Thursday, October 31, 2013

Face To Face



Finally! I get to grandparent in person. These two picked me up at the airport in the rain yesterday and then took me to lunch. On the first leg if my flight I was seated beside a young mom and her little daughter who was the same age as Little Sister. They were flying back to Oregon after a week at grandma's house. And I just think I live a long way from my grandchildren.

Tonight I'll help Little Sister trick or treat. And I'm excited that I will be here on Saturday for Big Sister's all-region choir concert. (She's excited that I'm here in time to hem her choir dress. )

My trip here wasn't planned around either of those things. Big Sister had not even auditioned for the choir when I bought my ticket. Sometime life just treats you right!


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, October 28, 2013

Getting Ready

I'm getting things ready to head west in a couple of days to visit Little Sister and Big Sister. (And their mommy and daddy.) Daddy-O is still on the mend, so I'm trying to make it easy for him while I'm away.


Yesterday I cooked stew beef & gravy. And while that was simmering, I popped Hot & Sweet Chicken in the oven to bake. That has to be the easiest recipe I know. I packaged everything for the freezer. He can pull out a meal size portion when he's ready. 


Today I made soup. This recipe came from one of my Ravelry friends in Tennesee. She said she likes to make it to freeze and to share. It's really easy (my friend says the hardest part is opening all the cans!) and it makes a ton. And it's good. Can't beat that combination.


I'll be gone less than a week. I may have gone a little overboard with the cooking.


SANTA FE SOUP

2-lb. extra-lean ground beef (or ground turkey)
1 onion, chopped
2 (.5 oz) packages Ranch-style dressing mix
2 (1.25 oz) packages taco seasoning mix
1 (16-oz) can black beans, undrained
1 (16-oz.) can kidney beans, undrained
1 (16-oz) can pinto beans, undrained
1 (16-oz) can diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained
1 (16-oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 (16-oz) cans white corn, undrained
2-3 cups water (more, if necessary)
garnish options:  sour cream, shredded Cheddar cheese, sliced green onions, avocado chunks, cilantro, tortilla chips or strips, wedges of lime

Cook meat and onion together until meat is browned. Stir Ranch dressing and taco seasoning mix into meat. Add remaining ingredients WITH JUICES from all. Add water. Simmer for 2 hours. (If mixture is too thick, add additional water.) Garnish as desired.
Makes about 4 quarts. (It made a little more than that today.)


I put 3-1/2 quarts in the freezer and we had plenty for tonight's supper. I put up some in pints and some in quarts. Glad to know I won't have to cook time I get home next week. There's plenty of this in the freezer.

Maybe I should think about packing now. 


Friday, October 25, 2013

Glad To Be Home


I have made many sunrise photos over the years from my back porch. This week I saw the sun coming up over the hospital complex. Daddy-O spent one night there after surgery this week. 


He is home recuperating now. And we are both catching up on sleep. Luck of the draw left him with a late afternoon surgery, so the post-op care meant the nurse was in his room every 30 minutes all night long. Thankfully, it was just one night. Yep, that wall clock says it's almost 2:30 AM. We watched it move slowly all night.


We've done hospitals before, so I packed a huge tote bag with all the things I thought we might need---paper and pen, cough drops, kleenex, knitting, water, a sandwich, socks, a book, iPad, a wrap, money for the vending machines and so on. I think between us, we used everything in the bag. 


We were able to keep both daughters informed as the day went on with text messages. And we could see what they were doing during the day. This was the best message! Love that at age three, Little Sister is understanding all about holidays. I will be out to visit them soon and I'll get to see her in her "perfect costume."


I'm not sure what we even ate the first night home from the hospital. I'm not even sure we ate. They didn't let him go until late afternoon so it was nearly dark when we got home. Last night we were still tired, but even when you're tired, you need supper. If we lived in a city, I would have ordered something delivered, but we don't have that option. And there aren't too many choices for pick-up, either. Mostly fast food things. So I tried to think of the easiest thing I could make with what was on hand. (My trip to the grocery store never happened yesterday.)

Thankfully I had bought a bag of frozen vegetable soup mix a couple of weeks ago. Vegetable soup mix, unlike frozen mixed vegetables, has okra in it. For me, it isn't really vegetable soup without the okra. I just added other things that I had on hand. I don't use a recipe. Best thing I found in the freezer was a small bag of leftover roast in gravy. 

I am writing down what I put in the pot last night. It's not really a "recipe," but more of a guide. I always use the vegetable soup mix and add extra onion, potatoes, corn and a can or two of tomatoes—whole or diced. After that I might add in any kind of beans or peas that are in the freezer, sometimes more than one kind. (I usually only cook a half a bag for the two of us, so there are often partial bags in my freezer.) Finely chopped cabbage would have been good, too, if I'd had any.

I don't always have leftover roast. But it surely does make good soup. I always try to freeze a little for soup when I cook a roast. Leftover chicken would work, too. Sometimes I have tomato juice or V-8 juice, sometimes I don't. I will say that this mix last night was a really good one. 

VEGETABLE SOUP

2 (15-oz.) cans diced tomatoes
1 tomato can of water
2 small cans V-8 juice (one was Spicy Hot, one was Original)
1 (16-oz.) package frozen vegetable soup mix
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 medium potato, peeled & diced
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup frozen black-eyed peas
1-2 cups frozen leftover beef roast & gravy
salt & pepper to taste

Mix everything together and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to simmer and let cook for about 40-45 minutes.


The best part about making soup is that there is plenty left for another day or two. I still have not made it to the grocery store. Surely I'll get there today. Maybe.







Sunday, October 20, 2013

Weekend's End



This was a different kind of weekend. We spent Friday driving up into the mountains to play with my ukulele band at the NC/SC Airstream Rally. It was nice to have Daddy-O along for the ride.


We were lucky to have a beautiful day for the trip. 
The fall color has not quite reached us at home.


Our band has had quite a run for several years now. 
It's always fun to spend time making music with them.


I got a phone call yesterday from Big Sister. She was so excited to tell me that she had her first audition and was selected to be in their All-Region Choir. Another musician in the family!

Saturday night was my 45th high school reunion. How great to spend an evening with people that have been friends for over 50 years. Many of us have been friends since first grade. (There are no photos to share from that event--but we didn't look bad for "old folks!") It was fun to find another Mimi & Daddy-O among my high school friends. Who would have thought it?

Once again, there was no fire in the stove here at the farm since we were on the go all weekend. Thankfully, I still have another "Jessica" recipe to share. She made these cookies when she was home recently. It's not your typical peanut butter cookie recipe. We thought they were perfect with a cup of tea. Sometimes it's nice to enjoy a subtle sweetness. We love it when Jessica cooks.


PEANUT BUTTER & FIG PRESERVE COOKIES

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons of butter (1 stick), melted & cooled
6 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, melted & cooled
1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1/2 granulated sugar
1 large egg & 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup fig preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

First melt butter and peanut butter so they have time to cool. Melt them together in the microwave for 30 seconds and stir, then heat another 30 seconds and stir. Set aside to cool.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together butter, peanut butter and sugars until smooth. Add in eggs, mixing again until combined. Stir in vanilla. Using a large spoon, gradually add dry ingredients to the wet, stirring well and using your hands if necessary to bring the dough together. Just keep mixing--it will come together. It may be a bit crumbly.

At this point, add the fig preserves to the dough, mixing it in with hands. Once dough is combined, place it in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes. Roll the dough into balls that are slightly smaller than 1-inch in size. The dough will still be sticky but use damp hands and just roll them up the best you can.

Place on a baking sheet about 2-inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stuff Happens


Ever have one of those days? Early this morning the Fedex man rang the doorbell. It was a drop-and-dash kind of delivery. Daddy-O brought the big box inside. I wasn't expecting anything, but thought maybe it was a surprise!

It was a surprise all right. It wasn't mine. The box had been delivered to the wrong address—wrong as in wrong town and wrong zip code. So I spent the next part of the morning calling to get that reported and a pick up arranged—voice-activated system, then a real person, and lots of reading off long numbers to the nice man. There's a poor lady somewhere wondering why she doesn't have her order when the tracking shows "left at the door."

After lunch, we stopped to get gas and the credit card didn't work. Got home to find a message on the answering machine to call the credit card company. They had locked the card because of a "potential fraud use." The only charge in question was the attempt at the gas station---the same gas station we use once a week with the same card we always use. I made another round of the "please press 2 if..." kind of maze to get the card unlocked. All is fine now.

So I'm not cooking supper. Something from the freezer will do. At the rate I'm going, the oven would not heat. Or it would blow up. I really don't want to work through another set of phone button-pressing menus to call a repair man.


That means it's a good time to share another recipe from our Saturday night feast. Nothing that Jessica cooked was particularly difficult or time consuming, but we stayed in the kitchen all afternoon because she cooked so many things at one time!

Try this chicken with a couple of easy sides and your family will love you. Your house will smell divine. The combination of the glaze and the dry rub and the fresh sage creates an aroma that is incredible. Really.


ROASTED BOURBON GLAZED CHICKEN

4 large, bone-in split chicken breasts (about 4.5-5 lbs.)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoon olive oil

Glaze:
1-1/2 cups bourbon*
1-1/4 cups brown sugar**
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons worchestershire sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon ground mustard (dry)
fresh sage leaves, if desired (Don't skip this! It's a big part of why it's so good.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.*** (see notes at bottom of recipe!!!)

Combine the bourbon, sugar, mustard, garlic, honey, vinegar and worcestershire in a small saucepan and whisk. Heat over high heat and allow it to come to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until mixture reduces by about half. Set aside and let sit at room temperature while you prepare the chicken. The glaze will thicken a bit at this time.

In a bowl, combine salt, pepper, paprika, onion and garlic powder. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Season chicken breasts on both sides with mixture, then place skin-side down in the skillet. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until chicken is golden brown, then flip and repeat on the other side. 

When finished, add chicken to a 9x13-inch baking pan. Pour half of the glaze over the top of the chicken, add sage leaves on top if desired, then bake for 30 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees. Halfway through cooking, brush with a little more glaze. 

Serve with additional glaze. (And eating the crispy sage was a treat. Don't pick it off and lay it aside.)

Jessica's notes:
*I used the black cherry bourbon my parents had on hand—it’s extra sweet and they’ve been trying to use it up when a recipe calls for bourbon.
**Since the bourbon was extra sweet, I only added half a cup of brown sugar.
***The chicken breasts were so large, I was skeptical of the cooking temperature and time. I baked mine at 350 for an hour (or until the internal temp is around 170). We cranked the oven up to 425 for the last 5-10 minutes to crisp up the sage and skin.

The recipe above is as Jessica found it online. And then she included her notes of how she cooked it. If I did it again (and I will) I'll do it the way she did it. Sometimes you just need to trust your own instincts.

I want to end this blog post on a positive note, so let me say that voice-recognition systems work better than they used to. The real person I talked to at FedEx was really nice and helpful. And when today's mail came, I had two hand-written thank you notes in the stack. Good stuff happens, too.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Good Weekend



Pattern: Ombre Cowl Hood
Yarn: Rowan Kidsilk Haze
Needles: Size 8, 24-inch circular

Jessica came home from the big city for the weekend. She had a couple of must-do things on her list, but mostly we just enjoyed having her home for a couple of days. She got to try on the new knit I had just finished for her. Now, we're waiting on cooler weather so she can enjoy it. She chose the pattern and yarn while we were out visiting Mommy and her family in August. The cowl is a simple knit, made special by the mohair yarn. I'm ready to start another one now for Mommy.


But much of our Saturday was spent in the kitchen. I had told Jessica that she was in charge of Saturday's dinner. I was more than happy to chop for her and to wash the dishes as we went along. She had made the menu and grocery list before she came home. We shopped from groceries yesterday after her errands. Shopping at a small town grocery store is an experience. We visited a lot as we went along. People who had known Jessica since she was little were happy to see her at home. This morning at church, someone asked, "Did you ever find the apple cider?" I love small towns.


There aren't many times I would want to spend this many hours in the kitchen, but cooking together yesterday was fun. We made a glorious mess. But it was so worth it. Daddy-O was happy to be the taste tester while he watched football. (His team won!)


Dark comes quickly now, but the weather is still mild enough to enjoy dinner on the porch. Both of our daughters live in different states from us. How good it is when we can be in one place.

I'll share some of Jessica's recipes as the week goes on. (I think Jessica is posting the recipes faster on her blog if you're in a hurry.) Tonight I'll give you the appetizer recipe. It was so easy. There is a little chopping required, but mostly it's just stirring things up.


If you need to take something to an office party, a birthday gathering or some other event, volunteer quickly to bring an appetizer and then make these. They are very simple to make. They can be made ahead of time. And they are one of the best appetizers we've tasted. (I learned ages ago to be one of the first to sign up before I'm stuck bringing something hard to make.)

We cut the recipe in half last night since there were just the three of us. That worked fine.

ROASTED RED PEPPER - BACON - GOAT CHEESE TRUFFLES

8-oz. plain goat cheese, softened
1/2 cup chopped roasted red peppers
2 slices bacon, fried and chopped
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup pistachios, chopped and crushed

In a bowl, combine softened goat cheese with peppers, bacon, garlic salt and pepper. Stir together until thoroughly combined. Roll goat cheese mixture into 1/2 to 1-inch balls, then roll in pistachios to coat. (If necessary, refrigerate mixture for 20-30 minutes to make it easier to roll balls.) Set on plate and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.          Makes 20-25 truffles


MASON JAR SALAD UPDATE: Someone said this morning that they were waiting to hear if the mason jar salads actually stayed fresh for five days. I made them on Tuesday and I ate the last one on Friday. It was so fresh that I have no doubt it would have lasted a few more days. I think most people are making them so they can it to work for lunch. We found them so handy to have here at home for our busy days—so they are not just for folks who need to pack a lunch. I'll be doing these again soon and will make more than four.



Friday, October 11, 2013

In The Kitchen


In my quest to add more plants to our menus, I bought (nearly) everything that looked good and fresh at our local grocery store the first part of the week. And then last night I realized we were almost to the end of the week and I still had some of those veggies untouched in the refrigerator.

We love the green drinks in the morning where I throw an assortment of fruits and vegetables in the blender. But I'm trying to get those veggies into our other meals, too. Last night I cooked fresh green beans with baby red potatoes and I roasted the rest of the brussel sprouts along with some fresh okra pods. That doesn't sound like much, does it?

But I ran up against one of the reasons busy moms (or dads) turn to more convenient ways to feed the family. It took quite some time to snap the beans, scrub the potatoes, cut the brussel sprouts and trim the okra. Then cooking time was just over 30 minutes. And there were all those pans and knives to clean afterward. An hour so to get supper ready—five minutes to eat it. That can be discouraging. But even one or two meals a week cooked at home is better than none at all. We just all do the best we can.


While the vegetables were cooking, I stirred up a quick treat. I made the recipe that was the very first one I posted here. Big Sister used to make these often when she was avoiding eggs and soy. (Thankfully, she's outgrown that problem.) We made them just because they taste good.


My butter wasn't cold enough last night so the topping didn't turn out as crumbly as usual. It looks a little blob-like. But they were good enough that Daddy-O—who is not a muffin OR a pumpkin lover—ate several before they had time to cool. Could be changing the cake mix flavor was a good thing.

PUMPKIN MUFFINS

1 box butter pecan cake mix (or any flavor you like)
1 15-oz. can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup water

Topping:
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 brown sugar
1/2 cup butter

Mix sugar and flour and cut butter into the flour mix until crumbly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin pans, or use paper liners.
Mix all ingredients throughly (I used an electric hand mixer) and fill muffin cups 3/4 full.
Sprinkle with topping. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until done.

Makes 18 muffins. (For a healthier version, you can leave the topping off.)


We have made this recipe with yellow cake mix, chocolate cake mix and spice cake mix. They are all good, but the spice mix was our favorite. Until last night. The butter pecan flavor works really well here. Daddy-O liked them better than the other times I've made them. Or, it could be that they really WERE a treat after eating brussel sprouts and okra!

I have my ticket to go visit the grandchildren in a couple of weeks! Sister pictures coming soon.



Friday morning view


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Years Move On



"I decided that I would take up aging 
as a form of art." 

I read these words in a paragraph quoted on Facebook this morning. Funny. I've been thinking similar thoughts for a few months now. I think it started when Jessica took me on a hike in the Ozarks. It was fun. But I barely survived. I could feel myself moving like an old person. I know I am a grandmother, but I figured I could do better. 

So as soon as I got home, I joined the gym, found a trainer and I go faithfully to workout whether I want to or not. (It's almost fun now.) The aging process is inevitable. Might as well do it as well I can. I need to tackle this just like I would any other project I take on—Learn all I can about my topic. Then, put it into action. There is always trial and error, but I'll make progress.


I'm trying harder in the kitchen, too. We have been making lots of green smoothies for the last year. But I'm looking for ways to add more vegetables to our diet. Shhhhh! Some nights around here are meatless ones. We're not ready to give up meat (we DO live on a cattle farm, remember?) but changing the proportion of meat and plants is something we can do.

Tonight I made Mason jar salads for the rest of the week. I've wanted to try these for a while. If you search the internet, you'll find many combinations to put in the jars. I just started with a very simple one. 


Here is the recipe from Skinnymomskitchen. I made it in pint-size jars because I didn't have any wide-mouth quart jars. I adjusted the ingredient amounts accordingly. I used 1 tablespoon of dressing per jar. A quart jar will yield a main dish salad. The pint jars make a generous side salad.

MASON JAR SALAD: FRESH MOZZARELLA, TOMATO & SPINACH

10 tablespoons balsamic vinegar dressing (I used Newmans Own brand)
1 quart grape tomatoes

10 ounces fresh mozzarella

2 cups dry whole grain pasta, cooked

10 cups baby spinach

5 quart size mason jars

Divide ingredients evenly in mason jars starting with dressing, then tomatoes, mozzarella, pasta, and ending with spinach. Place lid on jar and close tight. Shake jar to coat ingredients with dressing and pour into bowl to eat.

Jars will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days. (Because glass will keep things fresher than plastic containers.)

The trick here is to put the hard veggies in the bottom to keep the cheese, greens, etc. out of the dressing until ready to eat. I should have cut the cheese into larger pieces to keep it above the dressing. My small pieces fell between the tomatoes. I'll know for next time. 

Daddy-O came in late tonight from a meeting and ate his vegetable plate for supper. He needed a little more, so he ate one of the jar salads, too. He said it was really good. The big test will be how well they taste in a few days. The internet has declared them wonderful. I'll let you know.

That quote at the beginning? The very end of the quote was this: 
"When old people are strong, it inspires young people. Then they can look forward to becoming older, rather than fearing or being disgusted by age." —Gaea Yudron, from The Beauty of Aging.


I am thankful for my friends who are older than I am and who can still run rings around me. I want to be like them. I am thankful for my friends who chose to eat healthier than I often do. I want to be like them. And someday, I hope someone wants to be like me.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Eye On The Sky


Morning, just before the sun came up.


Afternoon.


Evening, minutes before sunset.


There are days when cooking takes a backseat. There are more important things to do, like watching the sky. Our house is situated so that I can keep an eye on the sky as I'm doing other things. Today I was glad to be at home most of the day to see all the changes. For a gray day, there was quite a show.

Yep, no cooking happened today. We had sandwiches for supper—but when I wrapped them up instead of just using bread, Daddy-O thought I had made him something special. Reminds me of a day years ago when the girls were little and had a friend over. I made them peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Because I didn't have any chips, I sliced apples and then arranged it all nicely on their plates. The little friend said so seriously, "I wish my mom cooked like this at my house." Making it look nice, even if it's on a paper plate, does make everything taste better. It really does.

TONIGHT'S SANDWICH WRAPS 

Flatout Wraps, sun-dried tomato flavor (they are whole wheat, too)
ranch dressing
romaine leaves (thick stem cut out so it will roll)
thinly sliced deli turkey
fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Assemble sandwich ingredients in order listed. Carefully roll up sandwiches, tucking in ingredients as necessary. Slice in half on diagonal. Secure each half with a toothpick.


(If I had planned better, I would have made some kind of pie today. So I could have titled this blog "Pie In The Sky.")