Photo Albums: A Wedding and A Divorce

Why is it that photo albums are so deceptive?  Not as in “the camera adds 10 pounds” , although that truth is bad enough.

I mean the images of life.  In our wedding albums we look younger, but not “too young”.  The reception was at the local “yacht club”.  Great place- a big old rustic barn-like building.  Massive room with open wooden rafters, old piano that the kids would bang on until we couldn’t take the noise.  Wrap around porch and steps leading down to the pier.  The pier was unadorned by fencing, safety gaits or concerned adults.  There was a bar at one end that was always filled with people who met there regularly; chatting, smoking and watching the games on TV.

In the wedding album it’s a beautiful day, we’re wearing fancy clothes in a relaxed place.  Wedding gown and Raybans.  Happy couples dancing on the porch.  Lobster clambake and pretty tables set in a ramshackle old barn by the sea.   It looks like the kind of life I’d wish to have.

There are never any photo albums of Divorce.  Many happy photos, over the years of marriage.  It’s deceptive.  So many happy moments are caught on film (well, that was then. Now its digital).  The chronicle of various births, christenings, ballet recitals, school milestones and vacations.The ones I love the most are not those.  They are the photos of the baby being fed spaghetti by his adoring sister (before he had any teeth). Pictures of the girls when they’d decorated each other (head to toe) with colored markers. The sandy bodies.  The toothless grins.

These photos only represent half the real picture. There aren’t any that catalogue the arguments.  The frustration, disappointments.  Hurtful words.  Angry stares.  The tension that goes on for days, weeks, months until it becomes the tone of the household.

Then…it’s over.  Finito.  Ended. People offer condolences.  “I’m so sorry.  Are you okay?”.  Am I okay???  How do I tell them that I’m fine?  That it’s a relief not seeing the car in the drive when I pull in from work.  That it’s easier to shoulder the burden yourself than to risk counting on someone else?   That the tension is gone (almost). Should I be sadder?  Afraid? Ashamed?

Then I find the photo albums.  As I look at the photos of happy times, the sadness suddenly hits.  It’s a bittersweet sadness.  The family in the album looks so happy.  Was that ever really us?  There is sadness for what could have been, more than what was.  I’m sad for Grumpy, aware that my response took him by surprise.  His actions brought it on, but, he’ll have some lonely days.  He’s not the only guilty party.  I could have stopped this thing- we’ve teetered many times before.  Why now? Why not just placate him again?

Somehow, it’s just time to let it happen.  To let him go.  He gave me an ultimatum of sorts, and instead of doing xyz to prove I still could…I declined.  I’m not regretting the decision. I’m sad for what was lost, but the photo album isnt fooling me today.  If the albums were true to life, they’d show all the past.  The good days, and the bad.  Like our old minivan.  I cleaned it out one day, discovering “roadtrip cd’s” from days past, trinkets that were treasure  are now trash under the seat.  The carpet in the 3rd row is a swirl of pale yellow and robins egg blue from the paint that tipped over (thanks Home Depot paint man).  The scrapes and scratches are a testament to teenage drivers.  There’s also a big dent in the fender from the woman who lost her equilibrium and drove into me one day.  She seemed not right-  I urged her to see a doctor.  She later had a non-malignant tumor removed from her brain. I’ve kept the dent as a reminder to me.  LIfe is precious.  Cars are not.

So we’re moving on. The albums will be put away for now.  I’m sure later we’ll need to divide them, make duplicates of photos so 2 homes can commemorate the (partially depicted) good old days.  Instead of living in the  past, it’s time I live in the present.  The future will sort itself out.

I love the family, each and every one, from those pictures.  To Sue, Jen, Paula, Alan, Hylton and all the other in-laws who will be out-laws, I will always identify you as family.  You are kin to my kin, and bonds stronger than laws still apply.

Violets Can Cure the Blues

Time flies.  Every day the earth turns, each of us has only so many hours to feel the warmth of the sun before the dark descends.  It seems like the further I get in life’s journey, the fewer hours are in the sun.

Spring is finally here, and summer right around the corner.  It’s been a long, hard winter.  I’m so ready to feel the sun.  I wanted to collect dandelions yesterday. Last year I made dandelion jelly (When Life Gives You Dandelions), and it seemed like a good way to bring that spring feeling back.  I must have collected 500 flowers last year.  Yesterday…I don’t know where they went.  All those flowers I’d seen in the rain last week were gone.  Instead, I have violets. DSCF5348

Lots and lots of violets.  I love them! They spread like weeds, and probably ruin the lawn, but they are spring to me.  Lawns are overrated anyway!  Goodbye dandelions;  I’d be making violet jelly instead.

I thought about trying to convince my dear, loving children to go out and pick the flowers for me.  Wouldn’t they love to go outside and harvest flowers, stooping and bending like itinerant laborers, rather than sitting in front of a laptop? No, I didn’t really think so either.  That wouldn’t stop me from trying.  What did stop me from recruiting more help was this: See these flowers? DSCF5347

These are violets.  See how the leaves are heart-shaped, and the flowers look like someone sat on them?  These are wild flowers that are totally edible.

Now see this one?        DSCF5350    This is periwinkle.  Vinca Minor.  It has longer, narrow leaves and perfect flowers. It’s also toxic.  I don’t trust those kids to avoid the flowers that the dogs might have watered, never mind the poisonous plants!

So,  I stooped and picked, over and over until I had 8 cups of flowers.  Poured boiling water over them and set them aside.  My friend Jan came over to help.  We went out to lunch, did a litle shopping, returned home…and they had just enough time to bleed out their violetness into the water.  After straining them and squeezing out all the flower juices, I had just about the right amount (3 1/2 cups) of liquid. DSCF5355

I used the recipe from Taste of Home.  The only change I made was to mix the pectin with the sugar before mixing it into the liquid.  It seems to mix in better this way.

I added 1/2 cup of lemon juice, then 4 Tablespoons of pectin mixed with 4 cups of sugar.  That sounds like a lot of sugar, but it wasn’t as sweet as I’d expected.  After they are thoroughly mixed, heat in a stainless pot until boiling.  Boil hard for 1 minute, then process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

Here’s the end result:DSCF5391

It’s a very nice jelly.  I actually prefer it to the dandelion jelly.  Avery tasted it first, and decided that she wanted to make “violet cookies”.  We stayed up that night and made thumbprint cookies.  She brought them to school as a peace offering to the kids in her class (This was a good idea, trust me).  It got thumbs up from all the other samplers.  If you have a field of violets mixed in with your lawn, then you really should consider making this jelly.  It looks lovely, and tastes lovely.  And I believe it might have healing properties for the soul.  A cup of tea, and a toasted english muffin with a spoonful of violet jelly… if you close your eyes you can just feel the light touch of the sun again.

“Severe Weather Alerts”- Who Has Time For THAT???!!!

Every year we hear these dramatic predictions.  Accuweather.com is talking about 18-24 inches of snow, with the “possibility of a blizzard”.  Some people are even talking in terms of the “great blizzard of ’78″.  Grumpy claims it’s going to be a whole lot about nothing again.  Who knows?

In the meantime, we prepare.  These storm predictions are the “black Friday”  of grocery stores.  All over New England, people scamper off to fill their home with food, water, candles and batteries “just in case”.

I know we could survive for  weeks on what we already have here.  Months, even.  But… I am leaving early tomorrow morning for a 12 hour work shift.  I know they’ll be fine, but, I still feel  like I need to make sure that the kids and Grumpy are fine in my absence.  So I went, like a lemming, to prepare. 

We have a huge, shiny new store in the next town over.  market basketIt was packed.  About 4,000 people pushing carriages all over the store.  I had no idea what to buy.  I just wandered up and down the aisles.  Usually behind old people.  I mean “tales from the crypt” old.  I could hear the clock ticking my life away.  I had to get something and get out.  Then, I got this great idea to roast a turkey.  It would stay fresh for them over the weekend, right?  If we lose power, they can always store it in the porch back-up refrigeration room.  Lucky for me- they had 2 fresh turkeys left.  It was 2pm, but if I hurried home I could get it into the oven and done by about 5:30; in time for dinner.  Perfect!

Well, by the time I got home it was 2:30.  Maybe if I cook it unstuffed it will be done in time. Then, there were dirty dishes in the dishwasher.  Can’t rinse a turkey with dishes there- so I had to put them into the dishwasher…which was, of course, filled with clean dishes.  So, putting away the dishes when the phone rang.  Run to my desk- it’s a robo-call from the school superintendent announcing that school is cancelled for tomorrow.  As soon as I answered the phone, though, I forgot what I was doing.  I started checking out Facebook.  And email…OMG! It’s almost 4 o’clock!  Back to the dishwasher.  Finished unloading, then reloading.  Chopping the onions, carrots, celery to put under the turkey in the roaster.  Finally got that bird washed, seasoned (no time to brine it) and into that oven.  At 4:49pm.

So now- I just have to make the stuffing, because what’s a turkey without stuffing? Oh- and I have to figure out what to do for dinner.  Because that bird isn’t going to be done for a long time.  Seriously- who has time for this???

Go Big or Go Home? I’ll Go Home!

Some people obsess about having the biggest, thinking it’s the best.  I went in a different direction for Thanksgiving this year.  We did have one big long table; with 17 people you kind of need that.  We also had one big turkey, about 19 pounds or so.  But for desserts…we went small and smaller, all the way.

I got an idea in my head about making individual pies.  My Grumpy, and our son PJ, love those nasty little pies that come in a box.  The ones that taste like they were shipped in from another continent.  Seeing them eat those things is just insulting.  I decided to make some of those things, but make them right.  I would make a big dessert table, where all the desserts were single serving sized.  It would be a “serve yourself” dessert buffet.

First I made a trip to the local “Savers” store, kind of like a giant thrift store.  I picked up dozens of little second-hand dishes for baking pies.  I had already canned a few pie fillings (apple, peach and green-tomato-mincemeat) as well as some canned pumpkin chunks.  I found a recipe for Banana-Caramel-Vanilla-Cream pie.  It looked amazing- and it was worth the effort.  It was about a week before Thanksgiving, and  I had some extra cream in the fridge. I made a batch of  sea-salt caramel and cooked it just a bit less than usual (recipe here).  I cooked it to the soft ball stage, then put it into jars to save for the desserts.  If you do this, trust me, don’t put “caramel” on the jars.  Label them as “prune sauce” and no one will touch them.  Anyway…the big easy on this thing is that the fillings were little or no effort, and you can do it all in advance of the big day.

The day before turkey day I made 3 separate batches of pie dough.  I used my favorite recipe (here) for dough.  After chilling, I rolled it out and cut it with an empty oatmeal box.  Apple and mincemeat were scooped straight from the jar, covered and baked.

These are the apple pies here….see those little things scattered around? Extra pie dough.  I cut it into “leaves” for fun.

 
And here are some of the

“green-tomato-mincemeat” pies.

This mincemeat is really different: green tomatoes, apples, oranges, lemons, dried cranberries, brown sugar and spices.  Yum!

 

Then, I whipped up some pumpkin chunks in the food processor.  I have to admit, I don’t know exactly what I added.  I think there was brown sugar, cinnamon, ground allspice and a pinch of nutmeg.  I added eggs, poured it all into a saucepan and I cooked it for about 5 minutes until it was shiny.  I added cream and butter, brought it almost to a boil. Then I added vanilla, poured it into the shells and baked it at 375f until it looked done.   This was the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had.

The “banana” pie was simple. I prebaked the crust, placed sliced bananas on that.  Then, I poured a layer of the sea-salt caramel over the bananas.  I made a nice vanilla pudding that I found on here on “Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures”.  That was layered over the caramel, then the whole thing was topped by whipped cream. You can see a couple of them in the upper right corner of this photo- that was before the whipped cream.  This was a real surprise dessert- much better than I expected.

For the cheesecake loving crowd I made individual NY cheesecakes in muffin papers, and covered each one with a layer of pureed strawberries.  These were a huge hit with the Schmidt’s.

 

 

Finally, with all that extra caramel left over, I decided to make some caramel apples for all the kids.

 

Then, I decided I’d better make enough so the “big kids” would have one too.  Kids like Grumpy, as well as the little-uns.

There were some for those people who actually prefer not to eat nuts (I just don’t get it…)

 

 

So…that was the best Thanksgiving ever, and the dessert table was what made it fun for me.  I’ll definitely be making individual desserts again at Christmas.  I’m not sure what I’ll make yet, but I’m already looking forward to the planning!

50 Ways to Lose Your Pumpkin (part 2)….Can it Baby!

Canning pumpkins is a new venture for me.  We had plenty to work with, as I mentioned in “50 Ways…part 1“.  We kind of go overboard with some of the holidays.  That’s one of the things I love about Grumpy; he doesn’t hesitate to go overboard when it comes to holidays for the kids.  This is a photo of the early preparations.  Grumpy made those tombstones for me out of plywood and scrap lumber.  They’ve been holding up about 5 years now.  There is a lot of bloody looking stuff that gets added as the day goes on, and light up creatures in the trees and upper windows, “bats” flying in the sky (a light effect), fog machine, scary noises and (my favorite) we actually have a real creepy old burial ground across the street!  Halloween central- woohoo!  I’m not sure if it’s the burial ground or not, but we get slaughtered with crowds of kids here!

But back to pumpkins…..  So I managed to save one perfect sugar pumpkin to can this year.  These are the kind you want for pies and other baked goods.  Nice strong flavor, almost sweet and not grainy.  Pumpkin can only be safely canned in a pressure canner, and it must be in chunks.  Once you puree it the density is too great for canning, and you run the risk of not killing all the anaerobic bacteria (and you can get botulism!!! ).  Start by putting a kettle of water on to boil (or two); then start sectioning your pumpkin with a very sturdy knife.  Clean it out thoroughly, and scrape the stringy part out of the inside.  It’s easier to peel if it’s in strips like this photo.  (Okay- you caught me; that is a photo of a Jack O’Lantern type pumpkin.  The same principal applies.  I just didn’t get a photo of my sugar pumpkin in this state).  After it’s peeled, chop it into roughly 1 1/2- 2 inch pieces.

Next, put your pumpkin into a large stainless steel pot.  I usually use an 8 qt dutch oven.  This is not that one, and it’s not even stainless steel.  That pan was busy and I was lazy.  Carry on.  Now cover the chunks with the boiling water, heat on high, bring to a boil and continue to boil for 2 minutes.  While this is happening, check to make sure your jars are clean.  That’s all- you do not need to sterilize them!  They get totally sterile in the pressure canner.

Strain out the pumpkin and place in to jars (like the photo).  Fill loosely to about 1 inch from top.  When you’ve filled all the jars, pour more boiling water into them to about 1 inch from the top.  The pumpkin will settle some.  Use a chopstick or plastic tool to swirl out any air bubbles.   Put the metal lids (not rings) into HOT water to soak for a few minutes.

Prepare the canner by pouring more hot/boiling water inside (I like to put about 4 inches in because I’m paranoid about it running dry).  Add a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar to keep your jars sparkly (they get permanently cloudy if you forget).

Now back to the lids:  Wipe the rims of the jars first with a damp towel (cloth or paper).  At this point I like to wipe the rims with either a paper towel dampened with white vinegar or rubbing alcohol.  It doesn’t get into the jar (I said “damp”) and helps to ensure a good seal.  Put those lids on, tighten the rings to almost tight (called “finger tight”, not “professional wrestler tight”).  Place in canner and turn the heat waaaay up.  When the hissing starts to get noticable, put the weight on and when it starts jiggling, set the timer for 90 minutes (quarts) or 75 minutes for pints.  I chose quarts as I believe I’ll get no more than a can of pumpkin would have after draining off the water.  When the time is up, turn off the heat and leave it alone to cool.  You can cool it in the canner overnight if you have to.  Do not remove weight or lid if there is any pressure remaining and until they have cooled down enough to minimize burns.  If they are warm (or not too hot) after you remove the weight and lid, place them on a towel to finish cooling.  Wipe them down, carefully remove the rings and check the seal.  If you ever have a failed seal, even if it’s been cooling overnight, it’s still safe.  Just put it into the refrigerator and either use it or reprocess it within a week or so.   I got 4 quarts of cubes from one good-sized pumpkin.  If you look closely in the photo, you can just see a bit of a jar full of beans behind the pumpkin.  Since I still had some room in the canner, I popped some dried beans into pint jars to can.  I hate running a half empty canner- it just seems like a wasted opportunity.  Put the dry beans in until jar is 1/3 full, then top with boiling water to 1 inch from top.  Finish the sealing in the usual manner. 90 minutes later you have perfect canned beans!

Sexy Beasts Like Real Food!

I try to balance my desire to feed my family healthy food (aka: paranoia) with my desire to give them the easiest thing I can throw together.  Being online makes the paranoia outweigh my inbred laziness.

Today, salad dressing tipped the scale for me.  Not the “OMG- I need a diet” scale.  That already happened last week.  Now I’m “low-carb” all the way.  So instead of pigging out on the grapes/pineapple/muffins and bagels that are calling out to me, I decided to have leftover chicken breasts and a salad with Bleu Cheese dressing.  The dressing that others have raived about tasted awful.  Not at all like my own; the one I haven’t made in years because it’s “fattening” (and yes, I am aware of the irony that it’s just fine and dandy on this low carb fiesta).

Sorry, I digress.  The scale it tipped is the “why make it when you can buy it” scale.  Look at this list of ingredients on the store-bought dressing.  I don’t know about you, but if “you are what you eat”, then I don’t want to eat that.  What would that make me?  Probably the product of a marriage between a Lithuanian porn star and a chemist!  Why would anyone want to eat something so foul tasting, especially when half the ingredients don’t appear to be real food?

So, for anyone who truly likes bleu cheese dressing, stay away from the prepared dressings section of the store and try this easy recipe made from only real foods.

If you have time to make your own (healthier, delicious) mayonaise, you’ll be even happier with the results.  I’m going to have to make do with a decent market brand.  Same for sour cream, bleu cheese…does anyone actually make their own vinegar?

Anyway…In a medium bowl combine about 2 cups of mayonaise, 1 cup sour cream, 3 Tablespoons cider vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (I like more pepper, but will add it to the salad as the kids aren’t big pepper fans). Now I’ll admit that it doesn’t look very pretty at this point.

But look how nice it gets with just a few seconds and a whisk?

Sooooo much better than that nasty bottled stuff already!  Now for the best part………

Time to crumble in about 6-8 ounces of bleu cheese (depends on how much you LOVE bleu cheese.  I love it about 94,279 ounces worth but I only had eight).

Now give it another quick stir; this time I’d use a big spoon so the chunks don’t get tangled up in your whisk.

That’s all there is to it!  It keeps for as long as the nearest expiration date for the fresh ingredients.  In this case, that would probably be the sour cream.

By the way- this stuff is as thick as molasses.  You could thin it out with milk, but when I do that I try to scoop out enough for that day and add milk.  This way it’s thick for those who prefer it that way.  Also milk usually has a shorter shelf life than the other ingredients.

This made almost 1 quart.  It also made a change in our dinner plans.  Now that we have fresh bleu cheese dressing, the kids want buffalo chicken wings and celery.  I think we can add a couple more raw vegetables and call that dinner!

***PS people: See how it says “bleu cheese” on that snazzy plastic lid? It’s in dry erase marker. Wipes right off.  It’s the easiest way I’ve found to make a temporary label. Washes right off.  I use crayons if I need it to last a bit longer.

It’s barely Fall, and I can feel Winter sneaking in…

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
Edith Sitwell

This year is going to be one long cold winter.  I can just feel it.  I’m preparing already.  I can appreciate spring cleaning, but it’s even more important in the fall.  Don’t get me wrong- I’m no cleaning Nazi.  I like to let it build a little so you actually notice the difference when I clean.  But, with winter coming, I like to start out with a nice clean house before we hermetically seal ourselves in for the long haul.

I go one room at a time, cleaning out, washing up and always moving furniture.  I take no chances on getting my effort noticed.  The need to clean came on at a bad time.  I had just done a “big” shopping trip and there were a lot of fresh things to cook.  On Monday, I realized that I wasn’t leaving time for “fancy” dishes, and wasn’t cooking all those meats fast enough.  I checked the date, made some plans and was left with a fresh pork shoulder that I wouldn’t have time to deal with before Tuesday (the OMG sell-by date).  I rinsed it and put it into a slow cooker.  That would buy me a little time.  I told asked Grumpy to please add water as needed over the next day.  Tuesday wasn’t looking like a “pork shoulder” night either, so I pulled the meat off the bones and put it in the fridge.  Wednesday I got home from work after midnight (oh yeah- those shifts hurt).  Today, I coffee’d up and racked my brain for inspiration.  Then it came to me: I’d make carnitas burritos.*** I wasn’t expecting anything special, and didn’t measure or take photos.  I’m really, really sorry.  I’ll try to remember as I go along here.

When I got home from work, I shredded that (cold) pork into a mixing bowl. There was a good 3 cups or so.  I added some cumin (maybe 2 tsp) and some thyme (1 tsp dried).  Maybe 1 tsp of garlic salt.  It seemed to need cheese, so I shredded some pepper jack- about 4 ounces (the result was really hot- you might want to use plain jack if you don’t love the spice). Then, I wanted some creaminess so I through in 4 ounces of cream cheese.  Then, 1 can of Rotel (a puree of tomatoes and peppers with spices- great pantry item).  I heated it all up in the microwave just to warm it and make it easier to mix.  After stirring it together it was ready to go.  I scooped about 1/2 cup and spread it into a small flour tortilla.  You can use corn, but we ran out and flour is nice too.  Roll each filled tortilla up and place them in a baking pan.  After I filled the entire pan (and ran out of filling- love when that happens together!), I poured a can of enchilada sauce over the whole thing.  I don’t usually have that hanging around, but there was a can staring me in the face, just begging to be used.  I baked it at 350 for about 30 minutes.  Then I pulled it out of the oven, sprinkled some sharp cheddar over the top, and some mozzarella (still using up the leftovers).  A few more minutes in the oven to melt the cheese, and ready to serve.

Everybody loved it! Grumpy had 2 enchiladas, then asked for 2 more. This is a photo of his “second serving”, that’s why the plate is such a mess.  He thinks it’s worthy of being added to that never-ending list of regular meals.  I smiled, realized that the next time I had a fresh pork shoulder that needed cooking, I could simmer it in a crock pot for 36 hours, retrieve the meat and abandon it to cold storage for another 36 hours, gather all the ingredients and make a great “super fast” supper.  Or not.  ;-)

On the good side, since it was a little cooler out tonight we took a break from eating in the dining room.  Instead we all enjoyed these in our newly cleaned (and rearranged) living room with a big, warm fire in the fireplace.  It was so nice and cozy.  Winter doesn’t scare me; I’m ready!

OhhhMrrrGrrrd…I have the man flu!

I feel like such a wuss.  All those years of eye rolling, patiently picking up other peoples disgusting tissues and empty tea cups.  Backing away from the annoying hacking, sniffling and moans.  Now it’s my turn.  Ugh…. I hate this.  I woke up yesterday in the wrong body, and I don’t have the strength to move these limbs. Barking coughs make my brain knock around in there until I see stars.  This is awful.  I foolishly went to work. I spent the day doing mostly computer stuff, and clearing files.  And wiping everything around me with disinfectant, including me hands every few minutes.   I left a few minutes earlier than usual (I actually went in and started early).  As soon as I got home I raided the med cabinet and went to bed.  At 6 I wandered downstairs, got more medicine and told Grumpy “tag. You’re it.  Fajitas for dinner”.  Then I went back to bed.  I just got out of bed again and feel…sore.  But more alert.  I’m going to spend the day taking it easy, and indulging in my flu treatment.

I was planning to post about my foodie pen pal.  Somewhere I have a cute button you could click on…but I’m tired.  If you click on “foodie pen pal”, the blue one, you’ll get there.  I received a  lovely box filled with treats from this months pen pal Kathy.  In it were a bag of plantain chips (yummy! tried these before but they are a nice treat anytime.  I shared them of course).  There was a jar of fancy strawberry-rhubarb jam,a bottle of “Southern Style grill and cooking sauce” that looks like it will be a nice bbq.  What really caught my eye, and came in handy, was the honey.  I’m partial to raw honey, but never noticed one tasting much different from another around here.  The honey she sent was “orange blossum” honey from DePlanta’s honey in Lakeland Fl.  It has a different flavor from any honey I’ve tried.  Really nice.  Just right for my throat remedy.  Just in time.

So I have man-flu-brain today and can’t remember who I got this recipe from.  If anyone knows, or if I remember I’ll update with the name ….I found it! Here it is: it’s from http://catherineboley.blogspot.com/2009/08/preparing-for-winter.html (aka a little life) via one of my favorite sites:frugally sustainable.

I’m not well.  Here’s there recipe, I’m going back to bed!

Thinly slice one lemon
.  Peel and slice ginger; I like a bit less of this than the lemon. Place it all in a pint sized jar, pour honey over until it just barely covers.  Leave it in the refrigerator about a month before using, unless you are sick like me.  If that’s the case use it now.  Like me.  I feel so lousy.  Anyway, take a good tablespoon of the stuff (it will gel eventually in the fridge), put it into a huge mug (mine holds about 12 oz) and fill with hot water.  It helps to add a slug of bourbon,directly to the cup as well.  Up to you. I’m going back to bed anyway.  I’ll check back in when I’m human.

It’s Lucy in the sky and all kinds of apple pie*.

Today I rose at the crack of dawn to work yet another 12 hour shift.  I was resigned to the day, but then got lucky twice.  First, I had a really nice patient.  Second, I was not needed.  They sent me home a little after 11am.  This is really the luckiest part, because I’ll be leaving on Tuesday, right after work, on a road trip and I need a pedicure.  I still need to pack.  That means doing laundry. The house is really in need of a good cleaning and I really need a pedicure..  The dogs need a pedicure grooming.  And I really, really need that pedicure.

First, though, I went home.  I walked right into my kitchen and saw….a huge green zucchini.  My friend Jan brought me some beautiful cucumbers and zucchinis from her garden…2 weeks ago.  We have one big squash left.  Some of the kids (and Grumpy) believe that they don’t like squash.  I hide the squash.  Sometimes in the spaghetti sauce.  A little more obvious is in Ratatouille.  I also made some zucchini boats: hollow out the zucchini and treat it like a long pizza crust- anything goes.  As I stood there, on the brink of achieving domestic greatness by completing my laundry-packing-cleaning list, I remembered that somewhere, on one of the oh-so-many blogs that I really enjoy, there was a mention of zucchini-apple pie.  It’s a fake out- a zucchini pie the sells itself as apple.  I had to try this.

I was unable to track down the original blog.  This happens far too often; but whoever you are-you angel of zucchini cleverness, I would like to credit you properly and will update with the link if provided.  I searched online, and found one that sounded great at Food.com. Click here to see the recipe.

Start with a basic single pie crust.  I wasn’t thinking straight, and I made a double crust.  I seem to do this a lot.  While the dough is chilling, you peel, seed and slice the squash (I’m getting too tired to type zucchini, so from here on it will be officially be known as “squash”).  Simmer it in a saucepan with 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/2 cup water.  I also threw in some zest, to give it a little more lemonyness (yes it is too a word).  Then I just tossed in the rest of the lemon too because I really love lemons.  I simmered until they were translucent.  Then, strain.  I didn’t want to waste the lemon water, so I set it aside for later (I’ll get to that part later…or tomorrow).

Roll out your pie crust, or grab a premade one from the store if you absolutely must.  Then, toss together some sugar, flour and cinnamon (I left out the nutmeg, I just wasn’t feeling it).   Now mix in the squash, and pour the whole thing into the pie shell.  At this point Grumpy walked into the kitchen and didn’t even notice that it wasn’t his usual apple pie.  Snicker…..  Now you mix up the crumb topping.  This is my new toy.  I stopped by the crack house in Acton, MA.  It’s official called “kitchen outlet” or some such thing, but for me it’s a crack house.  I saw this baby and broke out in a sweat.  It’s amazing… anyway, I used it to shred the butter for the pie crust and for the topping.  Love, love, love it~  So here is the pie  after baking… And this is where I really wish I had a better camera!  It’s also time for someone to invent a camera with smell technology… But below here is my dear squash-hating PJ.  He stepped up to the plate for the very first slice of “apple pie”… and he loves it!  Grumpy joined him for a big slice, and declared it “a really good apple pie”.  I told him it wasn’t apple…and when I said there was (dreaded) squash inside he mumbled “sneaky itch” or some such term of endearment.  Meanwhile, I haven’t cleaned, laundered or packed.  I will be up for hours at this rate.  Oh my poor tired feet.  They really need a pedicure!!!*from “Julie’s in the Drug Squad” by The Clash

Don’t Count Your Baked Keets Before They’ve Hatched

Previously I wrote about an attempt on our part to hatch eggs ( in “A lesson on facing loss and acknowledging failure…”).  We decided to try again.  It didn’t go well.  This is an understatement.   We were watching the incubator carefully, and every so often it would fluctuate from 97-101.  This is a real problem, as it needs to stay right around 99.  One day PJ called me (on my way home from work) and told me it was “102″.  I asked his sister to try to turn it down “just the tiniest bit”.  She didn’t want to.  She felt responsible for the previous failure (more than was warranted) and didn’t want to be responsible for the life of these eggs.  I explained that failing to act when they needed her would be the same as choosing to let them die.  She made a slight adjustment.  I called back later, still on my way home, and asked them what the temperature was (they hadn’t been back to recheck)…. it was 120f.  I’m not kidding.  I was sick at heart.  “Remove the covers and shut if off!”.  I arrived home about 30 minutes later to find it still at 112f.  They were cooked.  I left it just like that and walked outside.  I was really upset.  I did let the daughter know that I was disappointed in her.  Not because she turned it the wrong way, or because she turned it more than a tiny bit (well, maybe a little upset with that) but because she failed to keep an eye on them when they were in danger.  I know she was upset too.  It wasn’t her fault that the incubator was fluctuating, but I want my children to understand that (like or not) we have a responsibility to these helpless creatures.

About an hour later, Grumpy told a friend of his (who lives in Nebraska, where he has a farm) about our unfortunate egg bake.  His friend told him that we shouldn’t give up.  Grumpy encouraged me to keep on incubating.  I didn’t want to be the one to burst his bubble.  I went back to the eggs; they had now cooled to 80f.  Equally lethal.  Still, if it made him happy…so I plugged it back in.

I continued to watch these baked eggs, carefully monitoring the temperature but not turning them as often as I should.  I worked long hours and the kids were no longer willing to face turning them.  I understood, it seemed wrong somehow to keep turning those poor dead birds.  Finally, on day 27, I wanted to put this to an end.  I picked up the eggs, candling them to be absolutely certain there was no sign of life before removing them.
When I saw movement in that first egg I almost dropped it!  We have here, in these photos, a testament to the mysteries of survival in the animal kingdom.  These birds survived when they “couldn’t possibly”.  Over the course of the day 3 eggs hatched on their own.  There were another 2 birds that started the process, then seemed to grow progressively weaker.  After about 8-10 hours of watching them I noticed that the membranes were hardening around the birds in their shells. I finally removed the eggs and pulled away their restrictive membranes.  These birds seem extremely weak.  I’m not sure they will survive.  The 3 birds who hatched on their own were another story.

This is that first bird ( whom Avery named “Cheeko”).  He was so feisty that we had to remove him as soon as his feathers dried.  He was bombing around the incubator, walking all over the other birds, drinking and eating with enthusiasm.  Now he’s in the nesting box, happy with his 2 strong siblings.  We’re keeping the other sickly ones in the incubator still, but hoping they’ll soon grow strong.  In the meantime we’re enjoying watching the antics of these feisty “half-baked” birds!

UPDATE on Half Baked Hatchlings…

Was I surprised when I got home from work?!!

 

Those two weak babies, the ones who were totally unable to use their legs for the first few hours of life outside the shell?  While I was at work they grew strong.  They are both able to walk, hop, eat and drink when they desire. The two on the bottom were the weaklings.  There’s a little grey “pearl” guinea in the middle.  They are in a warm box, but are loving the (warmer) rice sock we keep in the nest.   I’ve had to remove those weaklings from the incubator and place them into the brood box with the 3 stronger babies because……….

There’s a new baby in town!  That’s right…when I got home there was another tyke trying to get out.  It’s almost dry now, and she’s already learned to drink from the dish.  That’s not all…there is one more egg that seems to have a little tiny bit of activity inside.  We are so happy to have 6 birds all alive and well. I’ll keep watching that last egg…

 

 

 

“I’ll be back before you can say blueberry pie…”

Do you ever have one of those days? Today, finally, I planned to hit the road early for a long overdue visit with  “Auntie Helen and Uncle Stan”.  They live about 2 hours away, with no traffic.  I’d definitely leave at 7am…no later.  Then…the kids wanted to come.  One child (one of the twins) had to work.  The other twin wanted to come, but after a “sleep over” she returned home looking like the walking dead.  I waited and waited, then I went up to check on her…she appeared to be studying the back of her eyelids.  That left just the 2 youngest.  Getting them to the car is like trying to herd kittens.  We finally left at 10am…

Then the young son was hungry.  Starving.  We were half way there.  I pulled off the highway, hoping he’d be happy with some nasty drive thru stuff.  Nope.  Not my eater.  “Look mom!!!”  He’d seen a burger place.  Not a drive thru, but a “5 Guys”.  We’ve never ventured inside one of those.  “See that big fat guy?  He’s going in there.  We have to follow him.  That’s a seriously big guy.  He must know where the good food is”.  That would be 12-year-old logic.  So 30 minutes later, his hypothesis was “correct” in his eyes.  For myself, it’s no In-N-Out burger.  They do have a fabulously cool soda machine, but I don’t really care for soda.

We finally made it to their home, on Cape Cod, around 12:30.  So much for early.  Helen and I got a chance to catch up, sort of.  We chatted while the kids fed the dogs their “doggy ice cream” things, and while they fed the Koi in the fishpond.   Then we all went to hunt up some blueberries.  They have an almost secret patch of blueberries growing near their home.  We all went with buckets in hand, expecting to return fully loaded with berries.  Someone else knows about the secret patch.  There were only a few berries left, scattered on about 100 different bushes.   We chatted a bit, swatting mosquitoes, listening for the kids playing “Marco-Polo” in the berry bushes, until we were dripping with sweat and had managed to gather just about enough for a pie.  In all honesty, I had a lovely day and it was great to see everyone.  Sometimes it’s just more fun to whine. ;-)

I’d planned to make some “Pop Rock Cupcakes” with the recipe from my Foodie Penpal, but that will have to wait another day as tonight we are making blueberry pie!

used a reliable recipe of course kind of made it up as I went along, but if you want to try it, here is the story…

I wanted to make a free form pie this time.  This is a one crust pie, and you just allow the edges of the bottom crust to wrap up and around the filling.  Make a basic fruit pie crust, like the one here…
making only enough for a one crust pie (or you could freeze the other half).

                               Then, mix the berries (I had roughly 5 cups) with about 3/4 cups of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 3 Tablespoons of flour. Toss lightly in a bowl, then pour the berry mixture into the pie crust, dot the top with butter, wrap the dough up and over.  You will have a large area of uncovered fruit.  You might want to put a pan under the pie to keep extra fruit juice from dripping onto the bottom of your oven (I hate when that happens!).

Now bake at 350f for 45 minutes, then increase to 425f until crust has browned nicely.   Cool thoroughly, and make sure you have some ice cream (or just sweet cream) to put on top!

Foodie Penpal

Kenepa, aka Zombie Fruit

I’ve discovered that my kids are no longer picky eaters.  They won’t all eat everything; but they will pretty much try anything.  They’ve gone from “no sauce, this food can’t touch that food” to “I learned how to make lentil stew”.  I don’t really know when these gastronomic adventurers arrived, or what they’ve done with my “bland food only” kids, but I’m going to keep mum for a while longer and enjoy eating with these alien-spawned creatures.

On Friday I took Syd (1/2 of the blond twins – aka the blister sisters) and a friend to the Haymarket.  There were more exotic/foreign fruits and veggies than usual.  Among the fresh figs and dragon-fruit, jackfruit and lychees, were some I’d never seen before.  I was kind of staring at some little hairy ones, trying to figure out what they were and if I could con the alien-spawn into trying them, when a women started hooting and hollering behind me.  “HOOO, dems all mine!”.  She was a sketch, colorful headwrap and dress.  She had a mesh shopping bag- the kind that looked like macrame from the 60s.  She was laughing and pointing at some boring looking little green fruits.  They looked like a smaller oval shaped key lime.  “Dems my favorite dere”.  Being as how I had 2 teenage girls with me, and how easy it is to horrify teens, I decided to make conversation with my colorful new friend.  “So what the heck are those things and why are they so good?” “Dems Kenepa, dey from da islands” she said.  “Dey be soooo good! You has to try one”.  Haymarket vendors are very free with the samples, and the guy at this stand gave me the thumbs up.  “Okay, how do you eat them?”.  “Yee bites off de heads and eats de fruit inside, like de brains”.  OMG!!! Does she know about my zombie loving alien-spawn kids?  They’ve been obsessed with anything zombie for a good 3 years now.  How could I not have known about this fruit??? I bought a pound of the tiny little things.  That would be plenty, I thought.

We started trying them on the way to the train.  You really do bite them off at the top, right below the stem.  The skin is hard and cracks off easily.  Inside, is the strangest stuff.  There is a gooey, gelatinous substance.  It tastes sweet, and tangy, but leaves a weird feeling on your mouth.  Sort of like when you eat a not-quite-ripe banana.  Some of the gel is in kind of snot-like strands clinging to the shell.  Most of it is clinging to a big, hard seed in the center.  She said you could roast the seeds, but I’m thinking that after everyone sucks the brain slime off of them that just isn’t happening.  Sounds not-so-appealing, right?  Well, the alien-spawn kids loved them.  They seemed to love biting off the “heads” and sucking out the slime.  They also liked the flavor.  They polished off the whole pound before dinner.  They spent the rest of that night, and the weekend, asking if I was very sure there weren’t any more.  I’m going to look for that vendor this Friday, and see if he has more of these strange green things.  I’m starting to wonder if there is some link between the fruit and my zombie loving crew.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence.  And so is that Twilight Zone theme song playing in my head…..

Three reasons I’m smiling…

Just a quick note to float out there about why I’m smiling at the doorknobs today.

Reason #1) We’re hatching more eggs.  We tried to hatch a dozen guinea eggs for his farm. I don’t know what went wrong, but all 12 failed.  I’m really afraid it was the incubator. They’ve been in the incubator for 8 days now, and it’s been mostly in the 99-100 range, but on a few occasions it went as low as 97, and briefly to 102.  That 102 really scares me. They may have been baked.  I’m watching it like a hawk, and I’ve 3 (yeah- OCD=3) thermometers in there.  I wasn’t even sure they were fertile eggs. Jack thought there were no more eggs available this season.  I actually (gulp) found a seller on Ebay.  She was really sweet, promised me “at least 12″ and sent 18. Today, I picked up a couple and candled them quickly: fertile! I can’t get a photo while I’m holding them, so I’m borrowing one from a volunteer site:“Guineaalert.com”.  

See the darker spot at the top? That’s an 8 day fertile egg.  Our eggs are the same age, and look like that.  Or at least a couple of them did.  I really, really, hope we can give our friend Farmer Jack some guineas this time!  He has no idea that there might be 18…..

Reason #2) I’m waiting on another special delivery!  This month, I joined a group called Foodie Penpals.  This is a group that was started by Lindsay, aka http://www.thelonggreenbean.com.  In her own words:

-On the 5th of the month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email….
-You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!
-The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treatsThe spending limit is $15The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!

We has soooo much fun deciding what to send to my penpal Debra in Birmingham AL.  Unfortunately, I kind of forgot to take photos.  I’ll paste them in when Debra opens her gift at the end of the month.  I’ll also add photos about this when we receive our package from Mei-i.  I’m not sure which part is more exciting! Way more fun than just a letter alone!
I really do recommend that you check out the long green bean’s site, and also think about trying the penpal thing.  Maybe I’ll get you in the draw next month!

Reason #3) My daughter now has a twin sister.  Yup- I have another child under my roof.  My dear friend is moving to NC, and she’s leaving me her eldest child. It’s a gift of love.  Her daughter (and my other older twin) is going to be a senior this year. Can you imagine moving almost 800 miles away from your friends to a new school for your SENIOR YEAR??? So our Miss B has moved in.  Last night I also had my #1 son, Matt for a visit.  We walked around closing up the house last night with my 24 yr old, my blond twins, my 13-year old daughter and my 12-year-old son under one roof.  I’m telling you- I’ve never felt my heart so full.  I wish they’d all never leave.  I can’t wait until the first day of school.  I’m planning to dress them alike; buy them girly matching twin dresses with hair thingys and make them wear them all day and take a picture for B’s mom.   You think these dresses will come in their size?   I can’t wait!

(Thanks to Crowe Photo for use of the pic- they do gorgeous work)

Chicken, chicken and more chicken!

“I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday” – Henry IV                              Well Henry, I don’t know about your kingdom, but in my queendom we had a chicken in our pot on Monday.  Two chickens, to be precise.  And I’ve been channeling my incredibly cheap thrifty grandparents lately, so I made those chickens go a long way! 

First we had roasted chickens. In the bottom of the roasting pan I put all the things I’ve been saving in a freezer scrap bag: elderly leeks, carrot ends, celery tops as well as some thyme and garlic.  When it was done, I removed the drumsticks and thighs as well as most of the breast meat for the dinner table.   Then, I returned the pan to the oven to keep roasting the carcass and veggies.  That night, after roasting a couple more hours, I scraped it all into a crock pot and cooked it overnight.  In the morning I strained off the broth and froze it for use later.  Then I refilled the pot with the strained bits (Minus some of the leeks) , added water and let it cook some more. 

On Tuesday I gave my family a chicken and pasta casserole.  Kind of 1950s food, with noodles and a cream sauce.  PJ scraped his plate, but the response from sister Syd was not so good.  Sigh.

Tonight I finished the last of the chicken up with white chicken enchiladas.  It was actually really good, but I took no pictures.  I altered a recipe that I got from “A Modern Christian Woman” , who altered a recipe by Ree Drummond, and well…Ree takes some really nice pictures so feel free to click on her name if you  want.  Or click on the modern christian woman one  (or just make up something else entirely- it’s your kitchen and you can do that when you feel like it). This was probably cruel and unusual punishment, giving them chicken 3 nights in a row.  I don’t usually do that to my poor, patient family.  On the other hand…But the best part of all?  That carcass-veggie mixture that I returned to the pot yesterday?

I continued to cook it for another 24 hours.  It was all soft and ready to fall apart. 

It smelled heavenly. 

So I let it cook down, threw the whole mushy bit into the food processor with some leftover mashed potatoes. 

Looky here! 

Don’t worry! I labeled it so no one would be confused.  I wouldn’t do that to the family. 

Well, I would do it to my shorter, furrier family. 

I think they liked it too.  Doesn’t he look like he’s smiling? Kind of, sort of?

So from 2 chickens we got 3 dinners, about a quart of roasted chicken stock and 3 pints of dog food.  Oh yeah- and I froze the “goodie bag” (those nasty bits) to be added to my next batch of dog food.

I felt like taking a break from peaches, and now I need a break from chicken!

On Ants and Aunts…and Peaches!

Remember the song? Frank Sinatra made it famous…”Just what makes that little old ant…Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant…”.  That was me on Friday.  Friday, aka “Haymarket Day“.

Each Friday I set off to the Haymarket with a small wad in my pocket for The Shopping Games. This week I had $13.  It isn’t much, but I decided to just play with what I had on me rather than go in with a flash wad and buy “too much”.  Heaven forbid.

This week I was victorious.  I bought 1/2 bushel (25 pounds) of perfect peaches, 10 mangoes and 2 lbs of campari tomatoes for my $13.  I was so excited.  I hit the jackpot.  Then, after I paid for my prizes, I tried to pick them up.  OMG.  What the heck was I thinking??  This stuff was HEAVY! Impossible! I repositioned my backpack, which already had a small laptop, 2 books and some other crap really important things in it.  Then I grabbed the whole load in one big stack and headed towards the train.  I made it about 50 feet before I had to rest.  I tried again.  Made it to the corner, but Thank God unfortunately had to stop for a red light. After much flexing of fingers, balancing on posts/trash barrels/newsstands and the fender of a very chatty cop I finally made it to the subway.  What??? You thought I’d make it to the big train?  Nope.  With arms trembling and sweat running between the twins like a luge I finally set my cases of bounty on the seat of the subway car and road for…one stop.  As in 2 blocks.  I’m so pathetic.  Maybe if I was more like an ant…but no.  I can’t lift 1/2 my weight, never mind 50x.  I meekly rode the escalator upstairs to the commuter train station.

After recovering from my workout, however, I returned home where my Aunt Jo was visiting from her home in Tucson, AZ.  I don’t have a lot of relatives.  Having her visit is a rare treat.  Last time she was at my house…I think GW was in office for the first term.  So what wonderful things would I do to entertain my dear Aunt during her visit?  Did you guess I’d have her skinny little self in my kitchen for a peach cooking party?  Oh you do know me so well!  Friday night was processing night.  We peeled 25lbs of peaches.  I didn’t think to take a photo before; this is what was left (mixed with mangoes):

I saved the peels and stones for peach jelly (I’ll explain later).  We canned 10 pints of peach pie filling (easy-peasy, but that’s for later).  This morning we had peach coffee cake (yeah- we’ll go over that later too).  But first, before anything else, we had to have peach cobbler.  We caught up on the cousins, the nieces and nephews and each other over the makings of a magnificent cobbler.  I can say this with confidence, as we made a double batch and I just had to do another quality check while I wrote. :-)

Peach Cobbler  :an adaption of a recipe from my favorite baking book: the 1987 edition of Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book (1987 edition not in print; link to 1996) .              Ingredients:

8 medium sized peaches

2/3 cup sugar

1 Tblsp cornstarch

1 Tblsp salted butter

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp grated lemon zest

2 Tblsp lemon juice

(For the Topping)

1 cup all purpose flour. (Plain old flour to you , Allen!)

2 Tblsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 Tblsp salted butter

1/2 cup milk

Prepare the fruit part:

1. Peel, pit and cut peaches into 1/2 inch slices (or 1cm).  You should have about 4 cups.

2. Preheat over to 400f. In a large saucepan stir together sugar and cornstarch.  Then add peaches, butter, and cinnamon. Place over moderate heat and bring to boil, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and juice. Turn into an ungreased 8 inch square pan (I don’t know why it has to be square. It says so in the book).

Prepare the cobbler bit:

3. Prepare the topping: In a medium-sized bowl combine the flour, sugar and baking powder; then cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir in milk to make a soft dough and drop by the spoonful all over the peach filling.  Bake about 20 minutes, until light golden brown.  Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes.  Serve warm, with heavy cream (or ice cream!) if desired. Dive in!

Bringing Home the (Trader Joe’s) Bacon

Bacon is a serious subject around here.  Any weekend that starts off with the smell of bacon coming upstairs is a better weekend for my kids.  Including the one I married.  We have been buying family farmed and locally smoked bacon ends for the past year or so.   I’ve mentioned this before in Pancake Days.  We buy the bacon ends, because it’s a bargain at $2.99 instead of $4.99 a pound, and because I believed my dear ones preferred to use a fork to pick up their diced bacon rather than pick up a rasher with their fingers.  My youngest son PJ has corrected me on this matter. Not only would he rather use his fingers whenever possible, he likes his in slices. Oh well.

It’s easy to get smug about being able to give your kids choices about things like better bacon, diced or sliced.  Not everyone has the option of buying meat that is gently raised and smoked within a few miles of your home. We were doing our routine stop and drool run at the Trader Joe’s when Grumpy noticed that they also sold bacon ends.  Not only that, but they were at the same price as Blood Farm (oh yes I said that! The butcher is named after the Blood family, so as bizarre as it sounds it is just a coincidence).  Anyway- The bacon ends actually looked pretty good.  Except one little thing- they’re uncured. No nitrates or nitrites.  That’s good right?  Well, it’s healthier.  I’ve bought uncured bacon before, however, and it was…not bacon.  I don’t care what they put on the package, it had a nasty and weird flavor that didn’t say bacon in my mouth.  Grumpy was so keen on this stuff though, that I thought it was worth a try.  We grabbed a pound and determined to give it a try.

I diced it up into smallish chunks.   The bits that were all/mostly fat I cut into tiny bits to render out the grease.  It’s uncured, so it has no bright pinkness.  The fat isn’t that different in color from the meat. This photo shows it as pinker and lighter- but those chunks that appear to be big and pale?  That’s just my lack of skill with the camera.  Those are solid meat.  Now to fry it up.

The finished product looked the same as Blood’s.  It smelled delicious.  Grumpy and the others did the taste testing.  The comments were that it was a bit fattier than our usual bacon; but far, far leaner than usual store or butcher bacon.  The flavor was a bit smokier, and a tiny bit sweeter.  The overall flavor actually was a winner with everyone.  Maybe even better than our usual.  There was absolutely no nasty “uncured, nitrate/nitrite free” flavor.  Absolutely delicious.

The bottom line:  If you can get to a Trader Joe’s then RUN, don’t walk, to the bacon section and stock up.  You’d better make some space in that freezer.  Because if I get there before you there won’t be any “uncured bacon ends and pieces” left at all.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

(And here’s Grumpy sneaking in to steal another bite!)

Hatching up some fun for Farmer Jack

Farmer Jack, who raises fine pigs. chickens and cows on his small farm, loves Guinea Hens.  He has several, and wants more.  Guinea Hens are a curious choice for a farmer.  He doesn’t want to eat the eggs.  He doesn’t plan to eat the meat.  In  Gardening With Guineas, by Jeanette Ferguson, it says that Guinea Fowl are great at eating ticks weed seeds.  Most people have them for just this reason.  They eat lots and lots of ticks.  If you ask Jack why he wants them, though, he gets vague and mentions the sounds that they make, and how he likes watching them play.  In other words, they make him happy.  Not a bad reason to have animals.

My daughter Avery, has agreed to hatch and foster some young Guinea Hens for Farmer Jack.  She had to learn a lot.  First, the eggs have to be shipped.  You have only a few days from the time they are shipped until you get them into an incubator (or under a willing broody hen).  While they are being shipped you have to carefully adjust the incubator, to make sure that the temperature is between 99.5f and 100f.  You also have to add water to keep a humidity level around 60%.  This is the incubator Jack loaned to us for the hatching.  It’s not new, and it’s seen quite a few eggs.  Some happy outcomes, and some that never managed to hatch.  Only about 90% of the eggs usually hatch. The stories are written all over the walls.  We’re hoping that we only have happy tales to report.

The eggs were shipped inside this carton with a lot of little stuff to protect them.  There are two different types of eggs in there: (6) Royal Purple Guinea eggs and (6) Jumbo Pearl Guinea eggs.  Can you tell the difference?  Me either.  Next step in this project was to give them some faces.  Aren’t they sweet??? The reason for the faces is that the eggs need turning.  You have to turn them a few times a day to prevent serious defects (including death).  On the nest, the mama hen turns the eggs all day.  My mama hen Avery isn’t that diligent.  We drew “awake” faces on one side and “asleep” faces on the other.  This way, she remembers to wake them in the morning, put them to sleep for a nap in the afternoon, wake again…you get it.  You only turn them for 25 days.  The 25th day was Saturday.  Then you stop.  And wait.  While waiting, you turn the heat down to 98.5. You add water to increase humidity to 70%.  And you wait. And wait.  I feel like a pathetic first time nana waiting for the stork.  I’ll keep you posted!

The pancake dance…with bacon!

Weekends at our home usually include pancakes.  Everybody knows this, even the little guys. They seem to know the steps to the pancake-making dance and wait as close to my legs as I’ll allow just to remind me that they are here, and how much they love pancakes!

Before starting the pancake dance today I chopped up some nice bacon ends to fry.  This got me to thinking…bacon is amazing.  The last few years we’ve seen it pop up in milkshakes, cocktails,candy and brownnies, among other things.  Why not bacon pancakes? It’s a natural!  First I fried up the bacon…

 

Then I made my usualy pancakes batter….

.(see the official batter recipe below)…

Then I sprinkled a little chopped bacon on top….

Now the flip side. 

Add a, dab of butter and smiden of syrup….

 

 

 

Present my new creation to the kids and……no takers!  Nobody wanted to be the first to sample these.  Well, almost nobody!

These sweet guys gave it two big thumbs (Paws? Phalanges?) up.  They ate those pancakes in about two seconds flat.  They always love pancakes, but this time I think the little guy actually smiled.  Can you see it?

Then Grumpy returned home from his morning adventures.  I offered him some bacon pancakes.  He loooked sceptical.  I then assured him that they had recieved, not one but, two votes of approval!  He realized his caution was unfounded and saddled up to a big plate of pancakes.  The verdit is…3 thumbs (paws…phalanges..whatever) up! 

The Pancake Dance

First, put 3 Tablespoons of salted butter in a glass measuring cup. Microwave (covered) until just melted.

While this is melting, dance off to the pantry and grab a big bowl into which you put 1 cup of all purpose flour, 1/8 cup of sugar and 1 tsp baking powder. Give it a quick stir with the whisk or fork.

Now remove butter from microwave, add enough milk to equal 1 cup. Break 1 egg and add to the butter/milk mix. Stir it up briefly, then add to the dry ingredients. Whisk just until mixed.  Cook in the usual fashion.

That’s it! Luscious batter in one quick (<2 minutes) dance.  It helps to have some lively music on the radio, but even if you stumble out of bed with the queen-bee of all hangovers, you can get this batter into a hot pan in under 3 minutes.  Not that I’d know. ;-) 

Mirror, Mirror on the wall…What a 60s nightmare!

We have one bedroom which is just plain tiny. Just perfect for my, umm…relaxed child.  Okay, not really relaxed, as much as a slob.  Left to herself she’d have piles on piles all over the floor.  You could lose yourself in the clutter.  Heck, you could lose your baby and a dingo in there.  So this room, being tiny, would be perfect. Not enough room to create a really big mess.  Manageable.  Perfect except for one thing…the 60s.  More specifically, the hideous 60s mirror tiles that the indulgent parents at the time allowed their daughter to adhere directly onto the plaster walls (What were they thinking??? I’m picking up the scent of long ago hemp burning here). There is no understanding this. It’s just butt ugly.  The owner of this home, the one that we are currently renting, is the same indulged daughter.  She actually still has a fondness for these mirrors (Bless her heart!).  I’ve been meaning to do something to disguise them, on a temporary basis, for some time now.  I couldn’t put it off any longer. My girl actually made the effort to clean her room.  Grumpy manned the vacuum and cleaned the rug for her.  I needed to show my support and encouragement.  I also had very little cash to throw around. I grabbed a $20 and ran to the Dollar Tree. 

I’m not really a huge fan of these places, you can’t just go there with a list and get what you need.  I do buy some things there- like my green scrubby things for the kitchen.  Those come in 5 packs and are a bit too big for use. I cut them in half, giving me 10 scrubby things for $1.  These stores are great for that kind of purchase.  They’re also sometimes the best place to go with just a little money and a blank canvas.

This time I got lucky. I went to the stick on shelf liner section and found a lovely toile-ish pattern, perfect for a girls bedroom ( Four rolls at $1 each).  My girl’s style is more anime or cos-play, but she didn’t get to have a say.  Those mirrored tiles were a reminder that sometimes we have to take the lead with these things.  Besides, it’s only temporary.  After finding the paper, I realized that I’d need a border of some kind to finish the edges.  I could have put a frame around in, but this seemed a bit too much. Instead, I went to the testosterone area of Grumpy’s world and grabbed some 5/8″ electrical tape (1 roll at $1).  This is perfect- just like the shelf paper, it can peel off and stick again and again if you need hang it crooked, and comes off easily.

And here is the finished (and much improved!) mirrored wall at only $5 for the entire project:

We also have some good sized scraps left over. I’m thinking about decorating a lamp shade to match!

Goodbye 60s!

When you really want IN-N-Out Burger but get sidetracked by Shrimp Tacos

Back in March I was back in SoCal for a short visit.  I signed up for a course in OB ultrasound for nurses. I’m sure they offer it closer than SoCal, but my brother and sister in law were living in that area and I wanted to “go home” one more time before they moved away.

I purposely flew into LAX, knowing that he wouldn’t want to pick me up. No one in their right mind goes to LAX.  That’s why it’s so cheap to fly there.  I rented a car and would drive myself.  I’m not sure when I’ll get back to SoCal, and I had some special places I wanted to visit.  Like In-n-Out burger.    Now, I really love In-n-Out burger. I’m still wondering myself why I didn’t go there first.  Animal double-double, side of fries.  Doesn’t that look amazing??? They made the best burgers, and the best fries. Lemonade worthy of a stop on it’s own.  But the minute I got off the plane, I saw signs for shrimp tacos.  I have this awful pavlov’s dog thing.  I’m such a sucker for billboards.  So, shrimp tacos it was.  And you know what? They weren’t that good. Have you ever had something, though, that was so close to being good?  And you knew that, if you tweaked it a little, it could be great? That was what I had. A near-miss shrimp taco.  Then I got back home, and saw a post by Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) about shrimp tacos.  Those tacos looked delicious.  But not exactly the taco I was craving.  So I looked online, and it seems like everybody is making shrimp tacos. What the heck? Are these billboards getting around? So I decided to go with a bit of what I was craving, and what I had on hand.  And you know what? It was just right. It was really, really good. And as I write this, I know deep in my heart that it’s no In-n-Out burger. Sigh.

Almost In-n-Out-good Shrimp Tacos:

First, make the spicy slaw.  Mix this ahead if possible.  I mixed shredded red cabbage, jicama, jalapeno and cilantro together in a bowl.  Use what you like and in whatever ratios you want.  You might want to consider other crisp veggies: peppers, radishes, onions, whatever.  Now a simple “slaw” dressing of 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup sour cream, 2 Tblsp cider vinegar, 1 Tblsp sugar, 1 Tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cumin, pinch of cayenne and a bit of ground black pepper. Stir this together and mix with slaw. Refrigerate until needed.

Now for the shrimp.  I used the medium shrimp (41-50 per pound). They don’t look as impressive as the monster prawns, but work better with the taco and have a nice flavor. Thaw and peel shrimp.  Dust with seasoned flour (I seasoned it with powdered onion, garlic, chili powder, salt, pepper and paprika). Quickly fry in 1/2 inch of hot oil. They cook quickly- it took about a minute on the first side and half as long on the second.  Set on a rack to drain. As much as I like crispy shrimp, I don’t want to fry the tortillas.  The oil overload would be too much.  Instead, take some nice corn or flour tortillas. I love homemade, but the ones from the store are fine.  Heat them on a dry, hot skillet or cast iron pan until they start to get crisp spots and puff up a bit.

Put 3 or 4 shrimp in a tortilla, top with some spicy slaw, some sliced avocado and either salsa or pico de gallo.I had some pico de gallo that was leftover, so it was easy to choose. Now a big squeeze of fresh lime..and there are!

Sooo good- this will satisfy my SoCal shrimp taco craving anytime.  Now for that In-n-Out thing….