Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

I had such a fun Halloween. In our little town, when Halloween lands on a Sunday, the festivities happen on Saturday. Ava and I mostly had the day to ourselves, as Michael took The Big Ones to participate in a local chess tournament. We had a nice day of some productivity at home and some fun away. Horseback riding lesson. A trip to Hobby Lobby. Pumpkin carving.

Ever the Bunny Hugger, she wanted a cuddly sort of Jack-O-Lantern. But the way she kept dictating the face seemed much more human and much less furry.

We put shaggy, long ears on the side so that you would know it was a dog. A St. Bernard, to be exact. Can you see it?

When The Big Ones came home we were ready to leave for Tricks and Treats. I suppose traditionally, one just goes to the neighborhood doors, asking for candy. But we always get in the car. For one thing, we have family members across town who expect to see the kids in their Halloween finery. For another, we happened upon such a dear little neighborhood in which to trick-or-treat.

This is the street on which the girls go to school. It is what some call a Cathedral Steet because of the way the tree branches rise up on either side and meet vaultingly overhead. In October, I can think of few prettier places.

Aside from its beauty, it's a "neighbor" - hood in the truest sense. Most of the houses are about 100 years old, all with a front porch. People come out on their front porches with their giant bags of candy, turn their porch lights on and wait for the onslaught.

Some even join in with their own dress-up craziness.

This neighborhood is also within blocks of the local college campus. A few of the old homes serve as rentals that house some of the students. And some of THEM even wanted to be a part of it all.

Really, there was no end to the adorability. (Is that a word? It totally should be.)

We saw big boys playing football in the street. We saw friends and classmates. We saw great costumes.

Three blind mice.

Nancy Drew.

A scarecrow.

We even heard someone playing Dixieland on the clarinet. One year someone had a three-piece bluegrass band on his porch.

A good time was had by all.

Anyway, a recipe, if you can call it that... Certainly, it's a tradition.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Have your husband and willing children sift through the pumpkin muck to seperate seeds from membrane. Retrieve about 1 1/2 c. This will take more than one pumpkin. I always boil them briefly to begin the cooking process and to clean them up. Drain them and slam a tablespoon or two of butter into the pot, along with 1/2 t. of salt. The butter will melt and coat the seeds, bringing along the salt for seasoning. Put them on a cookie sheet and into a preheated 300 degree oven. Leave them there for 30-40 minutes, until lightly browned, tossing them every 10 or 15 minutes.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Butternut Soup for the Soul

It's been a rough couple of weeks here at Chez Fed Family. Early in the month I went away for the weekend with some girlfriends. Just before we planned to go on Friday, one of the friends let me know that her first grader's school nurse had called: Hunter had thrown up at school. She picked him up and brought him home, then he threw up again. The good news, she heard, was that it really only lasted 6-8 hours. An hour later, the school bus dropped my kids off at home and Brooks took a hot bath and went to bed, saying his stomach hurt.

"I'm sorry to hear that," I said, overnight bag in hand. "Well, I'm off." And, over my shoulder as I walked away, "The good news is, I hear it only lasts 6-8 hours."

It turns out that he was queasy all weekend, and Ava started throwing up that night.

I'll not share every little Jot and Tittle, but by the end of the next eight days, all three kids had thrown up and missed the toilet. Now this house was once somewhat grand, in a 1970's kind of way, and before our family darkened the door, it had never, ever had children living in it. There is carpet (and, weirdly, chandeliers) in all the bathrooms. Cleaning up this type of mess was complicated, gross and pretty defeating.

(You know... and skip this if you're queasy... I noticed that the kids all had different strategies when reaching the crisis point of their nausea. Sophia left a trail from her bed to the toilet. Brooks tried to keep the mess in one spot and crouched there, heaving for a full five minutes. And Ava... well it looked like someone had cut an air hose going full blast. It was on the walls, the cabinet, the trash can, the door.)

My sainted husband cleaned it all up. Not because it makes me gaggy to do it, but because I seem to be completely ineffective at it. I think I could scrub and scrub all day and wouldn't improve the situation by 50%. I looked at Ava's mess and thought, "Well. Now we have to move." Michael got it looking like new, but in my mind, it will forever be Barf Carpet.

No sooner did the kids get better than Mike and I went down hard, though, gratefully, not with the stomach bug. Sinuses. Bronchial stuff. I'm still coughing.

Anyway, once we started wanting something more than 7-Up and crackers, a creamy, comforting soup sounded good to me. I came up with this recipe last year after visiting a great Bento Box restaurant. I had a lovely butternut squash soup with my lunch that day and I thought about it all winter, wondering what I could do to recreate it.

After looking up some recipes online, I decided on this:

DB's Butternut Squash Soup (And I'll be really sad if you can't try this soup because you now associate with our disease and pestilence.)

1 butternut squash
chicken broth
cream cheese

I grew my own butternuts this summer for the sole purpose of making this soup. If you must, go to the market and buy one. Now, I peel and cube the squash. This takes a hearty knife and a fair amount of fortitude. Someone smart told me that I should just stab the squash several times and put it in the microwave until it's soft enough to halve and scoop out of its sturdy skin. I like this idea, but I prefer the process of letting the cubed, peeled squash cook in the flavorful chicken broth. Do whatever your prefer.

I put the squash in a good-sized saucepan and cover with chicken broth. I often don't have chicken stock on hand. Sometimes I use water with chicken bouillon instead, which is good for adding some saltiness. I also add maybe 3/4 t. marjoram. In this, I cook the squash until tender.

Then, quick as you please, I run the whole thing through a blender, adding some chunks of cream cheese as I go, which melts and blends divinely. Experiment as you go. You may not want all the broth if it's getting too runny. You may want more or less cream cheese. You may need to add salt. When it's as you like it, garnish with bacon crumbles, chiles, black olives, chives... whatever pleases you.

On this day, we ate ours with fresh bread.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Caramel Corn

During my childhood my mother made caramel corn once a year, to the delight of all at home and the in neighborhood. She made it as a homemade halloween treat for any trick or treaters who came her way. We lived out in the country, with a corn field behind us and across the road from us, but amid a little cluster of about five houses. It so happened that there were kids in most of those houses and, during our own trick or treating years, we managed to have a few T or T'ers of our own.

I have another fond memory of Mom's caramel corn. The college choir I was in went on retreat each fall for the purpose of group-building and to learn our fall program. The place we retreated to was a camp about ten minutes from my home. During one retreat, Mom stopped in to drop off some things I needed and some other things she thought I would enjoy. She brought an entire batch of caramel corn for me and my friends. I was Prom Queen of the choir for about twenty minutes, or until the caramel corn was gone.

6 qts. popped corn
2 c. brown sugar
1 t. salt
1/3 c. corn syrup
1 t. baking soda

Preheat oven to 200. In a large-ish saucepan... in fact, larger than you think - you'll need the space later.... combine brown sugar, salt and syrup. Bring to a boil and allow to gently boil for five minutes. Remove from heat and add the soda. When you mix the soda in, the caramel will "grow" visibly. Stir until the soda is adequately blended in, then use to coat the popcorn in a large roasting pan. This is a somewhat involved job. It's best to pour about a third of the caramel at a time onto the popcorn and stir to distribute the topping evenly.

Once you're satisfied with the caramel to popcorn ratio, pop the roaster in the warm oven for an hour, stirring every fifteen minutes. Once you remove the whole mess from the oven, I find it's best to stir it several times as it cools, too, as it will harden to a roasting pan-shaped brick if left to cool on its own.

I hope you like it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Peach Cream Pie

OK, I should have given you this recipe about a month ago. It's my very best pie and everyone always loves it. Funny story... I made it recently and took it to a friend's house for a little gathering. A 14-year-old health/fitness guru in attendance served a half piece to her little sister, licked the fork and liked what she tasted. She was later seen walking toward the pie, shaking her head and saying (audibly), "No," before walking away again. I must admit, that kind of dedication to healthy eating is unfamiliar to me.

I got this recipe from my little hometown's sesquicentennial cookbook, published in 1986. The submitter was Debbie Conrad Roe. If you try no other recipe, try this one. I generally make it with fresh peach slices, but have had some success with frozen.

1/2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1/2 stick butter
peeled, sliced peaches
1 c. cream

Make crumbs of flour, sugar and butter. Place half of the crumbs in an unbaked pie shell. Slice peaches into a thick layer over the crumbs and top with the remaining crumbs. Pour cream over all. Bake at 350 until done, about 45 minutes or so.

That is the recipe as it was published, but I usually think it takes closer to an hour for the pie to "set up" in the middle. You know what I mean, right? When checking the pie, jiggle the pie pan a lot. You will be able to tell how liquid the center is. The desire is minimal movement in the center of the pie, ensuring that your slices of pie will come out pie-shaped.

Let me know how you like it.