Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sitting Still, Feet Propped Up


I had a quiet cup of coffee this morning in my own house. I missed the morning hugs and the million questions that came with breakfast, but appreciated the stillness. It's called balance.

Yesterday, my last day "on duty," it was just me and Baby Girl at her house for the morning. It was pouring rain, so we hung out in their garage so that she could ride her tricycle. I settled into a folding chair so that I could keep an eye on her and listen to her. It's fun to listen to her running commentary as she plays.

Then the game switched to making music. Understand that we have a very musical family. And know that I have taught many people to play guitar and mandolin and ukulele over the years. So I thought this would be a fun thing to do. Baby Girl ran inside and returned in a flash with her rhythm band instruments. She claimed the brightly colored maracas. She gave me the tiny cymbals. We started to play and she quickly stopped me.

She took the cymbals from me and explained, "Here, Mimi. You do it like this." She showed me how to clang them together the right way. We started again. One more time, she stopped and patiently said, "Mimi, let me show you how to do it." I tried again with the little 4-inch cymbals. There was a big sigh and a "Watch...THIS way, Mimi"  and she demonstrated proper cymbal technique one more time. I played them one more time.

Then she gently took the cymbals from my hands, laid them in the red wagon and kindly told me, "Mimi, I have an idea. You can be the watcher." 

 I was fired from a preschooler's garage band. 

Oven Baked Chicken Fajitas

Fortunately I was more successful in the kitchen. Over the weekend Big Sister had a friend spend the night. I made one of the easiest meals I know for dinner—fajitas baked in the oven. I know that she and her friend made a 2:00 AM kitchen run to eat more fajitas. Then Big Sister asked me on Monday before she went to school if her mom had this recipe. "If she doesn't, be sure to give it to her. I would like Mexican food at home more if that fajita stuff is in the tortilla." Excellent endorsement for this recipe.

Photo credit: Big Sister

OVEN BAKED CHICKEN FAJITA 

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken cutlets, cut into thin strips (cut against "the grain") 
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 (10-oz) can diced tomatoes with green chilies (I used Rotel Mild)
1 medium onion, cut into thin strips
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken strips in a greased 9x13-inch baking dish.
In a small bowl (I used a custard cup) combine the oil, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, oregano and salt. Drizzle the spice mixture over the chicken and stir to coat. Add the undrained tomatoes, peppers and onions to the dish. Stir to combine. 

Bake, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Stir a time or two through the cooking time.


We spooned this into flour tortillas, topped the chicken with sour cream, shredded lettuce, cheese, black beans and salsa and rolled it up. It has been quite some time since I had made this. I will not wait so long again. (BTW, Baby Girl got a cheese quesadilla for her supper. An easy swap with these ingredients if you are feeding someone who doesn't like "spicy.")

If you haven't used chicken cutlets, you might want to check them out. I find the thin chicken breast pieces a good choice for many recipes. The thinner cutlets cook quicker. Buying them in this "thin" form is easier and safer than splitting the larger chicken breast pieces horizontally.

For a busy day—and all my days as grandmother-in-chief were busy ones—you can measure the dry spices ahead of time. Stir in the oil when it's time to cook. I also sliced the peppers and onion and bagged them up until supper time. Fit little parts of the prep into the day anyway you can, so that at cooking time, there isn't so much to do.

My own grandmother always set her table for breakfast before she went to bed at night. It made her morning routine a little less chaotic. Remember, you don't have to do all the prep early. Anything you can do ahead of time helps. You will find that it's even helpful to have the utensils or pans or ingredients set out and ready when you walk into the kitchen at 6:00 and everyone is starving.

I learned a lot from my grandmother. My own little granddaughters watch me in the kitchen with great focus. Maybe one day, they will be cooking for their grandchildren and saying, "This is how my Mimi used to do it."






Monday, May 15, 2017

Off To Be Grandmother In Residence


This is my morning view when I walk in to get my coffee. It's beautiful and different every single day. Such a peaceful way to start my day. I'm posting this here so that for the rest of the week, I can look at this picture for a moment of serenity.

I'm headed down the highway in the morning to be the adult in Mommy's house this week. Three granddaughters and me. Thank goodness one of them is 16 because I know she can help. But it's also exam time for her, so I hope I won't need to call on her. The two little ones have all of their end of school events happening while I'm there. Oh, let me remember where I'm supposed to be each day!

Because I knew way ahead of time that I would be on duty for just over a week while both Mommy and J-Daddy are away (different places) on business, I made sure that Daddy-O has plenty of food, ready to thaw and heat when he comes in from his farm work. It's hay season here. (Why does everything happen at the same time?)


For a couple of months, as I've cooked our normal meals, I've stashed part of what I made in the freezer, packed in small portions for him to easily use. Then it dawned on me. He'll never know what frozen treasure is waiting on him. It's all labeled, but when things are frozen they all kind of look the same. And I know him. He wants to grab and go.


So today I sat down and made a freezer inventory. I was even a little surprised myself when I listed everything that's frozen. Fingers crossed he will cross things off the list as he uses something. Frozen foods keep well, but they do not last forever. So I added "date frozen" to the list, so we can see what needs to be eaten sooner rather than later. I'm thinking when I get home sometime next week, I won't have to cook for a while. That's probably good because I can guarantee that I'll be tired. Fun tired. But still I'll be one tired grandmother.


And I also promised I'd bake and take a cake to Jessica. She lives close enough to Mommy to come get it tomorrow. They have an event later in the week that requires a cake. It just came out of the oven. When it cools, I'll wrap it securely and will suggest she put it in her freezer until next weekend. I'll let her frost it if they want to. We love this frosting recipe from Ellen who goes to church with us. It will be easier for me to transport it unfrosted. And if the truth were told, I like mine best without the frosting.

CHOCOLATE POUND CAKE

1/2 lb butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cocoa 
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream butter and shortening. Add sugar and cream together well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each egg. Put flour into a bowl and add baking powder and salt. Sift the cocoa into the flour mixture and whisk all of these dry ingredients together. (Or sift all of the dry ingredients together.)

Add dry ingredients alternately with milk to butter/sugar mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Add vanilla.

Bake in a greased and floured tube pan for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Let cool in pan for about 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.



And sometime next week, I'll be back here at the farm ready to sit down and catch my breath. So hang on and know that I'll post again when time permits. Maybe I'll have some new stories about the littles and a picture or two. Say a prayer for me that we will have a calm and uneventful week.



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Am I The Only One Who Loves A Pretty Tray?

Porch knitting is the best.

Like other women love shoes, I love trays. My appreciation of trays began in college when taking food lab courses. With mutiple kitchens and many "cooks," we always used a tray to collect our ingredients before we began the actual food preparation.

Then as part of my job as a home economist, I also did cooking segments on local television shows. (This was light years before The Food Network was a thing.) As you can imagine, planning was key for that kind of cooking. Trays were the secret to keeping everything organized.

The first mental picture that comes to mind for many people if you were to ask, "When would you use a tray at home?" is the one with children bringing breakfast in bed to mom on Mother's Day.  Or, possibly if you are a lover of English novels or BBC television, you might think someone of walking into a room carrying a tray loaded with tea things. But there are everyday practical uses for a tray.


I often use a tray for my knitting projects. Particularly when it's a project with more than one color of yarn. I love projects bags and use them all the time. But if I were to drop these three balls of yarn into a bag along with the work-in-progress, it would take some time to untangle the colors when I pulled everything out to work on it.

To be honest, I'm not going to pack a 3-color project up and take it along with me everywhere. So, why bother with a tray? My usual knitting place is on the sofa and I could just leave my knitting right here where I sit. But what if I'd like to move to the porch on a pretty afternoon? When it's all on a tray, it's easy to pick it up and move to a new location. And then come back inside when it gets hot. The sides of a tray also keep the tiny knitting things, like stitch markers, your pencil, yarn needles, from slipping down between the sofa cushions.

This project quickly outgrew this little tray.

And should a visitor should drop by unexpectedly—yes, that really happens from time to time—or I want to knit right up to the minute the grandchildren arrive, I can easily move that tray in a second without disturbing my work.

When Little Sister is here, she's usually up before everyone else. I let her have breakfast on a tray in our bedroom and watch cartoons until the rest of the crew wakes up. (Shhhh! Don't tell our secret.) Eating on a tray has become part of that ritual.

I'll share the recipe for this paprika chicken soon.

I still use a tray in my own kitchen. I sometimes round up ingredients ahead of the actual cooking time. Gathering everything in one place before I start to cook lets me make sure that I'm not missing a key ingredient. A trip to the store mid-recipe is not a good thing.

Maybe I'll even measure the dry ingredients. Then when it's time to cook dinner, it becomes a pretty simple process. The cooking feels quicker because I'm starting with everything in place. And I'm less stressed when I know everything is at my fingertips.

This is my Snowmelt Shawl in progress.

It's doubtful you have a wardrobe of trays in your house like I do because, 1) I'm probably older than you and have had more times to accumulate them and, 2) you might not have daughters who give beautiful trays as a gift. But a simple cookie sheet from a dollar store works just as well.

Have I convinced you yet that using a tray is a good thing? If not, read on.

  • When cooking outside on the grill, a tray provides a clean work space.
  • You will save steps when taking things out to the grill if you make one trip with all ingredients and utensils loaded on a tray.
  • Trays keep crumbs and spills contained when the grandchildren have a snack away from the kitchen table. (That's an "at Mimi's house" special privilege.)
  • Trays can make an in-progress craft project portable.
  • A tray under a pizza box in the den keeps any greasy spots away from the sofa.
  • Sliding a tray under the bed is a quick way to temporarily hide your mess. (Don't tell anyone I said this. I really haven't done this in years. But there was a time...)
  • There is a reason why waitresses use trays to serve food and clear a table—it saves steps. 
  • Walking into the room with cookies and lemonade on a tray just looks civilized. 







Friday, May 5, 2017

Mimi Makes The Best


When we had the little girls here a couple of weeks ago, Little Sister told us about the mystery readers that come to her kindergarten class once a week. She told us that, before the reader arrives, the class gets three clues about the reader to see if they can guess who's coming. When I asked what clues she would give if her daddy came, she promptly named three things.

Then we asked, "What clues you would you give for Daddy-O? Or, Jessica? Or Papa?" When she got to the three clues she would give for me, she thought a minute and answered, "She wears glasses. She has blonde hair. She makes the best banana bread."


Well, here is the recipe for "the best banana bread." I know it's the best because Little Sister says so.

BANANA BREAD

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups self-rising flour
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat. Alternately add flour and bananas (start and end with the flour.) Stir in nuts if using. Pour into greased 9-inch loaf pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour. Remove from pan and cool on a rack. Wrap in foil and let the loaf "ripen" for a day before slicing. (Have no clue why this makes it better, but trust me, it does. It is much more moist.)

This can also be baked in smaller pans by adjusting baking time. Keep a close watch to see when it's browned and check with a toothpick.

      One 9-inch loaf pan—Bake 1 hour.
      Two 8-inch loaf pans—Bake for about 50-55 minutes. 
      Three 5-3/4-inch loaf pans—Bake about 45-50 minutes.
      Four 5-inch foil pans—Bake 40-45 minutes.

This is a good recipe for sharing. You can see the various pan sizes I've used. Divide the batter to suit your needs.

These bananas are perfect for baking.

This time I made the smaller loaves. One to eat, two to freeze. Daddy-O can pull out a loaf for breakfast or a treat when I'm away on grandmother duty in a couple of weeks. And maybe I'll bake more for the granddaughters when I'm at their house.







Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Not All Surprises Are Good Ones


 Pattern: Pretty Basic by Janina Kallio
Yarn: Sundara Fingering Silky Merino, in Love Like Lightening colorway
Needles:  size 6

Those of us who love to knit also love to buy yarn. Maybe we even love to buy yarn more than we love to knit, although we won't admit it. Always, always, it's easier to make a yarn purchase in person. To put your hands on the yarn before you make a purchase and see what it feels like. To pick it up and walk to the window to see what it looks like in daylight, to see its true colors. 

But buying in person isn't always possible. I live 45 minutes away from the closest yarn shop. That's nearly two hours involved if I drive there for yarn. Probably longer when I factor in some real shopping.  And I still might not find what I want. It doesn't matter how wonderful your local yarn shop is, they won't have everything you need. There are just too many suppliers, too many yarn bases, too many colors for them to stock. And there are wonderful indie yarn dyers who only sell at vendor markets at yarn shows and knitting retreats or offer them online. 

Photo credit: Jennifer Lewis

So ordering online offers you, the knitter, limitless possibilities. But online ordering can be an "adventure," to put it politely. What might look perfect online, might look very different when you open that box that arrives in the mail. This purple yarn was one of my "uh oh" moments. 

I was at a knitting retreat when a fellow knitter told me about the fabulous Sundara yarns. (She was right. It is.) She was especially excited about the series where the yarn colors are inspired by beautiful nature photographs. Every week or so, you get an email with a gorgeous nature photo and a yarn dyed to replicate those colors.

As we were talking, one of those emails popped up on her smart phone. A lovely stormy sky photo and a purple yarn. Surrounded by knitting friends, inhaling yarn fumes, I got carried away and ordered immediately from my own phone. The yarn arrived quickly and I was excited to open the package. Then I was less excited. I'll admit that I ordered too quickly. All I saw were shades of purple. I failed to notice the peach/coral. I thought the colors were more subtle. My disappointment when I saw the yarn had nothing to do with the yarn dyer—it had everything to do with me.


This is one of the pitfalls of online ordering. What you get may not  be exactly what you expected. It could be wonderful yarn. It just isn't the yarn you envisioned. This purple (a favorite color of mine) mixed with lots of splotchy peach color did not match the picture in my head. 

But the yarn! It felt marvelous. It was half silk. It felt....well, it felt silky. It's very different from 100% wool that I use most of the time. So I was determined to use this yarn and make the best of my purchase. I figured I'd learn to love it. When I mentioned my plan to a good knitting friend, she told me, "If you don't love it while you're knitting it, you won't love it when you're done."  That's good advice, but I loved the feel of this yarn so much, that I ignored that and forged on.


There are many knitters who love a skein of variegated yarn above all others because they can be truly beautiful. Exciting, even. But then they can't figure out what to do with it once they own it. When this colorful yarn is knitted up, it is not always quite so wonderful. It is harder to find a pattern to show off those special yarns. So here are a few tips that I've learned from my own experience and from the wisdom of other knitters

Don't chose a pattern with intricate lace or cables. The color variations will hide all of your hard work. When you knit lace or cables, you want that design element to be the star. Here, you should let the yarn shine. So keep the pattern simple. Also, I have found that garter stitch works better than stockinette. It breaks up the colors and can minimize "pooling, "which is what you call blobs of random colors in your knitting. It's caused when some of the contrast colors randomly stack up in portions of your knitting. You want the colors dispersed over your work. 



So, if lace stitches don't work so well and cables aren't a good choice, what else can you use? I like an open mesh stitch. Again, open mesh helps break up the colors so that you don't get a spotty result. The pattern I chose, Pretty Basic, fits these parameters. Reyna and Brickless are also good patterns for a variegated yarn. I do try to make a note of patterns that would work with variegated yarn when I find one. I rarely use variegated yarn, but every now and then I give in and buy one. Oh, add Lacy Baktus to your list. I made this after a false start with a similar scarf in stockinette. The garter stitch and the open work turned out to be a much better match for the busy yarn.

Patterns with a slip stitch also work well with a busy yarn. And you can pair a vibrant variegated yarn with coordination solid or tonal yarn. A busy yarn striped with a solid can be a perfect solution. When I found a light purple silk/wool yarn in my stash, I considered trying the striped option. But by the time I was doubting my yarn choice, I had already knitted a good portion of this shawl and laziness won. I didn't want to take out all my work, look for a new pattern, and start over. But if I had taken more time, I might have gone from a "shawl I like" to a "shawl I love." I'll never know.


So now you've made a shawl or scarf or cowl with this multicolored yarn. How do you wear it? One simple tip. Let your clothing be the background for the knitting. Solid colors, simple lines. Let the knitting, the yarn, be the focus.

And I'll throw in a couple of things I've learned about online yarn ordering, too. I do order a good bit of yarn because it's convenient for me. It gives me a broader range of choices. But I mostly use online shopping to buy yarns that I know. Yarns I've used before. I know how it feels. I know how it will work up. I try to keep "surprises" to a minimum.

Choosing a color, even solid colors, is still a bit of a gamble. The color displayed on your computer monitor can fool you. You can see the color variation of this yarn in my photos here. So often I'll look at the same yarn on more than one website. Their photos can vary a good bit. I'll even go to the website of the yarn brand to see if I can find that particular yarn there. I figure it's in their interest to make the most accurate photo. Seeing several different photos of the yarn at least lets me know that I might not get "the one" I fell in love with. Just go into buying online knowing that what you see is not always what you get!

Well. After it was all done, what's the verdict? I've worn this shawl a lot. The size and the drape are perfect. That's good. The colors? I don't think I'll ever call it my favorite, but it worked out better than I anticipated. Do I love it? No. But I like it a lot. A whole lot. That's not bad. And I learned a few things along the way. That's very good.











Monday, May 1, 2017

Come To Table


The United Methodist Church has two sacraments—Baptism and Holy Communion. Yesterday at our church we celebrated the baptism of a new baby. Part of what baptism symbolizes is welcoming that new member into the church family. We now walk in faith together. When we observe Holy Communion, we are united as we receive the bread and juice together. Everyone is invited. Everyone is welcomed.


And yesterday we also participated in "communion"—but not the holy kind of communion. The word communion can also mean "sharing" and "fellowship" when spelled with a little "c."  After church we gathered for a covered dish dinner, where everyone was invited and everyone was welcomed.

A former pastor always invited us to the altar for Holy Communion with a smile, lifted hands, and the words, "Come to table!" I always think of his words when we gather for a church meal, too. Come to table! Join us. Be one of us. Let's eat together.


I hope that from time to time, your life includes a covered dish dinner or a pot luck or hot dish (thanks to Goodnightgram's blog, I now know what that is.) If not at church, then maybe it's a gathering of neighbors or co-workers, or it's a club or team meal. Even though it requires a little effort, sharing a meal is good for the soul. I know we could enjoy a catered meal together or all go to a restaurant, but there really is something different about bringing food to add to the table. It truly becomes a shared meal. It creates community.

If you don't or can't cook, bake brownies from a mix or pick up a bucket of chicken on your way to church. We all love tasting the good home cooked foods and casseroles and cakes baked from the old family recipe, but the meal is really about being together. It's about sitting around the table sharing conversation and laughter. Come with a jar of pickles. But come! (Hint: If you are coming with your family of five, you might better bring the chicken AND the pickles.)


Keep this recipe in mind if you need a good make-ahead recipe for a pot luck, a family reunion, a picnic or a gift meal for a friend. It keeps for several days. I made this pasta salad early before we left for a Saturday evening wedding. The salad is best made ahead of time anyway. So on Sunday morning I picked up the dish and walked out the door. 

Before I left church, someone asked me for the recipe. Someone always does. 

GARDEN PASTA SALAD

1 (16-oz) box of pasta -- rotini, bowtie, or penne
5 cups of chopped fresh vegetables
fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
1 (15-oz) bottle Italian salad dressing

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Rinse under cold water. Drain well. Put pasta and vegetables and parsley into a large bowl. Add salad dressing and Salad Supreme Seasoning. Toss gently until mixed well. Cover. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until ready to serve. I like to make it a day ahead.

This recipe filled a 5-quart plastic container.



The only secret I know for this pasta salad to use a big assortment of vegetables. I try to get lots of color into my mix. This time I chopped zucchini, carrot, celery, red and yellow peppers, cucumber, grape tomatoes, red onion, corn, and broccoli. You can use any combination that suits you. Mine is almost never the same twice in a row.

Another hint is to put a large pot of water on to boil before you start chopping. A big pot of water takes forever to come to a boil. 

To keep from washing more pots, when the water for the pasta came to a boil, I dunked in the broccoli to blanch it for a minute. (Yep, I held it by the stem and dunked it.) Then I let the corn (on the cob) cook for five minutes and took it out. (One ear of corn is enough for this salad.) Then I cooked the pasta in the same water. Only one pot to wash!





Thursday, April 27, 2017

Easy Supper - Sloppy Joes


While we had the little girls for the weekend, I tried to cook things that I knew they liked. Sloppy Joes are a favorite and it's also easy to make. I got this ready early on Friday morning before they arrived. This recipe has been a family favorite for many years.

If you have a Manwich phobia, this doesn't take like that. Try it. Make it to feed your family, to feed the church youth group, to fill the freezer. One friend of Mommy's told me that this was her favorite meal to take to a new mother. She got the recipe from Mommy a few years ago. She takes the Sloppy Joe mixture, buns, chips, slaw or baked beans and a simple dessert. And she said that nearly every new mom had called to ask her for the recipe.


I've made it so many times that I never need to look up the recipe any more. It's so simple that you probably can remember it, too. It's just ground meat, ketchup and the four seasonings—a tablespoon of each.


To make this more fun for the little girls, I served this on slider rolls this time. Little food for little hands. And we were happy to have leftovers for our supper the day after they left. That's how I made these pictures. Needless to say, there were no food photos happening while they were here!

SLOPPY JOES

1-1/2 lbs ground beef or turkey (I've made it with a 1 lb pk, too.)
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon yellow mustard

Brown meat and drain. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes. Spoon over toasted hamburger buns.