Thursday, July 30, 2009

Comfort Food - Grilled Cheese & Fudge

I'll be glad when July is over - it's turning out to be not a very good month! Following my grandfather's passing and the sewage pump problem, we have 2 new problems: the refrigerator (it makes a horrible groaning noise, like a monster) and dampness in the basement.

Problems must be solved, so SP and I decided to go shopping last night. But first, dinner. We had planned on grabbing a sub from DiBella's or Uncle Sam's for dinner, but then it rained and rained all day - yuck. I wanted to minimize my time out in the rain, so we decided to have a quick dinner at home. I made SP a wrap sandwich with turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, roasted red pepper, tomato, and micro greens (radish).

I made myself a grilled cheese - Cellone's Italian bread, Swiss, turkey, ham, and tomato. Grilled cheese is supposed to be a quick meal, right? But I think the key to a really good grilled cheese is cooking it slowly, which can take time. I preheated the griddle while assembling the sandwiches so it was nice and hot. I cooked the first side very low, for about ten minutes. After ten minutes, I cheated and turned the heat up a wee bit to finish the first side, then flipped it and cooked the second side. Fortunately, I cooked it low enough and long enough that it was a nice golden brown, heated all the way through to the tomatoes, and had gooey cheese. Yum.After eating, we dumped all the dishes in the sink and headed off to Sears.

We've discovered that replacing the refrigerator is going to be a bit tricky. The previous owners built cabinets around the refrigerator and now we are limited to 35.5 inches wide and 68 inches high. This is a problem as most refrigerators (OK, the ones we really like and that are well reviewed at Consumer Reports) are 69-70" high. Also, 36" wide will be scraping against the cabinet walls - the space wall-to-wall is 36".

We took our measuring tape on the shopping trip and took lots of measurements and made lots of notes in a notebook. This morning, we called C, the guy who did some work on the house for us last year. Hopefully, he'll have some time next week to come out and see about modifying the existing space to make it bigger for a bigger & better refrigerator.

Please, please don't die, current refrigerator...

Yesterday morning, Mom & I cleaned out/organized the laundry room. That means we were in the basement. The basement is also where the guest room is and the second full bathroom. And yesterday it was where we found mold on furniture in the guest room, damp boxes in the laundry room, and a very wet floor in the bathroom. Not good. So while we were at Sears, we bought dehumidifiers, one for the guest room (we have to keep the guest room door closed because of the cats; they aren't declawed and seem to take extra delight in scratching furniture and the guest room furniture is actually my parents' furniture that they didn't take when they moved to Las Vegas) and one for the rest of the basement.

(the cats, about 7 years ago in SP's apt)

Hopefully the dehumidifiers will help keep things dry. I will be very unhappy if the furniture in the guest room gets mold on it again or if the boxes of Christmas decorations get all moldy and mildewy, not to mention all SP's spare computer stuff and all his electronic gadgets and toys like PlayStation.

As for the bathroom, well we've been meaning to rip out the carpet and re-tile the floor. Who carpets a bathroom? Strange people, those previous owners. With all the guests we've had in July and all the showering and the damp basement and July humidity/rain, the wet drips from showers are not drying and there's wet splotches on the carpet. I thought maybe one of the cats peed on the carpet!!! Under the carpet is ugly pink tile flooring, but our best bet might be to clean/disinfect the pink tile rather than the expense of re-tiling the bathroom. In addition to checking out our kitchen refrigerator space, we're having C look at our basement bathroom.

We went to a couple of other stores last night, taking more refrigerator measurements and notes and, for me, getting refrigerator data all jumbled in the brain. When we got home, my parents helped us set up the dehumidifiers. Then they went to bed and we decided it was time for a calming, de-stressing snack.

That's right. It was iced tea time and fudge time. Kennywood fudge. Ahhhhhh....

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BBQ Pork Roast Made By Mom

My mom made dinner tonight. She made BBQ Pork Roast. Mmmmm Yum!

Usually, SP and I make pork BBQ by slow cooking pork with BBQ sauce, shredding the pork, and then slow cooking the shredded pork & sauce a bit longer. We eat it on a bun and have cole slaw on the side. Tonight's BBQ pork was a bit different but just as tasty.

Mom browned the pork roast in a bit of bacon fat (we save bacon drippings in a jar) and then roasted it in a glass baking dish in the oven at 325, periodically brushing on a bit of BBQ sauce. It was a 5 lb pork roast and according to the packaging, it should roast for 50 minutes per pound, which is 250 minutes, which is a bit over 4 hours. That would have been way too long! It was done after 3.5 hours - and it was well done but not dried out. Fifteen minutes less would have been good.

She made a BBQ sauce following a recipe in the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook, but modifying it a bit to suit her taste. Basically, ketchup, apple cider vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire, brown sugar, and onion.
We always have extra BBQ sauce on the table for dipping.

My dad likes rice with his pork BBQ so I made rice. For a vegetable, we had green beans & snow peas. A tasty dinner, made by mom. Not that SP & I don't enjoy cooking, because we most definitely do, but sometimes it's really, really nice to have your mom cook for you!

For dessert, we had Breyer's raspberry chocolate ice cream topped with a squirt of whipped cream and a Bing cherry. Yum!

CSA Week #16 - Lemon Cucumber!

It's time for the Tuesday CSA post!! This week's goodies: apples, bibb lettuce, braising mix, basil, pea shoots, potato medley, onion medley, and lemon cucumbers. I've never seen a lemon cucumber before!! They do look like lemons - very light colored lemons! I found this information online:
Lemon Cucumbers (cucumis sativus) are an heirloom cucumber variety dating back to 1894. They are pale to bright yellow, shaped like lemons. When they are pale yellow they can be eaten with the skin on. As they mature and become a brighter shade of yellow, the skin becomes a tad harder and one must peel it off. They are a bit sweeter than 'regular' cucumbers.

Free Jeans!

Joe & Betsy are giving away a free pair of the new Gap jeans - check out their blog and their Gap Jeans Party! Win a free pair of jeans!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Critter Identified!!!!

The most exciting part of the weekend: my brother ID-ed the poopy critter. He decided to sleep on the couch in the basement. He also knew all about our 'wild kingdom' and the nocturnal poopy visitor. As he was settling into bed, the motion sensor lights came on outside. So he investigated. And he saw A RACCOON!!!!!!!

It feels nice to know for sure. A confirmed sighting. My brother scared it away by tapping on the window. Unfortunately, he didn't have the camera nearby to photograph the poopy perp in action.

I guess that 'critter rid' sprinkle we put on the lawn isn't scaring the raccoon.

In other critter news, we saw a new critter! Critters, actually. Previously, we've only seen deer tracks. But Friday afternoon, my mom & I saw 2 fawns out back wandering through our yard and driveway. All photos were taken through the kitchen window:And one more groundhog photo - he was up on his hind legs!

Sunday - Sewage Pump & Harry Potter

We had been planning to take my niece to Kennywood on Sunday, but it was rainy enough all morning that we decided Kennywood was not a good idea. The rain prompted my brother to decide to start his drive back to GA after lunch on Sunday instead of Monday morning, so around 1 pm we said good-bye to him and my niece. In spite of the reason for their visit, it was very, very nice to have them here.

Yesterday, right as I finished my shower, our sewage pump alarm went off. Sigh. Huge grumble. Called the sewage pump guys. They are on speed dial. I'm not kidding.

The whole Sewage Pump Saga started last November. We were hearing strange gurglings in our pipes whenever a toilet was flushed or water run in the sinks. So we called a rooter person. The problem wasn't inside, it was outside. They said they had to dig up the yard to clear the main pipe. Then when they started digging, they hit something that turned out to be a sewage pump. It was not installed properly, the electrical box for it was buried (not up to legal code), the whole system was screwed up, heck the whole darn thing was buried (again, not to code) blah, blah HUGE mess HUGE stress.

We have a sewage pump because our house and pipes sit below street level. The sewage pump's function is to grind up waste & water and then shoot the waste, and all water we use, up to the main sewage line along the road. We sort of knew this when we moved in; we saw it listed on the disclosure form in the booklet we received when we looked at the house, but it's not on any of the closing paperwork. It's also considered outside the house, not inside, so neither the home warranty nor home insurance would cover repairing/replacing it. The previous owners had disconnected the alarm plus the alarm is in a spot in the garage where if you don't know to look for it, you won't see it. Why they disconnected it, we'll never know, but that was very, very bad. It caused things to get really bad instead of warning us at an earlier stage of badness. The home inspector, well he said he didn't know about it and it's not his 'area.' Grumble grumble.

In the end, 2 days before hosting 13 people for Thanksgiving, 5 months after closing, we spent $4,600 to get the problem resolved. And that was cheap - the first guy said it would cost us $8,000-$10,000.

Then it acted up again in February. Debris was again blocking the pump. That was another $230. Three days after that, the alarm went off again - the motor wasn't sitting quite level.

Oh, did I mention that when the alarm goes off, no water at all can be used? Yup. And if the power goes out, we cannot flush the toilet/use water because the pump motor won't work.

So all was fine until yesterday around noon, right as I finished my shower. Luckily, a sewage pump guy was here within an hour or so, cleaned out the debris, and all is well again. For now.

The rooter/sewage pump guy identified the debris clogging the pump and wrote it all out on the bill. We can tell from the debris that one of our guests flushed some stuff that shouldn't have been flushed. Sigh. This is frustrating as all our family & friends know about our sewage pump situation. We have repeatedly told people that only toilet paper can be flushed in a sewage pump system. We've even posted signs at the picnics we've hosted. No kleenex, no paper towels, no Clorox wipes, no baby wipes, no tampons, no pads - even if the product's packaging says flushable, it is not flushable in a sewage pump system. The pipe from pump up to the road is only about 3 inches in diameter - it is easily clogged.

So with the sewage pump once again operating and with a huge cloud of stress hovering over us, SP & I decided to run away and see a movie in the afternoon!!! We finally got to see the new Harry Potter movie. We sneaked some Starbucks coffee & treats into the theater and enjoyed 2+ hours of Hogwarts magic.

Then we went to Walmart (what a way to kill off any good mood) and bought some hair/lint/debris traps to help control what goes down all our drains. We are tired of paying $230+ every 4 months or so for the sewage pump.

Grrrr........

Did I mention the refrigerator started making a horrible about-to-die noise???!!!!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Saturday - Funeral, Bocktown, & Oakland

Saturday morning was tough. I'm not sure if what happened is amusing or not, but it sort of turned into 'Where's Waldo?' My grandpa's name is Walter and sometimes he was called Wally or Waldo. Saturday morning we all thought the funeral home was the same as the one for my grandma (my aunt made all the arrangements). My parents left the house before we did and called us from in the car -- they couldn't find grandpa!! Turns out, it wasn't the same funeral home! The obituary listed the funeral home but not an address. My aunt/uncle weren't answering their cell phones. And that's my family - it's not a big family at all. So my parents were driving around trying to find the funeral home (we knew it was in Carnegie) and we were at home trying to find an address on the internet... In the end we found grandpa.

It was sad, I cried, others cried, SP hugged me, and then it was over and the 8 of us went out for lunch.

We just wanted sandwiches and a beer/cocktail, so we went to Bocktown Beer & Grill in Robinson. We pushed some tables together and sat in front of the wall of cold beers!!! There are a lot of beers at Bocktown - here's a photo of just a few beers on a menu sheet:

My niece and I had iced tea/lemonade. SP got East End Blackstrap Stout beer (his second beer was Victory) while my dad and brother got lighter beers. Mom had wine, and I am not sure about my aunt/uncle. SP really liked his beer.

We ordered 3 flat belly orders of the fresh cut fries. The fries come in 3 sizes: flat belly, beer belly, and the yinzer. They come with 2 toppings included - and there are a lot from which to choose - although you can order more toppings for an additional charge. SP & I got beer cheese & jalapeno, my brother & niece got cheddar & provolone, and my aunt/uncle/mom/dad split beer cheese and bacon fries. Yum!!

SP ordered a salad - leave it to him to be the sort of healthy one!! He chose the Tomato Pepper Vinaigrette for his dressing - it has chunks of peppers in it.
(below photos: SP's East End beer & his salad)

For my sandwich, I chose the Penn Dark Pot Roast. The meat is roasted in beer & BBQ then shredded and placed on a bun with cheese. It was very tasty and I ate all of it!!! SP chose the Grilled Rachel, a Reuben with smoked turkey. He thought it was very good, and he ate the whole thing! Mom had the Roast Beef Dip and said it was quite tasty. She especially liked the dipping au jus.

My niece, dad, and brother got wings. There are several kinds of wings: hot, mild, BBQ, sweet heat, garlic parmesan, dry rub, and naked. My brother got hot wings while dad and niece got mild wings. My niece tried her dad's hot wings and after one and a half hot wings switched back to her mild wings! Dad said the mild wings were too spicy for him, but he's a bit of a spice wimp like me. My brother liked his and said they were hot but not too hot. I know SP ate the leftovers and I am sure they weren't too hot for him!!!

(photos below, clockwise from top L: fries with beer cheese & jalapenos, pot roast sandwich, mild wings, the rachel.)


No dessert for any of us - the fries and sandwiches were enough.

On the drive home from Bocktown, my brother noticed the Uncle Sam's Subs in Robinson and started reminiscing about his days as a college student at Pitt in Oakland. That got SP started reminiscing about his CMU days. Before niece and I knew it, they were sharing stories of their college days and restaurants and bars in Oakland. We felt left out - my niece is only 10 and I went to college in central PA!!

When we got home, everyone napped (except for SP - he finished mowing!). Around 4:30 we woke up and decided we should get up and move and do something! So SP, brother, niece, and I took a trip to Oakland.

SP drove us around and my brother noticed how much things have changed since his college days. We drove around Pitt, around CMU, through Schenley Park, past one of my brother's old apartments (the one with the cockroaches & rats!!) and then stopped at the Cathedral of Learning and took my niece inside.

I think she really enjoyed seeing it and walking around, trying to choose a study nook!! Her dad showed her the spot where he always studied. It was nice to be in the CoL -- it had been a while. When my brother and I were growing up, my parents took both of us to all the home Pitt football games, back when they played at Pitt Stadium and we hiked up Cardiac Hill, as I think it was nicknamed, and back when Dan Marino was at Pitt. When it was cold outside, we would go to the CoL before the game and sit inside to stay toasty before heading up the hill.

After checking out the CoL, we walked over to Dave & Andy's for ice cream. It smells so yummy when you walk in!! The waffle cones are soooo good! For ice cream, I chose chocolate chip. After I finished my cone, I noticed the Blueberry-Lime Sorbet in the lower right corner of the chalkboard menu and was sad because if I'd noticed that flavor earlier, I would have chosen it. Oh well - next time. My niece got cookies & cream, SP had a vanilla bean golden ale and my brother had wildberry crumble. Everyone said 'yummy yummy ice cream.'



And of course, the M&M treat in the bottom of the cone was wonderful!!!

After filling up on ice cream, we decided to drive up Mount Washington so my niece could see the city from up there. It was around 8-8:30 pm and Saturday was not a sunny day but I still love the view of Pittsburgh from up there. We also took a quick driving tour of the South Side so that my brother could see the new parts (South Side Works) and then went home where once again SP, niece, and brother played Rock Band until around midnight!

Friday - The Rotisserie

Last Thursday is a hazy memory - mostly I thought of grandpa and got the house ready for our visitors. SP & I stayed up late so that we could pick my parents up at the airport. Unfortunately, their 'supposed to land at 11:30 pm Thursday night' flight ended up landing at 1:16 am Friday morning - grumble grumble!!

Friday my dad went over to grandpa's, SP mowed and did errands, and mom & I sat around and waited for my brother. He drove up from GA with my niece - his wife and son stayed in GA. My nephew is only 4 years old, not really old enough to understand a funeral.

In spite of the reason for my family coming into town, we were joking and laughing Friday afternoon & evening. We decided that it was time for SP & I to get that rotisserie for the grill that we've been discussing. The 3 engineers put it together. Yes, mine is a family of engineers, but those smart math and science genes skipped me!!! My grandpa was an electrical engineer, as was my dad (he's retired now), my brother is a material science engineer, and SP is a computer engineer.

Then we got the chickens on the rotisserie. SP bought 2 roasting chickens at Costco and seasoned them with orange & lemon zest plus some salt and stuffed the bald orange and lemon as well as some onion inside. Here they are, just put on the grill: After rotating a few times, we noticed the chickens were falling apart!!! The 'stuffing' was sliding out and the legs and wings were starting to dangle/fall off!!! This prompted a quick dash out to the store for string since we couldn't find any in the house (my cross-stitch floss doesn't count as chicken string!!). SP and my brother came back with some string from the meat counter at the grocery store and trussed up the chickens! Here they are, trussed up and cooked:
Meanwhile, mom roasted potatoes in the oven - she sprinkled them with some seasoned salt and a bit of olive oil: She also made a cucumber & tomato salad with an olive oil-red wine vinegar vinaigrette: And she made a foil package of fresh green beans which we put on the grill for about 35 minutes for some tasty cooked on the grill green beans.Dessert was some cookies from Costco:These are tasty soft chocolate cookies with a creamy ho-ho like white filling. Yum!

Soon after eating, SP and my niece disappeared into the basement for some Rock Band. She was really enjoying the drums. My brother joined them while my parents and I hung out upstairs, listening to the band in the basement!! It was a very nice Friday even though our minds were on grandpa.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Grandfather

Tonight my grandfather passed away. He was born in Providence, RI on 23 November 1921 to immigrants from Slonim, Russia (now Belarus). Grandpa was the middle child of five children and the last one to pass away. He was the only one to attend college - he studied electrical engineering at University of Rhode Island. After graduation, he served his time in the Army (was not sent overseas) and then took a job in Pittsburgh with Westinghouse where he worked on the first nuclear submarine. He also met my grandma in Pittsburgh and married her on Halloween Day 1945.

My grandpa loved photography and he took & developed many of the photos in his high school yearbook. I have photos he took & developed in his basement of me as a baby. He gave me my first camera when I was 9 or 10 years old - a Kodak 110 cartridge camera, I recall it looking something like this.

Things I will remember about grandpa:
  • Him making funny hats and mustaches with his napkin at the dinner table to amuse my brother & I when we were young children.

  • His Christmas socks: they are red, white, and blue - they look like July 4 socks - but he wore them every Christmas Eve. I like to think he did it specially for me as every year I checked his socks. I think the socks are 30 years old now and they were only worn at Christmas.

  • Agreeing to let me live with him and my grandma after I graduated with my Masters Degree and moved from the west coast back to Pittsburgh with no job & no money.

  • Him lobbing dinner rolls the length of the table at my dad at our 'formal' family dinners.

  • Playing pinochle with him and my dad.

  • The twinkle in his blue eyes - the rest of us have brown or hazel but g-pa's were a beautiful blue.

  • His ritual when he filled his pipe with tobacco and smoked (he quit smoking a pipe when he was about 65).

  • Him doing crossword puzzles. Every day. I am sure he did today's - and he always knew all the answers, even to the Saturday & Sunday NY Times crosswords, which are usually the most difficult.
He has at last joined my grandmother - he has missed her terribly for 5 and a half years - in what I hope is a peaceful and beautiful place. I miss him.

Pasta Salad with More Veggies

Tonight we had pasta salad. In addition to the rest of the seashell pasta, asparagus, tomato, and shrimp, we added CSA green beans and shredded carrot for even more veggies. We used the same dressing (olive oil & lemon juice). Yum!

CSA Week #15

Tuesday - time for more fresh local goodies! This week's CSA box has: free range eggs, salad mix, blueberries, snow peas, green beans, carrots, mixed radish/kale micro greens, new red potatoes, and ichiban Asian eggplant.

Flatbread Pizza Night

Last night was flatbread pizza night. Yes, I just ate a flatbread pizza for dinner on Sunday, but SP didn't (he had Kennywood food!) and the package has 12 flatbreads, so...

This was our approach: We put all our toppings out on the counter and then started piling on various combinations on 3 flatbreads, baked at 400 for 6-7 minutes on the pizza stone, and enjoyed!

Our toppings: artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, regular tomatoes, kalamatas, fresh basil, feta, fresh mozzarella, some grated cheddar/jack, and roasted red peppers. Here's some photos of our pizzas:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Roasted Red Peppers

Last night around 9:30 a trickle of brown water came out of the kitchen sink. By 10:30, full pressure was restored and we ran all the faucets to flush out the brown color. The water was back! Yay!

I quickly rinsed dishes and loaded the dishwasher, finally used the bathroom, and got ready for bed. I was deep in a blissful slumber when suddenly, something intruded. A smell. Sniff sniff. Did I get dinner of my nightgown? No, wait, didn't eat in my nightgown. Sniff. Snuggle deeper into covers. It'll go away. Sniff sniff. Is SP making dinner? No, wait, it's probably like 7 am. Sniff. What is that smell? Is he adding sun dried tomatoes to his lunch? Did something spill? What the... hey! The bed is shaking!!!!

"Time to get up sleepyhead." My groggy eyes opened & focused on a grinning SP, shaking the bed to wake me up. "I can't believe you slept through all the noise! I roasted the red peppers under the broiler so they're all ready for tonight. I even took photos so you can blog about it."

To be fair, I sleep with ear plugs (SP says he doesn't snore, but how would he know? He's asleep. I'm the one listening to the snorts and wheezes!) so I didn't hear any kitchen noise. Here's SP's photos from the early morning red pepper roasting. He roasted them under the broiler since we had 5 peppers to roast. They're all ready for pizza night.