Monday, December 15, 2008

My blog has moved!

I've moved! The new blog (same gooey filling) is at Wordpress.

See you over there!

Random Recipe Monday - Snowball Potatoes

Apparently, I laughed a little too soon about the snow. We had another two hours of snow in the afternoon, which didn't add up to much but which did add plenty of ice. The road is still iced up today and Mama doesn't drive in the snow/ice, so I'm homebound. No Donner Party moments ahead though; I have some stuff in the freezer. I think a nice meatloaf might be in order (much to NR's sadness, I'm afraid). But perhaps I can tempt him with some snowball potatoes.

I haven't made these before but they do remind me of the klub that I still need to make for Dad - although with cheese inside the potato instead of ham (and they are baked, not boiled - alright they are nothing like klub). Of course, NR doesn't love mashed potatoes or cheese so on second thought, he might not be a fan. Then again, he is a sucker for advertising. The chance to eat snowballs for dinner just might be too much to pass up.

Potato Snowballs (by Ingrid Hoffman)


* 4 medium russet potatoes, peeled
* 1 tablespoon salt
* 2 ounces Oaxaca or any other soft white cheese, cubed
* 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
* Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Put potatoes in a large pot and fill with water until potatoes are just covered. Add the 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are very soft, about 40 minutes.

Press potatoes through a potato ricer or pulse in a bowl with an immersion hand blender until they are mashed. Let sit for a few minutes until just cool enough to handle.

Cut the white cheese in 1/2-inch cubes.

Prepare a baking sheet with foil wrap and coat with vegetable spray or rub with oil.

Put bread crumbs in a small bowl.

While mashed potatoes are still warm, form into 2-inch balls and insert 1 cheese cube in center, then roll into bread crumbs and place on cookie sheet. Wash hands and dry after every third ball so the potatoes will form evenly and not stick to the bread crumbs in your hand. Quantity should make about 10 balls.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, serve immediately.

Recipe found at foodnetwork.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Oh the weather outside is frightful...well, no

At last, the big snow of December 2008! It's come to our neighborhood at last. If you blink, you might miss it, so look closely.

Though it doesn't look like much, I must say that it is slippery enough for danger. We watched a girl sliding down the street (as if on ice skates) hurt her leg badly enough that the paramedics had to come. We also saw the dumbest woman in the world get out of her sliding and still in "drive" car to assess why she couldn't manage to get up the hill. Naturally, she fell and the car started rolling away. Luckily, she was unhurt and the car didn't careen into the injured girl, which seemed highly possible. But it was tense there for a few minutes. Oh and I forgot to mention: she was driving a four wheel drive Lexus wagon. I wonder if it is just the snow that brings out the silliest in people.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bioluminescence, Tudor ghosts and Jane Austen the Sleuth - all before my coffee

I tend to get up before everyone else in my house. No matter how late I go to bed, I'm up first and I usually have an hour or so to myself. Typically, I spend it on the computer, surfing. I follow up on random thoughts, check out obscure news, add books to my library "to read" list - the usual kind of stuff.

But today I was a bit weirder than usual. I started with checking airfare rates to London and tour packages - mind you, there is no way I'm going to be able to go any time soon, but what the heck, I can dream, right? BTW, British Airway has $1100 tickets if you are looking to fly in May. There are also some great tour packages to Derbyshire here.

Ok, so that little jaunt led me to reminisce about a family vacation many years ago to Hampton Court Palace (Henry VIII's old digs). So I pulled up the website and prowled around there for awhile. Interesting photos and articles about the palace and a reference to a recent ghost sighting. Wait, what? I didn't hear about that.

So, off to youtube to find the CCTV video of the ghost. . Even a guest at the palace that day saw it so it must be true, right?

A little more reading about other spots we saw on our family vacation (Tower of London, villages in Southern England, Stonehenge - it was an amazing trip) got me thinking about visiting Derbyshire - the gorgeous scenery in the latest Pride and Prejudice movie. Well, since I won't be traveling soon I thought I'd check the library for any books on the subject. That search found me a series of novels where Jane Austen is the detective in murder mysteries. Yeah, there really is no historic person left in the world who hasn't been turned into a sleuth. Ben Franklin, Elizabeth I, Jane Austen...I'm sure there is a Dolly Madison or Prince Phillip mystery out there somewhere in the world.

Ok, so at this point, I'm thinking about England, ghosts, Regency England and of course, Christmas. This leads me to do a little surfing on Christmas past and I read a little about the Twelve Days of Christmas (boy that song is annoying), which leads me to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which leads me to an article that explains how bioluminescence could be why his nose glows so bright. So I guess that magic that makes him fly can't handle glowing nostrils.

It's an hour later and I've seen Henry VIII's ghost, learned about glowing reindeer noses, added a likely cheesy novel to my "to read" list and planned a vacation to England. What did I ever do before the Internet? All I can say is God Bless Al Gore for inventing it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Eggnog - not just for getting drunk anymore

Have you tried eggnog? Of course you have. Everyone has, right? What about real, bonafide, full of liquor eggnog? It is potent stuff. I assume all the liquor is there to kill any germs from the raw eggs but still, a little dab will do ya. Personally, I'm more of a virgin eggnog drinker myself, though a tiny dash of rum is a nice addition. The grocery store variety is ok with me - no worries about uncooked eggs there - even if it does have a zillion calories per glass. It's still such a holiday drink that I can't help buying at least one quart.

Which, unless you drink it all, leaves part of quart hanging out in your fridge after New Years. So what to do with the stuff? I wondered that myself and here are some interesting alternatives to guzzling down the nog:

How about an eggnog cupcake with bourbon caramel cream cheese frosting? Or perhaps a stack of eggnog pancakes on Christmas morning or New Year's Day?

Had enough sweets? Ok, what about chicken with eggnog cream sauce or eggnog sweet potato gratin (same link). Perhaps a slice of eggnog bread would be good with the chicken.

But, in the end, if you just want to just drink your nog, and you are feeling extra friendly toward those kind folks at the liquor store, here's Martha Stewart's very own recipe. (Be sure to read the disclaimer at the top of the recipe; it does call for raw eggs.) You'll need plenty of bourbon, rum and cognac on hand.

Cheers, everybody!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cranberry-Apple Crisp, why yes Mr. Darcy

As much as I tout the wonderful taste that is pie, I have a soft spot in my stomach (one of many) for crisps. Crisps, crumbles, buckles, cobblers - all the fruity goodness that is covered with some kind of blanket of crust. Sure pie is popular, friendly, wonderful to dance with - like Mr. Bingley from Pride and Prejudice (ok, maybe not the dancing part) but crisps have more depth. They are crisp, tart, warm but with an outer layer to protect them, a Mr. Darcy of the dessert world. Ok, yes, I have been watching Pride and Prejudice and reading the book, what of it?

Not to lose an opportunity to find my culinary Darcy, I thought I'd give a cranberry-apple crisp a try. It was recommended by Cook's Country, which I'm always partial to, and it has cranberries, which I love. So why not?

The ingredients are in my fridge right now, waiting for me to get off this computer and get to them. I'm behind schedule today, what with watching the Keira Knightly P&P again this morning (no, it isn't the six hour Colin Firth splendor but it will certainly do). Right now, I have to run off to Home Depot for a reindeer for the front yard (NR's request) and search out some ham shank for the klub. But I swear, after that, I'm ready for crisp. Honest.


Wow, I need help.

*Photo found at the New York Times

Friday, December 5, 2008

Klub? Yep, klub.

On Thanksgiving night, my father reminisced fondly of a dish his Norwegian uncle used to make - klub (sounds like cloooob). He remembered Uncle Oscar and Aunt Alma inviting the family over for a big batch, probably around the holidays. As with all Norwegian food, I was scared to ask what it was, but the two helpings of stuffing and gravy gave me fortitude. Klub, my father informed me, is a boiled potato ball/dumpling that has a bit of ham in the center. Nordic humbau, if you will. The potato isn't mashed or shredded, it is riced into tiny bits, to which a bit of Crisco or some other greasing agent is added. This mixture is wrapped around the ham bit and boiled slowly in a pot of water. Or that's the gist of it any way.

I told my dad that I would make some klub for him. Maybe it was my current Scandinavian Christmas fixation that pushed me over the edge or the Princess cake in Martha Stewart's December issue, but whatever it was, I agreed to give klub a whirl. Now, I must admit that this dish doesn't sound good to me. It has several strikes against it in my book, but I'm game to give it a whirl, provided I can find a recipe.

Now, you'd think finding such a recipe would be easy in this age of the WWW but those that I have found, I haven't liked the sound of. Some call for beef suet (no way) or pork hocks or salt pork (no thanks). I checked out a Scandinavian cookbook from the library, filled with just about every recipe known to Viking...except klub. Finally, I did find a recipe for Potet Klub that might fit the bill. It comes from the "Midwest's Number 1 Roadside Cafe" so how can you argue with that? I'll probably try it over the weekend and I'll let you know how it goes.

If anyone has tried this (Auntie R I know you have), please feel free to share your thoughts on what makes good klub. I hope salt figures into your equation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies

I personally have never had a sugar plum. I'm guessing they are dried plums dipped in sugar, but really I have no idea. I do like the sugar plum fairy, as in the ballet, The Nutcracker, but I don't know how similar the SPF is to the food.

Yesterday, I had a chance to see pint sized plums in action at my nephew's ballet class. He and the rest of the dancers (all girls) were rehearsing for their Winter performance. I should mention that they are three years old. Imagine an unruly line of tots in tutus and one strong boy in black tights and you can imagine how wonderfully fun it was. There was plenty of squirming and sillies while they tried to move into second position. Their upcoming recital is to the song What a Wonderful World (Louie Armstrong version) and it was absolutely precious to see them flapping their butterfly arms while they shouted out the words. They might not have been dancing to Tchaikovsky, but they were sweet nonetheless.

So these little dancers got me thinking about sugar plums. What are these elusive treats that inspired the ballet dance? I did a little recipe searching and wow, there are clearly no firm guidelines for what gets labeled a "sugar plum". I found pieces of candy mixed with chopped pineapple, cherries surround by oatmeal, breads and cakes. It's doubtful that most of these concoctions would have even been available in 19th century Russia. So what is the real deal? Well, I have found a recipe for drying and sugaring plums, updated from a 16th century version. For those interested in drying their own plums, check it out here. I also found an interesting discussion about a dried fruit and nut version, inspired by Turkish candies. Given that The Nutcracker has an exotic local, maybe this is what Tchaikovsky had in mind when he wrote the music.

So the dried sugared fruit or the nut/fruit concoction - I don't know which is the real "sugar plum" treat of Tchaikovsky and Twas the Night Before Christmas. I guess the only visions of sugar plums dancing in my head will be those little ballerinas/ballet dancer working on their pirouettes.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"You are a good housekeeper, Mommy..."

"You keep the flies out of the house." High praise from my eight year old. I guess I should be glad that he notices anything that I do around the house.

Last night, we decked the halls (or started the process, anyway) and put up our tree. I'm still working on how to get the outdoor lights strung, but here are a few snaps from the living room:
NR's Candy Canes
Our kitty under the tree - love the green and gold eyes
Close up of the mantle
My Scandinavian heart garland

Friday, November 28, 2008

The girl's got it

I've been a long time fan of Rosalind Russell. Ever since I first saw her in His Girl Friday with Cary Grant. She was the only Auntie Mame for me (forget the Lucille Ball version) and I absolutely loved her in Gypsy, even if her singing was augmented by another.

Yep, I think Roz was one class act - beautiful, hilarious, strong and sassy, and above all she had a spirit to carry through, in all her roles. Even in the comedic ones, maybe especially in the comedic ones, that spirit is there.

My sister reminds me of Rosalind Russell. Not only is she also beautiful, hilarious, strong and sassy, but most especially she has that same spirit. Nothing can stop her, nothing can hold her back or get her down. She is absolutely the embodiment of Auntie Mame's adage to "Live, live, live" and no matter what, that spirit will see her through.

Bee, I thought you could use a little lift to defy gravity. Love you.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sailing, pillaging and baking - it's a viking thing

Ok, so the Vikings weren't bakers; no room for a puffy hat on top of those horn helmets. But they did sail and pillage and generally roam the world, bringing back treasure to the Norse homeland. One of those treasures was cardamom. You know, the spice. You gotta hand it to those hearty seafarers that they managed to make it so far in their big dragon headed boats; depending on who tells the story, they picked up cardamom in India, Constantinople or somewhere in the middle east. And you thought they only discovered America.

So cardamom makes its way from Viking ships to Scandinavian bakeries. Quite an interesting tale, I'm sure, but we'll save that for another day. The point (and yes, I do have one) is that cardamom is a very popular spice in Scandinavia, particularly in baked goods. Myself, I really like cardamom. I'm not sure I could accurately describe the flavor to someone who hasn't tried it but think "sweet", "aromatic" and "pungent" (wikipedia's best description). Weirdly, it works in sweets as well as Swedish meatballs and even Indian curries (the land of its birth).

So, yesterday I baked up a coffee cake for breakfast, featuring cardamom. Inspired by my Scandinavian Christmas projects, I thought a wedge of this cake and some good coffee (thanks, Mom for the great "Royal Vinter") would start me off right. Sure enough, the cake was great from the oven but even better in the evening when hubby had it for dessert. I upped the salt in the recipe and I used ground cardamom, rather than pulverizing fresh cardamom pods, but otherwise I made it as is. If you need a nice coffee cake to take to the neighbors or when you go out pillaging on the seas, you might give this one a try.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ya sure you betcha, it's Christmas (almost)

I said this a few days ago but I'm excited to put up my Christmas tree. Some years, I really dread doing it and I put it off until the last moment. That's a stinky, Grinchy, Bah-Humbug kind of attitude, huh? Yeah, well, I have small streak of Grinch if I'm not careful.

But not this year. This year, I'm in the Spirit - spike the egg nog, Auntie Mame on roller skates, capital S kind of Spirit. I'm also inspired by those countries that know a thing or two about snow, the land of my forefathers/mothers - Norway. Yeah, the spirit hasn't completely made me crazy; I won't be sampling lutefisk or donning the St. Lucia crown of burning candles. But I will be adding some Scandinavian spirit to the festivities this year. What makes it Scandinavian, you ask? Plenty of red and white, heart motifs, snowy stuff and gnomes, of course. Well, that's my version anyway. I suppose someone in Stockholm might have a different perspective, but this is my interpretation.

I'll be conjuring up a few decorations and posting photos in December but I thought a little inspiration from Flickr was in order. There are some amazing (and mundane and weird) photos on Flickr, as well as some things that inspire me for Christmas. Here are some of my favorites:

The gnome knows...
Originally uploaded by DesignMinistry
The gnome knows....says DesignMinistry on Flickr.

Originally uploaded by Ravenhill Designs
Handknit Norwegian sweater transformed into a felted heart. Look for Ravenhill Designs stuff on Etsy.

Christmas in Sweden
Originally uploaded by Vif
"Christmas in Sweden" by Vif on Flickr.

Spotty heart
Originally uploaded by cowshedboutique
A Beautiful Norwegian Christmas Garland, Posted by cowshedboutique on Flickr.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

And have you met my house?

Manderley, Pemberley, Twelve Oaks...Fictional houses (or more likely estates) have names. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." is one of the best opening lines from a novel (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier) in my opinion. Part of what makes that book so great is the personality of the home. Mr. Darcy has Pemberley and Ashley Wilkes has Twelve Oaks. People in fiction live in houses with character, full of characters, and I think some of it has to do with names.

Real people live in houses with names too, though they tend to be more of the Martha Stewart variety (her home, Cantitoe Corners, not only has a name (albeit less poetic than Manderley) but also a sycamore tree as her motif). I think it is safe to say that most houses don't have names, let alone motifs, and I think that is a shame. Why should only the rich, those living on estates and with multiple places to call home get the fun of naming their house? Why is a rambler or split level or condo any less worthy of a moniker? Probably because we the owners feel silly calling our home by a proper name. There seems to be something pretentious, something fictional in calling a house by a name, right? Maybe that is because the only houses we know of with names are either fictional or belong to people who might have a reputation of being a bit...well...pretentious. (Sorry, Martha, but you know it is true.)

And I say again that is too bad. For all that our homes do for us and mean to us, you'd think they'd rate something better than "the house" when we talk about them. Even cars often get names from their owners, but houses not so much. Well, why not buck the trend and find a name that really suits your place. You could go hog wild and pick out a motif and fix up some notepads in Print Shop - something goofy or silly or even serious.

Why on earth would I do that, I hear you saying, you curmudgeon you. And I respond with Why ever not? Lord knows the rich get to have enough fun as it is; we of the more modest incomes can have some freebie fun ourselves. Besides, with hard times showing us all just how important our homes are, making them just a bit more personal and a bit more welcoming is no bad thing. And just to help you out, here's a little list of names you can freely claim as your own (I'll tell you my choice at the end):

Miss Equity
Dorothy (there is no place like...)
Fawlty Towers
Hatfield (or McCoy)
Ramblin Rose
Bedlam (sometimes that's the only name that fits)
Cozy Hole
Bag End (or insert your favorite literary reference)
Falcon Crest (or whatever 80s TV show floats your boat)

Me, I'm leaning toward Fanny. My house has a great fan window over the front door, but beyond that the name just makes me think of baskets of yarn, a fat kitty, books everywhere and a few cookies tucked away, just in case. That about sums up the house perfectly.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I knew there was a reason I voted for him....

Glad to know the next Prez and I share a fondness for cupcakes. I wonder what kind they were...

Oh and speaking of pie (weren't we?), don't miss this great essay about pie at the Huffington Post. I love the phrase Sentimental Americanism. Who knew pie is the salve that can heal our wounded nation. Well, duh, right?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Isn't it December yet?

I'm not sure what it is about this particular November but it feels like it has been exceptionally long. That's silly to say when today is only the 17th but it just feels like November has stretched out. Not that I'm bursting for December to come, I'm not. Don't get me wrong; I love December. Sort of. Preparing for Christmas is always a lot of work, especially when you are penny pinching. As much as I love enjoying Christmas day, the prep work leading up to it can be daunting. Especially when I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it right.

I always have this list of things I want to do, things that seem important and if I don't get to them, I'm disappointed. I wanted to make advent wall calendars this year for the kids; don't know if that will happen or not. I am still finishing up homemade presents, though I'm in better shape this year than I was last year. I want to really deck the halls outside with lots of lights but that is easier said than done when 1) you are afraid of heights and 2) you live in a two story house.

This year has an added challenge (or opportunity, if you have a good attitude) because I'm spending half of each day homeschooling NR. We're going to looking at different holidays, learning about Hanukkah and more about Christmas. We're going to talk about the winter solstice and Kwanzaa and just generally be really cognizant of each day during December and what it means to different people. That means I have to have my act together. Not only do I have to have the information but the activities, stories and songs that go along with it. Yeah, that's going to be challenging.

I could reduce the celebrating - forgo the Victorian high tea that I'm looking forward to, skip the local Christmas craft fairs, steer clear of the twinkling lights tours. Sure, that would free up a lot of time. But isn't it the special stuff that makes December, well, special?

So I'm not rushing toward December but I am looking forward to it. November has always felt like a placeholder month for me anyway. Sure, Thanksgiving is there for we Americans but as soon as Halloween is done, I start looking toward the evergreen boughs and Santa hats. Anticipation is 9/10ths of Christmas anyway, in my book. No, I won't get those stuffed "Twelve Days of Christmas" ornaments done in time for this year but maybe they'll be ready for next time. I just need to keep reminding myself that Christmas doesn't have to be perfect; we just need to be present and living in the moment.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Snaps

A new tea cozy joins his owl brethren.

Meatloaf basics

The stock for French Onion soup to come

NR's "Lion and Camp Bufulo" reminds me of Picasso.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Everybody needs a hero....

We all have people we admire, right? Sometimes for big things (Barack Obama) or smaller things (that nice lady who let you cut into line with just those two items). And sometimes, well...there's admiration that goes a tad beyond. I'm not talking stalking or channeling Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs - nothing too nutball, you understand. But I admire just a tad beyond a wonderful blogger named Alicia Paulson. Alicia's blog, Posie Gets Cozy, has a zillion fans so I am just one in the crowd, but I really enjoy her point of view, her wonderful craft projects, her beautiful photography, and her way of making each moment seem special. I mostly lurk on her blog, but I visit often and I daydream about being able to sew like Alicia, take photos like Alicia and generally be like the Oh-So-Talented Ms. Paulson.

You can imagine my captured heart's delight when I saw months ago that she had her first book coming out in November (see my link in the widget below - it's been there since preordering). With much delight last night, I opened my copy of Stitched in Time, delivered from Amazon. You know how some things just take you away? Like good books, favorite movies or even a long soak in the tub? Well, reading through Alicia's book was a little mental holiday and I enjoyed every minute of it. It's packed with gorgeous photos, adorable projects and just the kind of domestic bliss that I crave. I've even completed one of the projects for a Christmas gift and I'm working on another.

She'll be in town in December for a book signing and I plan to go. I've never had (or wanted) a book signed before but I really would like her to sign this one. Yes, I know it is a bit weird to be so interested in a total stranger, but that is the great thing about blogging - you get to know people just by reading their posts and looking into their lives.

So Alicia, if you stumble upon this post, thanks for having such a great perspective and a fresh look at homemaking. Best wishes with the book.

Book Review: Martha Stewart's Cooking School

Whatever your opinions about Martha, the lady knows how to cook. No flash in the pan is she; her many years in the culinary spotlight have proven her skill. Still, when I am looking for recipes, I don't usually check her website. I guess I have the impression that her food is fussy, that it takes exotic ingredients and that it is expensive to make. Martha's new book is changing my opinion.

Martha Stewart's Cooking School was just published in October, yet my wonderful library already has a copy. I'm glad it does because it has given me a chance to dig into this huge book without paying the list price of $45 (though Amazon has it on sale right now, so that's a good thing).

Written with an eye toward mastering the basics, the text covers the differences in certain chopping techniques (like what a medium dice really means versus finely chopped - yeah these things do matter if you want consistent results), when to use certain knives or herbs or kitchen equipment. The book begins at soup and each recipe is geared to teach you a different skill or to serve as a basis for moving on.

I made her version of beef stew (albeit with a little tweaking for family dislikes) and it turned out very well. Ingredients were added in stages, rather than all at once - which makes sense. The potatoes don't need to cook as long as the beef or they will get mushy. And true with all stews, it was even better the next day.

So if your library has this new book, I would recommend giving it a look. You might not take everything to heart but you might just rethink your take on Martha Stewart and her cooking.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - WWII cake

Veterans' Day is tomorrow. Right now, the population of new veterans seems to be growing and the population of old veterans declining. No matter the war front, we are grateful for their service and I hope everyone can thank their veterans or remember the ones that are now gone.

In that spirit, I thought a recipe from the past might be interesting and for those who are lucky to still have WWII vets in their lives, perhaps a bit nostalgic. I found this recipe at recipecurio, which is a new site to me but one I'll be checking out frequently - she has done a great job preserving older recipes.

This particular recipe was written in the time of rationing so you'll notice the absence of butter or shortening. Not such a bad idea from a cholesterol standpoint anyway. I think the "milk" should be whole milk though. The cake recipe is called "spring beauty" but lemon flavor in November sounds fine by me.


1 cup sifted Swans Down Cake Flour
1 teaspoon Calumet Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
6 tablespoons hot milk.

Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder and salt, and sift together three times. Beat eggs with rotary egg beater until thick enough to stand up in soft peaks (5 to 7 minutes); add sugar gradually, beating constantly. Add lemon juice. Fold in flour, a small amount at a time. Add hot milk and stir quickly until thoroughly blended. Turn at once into ungreased tube pan and bake in moderate oven (350° F.) 35 minutes, or until done. Remove from oven and invert pan, 1 hour, or until cold. Remove from pan.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

CCR and Chicken Fried Steak

It is a rainy gray day here. Not the kind of oh-look-it-is-raining-let's-get-out-the-galoshes kind of day, but the man-is-it-pouring-where-is-my-teakettle kind of day. Days like this inspire the comfort food craving in me, but for some reason I'm also channeling a bit of southern drawl too today. I've had Creedence Clearwater Revival on the brain and a hankering (how's that for southern) for chicken fried steak, with gravy, thank you.

While looking for economical meals that aren't all casseroles (not that there is anything wrong with that, but sometimes a girl wants meat), I stumbled onto a country fried steak recipe in my favorite southern cookbook, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea (see widget below for the link if y'all are interested). The beauty of country fried steak is that cubed steak is cheap cheap cheap but tastes great. Throw on some mashed taters and white gravy - mmmmm, sounds like some fine eating to me.

So that's what's for dinner tonight. Unfortunately, I can't find a link to Martha Foose's great recipe (the benefits of buying the book, I guess) but I suspect that Paula Deen's version might just work as well. I'm using cubed steak in mine.

Here's a little CCR to enjoy while you fry up those Fogerty found pants that matched the leather sofa he is sitting on is beyond me...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Taking the day

I'm taking the day to just let last night's monumental results sink in. Amid the daily stuff of preparing math lessons, drying another load of clothes, putting away dishes and worrying about the thinness of my wallet, I find myself stopping to smile, to tear up, to remember some of the most amazing words I've heard from a politician.

I don't think there will be a more important election in my lifetime. I will not forget the images from last night and the pride on all the faces in the crowd. Whether you supported Barack Obama or not, last night was historic and has changed the history of America.

Oh look at me, getting all Olbermann on you here. So I'll hush up and get back to making my lentil soup. But really, let's all take the day to reflect on this. What a difference 24 hours can make.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - American Pie

Well, it is here. Finally. After the longest election cycle I can remember, election day is tomorrow and the choice will be made. I'm so nervous right now. Even back in the 2000 race I wasn't this engaged in the outcome, this worried about the future.

NR and I are having a civics lesson about it tomorrow. He will be coming with me to the polls, watching the process. We've been talking about voting already - he has filled out ballots for his dinner selection to see democracy in action - but he is still fuzzy as to what the heck the United States is all about. (So am I sometimes) I hope he'll get a better idea when he sees the big map for the election returns and we talk about which states voted for Obama and which for McCain.

So, rather than post a real recipe, I thought a little nostalgic pie would settle my stomach. A slice of Don McLean anyone?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Spooktacular Fun

Ok, I couldn't resist the pun. But it is true - we had a very fun Halloween indeed. NR hosted his second annual bash and it was just the kind of party that I love - the kind where the guests bring all the food! Other than some cheesy brains and severed fingers (mac n' cheese with kielbasa), everybody else brought the goods. We had sticky bat wings and legs, lady fingers and men's toes, pumpkin dip, devil eggs, shrimp salad, pumpkin cake, popcorn balls and caramel apples, loads of candy and three rambunctious children. As guests, not on the menu.

Trick or treating, classic Scooby Doo and a rousing game of Betrayal on the House on the Hill - many highlights. But none higher than a performance by the ghost of Ben Cartwright himself...err...herself. So adorable that it had to go straight to YouTube. See for yourself.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I say pumpkin, vous say potiron

I'm very fond of Ina Garten, as you know, but I must say this: she is wrong. At least about pumpkins in France. She said in her new book "Back to Basics" (Lord love the library!) that pumpkin isn't even sold in France. I couldn't believe that so I checked. It is. She said that while in Paris she had to make due with a squash called potiron instead. Not to be picky, but a pumpkin is a squash and the french word for pumpkin is potiron. I don't know what Ina's gourd looked like but it was likely a pumpkin.

Of course, for my research I didn't actually fly to France and check all the market stands but I did use my old friend Google and I found recipes a plenty from french folks using pumpkin. One thing I did discover though is that pumpkin is typically only a savory ingredient - pies, muffins, bread are probably not going to show up on a menu any time soon.

So Ina, dear favorite of celebrity chefs, you might want to scope out the markets next time you and Jeffrey are in Paris. Perhaps you'll want to try this Potiron rôti:

"Roasted pumpkin stuffed with bread and gruyère cheese, from The Great Little Pumpkin Book by Michael Krondl. I learned how to make this fabulous dish from Alain Senderens, one of France's renowned three-star chefs. If you can only find big pumpkins, increase the filling and cooking time proportionately. Recipe

1 cooking pumpkin of about 5 pounds

1/2 pound loaf of French or Italian country-style bread

1 cup crème fraîche

8 ounces grated Gruyère cheese

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt and black pepper

Rinse the outside of the pumpkin and wipe dry. Using a sharp knife and cutting at a slight angle so the tip of the knife is angled down into the vegetable, cut off the top quarter of the pumpkin to form a lid. Use a large spoon scrape out the seeds.

Cut the bread into thin slices and toast until golden brown. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line the pumpkin cavity with one layer of the bread, spread with 4 tablespoons of the crème fraîche, a quarter of the cheese and a generous sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper. Continue layering (4 layers in all), finishing with the Gruyère. Set the top back on the pumpkin.

Cut a piece of aluminum foil large enough to wrap the entire pumpkin. Brush the pumpkin lightly with the oil. Wrap the pumpkin with the foil and place on a baking pan. Set in the oven and bake about 1 hour, 40 minutes. The pumpkin will be done when the outside skin has softened and a very sharp knife can easily pierce through to the interior flesh.

Remove from the oven, take off the foil and place the pumpkin on a serving platter. Carefully remove the lid and, using a large spoon, stir the interior mixture, making sure to incorporate the pumpkin into the other ingredients. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What happens when you reach "good"

Most people who cook (or basket weave, or skydive, or what have you...) have at least one or two recipes that they consider "good". They've mastered making a good spaghetti sauce, or a pie recipe, or egg salad - whatever. Something that they are known for making or at least that they and their friends/families really like. That's as it should be. You do something long enough, you ought to do at least part of it pretty well.

So what happens when you reach "good"? Does that recipe stand still and never get changed? Do you never look for a better pie crust or tomato soup recipe or glazed ham when you find something you really like? For example, I found an interesting recipe in Cook's Country magazine for the best roast turkey. Now I'm not famous for my turkey but the good cooks in my family have made turkey the same way for awhile and it works really well. Knowing that Thanksgiving isn't filled with angst of "will it be dry", I still decided to try the turkey recipe - partly out of curiosity (just how would salt pork figure into the equation) and partly to see if there is something better than really good.

The turkey was good - exceptionally moist and really easy (no basting at all). Was it better than the older version? No, not better, but equally good. Can two turkeys both be really good but different? Yeah. Will I make it for Thanksgiving? Yes, I think so.

I guess the moral of this story is that even when you have reached good - in whatever you do, it is still worthwhile to see how far you can stretch that label. Maybe the end result will be equally good, just easier or quicker; maybe it will be worse and you will reaffirm your old methods; or maybe it will be good - but in a different way - and there is nothing wrong with having more than one way to skin a that pluck a turkey.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Apple Cupcakes

Ever buy an ingredient because you need one tablespoon and then you have a whole jar in the fridge, looking accusingly at you every time you get something out? Ok, maybe not looking at you, unless the ingredient was a fish head, but you get the idea. Mine is apple butter. I needed it for the apple cider doughnuts I made awhile back and unfortunately, it seems to only be sold in giant jars. Go figure. So I've tried to use it in my oatmeal but at that rate, it will be a moldy oldie before I go through it all.

I'm bound and determined to use up that apple butter. I don't want to waste the money and truthfully, it is pretty good stuff. Enter Apple cupcakes. Half a cup will be used in making these babies and heck, cream cheese frosting on an apply little cake sounds pretty darn good. Good for Halloween, good for Thanksgiving, whateva floats your apple boat.

Any other ideas for using apple butter? Mine is heavily spiced so I don't know how well it would work in something savory, but I'm willing to give things a try.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sugar, ah honey honey

Halloween is coming and candy is front and center, as it has always been with the second most popular holiday in the US (generating six billion in sales - that's a lot of candy corn folks).

Everybody has their favorites and we all have memories of going through our trick or treat bags, pulling out the good stuff and leaving the gum, dental floss and peppermint hard candies for siblings or parents. Me, I can't leave a Reese's peanut butter cup alone, though tootsie rolls are a good alternative. Almond Joy, Hershey's kisses,, I guess the connecting feature here is chocolate. Now that's a surprise (yeah, not really).

As tasty as these confections are, have you ever wanted to make them yourself? Probably not, huh. Because it is easier to just pick up the package at the check out stand for a buck when your sweet tooth is acting up. But where is your innovating spirit, I say. Where is the famous American pluck and ingenuity (if you are American, if not - I got nothing) of your foremothers? Would Betsy Ross have just gone down to Wal-Mart to pick out a flag? Would Dolly Madison have let Washington's portrait burn rather than rescue it because she could just order another one from Did Mimi Eisenhower tell Ike to get his fudge from the mall? I think not.

But how can I make peanut butter cups, you rightfully complain (really, the whining isn't necessary). Never fear. Ingenuity and a good internet link are here. Make your favorite candies with these recipes. Peanut butter cups, Almond Joy, Snickers....yeah, the good stuff. No hard candy or sweet tarts. Now go forth and create some candy magic of your own, my fellow American consumers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What is the spanish word for "coincidence"?

Paella isn't something that comes up often in conversation - unless you live in Spain, I suppose. As delicious as the dish is, it is something I rarely think about and even more rarely prepare. I'm not sure why that is because it does have something for everyone - seafood, sausage, chicken, saffron. Perhaps I don't make it because of the seafood; hubby just doesn't partake. I could omit it but that would be shame, so I guess that's why it doesn't come to mind. Until now.

Coincidentally, my sister and mother and I were talking paella just the other day. We talked about whether a special pan is needed, what we would substitute for chorizo, if we wanted to, and the price of saffron. Well, what should be front and center on today as I started a little search for something interesting?

Yep, paella. I think I'll give it a try this weekend and see if I can make "with and without" versions for hubby and me. I'm a big believer in coincidence and clearly the food elves (or whatever else is in charge of such things) are pointing me toward paella. A few tapas wouldn't hurt anything either, and maybe a small glass of rioja too...hmmm, I smell a theme coming on.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Reading, Righting and Arithmatic

Big decisions always seem to happen on weekends. Go figure. Over the weekend, I decided that the home schooling idea I've been considering finally needs to happen. NR, who has Asperger's Syndrome (a form of autism), has been really struggling at school and it just isn't getting any better. But since he was starting a new (and better) school, I put the home school idea on hold and agreed to give them until October 20th (our conference date) to see if school could make it work. Unfortunately, it just isn't happening.

So, a new adventure begins - for all of us. I feel pretty comfortable with 3rd grade material but the trickier part will be getting his focus and keeping it. We're going to try some new ideas and abandon the school model of sitting in one place for hours at at time; it doesn't work there so why would it work at home? I think our day will be broken up into short segments and "teachable" moments as they come up. I'll have to learn all about documenting our work and quantifying what we are doing so we measure up to the state's standards, but I think this is something that we can do - at least for now.

Yep, a big adventure - as NR always says each morning "So, what kind of adventure are we going to have today?" Indeed, I hope this adventure will be righting some wrongs and helping him get back his sweet and loving disposition. Wish us luck; we'll be posting some stories from along the road.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Take the Long Road Home

Or alternatively titled "I'm a little bit country, I'm a little bit rock n' roll"

Our new house is in the rural suburbs. Not so very long ago, the area was all woods and farmlands. As the area has attracted more residents, outdoor shopping malls, drive-thru coffee stands and big box stores, the pockets of woods and meadow have dwindled but they are still nearby.

Dropping NR off at school today, I took a left instead of a right to go home. The long way loops through thickets of young trees changing colors, pastures with cattle grazing and houses dotted between acres of land. It's a far cry from the nearby enormous tracts of houses, in communities that could be named The Heathers at Golden River or Hidden Begonias or Spanish Bridle Trails or whathaveyou.

These mega-communities are all new construction, all painted in muted colors with faux stone fronts, with wide streets and sidewalks, carefully shrubbed common areas and bronzed lamp posts. I walked some of these neighborhoods yesterday, admiring the Halloween decorations and the neat planters of fall foliage that most everyone had displayed. None of the houses were shabby or ill-kept. The lawns were mowed and the driveways swept. It was a lovely, though homogeneous, neighborhood.

Unlike the long way home. Pastures saddled next to mobile home parks. Large homes surrounded by older trees and swaths of lawn. An espresso stand at the side of the road. There was nothing matching or planned on this route. Only the fall leaves and the pastures gave it continuity. The growth and development is ad hoc.

The new construction communities are the way of the future - at least out here in the burbs. And I can see why. It's comforting to see a community where all the homes are lovely and tended to. Nobody likes living next to the dumpy house painted bright green with the overflowing garbage bins and broken down cars. That's why people buy into planned communities in the first place - for that first-impression peace of mind, for stable property values, for trick or treaters and Christmas light displays.

I guess I'm lucky that I live at a cross-roads between planned perfection and country wild. Some days it is nice to put on my walking shoes and canvas the flat sidewalks and gently curbed roads. Some days it is nice to take a left instead of a right and watch bulls grazing on scrubby grass and piles of firewood stacked for winter heat. Each neighborhood has its downside, certainly, but on gloomy Fridays, it can be nice to have a choice on the journey home.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Show and Tell: Latest Crochet

I've been in full on crochet mode lately. I had put down the hook for much of the summer (too hot to hold wool) and I was focused on other things. But the cold weather has brought back the urge to hook and I've been working on some things - some old, some new. Some of my current WIP (works in progress, for the non-crafter) are related to Christmas, so I won't be showing them, but if I stick to my schedule, I should be done in plenty of time for the holidays.

I'm hoping to have my hook available for some new projects in November; I'm a member of a Jane Austen Book Club for knitters, spinners and crocheters. Our first book, Sense and Sensibility, begins in November and we get extra points for prize drawings if we complete Austen-style pieces during the reading. I'm hoping to make a spencer - you know, one of those cropped jacket thingies that show up in the Austen movies. I've found a good candidate but I'm not sure I have the oomph to take on something that complicated. We'll see.

Anyhook, back to the show and tell. Here are some things I've been working on lately.

This is a scarf done in the Bruges style - a type of lace done in Brussels. The yarn is made of Bamboo.

Bev's Kitten Pattern

I'm working on a blanket for Project Linus. This is a kitten pattern.

Gingerbread House

A gingerbread house for Christmas. I need to add a few more gum drops to finish it off.

For those who knit, crochet, spin or do just about anything else with yarn, I highly recommend joining This beta site is free and lets you track your projects, find great groups and forums, and access tons of patterns.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Substitute Blogger

I had one heck of a lousy weekend (or lousy Sunday, to be more precise). So lousy in fact that I have nothing to say today and I just don't want to "phone it in" as it were.

Luckily, I read blogs that have exceptional authors and interesting stories. Today, I found a wonderfully poignant story at Buck's blog and I thought I'd share it with you.

I'll be back tomorrow but I hope you enjoy reading about the Ken Kream. I know I sure did.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Of wigs and hooks and lemon chicken

Hubby and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary next week but sometimes inspiration just hits and I never look a gift blog post in the mouth. Love can be summed up neatly with a few examples:

a man who bravely dons a long blonde wig so I can work on creating a halloween costume like this:

a man who talks me down from the crochet ledge when my prized handcarved rosewood crochet hook snaps in the pursuit of the aforementioned wig.

a man who patches the aforementioned prized crochet hook with superglue

a man who already planned to give me two handcarved wooden crochet hooks to celebrate our fifth anniversary (wood, don't you know...)

a man who will brave lemon chicken when I make it, though citrus and chicken are not meant to be together in his world (Interestingly, I had chicken piccata on our first date...he should have known then.)

a man who will go out for take-out hamburgers when the flank steak didn't thaw for dinner

a man who will let me rant about politics and will help me see the humor when I'm raving mad at the current campaign

a man who tolerates (mostly) my yarn obsession and makes the right "oohs" and "aahs" over my in-progess Christmas gifts

a man who holds me up when I need it and doesn't hear "thank you" nearly often enough.

Thank you, hubby

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cook's Country

Depending on my mood, I'm one of those people who enjoy watching cooking shows (no surprise, I guess). I don't watch many and they are usually just for favorite chefs (Ina Garten usually) or subject matters (Ace of Cakes because I wish I were a pastry chef). Generally though, I'm not into cooking as a contact sport (Iron Chef) or reality shows set in kitchens.

But I've found a new show that I've added to my PVR - Cook's Country. This PBS show is from the folks behind America's Test Kitchen - the group that tells us the best way to make a souffle, what brand of skillet or coffee maker is the best, and why baking powder works. The Test Kitchen's goal is to give viewers the best version of something, be it pancakes, risotto, or snickerdoodles. The cooks make many many versions (30 batches of cookies, anyone?), get tasting feedback and come up with an "ultimate" recipe or technique.

Well, Cook's Country is the downhome or "American home cooking" version of this rigorous testing. I think the differences between the shows are slight but Cook's Country does have a great companion magazine. Check out the November issue - chock full of Thanksgiving advice.

Contrary to the idea that such shows are elitist, they aren't for the "arugula middle class" - whatever the heck that insult means; they help you improve both your skills and your kitchen purchases as well as making the most of your food budget. Nobody wants to waste money on ingredients only to make something that really isn't all that tasty.

You can check out Cook's Country online, in the magazine or on PBS. They are even looking for recipe tester volunteers, if that is your thing.

For me, I'll be doing a little testing of my own from the magazine - I'll let you know how the cider-braised pork chops and mashed potato casserole turn out.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Onions - better than ogres

For fans of the movie Shrek, you'll know that ogres are like onions (they have layers). And you'll also know that Shrek's pal, Donkey, would much prefer parfait layers to onion layers. But these days, I'm with Shrek; onions are just delicious.

Allodoxaphobia I don't have; I love onions in just about every form and variety. Cooked, raw, yellow, sweet, red, green. I also like them because you get a lot of flavor bang for your buck. Onions are typically inexpensive and can fill out a casserole, soup or meatloaf. But what about onions as the star attraction? Time for these wonders to take the spotlight, beyond the soup with the cheese and bread.

How about Sweet Onion Pie? True, cheddar and ham play a major supporting role here, but onions get top billing. Perhaps an Alsace Onion Tart, with bacon, cream and eggs would be better? Not exactly inexpensive. Ok, what about Sweet Onion Bread, using apple juice and ginger of all things? Maybe Sweet Onion Quesadillas would be more appealing. Me, I think I'm going with the Onion Muffuletta sandwich.

After all these onions, breath mints may be in order, but if you hang out with the right crowd, you can all be stinky together. Here's to having layers.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Sausage Manicotti

Me and Italian food - we go together like rama lama lama
ke ding a de dinga a dong. Forget Sandy and Danny, me and marinara are the best couple around. I'm kinda of the mind that even bad Italian food is good Italian food, so it isn't surprising that we tend to eat a lot of it around my house.

I'd like to say that my efforts are like Chef Mario Batali. Unfortunately, I have to admit they are closer to Chef Boyardee - but again, bad Italian is good Italian, so I soldier on. Spaghetti is far and away the most often prepared, but lasagne makes a good second showing. Italian meatball subs, polenta, baked ziti - all good stuff that shows up periodically on my table.

Well, Saturday night another dish joined the ranks - manicotti. I've made it before but for some reason I never think of it. Hubby mentioned having some at work and it sparked my brain into making it at home. I'm glad I did because it was easy and tasty, plus it made a nice change from the spaghetti. I made it with Italian sweet sausage, lots of onion and ricotta for the filling - but there are tons of variations. The one downfall was using an "on sale" marinara sauce. Man, the sauce does matter; don't just grab any old cheapie thing. Normally, manicotti takes tubular pasta but I like using the big shells.

Here's my version for your reading pleasure:

1 box large shell pasta (I used Barilla - my usual pasta)
Olive oil
One jar of marinara (get the best you can find)
1 package of Italian sweet sausage
1/2 large sweet onion, finely chopped
Salt, pepper, nutmeg
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Boil the pasta according to the package directions. Once they are done, drain and rinse in cool water.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons (or so) of olive oil in a large pan and saute the onions for about three minutes. Add the sausage, crumbling it up into small chunks as it cooks. Lightly pepper and salt the cooking sausage and onions. Cook until meat is no longer pink, remove from the heat.

Mix ricotta, beaten egg and parmesan in a large bowl. Add teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and a couple dashes of nutmeg. Mix well. When the meat mixture has cooled slightly, add it to the ricotta mixture, blending well.

Pour approximately 1/3rd of the sauce onto the bottom of your baking dish, spread to coat. Using a large spoon, fill each cooked shell with a scoop of the sausage mixture. Place each shell in the dish, top the shells with the remaining sauce and mozzarella. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes.

Chang chang chang-it-ty chang
That's the way it should be
Wha oooh yeah!

Friday, October 3, 2008

A little oomph

Some days just take a little more oomph to get rolling. Whether it is the blahs, the blues or the I-just-don't-wanna-get-ups, there are days that make you want to give up on the world - at least for awhile.

For those days, sometimes I make a mental list of things I'm grateful for; not "big" things like NR or a roof over our heads, but little things - things that make life infinitely more pleasant or a rotten job slightly less unpleasant. Today is one of those days and here is one of those lists:

salted caramel hot cocoa - a new cocoa at Starbucks that is so delicious that I broke my sugar reduction plan to have it. Now, darn it, I need to figure out how to make it at home on the cheap and without sugar.

disposable latex gloves - when you have to do the bathroom cleaning and you have two males in the house - enough said.

a fresh mop for cleaning the tub and the glass shower doors - something that keeps me from kneeling into a wet tub or shower, sniffing cleaner fumes? Yeah, that's good.

a nearby library with online browsing - wow, has this saved me money from the bookstore. Just the place to feed my mania...err...passion for new topics.

new authors of good fiction - better yet when the books are at the library. Check out Brunonia Barry's "The Lace Reader" and Laura Dietz's "The Tenth House" - good ones for October.

earl grey tea - some days just need tea with bergamot.

casseroles - for when dinner has to be hot, easy and comforting.

favorite movies on dvd - some days just need a viewing of Almost Famous or Emma.

a clean kitchen, washed and folded laundry, new rolls of toilet paper - fresh starts can be very satisfying.

What's on your list?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The reality of economics in your stomach

We all know that prices are up for everything. Gas, heating oil, energy, the stuff traded on commodities boards. We all know (or at least have heard) that our economy is hanging by a thread, unless something is done. It's the something that has most people stymied.

I'm no economist but I've been noticing higher and higher grocery bills and I wondered just how much more I'm paying. Turns out, it is alot.

According to the Consumer Price Index (you can check it out at, everyday foods are up from last year. Here are a few eyeopeners from the August report:

bread: this staple is up 16% from August 2007.
eggs: up 7%, nothing to cluck about for sure.
chicken: up almost 5% - a wing's worth.
ground beef: is up almost 8%
apples: up almost 19%, that's a serious bite.
potatoes: 29% more for your spuds

The list goes on and on, just like the grocery bill. So, to eat the same foods you ate last year, you have to spend significantly more money.

Well, we can all go on diets based up on the CPI and look for low cost foods (oranges and bacon are good choices - doesn't that sound yummy...) or we can figure out how to get our food for less. Just like dieting, these ideas aren't news - we all know that menu planning, eating home, using leftovers, shopping coupons and avoiding convenience food saves money. But with the new CPI report coming out in October, we might have even more incentive to put those good ideas into practice.

Here's one way (more to come) that you can save some cash on a convenience food. Make your own Biscuit/Pancake mix*:

6 cups all purpose flour
3 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 cup instant nonfat dry milk
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup vegetable shortening

Combine flour, baking powder, powdered milk and salt and stir until well mixed. Blend in the shortening until the mix resembles coarse meal. Put the mix in a self sealing bag, label, date and refrigerate for up to six weeks.

Now, use that mix for casseroles and other dishes that serve up some leftovers. Here are a couple to get you started.

*Recipe found in the book "Homemade" - see the widget at the bottom of the page for a link to it. There are other versions with variations; check Google.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Remember K-TEL?

Back when music came on records, did anybody else buy those "greatest hits" compilations put out by K-TEL? I know that I had a few of them in the 80s, back when I was awfully fond of Lionel Richie, Thriller and Wham. Thank goodness tastes change. Although, strangely, I'm still usually listening to 70s and 80s music. Hmmm.

I mention K-TEL because my one year blogiversary is coming up in a couple of days and I thought that I would look back to what I posted way way way back last year (forever on the Internets, don't you know...). Unlike K-TEL, I don't know that I'd call these greatest hits, but it's fun to look through the bargain bin just the same.

For those who are long time readers (Hi, Mom and B) you might recognize my various fads; for the rest, I'm spinning some of the oldies:

My fascination with France: Onion Soup, scrambled eggs and a little peek into homemaking in la maison.

To Russia with love: a stew (see the comments for the recipe) and tea.

Waxing Nostalgic: brigadoon, June Cleaver, and aprons.

Thanks to all of you for visiting my blog and posting your wonderful comments. I really appreciate it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Pumpkin Dumplings

The word "dumpling" is so cute, don't you think? It conjurs images of "The Apple Dumpling gang" and big pots of chicken n' dumplings, and fat cheeked babies. It also makes me think of wonderful dim sum meals and things savory. That's good news because I'm trying to cut back on sugar. I know, no fun that's for sure. It certainly puts a crimp in my cupcake baking. But I can still make dumplings - especially savory ones.

"Pumpkin" is another cute word. My favorite word for adorable children, actually. It's also a versatile veggie that works for both sweet and savory dishes. So, just imagine when these two language lovelies get together. Voila, .pumpkin dumplings that work well with fall flavors.

More like gnocchi than your grandma's dumplings, the flavor is mild and more about the butter that the dumplings are sauted in, rather than a burst of pumpkin (I said no sugar, not fat...). You could amp up the taste by increasing the nutmeg but I like them a little more mellow, a little more of a background player to grilled kielbasa or pork chops. A little sage in the butter might be nice and I'll try that next time. But like all good dumplings, the pleasing and the plump goes hand in hand and that's what makes them good.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Whoa, Nellie

My head is spinning. I'm listening to news, trying to get a handle on everything that is happening right now. WAMU, bailouts, debate on, debate off, debate on...everything is spinning.

My first thought was a song (which is usually the case - former singer). I couldn't stop thinking about REM's "It's the end of the world as we know it". I was going to link the video. But I couldn't. If ever we were in need of shiny, happy thoughts, it is now.

Hang on folks, there is a heck of a ride ahead of us. I don't like spinning rides but I fear there isn't much chance of this one ending anytime soon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An apple a day...

Have you noticed that apples don't taste like apples anymore? Though not a fan of the Wachowski Bros, I must say that the scene from the Matrix where the character Mouse says "You take chicken, for example: maybe they couldn't figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything" has been on my mind. That's how I feel about apples now.

Apples taste like each other or nothing, depending upon the apple. Sure, some are more sour - granny smith apples hit pucker sooner than golden delicious, but the quintessential appleyness seems to be missing from the fruit at the grocery.

And no wonder. Out of the 17,000 different kinds of apples recorded over history, how many are left? A handful, a basket full - not even a bushel. I bet the local grocery store has five or six, tops. Talk about disappointing.

So I'm on a quest. To find the apple. The real taste of an apple. Not the bland juiciness of a fuji or the mushy graininess of a red delicious. I want to find out what apples really taste like - the apples from the past, when apples had flavor. (You know, back in the same time when roses actually had a scent. When we hadn't bred everything away for perfection.)

This weekend, we'll be heading to the local farms to see what's out there. I don't expect really exotic selections like the Allum or the Arkansas Black, but perhaps we'll find some gravensteins or pippins. Something with some character, some flavor, some zip.

Foodhistory's chart of apples will be on my bookmarks for awhile while I scratch this apple itch. Maybe I'll even look for a variety or two to plant in my own yard. I can't help wondering when we all decided that blemish-free fruit was better than flavorful fruit? Is a year round supply of bland better than a few months of wonderful? I think not.

If you have any favorite apple varieties, please let me know so I can look for a local sample. I'd love to try them.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oktoberfest, Ja ist es gut.

I think I've mentioned before that I don't drink beer. It just isn't my cup of tea, as it were. Ahem. It certainly looks good - especially those pints of Guinness or the Sam Adams commercials with the frothy stuff and loads of talk about winter wheat, hops and ale. The closest I get is using it in cooking.

So why would I post about Oktoberfest? Well, I think there is more to this German celebration than drinking, right? Ok, well, there is more than just drinking, anyway. There is also eating. That I can get behind.

I don't come from German roots and I'm not always partial to things that end in -wurst or -braten. But there are plenty of other hearty dishes that go nicely with autumn and heck, I'm always up for a good pretzel.

So, donned appropriately in lederhosen - man, these shorts are chaffy - and empty stein in hand, I'm ready to try out a few favorites (or culinary knock-offs, either way).

My first stop is a Fried German Potato Salad. I've always loved fried potatoes and onions as a side dish and this is a variation on that theme. I think a roast pork loin with beer sauce would go nicely with that.

We could finish off with some more chewy pretzels but I'm in the mood for something sweet. How about lebkuchen? (Think gingersnap but chewy). That should go well with a mug of...cider.

Whether you make it to Munich or not, enjoy Oktoberfest. It runs until early October traditionally, so you have plenty of time to polish those steins or savor that sauerkraut.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Autumn Snaps

Punkin at the State Fair
Black pumpkin table runner
A Vintage Halloween acquisition
Never going to turn red...
These either...
The moles are back...

Random Recipe Monday - Old Fashioned Chocolate Pudding

I am sick. I have been all weekend, but it has really hit the heights today. I have a wicked sore throat and laryngitis, which I tend to get when I'm sick. Go figure. In fact, this blog is the most "talking" I've done in two days.

When I'm sick, I go straight for comfort food - who doesn't it? Last night, hubby made up a batch of biscuits and sausage gravy for dinner. Yeah, for dinner. It hit the spot. Tonight, we're having pot pie - and I'm not even going to make them from scratch. Nope, going with the frozen Marie Callender pies that I keep in the freezer for food emergencies (they are quite good, I must say).

But one thing I will be making is this chocolate pudding because that sounds soooooo good on my throat right now. I've been drinking tea with honey non-stop and I'm in desperate need for something else.

This is no way to start off the autumn season. Ah-choo!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Minestrone, anyone?

Continuing with my veggie lust, I thought that a big batch of minestrone would fit the bill and get my family to eat some vegetables. Hubby and NR were both under the weather and I believe in the restorative power of soup. But neither guy is big on vegetables, so I knew the soup would have to have a bit more going on than just that.

Minestrone typically uses ingredients that you have on hand, whatever is in season. For mine, I used some zucchini, carrots, asparagus and some heirloom tomatoes. To make the dish a bit heartier, you could use potatoes or beans but I went with pasta and some meatballs. The veggies were prominent so it still is a minestrone in my book and it was tasty. Even if some of the veggies stayed at the bottom of the bowl, NR took in some, along with the broth, so the minestrone did its job. Plus, it made good leftovers. Here's my concoction:

Mama D's Minestrone:
1 sweet onion - coarsely chopped
1.5 cups chopped peeled baby carrots
2 cups chopped asparagus
1 cup cubed zucchini
4 cups chicken stock
salt, pepper, dried basil
1/2 package small pasta (I used orecchiette, but anything small would work) (approximately 8 ounces)
20 or so of your favorite cooked meatballs (your recipe or a good frozen meatball that has been thawed and cooked)
4 large heirloom (or flavorful) tomatoes, with juice

In the bottom of a heavy stockpot, over medium heat, add three tablespoons olive oil. Warm oil and add onions and carrots, saute for about five minutes. Add asparagus, zucchini, and stock. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add salt (about 2tsp) and pepper (about 1/2 tsp) to taste. Add 1.5 tsp of dried basil. Cover and cook 1 hour.

Prepare tomatoes by chopping into cubes, reserving any juice. Add tomatoes, reserved juice and pasta to soup. Increase heat to medium-high. Add cooked meatballs and cover pot for approximately 20 minutes. Check soup for seasoning (I added another 2tsp of salt) and pasta for doneness.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fabulous Fifty State Tour - Oregon and Sour Cream & Raisin Pie

I have always liked driving into Oregon. Sure, there is some gorgeous scenery, quaint towns and lovely coastline, but mainly because it means that I don't have to pump my own gas. Yep, you can't pump your gas in Oregon, and I find that very civilized. The state also lacks a sales tax, which certainly is appreciated by those folks who live along the southern Washington border and who don't mind committing a little fraud to buy big ticket items. Not that anyone from Washington would do such a thing.

The Beaver state has more than gas and sales tax going for it, though. It is the place for hazelnuts, peppermint and black raspberries - though I don't think I'll try them all at once, thank you. Lewis and Clark, the original road trip duo, explored there and who can forget the adventures of The Goonies along the coast near Astoria (goodbye, One Eyed Willie, goodbye). Matt Groening (Simpsons, Futurama), Ursula K LeGuin (fantasy author), Tanya Harding and Courtney Love have all called Oregon home - certainly all creative types in their own special way.

The state motto though has me puzzled: "She flies with her own wings". Ummmm...I don't get it. Maybe some savvy Oregonian can clue me in. And speaking of unusual, the state's official seashell is the Oregon hairy triton. Wow, that's something you don't hear about everyday.

So I guess this was a long way of saying that Oregon is a bit quirky - but in a good, wearing birks with socks, loving hiking and trail mix, we have 231 state parks, kind of way. And what better way to celebrate that off-beat spirit than a vintage sour cream & raisin pie recipe from Scappoose, Oregon. Nothing says off-beat like raisin pie to me.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Just a bit of harmless brain alteration, that's all

"Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" is one of my favorite movies. Maybe it is the new-school-but-it-looks-like-old-school claymation or the voice work of Ralph Fiennes, but something about that movie just tickles my funny bone.

So much so, that when I get a craving for Veg (vegetables for you non-anglophiles), I naturally think of the enormous specimens in the movie and the rabbit...err..rabid townsfolk that love them. Who wouldn't love a pest control company called Anti-Pesto? I'm mean really, what's better than that?

Ok, so this digression does have a point. For the last couple of days, my mind has become a "rabbity mush" as Wallace would say and I can't stop thinking about fruits and veg. It started with a huge pot of corn chowder, with tons of fresh basil (the recipe is at one of my favorite blogs, Posy Gets Cozy) and moved on to a severe thirst for apple cider (see the earlier post about the doughnuts).

Today, at the store, I found myself strolling the produce section, lingering over the piles of peaches and stacks of squash. I came home with a huge bag of fuji apples and the blackest and biggest seedless grapes since a trip to Versailles. These local grapes were almost as good as those, albeit far less pretentious without the mini-berets and tiny cigarettes.

See? Mushy mind, for sure. AnyVeg, I finished my craving with a huge bowl of butternut squash soup, sprinkled liberally with Goldfish crackers. While hubby and NR scarfed down their homemade pizza, I slurped down the squashy soup. Something clearly must be amiss. Craving apples, eating veggies and dreaming of salad is not in my bunny nature, as it were.

Oh, I was going somewhere with this post...ah yes, the squash. I tried a pre-fab squash soup and it was pretty good, though fresh would have been (and will be) a lot better. I'm thinking of whipping up a batch, with a bunch of fresh sage and a drizzle of cream. Maybe a nice salad with cranberries, sunflower seeds and a poppyseed dressing to round things out. Hmmmm...sounds like I need to get down to the local farms and see what's available.

Oh, right. The recipe. This is the one I'll be tinkering with this week, with plenty of nutmeg and onion. Mmmmm...onions....

I guess there are worse cravings than vegetables. Like cupcakes, perhaps. Well, maybe carrot cupcakes wouldn't be too bad.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Apple Cider "Doughnuts"

Apple cider is the quintessential autumn beverage. As hot cocoa rules winter and margaritas hold summertime, cider practically screams out "It's fall, everybody. Grab a mug and a sweater."

Drinking it, no sweat, but making it is another story. It involves multiple kinds of apples, an apple press and some patience - none of which I usually have when I want a mug. Thankfully, there are good brands out there for tasty cider and I don't have to worry about smashing apples in cheesecloth. For those who want to try it though, check here.

Almost as well known as the beverage, apple cider doughnuts are an autumnal favorite - especially in the northeast. I like doughnuts but not enough to contend with the frying; I avoid deep frying more for the mess than the calories. Luckily, a baked style doughnut (more a bundt than doughnut, but close enough) uses apple cider, so I can have my doughnut and eat it too. The recipe calls for a maple glaze, which I am normally all over, but I think that might hide the apple flavor. I'll test it with and without.

Sounds like a perfect pairing with a mug of cider.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dear Representative...

I'll bet you'll think I'm crazy. Or at least hopelessly out of touch. The country has so many problems right now - the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care...the list goes on and on. So with all these big problems, I sent a letter to my local representative for our state government. I didn't ask him about our state taxes, traffic woes or any of the other local issues that get everyone so hot under their collective collars. Nope, I sent in a suggestion that he get the ball rolling for an official state cookie.

Crazy, right?

Wait, hear me out before you delete me from your blog lists. Or better yet, read what I sent him. Then tell me I'm crazy.

"TO: Representative XX

FROM: Ms. Kimberly Devlin

SUBJECT: Designation of an official state symbol

MESSAGE: Representative XX,

I realize you are busy with campaign season right now but I thought I would send a short note suggesting that you consider proposing a new state symbol - akin to the official fruit, flower, bird, etc. I propose that Washington adopt the Oatmeal Cranberry cookie as its official state cookie. Why would I suggest something so seemingly silly, you might be asking. First, let me say that both New Mexico and Massachusetts have official state cookies, so we would hardly be the first to do so, though we would likely make a bit of news with it.

Washington ranks 4th in the nation for wheat production (for flour) and 5th in the nation for cranberry production - an official cookie designation could promote those industries. Washington has previously designated a muffin as an official state symbol (blueberry) so this isn't uncharted territory. Primarily though, my suggestion for this comes from a feeling that local government isn't just there to take care of the difficult, taxing (and taxable) problems; local government is also about fostering community and civic pride. If having a state cookie brings people together and fosters local pride - albeit at a bake sale or coffee house, then it has done a good thing for the people of Washington. Sure, there are many more pressing issues, but recognition that there are sweet parts to life is important too.

I appreciate your time in considering my suggestion.
Kimberly Devlin

RESPONSE: Ms. Devlin has requested a response to this message."

I'm not so loony as to expect that anything will come from this; I'm mostly curious to see if he will respond at all. I think he's running unopposed right now so odds are good he'll be back around in January. But I do believe that government can be more and do more than just tax us and fix bridges. That stuff is important, don't get me wrong, but recognizing two agricultural crops and fostering local identity isn't such a bad thing either.

Let's see what happens. Isn't democrazy...I mean democracy fun?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Swooning over Spoonflower

Technology can just be too much fun. Really, there are some gadgets, gizmos and whatchamacallits that are plain fun to doodle with and let your imagination run wild. Sometimes, my computer is like that - when it is working and all the tech stars are in alignment. I like to goof around with Adobe Photo Elements and play with all the different ways to change photos, drawings and the like. Typically, these masterpieces of mayhem just hang out in a folder on my harddrive, never seeing the light of day.

But now, courtesy of another technological whirligig, my jpegs can become fabric. Spoonflower is a beta site that lets people register for their turn to take doodles, photos, artwork of all kinds and transform them into fabric. What's the point of that, says the uncrafty among us. Well, what about curtains for a kids bedroom featuring their own artwork? Favorite family photos transformed into wearable art or reupholstered pillows featuring your sketches or favorite quotes. Get where I am going with this? Nifty in a big way.

I finally got my invitation to join (I signed up earlier in the summer). There is no cost to register and once you get the golden email, you can just upload your jpegs and select the size fabric you want to purchase (from swatches to yards). The shipping is dirt cheap (one dollar) and the fabric prices aren't bad considering it is custom work. Until my own swatch arrives, I won't be able to comment on the quality, but I have a good feeling that the end results will be true to the visual.

Once my treasures arrive and I actually take the plunge and do something with them, I'll be sure to post photos so you can check out the results. I went crazy with a Russian nesting dolls theme-meets-Andy Warhol-Pop-Art-Wannabe so I'm anxious to see the finished fabric.

Whee! I love technology. Mostly.