Monday, May 26, 2014

Peanut Butter Cup Rice Crispy Treats

Since the advent of Facebook and blogs and, especially, Pinterest... I've seen this same basic recipe in many dozens of places with about the same number of people taking credit for inventing the yummy bars.  I first learned to make them in High School, probably 1981.  It was a recipe shared by the new Home Ec teacher that year...   Her name was Cindy James. She was young, and cute and before we realized she was a teacher (barely 4 years older than most of us) all us girls were walking the halls trying to size up the new competition.  And, until the administration cracked down, she let us call her Cindy and not the more formal Miss James.

I've heard they don't teach Home Ec in school anymore... and, should that rumor be true, it's sad.  It was a great class to learn needed life skills and how to run a home and manage a family.

Cindy James' Scotcheroos
 Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly:
1 cup light Karo syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter

Pour over 6 cups of crispy rice cereal.  Press evenly into a greased 9 X 13 cake pan.

Melt together 1 cup chocolate chips (milk or semisweet depending on your preference - mine is and probably always will be milk chocolate) and 1 cup butterscotch chips.  Spread over cereal mixture in pan.  Cool until chocolate is set then cut into bars.  Store airtight.
Inspiration picture from cookingclassy.com.

I've also pressed this into a loaf pan and cut as slices.  That is a pretty presentation on cookie plates at Christmas-time or for a party!

I wrote about them here not long after making them for Derek the first time.

But, you know, at my house these things must be tinkered with...  and tinker we have!

My first alteration to the recipe...
The first time I wanted to make them, Derek pulled faces and informed me that he doesn't like butterscotch.  So I started making them with just plain milk chocolate chips, using closer to 1 1/2 cups.  I still like the hint of butterscotch in them, but they are very good with just plain chocolate on top.

My second alteration to the recipe...
I started adding about 1/2 cup more peanut butter trying to get a slightly softer texture to the finished bars.  And I eyeball it since peanut butter is so icky to get out of the measuring cup and I'm 100% of always stuck with clean-up duty.

My third alteration to the recipe...
Cut 12-15 miniature Reese's Peanut Butter Cups into fourths and sprinkle over the top of the cereal mixture.  Melt 2/3 cup chocolate chips and drizzle over the top of the peanut butter cups.  (They look very much like the picture which was what inspired the addition of the peanut butter cups.  Proudly, mine didn't last long enough to get their portrait taken!)

The next requested alteration...
He wants more chocolate!  So we're going back to the melt 1 1/3 cups of chocolate chips and spread over cereal mixture.  Cut 12-15 miniature peanut butter cups into fourths and sprinkle over the top of the melted chocolate layer.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Naomi's Song

I've said a few times that life needs a soundtrack.  And I've noticed that people who sing have one.  They frequently comment about seeing life as music... about finding their voice or singing their own unique song.  Some of those songs are happy little ballads about sweet and good and pleasant things.  Some are classical and maybe only understood by like-minded and deeply-spirited kindred souls.  Some would be best described as non-melodic cacophonies of discordant head banging.  And some are like the formulaic country songs where 'somebody done somebody wrong.'

Me?  I love listening to all kinds of music and I have definite opinions about what makes a song 'good' but I don't sing.  Trust me... if you ever heard me try you'd be happy I've given up the attempt.  Once I heard a TV character who was now profoundly deaf, but had been hearing as a child, explain her singing this way: "God created a lot of different notes and I intend to use them all."  I tried that.  But it made the cats cry and the dogs howl.  Even my best friend once said I could only sing two parts:  Solo and Tenor.  Meaning:  Solo - so low you can't hear it.  And tenor, as in ten or fifteen miles off-key!

It's good I can laugh about it.

Or we might not be such good friends...

But in all seriousness we each have a soundtrack, a song that we sing to the rest of the world telling them how we feel about our lives.  I've been following along loosely on a short Bible study about Ruth and by association, her mother-in-law, Naomi.  And Naomi has quite the song.  It's so familiar that we can add our voices for a rousing chorus without even realizing it sometimes.  Naomi, while she's in that self-absorbed mode, has the lead vocal on the pity party anthem... oh poor lil ol' me!

From Wikipedia's entry on Naomi.  Painting by
William Blake of Naomi telling her daughters-in-law,
Ruth (hugging her) and Orpah (leaving) to return
to their fathers' houses in Moab.
To quickly review her story:  Naomi lived in Bethlehem with her husband and family. There was the threat of a famine and so they left and went to Moab seeking to avoid the destitution they thought was coming but fell into even more trouble away from home.  Her sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.  All the men died and when the women returned home they were truly destitute.  Naomi convinced Orpah to go back to her father but Ruth insisted on being a faithful companion to Naomi.  Naomi, a name that means "pleasant," asked to be called by Mara, meaning "bitter" though no one ever really does.  She goes on to say she'd left Bethlehem full but returned empty and blames God for making her life bitter.  But reflecting on that... things were not as bad as she'd thought.  Ruth finds favor in the eyes of a kinsman redeemer, Boaz.  And in the end they are saved.

Yes, I know... I left out a lot of details and nuances to their story.

The point, however, is that despite Naomi getting caught up in self-pity and blaming God for bringing bitterness into her life she is still redeemed through Boaz.  In her story, he is the 'type' or 'shadow' of Christ's redeeming love for each of us no matter how much we complain and try to lay the blame for our troubles on Him.  His love is all encompassing and forgiving of our mistakes no matter how deeply we dig ourselves into an awful situation.

And we'd all do ourselves better to make our life's soundtrack a song about that!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

When The Lights Go Out

A few months ago I watched that much hyped documentary-style movie on National Geographic channel about a nationwide power grid failure.  I guess it had its intended effect... parts of it made me laugh and parts of it got me thinking about how well prepared my own home and life is should there be a power outage.

NASA Light Image courtesy of howequipmentworks.com

It got me thinking, but not acting.

So Karma, the Universe, perhaps God Himself... took the next step to get my attention.  We had a sudden partial outage in the house.  Derek was downstairs playing one of those fantasy football games and I'd just taken a shower and was getting some pajamas on upstairs when it went black.  Well, it went totally black for me.  I had a sudden thought flash of "did I pay the bill?"  I did.  And the next one isn't due until the 18th.  So it wasn't a matter of getting cut off by Greystone.  I didn't realize there was still some power in the house until I'd carefully felt my way along the wall, out the door, down the hall, into the guest bedroom, opened the closet and found the big flashlight/camp lantern to make my way downstairs.  And yes, by then I was sort of patting myself on the back for not getting hurt or letting dogs out of the bedroom in the pitch black of late evening!

We lost power for what we figured to be half of the house.

I did not know that could even happen.  I thought if the power was out, it was out.

We made some calls looking for help and were asked if we'd had Greystone come look at the line yet.  I hadn't so the gentleman on the phone explained that there are 3 wires in the supply line.  A neutral, or ground wire, and what they call an A and B phase that are both live and supplying electricity to the house.  A and B each carry 120 volts and connect to different sides (or trees - it seems electricians have their own language, too) of the breaker box.  Appliances like your range and dryer that have the higher voltage outlets draw power from both A and B while your other outlets and switches are tied to just one of them.

I wasn't thinking much about getting educated right in the minute, but I do like learning new stuff so this is kind of cool for me to know!

Greystone came and it wasn't their problem.  Darn!

Feeling super burdened from the financial strain it was going to cause we resigned ourselves to calling an electrician in the morning to come replace the whole electrical panel.  The anticipation was that half it had burned out/gone bad/whatever you call it when it no longer works.  The first place said someone would call us back within 30 minutes to schedule.  They never did.  So after my doctor's appointment I stopped at Home Depot and talked to a very nice, very knowledgeable electrical isle associate who not only pulled out a business card for an electrician but went the extra mile and called him to help get things moving.  The first available time was the next morning.

So going into night 2 of our weird power outage... It was a little inconvenient but doable.  One of the dogs followed me into the bathroom (I totally understand where young moms are coming from on the luxury of peeing by yourself!) and tripped over an extension cord Derek had rigged up so I could have a fan at night in the strangely always warm master bedroom.  What's weird isn't that he got a foot caught in the cord, but that when he did the lights flickered back on!  A little more fiddling around and we figured out that something was wrong with the outlet in the master bathroom and that was what was causing the rest of the outage.

I even understand how and why that happens and can briefly explain.  The inside wiring for the house's electric system begins at the breaker box and each light fixture and outlet is part of a "run" of wire from a breaker.  Multiple lights and outlets, frequently in more than one room, are included on a single run.  If one of them develops an issue, everything between the 'issue' and the breaker will still function normally but everything beyond it on that run will be powerless.  The runs in our house, while not technically wrong, are neither what I find logical nor how someone doing it new today would lay things out.

When the electrician, who is completely wonderful and I would highly recommend to anyone in the Atlanta area, came he confirmed that the outlet was bad.  Something with the wiring had come loose, got ungrounded and made the box itself live (1970's house - metal outlet boxes, not the plastic ones they use now and again not technically wrong just different than newly installed products).  He changed the guts out and we had power again.  Until... we didn't.  The suddenly working correctly outlet burned out the breaker.  And then, blam!  Back to no power.  So we called the electrician back and he fixed that, too, at no extra charge.

Anyway, that's the highlights of that little adventure.  And what have I learned?

  • Problems are not always what they seem at first so keep exploring until you get to the source.
  • Fresh batteries in the flashlights is always a good idea!
  • Knowing where they are is also a good idea - that I'd just unpacked the one big one and knew where I'd set it on the closet shelf saved me from feeling my way down the stairs in total blackness.
  • A correctly labeled breaker box is not just aesthetically pleasing.
  • The electrical system to the house is amazingly interesting and I actually want to know more.

A few weeks later another breaker burned out and I was complaining to some friends about how much it was going to hurt to spend another $100 on the electrician and they told me it was an easy DIY to change a breaker.  I went to Youtube and found the tutorial and it is easy!  So we got an $11 breaker.   Yet doing it, we somehow managed to have problems.  From my "research" I knew exactly what to do, but rather than let me, Derek pushed me out of the way and took things a few steps further than was necessary and then touched a needlessly exposed wire while turning the power back on and took a jolt of electricity.  We weren't sure how big of a jolt and since he was feeling strangely in more than just his finger that got zapped he got a quick trip to the Emergency Room to be sure he was ok.  He was.  We over-reacted.

How it should look!  Photo courtesy of wickedhowtos.com.
So what did round two of the great power outage teach me?  Apparently not a whole lot since two of the flashlights had dead batteries and I had no idea where Derek had laid down the third one and that after I did find it an hour later and opened the box we still did not have anything labeled so it was hunt and peck to figure out which one had gone bad (it didn't flip to the off position when it burned out so a label for what part of the house each controls would have been a helpful clue!).  I'm making that one of my upcoming "household organization projects" and I think I'll get another flashlight and attach it to the same wall as the breaker box with just enough cord or small chain so that it's useful there but can't be carried off and laid down elsewhere in the house!  I hope Derek has learned that sometimes I know what I'm doing when it comes to household repairs and that he needs to trust me to do it.  And that going above and beyond, while good for your career, can be detrimental at home and needs to be balanced with knowing when doing just barely enough is plenty.

A couple of months out now... have we acted on any of this new found how-to knowledge?  Nope.  Still tempting fate.

Please, God, don't smite me!