around it.) So I called him back and explained where I had found the phone. They had just been walking the tracks looking for it so they were still in the area, thankfully. They came by to pick it up, and we learned that they just bought a house a couple blocks away from us. They will be moving into it as soon as it passes inspection. All's well that ends well.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

More Stitches in Time

Since we had my old office/new guest bedroom painted a couple of months ago, we have hung nothing on the walls in there. We have four vintage sheets of paper dolls that we framed and hung in Katie's room when she was little. Jim now has his office in that room, and doesn't want the dolls in there. Imagine that! So we will be moving those into the guest room. But I also decided to make a quilt to hang on the wall above the new bed we purchased for the room. I was about two-thirds done with the piecing when my sewing machine began to act up. All I could think was, "Thank God this didn't happen while I was working on the graduation quilt for Tommy!"

I took the machine into Jackman's Fabrics since that is where I purchased it. They will do an initial trouble-shooting on the machine, in case it is something simple. No such luck with this one, so the machine had to be sent in for repair. I have had it for five years and have never had it cleaned, which they recommend that you do on an annual basis. So I guess I am lucky that I have gone this long with no problems. Though I could point out to them that my Sears Kenmore machine, given to me as a college graduation gift by my parents in 1978, has never been in the shop and runs like a charm. As my dad would say, they just don't build things like they used to. At any rate, a week later I received a call that the machine was ready to be picked up. All that needed to be done was a good cleaning and an adjustment of my feed dogs. So basically I just had to pay the cost of the cleaning. Not too bad.

Now I have finished the quilt and just need to sew the hangers onto the back of it. My secret? I attach several of the coated paper clips to the back. You can then bend them as needed to hang the quilt on the wall with Command hooks. No harm, no foul.