Sunday, January 25, 2009

Breakfast Blogging

After writing out my Swedish pancake recipe yesterday, I couldn't pass up the chance to make them for breakfast today. It only took an hour and a half, since I started messing around taking pictures. (What happens when you take a picture of a mixer mixing? Let's find out!) I have over 80 pictures of breakfast now, isn't that awesome? I'm such a dork.

As promised, I decided to try to make these as healthy as possible. I did not double the recipe this time just in case I'd guessed wrong. Eggs were replaced by egg beaters, milk by powdered milk. Also, I used margarine instead of butter, but I've done that before.

The good news is, the pancakes tasted the same to us! The bad news is, boy is that batter sticky. I had to use Pam on my "non-stick" pan between EVERY pancake to keep them from sticking too bad. Not that big of a deal, the Pam doesn't add bad stuff in, you just have to remember to spray every time.

The texture of the pancakes was just slightly dryer than with the real eggs and milk. I think I will still choose to make these pancakes for us the healthier way, it wasn't a big change. I think it's the eggs that make the texture difference, I might mix in one real egg to 2 Egg Beater eggs, see how that works. Right now, though, I think a special occasion would call for the real kind.

So what does happen when you take a picture of a mixer mixing? Meet Mr. KitchenAid, my best kitchen purchase ever. I don't stir anything any more, I just let him do the work. Anyway, here are three of my favorite pictures, kind of an abstract-y and interesting. I like how the whisk looks like it is flying apart.

Back to the topic, here's what the batter looks like mixed up. You can tell I did remember to grind some cinnamon and nutmeg this time!

Batter freshly poured into the pan:

Pancake just about ready to flip:

Whoops! Forgot the Pam:

This pancake got flipped a little too soon, you can see how wet the bubbles are. It doesn't hurt the flavor at all, I just thought it looked cool. This is why it took an hour and a half to make breakfast.

Stack of finished pancakes!

Incidentally, my kitchen is not this yellow. The light is bad and I don't have a flash setup. I should have used the tripod and spent more time with the lighting, but I figured I really had already geeked out enough over breakfast. It's not exactly something National Geographic is going to want, you know? However, it does give me a lot of admiration for people who take pictures of food for magazines and whatnot. It's harder than it looks.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Swedish Pancakes - UPDATED

UPDATE: For all of you losing sleep over the outcome of the "healthy" pancake attempt, see part two.

And now, for something completely different...

In response to this wonderful-sounding pancake topping, I immediately thought of putting it over my favorite Swedish pancakes. The recipe was "handed down" from my mom, but I'll have to ask where it came from.

Disclaimer: I'm not a great cook. I can follow a recipe and there are a few ingredients I'll experiment with. One the best cookbooks I own is The Dinner Doctor, which is basically inventive recipes from prepared foods. I like it quick and easy. With that out of the way, here's the recipe.

1 1/2 cup Flour

3 tbls Sugar

1/2 tsp Salt

3 eggs, beaten

2 cups milk

2 tbls butter, melted

1 tsp vanilla*

Mix the eggs, milk, sugar, salt, butter and vanilla and flour. I have a stand mixer and I just dump everything in that because I'm lazy, but you can stir it together or use a hand mixer. You should end up with a thin batter, these are actually more like crepes than true pancakes. Pour some of the batter slowly into a hot skillet (if you pour too fast, your pancakes end up with arms when the batter runs). You can make your pancakes whatever size you like, I usually go for a little smaller than a regular tortilla. There's really no secret to cooking them, just wait until the middle bubbles and the sides start to curl, flip, and do the other side.

This makes about a dozen pancakes, depending on the size. I usually do a double batch and freeze any we don't eat.

Note: Vanilla is one of those ingredients I will mess with. I like vanilla and I have yet to discover a recipe where doubling the vanilla did not improve the outcome, but your mileage may vary. I use 2 tsp of vanilla in this recipe and if the measuring spoon overflows a little, I don't worry about it. Also, if I think of it, I add some cinnamon and nutmeg to the batter, call it 1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/8 tsp nutmeg for a doubled recipe. I don't measure the spices and the pancakes turn out fine whether I remember or not.

These are not healthy pancakes, if there even is such a thing, but I will probably try a couple things next time I make them (the pounds don't melt away like they used to these days). First, I've had really good luck substituting Egg Beaters Egg Whites for eggs in cooking, so I will try that. Second, I've also had good luck substituting powdered milk for real milk in recipes. Last, I have made these with both butter and margarine and I honestly don't notice a difference. Those changes would knock out quite a bit of the fat and cholesterol and I don't think they would affect the taste. Looking at the recipe is making me hungry, so maybe I will try those changes tomorrow morning and let you know.


I've been bad about putting up pictures. I could whine and tell you that computer issues have made editing challenging, but I won't, even though it's true. I'm so far behind, I'll try to get a few up anyway.

To start off, the annual Thanksgiving trip to Death Valley. We've done it twice now, so I think it's officially a tradition. First stop, the Mesquite sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells. These turned out better than I'd hoped, I think. It had rained quite a bit the day before we got there, and I was afraid the dunes would turn out muddy-looking. Sunset light does amazing things, though. Unfortunately, it couldn't get rid of all the people and footprints, but at least you can see the colors.

Next day, Scotty's Castle. This is a truly impressive bit of construction. It's not difficult to get to today, but it is in the middle of nowhere and that would have been even more true when it was built.

"Scotty" was Walter Scott, a colorful character and a con man. Around the early 1900s, he began to make his living by claiming he'd found a huge gold deposit in Death Valley and convincing investors to fund his "mine". Needless to say, this had it's ups and downs as a profession, but Albert Johnson, one of the men duped into investing in the nonexistent mine, seems to have decided it was all in good fun and forgave Scotty. Despite his claims, "Scotty's" Castle never belonged to Scotty at all, it was built by Albert Johnson and his wife, Bessie, as a vacation home. They allowed Scotty free run of the place, though, and he entertained the Johnsons and their visitors with his stories for years. I guess the lesson here is it's not really a lie if it's interesting.

And last but not least, Ubehebe Crater. I'm not thrilled with how these pictures turned out, just kind of meh in my opinion. But here's one at least, to give you an idea of the place. If you look closely you can see little black dots on the path into the crater. Those are people. This is one big honkin' hole.

So there's a quick start, I've got some more I will try to get up in the next day or two.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Reflections on Dogs

2008 ended up being a strange year. Not all bad of course, but today I'm feeling maudlin. I'm thinking a lot about my dogs today because we've had more bad news. Sure, don't post for six months and then depress everyone, right? Well, I hope not. Our dogs have brought us a lot of joy and I hope I can share some of that too.

Anyone who knows us knows we've spent a ridiculous amount of time and money the last several years keeping our dog Charlie from succumbing to Valley Fever and its aftermath. He's got a file at the vet 4 inches thick. I would rather not know that our vets will tend to emergencies 24/7, but I'm grateful to them all the same. So he's been our miracle dog, since he keeps pulling out of crisis after crisis, but you always know in the back of your mind that someday that last crisis is going to come. You hate it, but at the same time you work around to accepting that it's coming.

Then around June last year we found out that the strange bump on our dog Kerrie's head was the bad kind of strange bump. Oh no, no, not our funny Kerrie girl! She's never been sick, never had a thing wrong with her! I sat there in shock while the veterinary oncologist gave us the diagnosis, and I finally blurted out "I'm just not processing this. She's always been healthy and Charlie's been the sick one. Now we're going to lose them around the same time." The minute the words were out of my mouth I wanted to take them back. After all, Kerrie really wasn't acting sick yet and Charlie had been doing pretty well. There were still options, and if I didn't say the words out loud, then what I knew in my heart wouldn't really be true, right?

There were options for treating Kerrie's cancer. She could have gone away from us for a month or more to have a terribly disfiguring surgery and painful treatments, all while she was scared and not understanding why her people abandoned her. Incidentally, this is fantastically expensive and although it might have killed the cancer, there were certainly no guarantees. We could have treated her here, but not cured her here. We might have bought some more time, but she most likely would have been sick through most of it. In the end, we decided to make her as comfortable as we could and let her go when she was ready.

Kerrie came into our lives as a 10 month old puppy almost 12 years ago. She was a funny looking little thing, never did figure out what she was. Some kind of terrier mix. We adopted her after losing our dog Molly to kidney failure, and Kerrie did her best to cheer us up. She could go anywhere. She went right over the kitchen counter. Nothing was safe. Periodically I had to go out in the back yard and collect all the kitchen utensils she'd stolen, usually from right behind my back. She greeted us at the door one evening with a knife in her mouth. Thankfully, she didn't seem to want to use it on us, but we did have to turn the knife block backwards for many years to avoid a repeat. She used to chase her tail, until one night she caught it. That remains one of the funniest things I've ever seen, watching her stand there in obvious confusion, "Now what? I'm stuck!" She was never really a cuddly dog, but she did have an incredible sense about when someone needed "dog love". She loved people and playing and was just a funny, happy part of our lives.

Last October Kerrie let us know that she was ready to go. I guess I will always feel some guilt for not pursuing treatment, but we had a happy six months or so and I believe she was not in too much pain until the very end. Kerrie, we miss you so much.

Last night we found out that Charlie's liver is probably failing. Again, we can perhaps put him through more poking and prodding and scary visits to the vet, but in my heart I know there's no point. It's been in his eyes for awhile now, even if he's not quite ready to go yet. Frankly, I'm amazed he's lasted as long as he has, it's been so hard for him to even get around for a long time now. Still, he sure hasn't quit trying. He's had an incredible drive to keep going.

Charlie came home with us when he was two months old and too small to get through the doggie door without falling. Not that it slowed him down. Much hilarity was had coaxing this little ball of fluff into tumbling through the door at a high rate of speed. We were victims of puppy breath, we sure didn't need another dog at the time. Early on, the vet told us Charlie appeared to be the product of a number of neighborhood indiscretions, but the German Sheppard stood out, so he's officially a Sheppard mix. Charlie was... not everyone's favorite dog. Whatever happened to him in the short time before we brought him home left him with some deep insecurities. He bonded with me in particular and, depending on his mood, pretty much everyone else could go jump in a lake. He was destructo-pup. The list of things he tore up as a puppy is too long for me to even remember completely. I'm not sure if my favorite was the library books he tore up or the first couch or the second couch or, well, the day he tore up the linoleum floor in the kitchen really stands out... you get the picture. Obedience training took the edge off a lot of the misbehavior, but it really took age and illness to turn him into something like a good citizen. Charlie is the most challenging dog I've ever owned and I guess that's how he got to be so special for me.

Charlie doesn't have much time left with us. Every time I start thinking I'm getting used to the idea, it bites me again. I hope we can keep him comfortable until he's ready. Thank you Charlie for bringing so much laughter and life into our lives. Rest easy, buddy, pretty soon all the hurts will be behind you.

Everyone grieves in their own way, of course, but one thing that has helped us is adopting a dog shortly after losing one. It's pretty counter-intuitive. There's really no time where you realize more fully that dogs do not live as long as we do and you will end up taking that awful last drive to the vet at some point. That pain is pretty bad, and never worse than when it's fresh and there's still a big hole in your heart and home where your dog used to be. There are so many dogs out there, though, that need homes and that big hole doesn't seem so big when there's a new life demanding your attention. You cannot replace a dog. You can give a home to another dog that needs it badly and, for us at least, the reward is new life and laughter and a faster transition to remembering that the good times are worth more than the pain.

This is Sarah. She is a two year old lab/border collie mix and she is a real gem. After months of bittersweet tending to geriatric and dying dogs, she reminds us that there is so much joy in sharing your life with dogs. She's quite simply thrilled with whatever it is she happens to be doing at the moment. She loves to share that joy with anyone who happens to be nearby. We needed that. It's been a bit of an adjustment remembering that many more things are within reach of a younger dog. She's fine with our lapses, as it has meant such treats as nearly a half a package of turkey bacon while we were looking the other way.

Life goes on. Somewhere out there is a new "brother" or "sister" for Sarah that is hoping for a loving family and home, instead of a scary cage and an uncertain future. Today I'm trying to look forward to meeting that new member of our family, whenever that time comes. It's hard. Looking forward to a new dog means saying goodbye to an old friend. The goodbyes are really, really hard. But the hellos have always been worth saying.