Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wedding showers - gifts that last

When I was married, I adamantly refused to have a wedding shower. I have always felt that wedding showers were just a way to hit guests up for yet another gift. I'm weird like that. I absolutely, positively, in no way shape or form wanted one. So of course, I had one. My mom and sis threw a lovely party for me and it was loads of fun. But back before the party, my dear dad let it slip that a party was in the works. Now, recall how much I made it clear that I didn't want one, and you'll understand why my dad was panic-stricken that he had let the cat out of the bag. My sister, ever the resourceful one, salvaged the surprise by claiming it was only a recipe shower. Surely, I couldn't object to our family bringing copies of recipes over to share with me. No, of course I couldn't object to that - that seemed like a great idea. Grandmas, aunts, cousins converging on my mom's house for a bit of cake and bringing a favorite recipe for me. I thought the idea was grand.

As it turns out, this was a cover - the shower was a bonafide shower with gifts, games, punch - the works. And, as I said, it was a glorious party, even if it went against my grain to receive actual gifts. But the cool thing about this party is that most of the guests did bring a recipe. My sis spread the word about dad's faux pas, and the accomodating guests reached into their recipe files and brought along something to share. The recipes were all put inside a little binder for me, dated and autographed by the cook.

Funny thing is, I don't think I have one of my original shower gifts left - except the recipes. I'd be hard pressed to make a list of what I received, if I didn't cheat and look it up in my wedding album. Cookware, I'm sure. A nightie or two were probably in the mix, but all I really remember are those recipes. What means more is that some of the cooks are no longer near to me, some of the recipes gone from memory or practice. These recipes are something that I hang on to, that I pack up and take with me when I move, that I dust off every once and awhile and just read.

My plan this year is to take these recipes and add them to a larger whole. I'm going to make a book of recipes to give to my son when he's older, so he'll have the recipe for our favorite pie, our favorite cupcakes, our favorite Christmas breakfast. Maybe someday, his lucky partner will want to see these recipes and try making them, for old time's sake.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mrs. Stewarts' Bluing

Ever seen little old ladies with snow white hair? Not just grey hair - white, technicolor white. Ever wonder how they get that kind of color? They add a blue rinse. The blue enhances the white, making it appear even brighter. I'm not a scientist and I don't play one on tv, but there is something about the blue color spectrum that makes the eye see white more vibrantly. Well, what works for little old ladies and their hair also works for their laundry.

Mrs. Stewarts' Bluing has been around for 120 years; the formula virtually unchanged. Its purpose is to redeposit tiny particles of blue to white laundry, freshening up the color. It doesn't clean or remove stains; its job is just to brighten up whites. Now according to the manufacturer, there are other things this non-toxic and environmentally friendly product can do. Check out Mrs for more info on how it can help relieve insect bites, create a salt crystal garden, find plumbing leaks, mark ski racecourses and color flowers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Homemaking Courses - Majoring in home-ec?

There was a time when women weren't given access to all that academia had to offer. These women of yore had limited resources in education and often had to take training as they could get it - secretarial, nursing, teaching, and homemaking. Times changed and women can study physics, linguistics, microbiology - you name it. The world of education is now open to the women of today and hip hip hooray to that! But in this passage to broader knowledge, the skills of homemaking, the science of cooking, sewing and tending a home, were left in the dust.

Sure, I can see how that happened. Who would want to take a course in home-ec at the college level when the doors of knowledge were finally open? Plus, there are those in the world who say "Why train students in home-ec - is that really a college level course?" My answer to that question is that there is housekeeping and then there is homemaking. There is cooking and there is preparing meals. What's the difference, you say? What is the difference between a fast food burger and a homecooked meal? What is the difference between a cold drive-thru and a warm kitchen? Plenty. Homemaking requires skills that can certainly be learned through trial and error, but many fields of study can say the same thing. Musicians study and achieve degrees, as do writers, researchers, political science majors. So why should homemaking be left out in the cold? (Plus, what constitutes "college level" any way? Students at UCLA could take a course in the films of Keanu Reeves. I'd put baking up against Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure any day.)

Well, the sticky wicket here is that some schools are offering courses but in a religious context. Here's where I part company with many of my homemaker chums. I don't see homemaking and religion as two sides of the same coin. I don't think you have to be a religious person to make a good home and I don't think good homemakers have to be religious. It's fine if you happen to be both things, but they aren't interchangeable. Enter the program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Tennessee. The school began offering homemaking courses that were open to women only. I have a problem with that. Why women only? Can't men have a need to create a home for their families? Now granted, this is a religious school, so of course, there will be a religious bent to the program. But my issue with this is that homemaking isn't about religion. By creating a program in a religious environment and by restricting it to women only, the school makes it a sexist and cultural issue. Offer the program, if it makes sense to their students, but don't ban half the population from learning skills. Would we stand for such a situation if the class was about algebra or architecture?

Ok, this post is a bit preachy (I get the irony of that statement) and I'm sorry for that. I just take issue with pigeon-holes, square pegs in square holes and labels for people. Not everyone accepts what I do as valid, and that's ok because I don't let myself be defined by others' opinions. But education is something that should open doors, not close them. Courses set up to segregate students and pigeon-hole people just don't make any sense.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Stuffed Hamburgers

One of my newest eBay acquistions (I think it was two dollars) is Carolyn Coggins' Company Cookbook, published in 1954. It is an interesting book, more for Ms. Coggins' commentary than the recipes, but there are many that look worthy of trying. Here is one that you might want to try:

Stuffed Hamburgers
Makes 8 servings

2 pounds hamburger
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 egg

Mix thoroughly and press half the meat mixture into greased custard cups. Spread stuffing and cover with the remaining meat mixutre. Dot with butter or margarine. Set custard cups into a pan of water and bake in moderate oven (350 F.) 45 minutes.

Make the stuffing by combining 2 cups prepared bread stuffing for poultry, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, 1/4 cup melted butter or margarine, 1/2 teaspooon thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons hot bouillon. Combine ingredients in order given and blend.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Rain Man and pan(cup)cakes

"Of course, you can't have pancakes without maple syrup." So says Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, in the 1988 movie, Rain Man. I'm not sure I totally agree with Dustin on the syrup thing but I do love me some pancakes. My favorites are really thin, made with buttermilk and drenched in butter. My dad makes excellent pancakes. He doesn't use a recipe, he just tosses stuff in a bowl and it all magically works out to tender, darn near crepes-style pancakes. Pancakes must run in my family. My grandmother tells a story of waking up her father in the middle of the night (this would be during the Great Depression) and telling him that she was hungry. Grandpa Les got up and made a batch of pancakes for his daughter.

There is something so satisfying about a good pancake. There is also something really satisfying about a good movie. Rain Man fits the bill. It won four Oscars, totally deserved in my opinion. In honor of this Oldie but Goodie, here's a little pancake cupcake recipe. Of course, Raymond Babbitt probably would balk at the different shape of the pancake, but I hope he'd enjoy these drizzled with maple syrup.


2 cups Bisquik mix
1 cup milk
2 eggs
2 tsps baking powder
2 tsps sugar
1 tsp vanilla extra
Maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12 cup baking pan with nonstick spray. Mix Bisquik, milk, eggs, baking powder, sugar and vanilla until just blended - it will be lumpy. Scoop the mixture into the cupcake tins, filling almost to the top. Pour a small dollop of syrup on the top of each (about the size of a dime), swirling it in the batter with a wooden skewer. Bake cupcakes for 12 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Top will not be brown, but sides of the cupcake will be. Remove from pan, frost lightly butter and drizzle with maple syrup. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The homemaking wars

I read a lot of blogs. Many of them are related to homemaking, because that's my thang. I tend to think of blogs as people's homes - I try to wipe off my shoes before entering, sit politely on their sofa and make thoughtful comments. I refrain from stirring up too much because I'm a guest in their space and my mama didn't raise no party pooper.

I also read forums, which are really more the equivalent of graffiti on a wall. Writers tend to let it all hang out and not censor their thoughts or responses to topics. Now on some forums, such as those dealing with sensitive topics like politics, religion, what have you, I expect a bit of fire. Some people post controversial statements just to "troll" for comments and everyone gets all riled up. You expect that on some forums. But lately, I've been surprised at the amount of venom that can show up on forums dedicated to more tame topics. Want to start a war? Go make a snide knitting comment on a crochet forum. I've seen knitters respond that they don't even want to associate with people who crochet. Hard to believe, but some people take everything really seriously.

Today, while browsing a homemaking forum, I found a very contentious conversation. There was namecalling, swearing, liberal use of exclamation points and someone virtually huffing off and slamming the door. The topic? Doing it all in the home. The original poster was looking for some advice on managing her home when her husband isn't available to help with the kids due to work. The responses were mostly informative - lots of "you can do this" and "here's what works for me" stuff. Things sorta devolved from there. One poster had a different position from a previous poster and it snowballed. Suddenly, it felt like there was a camp of those who "can" do things and those who have to "hire help". I read all the posts and I didn't take the original comments as offensive, but someone else did and that's my point. Judgment - whether it is coming from an anonymous poster or a friend, a spouse or yourself is ever present. Dealing with that judgment seems to be the stickler for some folks.

It's funny, but I've seen the arguing between Stay at Home moms and "Working Moms" (as if SAHMs don't work) and I get why there seems to be sides on that issue - though I don't agree with those sides, I get the tension. But to find women within the SAHM camp tearing at each other, that just seems so strange. It's like the battle over crochet vs knit - both crafters work with yarn and sticks, what's the biggie? SAHMs all deal with being in the home and making their work easier. They deal with being at work 24/7 and always being oncall. They deal with guilt over less than perfect homes when they are home and "that's their job". They deal with finding satisfaction and recognition in their work, the lack of "employee of the year" awards and socializing around the water cooler. They deal with many challenges that don't crop up until you rise and shine every day to the same environment. Why then make even more stress by finding ways to tear down other people just doing the best that they can? I don't get it. Sure, I don't agree with a lot of what I see posted on forums, but even from the most opposite position I can usually learn something.

Ok, so I guess that makes me Switzerland - neutral, into fondue and chocolate. I'm passionate too and I often want to post that blistering response that I have ready to type, but I guess when it comes down to it, I'm just not into graffiti.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Betty Crocker's Building Block Cake

Photo from Betty Crocker
This was way too cute to pass up. I'm going to translate this to cupcakes with mini marshmallows but wouldn't this make an adorable birthday cake for someone? Get the info here.

Sorry Speck - I know I said I'd blog less about sweets, but come on - how cute is this!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cream of Tartar - what the heck is it?

Cream of Tartar pops up in recipes and I don't always have it on hand. Sometimes I leave it out, which is probably not a good idea because it does have a purpose. To answer my burning question of what exactly is this stuff, I did a little research and present my findings to you. Sleep easy now that this important question has been answered for us all.

Cream of Tartar actually comes from the inside of wine barrels. No fooling. The sediment from inside the casks is scraped out and then pulverized into powder. Why exactly anyone thought to do this is beyond me, but there you go. Traces of the sediment have been found in 7,000 year old pottery. No idea if it was actually used by the ancients, but you never know. If folks could build the pyramids, a little ground up sediment is surely possible.

At some point, an enterprising winemaker must have figured out that the powder helps stabilize egg whites when making a meringue. Some other clever person figured out that if you add it to baking soda, you get baking powder. I raise a biscuit to that swell chemist.

Cream of Tartar goes beyond eggs; it also makes frostings creamier. Durkee (the makers of many spices) claims that it makes foods more tender and that it improves the texture of cakes.

If you still aren't convinced that Cream of Tartar is worthy of space in your pantry, you can also clean with it. Recipes abound on the internets for cleaning stainless steel sinks, removing rust stains from fabric, getting rid of tough bathtub stains, cleaning copper - all kinds of tough jobs. Just google "cleaning cream of tartar" and you'll find them.

For those who don't have it on hand, GourmetSleuth claims that you can substitute lemon or vinegar in its place (at a ratio of 3x the substitute to 1 cream of tartar). I would fear that the flavor of lemon or vinegar would linger in your food, but I suppose it is worth a try. Easier to just pick up a little can of CoT for those meringue/frosting/baking emergencies.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Sweet-Sour Beef

Vintage recipes are the food equivalent of playing Russian Roulette. You just never know if a vintage recipe is going to hold up to modern cooking. There are lots of reasons why a recipe might not wow a modern cook. Oven temperatures, type of product used, and just changing tastes. I tend to try vintage recipes when nothing is at stake - no party, no company, just an average day when I feel like taking chances. So, do you feel lucky? Well, here's a 1957 recipe - untried by me - but recommended to the readers of Household magazine. Who knows, it might be a culinary gem. If nothing else, it's a way to use up leftover beef and to prep something for a quick weeknight dinner.

2 cups cubed cold roast beef
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup vinegar
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 package dry onion soup
hot fluffy rice

Brown beef cubes with butter in skillet. Stir in flour. Combine remaining ingredients, except rice, and add to meat mixture. Simmer for 20 minutes. Cool. Put in freezer container, wrap and freeze. Reheat and serve over hot, fluffy rice. Makes 6 servings.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Saturday at the movies - with cupcakes

For your Saturday viewing and eating pleasure, I present a cupcake recipe to pair with a movie. I'm a big fan of O Brother, Where Art Thou by the Coen Brothers. George Clooney is as funny as I've ever seen him and there are some wonderful character performances by Holly Hunter, John Goodman and John Turturo. The music is amazing in its own right - Olde Tyme never sounded so good. The song, "Man of Constant Sorrow" as performed by the "Soggy Bottom Boys" (really Clooney and his gang of escaped convicts) is a great ditty and the inspiration for these cupcakes. Enjoy some Cherry Soggy Bottom Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting:

1 package of your favorite yellow cake mix (or make up your cake from scratch, but I saved time to watch more of the movie)
1 can of pitted sweet bing cherries
1 can of chocolate frosting (again, or make your own)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and follow the recipe on the cake box for making the batter. Line your cupcake tins with liners and place 2-3 cherries in the bottom of each liner. Scoop the batter into a ladle and fill the liner 2/3rds full for each cupcake. Using approximately 2 tablespoons of the remaining cherry syrup, drizzle the top of the batter with the syrup just prior to baking. Bake your cupcakes as directed on the package (I used the shortest time range). Cool your cupcakes then frost with the chocolate frosting.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Chore Wars

This might only be hysterical to those of us who play online games, but I stumbled onto a site that encourages household chores with MMORPG rewards (think Everquest, World of Warcraft, yadda yadda yadda). It's called Chore Wars. Of course, the idea is predicated on the belief that people will be motivated to complete tasks if they are given imaginary shiny rewards like a +4 spatula, a golden plunger, etc. And of course, those of us who play those games have proven how eager we are to do just that.

For those of you who are similarly motivated, check it out.

Hey, if it gets the toilet clean, I'm all for it. If you want to join the Nostalgic Homemaking party, here's an invite. Watch out for attacking dust bunnies.

Friday Fiver - Five things I'm into this minute

For no reason, other than it is Friday and "why not", here is a self-indulgent list of five things that are at the top of my hit parade right this very moment:

1) Lost: Not the current season of the TV show, but season 1. Yes, I'm one of the seven people left on the planet that hasn't been watching Lost since the beginning. Hubby and I just started watching it and all I can say is Polar Bears? At the equator? What's up with that? Oh and Charlie is adorable.

2) Cherry chocolate milkshakes: Yeah, not the healthiest addiction, but Jack in the Box cherry chocolate milkshakes are really really good. Get one before they are gone.

3) Tea: This is kinda not accurate because I'm into tea all the time, not just right now, but tea is on my mind. Specifically Matcha green tea. I can't decide if I love it or not, since I had it in a blend with pomegranate, but I'm into the color it makes when added to frosting - gorgeous green.

4) Journaling: This too has been a long running interest, but I am currently working on a journal for all my housemaking adventures. Now I have a place to record things that work and things that were utter failures - besides this blog of course.

5) Chinese cooking: I've already blogged about Kylie Kwong and my interest in learning to cook chinese style dishes, but it is at the top of my interest list at the moment, so here it is. I'm really interested in learning to make dim sum. I'm into all kinds of "small foods" like petit fours, tea sandwiches, cupcakes, cocktail foods. Something cool about food that you can fit on a napkin and eat standing up. Oh and let's not forget anything "on a stick". Food just tastes better off a stick.

There you have my Friday fiver. Have a great weekend everyone.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

I'm a fan of the Barenaked Ladies - no not those ladies, the Canadian band. One of the songs that I love is "If I had a million dollars". There's a clip of the song on youtube, sung by sock puppets no less. Link to song.

But I digress. In the song, many things are listed as worthy of buying if they had a million dollars. One of the lines is "If I had a million dollars, I'd buy you a monkey. Haven't you always wanted a monkey?" Well, my mom has always wanted a monkey. It's been a long running joke that she'd love a monkey to sit on her shoulder. Sock monkeys have had to stand in for gifts, because as any Animal Planet viewer knows, giving real monkeys just isn't cool. But I digress.

This Valentine's Day, for Mom and all monkey lovers out there (that came out wrong) here is a little English Monkey for you:

English Monkey
1 cup stale bread crumbs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup cheese cut into pieces
Crisp buttered crackers - such as Ritz

Soak bread crumbs fifteen minutes in milk. Melt the butter in top of double boiler, add cheese. When cheese is melted, add soaked crumbs, egg (slightly beaten), salt and cayenne. Cook three minutes and serve on crackers. Serves Four.

Recipe from 1946, "A modern kitchen guide".

Love you, Mom.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Home product o' the week: Bon Ami

When I was a kid, my mom always used Bon Ami for cleaning. This was the stuff that we used to scrub the bathtub. It was abrasive enough to get rid of soap gunk but it didn't scratch the porcelain. There was always a can of it under the sink. My grandma used it too and probably her mother before her. It's been around since 1886, so I think that qualifies it as a Nostalgic Homemaking product, don't you think? Turns out this oldie but goodie is also a "green" product, which is nice. We could all do with a little less bleach and dye - well, except for my hair, which always needs those things.

Apparently, we were limiting ourselves by just using it for the bathtub. The folks at Bon Ami have plenty of uses listed on their website that go beyond the scrubbing of the tub. How about fiberglass boats and swimming pools? Grout, shoes and crystal candle holders? Plastic cutting boards and wooden decks? Yep, that too. All the uses are at the Bon Ami website, should you get your kicks reading websites for cleaning products. Hey, who doesn't?

This post sounds like a plug for the product, and I guess it is in a way. I thought it might be interesting to start a weekly post on common products that have been around awhile.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Magic kisses, no more

There was a time when NR's scrapes, bumps and the odd booboo were all made better with a kiss from mommy. The magic kisses worked for years, no matter the injury. At some point recently though, the magic faded away. Stubbed toes need ice packs and scratches need band-aids. Kisses just don't cut it anymore.

Last night, NR woke up frantic because he couldn't breathe. He has always been prone to croup as a little boy, so we thought it was just another episode brought on by a cough. Sitting in the steamy bathroom didn't help like before, the cough syrup wasn't working and he was shaky and looking pale. Enough of the home remedies, I thought. Time for a trip to the ER. Yes, he has a case of the croup, but he also has some pneumonia in his left lung. We just got back from the ER and he is comfortably settled on the sofa with his Spider-man blanket. I never wished more for those magic kisses, but at least he is alright and it wasn't more serious.

Being a parent is a tough gig when you can't do anything to make your kid feel better.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Meatloaf cupcakes

Ok, really, I haven't lost my mind. Well, I may have lost my mind but that was years ago. If you read this blog at all you know that I'm cookoo for cupcakes. Hardly a week goes by when we don't mix up a batch - if only from a box, hey there is no shame in that. Well, tonight for dinner, we'll be eating little meatloaf cupcakes, frosted no less with colored mashed potatoes. Oh, and don't think I'm the only one who thinks this idea is wunnerful. There are plenty of links for just this sort of thing on google. In fact, here is a recipe from Canada for you to peruse and you know that the friends to the north really know their meat products.

I plan to stud my "frosting" with green peas. I also plan to insert a little ketchup lovin' in the center of the cupcake for a saucy surprise. Oh and don't think I'm leaving them out of dessert. A nice batch of chocolate with vanilla icing will round out the night. Yes,even meat is not safe from cupcake baking tins.

Next on the agenda, crab cupcakes with seasoned cream cheese frosting. We'll see how those come out, but I'm guessing like a lovely crab cake. Here's hoping....

*I made these using ground turkey, ketchup and parmesan in the middle and a garlic & cheddar mashed potato on the top. They don't look all that wonderful, but they were seriously tasty.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Boysenberries, anyone?

When I was a mere slip of a girl, way back when, my dear Grandfather took me to a dog show - Pugs were his favorite dogs. After the show, we went to a restaurant and I had my first piece of boysenberry pie. Later in my youth, I savored boysenberry preserves at Knott's Berry Farm. We ate our fill of Mrs. Knott's famous chicken dinner, with boysenberry preserves on the biscuits.

I'm a fan of all berries. Huckleberry ice cream is one of my favorites and there is always a berry blend juice in my fridge. But boysenberries hold a special place in my heart. The boysenberry was created from strains of blackberries, loganberries and raspberries. It was developed by Rudolph Boysen in the 1920s in Anaheim before being resussitated by Walter Knott in the 1930s. According to Knott's Berry Farm, all current boysenberries can be traced back to the Knott farm. The theme park itself was developed as a way for visitors to pass the time while they waited for their turn at the famous chicken dinner. So boysenberries are a relative youngster on the berry scene.

It's funny, but I can't say that I have seen these berries utilized in the same way that raspberries and blackberries are used. You don't see them that often in smoothies or yogurt, it's unusual to see them in a pie unless you make it yourself. They are in the obligatory jam and syrup, but that's a bit limited, in my opinion. Berries are great in savory stuff too. I like boysenberries and balsamic vinegar, so why not give them a try in Boysenberry-Balsamic Glazed Chicken?

But if savory berries aren't your thing, there is always fresh biscuits with butter and boysenberry jam. Traditional, sure, but it hasn't hurt Knott's all these years.

Friday, February 8, 2008

You say catsup, I say ketchup

Ketchup - the tomato kind - used to be the number one condiment in the US. The honor anecdotally belongs to salsa now, but ketchup is still tops with the junior set. My son orders his "ketchup burger" when we eat out and there better be a pile of it on his plate to go with fries.

Ketchup itself though doesn't have to be made with tomatoes. The condiment was made with fish brine, according to I'm not sure I'd love fishy ketchup, but I do like fish sauce in some things, so who knows. There are plenty of recipes on the Internets that offer apples, onions and other unexpected bits in the sauce. For those who garden, making your own ketchup might be a good way to use up a bumper crop. And just remember that great scene in "Meet me in St. Louis" with Judy Garland's family making ketchup. That's about as close to Judy as I'm going to get (well, I did sing Over the Rainbow at graduation, but that is another, embarrassing story...).

If you are inspired to try your hand at making a batch, you might as well give the famous
Fog City Ketchup recipe a try. If the diner is good enough for Mike Meyers in "So I married an Axe Murderer", it is good enough for me.

If you are like my sister and don't care for dear old ketchup, try using it to clean your copper pots and utensils. Oh, and don't think your ketchup lasts forever in your fridge. I've seen it reported that ketchup only lasts one month once the bottle has been opened. My goodness, I'm still using some from summer of 2007, but I guess I'll be picking up a new bottle. Perhaps it was a rumor started by a certain company that starts with H.

Dinnertime - Survivor style

It's been awhile since I've watched Survivor, but back in the Richard Hatch days, the folks on the island had to get pretty darn creative with the few paltry foodstuffs they had on hand. If they caught a fish or something, that got added to the pot, if not, well, let's not imagine what else might get added.

So last night, still full from the Birthdaypalooza, I looked around my kitchen for ingredients that could be dinner. Things weren't that different from Survivor. I had some frozen ground turkey, a can of chopped tomatoes, some elbow macaroni, a can of enchilada sauce, some grated parmesan cheese. And thus, mexican-style casserole was born. Now of course, this casserole is about as close to authentic Mexican cuisine as frozen egg rolls are to my favorite Chinese restaurant. But like a contestant on an absurd reality show, I worked with the few ingredients I had that were edible.

Usually, my pantry is better stocked but I'm still hoping that we will be moving soon so I have been using up the "back of the shelf" stuff so I don't have to move it. Trying to travel light, as it were. If we don't hear from the sellers' bank soon, I'll have to break down and fill up the empty shelves. Bug larvae and tree bark won't be appearing in my grocery cart, thankfully.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Birthday recap - Or how i ate my weight in cake

All I can say is "wow, thanks mom!". My birthday was amazing. Mom made a delicious sauerbraten (see Monday's recipe) and we finished the feasting with a tremendous black forest cake, soaked in cherry flavored brandy. Holy buzz, batman, what a wonderful cake. Don't even think about those bakery versions with the day-glo cherry filling. Uh, uh, this had huge bing cherries, whipped cream, deep dark chocolate layers.

It was a wonderful birthday and even getting older was ok in light of the festivities. Three cheers for my mama.

Oh zephyr winds that blow on high


Wher I was little, I used to love the Shazam/Isis hour of power. I would run out to my front yard, arms outstretched, scanning the sky. I would spin around and chant, something that would let me command the weather. If even the slightest breeze blew or a cloud moved in the sky, I was sure I had caused it as Isis.

Last night, lying in bed, I listened to the wind whipping the trees around my house. Of course, the wind was nothing like the tornadoes that have caused so much devastation in the mid-west, but nonetheless, for this Seattleite, it was a bit scary. The windows rattled, the house creaked, the giant sequoia and norwegian maple were almost twisting from the force of the air. I thought about big pine trees crashing through the roof, pieces of the deck flying off to Oz and holes in the ground where smaller trees had stood. Listening in the dark, trying to sleep, I thought again of Isis and I wondered if my magic from childhood could stand up against the force of the wind.

*Photo found at Wikipedia

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Treats for the troops

Exploring some links on pages that I read, I found a great blog called World o' Jeff. Jeff relayed a lovely story about the cookies that his mother baked for troops in the Gulf War. The story so inspired me that I thought "Hey, I could do that." Thank the cookie goddesses for google, because I found that someone has that idea already organized. Treat The Troops has sent over 877,000 cookies to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. What a wonderful idea, says I. I'm going to jump on this cookie bandwagon and become a "crumb" too.

Never underestimate the power of a cookie. Let's hope with 2009, there won't be a need to send these cookies overseas anymore.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Shameless Self Promotion - June in the Box

I took the plunge and started my own little business. The retro homemaker, or anyone who likes things a bit nostalgic, will hopefully like my new "June in the Box" products. For those kind readers who want to check out my stuff, visit my new blog here. You'll find descriptions of what the heck I am doing, links to my products on both Etsy and CafePress and a place to sign up for newsletters, if that is your thang. Constructive criticism is certainly welcome and appreciated (I'm too gung-ho right now for any downers - hubby, that means you too!)

I'm really hoping to make 2008 an exciting new year with my little tiny business. Wish me luck!

Salad as therapy

Holiday Salad found here

What constitutes a salad? Well, that question isn't a simple one, really. It depends entirely on when the person asking the question lived. A salad in the 1920s would have looked like Tomato aspic or boiled vegetables. A 1950s salad would likely have included gelatin, cream and perhaps corned beef. Salads in the 1980s were big, full of chopped meats. Then we discovered baby lettuce and bags of tiny spinach leaves. And so it goes, as the stomach churns, so too turn the days of our salads.

As with many things, we are enjoying a resurgence in popularity for retro things. Retro recipes are coming back and folks are enjoying simple foods from their memories. Potato salads, fruit gelatin molds, shiny foods in technicolor as if right out of Betty Crocker's dreams. What to make of this? Well, I'm certainly not the first to think that all this nostalgia has much to do with our feelings about our country, our lives, in this modern age. Nothing feels as comfortable as tupperware bowls full of creamy salads and shimmery fruit molds, foods at home on our grandmother's tables.

Sure, there are some salads that I am just not ready for the return of - the corned beef gelatin is one - but I'll be giving some of the older molded salads another look. Cheaper than a shrink, a little salad therapy might be just the thing.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Sauerbraten

Gulp. My birthday is Wednesday. I don't like getting older. I like presents, cake and good food with my family, so that makes birthdays bearable. But getting old sucks. My dear Mom is making my birthday feast, for which I am very grateful. When I was younger, we always went out to some restaurant, usually fancy, and tried something new. But as I age, I don't care for that anymore. I want to eat home, with the kids running around, the dogs begging scraps and everyone pulling up a chair to my Mom's table. Much more pleasant than some stuffy restaurant and skimpy portions.

This year, Mom is making my request of Nanny Flay's Sauerbraten. Bobby Flay, that grilling guru, has shared a family recipe for sauerbraten that I really like. Mom is going to pair this with black forest cake for my birthday, which really is just for me because nobody else in the family likes cherries with chocolate. I guess that is the privilege of getting old - getting to pick what you want. Well, that too makes getting old slightly less awful.

Bake up apples for applesauce and you'll have a great meal. If you gotta have a birthday (which beats the alternative of not having one), this is the way to have it. Thanks, Mom!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

American Eats

For those who get the History channel on their tvs, you might want to check out a show called American Eats. There are many "history of food" shows, but this one has some interesting facts and images from our culinary past. I liked it right away when I heard the narrator comment that worrying about nutrition is a luxury. That certainly is the truth, as it is true about organic food, local food, or any other limitations we put on our diets. Eating junk food and crummy fast food is easy. Eating well is the trick.

The show doesn't just hit on food itself; it explores the work of the creators and the times in which the food was born. We learned about the unusual ideas practiced at Dr. John Kellogg's Battle Creek Sanitarium (see the film, Road to Wellville, for an exaggerated idea of Kellogg health regimes.) Just imagine yogurt enemas - no, I'm not kidding. I can just guess how Dr. Kellogg would feel about frosted flakes.

There is some great history on truly American foods like chop suey, chimichangas, hamburgers, even Chef Boyardee canned pasta. (Just think, there actually was a real Chef Boiardi who was a famous chef in the 1920s, known for his amazing Italian cuisine. Wow, hard to picture that when opening up a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti.)

I love hearing the stories of immigrant populations that came to America, found ways of cooking that were assimilated into American culture, and those very foods became part and parcel to our diets. I can't imagine a better illustration for a melting pot culture.

Sure, a lot of the food we think of quintessentially American can be crap - hot dog, anyone - but much of it is more than just the sum of its common parts.

Check it out, if you get a chance. Some of it will make you scratch your head in wonder, but some of it is just plain interesting.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Grandma's sheets

My grandmother's house burned down in July. It was a horrific experience, one that our family is still coping with, even now. Thankfully, only her possessions were destroyed, but those possessions included family photos and keepsakes.

I've been keeping flannel sheets on my bed this winter but the other night I changed my sheets and didn't get the flannels washed in time for bed. Out came my warmer weather sheets, the ones with the insanely high thread count. It's been awhile since I used these so slipping into the sheets, I was surprised at how soft they really were, especially compared to flannel. While marveling at the softness of the sheets, I thought about the sheets my grandma used to keep on the spare bed in her home.

Lord knows that those sheets weren't high thread count. They were basic cotton, but they were worn to a smoothness that rivals silk. Instead of getting nubby, as sheets usually do with frequent use, they were soft. Grandma's bed had these soft old sheets, a scratchy wool blanket topped with a quilt that too was soft from use, and feather pillows. The old wood bedframe creaked and the clock in the living room chimed way too often. Waking up in the morning in that bed, the scent of bacon and coffee wafting under the bedroom door, those sheets felt as soft as anything.

Those sheets, that bed, that clock, everything is gone. It had been years since I'd slept in that bed. Grandpa was still alive then, I was probably still a teenager. I can't even remember why I would have been staying in her house since it was right next door to my parents' home, but I was there.

Funny the small things you remember. Something as simple as sheets can prompt a memory.

*For those wanting to soften up new sheets, try a 1/4 cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle. It helps removing the sizing and other chemicals added to new sheets.