Sunday, December 2, 2018

My Grandfather's Hats

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house while I was growing up. They were my mom's parents, Marjorie Rose Walterhoefer Shaffer and Eugene Shaffer Sr. My grandfather, whom I called Gonky, never went to high school or college, but he was a steady reader and even a writer. He had an office in his basement and had two typewriters. I loved typing on those typewriters. He wrote stories for my children and I saved them. He also wrote a short non-fiction essay and I'm sharing that here today.

Eugene Shaffer, Sr.

My fascination with hats began with the Boy Scout Campaign Hat. The leaders and boys both wore the same hat and that made me feel grown up. I was so proud of that hat.

At that time I did not realize the role hats would play in my life. At different times the hat would give me a different identities.

In my seventeenth year World War 2 was going full blast and I couldn’t wait to join up. I traded my Boy Scout hat for the round white Navy hat. I wore that hat cocked to the side and with a very salty air.

Returning to civilian life hats continued to give me identity. Baseball caps became the hat of the times. Caps with sport team logos identified the city or state you were from. The Baltimore Orioles were my favorite.

Working as a heavy equipment operator I received hats from the manufacturer of the equipment I was operating and they identified me as the operator of that equipment. Later we were required to wear hard hats. They identified you even more. Different trades wore different color hard hats. Some companies put different color strips on the hats to identify the different trades.

When I retired I got involved with the DE Sailors Association and I was proud to wear a hat that identified me as a former crew member of the USS Bostwick DE 103. I am sure people noticed but did not comment. It wasn’t until my wife bought me a World War 11 Veterans hat when we visited the USS Yorktown that things started happening.

I took my wife to the doctor’s office and parked on the parking lot in back of the building. When we came out I noticed a paper stuck under my windshield wiper. I thought right away someone had hit my car and left a note. When I read the note, I was very surprised. The note read, “ Dear Sir, I saw your hat as you passed my car. I want to thank you for my freedom.” It was signed  “A grateful citizen.”

Others have gone out of their way to say the same thing. Once while walking on the beach at Bethany Beach, Delaware, a young man came running out of the water when he saw my hat. He was a Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy and said he was proud of the job the service men did for our country in WW2.

Sometimes the thanks I receive are simpler. While pumping gas in my car a very young man in his twenties came over to shake my hand and thank me. More recently, my wife and I were at a restaurant. A lady came over to the table and asked if I was the man with the WW2 Veteran hat. I said I was and she said, “ I really admire you vets and thank you for saving our way of life.” I thanked her for taking the time to say so.

My hats have said a lot over the years, but none say it any better then my last one. I am grateful people remember. God Bless.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Runners' Guide to Parenting

I'm a runner and I'm also a parent and there are a lot of similarities. Both require flexibility, sacrifice, dedication, a good partner, and the ability to STARE FEAR IN THE FACE WITHOUT BLINKING. Just kidding, that last part only applies to parenting.

Here are five things I learned from being a runner and a parent.

1. Peeing - when you have to go, you have to go. Sometimes getting to the toilet is impossible, so you learn to adapt and go when you can, and sometimes when you can't NOT go.

2. Eating - better do it right or you pay the price. If you eat junk you'll probably regret it when you run. If you let your kids eat junk, you'll regret it when there's no junk left for you to snack on.

3. Timing - 10 minutes here and there, whether napping or doing some aerobic work, counts. You learn to sleep when the baby sleeps, and you learn to do step-ups on the bleachers when it's 36 degrees outside and your kid still has soccer practice.

4. Gear - there's lots out there, and you probably don't need all of it.

5. Speedwork is essential, because one day you will have to chase your kid through the pharmacy as he run away from his flu shot.

Sunday, November 4, 2018


I found this spider at an indoor soccer training facility in western Pennsylvania. It wasn't dead.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Today Trifle, Tomorrow the World

When my mother-in-law texted us that she'd be coming up to visit, I knew it was time. Time to tackle the trifle.

Sure, I've had my troubles with classic British Isles desserts (see: figgy pudding). But I've also had success (try my Wellington Squares).

But I really felt it was time. And my husband was very supportive. He loves trifle.

So I ordered a trifle bowl using Shipt because sometimes even a trip to Target is too much work.

I gathered the ingredients. Ladyfingers, berries, heavy cream for whipping, chocolate, and Bird's Custard power. I had to order that on Amazon to order Bird's Custard Powder because you've can't find that around here.

(You know what else I've had trouble finding? Chickpea flour. I asked a bunch of grocery stores if they carried it and all said no. Then when I went online and saw it was also sold as garbanzo bean flour. I got pretty mad thinking all those grocery stores might actually have had garbanzo bean flour but didn't know it was also chickpea flour. So I went back and asked and they didn't have either. I wasn't mad anymore.)

Here's what Bird's Custard Powder looks like:

Instructions for preparing it on the hob are on the side of the container, so don't be scared to try it. My MIL and I mixed it up and waited for it to cool. We layered ladyfingers in the trifle bowl, and I realized the ones I had weren't really great for getting to the corners of a round bowl. I might try the traditional madeira cake next time.

We mashed some berries next. My masher wasn't good at cutting the berries, so my MIL did it by hand. This was a mix of blackberries and strawberries. She said frozen berries are fine to use, too.

Then I busted out the new stand mixer my mom gave me. She earned it by putting in hard work at the casino. I'm not complaining, because it made great whipped cream!

We spooned the berries on to the ladyfingers. Sadly, we lost the visibility of the ladyfinger layer. But the berries do look like jewels. Then my MIL spooned the custard to the berries. Next I spooned the whipped cream on.

The youngest gave it "visual approval." This means he thought it looked good, and that he may try it.

We popped it into the fridge then went to get dinner at Ki Ramen (try the crispy pig's ears) and cheer for the Riverhounds in their first playoff game at home. It was rainy, sleety, and cold, but they played hard. Sadly they lost in penalty kicks, but it was still really fun.

We came home and grated chocolate on the trifle and then dug in.

It was a hit.

It's even good right out of the bowl for breakfast.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Let This Bread Tell Your Fortune ... and Other Things I've Baked

I like to bake but I'm not always successful at it. I am successful at watching The Great British Baking Show and being inspired to get better at baking. In September, I felt inspired to try a few recipes. Some worked out well, some were not so great. 

My best results came from barmbrack or (bairin breac), a traditional Irish holiday cake. I followed a recipe from Allrecipes that does not use yeast. 

Barmbrack is a fortune telling cake. Items are baked in the cake and when you find an item in your slice, that's your fortune. If you find a ring, you'll be married in a year. Find a thimble or button and you'll never marry. Find a pea and you'll go hungry, find a cloth and you'll be poor. Find a coin and you'll be wealthy, find a matchstick and you'll be beaten. So there's a mix of good and bad results. 

Since this was to be a family cake and our first barmbrack, I didn't really want anyone to get a matchstick or think they'd be hungry. I worked with my husband to substitute some items. We used the ring and the coin, but we also put in a key for luck and a knot to symbolize that you'd solve a problem.  

I also substituted orange marmalade for the lemon marmalade but I think the family liked that flavor better.

Cakes like barmbrack are winter holiday cakes and include a lot of dried fruit that would be a real treat in the winter. 

I used orange essence prunes and sultanas (golden raisins) in this cake.

The dried fruits are soaked in tea. I used Bewley's Irish.

It was really aromatic.

Mixing this cake was easy and it baked quickly in the ring pan.

It's quite a moist cake and very fruity. My kids said it reminded them of stollen, another one of my favorite cakes. I love stollen, and I love that my kids know what stollen is. We usually buy it from Black Cat Bake Shop.

We usually enjoyed a slice with a nice slab of salted Kerrygold butter. You can use American butter, but why would you?

Since I zested an orange for the barmbrack, I decided to try to make candied orange slices. Yes, I saw them on GBBS and it seemed easy. I should have known it required more skill than I have right now, but also it required orange juice and I didn't have that either. I wouldn't call these a success, just a good learning experience.

While I was rummaging in our cabinet, I found the bag of masa flour and thought about trying to make tortillas. AGAIN.  Months ago I finally found a tortilla press and bought it but never used it.

Also, we had a friend sleeping over who is gluten free and I thought, corn tortillas are gluten free! And so is taco meat!

So I decided break in our tortilla press and make some corn tortillas. They were OK.

I mean, we still ate them. 

But I just can't figure out the right wetness to make the tortilla balls so that they flatten out nice and thin in the press AND slide off the paper easily onto the grill AND cook without tearing and breaking. 

Maybe I'm not grilling them long enough? Or hot enough?

We fried some up in the pan after grilling them to see how that tasted, and it was good. But I still haven't come anywhere close to making tortillas that taste like restaurant ones. 

Coming up this month? I'm thinking of attempting a trifle and maybe a swiss roll. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Word Search Battle 2 and Word Search Battle 3

The second word search battle was between me and the clock. I think I went slower than normal because I didn't have a physical opponent circling words right next to me, forcing me to scan quicker, find words faster..

Word Search Battle 2 is now live.

Word Search Battle 3…well, it was a whole new game.
I thought I was so good at this.
I was wrong.

Over labor day weekend we traveled to Delaware to be with family. While we had a classic delaware shore lunch at Grotto Pizza, I challenged my lifelong competition partner -  my husband - to a kids' menu word search. He won. Quickly. So the next week we were both up early-ish and I quickly set up the word search battle arena and challenged him again.

The best I can say is…it was over fast.

It was decisive.

I now know how Apollo Creed felt, facing Drago.

Word Search Battle 3 is also live, if you're ready.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Cooking with Cast Iron

If you have followed my blog for anytime at all, you already know I'm not any kind of "genius chef." In fact, I struggle a lot with cooking.
It's probably because I'm easily distracted and a little forgetful.
But I don't like giving up.
And I like to eat.
And I like trying new things!

So when I saw a hefty, powerful cast iron skillet at the store, I thought, "I'll get that and try using it!"

Then when I came home, I realized we already had one…same brand….same size…in the same drawer. Which I had never used.

I used the skillet once. My husband asked if I had seasoned it. I said "What do you mean?"

Both skillets sat in the drawer for awhile, then I decided me and my vegetarian son needed more iron in our diets and I read cooking with cast iron is a great way to add iron. I pulled out the skillet(s) and gave a frittata a try. It went OK.

Then I picked up the Will It Skillet? cookbook at Half Price Books and found a handy guide with easy recipes. I've tackled several, jotted down notes in the cookbook, and enjoyed some tasty results.

Here's a sideway photo of the potatoes I cooked for a spanish version of a frittata. I was surprised all those potatoes fit in the skillet. 

Next I tried making the parmesan tulies, but because I wasn't using store-shredded cheese, I think I didn't have much luck.

After gaining some confidence with the skillet, I set out my own to make a pepper, sausage and cheese frittata. This was so tasty even my non-egg-loving husband liked this.

Next, the middle and I tried some skillet mac-n-cheese. Again, the amount of pasta that fit in there was surprising. I need to increase the cheese, milk and salt levels next time for more flavor.

For my husband's birthday, we did our first dessert skillet experiment and made a chocolate chip cookie in the skillet. It was surprisingly easy and really tasty, except for one large note we wrote in the cookbook: