1/30/2017 Multi-Layered Quesadilla

Everyone is in Superbowl LI frenzy at the moment, and since the Patriots are playing I’m allowed to enjoy all of the excitement and festivities (instead of being angry and bitter about whatever loss we may have suffered).  One of the Facebook Live videos that Food Network has recently posted is of one of their chefs making a 21-layer Quesadilla.  It was an entertaining video and I was intrigued at how, after assembling, pressing, and cooking the quesadilla in the oven, how it could come out of the pan whole and you could cut it like a cake.  I decided I absolutely HAD to try it, although I recognize the impossibility of being able to eat a 21 layer quesadilla all by myself.

Fortunately, bestie C. had stayed the night before the Blizzard Blast with me and was also enthused about the notion of a quesadilla layer cake, so we immediately set to it.

The ingredients are pretty simple.  Tortillas, shredded cheese, and whatever quesadilla toppings you would like.  I bought a can of refried beans, had some black beans already, and cooked some ground turkey with Adobo seasoning.  I don’t much like peppers or onions and put the kibosh on C.’s idea of adding those, although it would have benefitted from something more wet like a layer of salsa occasionally.  If you like spicy, put in some jalapenos or other peppers.

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The quesadilla is layered in a cake pan.  I sprayed the bottom with cooking spray, put down a tortilla, and then proceeded to layer ingredients separated by tortillas on top.  The biggest challenge turned out to be the black beans, which just congregated in the middle or rolled off the sides.  Next time I’ll add them to the refried bean layer and stick them in place instead!

Once the cake has been assembled, it needs to be compressed and set for a couple hours so that everything doesn’t fall apart once it’s baked.  We topped the massive construction – around 18 or 19 layers high, I lost count – with another cake pan and managed to zip tie the entire thing closed to keep it compressed in the fridge.  Alternatively you can top it with another pan with some heavy cans in it.  It compressed from about 2 feet high to about 18 inches by the end of it’s time in the fridge.  After two hours – or for our cake, about 24 hours – you put it in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or so until the whole thing warms up and it’s ready to eat.

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The quesadilla tower popped out of the pan easily and I was shocked at how it cut into slices so easily – it was really like cutting a slice of cake.  There was no worries about it toppling or the gooey bits oozing off of the rest of the layers.  It was quite a mouthful, and delicious!

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I’d say the only criticism is that it was a bit dry.  I solved that problem easily with application of sour cream, and then it was excellent!  One slice was more than enough for me to be VERY filled up.  C.’s teenaged bottomless-pit daughter ate two slices that night when she got home after work.  This is definitely a family meal!  I guess it could potentially be a party meal, but since you have to prepare it ahead of time, there is no way to cater to tastes for fillings unless you knew ahead of time or (what I did) kept it rather bland.  I can certainly see slicing it into thin pieces and serving it as party food however!

 

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1/29/2017 Blizzard Blast 2017

First OCR of the season was a great one!  This was my first time doing the Blizzard Blast, a 3-4 mile course that takes place at the Shedd Park in Lowell MA, and what a great one it was!

The day started with a moderate sleep in and some pancakes with bacon and sausage.  Hey, when you’re racing, you gotta do a carb/protein mix to keep you going – short-term burn and long-term burn (that’s my excuse, anyway).  Bestie C. and I packed up the car and the pooch and headed southwards.  Lowell is only a little over an hour away and the day was sunny and cool, with temps in the high 30s.  It was a nice day to run.

We met my sister, who would be dog handling while we ran, and arrived at the parking area 45 minutes before our wave was due to set off.  Unfortunately they had run out of space by that time – I guess there were lots of early runners! – and redirected us to a parking area down the street, which was also out of space.  We managed to squeeze into one (and I did my parallel parking for the year) and catch a bus to the check in area.  Huge plus and applause should go to the organizers for having so many shuttles available.  There was little to zero wait time the entire day.

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This race is a little unusual in that there was a parking area, a shuttle to the check in area, and then another shuttle to the actual race.  It’s understandable since there is no large parking areas in each location, but still strange.  Anyway, we arrived at the check in area, a large bowling alley called Wamesit Lanes in Tewksbury, and received our bibs, t-shirts, timing chips, and balaclavas with rapidity.  I’m a little surprised we got loaded down with so much stuff before heading into a race, but there were bag check options and I suppose the t-shirt could have been picked up after rather than before the race.  As it was, my sister was a convenient pack animal for all of our unexpected booty.

We loaded on to a second bus to take us to the race.  Kyra was extremely popular with the racers and got a head pat or lovings from everyone who boarded.  Once we arrived and unloaded, there was a brief pit stop at the bathrooms at the park – something I’m glad I didn’t have to take advantage of – and we managed to squeeze into the 11:30 wave rather than wait another 15 minutes for our officially assigned 11:45 wave time.  My sister and Kyra saw us off and then wandered around the park and said hi to pretty much everyone there, from what I’ve heard.

Unusually, there was no snow on the ground over a vast majority of the race, which was extremely lucky for C. and I.  It had been recommended to us to buy spiked shoes to do this race but I hadn’t been willing to shell out $150 for some shoes that I wouldn’t wear too often, particularly for a race in which I’d already paid an entrance fee.  However if there had been snow or ice on the ground the way there typically is in New England at the end of January, we would have been in serious trouble.  As it was, we both wore sneakers and just had to be extremely careful in certain areas where there was ice cover remaining.  It was very obvious who were the experienced runners with spiked shoes, and who had never run before in sneakers.

The race began with a series of snow hills (you had to wonder where they kept this snow before bringing it in for the race!), followed on to the stone wall surrounding the park, and then wound around the back of the park and up the hill.  There were a few 6-7′ walls to get over and then an attempt at an obstacle with some Christmas lights strung back and forth across the path, but previous runners had obviously tripped on them at some point and tore them down.  It was a good thought though!  The first real obstacle was climbing through a spiderweb of hoses strung within a gazebo (excellent out-of-the-box thinking there), very fun.  The race progressed back up a hill and came to a keg carry.  The race is sponsored by Shock Top Brewery and empty kegs feature prominently in many of the obstacles.  In this one, we had to carry a keg down the hill a distance and then roll it back up the hill.  Surprisingly, I had no trouble with the keg carry – it was relatively light and I put it on my shoulders – but had great difficulty with the keg roll back up the hill.  The path snaked back and forth at least a dozen times and there is very little training you can do to prepare for hunching over, pushing a keg, and going uphill for quite a distance.  I had to keep stopping because my quads and back were screaming.

Next was a pleasant run and a new set of obstacles – a Christmas tree barrier!  There were several of these throughout the race using unbought and leftover Christmas trees, piled on top of each other across the path to make fragrant and interesting barriers.  There was an obstacle at the top of (yet another) hill that was a qualifier for the OCR World Championships. The Devil’s Staircase was an A frame with spaced bars that you had to go up and then move across hand-over-hand.  I was not interested – I know I don’t have the upper body strength to do that sort of obstacle yet – and simply skipped it.

The run started weaving downhill again and the next obstacle was great fun.  There were 10 paintball guns lined up, and we got ten chances to hit some deflated snowtubes that had been pinned up some distance away.  I’ve never had a paintball gun obstacle at an OCR before!  It was great!

We headed back downhill, around and over multiple bleachers and benches surrounding the baseball field before heading back into the trees and coming into the best obstacle I’ve ever had at a race – a downhill sledding obstacle!  You grab a flying saucer from a pile of them and slide down yet another hill, hopefully (or hopefully not) avoiding a large bump in the middle of the hill guaranteed to send you flying.  I hit the bump straight on – not intentionally – and cleared several feet of air.  My first time sledding in quite a while, and if I thought my butt was up to it I would done that obstacle several more times.

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On the way down…
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Catching air!
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Landing…ouch!
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Woohoo!!

After hauling my sore butt back up the hill to return the sled, it was a quick jaunt through the woods and down again to the keg swing obstacle, another upper body obstacle in which you had to swing from suspended keg to keg across a distance.  Yet again there was no way I was going to be able to do this obstacle (damn my lack of upper body strength!), so I dangled from a keg for 10 seconds or so before letting go and continuing on.

Shortly after was the Christmas tree drag, in which you grabbed a long rope tied to the base of a Christmas tree and dragged it up and down yet another hill.  It’s surprisingly difficult and takes a great deal of leg strength; there are portions where you’d swear you were dragging the entire earth behind you.  After trying out several techniques I found the one that worked best was simply to wrap the rope around your waist, face up the hill, and plow through it.  Over the years in an effort to reach beyond the negative ‘you can’t do it’ thoughts my brain conjures up during these times, I’ve developed the technique of counting to myself as I move forward.  I count four steps – 1…2…3…4 and then start over, again and again.  As long as I’m counting I know I’m moving.  If I start losing count and stuttering, I know I’m getting tired, but hey, I’m still counting, and it gives me a boost.  If I can’t count any more, I stop.  It’s surprising how well this stupid little trick works!  It keeps my brain occupied with counting so that I don’t think of how much work I’m doing or how I can’t do it, it keeps my legs churning because really, how hard can it be to take 4 more steps?  And it keeps me motivated to keep going.  Since my particular bugaboo while running is going up hills, this technique has saved me more than once.

Once I made it back to the bottom of the hill with my tree, my sister and Kyra were there waiting for us!  It was great to have some smiling faces (and barks and yips of eagerness) at the end of a particularly tough obstacle.  Once we got some loves from Kyra, C. and I set off again (much to Kyra’s distress, as she wasn’t coming with us) and headed around a playground and some tennis courts.  We navigated across a wall using fingers and toes and headed into some tennis courts to do a keg hoist – surprisingly easy to do compared to the Spartan Herc Hoist – and then set off into the back of the tennis courts and on to pavement.

This was where I really started to drag.  We were at least several miles into the course already, and straight running without obstacles is not fun to me.  My legs were starting to cramp and I was getting quite warm, but there was nowhere to dump my extra layers.  I was starting to feel the long break that I’ve had between the last time I ran and now (it’s been several months at least).  The course wound around an elementary school and stopped briefly at an obstacle where you had to throw a football through some suspended tires.  After another short distance we navigated a brief Christmas tree barrier before getting to what for me was a real groaner of an obstacle.  We were given a Christmas tree (no rope this time) and had to drag or carry it up and around and back down the crown of a hill.  It was probably a quarter of a mile but felt like an eternity.  I started out by dragging my tree (I stupidly chose the first one I came to rather than picking out a better suited one) but quickly realized that it would be very difficult over rough ground and take forever, and stopped to haul my tree over my shoulders.  I won’t say this was any easier – Christmas trees are surprisingly heavy! – but at least my legs and shoulders could support the weight differently, the motion wouldn’t be so jerky, and I wouldn’t have the friction of tree vs ground to contend with.  I made it, peering through the pine boughs like a creepy forest creature, and gratefully dumped the tree back where we started the circle.

We tackled a relatively easy obstacle next in which you had to scootch up along ropes using bowling pins for  grips and then down another side.  Further up there was a “through” wall, and then a rope climb that we skipped.  There was an excellent forearm workout in which we wound up a rope around a stick from which a mini-keg was suspended.  There was another upper body obstacle – a peg board climb – that we skipped and yet another wall that I had to be helped over.  After another short run, we emerged from the woods to the main park area again, and I met my sister and Kyra near the trail.  Kyra was so nuts that I ended up grabbing her leash and taking her with me for the last quarter-mile or so!  The second to last obstacle was an interesting one – you were given two cement blocks and had to use them as stepping-stones (picking up one and putting it in front of the one you were standing on) to cross a muddy patch and back again.  It was an excellent squats and arms exercise.

Then we rounded the final bend and picked up a keg for the final carry around a playground and up over several snow mountains to the finish line!  Kyra absolutely loved being a part of things and was much applauded (and received MY medal!) at the finish line.  The brat seemed very pleased with herself.

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Kyra got a medal!

There was a brief wait for the shuttle to get back to the lanes and then an immediate hop on to the return shuttle to the car.  We didn’t bother with the after-party – we were a combination of sweaty and cold and just wanted to change and eat – and very quickly got back to the car and promptly had a lovely meal at Longhorn once the bestie and my sister had a Starbucks fix.

It was pretty late in the day by the time we got home but it was well worth the travel and the cost.  What an excellent race.  Next year will greatly depend on how much snow is on the ground and how much spike shoes will cost, but I’d love to do it again!

 

1/28/2017 On Plaid Crocheting

I was recently doing my usual surf-for-gold crochet pattern searches and came across a post in The Crochet Addict of a woman who was nearly done with her plaid blanket and was expressing what a relief it was to be finished with it.  The blanket was gorgeous (I went looking for the photo afterwards and couldn’t find it again!), in the typical red and black plaid colors with some other colors woven through it.

I had never seen or considered doing something with plaid patterns before.  I’m not Scottish, I don’t have a tartan, I don’t particularly like plaid (though I live in hillbilly NH, I should!) so it’s never been something that I’ve been motivated to investigate.  This blanket was gorgeous enough to give me a focus for my searches.  I thought maybe a scarf would give me enough work to sample the crocheted plaid workup without committing to a huge blanket.

I found this pattern for a Big Tartan Super Scarf that looked pretty, but looking at the pattern a second time, it takes FIFTEEN balls of yarn!  FIFTEEN!  As pretty as it is, it might as well be a blanket.  No thanks.

I continued my Googling and came across this site for 10 Free Plaid Crochet Patterns.  The first pattern for wash cloths (the direct link is here) seemed fast and workable, and what I really liked is that the pattern didn’t call for weave throughs of chains or strands of yarn once the frame of the plaid has been worked up.  For one, the Crochet Crowd said that weaving the yarn was a huge nuisance, and I would rather generate a product that I knew had all of the stitches attached across the weave.

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Exemplar photo from pattern site.

There is a helpful video on the website, though I prefer to just follow a written pattern unless I get really stuck on a pattern.  The only time I had to refer to the video while working up my wash cloth was on how to work the final chains around the rest of the work to make the plaid design.

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One side of plaid.

Per usual I ignored gauge and hook size suggestions and just used my favorite J hook and figured I would deal with whatever got worked up.  And boy I did.  This swatch that I finished measures about 2′ x 4′.  More of a body towel than a wash cloth!

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Other side of plaid.

And, per usual, I don’t like it.  It doesn’t look plaid to me!  It looks like a white background with a bunch of stripes on it.  Perhaps it’s the colors I chose – rather at random and trying to align with the colors of the exemplar photo – or perhaps it’s that the hook I used is so large that the stitches aren’t close enough together to get the plaid look going.  Not sure what.  But I know I don’t like it.  I don’t even know which side is supposed to be the ‘right’ side.

It was going to go into the Goodwill bag until C. saw the finished project and complimented it.  She promptly got the mat/towel/large wash cloth stuffed in her bag to go home with her.

I’ve done some more searching and intend to do a faux-plaid scarf with variegated yarn using a yarn pooling method and the moss stitch.  Will update on how that goes.

1/26/2017 Hobby Room Painting: Finished at Last!

As I’ve written about before, painting the Black Wall in the living room was the first priority after buying my house, followed closely by painting the rest of the living room/kitchen so that it wasn’t so dark in that big airy room.  The next top priority became one I didn’t expect, which was painting my hobby room.

I had originally just expected to move down the house gradually while painting, starting in the hallway (also dark), going into my bedroom and bathroom, and then moving around to the guest bath, spare bedroom, and then the hobby room, finishing up with the basement (which will take a team of 6 and buckets of Kilz, I expect).  Instead, as I’ve slowly set up the house to the way I’ve wanted it, the hobby room quickly moved to the head of the list.  Discounting sleep and bathroom time, the hobby room is the second most used room in the house.  As soon as I got the desk/table and bed in there, it’s become a comfortable haven for myself and the dog(s) alike.  I can spend hours in there crafting while Ky snoozes contentedly on the bed or, if it’s sunny, chases shinies around the room.  However it was painted a dark green color – the former color of much of the house – and in a small room like that, it felt oppressive.

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Pano of the hobby room before painting.  The black patch on the wall is blackboard paint, courtesy of the former owner’s kids.

Even on a bright sunny day, like it was when I took this photo, the room was still dark.  You get a better idea of the original wall color here.

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Foster dog Wilbur enjoying a nap on the new hobby room daybed.

I don’t want anything in my home to be able to be described with the words “dark” or “depressing”, certainly not a room that I wanted to be a place of comfort and cheer.

The quest began to pick a paint color that would work with the room I wanted it to become.  White would have been too bright; the room gets afternoon sun, and the reflected glare would have been bright but overpowering in the summer.  I didn’t want anything similar to the pink/grey of the living room and I didn’t want blue, as I’m guessing that one of the other bedrooms is going to be a shade of blue, both bathrooms are currently blue, and the bed set that I bought for the room was blue plaid.  Not to mention the hideous neon blue that is the current color of the cellar.

I brought home a bunch of paint tiles and discarded them one by one; too bright, too dark, too orange, too red.  Then one day after Christmas Kyra and I did a wander of Home Depot.  Our neighborhood Home Depot allows well-behaved dogs in with their owners, and it’s a wonderful place to both train and socialize a dog.  I’ve lost count of the number of orange-aproned employees who see Kyra and dig in their pockets for dog treats that they carry with them.  Kyra always beelines for the service desk, and points out the treat boxes to the employees behind it with a not-so-subtle hint.  If the weather is nasty and you have to get out of the house with your vibrating-with-excess-energy dog, HD is the place to be (provided that your local HD is as awesome as mine; pet permission varies by store manager).

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Sunshiney dog.

We were doing our usual wander up and down the aisles – Kyra, per protocol, was introducing herself to every person she saw – and I paused at the paint chip display, always on the lookout for a good color.  The seasonal stuff was still out, and I saw a chip with four accenting colors on it.  One was pink (no), a very dark brown (no), a warm gold (not bad), and a color called Harvest Pumpkin.

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Behr paint chip that caught my eye.

Now, don’t make snap judgements on this orange.  The color in person is MUCH different than the color on the chip.  Much lighter with pinker tones.  And as anyone who has attempted to choose a paint color knows, the color looks vastly different on the wall than it does on the chip (or the floor, or your shirt, or the dog).  I don’t like orange as a color in general and particularly not as a paint color.  But this one really hit the right warm/cool mix for me.  And at the risk of making you think I’m particularly weird – if you don’t think I am already – I’ve had very good luck with paint colors named for food.  I still remember my favorite paint project on my first house, which was the three season porch, that I painted Butter Yellow with Milky Way accent color.  Food paint colors just work better!  I had a good feeling about Harvest Pumpkin, and was even tempted to buy some Pink Sea Salt.

I went ahead and bought a gallon of the Harvest Pumpkin premium paint/primer with great trepidation.  The Marquis stuff is nearly $40/gallon and not returnable, so if I didn’t like this orange color, I was going to be out quite a bit.  But if I just bought a sample size, I knew damn well I was never going to just commit and get the damn room painted.  Apparently $40 is all it takes to get me to commit!  Good to know for the future.

And so I started painting.  The only bit I primed first was the blackboard painted spot, as I’ve never painted over blackboard paint before and wasn’t sure of the possibility of bleed through.  I actually ended up painting three of the four walls over the 30th and 31st of December, mostly so I wouldn’t have time to dwell on New Year’s thoughts of my ex and Where It All Went Wrong while I was alone with my canine on New Year’s Eve.

The blackboard paint turned out not to be as big a concern as the original paint on the walls.  The Behr Marquis, despite claiming to be one-coat coverage, was not.  I would imagine it’s one coat coverage if you applied it super thick and used 3 gallons to paint a small room, but I have neither the tools, time, or money to do so.  I rolled it on with a thin, cheap roller and edger and ended up having to redo all three walls over again at least once and in some cases multiple times.

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Potential accent wall that turned into a non-accent wall.  Took me three weeks to paint the remainder of this wall because of my complete lack of desire to do so.

There had been a thought in my head that I’d leave one wall the original green as an accent wall, which is why I concentrated on three of the four walls in the room.  Unfortunately as I worked my way around, I found holes or damage to every wall that had to be fixed and painted over, including the wall that I had planned to leave as an accent wall.  Since I didn’t have the original paint color to do the fixes, I just went ahead and painted everything.

Now, when I say “went ahead”, I mean it in the context of “used up all the paint I had, procrastinated on buying more paint, bought more paint, and then procrastinated for weeks on finishing the final wall.”  It’s the 26th of January and I finally finished the fourth – and might I add smallest – wall.  The last time I worked on the room was Jan 1st.

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3 of the 4 painted walls.  For some reason, the closet-side wall took 3+ coats while the others only took two.  This is a nice representation of the paint color.

The problem with painting is that no matter how small of a project you’re painting, it’s still this huge undertaking.  Even if you have all of the materials and supplies there and waiting for you literally in the room, it’s still going to take hours.  Finding your painting clothes, opening cans, mixing the paint, pouring it, moving furniture around, taking down and putting back up curtains and fixtures, wiping up spills (a constant inevitability when I’m painting), rotating through the roller, edger, brush, and sponge without spilling or dropping anything, washing and putting away all of your equipment, folding up the ladder and hauling it around, washing yourself and making sure you’re not tracking or smudging paint around the rest of the house…any painting project requires these things, and that’s not counting the time taken by the actual painting process.  Much like teaching, I like the actual act of painting, but I hate all of the crap that goes along with it.  I need a Painting Butler who will hand me things upon request and clean up after me.

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The fourth wall (on the right).  The paint actually looks yellow here!  It covered the blackboard paint very nicely.

That being said, I absolutely love the final product.  The room is cheerful and bright without being overwhelming.  The color is not orange but closer to a peachy pink and goes well with pretty much everything from the green desk (that may not stay green forever) to the blue bed set.  It’s warm and comforting and just what I’m looking for.  I’ve actually managed to come out of this project with 3/4 of a gallon of Harvest Pumpkin left over, and I think next on the list is the same color in the master bath!  I like it that much!

1/25/2017 On Blue Job Mountain

Blue Job Mountain is a tiny and not well known state park and one of the (very) few areas of note in the small town of Farmington, NH.  I lived in the Seacoast area for 5 years and never heard that there was a mountain anywhere close until I started searching for hiking trails in the area.  I actually came within a mile of the entrance to the trail in Strafford multiple times while visiting friends and still never knew about it.  But if you bring it up in conversation, it’s one of those “sure, I go there all the time” spots for the locals.

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Blue Job is actually one of a string of – well, they’re technically mountains, but compared to the Rockies or even to the neighboring White or Green Mountains, they’re more like hills – in Strafford County.  Parker Mountain, the adjoining hill, barely tops Blue Job at 1400 feet. And while there’s miles of trails covering the mountain, nearly all of them lead back to the same singular parking lot on Crown Point Road.  You could wander all day and still end back at your car.  Though admittedly it would also be easy to end up on any of the adjoining series of “mountains” and get off of Blue Job’s trail.

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There are three things about Blue Job that I particularly love.  One is that it’s steep enough to give you a workout while climbing, but you can still be up it in 20 minutes if you keep your feet churning (it is maybe a mile long trail).  The view is spectacular – you can see the White Mountains, the Green Mountains, the neighboring “mountains”, some beautiful farms, Portsmouth in the distance, and potentially, on particularly clear days and with some binoculars, Boston.  It’s a relatively quiet hike during off periods (but extremely busy on a beautiful summer weekend), and I’ve had the dog off leash there on occasion, though I’m less trusting of stranger dogs that are off leash than others.  I had a bad experience with a group of unsupervised off leash dogs at the peak and a ridiculous woman who had no concept of dogs or people who might not like a pack of other dogs off leash and charging up to them at full speed.  This was one of the rare times that I actually used my can of dog repellant on a stranger dog (and was grateful I had it).

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The other part of Blue Job that I truly love is the Fire Tower.  The main trail up to the summit goes along the eastern slope, through some woods and past a lake, where it gets slightly steep and rocky until you hit the summit.  The Fire Tower trail also starts at the parking lot but goes up the western slope of the mountain.  It’s much steeper and rockier in places than the main trail, but you’re rewarded by a truly amazing 360 degree view from the top of the tower (provided you are not scared of heights or steep, narrow stairs!).

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That being said, for the weekend warriors who don’t want a particularly difficult or long hike but still want a specatcular view and an enjoyable trip through the woods, this is the place to go.

1/24/2017 Random Dog Toy and Peanut Butter Balls

No deep thoughts today; lets talk about some silly stuff.

I rarely buy Kyra stuffie toys; they’re ridiculously expensive considering they last about 20 seconds (even the “Tuff” ones are only good for a few minutes) and Kyra can get just as much joy out of shredding a cardboard box.  No really, both myself and my living room floor can testify to the scraps of cardboard currently spread all over it.  The only times she gets stuffies are occasionally when someone gives them to her, when I break out the stash of 99 cent ones I get from the Evil Empire for some extra incentive while training, or when she’s driving me crazy and I crochet one with the extra squeakies and stuffing I rescue from the toys she’s previously destroyed.

A temporary coworker of mine bought Kyra this Lambchop toy as an early Christmas present and (as you can see) she thoroughly enjoyed it.  Lambchop lasted remarkably long – at least a few minutes – and contained two little squeakies and one big squeaky that I rescued as the demolition progressed.

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Lambchops are tasty!

About a week later she was driving me up a wall but I was too tired to play, so I whipped up a quick dog-toy-like object for her to entertain herself with.

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Mom.  Gimme that weird-looking thing.

The toy had a squeaky in both ends and was crocheted out of Super Saver yarn, so it’s actually a little bit harder for her to get through than Lambchop was.  The yarn pulls and tightens rather than tears, so it takes her a little while to get into the guts of the toy.  She seems to particularly relish pulling the stuffing out with her front teeth once she’s made a hole wide enough to do so…it’s Wild Kingdom watching her sometimes.  It’s very easy to imagine that the stuffing is entrails.

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Practicing “take it” and “hold it” before demolition.

The next is a fast, easy, and few-ingredient recipe that’s become a favorite of both my mother and my bestie.  The only criticism I have for it is that it’s terrible health-wise for you.  But most delicious things are!

I can’t remember where I first found this recipe – probably via Facebook – and of course I can’t find the original source anymore, but Skippy’s version is pretty much the one I used.  You just mix peanut butter (I prefer chunky), LOTS of confectioner’s sugar (you think that much sugar won’t go into that little PB, but it does!) and some butter until it’s dough-like, form into balls, chill, and drizzle or dip into melted chocolate.  I usually add a small amount of vanilla  extract to the dough while it’s mixing for an extra layer of flavor.  Forming the balls takes by far the longest, but if you have a small Ice Cream Scoop or a round tablespoon and don’t particularly care if your balls are perfectly spherical it goes much faster.

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Completed PB Balls.  Plus the non-waste of leftover chocolate and M&Ms on the left hand side.  Hey, you can’t just throw out chocolate!!

We learned very quickly the first time making these that it is extremely messy to try to immerse the entire PB ball into chocolate.  I gave up on the fork at one point and just used my fingers.  Since then, the bestie has preferred to hand dip the tops of the balls, while I go the easier, faster, and chocolate-saving route and use a fork or small plastic bag with the corner cut off to drizzle chocolate over the balls.

Once set, these guys freeze and thaw very easily and are delicious either way.  Of course they must be kept chilled or you’ll end up with sweetened peanut butter, but you can throw them into sandwich bags and keep them in the fridge without damaging them.

Now I want some…darn this blog.

1/23/2017 Of Owl Hats and Cauliflower Risotto

Let’s talk about a success and a not-such-a-success.

As I’ve discussed before, my best friend C. loves cute owl stuff.  So when I come across something she’d like and is pretty easy to do, sure, I do it.

This Crochet Owl Hat pattern from Repeat Crafter Me was well written and simple to follow.  It’s nice that there are so many permutations depending on what size you want to make.  The pattern only takes a few colors and I managed to work it up in a night and did the finishing eyeballs the next day.  A newborn hat would probably only take an hour or two, and I’m a relatively slow crocheter.

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Per my usual aversion to anything with buttons, I substituted a small circle of crochet done with black yarn and a much smaller hook for the eyeballs.

It turned out very well and the hat fit C. perfectly.  She’s got a small head, so I stuck with the teen/adult pattern and it worked fine.  I have a bigger head (and hair) and the teen size fit me also, so perhaps the large adult size is only for…well…large adults!  We met for a walk on an extremely cold and blustery day and she didn’t have any head covering, so it was perfect timing!  The ear flaps come in very handy, as it turns out.  The only thing I would change is that I’d probably have done the accent color in a funkier one – the pink or purple as seen in the exemplar photo in the pattern – rather than the more natural brown I chose.  I think it would have looked nicer.  I also didn’t particularly like the ears, but those were optional extras anyway.  And heck…I’m not wearing it!  As long as she liked it, that’s what matters.

On to the less than successful recipe.  I tried this Cauliflower Risotto a while back and won’t make it again.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.

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Now, I’m a sucker for a good risotto.  I love making it.  Something about the process, the frequent stirring and checking, the magic of releasing starches that turns a bunch of dried husks of rice into a creamy dish with the simple addition of broth…oh, it’s lovely.  As are the final additions you can add to make the dish your own; you can keep it simple and just add some butter and cheese, or go deluxe with a variety of veg or meat.  Darn it…now I want some!

This particular cauliflower risotto (and I suspect califlower risotto in general and not the fault of this recipe) is none of those things.  It’s undeniably flavorful in terms of the tomato, spinach and capers.  The beans add an undeniable richness and meat to the dish that would be sorely missed otherwise.  For someone who is looking to lower their carb intake and up their veg and fiber intake, this is probably a dish with some promise.  But as I’ve said before, I’d rather eat a small amount of deliciousness than a great deal of meh.  And to me, in comparison to the real thing, this was meh.  Not particularly creamy, rather crumbly, and tasting strongly of cauliflower despite how much it was cooked, this is no substitute for the real thing.  This recipe says you can “feed your kids cauliflower without them ever knowing it.”  Sorry parents…if you have Italian kids who have had the real thing, this’ll end up on the walls pretty quickly.  My sister and bestie liked it, but perhaps they’re overly kind.  It’s not worth the time and effort to make again.