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

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

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
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!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chocolate Molten Cake

Usually I can hold my own in the kitchen... but tonight's baking was rather much of a FAIL.  And yet, I don't know if I'm willing to accept all the responsibility for it being one of those "less than" kind of desserts.  I think the directions left a bit of key information out.

Last time we went grocery shopping, Derek picked up this cake mix declaring that the cupcakes "looked delicious" and they do!  And this time, unlike a previous incident with baking mixes, the frosting was included.  And it's the old-school frosting mix you beat with butter and a little bit of water not the pre-mixed canned stuff like you can buy now.

Do you remember when frosting came as a boxed mix?

Or does that just make me seem really old?

After we got home I was reading the instructions and happened to notice the recipe on the side of the box.  You know the suggestion they always include for something else you can make with the mix.

Uh huh... Chocolate Molten Cake.  Derek's favorite thing.  Favorite!  Like in the history of EVER.

And it didn't sound so hard to make.

So I opened my big mouth and said, "Look, we could do Molten Cake."  Well his face lit up and I knew my task was set.

According to the box, you mix up the frosting just like it tells you to on the back.  Easy peasy, no problem.  Then using the included pastry bag, you pipe out 24 quarter-sized disks onto a baking sheet and freeze them for at least 30 minutes.  What they don't tell you is that using their frosting you can easily do the 24 disks about the diameter of a quarter but they are each at least as thick as if you stacked enough quarters to have a couple of bucks.  I froze them for an hour and I really kind of think it should have been longer.

And since a baking sheet won't fit inside the freezer part of my smallish side-by-side I used one of those plastic mini-quiche trays that I kept to freeze yogurt treats (Peanut Butter Banana Pupsicles) for the dogs last summer.  Perfect shape and size!

And then this is where things went awry...

The directions simply say to mix up the cake batter, again just as directed on the box, and divide amongst 12 papered cups in a muffin pan.  They REALLY NEED TO SPECIFY that you should use a large-size muffin pan not the standard cupcake size.  By the time you put 2 frosting disks on top of each little pot of batter, the cups are too full and it overflows during the baking process.  And the 'lava' escapes so there's no squishy, liquidy, flowing yumminess just a sort of pile of gooey fudge/cake chunks.  They are a mess!

A tasty mess, for sure.  But a huge horrible mess!!  A mess on the scale that leaves me  really dreading clean up tomorrow...

It was so overflowed I struggled to get the pan out of the oven without wrecking my pretty granny square potholders.  (At least I was smart enough to put a baking sheet underneath and all those drips aren't coating the bottom of my oven!!)  Then I struggled again getting a cooled cake onto a plate and the paper cup removed.   The flavor is good.  And I really think the larger muffin tin will help keep things contained so the cakes bake right and the lava stays inside.  After I can purchase one of those pans I'll try it again, but for now I am terribly disappointed.

And shame on you Duncan Hines!!  The mess could have all been averted if you would have just told me I needed a piece of equipment I don't have.  Then I wouldn't have mentioned the molten cake being a possibility...  And I wouldn't have chocolate baked on like concrete to pry off the muffin tin and baking sheet that caught drips tomorrow.  Nor would I have a disappointed man who's looked forward all day to a Chocolate Molten Cake and all he gets is a messy pile of fudgy glop.

Friday, May 2, 2014

It's a Good Day

Today has been filled so many good little things!  I just feel the need to share my gratitude for these tiny blessings...

Derek's mom loaned me her car for the weekend while she's out of town attending JazzFest in New Orleans.  Freedom.  Independence.  IT. NEVER. FELT. SO. GOOD.  Plus it's a pretty cool car!  She drives a 2011 (I think) black Chevy Cruze.  I like the way it handles.  I like it a lot.  I actually told Derek I could get used to having a little sedan like this instead of another SUV... which has been my stated preference for ease in hauling dogs around when we can get stable enough to replace my vehicle.  But now I'm thinking I can crowd them into the backseat and they'll be just fine.

I went to pay the note on his car earlier in the afternoon.  The nearest branch of the bank that holds the note is inside a Kroger not terribly far from the house.  They were doing Customer Appreciation Day so I got hor d'oeuvres (aka over-cooked chicken nuggets from the store's deli and nibbles from a fresh veggie tray) and a bright blue frosted cupcake.  Hey!  That's meat, vegetables and dessert... that counts as a FREE lunch!!

And while I was inside Kroger I remembered to pick up the garlic that I forgot when we grocery shopped earlier in the week and need because it is one of the absolute necessary and key ingredients in the marinade for the Cambodian Chicken Skewers I'm planning on making for dinner tomorrow.  And it was on sale so I got 2 with the thought I'll have at least one full head to break apart and plant in the garden and then hopefully we can be "garlic self-sufficient" starting this fall.

When I came out of the store, I found $1 in the parking lot.  Woohoo!  Mad money!!

Thinking they're crappy but will do the job I need it to I stopped at the Dollar General by my house and got a broom.  Last time I noticed they were $2.  But now the same brooms cost even less... today it was priced at $1.75.

Ace Hardware shares their parking lot (for now, but they're moving when the new building is finished) so I walked over there to look at their plants and picked out a 4-pack of really good looking 'Beefsteak' tomatoes.  When I got home I noticed there's 5 plants in the plastic tray.  Score!!  Now I just need to get me outside and get a spot to plant them prepared.  I think I'm already just a little on the late side for getting a garden in but it should be ok since the growing season is quite long.

A nice man at Church has offered me strawberry starts from his garden.  I'm hoping to go get them Monday afternoon... but while I was looking at plants I noticed the strawberries there.  Holy moly!  6 scraggly little plants are priced at $3.99.  Getting pretty much all I can use for FREE... major SCORE!!

Considering all the doom and gloom of my recent past, I think today isn't just good, "IT'S GGGRRREEEAAATTTTTT!!"  (I bet you thought that in the voice of Tony Tiger... of Frosted Flakes fame.  Yes, I blatantly and unashamedly stole that quote... sorry Kellogg's.)