Thursday, April 2, 2020

Life Stay-At-Home Style

Cheese Tortellini Soup

Life in this stay-at-home world hasn't stopped everything, even though it feels like it sometimes. I've had Group FaceTime visits with my book club friends. And yesterday I did a Zoom session with my knitter friends from across the country. California, New York, Tennesee, Illinois, Maryland, South Carolina, and Texas were represented. It was interesting to hear how the stay home orders were playing out in different parts of the country. We actually knitted while we chatted and even had a show and tell. That was so much fun.

I must confess that both the Group FaceTime and the Zoom sessions had some hiccups as we tried to get connected. Older adults and multiple screens and new platforms can be a funny experience. We had one session where a couple of folks could be heard but not seen. And one friend, who did manage to connect, kept the camera turned so that we mostly saw her ceiling. There has been lots of laughter as we've fumbled through. It has involved phone calls and text messages at the SAME TIME as we were trying to do a video meet up. And on my first Group FaceTime some of us had as much trouble disconnecting as we did connecting! We are all learning. But we have managed to do things that weeks ago we would have said were impossible. 

Our family has had two birthdays in the last few days, too. Jessica is grown and understands why we were not together and they had a small celebration for two after the baby was put to bed. BUT when you're turning six, it's a different matter. I'm not sure whose idea it was, but we had a formal birthday party via FaceTime. Tuxedos and formal attire. It was a real party! We were just in different places. That was so much fun. It will certainly tide us over until we can have a party with all of us in the same place.

Yesterday one of the knitters asked what I was making for supper. And at 5:00 pm I had no clue. When we finished our visit I rambled through the pantry and then it hit me...I had watched Joanna Gaines make soup on an Instagram video the day before. She has a soup recipe in her new cookbook (coming out soon) but like many of us, she didn't have the exact ingredients on hand to make it. As she made it, she told what her substitutions were. Then I made it last night and substituted for her substitutions. It's that kind of recipe.

Daddy-O is famous for not loving soup. When I told him what I was making he said he'd just have a sandwich. But I dished up a bowl of soup for him to try before I made the sandwich. Now I'm not sure you will understand the import of his reaction. "This is really good. Oh, wow, the parmesan really makes it. How did you make this?" "That sounds easy enough for me to cook when you're not here sometime." He really wants to MAKE soup??? He even went back for more. That. Is. Amazing.

Here is how I made it last night. Feel free to change it up again, depending on what's in your pantry. 

CHEESE TORTELLINI SOUP

1 small onion, diced
1 teaspoon minced jarred garlic
1 tablespoon butter or oil
6 cups chicken broth (that was 1 box and 1 can)
1 (15-oz ) can petite diced tomatoes with juice
1 (16-oz) can great northern beans, drained & rinsed
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 (12-oz) bag cheese tortellini (I probably used a little over 1/2)
fresh spinach, about 3 or 4 big handfuls 
salt & pepper to taste
grated fresh parmesan 

Saute onion and garlic in butter for a few minutes until the onion just starts to get translucent. Add broth, tomatoes, beans, Italian seasoning and basil. Bring to a boil. Add tortellini and cook as per package directions. Two or three minutes before tortellini is done, stir in fresh spinach and let it wilt. Adjust seasonings. To serve, ladle it into bowls and grate fresh farm over the top. 

That's it. A quick, easy soup that's totally delicious. So could you make it with what's in your kitchen now? No broth? Maybe use chicken bouillon in hot water. No tortellini? Use another pasta. No great northern beans? Cannellini beans, butter beans, navy beans are possible subs. No diced tomatoes? If you have canned whole tomatoes, chop them up. I think stewed tomatoes would be okay, too. No spinach? Hmmm....do you have kale? I don't usually keep frozen spinach on hand but that might work.

I was lucky enough last night to have the very last of the fresh spinach that needed to be used up. Knowing that I needed to use it was what made me decide on this recipe. We are all being careful not to waste anything right now. I'm so glad I happened up on this recipe. I headed right now to pre-order Joanna's new cookbook.  It's due out in days.  


I love all the early mornings—the cloudy ones, the rainy days, the foggy ones, the cloudless ones. But this beautiful sky greeted me one morning this week. Thought you might enjoy it, too

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Monday, March 30, 2020

Treat Yourself Gently


What's your new "normal?" If you live in a rural area like us, it might not look drastically different than it did a month ago. But trust me, it feels different. But like everyone else, we keep on keeping on. And sometimes that means making a special treat. I baked cookies last week. I just used the recipe on the back of the bag of chocolate chips. It's always good.

Recipe from back of Nestle Chocolate Chips bag

But that recipe that we have all probably used for years calls for two sticks of butter. I had plenty of butter. At least for the time being. So I proceeded and we really enjoyed having a special treat.


And then friend Kathie told me she had also baked cookies and put most of them in the freezer. So I followed her lead, putting a half dozen cookies in bags, then into a rigid container to keep them from breaking in the freezer. We can enjoy these later. When we need to feel "normal' again.

Recipe below

But if your butter supply is low, you might try this recipe that Todd baked this weekend. Only needs 1/3 cup of butter and a 1/3 cup of shortening and 1 egg. We are all looking for recipes that match our ingredients now. This might be one you need now.

Jessica says, "They are crisp on the edges and chewy in the middle. So yummy!" Then she added, "Yeah, they are powerful!"

THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE RECIPE (makes 2 dozen)
          ....from Everyday-Reading.com

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups (12-oz  bag) chocolate chips, semi-sweet or milk chocolate
1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
coarse salt for sprinkling 

Preheat oven to 375º. With a stand mixer, cream butter and shortening until combined. Add sugars and beat another minute or two. Add egg and vanilla. Beat again. Mix in chocolate chips. Add flour, baking soda, and salt, Mix until JUST combined. It will look over-floured for a few seconds, but should come together fairly quickly. (If you are using a hand mixer, stir chocolate chips in by hand at the end.)

Scoop golf-ball size spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet (I like to use parchment paper for easy clean up) and sprinkle each with a pinch of kosher or sea salt. Bake 9 to 11 minutes. They should be light colored and puffed when they come out of the oven, but dry looking (not shiny or wet.) Let cool on pan for about 5 minutes, then move to cooking rack.

HINT: Always set timer for the shortest time for the first pan. Watch and adjust time if necessary.


And beyond cookies and cakes—we don't need sweet treats every day— find other ways to treat yourself. My special moment of the day is watching for the sunrise. (Right now, after the time change, this doesn't happen until around 7:30, so it's not as early as it sounds.) And I'm looking forward to our book club gathering tonight via Group FaceTime. And we will celebrate Baby Girl's 6th birthday tomorrow in some online version. 

This might be the time to pull out the gratitude journal you used to keep and begin making a daily list of things you are grateful for again. Writing it down makes you focus on the good things. And remember to breathe. Breathe deep.







Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Staying Home

Staying home on a farm looks different than staying home does for my city friends. Here is how we "socially distant" we are. Most of the time. Stay safe, people.



















Friday, March 20, 2020

Breathing Room


There are too many words out there right now. 
Words we do need to hear. But we also need quiet.
I will be doing some wordless posts every now and then.
Remember to breathe.
















Monday, March 16, 2020

The Times They Are A'Changin'

Honey Bun Cake

It doesn't quite feel appropriate to write the blog post I wanted to share today.  With so much upheaval and uncertainty, that can wait. (I planned to make a recipe I enjoyed on our beach trip but my store was out of the main ingredient.)  Like the rest of the world, I've been watching and listening to the warnings about Corona virus for several weeks now. But last week—our last night at the beach for our annual girls get-away—when we heard that the NBA had cancelled the season and March Madness had cancelled, things immediately felt different. Since that night it seems like the world as we know it has changed. 

Being the person I am—inveterate disaster planner here—for the last few weeks, I had been buying a few extra things each trip to the grocery store. We live so far from stores that I stay pretty well stocked anyway because discovering I'm out of something mid-recipe is more than annoying. It's a 45-minute round trip to pick up a single ingredient. I try not to run out.

But as the concern ramped up, I have found myself thinking probably like my grandmother did during the Great Depression. And like my mother did when dollars were short. They did this for a very long time. This time we hope it's a temporary supply shortage of some items. But right now the shelves in my small local store don't look like they did last week. I've thinking hard about what is essential and what could we live without. The "live without" list is by far the longest.

Before I baked a cake this morning, I looked at the recipe and thought, "Hmmm.....I have 9 eggs here. This cake calls for four. How long with the remaining five eggs last me? Do I really want to make this?" Will there be an egg shortage this week?  No clue. We are in "who knows" territory until further notice. I am now thinking ahead about menus for the week. I'm checking what I have here. I am planning like I should do all the time. And I'm being more careful not to waste anything. Leftovers are looking better and better. 

Much will be learned in the coming weeks and months. Less things taken for granted. Let's not panic, but let's be very thoughtful about decisions we make. So take care, dear readers. Be kind to one another. Especially to those who are out of work with income uncertainties and business owners who will struggle. And practice patience with those poor folks who are working so hard to keep us safe and fed and well. 

Don't forget to eat the good healthy foods that help us stay well, but if you are practicing social distancing, you may be looking for a little treat. Here is an oldie-but-goodie recipe. It's perfect with a cup of coffee. If you have kids at home (our schools are closed) this is an easy one for them to make. My cake just came out of the oven. Daddy-O is just waiting for it to cool.  


HONEY BUN CAKE

1 box yellow cake mix
2/3 cup vegetable (or canola) oil
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9x13-inch pan. (I just used regular PAM.)

In a large bowl, beat cake mix, oil, eggs and sour cream with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds and then on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Spread half of batter in pan.

In a small bowl, mix brown sugar, pecans and cinnamon. Sprinkle over batter in pan. Carefully spread remaining batter over pecan mixture. Bake 44-48 minutes or until deep golden brown.

In another small bowl, mix powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until thin enough to spread. Prick surface of warm cake several times with fork. Spread powdered sugar mixture over warm cake. Cool completely, about 1 hour.


This time I needed to add another teaspoon of milk to the powdered sugar. The glaze should be fairly thick—kind of like honey, but when you spread it over the hot cake (work quickly), the heat from the cake melts it enough to spread. I used a large spoon to drizzle the frosting over the cake, then used the back of the spoon to spread it.






Monday, March 9, 2020

Go Make Something


Pattern: Perfect Newborn Socks
Yarn: Iknit2purl2
Needles: size 1

In my last couple of days helping out with new baby last week, I knitted her another tiny pair of socks, making them slightly bigger to fit her growing foot size. These should last at least a month or two. She is growing like the proverbial weed. If you are a sock knitter, these are delightful to make. And the socks actually stay on baby's feet. The pattern is free on Ravelry. What a fun way to use up leftover bits of yarn. I used less than 10g of yarn to make a pair. Or, you can splurge and buy a luxury yarn to make them—and knit a zillion pairs!

I can easily knit a pair in a couple of days. In a couple of busy days. Your knitting speed might be faster or slower than mine, but it's a quick project for anyone.



Right after I headed home, a package for the baby arrived from a dear friend. It contained the most beautiful handmade quilt. The backing fabric has paper dolls on it! Jessica framed a set of vintage Betsy McCall paper dolls I rescued from my dad's house when we cleaned it out to sell after he passed away. They now hang on a nursery wall. How perfect that Missy remembered and found fabric to echo our treasure. Now the baby has another treasure—a quilt made just for her.

When Jessica posted 2 month photos last week, with baby posed on the quilt, she wrote this sweet sentiment:
I come from a long line of makers. Artists, craftsmen, growers of food, knitters and those who sew, amazing cooks, you name it. My mother is proof that a maker’s tribe most often includes others who are the same...and we are grateful to be included in that circle! Thank you for your time and craft, Missy — our baby girl loves her quilt. 🖤
I love that she uses the words "tribe" and "circle." Life is better when we belong and feel included and we are loved. And I love that my friends have pulled my children and grandchildren into that circle.

And this gorgeous knitted blanket arrived in the mail just days after the baby was born. Linda, a long time family friend, used colors that matched the nursery. And she wisely knit this blanket in cotton. A perfect choice for a Southern baby where heat and humidity are legendary.

Jessica posted this blanket to her social media, too:
More handcrafted love for our baby girl from our world of maker friends.

Yes. Jessica is right. We come from a long line of makers. My grandmother hand monogrammed linens. My dad did so much woodworking that we still use and enjoy. I sewed so many clothes for our own two little girls, hand smocking many of them. Those dresses are still in use by this new generation. Both of Jessica's grandmothers were excellent cooks. My older daughter is a maker of music and sang the most beautiful lullaby to this baby on her first visit. Jessica is an artist by profession. Years of study have left us with so many of her projects here at home—handmade books, prints that hang all around our house, and that infamous cardboard sculpture that still lives in "her" bedroom. Yes, we are makers.


Before I left for home, Jessica cast on a baby hat to knit. She's made one before and wanted to make one for a friend. There is something that is immensely human about making something by hand. Now, Jessica and I both can hit the "place order" button with the best of them. But creating something by hand is particularly satisfying. It's as good for the one making as it is for the one on the receiving end.

So go. Make something. Make supper. Make amends. Make time. Makes cookies. Make a mess. Make noise. Make friends. Make peace. Make the world a better place.







Friday, March 6, 2020

Chicken Fajitas


My drive home yesterday was just a mess. Several hours of windshield wipers swishing in front of my face. The upside was that most of the interstate drivers were going a little slower than normal. (Which got us down to the actual speed limit.) I was headed home after a few days helping out the new mommy. 

It's a pleasure to help them during these crazy busy days. I did the grocery shopping. Cooked a few meals. Laundered baby clothes. Took over baby duty so that the mommy could get some extra sleep. And we watched it rain...rain...rain. Every day.


Jessica had made her meal plan for the week before I got there. Her sister does this, too. So smart. Having a plan greatly ups the odds of getting a meal on the table. I need to do better.


I also took advantage of the extended nap times that fill the days of tiny babies. During the afternoon I would prep the parts of supper that could be done ahead of time. I measured the seasoning. I would chop, slice, dice anything that could be done ahead. I even pulled out the proper pans and had them ready to use.

If your day is a different kind of busy and you don't have pockets of time during the day to do this kind of prep, you can do some the night before. Or, maybe even do some on the weekend. But know there are ways to help yourself get a cooked meal on the table. But you might have to change up your order of doing things. 

There are so many sources of "plan ahead" tips on Instagram, YouTube, etc. Just don't get sucked into using all of your precious time looking at the tips and not doing your own prep work! I have liked following MealPlanAddict on Instagram. On Instagram you can take a quick glance at a single post instead of committing to watching a 15-20 minute video on YouTube. There is good information in both places 


And yes, I did find a few minutes here and there to take some time for myself. Knitting even a few rows a day makes me feel better. I DO know that knitting while you are watching a small baby requires a simple pattern. With lots of stops and starts likely, you don't need a complicated pattern or chart to keep up with. I can make mistakes easily enough when things are quiet.


The first meal on Jessica's weekly meal plan was another recipe from The Defined Dish. We used flour tortillas. And I bought low-carb tortillas by accident. I'll be more careful next time. The low-carb tortillas were a little gummy. You can use lettuce leaves instead if you are watching carbs.

ONE SKILLET CHICKEN FAJITAS

1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 medium green pepper, diced
1/2 medium white onion, diced
juice of 1 lime

Measure seasoning into small bowl and mix. Set aside. (I got carried away with the 1/2 teaspoon measuring and used that much cayenne. A little more heat than I expected!)

Pound chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. (Or start with chicken cutlets. Or, slice the thick breasts into thinner pieces.) Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces. 
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken in a single layer—do it in two batches if needed—and cook until golden brown and almost cooked through.
Add peppers, onion and seasoning mix. Toss to evenly coat. Cook until peppers and onions are tender. Add lime juice. 

We served this in flour tortillas with sour cream, cheese, avocado, salsa, etc. And we added tortilla chips on the side.

~~~~~~~~

I will make this at my house, for sure. It was quick and easy. And delicious. I did learn that I truly need to cut the the chicken into small pieces. My guess at 1-inch wasn't very accurate. The chicken I used also released a lot of liquid. So much that I spooned out about a 1/2 cup to let it brown a little. 

And as I've mentioned before, kosher salt measures differently than table salt. Table salt is "saltier." So if that is what you have in your kitchen, go easy on the amount. You can always add a little salt when you eat it. You cannot unsalt food!