Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In Which I Write Like a Lazy Person

Don't forget to make these before summer is over.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Before and After the Natural Disaster ( Canning Season)

I'm bold enough to show you what my kitchen looks like after days of canning and the mess that comes with it. With no shame... here it is.

I was actually already into the cleaning process by the time I took this photo. The sinks are full of soapy water and the "spiders" from the stovetop are in there soaking. But you can see burned on gunk on the range.... why bother cleaning it up when you just have another batch of tomatoes to do on Thursday? Green bean season is done, so I've put away the pressure canner. However, the weight from the pressure canner lid didn't make the trip with the rest of the gang, so there he sits on my countertop because it's too much trouble to take him downstairs. Every time I use up a freezer box of fruit lately, I don't bother to take them downstairs to storage, either, because I'm just going to have to do peaches next week.

What I am ashamed of is that I gave up on making it clean between projects because it seemed hopeless and more mess was coming. Therefore, I just added to the mess and it really did become almost insurmountable in my neglect. The kitchen's a mess, but I needed to bake cookies, so I got out my red Tupperware bowl and mixed up the cookies in a messy kitchen. Ava picked some green pears and I left them to ripen on a messy countertop. One of the kids made a glob of clay and painted it. They made it with their own two hands and I didn't know what to do with it, so it helped to clutter up the counter, too. The salt and pepper shakers were left out, the mail accumulated and a pair of swim trunks purchased in the wrong size laid there waiting to be returned.

But where there is gumption, there is hope. Eventually I just put my head down and did the hard job of putting things to right. I decided that the painted clay glob was not particularly beautiful or useful, and, since there is no shortage of precious things made by my children, I threw it out. I put the freezer boxes away knowing I will get them out when the peaches are ready. The swimming trunks were put in a shopping bag in my trunk. The mail was sorted and purged. I did the time-consuming organizing (which I hate) of lone paper clips, pens, barrettes that are always at the bottom of junky piles.

And I felt SO HAPPY making dinner in my beautiful kitchen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I am a piano teacher and sometime substitute teacher in the local public school. My piano students are on break right now between the summer session and the fall term. I haven't gotten any work yet as a substitute teacher because the school year just started. The kids are back to their routine and I have "time off." I'm definitely making time for lunch with friends, but the "time off" isn't as leisurely as I always fantasize it will be. There are always plenty of things to do.

Like stockpile food. I don't know how many would agree with me, but according to my piano studio, I have to say, "What recession?" My studio has grown by about 20% every year for the last four years. This fall, I have to add a third evening of teaching to my schedule. This is both good and bad. I'm happy to have a reputation that grows my business without any advertising on my part. I'm happy that I get to contribute financially to my family and that I can do it without leaving home. I'm blessed that I can teach about five hours of lessons to homeschooled students during the school day when my kids are in school. But with the rest of my 31 students, my work day can't begin until MY children are home from school.

At this point, the third day of teaching looks like it will just be two hours between school and dinnertime. My work hours will be cutting into my food prep time and I'm making extra meals as I can and putting them in the freezer. I thawed a whole heap of ground beef this weekend and made four meatloaves, one which we ate that night and three that I put into the freezer. Last night I made a favorite chicken and rice casserole and made three extra for the freezer. I can pull one of these out in the morning of a busy day and have it baking during my lessons. Won't my students wish they were staying for dinner when they smell it?

Here is the recipe for Chicken and Rice Casserole, as given to me by my Mother-In-Law, Karen.

1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2/3 c. water
1 package of dry onion soup mix
1 1/2 c. Minute Rice

Mix these ingredients together and spread in a greased casserole dish. Lay chicken pieces on top of the rice, cover with foil and bake. This is a good dish to have baking while you're at church because it can either be baked for 2 hours @ 350 or 3 hours @ 275. It smells and tastes great.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tomayto, Tomahto

Once again with more tomatoes to use, I came to the decision that we'd have spaghetti with homemade sauce for dinner tonight. I always have an abundance of ground beef in the freezer. I HOPED I'd have everything onhand for spaghetti sauce from scratch.

Whenever I want to make a basic "something" and don't have a recipe to which I am faithful, it is becoming my habit to turn to The Basics and More, a cookbook that BFF Rebecca gave me. It has recipes that everybody should have, basic bread, pound cake, buttercream frosting, cinnamon rolls, and, thankfully, spaghetti sauce.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am with this recipe! It's sweet and spicy. My family thought it was a bit too spicy, and I even left out some of the called for spicy ingredients. I'm all too pleased to pass this on. Here's the basic recipe, though it makes a ton - it's meant for canning - so I reduced it tonight and left out the Tabasco and hot peppers. (And it was STILL too hot. Can you imagine!?)

Spaghetti Sauce II
11 qts. thick tomato juice
6 cloves of garlic
6 medium onions
1 c. parsley, chopped
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. salt
3 T oregano
A few bay leaves, optional
2 T basil
1 t. red pepper
2 t. chili powder
1/2 to 1 T Tabasco
1/4 c. olive oil, optional
A few hot peppers, optional
1/2 clear jell (I found I didn't need this. It cooked down to be thick enough on its own. - DBC)

"Put juice in big heavy saucepan. Save some to put in blender with onions, cloves and parsley to shop. When chopped, add to juice and add spices and simmer 4 hours or until thick. Put into jars and process" - Rachel Ramer, Goshen, IN

Observe and Learn

Dear Friends, I've been happily preserving the fruits of my gardening labor, but in the last day or two, it has taken a hellacious turn. I was on Day 3 of making tomato juice. I couldn't imagine eating that much chili in my lifetime, but it was the simplest thing to think of making at the time. At my last trip to the garden, I also picked a few jalapenos, so with the last of the tomatoes I had on hand, I threw together some salsa to can.

Long story short, one jar exploded out of its spot and landed, broken, on top of the other jars in the canner, just as you see here. It could have been so much worse, but a few spatters did land on my arm and there are couple of tiny blisters which I am not enjoying this morning.

The canner is really gross now and I need to get it cleaned out because....

...there will be more tomatoes to pick next week.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


With the tomatoes ripening like gangbusters, and the heat and humidity making us all miserable, I sought out a recipe for a nice, cool summer meal: gazpacho. Though it has many intraregional variations, it's basically a Mediterranian cold soup made of tomatoes and all manner of late summer garden bounty. While I was researching a bit of history on the dish, I was surprised that it traditionally has bread ground up and blended into the soup. I don't think I've ever had it that way and the recipe I tried didn't call for that ingredient. Glad I am, because Soppy Bread never sounds appealing to me. I much prefer the liquid salad idea that I know gazpacho to be.

Here's the recipe:

6 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 sweet pepper, seeded and chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1-2 T chopped fresh parsley
2 T chopped fresh chives
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T freshly sqeezed lemon juice
2 T sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste
1 t. Worchestershire sauce (omit for vegetarian)
4 c. tomato juice

Combine all ingredients, blend slightly to desired consistency. Place in non-metal, non-reactive storage contatiner. Cover and chill. Serve cold.

I realized that of all the produce in the recipe, I only DIDN'T have celery in my garden. In fact, I left it out of my soup altogether, since I don't enter the produce aisle in the summertime. It sure hit the spot for me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Camping Out

We had the pleasure of camping this weekend with a bunch of friends of all ages. Well, it was a pleasure for me. For the son, Lover of Technology and Hater of Mosquitoes and Humidity, not so much. It's OK. It won't kill him to take his likes and dislikes a bit less seriously.

We had a smallish tent that was supposed to sleep four to six. I suppose the five of us could lie down shoulder to shoulder in it, but last year we opted to borrow another smallish tent and we used one for boys, one for girls. I was looking to do just that this year. I put out a plea on Facebook for a borrowed tent. One acquaintance was pushing hard for us to borrow her "Party Tent." ("It has three rooms!" "It's 18x18!" "It's orange!") We went the party tent route so we were all able to sleep roomily under one nylon roof for the weekend.

Another family in our party borrowed this beast. Refurbished from an old school bus and used for NASCAR viewing, perfect strangers stopped by and took pictures or asked for tours. Are you noticing that deck on top? It folds down for driving down the road. Ingenious!

It was a nice group campout. We had beautiful weather to enjoy...

A lake to float in...

Pleasant company...

And campfire cooking.

There's a breakfast I prepare when we go camping that is a staple of our outdoorsy menu. I don't know why. The ingredients aren't particularly outdoorsy. In fact, I usually make it for our Christmas morning meal. I suppose I just trust that it'll turn out well in a cast iron skillet, which is what I cook in over the campfire.

When I started making this breakfast, called Shepherder's Breakfast, last weekend, Ron, our campsite neighbor followed his nose over to my cook station to chat and admire the hearty breakfast in the works. I got to visiting, fussing over my breakfast and handing out coffee and forgot to take any picture of the process. I took one lame picture of the finished product scooped into my bowl, but I don't think it looks particularly appetizing.

Anyway, I made it again at home today so that I could add some photos. I really need a better camera. Sorry.

So, you start out with shredded hash browns in a hot, buttery skillet. For camping, I definitely save some trouble and just use frozen. I like to add water as they cook. I think there's less sticking to the pan, and more of the dense texture that I like in the finished product. Once the hash browns begin to brown, level off the pile and crack an egg into as many divots in the hash browns as you like.

I salt and pepper it a bit at this point and then put a lid on. I think the eggs cook faster this way, since there's a buffer of potatoes between them and the actual heat source.

When they're nearly done, sprinkle over all some bacon crumbles and shredded cheese. Cover again until it's melty. Eat immediately.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In Which We Eat at the County Fair

The ferris wheel is torn down, the fairgrounds are empty. I saw a lone "carny" in a truck pulling a canival game trailer heading out of town this morning. Most people around here look forward to the fair each summer. It's such a social event. The parents are thrilled to see people they haven't seen in years. The kids are thrilled to ride the rides. We all have food we only eat at the fairgrounds and can't find any other time of the year. Here is a record of how my family indulged over the last ten days.

At mealtime, our family usually takes a "divide and conquer" approach. On this evening, several members of the family ate pork burgers or pork chop sandwiches from the pork tent. Mike and the girls purchased them and saved a table for us while Brooks got our beverages and I looked for something more exotic.

I decided to try something new. I originally was headed for the Chinese food cart, because I'd heard so many people say that the eggrolls were what they looked forward to. Well, too many people had the same idea and I wasn't willing to stand in a line that stretched to the.... hey, look at that! There's a Cajun food cart. From the Cajun food cart I ordered red beans and rice, and "shrimp on a stick." I washed it all down with my favorite find from this year's fair, a frozen Pepsi from the Goat Shack.

At the Cajun cart, I was tempted by someething else on the menu: Bourbon Chicken on a Stick. Before I ordered, I saw a gentleman recieve his kabob and before he walked away, I asked if that was the Chicken on a Stick. "No, ma'am," he said. "It's Gator on a Stick." I simply had to record that menu item, even though I certainly wasn't going to order it myself. He was kind enough to let me take his picture.

When I was a kid, my parents rarely sprang for a meal at the fair. Too expensive. But we always stopped at the Dairy Bar and got soft serve ice cream on our way out of the fair to the parking lot. Our family has the same tradition.

The day we rode rides was a hot one. Ava chose to beat the heat with a Sno-Cone.

Others recommend the taco salad and I got one for the first time. It was good, but nothing I couldn't recreate at home.

Ok, we love these things. Sometimes called Saratoga Chips, sometimes called Spiral Spuds, they affix a potato to some kind of drill-looking thing and run it through a slicer. It turns a potato into a long, curly spiral, which they plop into hot fat and fry. Here they are topped with cheese, bacon and chives. While Brooks and his buddy were riding rides, there was a brief thunderstorm. They each grabbed an order of Saratoga Chips and ducked into a pavillion for their snack. After another couple of rides, they agreed that those things should be shared with several people, never as a snack for one person. They had a bit of Spiral Spud remorse.

Finally, Sirloin Tips. These things are delicious. They're seasoned beatifully. They're juicy and served with potatoes and chives and mushrooms, peppers and onions, if you wish. And they've been the hot item for the last several years. Whenever we'd walk past the cart, there was always a massive line. And whenever we ate them, there was much planning.... Who was willing to stand in the line? How would the kids be entertained while they waited? But the catch is: They are Very Expensive. During the first few years of their popularity, the price was mentioned when people raved about them, but everyone agreed that they were worth it for a once-a-year treat. In the next few years, more people were grumbling, fewer people were saying that they were worth it. We got the Sirloin Tips for our first meal, two little cardboard trays of the stuff, which we divided between the five of us. Mike said, "Enjoy it, because we'll never eat it again." It cost $26 for two orders. We don't often pay that kind of money to eat by candlelight, let alone with plastic forks. Michael finally declared it too high and it seemed that a lot of the community agreed. I never saw a line at the cart this year.

I don't know how that food looks to you. In mid-July, it would look and sound great to me. At the end of the fair... it looks a little gross. But I know I'll eat it all again next year. For now though, nothing but raw vegetables and lentils.