Saturday, March 27, 2010

Early Garden

Prologue: Apparently, I don't know how to rotate photos.

Early Garden, Chapter 1: My mom and dad always had an enormous garden. When Mom got sick and dad was alone, the garden plot shrank and eventually was entirely seeded over with grass. These days Dad has a wife again and has found time for some of the pleasures which he had enjoyed as a younger man, including gardening a tiny area at the back of his property.

Last year, the economy inspired Dad to once again have a crazy-big garden, which we care for together. This year, we continue gardening as a family. The produce is enjoyed by us and shared with those around us. This weekend, we worked our section of early garden.

Ava, Grandpa and I spent about an hour today planting fine little lettuce seeds...

And barely-there wee onion plants...

And tissue-papery yellow onion sets.

Can't wait for some garden lettuce salad with green onions and sour cream dressing.

When we came home, Ava put on safety goggles and ate a string cheese. The end.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Short Order Cook?

I have some picky eaters in my house. I am NOT interested in becoming a short order cook and preparing five different meals to please five different people. At lunch and dinner I stand firm. All must try every dish set before them. If they don't want to finish their portion and are still hungry, they are free to make themselves a PB & J sandwich.

I find I go totally soft at breakfast time. I have three school-age children and I need the mornings to go smoothly so that we can quickly get to our various activities. I cannot think of a single breakfast item that everyone likes. Rather than face a battle I just concede to tastes. If I plan to have cereal, I will get out two cereal bowls with spoons and slice one bagel for the toaster. If I'm serving eggs, I allow my oldest to pop in a toaster pastry instead. Even granola bars must come in two different flavors to please everyone.

I think I have nice kids but apparently at breakfast time you wouldn't know it. Any advice? Encouragement? Comiseration?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Homemade Pizza

I've been hoarding food.

With three kids on three different Little League teams, I'm doing some preliminary stressing out over how we can have healthful, quick family meals on the upcoming busy evenings. In the last several weeks, I've made one or two extra casseroles every time I've prepared one for dinner. Now, keep in mind I've purchased no disposable casserole pans so I'll have to be done with the advance food prep when I'm down to a sauce pan and the omelet skillet.

With all this planning ahead, you may ask, whatever will you have today for supper? The answer, Gentle Reader, is, "I have no clue." My macro-planning is second to none. My micro-planning... not so much. Twice this week, on days that were free from scheduled events, my first thought of dinner-planning was at approximately 4:17 PM. One such day I made hamburger gravy and fried potatoes. Another day we had homemade pizza.

Do you have a pizza crust recipe from which you'll never stray? Not me. I like a thin crust. Thin like a cracker. This week I tried this recipe from Robbie's Recipe Collection online.

.25 oz. pkt. active dry yeast
1/4 tsp. granulated sugar
3/4 cup 110 degree water
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

-Dissolve yeast and sugar in water; allow to rest for 8 minutes.
-In a separate bowl, combine flour and salt.
-Pour yeast mixture over flour mixture and mix well with a heavy spoon.
-Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead for 2 minutes.
-Working from the edges to the center, press dough into a 12" circle. We've also found that holding the dough up, off the counter and stretching it works well, too (keep rotating the dough circle as you stretch to keep an even circle forming).
-Place dough on a lightly greased pizza pan and stretch dough to edges.
-Spread sauce over crust and top with cheese and desired toppings.
-Bake in a 500 degree oven for 8-12 minutes, or until edges are golden.

I used black olives, sliced mushrooms and mozzarella cheese. Nothing too adventurous. An additional topping that I would like to share, however, was mini pepperoni. I saw it at the supermarket and thought it seemed sensible. My teeth never manage to bite completely through a full-sized pepperoni, and the partially bitten pepperoni tends to pull most of the cheese off the slice when I take my bite. I suppose the tiny pepperoni solved part of the problem, but the rest of the problem is the cheese itself so we still ate some naked crusts.

I still don't know if this is THE crust recipe that I'll stick with. But it was a quick meal that everyone gobbled up without complaint. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Kids Cook" Fridays

There is a loose tradition in our house that the kids will choose menus and do the cooking on Fridays. During the school year schedules can be hectic enough that it doesn't always happen, but in the summer it is as regular and revered as the Sabbath. There is a recurring theme in my parenting that our job is to make sure the kids are qualififed to leave the house when the time comes. They've always participated in cracking the eggs, kneading the dough and using the mixer under my direction, but I think it's good to have experience choosing the recipe, checking the ingredient list and following the directions.

We had a Kids Cook Friday last week and Sophia was in charge of the main dish. Let me digress a moment. We went with extended family to Walt Disney World last fall. Grandma gave each of the children an amount of money to spend on trinkets. My kids really showed something about themselves in their spending. Six-year-old Ava would have spent it all in the first five minutes upon entering the hotel gift shop. Thirteen-year-old Brooks scoped out the situation quickly and decided he wanted a series of books about the parks, which could only be gotten individually and in that particular park. He spent the week completing his collection by getting the Epcot book at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom book in the MK, etc. Sophia kept most of her money until the end of the week and labored over her purchases, fearing she may see something she would prefer later on. Ultimately, she chose a "Cooking with the Disney Chefs" cookbook. For Kids Cook Friday, she chose a recipe from that collection.

The recipe(s) for this meal Took Up Six Pages of the cookbook! It was a grilled pork tenderloin that is served in the California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort. We started by frying 25 sage leaves to be used as a garnish later. Then we browned the tenderloins in the sage-flavored olive oil. We followed a recipe for a Mustard Butter with which we basted the pork over a reduced heat.

Another recipe for the meal was for Garlic and Herb Polenta. It turned out great and included much garlic and onion, sage, thyme and parsley, with goat cheese stirred in at the end. We served the pork over the polenta.

A Balsamic Mushroom Glaze was added at the end. We had to follow ANOTHER recipe for a Zinfandel Glaze to be used as an ingredient in the mushroom glaze and, man, was it delicious.

After all those recipes, the assembly was as follows: A serving of polenta, followed by a tenderloin, the mushroom glaze and five fried sage leaves as garnish. It was very fancy, and very good! Alongside, I served a broccoli slaw salad with dried cranberries and green onions. I wish the picture did justice to the meal. It seems to all look very beige and uninteresting. Anyway, it gave Soph a real sense of accomplishment to do something so involved. And it sure made her proud when it got rave reviews from the rest of us. We all felt very elegant, indeed.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find the source of a very funky smell coming from the kitchen.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cinnamon Spiral Bread

Happy Tax Season.

My sister works in an accountant's office and several of the people she works with are friends of mine. Usually at some point during "tax season" I start to feel sorry for that crew, who barely see their families and sleep even less in the weeks leading to April 15th. I try to make a point of sending a baked good their way. They seem to feel bolstered by it and I am a hero for about 15 minutes.

This year it's Cinnamon Spiral Bread. Here's Millie Whetstone's recipe from the Essenhaus Amish Country Cookbook, Vol. 1.

1 c. warm water
1 pkg. yeast
2 c. lukewarm milk
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, beaten
1 T salt
1 c. raisins (or not, depending on your tastes)
2 T soft shortening
2 c. quick cooking rolled oats
5 1/2 - 6 c. sifted flour

Dissolve yeast in water, in mixing bowl. Stir in milk, rolled oats, salt, brown sugar, egg, shortening, raisins and half of flour. Mix with hand. Turn on board until light. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding remaining flour as needed. Round up in a greased bowl. Let rise until double in bulk. Divide into round balls. Roll out in oblong shape. Sprinkle with 1/2 c. brown sugar, 2 t. cinnamon, per loaf. Roll up like a jelly roll, sealing lightly at the end.

That is where the recipe ends, but let me elaborate. I find a lot of older recipes read like that. One used to assume that any cook who was to be trusted in the kitchen knew how to make a basic loaf of bread. So... what's missing from the recipe is how many loaves it makes (eh... three small or two largish), how long to bake it (maybe 30 minutes, but the real "timer" is the pleasing brown color) and at what temperature (I always go with 350).

On a related subject, learning the right temperature for the "warm" water or milk in which the yeast is to soften is a skill one really must learn early on in order to have confidence with breads and rolls. My baked goods were very hit and miss as a young bride and the reason was the unintentional murder of that flippin' yeast! Here's the key: Someone smart told me this and I've have had only yeasty success since.... The liquid should be the temperature of pee.

Oh, are we pretending we don't know the temperature of pee? That we've never held a baby WHILST he/she filled his/her diaper? Or a urine sample, for that matter? OK, for the sqeamish, write "body temperature" on your recipe card next to the word "warm." Go ahead. Write it now, thank me later.


Check out my find from the church rummage sale last week! Seventy-five cents! My mom had these exact Tupperware popsicle molds when I was a kid. Won't my kids be overjoyed when they come home from school and have OJ pops waiting for them?

If only we weren't having a cold snap.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Banana Soup

We had a couple of bananas left from a bunch that I had purchased which, in our opinion, were reaching their "best if used by" date. Michael said, "Ooh, those look just right for some banana soup!"

I think this is an Amish thing.

Our friend Dean was born Amish and was the only one of his seven siblings not to join the Amish church as an adult. He and Michael are the only ones I know who talk about banana soup. That and tomato gravy. Michael himself was never Amish, but you don't have to go very far back on the family tree to get to the Dutch-speakers.

Tearing bread into chunks, Michael layered the bread and sliced bananas into bowls for himself and the kids, sprinkled each with sugar, and poured milk over all.

Is he kidding me? This is soup?

I posted on Facebook, asking if anyone had ever had this version of banana soup and I had Millers, Bontragers and (interestingly) Murdocks post that they had. Other variations seem to be peach soup and blueberry soup, which sound good. I loved the cold sweetened milk and bananas, but I thought the soggy bread was a bad idea. At any rate, we added this to the list of Things Daddy Can Cook If You Call That Cooking.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Soul Food

Last Sunday, we were invited to an African-American church to hear a new friend speak as they celebrated Black History Month. The whole experience was so positive... from the warm reception we received to the amazing singing... the earnest message to the Soul Food Feast we enjoyed afterward... All were completely delightful standing alone and made all the more wonderful for the glimpse it offered into a culture different from (and somehow the same as)ours.

Now, I could write whole blog entries about many aspects of the service, but as this is a food blog I'll write a smidge on the soul food meal.

Allow me to be your eyes and ears (or maybe nose and tongue, in this case). It was a small church and it was quite tight in the Social Hall. We snaked in a line to the back of the room where the food serving tables were set up. We took our plastic plates and cutlery and with mouths watering pretended to patiently wait our turn. First there was a table of desserts, already dished out on their own plates. There was angel food cake, pound cake, and I sampled my first ever sweet potato pie. Next we dished out from bowls of lettuce salad and potato salad, then rolls and cornbread.

Before we move on to the hot food, I'm reminded of a time when Oprah mentioned on her show that black people put paprika on their potato salad. Paprika-wielding white ladies were indignant and bombarded the talk show host with bowls of their own potato salads garnished with the spice. All this to say, the potato salad on Sunday was, in fact, topped with paprika.

The biggest difference I saw between my friend's church meal and my church's meals was in the handling of the hot food. At our potlucks, everyone helps themselves from the dishes, but some of the women of this church donned aprons, hairnets and plastic gloves to serve us from big chafing dishes of yams, macaroni and cheese, green beans cooked with potatoes, fried chicken, turkey and dressing.

We balanced dinner plates, dessert plates and silverware, fussed over the children's food-carrying techniques and tried to make ourselves skinny enough to sqeeze through the aisles to empty seats. We sat at folding chairs at long tables, where styrofoam cups of fruit punch waited to wash down the feast. The next 45 minutes were all about delicious food, warm company and friendly conversation. While I certainly felt like a welcome guest peeking into a New and Wonderful church/food/ethnic culture, ultimately I decided that it wasn't so different from my Familiar and Wonderful church/food/ethnic culture.

I'm glad for my old friend Anne, and my new friend Lawrence, who reached out to Me and Mine and welcomed us into Theirs for the day.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Snot-Fest 2010

Lawd, I'm sick. I'm experiencing the time-honored tradition of thinking I can see the warming, springtime light at the end of the very dark and wintry tunnel... only to succomb to a very drawn-out, very miserable, medicated bronchial such-and-such that will carry on to, oh, mid-June or so.

This sucks.

I've not posted for a few days and it's because I've been terribly busy feeling sorry for myself. But I've just soaked in an Inferno Bath, hoping to steam away the germs, and I've dragged my wretched bones to the computer to brag briefly about my husband.

I do some substitute teaching from time to time in the local school system and spent the day with 23 4th graders. I felt myself getting sicker as the day wore on, but persevered to the 2:35 release. I picked up my girls, took one of my stockpiled casseroles out of the freezer and flopped on the couch, where I remained until Michael got home.

Bless him, he sent me to bed, cleaned up the kitchen (from breakfast... *blush*), handwashed the dishes and prepared the fixings to go with the Taco Casserole.

It's the little things.