Author Archives: TaMara

Missy 2003-2015

Missy 9101

After initially being fine, I’m very sad to say that Missy did not make it through surgery. We don’t know why. She recovered enough to come home, but passed about an hour after. I was able to hold her for about a half hour and snuggle with her. I’m sure Harley was there to greet her, he was always taking care of us.

I love this picture of her, because that was her attitude, always just a bit judgmental of me and my pet skills. RIP

Paw print


A Sister’s Worst Nightmare


Paul and John (Harris), shamelessly stolen from my brother’s facebook page. 

This post is a bit different, but I wanted to share this interview with members of my brother’s Army National Guard Unit.


Ten years ago my youngest brother was stationed in Kuwait, running convoys to Iraq as a National Guardsman. It was a tough time on a lot of levels. I’m sure tougher for him :-D. But from my perspective, there were a lot of sleepless nights, waiting by the computer when he was out on missions. He would always check in when he got back, via Yahoo messenger, where I could IM or video chat with him.


Then one day the phone rang. It was my brother. Dread set in, because a phone call meant something was wrong. I could hear it in his voice. He didn’t tell me much, just that their convoy had been ambushed, some of his friends had been injured, but he was okay. I have always said it was the worst/best phone call I’ve ever received. Worst because of the sound of his voice, best because the SOUND of his voice. I’m glad they all made it back home.

In all honesty, we’ve never talked much about it. Most of what I know about it I have learned over the years from various news accounts and interviews with the soldiers. On the tenth anniversary, Nebraska Public Radio aired this piece.

To listen to the full story, as told by several members of the convoy, and watch video of the attack,  click here

Ten years ago today a group of Nebraska Army National Guard soldiers was in a life or death battle on a highway in Iraq. Mike Tobias looks back at the Battle of Bismarck, with reflections from the soldiers who fought it.

“One of the most beautiful days I can remember weather wise, the entire deployment I was over there,” is how Jay Schrad remembered the morning of March 20, 2005.

Schrad and 13 other soldiers from the Nebraska Army National Guard’s 1075th Transportation Company were rolling out of a base in Kuwait, taking a 33-vehicle supply convoy into Iraq. They were young, most in their early 20s. Most were from the Columbus area. They’d been doing this for several months at this point, halfway through the deployment. This convoy included pairs of Nebraska soldiers in green semi-trucks, civilians driving white semis and three Humvee gun trucks providing security.

They had been attacked on previous missions with roadside bombs and small arms fire, which was no surprise, because regardless of tactics, mile long convoys attract attention in a war zone. “We made our presence known,” A.J. Bloebaum said. “They knew when we were coming.”

But they’d always sped away from the trouble.

“You’re in a semi with a 40-foot trailer. You’re not equipped to sit there and fight,” said Josh Birkel. “So our SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) honestly was to hit the gas go.”

Normally this worked. But soldiers say that beautiful day, 10 years ago, was different from the moment their trucks pulled out on a four-lane divided highway called Route Bismarck.

“There were things that kind of triggered a sense of, hey, there’s something weird going on today,” recalled Schrad, driving a semi toward the back of the convoy. (the rest is here)

It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been ten years. They all got together this weekend and I’m guessing it didn’t feel like 10 years to them, either. Always grateful for their service – TaMara


Friday Recipe Exchange: Spices and Sauces

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I’m heading out for a much needed girls’ day out with LFern. But I didn’t want to leave you without a recipe exchange. I thought it would be fun to focus on one of JeffreyW’s specialties, he likes to make his own spice mixes and hot sauces. Tonight’s recipe exchange was inspired by his great post this week, Chinese Five Spice.

I was a believer in making my own spice mixes when I put together his Fajita Spice (recipe here), which is better than anything pre-made in the store.

He also loves to make hot sauces, recipes and photos here and here.

One of the most requested sauce recipes is a guest recipe from Down Under, Piri Piri (recipe here).

Not technically a spice, but JeffreyW made his own Garlic Breadcrumbs this week, (click here).

What’s on your plate for the weekend? I’ll going to a few open houses and taking Bixby out to enjoy the predicted spring weather. Do you make any of your own spices mixes or sauces? Give us your favorite recipe.

I knew what tonight’s featured recipe would be as soon as I saw JefferyW’s beautiful photographs (top and below).

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Chinese Five Spice from his post:

I was browsing among various recipes for green beans and noticed a call for Chinese five spice in one of them and wondered if I had the ingredients to make my own.  Yes!  –  or at least close enough for my purposes.  I looked over several recipes and they all had the same ingredients with a few variations:  Star anise, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and peppercorns.  Some used Szechuan peppercorns and others called for the more familiar black peppercorns, one recipe used cassia bark in lieu of the cinnamon, there were differences in the ratios so I just eyeballed mine as I loaded them into my little spice grinder.  I ended up with about a quarter cup of some great smelling stuff.

Those are the Szechuan peppercorns between the cinnamon sticks.  They have an interesting effect in the mouth, some heat and a numbing sensation on the lips.  Another name for them is prickly ash seed.

After all of that, I used about a teaspoon of the spice powder in the soy sauce marinade of the chicken for the green bean dish pictured above.  That was a simple enough recipe, the most prep went into the sauce: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup chicken stock, a tablespoon of sesame oil, a tablespoon of ginger garlic paste, a tablespoon of honey, and a tablespoon of rice vinegar with a little corn starch to thicken it in the pan.  I steamed the beans for five minutes while the chicken was cooking then added them to the pan with the chicken and then poured in the sauce and cooked until it thickened, a few more minutes.

That’s if for this week. No Bixby update, but he’s doing great, each day he surprises me by what he learns and understands. My little black kitty, Missy has to have surgery next week, so good thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks and have a great weekend – TaMara


Friday Recipe Exchange: A Little Irish In It

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March is winging by and bringing spring with it. We had a relatively mild winter, so I won’t complain, but still glad to see warm days, birds returning and crocus popping up. I’m hoping house hunting will also pick up. You know it’s slim pickings when your real estate agent calls to apologize there’s not more to offer.

Despite still having to cook in the postage stamp kitchen, I decided to try something new. I did some research on Irish Soda Bread. I never tried any before, because it always looks dry and then there are those pesky raisins. Raisins only belong in bread if there is a large helping of cinnamon/sugar swirl joining them. At least in my kitchen. But when I went looking for recipes, turns out that the raisin/caraway seed concoction is a strictly American invention.

I did find one that seemed to be more authentic and that’s what I went to bake. Before we get to the recipe, let me say this, I’m not sure this is one I would make again. I think I would rather just bake a nice batch of biscuits.  But if you need something to get you through a long, cold winter night, I guess I can see the appeal. Cheap enough to make, heavy enough to fend off starvation. Or as a friend quipped, “Heavy enough to be a weapon if you throw it.”

So why include it tonight? Because you should be unafraid in the kitchen. If a recipe fails or isn’t to your liking, all you’ve done is waste a few ingredients. But if you never try anything new, how will you ever discover that new family favorite? And besides, someone might like this one, even though I didn’t.

I think failure is just part of cooking. I’ve burnt the main course with guests waiting, forgot to add leavening to one cake, added too much leavening to another and my first attempt at corned beef turned out more like beef jerky. One time a friend and I almost set her house on fire trying to grill chicken. How about you, what’s your biggest kitchen disaster? Besides potentially drying out the corned beef, what’s on the menu for the weekend?

For tonight, how about I start out with some recipes that did work:

A bunch of different ways to make Corned Beef and Cabbage can be found here.

JeffreyW makes Guinness Irish Stew (pictured above), photos and recipe here.

Really good Biscuits to go with that stew can be found here.

For the pet lovers, I have three fun things for you: JeffreyW introduces us to the newest nursing home resident (scroll down), Zander poses pretty for me and finally a Bixby update where we tackle the troublesome teens (his look in the top photo is really all you need to know).

Tradional Irish Soda Bread

The featured recipe tonight is a more traditional Irish Soda Bread. This is a rustic loaf and can be baked in a loaf pan or as a rounded loaf in a cast iron skillet. The key is not to handle the dough a lot, once it forms into a ball, place it in the pan, cut a 1-inch deep X in the top (I did several) and bake. The more it’s handled, the tougher it becomes.

Irish Soda Bread

  • 1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1-3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 tbsp toasted wheat germ
  • 3 tbsp old-fashioned oats
  • 2 tbsp (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 8 tbsp buttermilk powder*
  • 2 tbsp chilled butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 cups water (add 1/2 cup at a time, using only what is needed)

loaf pan (I used mini pans), well buttered

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F

Whisk together the first 8 ingredients. Add butter and crumble together by hand until all the butter is incorporated. Add water in a bit at a time until it forms a soft dough that holds together. Mine took the full 2 cups. You can smooth it and then add to the loaf pan. I left mine a bit more rustic because I was afraid of over-handling it.

Cut 1-inch deep Xs in the top. This makes sure the dense dough cooks through.  Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

This is a very moist, if heavy, loaf because of the buttermilk. You can do an all “white” loaf if desired, just substitute all-purpose flour for the whole wheat. I’d leave in the oats and wheat germ for added flavor.

*why buttermilk powder instead of buttermilk? – because you can keep it on hand and it doesn’t go bad (keep in the refrigerator). You can also make your own buttermilk by adding 1 tsp vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk.

That’s it for this week. Probably try for something very spring-like next week. Until then – TaMara


Bixby Diaries: 9 Months Old Today

You suck 2

Bixby is 9 months old today. I was going to have him write a diary entry, but I was afraid it would be filled with profanity, drinking, smoking and graffiti. In other words, we’ve hit the terrible teen weeks.

The photo above is him basically telling me I suck because I have banned him from the couch. Why you ask? Is it because dogs shouldn’t be on the couch (true, but no), because he’s too big (almost true, but still no) or because I just washed the cover, blankets and pillow (again, true, but nope)?

No, he’s banned from the couch because no matter how many times I correct him, he thinks it’s a playground. Digs, scratches, rolls around, tries to take the cushions off, and brings all his toys up on the couch. He’s allowed to nap on the couch, nothing else. So no more couch.

You still suck

He’s 120.5 lbs, still only 32 inches at his shoulders, but much longer now – it’s hard to measure a moving target – but he towers over me when standing up on my shoulders. His neck is 24″ around  and he’s almost out of the largest collar I can find. That’s larger than the Great Dane next door. And while our neighbor is much taller and much heavier (he comes in at a hefty 210 lbs and is svelte, so you can imagine how tall he is), Bixby’s neck is bigger, he definitely has his dad’s build there, a more European style. I may have to buy his collars in the men’s belt section.

That dog is still here

That dog is still here?

He is generally a good dog, but the last three weeks have been challenging. And I am being kind here. This morning he started his ninth month out by refusing to get out of bed, chasing Zander, challenging Emma – who never backs down, the only reason Bixby’s nose doesn’t look like coleslaw is that Emma is secure in her alpha, queen of the house, status – so she just hisses at him and stands her ground –  and refusing to sit and hold while I opened the door for him to go outside. Basically he bowled me over like the ten pin.  And that was all before breakfast. More importantly, that was before my first cup of coffee.

What ya got1

He continued his misbehavior on our walk by throwing his weight around. When he doesn’t want to stop sniffing something he crouches down and digs his feet in. If he doesn’t come when I request it, he has to walk at heel, no sniffing, no stopping. We spent most of the walk at heel.

Dinner time

But the good news is, he has stopped grabbing the leash from my hand and running away. It took him a bit of detective work to figure out that it was this behavior that was getting him in big trouble. It was fun watching him work it out. He has three or four behaviors lately on leash that I’ve been discouraging, but only the grabbing the leash and running away got him in big trouble. He didn’t quite get it at first, so he would test out each behavior and watch and listen. It only took him twice grabbing the leash before he got it. He’s pretty much over that now, though every once in a while, he turns, starts to grab it, looks at me, and decides it’s not worth it.

That face

I am confident we’ll work the rest out. A lot of it is challenging me, to see if he can get away with something. He’s learning that if he wants to get scritches from other people he meets, sitting gets him the attention he is seeking, instead of charging at them, jumping on them or generally cornering them at the door. I get all the “make me” behaviors. Some days he’s a perfect gentleman, others he just wants to do it his way and I’m an obstacle.

Suddenly I have an understanding why two of my four Danes came to me at just under a year. I can see how people not familiar with how sweet these dogs are as adults would be overwhelmed by the power of their rebellion. I am confident Bixby will be a charming adult dog. Even if at the moment he is completely exhausting me. Luckily, he’s cute and gives great hugs.

Paw print


Most Photogenic Cat Ever (Don’t Tell The Others)

Most Photogenic cat ever

A Little Irish

Since I’m all happy that spring looks like it’s going to make an appearance (high 60’s today) I feel like celebrating. So I thought an Irish theme would be fun for Friday.

I was doing some research on Irish Soda Bread, thinking that should be part of an Irish theme. Never made or had this bread, because, well, it looks dry and has raisins. But what I found out, that raisin stuff is not real Irish bread. So I’ve found a somewhat authentic recipe…sounds much better. Stay tuned….

Friday Recipe Exchange: A Little Bit of Everything

Oven potato chips

I debated about a recipe exchange this week, it’s been a busy, snowy week and I was contemplating curling up with a good book until spring. But then I made these great oven baked chips and thought, I must share.

There was lots of cooking this week, for a change, so the recipe exchange will be, as JefferyW often posts, be made up of tidbits.

Starting with a new chocolaty Nutella Brownie, recipe here, that also happens to be gluten-free.

JeffreyW made some great looking Buffalo Chicken, photos and recipe here.

Chuck roasts were on sale, so I made a Slow-Cooker Pot Roast, full dinner menu and recipes here.

And for the pet lovers, a really quick Bixby Update is here. To say he is trying my patience would be kind. Puppies.

What’s on your plate this weekend? We’re digging out from about 20 inches of snow, but the sun is shining, so that’s a plus. How about you?

Tonight’s featured recipe happened because I was at the store and grabbing a bag of frozen french fries (don’t judge) and saw they had bags of oven potato chips. I thought that sounded good and easy to make, so I passed the bag by and instead made my own.

They are similar to my Potato Wedges, but because they are sliced thinner, they are really crispy on the outside with a creamy center. I will be making them again. I used russets because that’s what I had on hand and it was snowing, so that’s what I used. I think they worked great for these.

Garlic and cayenne are optional, but don’t skimp on the salt and pepper. You can also use alternate spices or herbs, like rosemary, thyme, marjoram or parsley flakes. Maybe some chopped chives just before you take them out of the oven.

Oven Potato Chips

  • 2 to 4 large potatoes
  • light olive or vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper
  • garlic powder
  • cayenne pepper

baking sheet, mandoline or grater

Wash and scrub potatoes and slice into thick slices. Mix oil with salt, pepper, garlic powder and dash of cayenne pepper. Toss with potato slices and arrange on well oiled baking sheet.

Bake at 450 degrees, turn at about the 10 minute mark, or when browned on the bottom and continue to bake until nicely browned on the other side, approximately another 10 minutes. Watch carefully and remove any slices that are thinner and brown more quickly.

You can brush with more oil if needed as they bake. Serve piping hot.

I served these with my Cheese Stuffed Burgers and a side salad for a nice dinner.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, hope everyone is dug out – TaMara



Nutella Brownies

Nutella browniesSerendipity was afoot last week. I had read a recipe for Nutella flourless brownies and promptly went to the store to buy a jar and make them. Turns out, on that same day, the creator of Nutella died at 89.

The brownies are pretty good and one of those recipes that taste much better the next day. The process is very similar to my Chocolate Flourless Cake, recipe here.

I prefer the chocolate cake, but the Nutella brownies were a good second. If I make them again, I will add toasted hazelnut pieces (they should be chopped fine so they don’t all sink to the bottom of the batter).

Both recipes are super easy and a make for a very moist chocolate treat. And gluten-free as an added bonus.

Nutella Brownies

  • 4 large Eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups Nutella
  • Powdered Sugar for dusting

8×8 baking dish or springform pan, oiled and lined on the bottom with parchment cut to fit

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Beat eggs on high for 5 to 7 minutes until they have tripled in size. Beat in Nutella on low until fully incorporated*. Pour into the baking dish. Tap the dish on the counter firmly to remove any bubbles and then bake for 30-35 minutes, until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with a just few crumbs, no batter. Mine actually took about 40 minutes, but I forgot to preheat.

Cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar, cutting and serving. I found it tasted best the next day. Also it freezes very well.

*some recipes call for you to microwave the nutella, but since the jar specifically says, DO NOT MICROWAVE, I just used a spatula to scoop out most of a 13 oz jar.




Quick Bixby Update

Bixby and the dragon1

Things are very busy here. Bixby is now 117 lbs, he’s slowed down to about 2.5 lbs each week. He stands a full head taller than me when he’s up on my shoulders. He has been a pill/beast/troublemaker all week and we are working diligently to correct some difficult and persistent problems. Running away being the most urgent.

He broke away from me three times/days in a row this week and refused to come back, putting himself in some dangerous situations.  The breaking away is very deliberate and his little mind works very hard at devising an escape strategy. So we are doing some serious re-training. After I finished yelling (yelling btw, very ineffective for training, but needed to be done so I could stop freaking out and then focus on the problem).

The dragon was a gift from his most recent playdate…he adores it.

Paw print


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