Treasure Hunt

School will soon be out! If your kids are like mine, they will be bored by week two. Add a rainy day and they will be lining up for entertainment – that would be you! Enter ‘Treasure Hunt’. This game is easy, quick and cheap – or it can be as complex as you’d like. I always enjoyed the ‘king’ theme. As the name implies, the children will be questing throughout the kingdom for the prize.

  1. Choose a theme. MM900046593(1)
  2. Hide the prize. While the questors are putting on their costumes, hide the prize. What is a good prize? This again, depends on how much you want to give and the likes/dislikes and ages of the questors. Remember, you may play this several times this summer so I would keep it small. If I planned ahead, I would buy a small trinket for the prize – a favorite toy or book. Again, if you planned ahead you could wrap it – that adds to the excitement. If you didn’t plan ahead, just use some money or a coupon for a special treat. The treat could be the right to decide what to make for dinner.
  3. Make the clues. MM900303301Use small strips of paper. The clues lead from clue to clue to eventually the prize. The clues are written with the ages of the children in mind. You can draw pictures instead of words if needed. Here’s an example: Under oldest child’s pillow. Then put the next clue under that pillow. TIP: Be sure to put the clues in safe locations.
  4. Hide the clues. First check to make sure nobody is peeking! If you wish, you can make enough clues for everybody find or just one. You can also make several routes through the house for the hunt. I know – this could be as adventurous as you want!
  5. Assemble the participants. ??????????????? Explain the rules. My rules are:
  • No running
  • No making messes – search carefully and put things back the way you found them
  • No climbing
  • If you have just one clue at each place, the finder must read it aloud and discuss where the next clue might be with the group (rather than just running off with the clue – what fun is that?).
  • If the prize is wrapped, it must be brought to the kitchen for a group reveal

And they’re off and not running to find the first clue. You may have to go with them the first time. As time goes on you can be more creative with the clues.

Have fun! MC900441717

Mechanicals Happening

The rehab on the house continues and is coming together. The focus during the last two weeks was on the mechanicals and upstairs bath. The items to be completed are being whittled away. Kudos to my contractors – they have day jobs and their own homes to work – but still they are making great progress on my house – thanks guys!

One setback occurred: the water company came to turn on the water and we discovered we’d failed to plumb in for a water meter – doh! We need the water to do the drywall next week. It’ll be tight to get it all done – may have to put off the drywall. Rats

The mechanicals included putting in a new electric box, a new water heater and finishing the water lines. Of course all the copper had been pulled out before I bought it. new_elec_box Strange thing, the electric had been turned on but I haven’t received a bill. hmmm – I better call them before I get a huge bill.

 

new_water_heater  new_water_piping

 

The upstairs bathroom was completely stripped when I bought it and the laundry hookups were down in the basement. I wanted the laundry facility upstairs. So the guys ran pipes up and are framing in a laundry ‘closet’. wash_dry_closet_frame

Although I would have preferred a cast iron tub, I didn’t want to put that weight on the 2nd floor. So, we went with an acrylic tub with a surround. The guys had to frame it in. new_bath_enclosure I think the shower head is a bit too high but we can fix that later.

Coming up: plumb a water meter, replace downstairs shower stall and drywall.

Crock Chicken Pot

If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I’m a big crock pot fan. Making good use of a crock pot and a freezer can be a life saver for a working mom. There’s just something great about coming in the house after a busy day to the smell of something good cooking – especially in the winter (if you live in a cold climate you know what I mean). This recipe makes ten good size portions in a full crockpot.

Here are the steps I use to make what I call ‘Crock Chicken Pot’. TIP: You can also make this in a covered casserole dish in the oven if you want.

Step 1: Assemble your ingredients

  • Fresh Vegetables. I use Celery, Carrot and Onion
  • Cream of Chicken and Mushroom soup. 3 regular size cans. I use Campbell’s Healthy request most of the time.
  • Seasonings. I use .5 teaspoon each white pepper, rosemary, sage and thyme. Adjust to taste.
  • Chicken. 3 – 4 pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breasts. Thawed or Frozen.

Step 2: Cut the vegetables into inch thick pieces. veggie_bowl Set aside. TIP: Cut the veggies and mix the sauce the night before. Save the mixture in a zip lock bag. In the morning just dump it into the crockpot.

Step 3: Make the sauce.

  • Empty three cans of soup into the crockpot. You could also use Cream of Celery. Adjust the type of soup used according to your taste. TIP: Save money by buying the family size cans if they are available. soup
  • Add seasonings and stir. seasonings

Step 4: Assemble in the crockpot. The sauce is on the bottom, then add the veggies and finally the chicken. all_in_crock

Step 5: Cook. If you used frozen chicken, set the timer to 6 hours on high. If you used thawed chicken, you can set it to 4 hours on high. TIP: If this needs to cook the entire work day, set it to 8 hours on low for either frozen or thawed chicken. I bought the crockpot with the keep warm feature in case I don’t make it home in exactly 8 hours (who does?). crock_setting

Step 6: Serve. I usually make a big pot of rice to serve with this dish. You could use noodles also. TIP: You could make the rice/noodles the night before and just warm in the microwave to serve. I freeze leftover rice/noodles for future use with this recipe.

Leftovers! As this makes more than one meal, you can portion and freeze for lunches or even faster dinners. This cooks beautifully in the microwave at work. freezer_bowls For this recipe, I save about $80 for work lunches vs going out.

Enjoy!

How to Apple Pie

When cooking, I try my best to keep the kitchen clean as I work. As we go through the steps, I’ll highlight my ‘keeping it clean’ tips.
The cookbook I use most is Joy of Cooking.   joy_o_cooking  The current edition (found in the link) is the 75th edition. I use the one my mother gave me for Christmas many years ago. It’s stained and a bit lopsided. My mother is gone now and the book has her writing in it – I always think of her when I’m using it. I use the Apple Pie II recipe. When making an apple pie, you can either put the apples into bake raw or precook them. The Apple Pie II recipe is the one from my edition using precooked apples. I like it because the apples don’t shrink during baking so the top crust sits right on top of the apples instead of having an air gap between them.

Step 1 – Peel, core and slice the apples into a large bowl.  As the recipe says – don’t cut these too thin or they’ll get mushy.   raw_slices

Tip: you can do this ahead of time — just put the apples into a zip lock bag and sprinkle some lemon juice over them to keep them from browning. When precooking the apples, browning doesn’t matter but your kids might want to sneak a slice before you can make the pie. (I always cut more than needed for the pie itself)

Step 2 – Assemble your ingredients. For the seasonings, I measure them out into a small bowl. ready_seasonings  If you’re looking at the recipe, you’ll notice I use nutmeg and a touch of cloves in addition to the cinnamon. You can add your seasonings to taste; be careful not to overpower the cinnamon.

Step 3 – Cook the filling. You’ll melt butter in your pan and add the apples. The recipe says to let them cook for about 7 minutes. I prefer a slightly crunchier apple so I only let them cook about 3 minutes. Then add your sugar and seasonings. Let this boil (stirring) until the syrup is thick. To test if the syrup is done, use a wooden spoon and let it drip back into the pan. syrup_drip_1 syrup_drip_2

When the drip is thick and slow, it is ready.

Step 4 – Cool the apple mix. TIP: To keep this from being a hard clean up, I put foil onto a baking sheet and spread the apple mix out to cool. Put the sheet onto a wire rack so the mix will cool faster. cooked_cool The apples will take about 15 minutes to cool.

Step 5: Prepare to bake.

  • Put your bottom crust in the pie dish. TIP: Smooth the dough against the sides and make sure there is some dough above/over the edge all the way around.
  • Preheat the oven. TIP: The recipe says to preheat at the beginning. Since I’m not Ms. Speedy, I find this wastes a lot of energy. If you preheat at this point, you should be ready to pop the pie into the oven when the preheat is finished.
  • Prepare the topping. This isn’t in the recipe. Separate an egg, reserving the white into bowl. Make some cinnamon and sugar mix. TIP: I make about a cup of this and keep it in a container. It’s awesome on buttered toast for breakfast too.
  • When the apples are cooler (they’ll still be a bit warm – that’s OK), put them into crust in the pie pan. TIP: To make the transfer from the sheet into the crust easy and clean, pick up the edges of the foil lengthways and funnel the apples into the crust. You won’t spill any and the baking sheet just need a quick rinse (or not).
  • Put the top crust onto the pie. You should have an even amount of dough overhanging the edges all the way around. Now fold the top edge under the bottom overhang and pinch all the way around. The recipe says to put water on the edge before doing this — I usually don’t. You can then make a decorate edge using a fork to press it down all around or you can crimp it (pinching with thumb and two fingers).
  • Put the glaze on. I do this because it makes the top shiny and I like the extra pop of sugar and cinnamon. Using a brush, brush the egg white over the whole top and then sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar mix.

Step 6: Bake. I use a pie crust protector during the baking period. I have a metal one but you can make one out of foil.

Step 7: Cool. The pie has to cool for at least 4 hours. This allows the syrup to ‘set’. This is what keeps the pie from spilling out when you cut a slice. Put the pie on a wire rack to cool.

Step 8: Enjoy

The last TIP: I cut individual slices and freeze them. They are so good for lunch at work — just pop in the microwave for about 30 seconds and viola Pie!

Crock A Roast

Here are the steps I use to crockpot a roast:

  1. Chop the veggies
    carrot_cel_save        frozen_vadalia I usually clean and chop a bunch of veggies at one time – this saves time during the week. I put the carrots and celery I’m not using right away in a plastic tub with water. The second pic is frozen valdalia onions. When they are in season, I chop pounds of them, wrap them in individual plastic packets and then double bag them in freezer bags. They are great for use in cooking – not in raw preps. CLEAN UP TIP: I use a plastic bag to collect all the prep trash as I work — easy to throw away and keeps the kitchen clean! prep_trash
  2. Put the veggies into the crock pot – they need to go on the bottom. Don’t plug the crock in yet. veg_crock
  3. Next make a marinade for the meat (you could do this before chopping the veggies if you wish). roast_marinade For this marinade I use garlic powder, nutmeg, torn up bay leaves, salt, pepper and olive oil. Rinse the roast and pat dry. Put the roast into the marinade and coat all sides of the roast.
  4. Sear the roast on all sides. Heat the pan until drops of water sizzle away and then put the roast in – make sure you watch it and turn it to another side after it gets a nice color – don’t burn it. roast_sear2 
  5. Put the roast atop the veggies in the crock roast_veg_crock
  6. Add some liquid. Here is where I cheat :) . I use a can of Campbell’s Chunky Soup with another half can of water. Imparts alot of flavor without much fat!chunky_soup
  7. Put the lid on the crockpot and set to Low for 6 hours. roast_crock_time
  8. Remove the roast and let it rest for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, transfer the veggies and broth into a large serving dish.
  9. Slice the roast as you wish and place atop the veggies and broth.
  10. Serve with your favorite starch – mashed potatoes, noodles or stuffing. Note: if you used potatoes in the crockpot, you won’t need a side starch.

Enjoy

Day of Pie

I love to bake; once in a while a spending an entire day cooking and baking. On this day, three pies was the goal. I cut them into lunch size portions and freeze them for work day lunches. Here they are:

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From left – Chicken, shepard’s, and apple.

I used pre-made crusts (I’m not crazy :) ). For the chicken (my own receipe)  I poached and diced up two pounds of skinless, boneless breasts. For the sauce I used one can each of cream of chicken and cream of mushroom and added some diced celery, carrots, onions and frozen peas. I added some rosemary, thyme, sage, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Bake and viola! Chicken pie.

I’m very much enjoying nutmeg these days.

For the shepard’s I followed a recipe from Dec 12 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. It’s actually a beef stew. I used beef filet. It’s covered with a combo of mashed carrots and potatoes. Yummy. However, the mash didn’t freeze and thaw very well for lunch. In the future I’ll probably just bake the stew and take a piece of bread with it for lunch.

The apple pie is based on my favorite cook book – The Joy of Cooking. I do like the crust to be more flavorful – so before baking, I brush the top with egg white and then sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top. You can’t really tell from this picture but it makes the top shiny.

Here’s my freezer awaiting the new arrivals:

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I estimate each portion saves me about $10 a day for lunch at work. Nice and good

The Windows

When I bought the house, the previous owner had tried to rehab it. Among the interesting choices that owner had made were the use of replacement windows vs new construction windows for the lower level. This 1900 house originally had large windows; the replacement windows didn’t fit so some edits were made. Here is a photo of one of them:

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Obviously this resulted in water leaks and etc.

The upper level windows weren’t ‘fixed’ when I bought it. Here’s a pic of one of them:

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A trip to Lowes bought $2000.00 worth of new construction windows. My contractors installed them in one weekend plus a couple of days. Those guys are great!

I’m not posting the finished product until its all done.

About that Foundation

As I purchased the house in winter there was little danger of the foundation completely caving in for a couple of months. However, it was imperative the work be done prior to the spring rains.

My contractors began by excavating along the problem wall:Image

As the wall was bowed in about a foot, they installed four steel beams, two in and two outside, with threaded pipes through them and the block. Then, using nuts, they slowly pulled the blocks straight.

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The original estimate was $11K; my guys did it for $4K (including re mortaring the blocks and replacing the small windows).

There were a couple of other places that required block work as well –

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The cats weren’t happy!

The House

I bought it for $7,000.00. It was a foreclosure – the popular term is ‘distressed’. I’ll say its distressed. Check it out– Here’s the front view:

_DSC0970  and here’s the rear view when I brought it:

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What you can’t see in the pictures is the foundation – falling in on one side and a basement full of feral cats.

Why would anyone take on this rehab project? Because I’ve been away from my hometown for 30+ years. I’ve been carrying this town around in my heart all this time. Life is short – its time to start building my future!

Scary huh? Exciting huh?