Friday, December 28, 2007

BIRTHDAY CAKE

Baked this for my sister's birthday. It went over really well. We slice the leftovers, put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer then wrapped the frozen slices for later.

 

Carrot Cake with a Tropical Flavor

 

Cake:
1 3/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
4 cups shredded carrots
1 cup chopped unsalted macadamia nuts or pecans
1/2 cup raisins or currants

 

Pineapple filling:
2 cups diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup pineapple juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Hint: You can use a 20 ounce can of crushed canned pineapple and it works just fine. I suggest you use about double the cornstarch though. It makes a great filling.

 

Cream cheese icing:
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup finely chopped toasted, unsalted macadamia nuts or pecans

 

Untoasted nuts work just fine, especially if you're going to put them in the icing instead of trying to put them on the side of the cake. I also added about 4 tablespoons of milk the icing. It was a little too stiff for the light mixer.

 

For cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease one 10x3-inch round cake pan. Line bottom with circle of parchment or wax paper. Grease paper and lightly flour pan. You can also use three nine inch cake pans and prep them the same way. Much easier to deal with three layers rather than trying to slice one layer keep them from breaking.

 

Sift together 13/4 cup flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In large mixing bowl, combine oil, sugar and eggs. With electric mixer, beat a medium speed until light in color, about 3 to 4 minutes. At low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating just until smooth. Combine carrots, nuts, raisins and remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Gently fold into batter. Pour batter into prepared cake pan.

 

Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce head to 325 F. and bake for 50 to 55 minutes longer, or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean and surface springs back when gently pressed with finger. For three layers bake at 350 for ten minutes. Reduce heat and check in about 15 minutes.

Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Run knife around sides of cake to loosen. Turn cake out and cool completely, paper-side down. Mix filling and icing.

To assemble cake: peel paper off cake. Using a long serrated knife, slice cake horizontally into three layers. Remove top two layers (it helps to use a cardboard cake circle or a flat cookie sheet to slide under the cut layers and lift off). Place bottom layer on 10-inch serving plate. Spread half pineapple filling over cake layer. Place middle layer of cake on top of filling and spread withremaining filling. Place top layer of cake on icing. Spread remaining icing evenly over sides and top of cake. Press chopped toasted nuts onto sides of cake. Makes 20 servings.

 

For filling: In medium saucepan combine pineapple and sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until pineapple is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Combine pineapple juice and cornstarch and stir into cooked pineapple; boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. (Can be made a day ahead and chilled, covered, in refrigerator.)

 

Directions

For icing: In medium bowl, with electric mixer, beat together cream cheese and butter. Add sugar and vanilla; beat until smooth. Personally, I added the chopped nuts to the icing. It works just fine and I used whole pecan nut halves for garnish.

 

Each serving contains 539 calories, 40 g fat, 44 g carbohydrate, 69 mg cholesterol, 242 mg sodium. — Grand prize $2,000 winner in "Carats for Carrots" contest sponsored by the California Fresh Carrot Advisory Board.

 

 

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

WHAT THE?

This is squirrely's first attempt to figure out the new system. "Who the @#$%^^%^ changed the rules?" You're a smart critter, you'll figure it out.

Monday, December 24, 2007

JUST RESTIN'

Misty has been spending a lot of time nappng in the computer desk. She can keep an eye on what's going on inside and out. The window looks out on the front porch.

But sometimes a girl gets caught in midwatch and just has to rest her head. Even if the pillow isn't very soft.

THEORY MEETS REALITY

The recycled bird bath as critter feeder was a good idea, in theory. And it would probably work in any area where it doesn't rain so much. So I adapted something a co worker uses as a bird bath. She's had good luck but we live just a few blocks from the river so water for the birds isn't a big issue.

The bowls are plastic planter bases. I guess you can buy the tripod chains. But, we were at Jerry's and they have all the makings. And thanks to dad's tool collection we had all the tools to put it together. Six lengths of chain about 12 inches long, enough S hooks to put everything together, a heavy duty awl and a pair of blunt type needle nose pliers later we had two serviceable feeders. Use the awl to punch a few holes around the lowest part of the bottom of the bowl and the water drains out fairly well. They can be brought in over night to let the seed dry out if you have to.

It's been a hoot watching the squirrels figure it out. I think this one wrapped his hind toes around the bottom of the big S hook and used a front paw to pull the feeder close enough to reach the goodies. These are much lighter so when one of them tries to drop into the feeder it's ride 'em cowboy the first time.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

TRADITIONS (SORT OF)

It’s one more day until Christmas in western Oregon and it’s raining. Anybody around here who wants a white Christmas has to head for Mt. Hood or the high Cascades. And that’s ok by me. It can snow after everybody goes home. So far we’re on track to get the Umatilla branch of the family over here for a day or three. I think the nephews are the ones behind the trip this year. I think both boys (boys, they’re both in college) are just old enough to realize that the clock is running on both grandmothers. No, nothing is going to happen anytime soon, but neither one is going to see seventy five again and if they’re going to make memories, well, daylights burning.

 

It isn’t that sis doesn’t want to come over, but the BIL is having some medical fall out again and they’re both so damn tired when the school breaks come around. Anybody who thinks teachers have an easy time of it never tried to do the job. At least never tried to be a good one.

 

I have a whole week away from the JOB starting yesterday. So, mom and I have been shopping, baking, getting things together. Watching a few movies from the personal collection. The 1980’s A Christmas Carol with George C Scott has been tracked down and watched. So has The Gathering from the seventies. Finally got a copy of White Christmas. It’s just about as good as I remembered it. I think I know where my copy of the Grinch is hiding.

 

I guess outside of trying to get the family together, that’s about as close to traditions as we have right now. Didn’t put up the tree this year. All three cats are a lot more interested in what’s on top of things this year. And we both had visions of intrepid feline explorers trying to find out where the pretty lights were coming from.

 

There’s a dammit for you Russ. Coming in to find the tree on the floor and various furry heads either peeking around the wreckage or looking very innocent. And failing miserably. LOL. “Who us?” “Really I have no idea how I got tangled up in all these cords.” “I know, we’re supposed to stay off the desk, nobody mentioned the tree. And yes, we did have to climb on the desk to reach the tree”  (short tree) Three year olds, you have to love ‘em.

 

Anyway, my snickerdoodles are light, sweet and crispy and look just a little strange. I think it’s the butter I used when the shortning came up, well short. I forgot that butter lets them spread out further. So they’re shall we say, roundness challenged. And you know, I don’t really care.

 

 A few years down the road the kids will remember that the cookies were good, there were smiles all around and that we still all manage to fit around the kitchen table. If we’re short of time, dinner, may just get served buffet style. On paper plates. If the sparkling cider ends up in glasses that don’t exactly match, well duh. I’m after smiles, not matching stem ware. And if I catch a glimmer over in dad’s favorite chair, well, the day will be complete.

 

It’s the season of hope you see. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, the Solstice or just getting up in the morning, we live in the hope that the dark times will pass and the sun will return. Hope that light will drive out the darkness. Hope that for whatever time we have we can touch each other. Hope that when we reach out our hand there will be another hand reaching out to touch ours

Monday, December 17, 2007

CHRISTMAS CAROLS

We had a surprise last night. We were in the middle of my tape of The Gathering (late 70’s made for TV movie starring Ed Asner) when someone knocked on the door. We had carolers at the door. The kicker is that there’s a caroling scene in the film and I’d been thinking that it had been years since I’d seen carolers anywhere around here. And low and behold some carolers showed up. Serendipity.

 

I’m not sure I have a favorite carol. I guess I should say that I have a lot of favorites. I love the old traditional carols. From Silent Night to Joy to the World with stops at Bethlehem and singing along with Oh Holy Night; I love this time of year. There’s a special place for The Little Drummer Boy, and Do You Hear What I Hear? For White Christmas and Jingle Bells, for traveling home for the holidays, Jingle Bells, Decking the Halls, putting the Holly and the Ivy together. Thanks to the cats, it looks like the only Christmas Tree around here this year will the be the one on the stereo. And with a little luck we can sing about how It Came Upon a Midnight Clear under the stars. But, I’m not holding my breath.

 

I always get a kick out of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. There’s a Norman Rockwell print of a little boy poking around in his folks chest of drawers. He found a Santa suit in the bottom drawer and the absolute shock on that red headed kid in the hand me down pajamas is priceless.

 

Anyway I think one carol that does make me stop and listen is I’ll Be Home for Christmas. I tend to puddle up a little whenever I hear it.

 

Ah, speaking of drummer boys, it’s playing in the background right now. Excuse my while I croak along. I had a decent voice once upon a time. Too many years in retail, add a few allergies, and you end up with a barely passable shower voice. Mom’s understanding and the cats can go hide under the bed. Well, the drummer boy was doing his thing while I was doing the first draft. The Three Kings are passing throughright now.

 

Then again, I've always had a soft spot for this one, too. :-)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I STRUCK WARBLER

Repost of the picture from yesterday.

Cin was right on the money. And with time to look at the bird and compare with finch pictures in the Audobon book the bill is the wrong shape for a seed eating finch. I'm the amateur's amateur. So sue me.

Shot of a Townsend's Warbler from the web. Dug out the "bible," i.e the Audobon Field Guide, and leafed through the teeny birds section until I found a match. Unusually good match actually. It does help to have an actual picture to compare. Usually I'm trying to remember what I saw on the fly and thinking, "yeah I think that's what I saw."

According to the map in the Audobon book, little bit here is further south and west than usual. They do live in old growth douglas fir stands, though and we still have some old growth in the cascades. Probably got blown around during the storm last week. They run about 4 1/2 to 5 inches long and tend to be insect eaters. Sorry kid, you'll have to settle for suet cakes.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

OUT FRONT

There was a really good sale out at a local garden center last night. Came home with a new birdfeeder, some good seed and nice selection of bulbs for the spring. Actually could probably plant the seeds anytime between now and spring. And the silly day lilies are putting out new shoots. It's the preparation time of the year.

A little goldfinch type bird. We see them so seldom, but a pair found the newly cleaned little feeders with the thistle seeds in them. Eensy, teensy, I'd be surprised if it was more than four or five inches long. Also saw a pair of the stellar's jays this morning. Maybe we can lure them in more often.

A rather fuzzy shot, extracted from a much larger shot. They don't know me well enough to stick around for tripod shots. It's a hanging bird bath that's never tempted a bird. So it's going to be a feeder. We'll put in the kind of critter things that won't be hurt if it gets wet. Thinks like peanuts in the shell, pumpkin seeds, corn, and sunflower seeds. Friend bushy tail had a good lunch.

Finding some seeds and other goodies out by the oat grass in the front.

Couldn't quite figure out how to get to the new feeder. Finally said the heck with it and settled for cleaning up under the feeders instead. There were plenty of goodies to choose from. The bushes with the red berries are nandina. The bushes stay sort of green all year. Had some sun, some clouds and some rain. Wasn't even that cold. Sorry folks in Utah and Kansas.

Monday, December 10, 2007

AMAZING GRACE

Several months ago I did a journal entry about Moses coming down off Mount Sinai, stone tablets securely tucked under his arm. More to the point I imagined what happened in the first thirty seconds or so after he finished letting the Hebrews in on the Word from on high. First there would be silence, I imagined. Then everybody would be talking at once. Every sentence beginning with “what exactly to you mean by,” followed by the commandment(s) of your choice. The gist of the matter being “what I’m planning on doing, or would really like to do, or wish I could do isn’t really covered by…..again the commandment of your choice…..is it?

Ok, intro over. Back in the 1700’s West Indian sugar and all that went with it was oil, high tech and sub-prime mortgages all rolled into one for the English economy. Slave grown and processed sugar fueled the triangle trade. By the late 1700’s the infant abolition movement in England found a voice. It belonged to William Wilberforce. Member of parliament from Yorkshire, he spent twenty years trying to get a bill through parliament abolishing the slave trade. It’s the story behind the film, Amazing Grace. He was the voice for the hundreds, if not thousands of men and women who worked to end the trade in human souls. (frankly if I used all the adjectives I'd like to use I'd run out of space, abomination is the kindest)

Is the film totally accurate? Probably not. Did the film take liberties with history? Probably. Was I totally blown away at the end? Yeah. Would I have wanted to ask the man to dinner? I’m not sure. Abolition, free education, decent treatment for animals, efforts to end prostitution; the man was never still. Dinner would not have been boring. A profoundly devout Evangelical Christian, he was influenced by John Newton. The same John Newton who finally traded the slave trade for a pulpit and along the line helped write the hymn that gives the film its name.

But, it’s not the movie so much that I’m writing about at that damnable “surely you don’t mean” gene that human beings seem to have. The western European run slave trade was financed, manned and benefitted people who described themselves as Christians. Most of them saw themselves as good, honorable men and women.  

There are two Creation stories in Genesis. In the first, God Created human beings in His image. In the second, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

And “but surely” rears its ugly, hydra headed, monstrous body. We hear it in the modern Neo Nazi movement. We're confronted with it every single, bloody, shit not again day.

The…….fill in the group of your choice that doesn’t look like me, talk like me, eat what I like, dress like me, love like me, or most important of all believe like me can’t have that divine spark can it? Surely this isn’t the image of God. Surely you can’t mean that I should treat somebody like THAT as if God had come down to walk among us, can you?

WELL, WHY THE BLOODY HELL NOT?

Anyway, if you can get your hands on the film, it's well worth your time. We can change the world. Before there was Free Trade coffee there were signs in London shops that advertised sugar grown in the East Indies.

The East Indians may not have been living in paradise. At least they hadn't been torn from their homes, chained, crammed into a space approximately 40 inches wide by 18 inches high for a three week voyage into hell. Men, women and children crammed together in the same stinking holds. Some ships lost over half of their cargo to disease and despair before they even made the slave pens in the West Indies.

The trade in slaves was abolished in 1807. Slavery itself was abolished within the empire in 1833. William Wilberforce died three days later. The fight, all of it continues. The "but, you don't mean" monster and its children are alive and doing very, very well.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

ODDS AND ENDS

 Some odd bits from the last couple of weeks or so. Or a little further back.

 

Getting used to a new toy. Back in 02 we bought a TV that included a VCR and DVD player. We got it at Sears and plunked our some extra cash for the extended warranty. Part of the coverage included replacement if something went wrong and they couldn’t fix it. Lord that sucker was a monster. Sometimes I felt like introducing it as a member of the family, it was so “there.” Weighed a ton. Well, the DVD player went to heaven back in October. Took two weeks to get the first repair call in. I’m not impressed with the process of getting a repair call scheduled but I am impressed with the result. Toshiba doesn’t make the required parts anymore. Part of the offer was an in store credit.

 

Hadn’t been near an electronics department since about 03. To say that our jaws were hitting the floor is an understatement. Anyway, we ended up with a replacement set. Flat panel, wide screen, a remote that could be used for a lethal weapon, and a book of instructions that are still making me dizzy. I still haven’t figured out the array of input options in the back. It turns on, the picture is great, I can move the darn thing if I have to, and it doesn’t look like it owns the room. I should mention that we have a postwar style bungalow. Some of more modern houses have master suite bathrooms just a little smaller than our living room. It's warm, comfortable and paid for.

 

Mom had a good idea for a fill in bird feeder until we have time to go shopping. And kopeks, Christmas is coming after all. Took the little hang in the tree bird bath and put the crumbled suet cake and seed in it. Heaven knows the local songsters have spent the last two summers ignoring it when water was in it so it might as well do something useful in the winter.

 

Got reminded that the universe has a wicked sense of humor Friday. Friday was payday so naturally my car decided to pull a fast one on the way to work. Almost got to work and old faithful decided that going over fifty was no longer an option. Turned out the catalytic converter needed replacement. Lucky me, I work for a company that sells and fixes cars. They will also let me pay part of the bill and have the rest taken out of my paycheck. So my next couple of checks will be a little light, but it beats hitting the credit card again. And the universe and I remain on speaking terms. Mostly.

 

Last weekend it was almost sixty and by Monday large parts of the Northwest were underwater. This weekend it barely made it to forty, but we’re drying out. Life in the fast lane. I’m just thankful that there was no more damage than we had. Interesting though, we didn’t rate the almost endless coverage that other more populated parts of the country seem to get in similar cases. And I guess that’s part of the answer. Most of the places that were hardest hit were smaller and kind of off the beaten paths. And it’s kind of hard to do a story about someplace that’s flooded out when you can’t get past the blown down trees or landslides blocking the highways.

 

Just under two weeks until the Solstice and the return of the sun. I can hardly wait.

 

Listening to Perry Como CD of carols. I’ve never heard this song anywhere else. If we could remain as wise as children.

Some Children See Him
By Alfred Burt

Some children see Him lily white
the infant Jesus born this night
Some children see Him lily white
with tresses soft and fair

Some children see Him bronzed and brown
the Lord of heav'n to earth come down
Some children see Him bronzed and brown
with dark and heavy hair  (with dark and heavy hair!)

Some children see Him almond-eyed
This Saviour whom we kneel beside
Some children see Him almond-eyed
With skin of yellow hue!

Some children see Him dark as they
Sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray
Some children see Him dark as they
And, ah! they love Him so!

The children in each different place
Will see the Baby Jesus' face
Like theirs but bright with heav'nly grace
And filled with holy light!

O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering
Come worship now the infant King
'tis love that's born tonight!

'tis love that's born tonight!

 

Thursday, December 6, 2007

THE CURTAIN AT THE DOOR?

I haven’t been able to quiet my mind enough to get back to that little valley I wrote about in an earlier entry. I don’t know, maybe the little glimpse served its purpose and that path is closed until there is something new to learn. Any glimpses I do get are pale imitations at best. As if I’m seeing it through a curtain rather than feeling I was really there.

I’ve always been a little dubious about claims that you can cross the veil between the worlds at will and on our terms. I believe we’re allowed a glimpse if it will allow our spirit to learn and grow. A message to be sent, the introduction of a guide, a prayer answered; but on the spirit’s terms, not ours. I suspect that’s part of our problem. We catch a glimpse of the beauty just beyond our reach and very much out of our control.

 Most of us aren’t content with knowing the other world exists, but we can’t visit anytime we want. I wonder if so much alcohol and drug abuse comes from our attempts to bridge the gap only to find that the gap gets wider and wider and the locks on the door become stronger and stronger. Try and force the vision and you go blind and deaf.

When I started down that dream path I wasn’t expecting to find a heron fishing. Summer birds speeding between tree and bush. The songs of wind, grasses and water. A duck and a goose or two; those were the pieces I’d used to build the dream path. A sudden splash, a glimpse through the branches, and there it was. A great blue heron, in all its beauty. The heron can act as a spirit guide and it does feel right to me. The vision of the bird in the dream waters may have been the purpose of that particular journey. Even if I didn’t know it atthe time.

I do believe that there is intelligence on this planet beyond human understanding and beyond the edges of our awareness. We can perceive so little of what is around us. A tiny band of light is visible to us. A fraction of the sounds the world makes can be heard by us. We see and hear so little and yet we believe we see and hear all. And we’ve been carefully taught by the ones who attempt to control access to the worlds of the spirit to distrust anything beyond our limited senses.

Tricks of the devil, snares of demons, anything we can’t explain is a snare set to trip us up. And the torments of Hell begin to resemble the sick imaginings of disturbed minds rather than anything the Lady or the Lord of all could or would ever visit on any of their children, no matter how simple or small. God/dess that is no way to live. For anyone or anything.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

MEMORIES

Article in the Oregonian really took my back this morning. Back to the days of high school PE and gang showers. As I recall we had five minutes to dress down before class and five minutes at the end to strip, spritz, get into out civvies, get the PE clothes stashed and get ourselves and out gear out the door for the next class. I think we all were too busy to pay much attention to what we all looked like in our skinny skin skins.

 

And since PE was required for all (unless you had a really good religious reason for not dressing down) in grades 7 to 12 in my district, we got to ignore each other five days a week all through the school year. But, we didn’t have the media blitz helping us worry about our body image and frankly, most of us didn’t even wear much make up. Not that you’d have time to do much besides get dry and get your clothes on in those few minutes.

 

Anyway, the article was about how so many kids aren’t showering, even after athletic events that some schools don’t even build shower rooms anymore. A lot of kids think the gang showers are “weird.” Even when there’s access to stall showers, the students don’t use them. Some believe it’s a body image thing. Kids are more conscious of each other, and quicker to criticize perceived imperfections. Some students claim they don’t do any more than they have to in PE so they don’t work up a sweat. Wouldn’t have worked with my instructors. They weren’t tyrants but, we were out there to move, non participation was not an option.

 

I don’t know what dorm life is like these days, but we had a gang shower there too. I don’t even remember if there were any stalls, I think there were. But they didn’t have doors. Even if there was a shower curtain there was a common dressing area so it didn’t really make a difference. Didn’t slow anybody down as I recall. It wasn’t something we spent a whole lot of time over either. Get in, get out, and get on with the day.

 

Actually, the only thing I really remember from high school PE had nothing to do with PE. When I was a senior my locker mate was a little freshman with severe asthma. She didn’t come back after Christmas break. I think her name was Kathy. Gee, I haven’t thought about her for years. Sorry kid, you deserved better.

RAINY BREAKFAST

It may have been rainy this morning, but it didn't slow down the little critters at the breakfast bar.

The strawberry pot, make a good perch for a hungry scrub jay.

Shot this little one through the window. Probably just a coincidence, but everybody showed up right after I refilled the feeder. It's been busy off and on all day in spite of the rain and gusty weather.

We're due for a blow and rain over the next day or so.