Random musings—mostly food

I wish I could like quinoa

I’ve tried quinoa. In fact, I have a Pinterest board that I titled “It’s pronounced KEEN-wah!” The pictures look beautiful, and it’s so healthy for you. I tried it once, and that was enough for me. There is something about the texture that makes me shudder. That little pop/crunch when you bite into it. It’s probably the same reason that I don’t like caviar. I also don’t like the slight sweetness. I’m not sure why I don’t delete the board on Pinterest. Maybe it makes me look more interesting, or healthy, or something.

I wish I didn’t love sugar

You know it’s bad when you start wanting dessert after breakfast. I almost always eat a healthy breakfast. It’s usually one of three things: plain yogurt with dried cranberries (or fresh fruit in season), my homemade muesli, toasted slivered almonds, and a touch of granola for sweetness; steel-cut oatmeal with walnuts, cinnamon, raisins, and maple syrup; or, unsweetened boxed cereal, fortified with muesli, nuts, and a little granola. Occasionally I will have eggs and toast, or pancakes with our homemade maple syrup. But, when you’re done with breakfast and immediately think about having a cookie, that’s bad. I haven’t done it yet, but it’s tough resisting.

As I told my friend Bella, I’m my own worst enemy. The holiday season starts me off with a bang. I try not to bake much during the year, except for birthdays and special occasions. I don’t like having the temptation around. I know I can’t resist the sugary delights. I will nibble and munch my way through hundreds of calories before I realize what I’ve done. Then comes Thanksgiving with the array of pies—pumpkin, pecan, apple. I never used to like pecan pie. Too sweet, I said. Until a few years ago. Now, I really like it. I really, really like it.

Then, of course, Christmas with all the cookies, fudge, gifts of candy from other people. I thought I got rid of all of that by sending it away with other people. So, what do I do? I made brownies the other day “for the kids.” Who can resist a slightly warm brownie? Or two. The next day, yesterday, I decided I had better use the bag of cranberries in the crisper drawer before they went bad, so I made streusel-topped cranberry pecan muffins. They were a big hit. Especially with me. I had two while they were still warm from the oven. The crunch from the sweet streusel combined with the soft cake and tartness of the cranberries. Oh my goodness. The good news is I probably won’t have any this morning, because I really only like them when they’re fresh.

Rachael Ray owes me for dinner

While perusing the January/February 2015 EveryDay with Rachael Ray, I came across the recipe for “Turkey or Veal Meatball Stroganoff.” It looked delicious, and sounded achievable, even for cooks with less experience than I have, which is to say, I feel that I’m a pretty good cook with years and years of experience in the kitchen. I should have trusted my instincts in at least one stage of the recipe. It said to soak the fresh breadcrumbs in milk while preparing the rest of the ingredients, and then to squeeze the excess milk from the breadcrumbs before adding them to the turkey mixture. Have you ever tried to do that? It’s virtually impossible to have anything but a big soggy, slimy mess. I maybe got a tablespoon of milk out of it. Fighting my instinct to start all over with dry breadcrumbs, I added the mess to the other mess, and, voila, ended up with a big sloppy bowl of turkey goo. There was no way to “roll walnut-sized meatballs” with my hands, so I used my little cookie scoop and plopped them into the hot frying pan, whereupon, they immediately became “meat flats” (from my friend Cindy), instead of balls. At this point, I’m thinking, there is no way on earth that these grandkids are going to eat this. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to try it.

I had doubled the recipe, because it served four and we have seven people here. So, it took forever and a day to fry all of those “meat flats.” I had to keep the finished ones warm in the toaster oven while I finished the rest. To make a long story even longer, the sauce was thin, the sour cream wouldn’t incorporate well, and well, the meatballs had a weird texture. Big surprise. Oddly enough, the kids ate what was on their plates, with Kaitlyn even pronouncing that she loved the meatballs. What??? This is the kid who complains about everything I put on the table, if it isn’t pizza, spaghetti (no sauce), or plain rice. Go figure. I thought it was barely okay, and vowed to never make the recipe again. Or, in any case, I would do it my way, with ground beef, and no soaked breadcrumbs. And it definitely took longer than thirty minutes, especially the cleanup. Rachael, you failed me.

It’s almost maple syrup time

David is getting his “sugar shack” (see header picture) ready for the sap when it starts to flow. Last year, his second, on the Bear Swamp property, he made seventeen gallons of beautiful, delicious liquid gold. He had planned to sell most of it at our local farmer’s market. In fact, he joined and paid his dues, but with the moving of two houses, there was just not enough time to go even once. We had plenty of syrup for our family, plus lots of giveaways to friends and extended family, four gallons of which went to the old farmer on whose property he bowhunts. Mr. Eugene has diabetes, and he swears that since he started using maple syrup for all his sweetening, he’s been able to keep his blood sugar counts under control. That’s a lot of syrup for one man to use in a year’s time. Even with all the giveaways, David managed to sell almost $400 worth.

We’re hoping this year’s weather will cooperate and give a bounty of sap. We don’t have as many maple trees on this property, but our next-door neighbor has eleven acres, and they told him he could tap all he wants. Plus, our former neighbor and friend is letting him tap trees there, as he has done the past two years. And the couple who bought our house is letting him tap there, so it all depends on Mother Nature.

Speaking of Mother Nature

It’s -5°F here in central Ohio this morning, with a wind chill of -22°. They cancelled school again this week. Tuesday, which was supposed to be their first day back from Christmas break, was cancelled due to icy road conditions and snow. So, January is starting out like a bitch. Let’s hope it isn’t as bad as last January. Our furnace is pretty much running non-stop. We don’t have the wood-burning insert now, just a fireplace, which is so inefficient. We won’t even have a fire when it’s this cold, because you send more heat up the chimney than you actually get in benefit. I really miss that woodburner. Hurry up, Spring!

See you soon,

Susan

SIMPLE MUESLI

4 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup flaxseed

1/2 cup oat bran

1/2 cup toasted wheat germ

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup dried Zante currants, raisins, or your choice of dried fruit (I prefer the currants)

1/4 cup brown sugar

Toss all together in a gallon Ziploc bag and store in airtight container.

Random Christmas musings

I have tried to write two posts in the last week, both of which have ended up who knows where. Here is my third attempt. We shall see if it actually happens.

Superwoman is felled by nasty common cold virus.

Sick two days before Christmas with the nastiest cold I have had in a long time. I could barely raise my head from my pillow. There was still a mountain of gifts to be wrapped in the basement, hardly any of the food for the Christmas Eve Party was made, the house was a mess…I was panicking, when I could think straight. Finally, on Christmas Eve morning, I felt like taking a shower and getting dressed, but I knew there was no way I could complete all of the party foods on my extensive menu, so that was my first red pencil act, slashing the new appetizers I had planned to try, and trimming some of the cookie choices (thank goodness I had made some in advance). Then the hard decision of uninviting our friends and former neighbors, and the family who bought our old house. They were very understanding, and made offers of help, which I turned down. I knew I would barely be able to be presentable for my family, much less for anyone else.

I managed to get the pork shoulder browned on the grill and into the Crockpot, and spent the next five hours wrapping gifts, hoping that our son and grandsons didn’t show up too soon. I made it through the pile, and got everything organized for the Eve openings, and the gifts to be opened at home. There was plenty of food, even enough to send home with our son, and to take to my in-laws the next day. David just had a told-you-so look on his face, because he had tried to get me to cut back even before I got sick. My face just said shut your pie hole.

Macs are wonderful until they’re not

We’ve had this MacBook for four years, and had never had a moment’s trouble with it, except having to replace a battery about two months ago. Until last week. Because of my cold, I thought I had better clean the keyboard before handing it over to David on Christmas Eve morning. Forgetting everything I knew (my brain was a little muzzy from the snot buildup), I used a disinfectant wipe on it without turning off the computer. Big NO-NO! David since surmised that it’s possible that all of the errant and random keystrokes must have made it lose its mind. Things were going everywhere. Screens jumping back and forth, losing posts and comments in the middle of writing them, the screen getting larger and smaller all on its own, and other weird happenings. It was impossible to control, so I just gave up and hung my head in shame. It still isn’t quite back to normal. I’ve had a bit of a challenge getting this post written, as it randomly jumps the cursor to a different place in the text while I’m typing, so if you see some random words inserted in places where they shouldn’t be, don’t blame me, blame the Clorox wipe.

Christmas happens whether you’re ready or not

Thankfully, I managed to get the bare minimum done, and stayed on my feet until all the gifts that I spent five hours wrapping were opened in fifteen minutes by six insane kids. Well, the older four did theirs in that time, the two younger ones were overwhelmed and had to be helped. They had plenty of that, because the older ones had nothing to do after they tore through their own piles. By this time the toddler was showing signs of being sick as well. We had to start his asthma breathing treatments, so he wouldn’t end up in the emergency room. By 9:00 p.m., he and I were out like the Christmas lights.

On Christmas morning David and I always go to his parents. They don’t like to travel in winter, and we don’t want them to be alone on Christmas. When we had talked about going a week before, the toddler overheard and started jumping up and down, saying, “Go to Ge-ma’s and Ge-pa’s house! Go in car!” Of course, he thought we were leaving that minute, so it took a bit of convincing that we would take him along when it was time.

So, not having had time to get anything ready in the days before Christmas, we had to pack clothes, food, and gifts (which I didn’t even get wrapped, but they don’t care anyway) into the truck. At the last minute, Kaitlyn decided that she didn’t want to be left at home (a decision that she would later regret), so we had to wait for her to get her things ready, and decide which toys she would take. All the while, Joshie (the toddler) is standing at the door yelling “Ge-ma’s and Ge-pa’s house!” over and over. And it was raining, so David couldn’t even take him outside to run off a little steam.

We finally got on the road, and as usual on Christmas day, there was no traffic. There were also no restaurants open for a three hour trip, except a Pizza Hut Express in a truck stop. I faintly remember the same thing happening the previous year, but not in time to plan accordingly. The pizza was awful—too much cheese that wasn’t baked thoroughly, the sausage was gross, just ugh. We ate enough to keep from starving, and put the rest in the back of the truck to take to the in-laws. They think frozen box pizza is just fine, so…

When we arrived at the in-laws’ house, and after graciously handing them the plastic bag wrapped gifts, I had to immediately throw myself into dinner preparations. My father-in-law wanted lasagna, which was sounding less and less appealing, especially after the “Italian” lunch we had just had, but I soldiered on and finally produced a reasonable facsimile of his beloved lasagna by 6:30. By then, everyone was starving, because they’re used to eating earlier, so it was highly praised, except by David and me (we could barely stand to look at it), and Kaitlyn, who decided plain noodles looked pretty good to her. Joshie just ate some cereal and some of the bread.

David’s cousin George and his wife Linda, one of my best friends, stopped by while we were eating, and stayed for a few hours. I hadn’t seen them in quite a while, so I was happy for their visit, but I wasn’t able to clean up the kitchen, and Joshie had to have his breathing treatment, which makes him wild enough to shoot at. So, after having only a five minute nap in the truck, five minutes before we arrived, he was up, running around like a little banshee, until they left at 9:00 p.m. It took me another hour to get him settled down enough to go to bed. I managed to get a cover on the lasagna pan and get it shoved into the fridge, and get the plates into the dishwasher before I laid down with him. I fell asleep before he did, while he was still chattering away about airplanes and monster trucks and goats and Santy Caus and Let It Go (lay it go in toddler speak.)

Frozen is just another word for mind control

We made the mistake of letting Joshie watch the Disney movie Frozen a few weeks ago. Now it’s all he thinks about. “Watch Lay It Go!” We hear this at least ten times a day. He’s two and he knows a lot of the songs, and sings them, in tune. We have to watch it at least once a day. Aimee took him for his annual well-check on the Monday before Christmas, and his doctor was pleased with how smart he is and how he’s growing, and he cautioned that he should get no more than two hours of screen time a day. He asked if we were sticking to that guideline, and Aimee agreed that we were. At home, she added, “If you don’t count Frozen.”

I understand his fascination. I’m kind of in love with the movie myself. I’ve always loved a good musical, and this one has some very good songs. Memorable songs. The kinds of songs that wake you up at three in the morning with the lyrics running through your brain on a constant loop. Did I mention mind control? And this Disney princess movie is based on a story by Hans Christian Anderson, The Snow Queen. It doesn’t have just one princess heroine, but TWO, and they’re beautiful. One funny and clumsy, one sad and tragic, but loving and sacrificing for her sister. I have to confess, when it’s on, I sing right along with them, and catch new little nuances every time. The writers and artists were very clever in that.

Really, I’m almost done

So, I survived another Christmas. I’m hoping I can invite my friends over on New Year’s Eve for a few of the things that I wasn’t able to make for Christmas Eve. I’m not inviting them yet, because I don’t want to jinx things. I’m nearly back to normal, whatever normal is, and the toddler is off the treatments, and back to his toddler self. Unfortunately, I think one of us gave Ge-ma our cold. She seemed to be starting symptoms last evening, when David called to let them know we arrived home safely. I feel guilty about that. But then it wouldn’t be Christmas without some kind of guilt floating around me.

Here’s wishing all of you a belated Merry Christmas! And a very happy New Year!

What a spectacle

I survived Thanksgiving day (that hasn’t always been the case), avoided Black Friday like the Black Plague (except now, apparently, it isn’t just BF, it’s BF weekend), managed to divert most of my father-in-law’s minutiae-loaded stories to his son and daughter while I pretended to be busy elsewhere, and even baked a fifth pumpkin pie yesterday morning, because we were “running out.”

The said father-in-law and his dear wife, my husband’s mother, who is long-suffering in the extreme, left today. How she has put up with his long-winded tales that are always punctuated with “to make a long story short”, and his OCD about the way things are done, and his inability to EVER let her finish a sentence for the last twenty-one years since he retired, I have no clue. I would have either killed him or divorced him by now. But he is a wonderful man in many, many ways, and I love him dearly. I’m just glad that I don’t have to live with him. I suppose if I do at some point, then I will have to develop calluses on my ears, or wear ear plugs. Or maybe my hearing will be shot by then. For sure, my eyes are.

Or maybe it’s just my glasses. Everyone says “oh, I love your glasses, where did you get them?” JC Penney, if you must know. They always have that two-for-one deal and I needed prescription sunglasses as well as the regular ones, and I was at the mall, so. I love the look of them, too. The pearly white sides with the silver filigree pieces really complement the silvery-white hair that surrounds my face, and they kind of disguise the enormous bags under my eyes that seem to have developed in the last couple of years. They’re progressive lenses, which means I’m old and can’t see pretty much any distance without them. Far distance has been shot since I was 21, but about ten years ago I had to go with the reading and computer distances, and it’s a wonderful thing to not have to stretch your arms like that rubbery-armed super hero (can’t think of his name—another sign of old age), or not have to hold the laptop up to your face and type at the same time. But now they’re no longer doing two-thirds of their job. The middle and close up areas of the lenses aren’t working as well, and I’m having to remove them to read books and the newspaper, and hold them just so to see the computer screen clearly. So, I guess I’ll have to get new glasses.

I would like to be able to wear contacts, but I can’t get the danged things on my eyeballs without major effort and lots of tearing up, which makes me look like I’ve just been on a crying jag and also plays havoc with the makeup. The best option, I think, would be Lasik surgery, but I think I’m too chicken and would end up like Carrie Heffernan on ‘King of Queens’. You know, the episode where Doug decides to give her Lasik surgery for her birthday, and something goes wrong and her vision ends up being all blurry? That would be my luck.

The worst thing about wearing glasses is not being able to keep them clean. I think I clean mine at least a dozen times a day, because five seconds after you’ve done it, they’re smeary again. It drives me nuts. I don’t think I was cut out to be a glasses wearer. If you have good vision without correction, thank your lucky stars.

We finished up the leftovers today, and I sent the leftover leftovers home with my in-laws who will warm them up until they’re gone, because five times in a row is never too much. We had pizza yesterday, creating a little buffer zone between the two meals. I stuffed my face again today, but the plan is to have a big salad for supper. I put on my skinniest jeans this morning for a reality check, and let me tell you reality bites.

See you soon,

Susan

 

T’was a week before Thanksgiving…

I’m making Kroger rich. Seriously. It takes a truckload of food to feed this hungry horde of seven people in any given month, but Thanksgiving, lordy, do I need to say more? Probably not, but I will anyway, because otherwise there would be no point to this post. Kroger had a BIG sale last week on Land of Lakes butter, Carnation evaporated milk, and all things Thanksgiving related. It took me three tries to find those needed items in stock. Apparently everyone in our town and the surrounding area had the same notion that I did. I bought six pounds of butter, thinking that it would get me through the Christmas season as well. Ha! I’ve already used two pounds. We had a birthday yesterday (Kaitlyn turned nine), and I had to use up some peanut butter that had been shoved to the back of the pantry, so I made a double batch of peanut butter cookies, half of which went into the freezer. Then I made peanut butter fudge and chocolate fudge. I normally don’t do that until Christmas, but some of the family who visits on Thanksgiving aren’t here for Christmas, and I decided to gift them with some for their journey home. They’ll thank me later, when they step on the scale.

I bought the turkey yesterday. The fresh ones were put out on Monday, and I wanted to get mine before they were picked over. I usually buy the biggest one I can find. I was hoping for a twenty-pounder, at least. The largest I could get was about nineteen pounds, so I also bought a turkey breast (for which I paid as much as the whole turkey.) My favorite brand is Honeysuckle White. They have a new offering in the fresh market this year—an all natural turkey raised by independent farmers. I don’t know how much stock you can put in that statement, but the packaging is pretty, and I’ve always had very good results with their turkeys. They’re always moist and flavorful without the hassle of brining.

I don’t go in for fancy-schmancy cooking methods for the most part. I’m old school most of the time. But I do love roasted Brussels sprouts. That will be one of my side dishes. I bought those on the stalk at Trader Joe’s last week. I love the ease of roasting them. Cut the big ones in half, leave the smaller ones whole, toss them all with some olive oil, grated orange rind and the juice of the orange, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and some chopped fresh sage (or crumbled dried). The amounts don’t have to be precise. It’s all good.

I gave my daughter a list of things to buy and forgot that I assigned cranberries to her, so I also bought some yesterday. I have five packages of cranberries in the fridge now. Lots of cranberry dishes this year. Well, I’ve been wanting to try some Christmas jam, so if you’re on my Christmas list…

Speaking of duplicating, I also forgot that I told her to buy pecans for the pecan pies and bought two packages myself. Also forgetting about all the hickory nuts waiting to be shelled for the hickory nut pie (very similar to pecan pie.) David shelled them out this morning while I went for a haircut, and there are enough to make one good sized pie. If you accused me of having senior moments,I’m afraid you would be correct. In my own defense, I would blame it on having too many things to remember, and not enough brain to contain it all. I rest my case.

In case you’re interested, here is my Thanksgiving menu, which never varies, except for the vegetable choices from year to year.

Roast turkey (duh)

Savory turkey gravy

Dressing made with a variety of breads, including biscuits

Oyster dressing (because my father-in-law adores it)

Roasted Brussels sprouts

Steamed broccoli (because the kids won’t eat the sprouts)

Mashed potatoes (ten pounds, and they eat every scrap)

Candied sweet potatoes with maple syrup and marshmallows on top

Cranberry salad with apples, nuts, and oranges

Cranberry sauce made with fresh ginger, orange peel, and orange juice

Cranberry jelly from the can (because, again, the FIL likes it that way)

Homemade dinner rolls 

Pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies

Yep, it’s a sleep-inducing carb fest extraordinaire, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

See you soon,

Susan

Making do

“Make do, do without, use it up, and wear it out.”

My mother was fond of that old saying, and she put it into practice on a daily basis. No scrap of fabric, not one bite of food, no article of clothing or shoes was ever thrown into the trash. Mom even washed the aluminum foil and reused it over and over again, smoothing out each crease and folding it carefully for the next use. Our plates were so clean when we finished eating that I often wondered at the necessity of washing them. I tried voicing that philosophy to her once, and after receiving “the look”, I vowed to keep that particular opinion to myself from then on as I slaved over the sinkful of dishes.

I am my mother’s daughter, and I hold onto things, and reuse things that other people wouldn’t bother washing. There’s always more where that came from seems to be their philosophy. I do have to admit that when things get crazy in the kitchen, especially when I’m cooking a big holiday meal, I tend to not be quite as careful and toss for convenience sake. And I don’t save every butter and yogurt container the way I used to. I do save a few to put used oil and meat drippings for the trash. I have a hard enough time keeping my purchased plastic containers in order. I surely don’t need to add to the chaos.

There are two large containers of cast-off clothing in the basement to be used as rags for cleaning. If I ever cleaned that much, I would be worn to a frazzle. David just cleaned out his t-shirt supply after I told him I was no longer washing the ones with frayed necks. Well, they make great dust cloths. Ummm, I don’t do much of that either. It’s my least favorite housecleaning chore. I enjoy having a clean house. I just don’t enjoy the path that I have to take to get there.

I’m baking bread today. The aroma is wafting over to the island where I’m sitting at the laptop. We had to buy all new appliances for the new house. I thought we would be able to get by with the old oven for a couple of years, but last month it died. The door would no longer close, so it wouldn’t heat properly. It was a double oven—microwave on top, regular oven on bottom. I really wanted a double oven with two baking units like I had in my remodeled kitchen on Bear Swamp, but that kind wouldn’t fit in the space, plus I didn’t want a microwave taking up valuable counter space. I went with the same type, but with a convection oven on the bottom. I was leery of this move, because the one I had installed in the other house didn’t perform the way I had hoped it would. Pizza crusts didn’t brown on the bottom, trays of cookies didn’t bake evenly, etc. It was a GE Profile. I researched, mostly to read reviews, because all of the brands are so similar that one could easily say eeny-meeny-miney-mo, or play pin the tail on the appliance. The oven I chose is a Whirlpool Gold series. The convection feature works perfectly as far as I can tell, at least a lot better than the GE oven did. I especially love the convection roast feature. It beautifully crisps the skin on chicken, but leaves the meat tender and juicy. I can’t wait to try it on my Thanksgiving turkey.

I realize that I didn’t quite have a point here, but I was thinking about my mom and that started a little reminiscing. Hope you don’t mind.

See you soon.

Susan