Saturday, December 29, 2012

Venturing Into The Kitchen

My version of Katie's "Gooey Cinnamon Walnut Coffee Cake"
"Karyn is a culinary diva," is a comment you will never hear, unless, of course, there is another Karyn being discussed.  Ain't gonna happen. 

"Karyn sure can balance a check book" or "Karyn certainly loves her dog" - any number of other opinions can be bantered about.   But even at my memorial service - where people might feel the need to say something nice  - you know, rather than risking a visit from "Karyn, The Angry Ghost" - no one would stretch the truth so far as to venture a positive view of my cooking.

I feel I come about this honestly.  My mother kept us fed, but cooking wasn't her deal either.  There was the "toss a can of baked beans in a casserole dish, open a can of spam, cut it into 5 or 6 slices, arrange spam on top of the beans, pop in the oven, heat and serve" meal.  Or the ever popular and a bit more complicated "combine cream of chicken soup, a package of frozen broccoli, a can of tuna, pop in a bowl, sprinkle top with crushed potato chips and heat" dish. Yum!

I'm such an uninspired cook that I lived for several years without an oven.  The second-hand one that I bought lasted for about an hour and then died, so I lived without for the next 3 years.  And, now I'm at my mother's house and, well - lets say her stove/oven is less than state of the art.  In fact, it is so tired that when the oven door opens, it screeches.  Dogs across town howl it is so horrible.  But, I don't feel the need to replace it.  It isn't like opening it is a daily occurrence.

But yesterday I hit an all-time low.  I got inspired by my nephew's girlfriend's blog to make a coffee cake she'd featured.  I do love a good coffee cake and this one - a two layer "Gooey Cinnamon Walnut Coffee Cake", with cream cheese frosting between the layers and cinnamon glaze on top, looked like heaven.  

So, I went to work.  I combined ingredients.  I even pulled out and used the electric mixer. (The one that has the mixing paddles that have, over the years, managed to imbed themselves into the holes of the machine and refuse to be removed - - it is probably better that none of us knows WHY they will not come out!)

It looked like this was going to be a successful experiment when I decided to check the oven before turning it on to see what I might be storing in there that might melt.  The door wouldn't open. Not an inch. I think it was rebelling - assuming I was once again going to put into its chamber a concoction it would be ashamed to have played a part in constructing.

With my foot planted firmly against the base of the thing, I gave the door a good yank - sending the salt and pepper shakers that sit atop it flying across the room.  A few more pops and it was obvious that I couldn't even break the door down.  I  pondered tools.  Now, the only thing worse around here than my mother's cooking utensils and appliances would be my dad's tools.  I found a hammer and a screw driver that had been used to stir paint at one time.  The handle is loaded with icky green but flaking paint, some handle guardy thing spins in circles and usually rests near the flat end of the tool - unable to escape but certainly in the way during most projects.  

Armed with two next to worthless instruments, I returned to the oven and gave it a lecture about behaving as Arayo decided that now was a good time to head for safety.  I managed to pull the door out about 1/4 of an inch and inserted the screwdriver into the crack, pushing against anything that might be in the way.  

Nothing.  The door wouldn't budge.

I tried again, working at it gently, then bashing the driver into the crack while I yanked as hard as I could. By golly - I wasn't going to be beat in my  drive to bake this cake by a cantankerous oven……

Then, finally, the oven cried Uncle and with a loud scream and howling from the neighborhood dogs, the door opened!  I'd won!

The cake turned out great, if I do say so myself.  Though, mine isn't a beauty to behold, it is sturdy!  I took a hunk of it to a friend who dropped it on the sidewalk and it bounced - didn't break up or crumble a bit!  She can serve it to her husband for breakfast and, unless a piece of gravel falls out - he won't be the wiser.  I'm not sure what that says about my experiment into baking, but I got that out of my system for the year!  Next year - who knows what I'll attempt.

For those of you interested in following Katie's  baking blog - check it out!  We adore Katie and her creations are an inspiration!  What Katie's Baking

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Whining About the Energizer Elf

Arayo and the King Kong of Reindeers at Sara's house

The Energizer Bunny (er, ah, Elf) made it to town last week.  Really, this is a woman I should avoid, if for no other reason than if I spent too much time around her I'd feel……  hum, Inadequate?  Lazy?  Actually, there are many levels on which I shouldn't like her - but I really do.  And, since it is Christmas and I think Christmas is made for me to grouch - I'm going to share with you this woman's issues…..

First, some background.  Sara is one of several of us in town who's parents passed away, leaving behind a home.  Now, to inherit a home in Southeast Kansas means you've really inherited - just roots.  No matter how nice the home, you're not going to get much for it, so there really is no push to sell it and move on.  Besides, Oswego isn't a horrible place.  It has some real upsides to it.  Safe, sleepy, (read that boring) and full of some pretty darned nice folks…..

Sara is normally out in Santa Barbara, but she comes here for Christmas every year - flying in a week or so before the 25th to begin putting everyone in town to shame (especially me - bah humbug).  As soon as she hits town, she gets out her boxes of lights, her tree, her beautiful decorations.  Her house becomes ablaze with all the festive holiday stuff - and it is stunning when she's done with it.

Sara's house is exactly two blocks from mine and the glow in the north gets brighter every night she's around.  (I, on the other hand, have a handmade Santa in the closet.  Sara's bustling activity makes me consider pulling him out, running that rod up his rear and popping him on the mantle, but I did that last year so perhaps I'll wait another year or two before going to all that trouble again. Besides, I think I just took him down in August - I got tired of listening to him complain about the heat.)

In the midst of Sara's decorating, she holds her annual Christmas party - making invitations, running them all over town, inviting everyone that she knows - and she knows about everyone.  The doctor, the pharmacist, the postwoman, the minister, the carpenter, her neighbors.....

Last year she decided to redecorate her granddaughter's bedroom - painting  walls bubblegum pink, converting some rag into stunning curtain rod wraps, pulling in a Christmas tree perfect for a teen, and stringing lights, hanging things on the wall - It was pretty amazing and she pulled it off in the blink of an eye.  I know - I was there for much of it and I'm still in shock. (See "Life is Too Short of White Walls" )

This year, on top of the normal decorating, party planning, shopping and such, she set up a studio in her garage and pumped out half a dozen or more 3' square masterpieces.  No apologies for making the rest of us in town look bad - nothing!  She makes Martha Stewart look like trailer trash - imagine how she makes the rest of us feel.

And, if this all isn't enough, in the midst of all this work - when Arayo was catching poison frogs last week, Sara crawled out of bed and came over at 11 pm to check on us and help me walk  around the yard, waiting for Arayo to upchuck.  Sara's a darn good elf, in spite of these other traits.

I've asked Sara why she doesn't just leave all the decorations up?  Why go through the effort of putting stuff back in boxes, packing it away, only to come back a year later to do it all over again….  She hasn't given me a good reason  - yet.

But, we love having her come back to town, and we're glad her family feels a connection to Kansas - even if they didn't grow up here.  Sara adds a bit of energy and bling to this tired little community.  Though, after thinking about her - I believe I'll go take a nap.

Check out Sara's work at Sara Lytle's Website

Thursday, December 20, 2012

EVIL Toads of Kansas!

I am taking a break from the promised three-part (well, for now) Landlord Hell series to bring you this story as a public service.  A warning - this post is, perhaps, a bit graphic.........

EVIL TOADS!  Yes, you heard me.  Those cute fat lumpy little toads that hang out in your garden.  BAD news, these guys…..

Now, most of the summer one stalked us.  I just thought it was really stupid - maybe brain damaged from lack of water and too many 100+ degree days in a row.  Every time I walked out the back door the fat little guy was waiting.  Perhaps for an invite inside and a fresh drink of water….  I didn't know.  

I'd chase him a bit and get him to take a couple hops.  Then he'd stop.  I'd grab a broom and gently coax him towards the garden.  Cute.  Fat, lumpy cute.  Arayo thought so too.  She thought this was better than a squirrel.  I had to be on alert or she'd dash after it and I wasn't so sure that Lumpy could out-hop her.

But, with the changing of the seasons, Lumpy hasn't been around so I assumed he'd gone the way of mosquitos - who knows what happens to them in the winter?  Maybe he'd hopped to Mexico.

Last night I took Arayo out for a potty break. As we were coming out of the house she dashed after something.  I grabbed a post that is by the back door and halted her progress - then decided to walk her around the house in a different direction from whatever had her interest.  

Business done, we returned to the bedroom.  Arayo turned to face me, lowered her head, S-L-O-W-L-Y opened her mouth and out falls this gray ……..   blobby thing!  OMG!  OMG OMG OMG!  I'm chanting as I race from the room for a dust pan.  This THING has a familiarity about it.  Could it be…..?

THE TOAD!  Lumpy is back and Arayo has been carrying it around for 5 minutes or so.  I scoop it up and rush outside.  It doesn't look harmed but it is solid as a rock - not moving a muscle.  Dead?  Shock? I toss it into the garden and return to Arayo who is now standing by her favorite drinking fountain - the bathtub - but I realize she is foaming at the mouth!

A drink of water and I'm back to the computer.  I know that killer toads are to be found in places like Central America, but why is she literally foaming?

It seems that Kansas is home to a toad that is cute but wicked.  The info online screams:

Warning Toads have enlarged glands (called the paratoid glands) on the side of the neck, one behind each eye. These glands secrete a viscous white poison that gets smeared in the mouth of any would-be predator, inflaming the mouth and throat and causing nausea, irregular heart beat, and, in extreme cases, death. Toads pose a danger to pets, which may pounce on and bite them.

I call the vet who happens to be in the office at 10 pm.  "Well, there isn't much we can do for her but her size is a plus.  Give her some hydrogen peroxide, get her to vomit and call if she develops any problems."

I'm off to the bathroom to grab the peroxide, then to the kitchen.  I need to concoct something to get this down her…  I find stale Lorna Doones, a box of old saltines, a package of chopped hot dogs.  Everything gets mushed together and soaked with half bottle of hydrogen peroxide.  I get "the look" - like "are you serious?"  Arayo eats it anyway. Some days I'm REALLY glad she'll eat almost anything.

We head outside to see if she isn't ready to barf, but not a chance, so I repeat the process and we walk some more.

An hour and a half later, we are back inside.  She isn't feeling great - her green squeaky razorback is being carried around while she cries a bit.  I've covered the bedroom floors with blankets and plastic and she finally settles down - but I hear her stomach rumbling…….

She rests until about 12:30……  Then, out of a corner of my eye, I see this enormous yellow foamy mass slowly ooze from her mouth -  mushed up Lorna Doones, Saltines and weenie hunks.  A teaspoon was on a blanket - the rest on my newly shampooed carpet!  It was special.  But, finally we could both sleep.  

She seems fine this morning but I've learned my lesson.  Beware the fat cute lumpy stupid frog.  He's not as innocent as he appears.