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Thermapen Conundrum

My beloved thermapen thermometer broke, but after some overwrought prose and a helpful comment from Tim at Thermoworks, I shipped off my thermometer to see about a repair.  Amanda at Thermoworks gave me the shipping information, and added the hopeful comment that most repairs are in the $15-20 range.

There she is, all snug in an old check box, ready for her trip to Utah.

I got an email from Amanda a few days later saying that she had arrived safely, and that I would be contacted soon with a repair estimate.

I got the call with the estimate yesterday.  $40.  Bummer.

I asked how that broke down and was told that it was $5 to replace the red plastic housing that had melted, plus $35 for a new probe.  The probe needed to be replaced because the plastic around the probe was cracked and although the probe worked, it was only a matter of time before it failed.

I hemmed.  I hawed.  For $40, I would end up with a like-new, old model thermapen.  I knew that a  new model thermapen (with the fancy splash-proof design…they don’t even carry my old school ones anymore) would run me $89.

I said that was a little more than I was expecting to spend on my 7-year-old thermapen.  The person I spoke with offered that they would sell me the new model thermapen at a discounted price of $79.

I hemmed.  I hawed.  Then the person gave me another alternative.  I could get a refurbished probe to replace my old cracked one for $10, bringing the total repair to $15.  That was more in line with what I was hoping for based on our original email conversations.

But now I had a decision to make.  Do I pay $40 and get basically a new, old model thermapen or do I pay $15 and get a probably basically-new, old model thermapen.  Or do I just bite the bullet and pay the $79 and get the new splash-proof model.  That splash-proof thing is attractive to me, because hey, the kitchen is a wet place sometimes!

I have decided to leave the choice up to you, oh faithful readers reader.  Please complete my poll, and I’ll do what you deem is best.  The poll will close Friday night at 8pm EST.  Thank you, my wise counselors



Separated At Birth

Uncle Albert and Thing 2.

Recipe: Authentic Scottish Scones

My grandparents on my father’s side were Scottish.  I never knew my Grandfather, he was one of the few Vermont fatalities of the Hurricane of ’38,  but that is a story for another time.

My Gram died when I was just 8.  I have very few long memories of her, but I do have a few short, specific memories.  The skin on her upper arm was very soft and cool, and I liked to pat it and feel it jiggle.  Her eyes were sparkly and crinkly and kind.  If I try really hard, I can almost remember her laugh.  It was just a little chuckle.  But I can never really recall it; it remains just out of reach, like a word stuck on the tip of my tongue.  She always wore a dress and she drove a Volkswagen Beetle.  She had strong-smelling green pine soap in her bathroom and face cream in a little pink  container shaped like a rosebud and it smelled like roses.  She had a gigantic glass candy dish, and no matter how carefully you tried to sneak candy, the lid always clanked and she would say from the other room, “Take some candy if you would like.”

Once, I slept over and we played bingo.  When I would win, I would always get a prize.  The prizes were always Native American in theme; like a plastic Indian-head key chain, or a small beaded change purse.  I found out later that these were things that she had gotten in return for donations she had given to a Native American charity.

When I was sick with a cold, she would always make me a fruit basket and bring it to me.  It had an orange, an apple and a banana, but the best part was there were always a couple of comic books tucked inside.

Re-reading this, I see I have used the word “always” an awful lot.  I was going to edit them out, but I think that is the essence of what I remember about her, she was always…always kind, always soft, always loving, always predictable, always dependable, until the day she just wasn’t there anymore.  To me, it was shocking and unbelievable. It was as if, without warning, the sun just didn’t rise one morning.

My Gram had a few things she was known for baking.  Fudge, doughnuts, oatcakes and scones.  I don’t have her scone recipe, this is actually from my childhood neighbor, Mrs. Troup.  They must have been close to what my Gram made, because I remember my Dad saying, “I don’t know how an Italian woman can make such good Scottish scones.”

I make my scones two ways:  plain and with ginger and lemon.  The plain is traditional and what my Gram would have made.  The ginger-lemon variation is just me being uppity.

And a word on pronunciation.  In our family, we always pronounced them to rhyme with “gone”… skawn.  Everyone else pronounces them to rhyme with “bone”.  I was heartened to hear on a trip to Scotland that they too pronounced it “skawn”.  It was just another bit of evidence that those things they sell in Starbucks might not be recognized in the Highlands.  Sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Here’s how I make authentic Scottish scones, and a modern variation.   The recipe follows at the end.

For the ginger-lemon scones, I dice about 1/2c of crystalline ginger into a small dice, and grate the zest from one lemon.

I add the ginger and lemon zest to the dry ingredients.  The diced ginger is sticky, so I rub it into the dry ingredients to break up the pieces and coat them with flour to keep it from clumping.

Then I cut up the cold butter into small cubes.  The original recipe, typical of Scottish and depression-era frugality I think, called for “oleo”.

I then cut the butter into the dry ingredients until I get a mixture that looks like a combination of cornmeal and small peas.  Sometimes, I use my fingers a bit to incorporate the butter, but I am careful not to melt it.

Then I add buttermilk, and stir it until just combined.  The dough will be shaggy and a little sticky.

I turn it out onto the counter and knead it only once or twice to gather it together.

Then I lightly pat it into a circle about 8″ in diameter and about 1/2″ thick.  I prick the dough with a fork, and cut the circle into wedges using my bench knife.

I place the scones on an ungreased cookie sheet.

They should look a little bumpy and craggy.  That way, when they bake, they have lots of crisp edges.  If they look too smooth at this point, I worry that I overworked the dough and they may be tough.

Bake at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes until they are nice and brown on the top.

The plain ones are quite plain, and good with a little jam.  The ginger lemon scones are also good with jam or on their own.

Authentic Scottish Scones

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2c flour

2 rounded T sugar

2 t baking powder

1/2 t baking soda

1/2 t salt

Combine these ingredients.

1/3 c butter, cut into small cubes

Cut this into the dry ingredients.

3/4c buttermilk

Add the buttermilk and stir until just combined.  Turn out onto a counter and knead once or twice to bring dough together.  Quickly and gently pat into an 8-9″ circle about 1/2″ thick.  Prick with fork and cut into 8ths.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake 10-12 minutes.

Ginger-Lemon Variation

1/2 c crystallized ginger, cut into small dice

zest of 1 lemon

Add these ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Rub the ginger pieces in the flour to coat them with flour and keep them from clumping.  Proceed with the recipe as written.

Sun, Sun, Sun, Here It Comes!

Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right.

It is 4 in the afternoon, and the sky is still lit up like it is midday.  I am so glad to be out of the dreary November-December-January late afternoon gloom.  I don’t have anything close to seasonal affective disorder, but I certainly notice the lack of light.

Given the trips to the ER (yes, plural, but Thing One is ok after a nasty playground fall that affected her vision temporarily), the long car rides to visit family, the insomnia that seems to grab hold of whoever is youngest on these trips, and the broken chest freezer we found upon our return, I am glad that the sun is doing its best to improve my mood.

How’s that for a self-centered worldview?  It used to be that everyone thought the sun revolved around the earth, apparently I take it one giant step further and actually think the sun moves in response to me personally!

I think the chickens are noticing the increased light and milder weather too.  We have moved from a low of 1-2 eggs per day, back up to about 3 eggs per day over the last 4 days.  I am not sure if it due to the increased light (we are now almost back to 12 hours of daylight) or the strangely mild weather we had toward the end of last week, but I think it means that we will have quiche for dinner.

Thank you hens, thank you sun.

Before and After: First Haircut

Thing Two Before:


Thing Two After:

She is unsure.  It doesn’t really look like the picture she brought in.

Sick Days

The worst thing about being a stay-at-home mom is the lack of sick days.  Both Thing One and Thing Two caught the same nasty virus about a week apart.  Barfing followed by fever followed by cold symptoms and finishing up with an ear infection for Thing One, while Thing Two finally finished her constantly dripping nose.  Thing One had one night of high fever where I stayed by her bed, talking to her, rubbing her chest and placing cool cloths on her forehead.  For Thing Two’s feverish night,  I slept with her on the floor in her room, both of us sharing a sleeping bag while she nursed and whimpered the whole night.

I made it through that nursing duty tired but unscathed.  Then, last week,  Bill got sick.  Luckily, it was just a cold.  Obviously, he doesn’t require the same care as the kids, but still I fuss over him a bit and try to make life easier.

Finally, we were all well and I thought I had escaped this month of misery.  Until yesterday.  I must have eaten something bad.  I think it was my salad at dinner.  Bread would never do such a thing to me.  I woke up feeling awful;  body aches, head ache and stomach ache.  Bill left for work and Thing One left for school but that pesky Thing Two was still under foot.

She is 15 months old and at that roaming toddler stage.  The first thing she does when she gets up in the morning is check the perimeter safety.  Is the stair gate latched?  Is the office door shut?  Is the cellar door shut?  Is the bathroom door shut?  If any one of these is left open, she gleefully runs in and starts doing whatever it is she shouldn’t be doing.  For example, in the bathroom her mission is to unspool the toilet paper and splash her hands in the toilet.  Ugh.  Thing One never did this!

So, when she is on the prowl, I have to be on my toes.  And yesterday, I really needed a sick day.  I was able to lay down for a bit while she was in the cage (her big playpen) but that never lasts.  So I reluctantly called Bill at work and asked if he could come home early, get Thing One off the bus and take her to piano lessons.  Lucky for me, he didn’t have any late afternoon meetings and was able to get home at 3.  By the time he got home, the stomach issues had stopped, but I was still achy and feverish.

He took Thing One to piano lessons and while Thing Two napped I had two hours to rest.  As I lay on the couch, shivering under a pile of blankets, Stella the cat came over and gave me the once over.  Then she hopped up on my chest and stretched out her whole length on me, acting like a furry hot water bottle.  She closed her eyes and began to purr and I felt like someone was watching over me during my feverish sleep, murmuring that I would feel better soon.

Separated At Birth

Dino and Thing 2.

Requiem for a Thermapen

I think my expensive, well-loved kitchen thermometer has had the radish.

While making bread this past week, I tried to measure the temperature of the milk and to my finger it seemed warmer than the 80 degree reading.  I checked the hot water coming out of the tap…hmm 110 degrees, I think it should be around 125 degrees.  Then I tried our fridge…58 degrees.  I would know if our milk was 58 degrees, I like it icy.  The final test came by just setting it on the counter.  There is no way our house is 76 degrees.

Something was wrong with the thermometer!  So I did what everyone does in an emergency, I went on-line.

There I found the home calibration procedure for my thermapen.  Easy-peasy.  Expose the calibration screws, dip it in ice water and turn the screw so it reads 32 degrees.  Dip it in boiling water, turn the other screw so it reads 212 degrees, and we should be back in business.

The ice water reading was about 35 degrees, so I turned the screw to read 32 degrees.  Great!

The boiling water reading was around 180 so I turned the screw but was unable to get it to read 212 degrees.  Huh. Tried again.  More turning.  Huh, no luck.

I stopped trying to calibrate it and took a close look at the thermometer.  In the jaunty red plastic body near the probe there was a nasty little split.  Oh no!  I think the steam of the boiling water warped the plastic case while I was trying to calibrate it.

So again, I dashed on-line to check the warranty information.  Out of luck, only one year.

I bought this thermometer about 6 years ago, after a long rationalization, at the King Arthur Baker’s Store in Norwich, Vermont.  I needed the long rationalization because although I was sold on the quality of the thermometer, it was pricey.  Very pricey.  A luxury even.  Luxurious?  Useful, I will pay for but, luxurious?  I have a problem with luxurious.  Maybe it’s the Yankee in me, but luxurious somehow makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

But it was supposed to be the Cadillac of kitchen thermometers.  And how much had I already spent replacing cheap grocery store thermometers that always seemed broken just when I needed them the most?  And if I bought it here, it would not only be a wise purchase by an obviously dedicated home baker who knows quality when she sees it, but also a memento of my first visit to the mecca of home bakers.

As I muttered to myself walking around the store, I didn’t see any thermapens.  I circled around again.  Nothing.  Finally, I broke down and asked someone.  I am like a lost man driving when it comes to asking for help in a store.  I will find it myself, thank you very  much.

The nice lady told me, “Oh yes, we keep them in the back.  I’ll get one for you.”  They keep them in the back.  Because they are so precious!  I am not sure I can do this.

I flashed back to when I was a kid sent to Bud’s Market for saffron.  At Bud’s the saffron was kept behind the counter because it was so expensive and could be easily stolen by jonesing risotto junkies. Same thing for illegal fireworks; I bought those as a kid at Owen’s Market.  You had to ask Mr. Owen at the counter, and if you were brave enough to do that, and had $2, you could get a string of fifty little firecrackers.

The woman brought me the thermometer and there was no way I could leave it at the store.

We  had a lot of good times together, my thermapen and me.  Oh, we had our rough patches too.  There was the time I got it a little wet (the new models are splash-proof), and in a huff of indignation it refused to show me anything at all on the display.  But after removing the battery and a gentle air-drying, all was forgiven.

And now this.  I suppose I will write Thermoworks with my tale of woe, but I am afraid I will be out of luck.  I won’t be able to bring myself to spend the cash to replace it.  It didn’t last long enough.  It was a little fussy.  I don’t really need a 3 second read-time or pinpoint accuracy for the cooking I do.

I need something a little less luxurious and a little more dependable.  A little more Yankee.