April 24, 2010

We framed a wall!

The basement project is moving forward. A few weeks ago Mark brought home all the studs we should need to frame the walls. We are using metal studs because we got a great price on them and some of the guys Mark works with gave him a quick tutorial on how to put them up. So late Friday night we headed down stairs to get to work. After I asked a million questions and Mark was very patient explaining it over and over to me, we got to work.

If you don’t get sick from the angle of this picture…I feel a little dizzy…you can see what it looked like after we removed all the old walls. Just a concrete basement. Very nice and clean.

And here it is with the first wall framed. I helped with that wall. I actually have my very own pair of work gloves. Some of those screws holding the wall up, I did. I can work a drill. I’m a builder!

We even framed windows. At this point in the project I was the level holder. Not an extremely strenuous job, but an important job none the less. Mark had the dangerous job of cutting the studs.

The sparks were very pretty. It did smell terrible and at one point the smoke alarms in the whole house started going off. So then I had the important job of fanning the smoke detectors.

It was noisy and smelly and smoky

But it was very pretty

And now we have the outside walls of the family room, bedroom 1 and bedroom 2 framed. Progress is a good feeling.

April 22, 2010

Perfect brownies

We have been on the hunt for perfect brownies. For some reason, Allyson is constantly asking for brownies right now. We haven't really been brownie eaters, but Allyson seems to want them now. So we tried out a few different recipes.

This recipe used melted chocolate chips. It looked really promising.

And the girls worked well together making the brownies.

It looked ok in the pan, however the girls used a pan that was too small and didn't cook the brownies long enough. So we had brownie soup. Not what we were looking for.

During Ashley's ballet class one week, Allyson and I went to a thrift store to kill some time. I started looking in the cookbook section and came across a sample issue of Cooks Illustrated. The cover promised

Classic Brownies, Not Cakey, Not Fudgy, Just right!

So I happily paid the 25 cents for the issue and told Allyson we would try again. And this is what we made..

They have a crunchy top and soft middle. The edges were crisp and soft. Really a perfect brownie.

Classic Brownies

From Cooks Illustrated

1 Cup pecans or walnuts, chopped medium (I didn't use any since Allyson doesn't like nuts)
1 1/4 cups cake flour (I used all purpose)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine

12 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 1/4 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325. Fit foil to lie in 13 by 9 inch baking dish, allow foil to hang over the edges so it is easy to remove brownies after they bake. Spray foil lined dish with cooking spray. Whisk to combine flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl; set aside. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost-simmering water. Stir until smooth. Whisk in sugar. Add eggs on at a time mixing after each addition. Whisk in vanilla. Fold in the flour mixture in three batches. Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. If using nuts, sprinkle over batter. Bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs. Cool in pan on wire rack until room temperature. Remove from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut into squares and store in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

April 19, 2010

Sunday was family day!

Last Sunday we had all of our house chores done and there really wasn’t anything new to start on the basement project, so I packed some sandwiches and we headed out for a drive. Mark was driving and we had no real destination planned. It was nice to just get away and do something fun. We ended up on the road to Silver City, Idaho. A few years back we drove up there to see the ‘ghost’ town. It was interesting. I need to remember to take more pictures out the truck window so I could show you how treacherous the road was. About 14 miles into the 20 mile journey I had a huge panic attack and forced Mark to turn around. For the first 10 miles I tried to nicely tell him that I wasn’t really up to this journey…so it really started at mile 1 when the sign on the side of the road said something to the effect of “Road travel impossible from September to June due to hazardous conditions. Travel at your own risk”.

Somewhere around mile 6 there is a sign that say “Travel past this sign at your own risk. You will be responsible for all cost incurred for rescue”. I read these signs to Mark and he just kept on driving. I nicely pointed out the mud pit in the road at various points and reminded him to be watchful of places the truck would get stuck in the mud. He just kept on smiling and looking out the window. Looking back at it now I really think he thought I was being helpful…he had no idea my panic attack was escalating to catastrophic levels. Near mile 12 I pointed out how hard it would be to turn around on such a narrow, twisting, mud laden road, but when we turned a corner and encountered snowy icy mud laden twisting narrow road I had enough. I actually said “I’m telling you now I am out of my comfort zone”. He just kept on smiling and driving. Did he not notice I was dying over here?!? I think he said something like “It could get better in a minute.” I didn’t have a minute. I needed out of the truck RIGHT NOW. We turned a corner and the road did clear up, it also opened up for a perfect place to turn this huge truck around. But Mark wasn’t slowing down; he made no attempt turn the truck around. I saw all my common sense fly out the window. I had to get out of that truck and quick. With panic in my voice I told him he had to stop the truck NOW. I was getting off this crazy train. I think that was the first time he actually noticed I was in a full blown crawling out of my skin panic attack. Where the heck had he been for the last 14 miles, enjoying the scenery. Did he not know we were going to DIE here on this muddy snow covered icy mountain road? Finally he understood the grave danger we were in and he pulled to a stop; carefully he turned the truck around and let me get out.

I know from the pictures it doesn’t look like we were in danger, but these are some very frightful parts.

While I was coming back to my senses, the girls climbed the near by mountain.

the decent

We then got back in the truck and drove down the mountain. It was much easier driving down then up...and quicker. Why does that happen?  Maybe because the fear of dying had left my body.  We found a nice little hill off the main road and had a wonderful lunch in the back of the truck.

Then the girls went looking for rocks.

Look, hitch hikers looking for ride back to town.

Does she look trustworthy?  We picked her up anyway!
On the way home we took a detour and looked for fun stuff on the river bank.

The cows on the opposite bank needed a little drink.

I love relaxing Sundays with the family they seem to be few and far between with all the busy schedules in this house. Hopefully we can change that soon.

April 16, 2010

If only I was younger...

As I watch the kids on these wonderful sunny spring days...yes the sun has finally decided to stick around for a few days now...I dream of days when my body wasn't so old.  Days when I could do this.

Ok, so maybe not EXACTLY this.

Or this either.  That looks like it hurt.  In reality it did hurt and she took a break from showing me her new 'trick'  I don't think this is what she envisioned in her head when she told me to "Come Quick"

While Ashley took a rest, Allyson took over.

  Good rotation
I think the look on her face shows just how much fun this jumping is.  Lets take a closer look at the joy!

Honestly, she though that was fun.  I would hate to see her do something NOT fun.

Feeling brave again, Ashley jumped right back in it.
I love that it looks like her hair is holding her up.
Again where is the joy?
AH, there it is. The joy of knowing you have lived through the trick.
All the time the kids were jumping, the dog was doing this...
She's actually jumping at the bugs she sees.  She likes to eat them...but that's an entirely different story.

April 14, 2010

Spring has arrived...I think

As usual in Idaho the weather doesn't know what it should do. April came in with a bang, but then a day later it was a nice sunny day. The flowers in the front are showing their pretty little heads.

There is a little tiny spider on tip of the daffodil.
He's so cute and just hang in out on that leaf. I didn't even know he was there until I transferred the pictures to the computer.

When we replanted this flower bed I had no idea what was in it. The girls and I just pulled everything out one fall and tossed all the bulbs in a bucket. Once we were sure we got them all out, we just started putting them back in the ground. I'm just loving how low maintenance everything has been.

Notice the dark grey sky in the background...a few minutes before it was nice and sunny. Idaho in spring time is so unpredictable. But the tree has such pretty blooms on it. In a few days these blooms will drop and be swirling around the neighborhood looking much like a snow storm in April.

April 12, 2010

April brought more destruction

April arrived and brought with it more basement destruction. Mark and his brother have been working hard on getting everything ripped out of the basement and I think they have almost completed their to-do list.

Anybody need a pile of old drywall and insulation?  Sorry you can't have it, we have already taken this pile to the dump, but when we rip out the main floor I will make sure to offer it before we haul it away.
And can you think of a more peaceful looking place to do your laundry? Really I am a lucky girl to have such luxury. Notice the toilet back there? That is what is left of our second bathroom. Who needs privacy...not us. The girls now refuse to go downstairs to us the bathroom. Kids are so picky.
Everything is open and we have been able to pull out the old baseboard heater wires.  The mess has been cleaned up and we are nearing the reconstruction stage.  Now if we could just come to an agreement as to where to put the new walls we could get off and running.

I just keep reminding myself that it's getting closer every day, even though it feels so far away.

Did I mention we might have house guests this summer...no rush!

April 8, 2010

I’m not so scared of yeast…anymore!

I've been getting better at yeast bread. My first attempts at yummy fluffy dinner rolls turned out more like weapons….I could have killed someone with these pucks.

Believe me when I tell you these were supposed to be bread bowls for some yummy broccoli cheese soup, didn't work out as planned. My loving husband still ate his. The girls dug the centers out and made bread balls to dunk in their soup. I haven't tried bread bowls again…I'm slowly working up the nerve…I'll let you know when I get to that stage.

What I have been making is wonderful bread creations like these pretzels. These were my first yeast success. They are so easy to make and yummy to eat. I got the recipe from My Kitchen Cafe and I love making them for a quick afternoon snack. I'm a huge hit with the neighborhood kids. We even got crazy and dip them in cinnamon and sugar.
Then there is this very yummy monkey bread from the King Author Flour Blog.

This was another huge hit and very yummy for a Sunday morning breakfast. Just make it the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight.
But my biggest achievement to date in the yeast bread category is this super yummy wheat bread.

I adapted a recipe from the King Author Flour site and the kids seem to eat almost a loaf of bread a day. Ashley wrote about how my homemade bread is better than the store bread. Triumph at last.

I use active dry yeast, so it's really important to make sure the yeast puffs up before adding it to the flour.

That's what I like to see after a few minutes. Nice puffy yeast…a great start! This particular dough is a little dry looking and that seems to be just fine. The finished product is nice and fluffy. Because this dough has whole wheat flour in it I like to let it sit in the mixer for a few minutes before kneading it.

See how it's dry looking. I add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix it just until combined. It ends up looking like oatmeal, so I bring it together with my hands a bit. After sitting for a few minutes I mix it for about 7 minutes in my Kitchen Aid on speed 2. It needs to rise for about an hour.

                               This is before the Rise.                                      This is the after. It's still not a super soft dough.

A baker I know advised me roll out my dough and then form it into a log by rolling it up cinnamon roll style.

Let it rise again and get ready to bake it.

I wanted to see if I could make it look like the split top bread, so I cut a line down the center.

After 30 minutes in the oven…HEAVEN!!!

After it cooled I sliced it and had wonderful sandwiches, toast, and most importantly many yumms from the family. I'm no longer scared of yeast….but I'm still not ready to try bread bowls yet…but soon.

Wheat Sandwich Bread
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup lukewarm water
3 tablespoons sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
3/4 cup dried potato flakes
2 Cups all purpose flour

1 3/4 cups Whole Wheat Flour
1/3 cup orange juice
5 tablespoons butter, softened

Combine warm milk, water, sugar and yeast. Set aside and let yeast poof for a few minutes. In mixing bowl mix dry ingredients. Add yeast mixture, orange juice, and butter to dry ingredients and mix until combined. Let sit for a few minutes so the wheat flour will absorb the water. Knead until you've made a smooth, fairly stiff (but not dry) dough. (I do 7 minutes in my Kitchen aid on speed 2) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow it to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until it's expanded a bit.

Lightly grease a loaf pan. Flatten dough and using a rolling pin roll it into a rectangle no wider than the loaf pan. Roll the dough up much you would a cinnamon roll. Tuck the ends under and put the log in the pan smooth side up, cover the pan, and allow the loaf to rise for about 60 to 90 minutes, till it crowns over the rim of the pan by 1" to 1 1/2" or so. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the bread for 10 minutes. Lightly tent it with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, or until the center registers 190°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove it from the oven, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Run a tablespoon of butter over the top of the hot loaf, if desired, for a softer crust. Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing.

Yield: 1 loaf.