Wednesday, 28 December 2011

We Will Have These Moments To Remember

Apparently it's ?Wednesday?  ?December 28?  Who can tell, other than a logical look at the fridge calendar.

It is December 28 and I am teetering on the edge of post-Christmas blues.  'Tis nothing serious, nothing more than the expected post-Christmas come-down.  We work so hard for Christmas to come and then it's over without much notice and we're faced with returning from extraordinary to ordinary.  Sigh and sigh again.

We had many so good moments this year.

We enjoyed every minute with Dean's family on Dec. 24 and 26th.  A fun memory of the 26th was going sledding with the kids and my brother-in-law (seems he and I, being the outlaws, have the outdoor gene), then playing a boisterous game of Telephone Pictionary after pizza supper.  The later the night got, the funnier the game got.  What a silly bunch of people.  Love each one of them.  On Christmas Eve, the oldest 4 grandchildren each gave a little Christmas concert on their instruments.  My, they are growing up.  I anticipate great music coming from each of them as they get older and start refining their interests even more.

My family was here for Christmas Day and it was also perfect.  As much as I love to cook and try new recipes, my Christmas dinner was pretty ordinary.  I brined the turkey again but by the time I sat down to eat it, my head was splitting with a weather-induced headache, and I really couldn't tell you if it was a good turkey or not.  The table was pretty, though....


...and I'm still glowing a wee bit from Dad's comment "you outdid yourself, baby." 

Seems kinda silly that he still calls me his baby when I'm 40some years old. 

But I love it.

I loved, loved, loved having both families in our house over the Christmas days.  The time with each of them went by too fast, but I know we were blessed to share time with them.  Too many families are separated by distance, illness, death, conflict.  We are blessed, blessed, blessed.   

Andrew played with his cousins this year.  Huh?  Seems he has taken on the role of the "older cousin" and happily entertained them over the past few days.  Where did that come from? 

Both Andrew and Ben challenged my parents to Scrabble games Boxing Day morning.  Good thing they didn't keep score and somehow the grandparents were pretty merciful towards the boys, accepting words never-before-seen-or-accepted on the Scrabble board.  They're getting soft in their old age....never let ME get away with that, haha!

I managed to make 15 crocheted scarves/head bands for gifts this year.  That was fun; yarn and colors and patterns are so fun to pick out with someone special in mind.  Just for fun, I looked at some crochet patterns today....yeah, NOT INTERESTED JUST NOW, THANKS.  I think I overdosed on crochet in December.  Give me a month or two, I'll be back.

I used some Christmas gift $$ and bought a new kettle yesterday.  And a new wallet.  I can tell that I'm kinda blue/sentimental today because I'm having a hard time throwing the old ones out, even though they're completely worn out.  The kettle was a wedding gift; I still remember opening it and can tell you exactly who it's from.  It seems that we are getting to the stage in life where our wedding gifts are starting to show their age!  The towels are faded out, the kettle stopped working, the mini food chopper's blades are too dull to be much good.  How did us two young people end up with aged gifts?  Guess we're not as young as we used to be. Hmm.

I suppose that we will all emerge back into regular life over the next few days.  There are still a few things on my "to-do" list that have not been done yet.  I'm ready for an evening full of board games.  I've watched one good movie ("The Help"), but am ready for a couple more.  Same with books. I've been enjoying the Starbucks Christmas Blend, but, yikes, the caffeine content seems to be hitting me pretty hard!  I guess I better ease up on that one.  Speaking of Starbucks, our coffee-loving friends will come to spend the day with us tomorrow and that will be really special.  As I work Jan. 1, New Year's Eve will be a quiet celebration.  And I'm more than ready for trips to the tobogganing hill, the skating rink and there may even be enough snow for snowshoeing.

And sometime between now and the new year, I will likely end up making a batch of Won Ton Soup.  It's just one of those things that I like to take time to make during Christmas holidays.  It's easier than you think and well worth the extra effort.  In case you want to try it out for yourself, here is the recipe:

Wontons

1 lb ground pork
2 eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped green onion
2 Tbsp soy sauce
dash of salt and pepper

wonton wrappers, 454 g (usually found refrigerated in the grocery store)

In medium bowl, combine the first 5 ingredients.  If the mixture is too soft, add a few bread crumbs.

Place 1 tsp of the meat mixture in the center of a wonton wrapper.  Moisten edges.  Fold over, forming a triangle.  Press edges to seal.  Moisten bottom corners, pull gently together to overlap, and press together.  Freeze or refrigerate until ready to use.

War Wonton Soup

1/2 medium head bok choy, chopped into small pieces.  (I have also used cabbage and/or broccoli and/or a frozen asian blend of veggies).
2 green onions, sliced
4 medium mushrooms, sliced
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup corned beef (thinly sliced from the deli, then slivered)
1 box shrimp (225 gram)
Wontons

Add all sliced vegetables into a soup pot and add the chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes until veggies are soft.  Add meat and simmer until heated through.

Bring back to a low boil and add wontons (about 32, don't overcrowd the pot, freeze the rest for another day).  When the wontons are cooked, they will rise to the top.  Serve immediately.

Hmm, if it wasn't for the fact that I promised Ben pork chops today, I'd be running to the store for wonton wrappers right now! 

I hope your Christmas had some moments to remember, too. 

And, by the way, I think that my Christmas was, indeed, peaceful.


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas Randoms

Lots of things zinging through my brain as Christmas rapidly approaches.

Randomly:

1.  Someone dear to me has told me many times this week to be at peace this Christmas.  To not rush and worry and work, but to slow down, be patient, and aim for a peaceful existence.  I cannot tell you how many times her words have barrelled through my brain.  She knows what it's like to be busy, she's a hard worker, has kids, works, etc.  But she is also going through a trial right now, the kind of trial that reminds you to not rush and worry and work, to slow down, be patient and aim for a peaceful existence.  Her words have been God's words to me this year and I am thankful for her.  Thanks JH-B!

2.  Next year, I beg you, if you even hear me hint at the words "I should make everyone a _____________ for Christmas" - STOP ME PLEASE!!!!!  If I say "we should just __________" remind me that no, we shouldn't just ___________".  And extra shifts the week before Christmas?  Bad idea.  Bad, bad idea.  I was asleep Friday night at 8:30.  Seems I am not as young and agile as I used to be.  Ahem.

3.  On the way to work one day, "Dominick The Donkey" was playing on the holiday channel.  In case you haven't heard the song, give it a quick listen here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ok5rOO2v2dU

Good grief.  At 6:45 IN THE MORNING my car is blasting with a Christmas donkey hee-hawing, over and over and over again.  When I got to work, that song wouldn't leave my brain.  And my work place is a noisy place - "NURSE, NURSE"....."buzzzzzzz"  go the buzzers....."ring ring ring ring ring" goes the phone...."LA-DY, LAAAA-DDDDYYYY, LAAA-dy", "nurse can I have my pills NOW"?  HEE HAW, HEE HAW, HEE HAW goes Dominick the Donkey....."    Can you imagine?  It was wild!  Dominick the Donkey indeed.  Dominick the Donkey should be shot.   Silenced.

4.  On the other end of the spectrum, Silent Night is moving me this year.  I think perhaps that is because I have this "be at peace" thing on the brain in the midst of my craziness.  It's a cry from deep in my soul - for silence. 

5.  The sound of childrens' voices is also moving me.  My boys are growing up.  Children are innocent and sweet and, well, they try hard and live eagerly.  Good life lesson.

6.  I never get everything done at Christmas.  Each year, I get some things done, but I never get everything done.  Some years, I don't decorate much but get all my cards out.  Other years, I am so on target with my cards, but hardly decorate.  I ALWAYS bake, but I never get all of my baking list done.  At some point I have to stop myself or I will fall over in a heart attack.  Truly.  I am terribly ambitious at Christmas.  Nauseatingly so.

7.  No Christmas cards were mailed this year.  Not one.  However, if you want to see a Dynna slide show, click here:
https://picasaweb.google.com/104099245676850185736/ChristmasEmail2011?authkey=Gv1sRgCPPzpdq15pCPgAE#


8.  Sometimes I get Christmas cards from the most surprising people.  I particularly get a tear in my eye out of cards from little old ladies at church.  You think that they don't much notice or care much about me, but along comes a gracious card with lovely words and I am indeed touched and blessed to be on their Christmas card list.  Maybe next year I should make them something.


....stop me now......I asked, right?  ;)

9.  Christmas traditions - I've worked so hard in my house to create at least some traditions that the boys could look back on and say "it isn't Christmas until....."  Turns out they can't really answer that question with specific things/events very well other than opening gifts.  I've pulled a few things out of boxes this year, expecting them to say "hey, I remember that!" and they really haven't remembered those things at all!  That's partly because, well, some years I decorate more than others, etc., etc. and some of these treasures haven't seen the light of day for a couple of years. Time is fleeting.  The one tradition that I do insist on, however, is putting up BOTH Christmas trees, as labor intensive as that both sounds and is.  The upstairs is pretty and we all love it.  The downstairs tree is full of sentimental decorations.  We try to add something to it every year, something that represents something that we did or something that occurred during the past year.  It was fun adding decorations from the Maritimes to our tree this year.  Last year, we added a carpenter in honor of our renovation, the year before we added two birds in honor of Dean's bird-loving grandparents that had both passed away.  That tree means a lot to us and we all decorate it and chat a lot while we do it.  Must.  Not.  Stop.  That.  Tradition.  Ever.

10.  The one baking recipe that ALWAYS gets made every year is Whipped Shortbread Cookies.  I like to try new recipes, I like to make things for each member of the family according to their food tastes.  And I think the reason that I always make Whipped Shortbread Cookies is because it's MY favorite!

Well, no recipes to share with you today. 

I really want to thank you for reading my silly little thoughts here.  This blog has been both fun and challenging for me, something "new" to me in 2011!  As long as my brain is connected to this, I'll strive to continue to write.

Merriest of Christmases to each of you beautiful souls.  And, live in peace, live peacefully, stay cool, and be at peace this year.

Love ya!
Maureen

One more thing...

Very thankful that you asked for the RECIPE and not actual COOKIES....

Whipped Shortbread

1 cup butter, soft
1/4 cup corn starch
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine all your ingredients in a Kitchen Aid stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Turn it on.  Walk away.  Come back when it is the consistency of whipped cream, don't worry, it will get there with enough time if your butter is lovely and soft. 

If you don't have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, you should ask for one for Christmas  put everything in a bowl, combine with a spoon, then beat with a hand held mixer until it is the consistency of whipped cream.  Endurance pays off!  Don't walk away.  Stand there.  When it looks like small peas, keep standing there, mixing with your little mixer.  By the next day, it should be good enough and although your feet may be sore, your cookie dough should be just about perfect.

;)   (Get a stand mixer!)


Drop by tsps on a greased sheet and flatten slightly.  I like to put colored sugar or sprinkles on top just to make it look pretty.  Bake for 15 min. at 325 F.

There!  Happy?  ;)

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

I Blame My Mother


I'm sitting at the island, with a seizing back.  Good grief.  I did it again.  I baked all day.

I don't know what's into me lately.  If I start a small-ish project, it just magically gets super sized right before my eyes.

Today's task was to start baking for the teachers at our school next week as part of the Parent Council teacher appreciation that happens monthly.  I'm not bragging about my participation in this at all, in fact, this is our 8th year at the school and, ahem, my first year providing this snack.  And, I'm only doing it because someone asked me to and I figured that I could ... so therefore I am, and, quite willingly, by the way.  After being in the school for so many years, you come to appreciate the sense of family that develops and so I will do a small gesture to let them know we notice and respect them and all that they do for our boys and our family.

Anyway, it's taken me a long time to decide what to make for their snack time.  Nobody can give me a firm answer on how many teachers/staff are on staff, but a wild guess at 43 + got me panicking.  What on earth could I make for 43 people???  At one sitting?  I thought about fresh cinnamon buns, but those are best hot out of the oven, and, they suggest the snack should be there first thing in the morning and I might be crazy but I'm not getting up at 0600 to make sure anyone has hot cinnamon buns by 0900.  Sheesh.  Dodged that crazy bullet. 

After discussing it with my "baking advisers" (okay, my co-workers during coffee break), I decided that cakes would do the trick and then I spent some sleepless hours (unrelated) last night deciding on what cakes to bake.  In fact, I had such a sleepless night last night that I nearly got up at 0600 to start my baking for the day.  How's that for ironic? 

Anyway, the long story made short is that, really, once you drag everything out to bake one, you might as well bake all four and be done with it.

And so, all four cakes are done.  I made a chocolate zucchini cake - and plan to ice it with brown sugar icing for the retro vibe, ha ha!  Cake #2 - hmm.  Brain fart.  What IS cake #2?  Oh yes - Banana Chocolate Chip cake and I plan to drizzle it (via piping tip) with cream cheese frosting.  Cake #3 - Pumpkin Streusel Cake that will be glazed with an orange/vanilla glaze.  Cake #4 - Carrot Cake, also to be drizzled with cream cheese frosting.

And then...........

Then there was the nasty, devilishly so, Angel Food Cake that let me down.

This is where my mom and "blame" comes in.

Growing up, I loved Angel Food cake - 'twas my favorite cake and most often requested for my birthday. 

My dear, sweet mother was, how do we say it nicely? ... not so good at baking Angel Food Cakes.

And so, as I grew older and eager to try making new things, it became my thrill to become the Angel Food Cake baker of the family.  In fact, a few years ago, mom just gave me her angel food cake pan, seeing that it was fairly useless to her. 

(Now I have to be up front and mention that I have never made an Angel Food cake from scratch.  I make it from a box, and if your culinary respect for me just went flushing down the toilet, I understand if you click on the little "X" in the upper right hand corner, never to return again.)

When I told my mom this morning that I was going to make an Angel Food Cake for myself for my (a-word-that-sounds-like-"earth")-day tomorrow, she told me "well, I hope yours turns out.  Mine always flopped."  To which I replied "don't worry, mine ALWAYS turn out and have NEVER flopped."

Yup.

Mine flopped.

And that's why I blame my mom.  I think she jinxed me.




....p.s.  I couldn't live with the flop....so I made another one.  And it's gorgeous!

See, Mom?  ;)


Flop:
(I know what I did wrong - I didn't let it cool long enough before taking it out of the pan)


Success:



Victory is sweet!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Push Push Push

I was standing at my stove this afternoon, making something for us to eat over the next two "fright" days (days where we are all going in different directions) and I realized that, food-wise, I do push my kids to try new things.  We aren't a "meat and potatoes"-only family.  I am constantly on the lookout for new recipes, new meals to serve, and, frankly, I just expect my family to follow me.

That backfires on me sometimes.  I get all gung-ho about a new taste/flavor, find the recipe, shop for the ingredients, cook the meal and then, just as it's ready to hit the table, this feeling washes over me...I'm not sure they're gonna like this....oh oh.

This happened last summer ('10).

Summer of 2010 was the summer of our kitchen renovation.  By the time July hit, the kitchen was completely demolished and there was literally no end in sight.  I had no stove, no table, no counter top; the microwave was in the hallway, we washed dishes in the bathroom, the fridge was in the dining room.  Everything on the main floor was covered in a thick layer of poly and dust.  We walked on bare wood and lived day to day around the presence of the carpenter and his help.  I remember taking a shower one morning, trying to get that done before the carpenters arrived.  Right as I lathered up, the carpenter arrived, let himself in the front door and proceeded to do some work right outside the bathroom door.  Ohhh, there were some crazy days.

Now, for a foodie like me, you can imagine that the culinary side of me started to suffer from neglect.  A co-worker brought something that she had made to work one day and raved about this new cookbook she was cooking through.  So, my neglected little culinary psyche went and purchased the cookbook and sat for hours on end, at the beach, camping, anywhere, reading through the recipes and dreaming of being able to cook in a fully functioning kitchen again. 

When it was time to go away to the lake, I made an ambitious list of things that I wanted to cook while camping and started to prepare a few things out of the new cookbook.

One recipe stood out in my mind and I was so excited to serve it for supper on one of the first nights at the lake.  The boys seemed excited to try it out and I got busy making it.  Not the easiest recipe to prepare at the lake, but, hey, I was used to no kitchen at home.  Just to eat something new and exciting was worth the humongous extra effort that this recipe required.

I imagine that, by the time we sat down to eat, I was tired from the overly ambitious recipe.  However, freshly cooked food!  Who would not be excited about that????!!!!!

Well.

Um.

One of my boys, who shall remain nameless, was not excited.  At all.

I served the dish and was promptly, VERY promptly, met with "I don't really like that."

"What?  How could you NOT like that?  What's the matter with you?  Try it again!!!!"  .......  push, push, push.

"No, Mom.  It tastes funny.  I thought I would like it but it's too ... {hot, spicy, flavorful, you know}".

And, being the mature person that I am, I handled his feedback extremely well.

I got up and left the table.

I took my plate and walked all the way down to the beach, by myself, and ate my supper, by myself, and watched the sun set over the lake, by myself.  In silence.

Methinks I didn't handle that very well.

After awhile, Said Son appeared at my table-for-one and apologized for his discouraging words/attitude.  Apparently, back at the campsite, the dishes were being done and supper was being cleaned up, and there was an apologetic attitude from the male crew, even though the other 2 had been complimentary.  And so I returned, rather sheepishly.

Was that new and exciting recipe worth all of that drama?  Probably not.  I do need a reminder now and then that you can't force people to be adventurous in the taste department.  And, try as I might, not all of my experiments are great.  ;)

Anyway, to make this long story have a point, today I decided to make that very same recipe for myself to take to work for meals over the weekend.  I had no expectations to share the meal, except with Mr. Dean, who could partake of some, IF he so chose.  I picked up a few items at the store this afternoon and started to prep the food after school.

Said Son walked by, asked what I was making, and then said "You're making that again?  I LOVE those!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

HUH?????????


Ginger-Pork Spring Rolls

1/4 cup hoisin sauce (Asian aisle)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp Asian chili-garlic sauce (Asian aisle)
1/4 cup water
1 bag coleslaw mix (or your own blend, it's cheaper, of cabbage and carrot, grated/thinly sliced)
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 pound ground pork
thumb size (or less) piece of fresh ginger, grated  (fresh ginger is a fairly powerful flavor, so start with small amounts and increase if you wish)
12 rice paper wrappers (Asian aisle)

Combine hoisin sauce, soy sauce, chili-garlic sauce and water.  In another bowl, combine cabbage/carrots and half of the green onions.  Toss with a bit of the hoisin mixture.

Cook the pork in a skillet (no need to add salt).  When nearly cooked, add 1/2 of the hoisin sauce mixture, the other half of the green onions and the grated ginger and cook until fragrant.

Add the pork mixture to the cabbage mixture and toss to mix.  *If you want to add a bit to this recipe, cook a handful of rice noodles (fine noodles) and toss this with the meat/cabbage mixture*.

One by one, soak the rice paper wrappers in warm water until soft (about 10 seconds).  Spread out on a towel or cutting board.  Arrange about 1/2 cup filling on each wrapper.  Fold in the sides and then roll up tightly, like a taco.

To serve, I mixed a bit of peanut butter in with the remaining hoisin sauce mixture - dip the rolls in the sauce.  Serve room temperature or cold.

Not the easiest recipe to prepare but well worth the extra effort!  The ingredients listed as being available in the Asian aisle are really not hard to find.  There are so many cool things to explore in the foreign food departments!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

In My Defense...

In my defense....we have eaten rather healthily lately.  Bland, wholesome, comfort foods.

In my defense...we have eaten almost every meal at home - no meals out.

In my defense....we had celery sticks for supper 2 NIGHTS IN A ROW!!!



So, you'll give me a little grace when I tell you I made a batch of homemade donuts tonight, right?

Ah, homemade donuts!  I have so many memories attached!

I do sometimes wonder how much I would enjoy cooking/eating if I didn't have so many food-based memories and emotions attached to cooking and eating.  Perhaps if I develop dementia somewhere along the way, I'll forget my food-based memories and become a fussy eater, turning my nose up at everything except toast and tea.  That's not very hard to imagine; I know many sweet souls who survive rather nicely on toast and tea.  But, hey, what's the fun in that?  Who wants to end their years eating toast and tea when there are so many other tasty morsels to partake of?  Not me!  If you're around when I am aged, please, I beg you, keep feeding me garlic and fresh cinnamon buns and hearty roast beef and the odd chai tea latte.  Thanks.  And, please, make sure my coffee is dark and hot with just a splash of cream. 

I'm glad we have that taken care of.

So, what kind of donut memories could I possibly have that are worth sharing?

Mom ("of course", you sigh) made donuts now and then.  It wasn't a regular thing - maybe once a year or so.  I remember coming off the school bus and into the house to find the deep fryer set up and mom ready to roll with a donut assembly line.  I am sure she planned her day so that we'd be home to help her with the job.  She'd usually have them cut and finishing their second rise and would do the frying.  We'd drop the hot donuts into a brown paper bag with white sugar at the bottom and shake that bag until the donuts were covered in sweet sugar.  Oooooohhhh.  Is there ever a more tasty donut than one just retrieved from the bottom of the brown paper bag, still steaming hot, covered with sugar?  I'm drooling, and I'm really rather full right now....

I don't know why I decided to make donuts myself.  I never even dreamed about making donuts until I was married and a mom.  I think I figured that it was one of those "you're a mom now, you should make homemade donuts" jobs. 

On the day of my first donut attempt, I searched through our church cookbook and came upon Anne R.'s recipe for spudnuts.  I remember reading that it called for mashed potatoes and I stewed and stewed about that ingredient.  Should it just be potatoes mashed up?  Or should it be potatoes mashed up like you would for supper with butter and milk?  Oh, the dilemma.  Like it really would make a difference.  (I did manage to figure out that garlic mashed potatoes would probably not work.  Yup, I figured that out all on my own!)  So, to clarify this massive donut issue, I called Anne herself and asked her that very important question.  Anne was (rest in peace, Anne) a lovely Polish lady.  We went back a long way; she knew my grandparents; her husband carried both of my grandparents to their grave.  She was old enough to be my grandparent.  And, here I was, somewhere in my 30's, asking advice from a baker who could bake anyone under the table (figuratively, of course).  She was a fine baker.  I remember that I told her I was trying to make donuts that day and she replied that she was too!  So we chatted about the recipe and she assured me that it really didn't make any difference about the mashed potatoes being just potatoes or having milk/butter added....I'm so sorry I asked such a silly question.  But I made the donuts that day and was so happy with the results.  That Sunday, Anne and I discussed how our batches had turned out, and I felt like I had earned a baker's notch in my proverbial belt that day.

Another day, I decided to attempt donuts again.  My long time friend, Karen, was coming for coffee and it would be so nice to share fresh donuts over a cup of coffee and a visit.  Both boys were young then and by the time Karen arrived, I was terribly behind in the donut job and totally stressed out.  I begged her to help me.  She and I fried donuts, every speck of dough, until they were all done.  I felt horrible for asking for her help that day.  I probably tackled a bigger job than I was capable of that day.  I sent lots home with her for her to share with her husband; she worked hard beside me until the job was done.  That's a good friend for ya.

Another day I made donuts during the school break when Andrew was in, oh, maybe Grade 1 or 2?  I thought I'd make donuts during the school break as a treat for Andrew. Well, a friend of his came over to play that day and Andrew really didn't care all whether I made donuts or not.  The friend, however, loved the donuts and asked for SEVERAL to take home to his sisters.  They even came to the door, asking for more.  Brazen little kids.   I was, of course, happy to share....

Somehow, after awhile, the donut job became less daunting.  I couldn't tell you how often I made donuts during those next few years, but often enough to know that I was capable of it.  So, one day, a couple of years ago, when we needed a snack for the Youth Group, I stuck my neck out and said that I'd love to make fresh donuts for the group.  I felt that the kids at Youth needed to experience fresh donuts from a mom's hands.  In the world of chips and dip, nachos and cheese, they needed to know that there were good, old fashioned things that were special.

The day came for me to make them.  Now, you need to understand that I didn't plan to make them ahead of time; I would make them at the church and they would eat them HOT.  They needed to smell the hot oil.  They needed to have their fingers coated with white sugary goodness.  So, at home, I made a double or triple batch (I have blocked that detail out of my mind...) and set them to rise.  I then hauled everything over to the church kitchen and rolled and cut them out, batch by batch, on the big island.  I heated 3 different fryers and waited for the final rise and for the kids to arrive.  I had no idea how many kids would come that night, but I was pretty sure I had made enough.  The time came to start frying and I became a donut making monster.  Plop, plop, plop went the raw donuts into one fryer, then the next, then the next.  Flip, flip, flip - over went the donuts in one fryer and then the next and then the next.  Shake, shake, shake - the donuts flew from fryers into the brown paper bags filled with white sugar and/or cinnamon sugar mixed.  And the platters began to fill.  "Do I have enough?" I wondered.  "two donuts each, that's ALL you can have...to start," I told them.  I fried donuts, I fried donut holes, I fried scraps of donut dough. And they kept coming back.  "Um, are we allowed to have another one?"  Over and over, that was the all-important question of the night.  "Sure!  Help yourself!"  At the end of the night, there was not one scrap of donut left in any shape or form.  They ate them all, the donuts, the holes, the scraps.  And I felt that they, too, had passed a rite of passage - they ate homemade donuts, hot from the fryer, made by someone who cared enough about them to make homemade donuts.

I don't think I made donuts since then but Andrew was talking about donuts the other day and, hmm, we had a day off from school and work coming up.....  So I asked him if he would like to make donuts with me.  He said "sure" and I made plans for today.  Meanwhile, he was invited to a sleepover last night.  I reminded him about the donuts and he said we still would make them.  I picked him up this afternoon and asked again if he was still game and he said YES!

So, tonight, Andrew and I made donuts.  And he was such a donut baking trooper.  We have passed another rite of passage - he and I made donuts together, as in, we worked side by side and got the job done.  He helped make the dough, he rolled them out and cut them out and fried them and flipped them and placed them in the brown paper bags filled with sugar/cinnamon sugar and shook his heart out until they were covered with sweet sugary goodness.

And he added a new dimension to the tradition.  He googled and found an awesome recipe for chocolate glaze for them.  Here it is:

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk/cream
1 Tbsp corn syrup
2 tsp vanilla

Melt together in a sauce pan.  When melted, add in 4 squares of sweetened chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted.  Take off the heat and whisk in, slowly, 2 cups of icing sugar.  Return to the heat (low) and stir until the mixture is fluid.  Dip the donuts one by one into the chocolate and place on a cooling rack.  Once the chocolate is set, keep in a cool spot for storage.  I put the dipped donuts into the freezer to quick set the chocolate.

I'm going to bed a mostly content mother.  The tradition of donut making with your kids continues now through my boy. 

My other boy claims he doesn't like donuts. Sigh. 

Can't have it all now, can we?!!

And, because someone asked, here is the donut recipe as well:

Feather Light Donuts by Anne R.

2 Tbsp yeast
1 1/2 cups warm millk
1 cup cold mashed potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
5-6 cups flour

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk.  Add potatoes, sugar, oil, salt, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder and eggs.  Mix well.  Add enough flour to form a soft dough.  Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.  Punch down; roll out on a flour board to about 1/2 inch thickness.  Cut with a donut cutter.  Place on greased baking sheets or cloth covered cookie sheets.  Cover and let rise about 45 minutes.  Heat deep fryer to 375 F.  Fry donuts until golden brown on both sides.  Shake with sugar, cinnamon sugar, icing sugar or ice!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

I Made This Up Myself...

I know that I have given great (and well deserved) tributes to my sweet Mother on this blog for all of the amazing things I learned from her in the cooking department.  She has taught me so much and I have so many good recipes that she deserves credit for.

This isn't one of those.

Well, okay, part of it comes from mom.  But the premise, nope, I made it up myself.

Well, in essence, I didn't make the premise up.....

Okay, here's the story.

Chicken and dumplings.  Enough said.

I did not grow up with chicken and dumplings.  I grew up with chicken.  I grew up with dumplings.  I did NOT grow up with chicken and dumplings.  Dumplings, at our house, were reserved for stew and maybe ??? soup?

But, I've heard so much about "chicken and dumplings".  It sounds so....so....so downhome good.  So it seems like a "mom thing" to make.  Like making your kids drink their milk and eat their vegetables - all good mothers should serve chicken and dumplings now and then, for goodness sake.

I did talk to my mom about the notion but, hey, we were both a little clueless about what the meal actually means in terms of 'how to'.  We tossed a few ideas back and forth and then I think, within a short time of each other, we both attempted our own individual version of it.

Yesterday was a day that called for Chicken and Dumplings.  We all needed some comfort food.

My idea of Chicken and Dumplings includes the following:

I like to use chicken pieces.  I had a few chicken thighs and a couple of chicken breasts in the freezer.  I cut the breasts in to small (4-5 bites/piece) pieces.  None of the chicken was completely thawed when I started, and I started the process somewhere around 2:30 in the afternoon. 

Now, before I go on, I have to give a disclaimer here.  *I like chicken on the bone*.  There is someone in my family (who shall remain nameless but is my father-in-law) who does not like chicken on the bone.  He has voiced his deep thoughts on the financial value of chicken-on-the-bone versus chicken breasts on more than one occasion.  He is convinced that chicken breast is a better value in the $$ department, because you're getting all chicken and no bone.  That may indeed be true.  I, however, LOVE chicken on the bone.  There is more flavor, the meat is moister, and cooks up more tenderly (grammar?) without overcooking.  And, to prove my point, the chicken breast that I cooked in this dish yesterday was dry and stringy by the time I served it.  The chicken on the bone was, well, falling-off-the-bone tender and delicious.  But, different strokes for different folks.  We're entitled to our own preferences in all things chicken. 

And everything else, for that matter.

So, anyway, back to the pot.  I used a nice heavy, cast iron dutch oven.  Into the hot pot went a reasonable amount of olive oil, one onion, diced, and the chicken pieces, seasoned with salt and pepper and generously sprinkled with chicken bouillon.  I sauteed them long enough to bring a bit of color to the chicken.  Once they were lightly browned, I added enough water to the pot to pretty well cover the chicken and then turned the heat down to keep a low simmer going.

Then I walked away and did a bunch of other, somewhat boring things not worth writing down that may have included going grocery shopping and other such things.

About half an hour before supper (we ate around 5:30-6 p.m.) I turned the heat back up, made a flour/water roux and added that to the broth and brought it back to a good boil.  When the broth/roux had thickened into gravy, I added the dumplings on top of the broth, covered the pot, kept the heat at a steady boil and walked away again for 20 minutes.

20 minutes passed and supper was ready!

It was food for the soul.  It fed us and nourished us....

Ever have one of those meals that was "filling"?  As in, it filled my tummy, but there was no tastiness/satisfaction attached?

This meal satisfied.  Like a tonic. 

So, that's my version of chicken and dumplings.  Does anyone else out there make chicken and dumplings?  If so, what's your recipe?  Please share!

And, to give credit to dear Mother again (are there any royalties involved in this for her?), this is her dumpling recipe.  I think perhaps these are categorized as baking powder dumplings - there are other dumplings that don't seem to rise like these do.  Again, different traditions, right?

Dumplings

2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp shortening
3/4 - 1 cup milk

Combine dry ingredients.  Cut in shortening to make crumbs (I actually used margarine this time with good results).  Add in 3/4 cup milk and stir briefly with a fork. Add enough of the remaining milk to make the dough hold together.  Drop by spoonful on top of simmering broth/gravy. Cover and steam for 20 minutes and DON'T LIFT THE LID.  OR YOU WILL DIE!!!

Oh, sorry.  I got carried away there for a minute.

Don't lift the lid - because Mom said so.

;)

Thursday, 13 October 2011

For YOU....and You Know Who You Are!

Well, well, well.  My first  "can you write a blog about _______________" request happened today!

I won't write a blog on request for just anybody.

Has to be someone special.

Now, moral dilemma, do I write this blog/share this recipe because the person is really special....

.....or because she obviously needs the help/recipe?

She asked me for a recipe today.  She said "hey Maureen!  (or something engaging like that)  Can you blog about your recipe for AIR MILE BISCUITS?  You gave me the recipe and I lost it."

Okay - you decide: 
  • is she really special?
  • or does it seem she really needs the help?
"AIR MILE" BISCUITS?  Really?  And I gave you the recipe once and you lost it? 

Tut tut.

I think she needs the help.

;)


Kidding, she IS very special, too.  One of a kind, even.  But for dignity's sake, let's just leave her name anonymous and simply mention that she is an LPN at who works at HBH who lives not that far from me and we've worked together for many years and have shared a lot of laughs and great moments    kind of silly AND also a very great friend!

For her, and for the rest of you who might be mildly interested, here is the recipe for....

MILE HIGH BISCUITS (aka "Air Mile Biscuits", at least to Alanna my anonymous friend)

3 cups flour
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
3/4 tsp salt
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp sugar
3/4 cup shortening
1 egg
1 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients together and cut in the shortening until it resembles crumbs.  Mix the egg (slightly beaten) with the milk and add to dry ingredients.  Stir to mix, then knead briefly until well combined.  DO NOT OVER-MIX OR OVER-HANDLE.  Roll out to 3/4 inch thick, cut into circles or squares or whatever shape floats your boat, and bake at 450 F for 12 minutes.  That is one hot oven!

Seriously, these biscuits are wonder biscuits for me - they have never failed yet.  They always come out nice and fluffy and rise well.  And they were a great addition to last night's borscht!

Enjoy your week off, Ms. Anonymous!  And get busy baking!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Just Like Mom

My mom is a wonderful cook.

When we were growing up, we had everything when it came to good food.  Everything = farm raised beef, pork, chickens, turkey and all organic (ha ha ha ha ha - organic = garden grown) vegetables.  We were organic before there was organic.  Our animals were grain fed and enjoyed their summer trips to the grassy pastures.  Our gardens were never sprayed with chemicals, but were fed yearly with compost and well rotted cow manure.  We never used Round Up to get rid of weeds; we picked them out one by one with our fingers and chopped their wicked heads off with a hoe.

On top of the fresh produce and meat, we had a wood cook stove in the kitchen.  I never used to think it made much of a difference.  Now I dream about loaves of bread browned from the heat of a wood stove - there was something in the flavor that you can't get out of an electric stove. 

This post is making me feel old.

Anyway, back to my mom.  She has always been a good cook and was definitely the person who inspired me to both cook AND enjoy cooking.  I remember how she taught me.  Besides all of the times when I had to help her with cooking and learned by watching, there was another way that she taught me how to cook.

She got a job.

And when she got a job, there was no one else to cook but me!  She would write out in simple point form the "how to's" of making scalloped potatoes, macaroni with meat sauce, chili, etc., etc., etc.  I remember even cooking for my aunts and uncles one time when they had to meet at our farm over some family business - I was a young girl, and they were pretty impressed that I had gone to the bother of a hot cooked meal.  I shrugged it off as "it's nothing", but really, inside, I was bursting with pride that I had pulled off a meal for several people, and guests at that. 

So when I left home, cooking for myself never intimidated me.  I was reasonably proficient and very interested in experimenting with new foods.

New foods are easy - no precedent has been set.  You get what you get and either you like it or you don't like it.

Trying to cook like mom - that's scary!  You KNOW what mom's cooking tastes like and either your version of it measures up or it doesn't.

I've probably spent most of my grown up life trying to replicate some of mom's meals.  My buns are good, but they aren't mom's.  My stew - also good, but not mom's either.  Tender beef steak - can't do it the same.  Ben frequently reminds me "nope, not as good as Nana's" when it comes to things that both she and I cook.  And that's okay.  I can take it. 

But, there are some things that really need to resemble mom's cooking.  Foods that are family traditions, that represent "us", the familiar, the expected, the hand-me-down flavors of the generations. 

Borscht is one of those things.  I know that there are lots of good borscht recipes out there.  But I want to make borscht like my mom.

Here is her version. 

Let's call it:

Annie's Borscht  (no one calls her Annie except her Ukrainian nieces and nephews, so we'll add it here to make the recipe authentic  ;) )

12 cups beef broth
Beef from soup bone or stewing beef, small cubes, browned
1 onion, chopped
2-3 medium beets, shredded
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1-2 carrots, shredded
1 medium potato, shredded
2-3 whole tomatoes, chopped OR generous squirt of ketchup
1/2 cup (or more) vinegar OR dill pickle juice (I favor the dill pickle juice)
1-2 Tbsp dried dill (or fresh from the garden in season)
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients together and let simmer for a couple of hours to let the flavors meld.  When nearly ready to serve, take about 4 cups of soup out of the pot and add cream milk to the 4 cups and stir to temper.  When tempered, add it all back to the soup pot and stir to blend.  May serve with a dollop of sour cream.

A few notes:
* one time when I made borscht, I couldn't get the right amount of tang/sour to the soup, no matter how much vinegar/pickle juice I added.  My conclusion was that I may have used too many beets.  Beets, being naturally sweet, sweetened the soup to the point that I couldn't counteract the sugar content enough to balance the flavors.  Even though it's tempting to use a generous amount of beets, don't!  Today I used one small beet and half of a large beet.  The balance was much better.

* I saw a great recipe on TV years ago for making beef broth and I used that technique today.  Take beef soup bones and place in a large, flat roaster along with a roughly cut onion (quartered is good), 2-3 carrots roughly cut, a couple of ribs of celery, salt and pepper and completely cover it all with water. Place the roaster in a very slow (250 F) oven for 8-10 hours and walk away.  Do not cover the pan.  The resulting broth is rich and flavorful with virtually no effort on your part.  There is less foam in the end product and much better flavor than when you boil bones.  The meat is tastier.  You can do this in a slow oven over night and be ready to make the soup the next day.  Discard the bones and vegetables; let the broth sit on the counter for a couple of hours and the fat rises to the top for easy skimming.

* Some people use pork for the soup base as well.  Pork ribs are good, apparently.  I think you would want to make sure you got the fat skimmed off very well.





For the record, mom and I have developed a mutual respect for each other's cooking over the years.  Several years ago, I made roast beef for her and dad when they came to visit, using my own slow cooker method.  I knew the roast beef was good but I didn't give it any more thought.

A few weeks later, she told me "I've been trying and trying to make a roast beef that is as good as yours was, but I just can't get it right". 

I've been living on that compliment for years!

Love you Mom!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Note To Self

Once in awhile, I stumble across a good recipe that I enjoy very much but forget about very quickly because my head is too full of other important stuff.

True story.

So, this post is just for me.  It will be my "note to self" prompt whenever the words "roast" and "turkey" come up in conversation.  I'll say "what a minute!  I think I wrote a blog post about that one time!" and will scurry through my list of posts and come up with this genius recipe that I made for Thanksgiving 2011 and loved too much to forget.

We spent Thanksgiving alone this year and that was just fine for us.  It's been busy here lately and it was nice to not travel and fit a bunch of (very much enjoyed) visiting in over the course of a few days.  I worked a Night shift on Sunday night so we decided to eat our turkey Saturday night.  I asked the boys for some of their favorite foods so that I could be sure to include some hits for them in with the meal.

On Monday, Dean happened to mention that the item he loves most for Thanksgiving dinner is pumpkin pie.  Hmm.  I wish he would have told me that Saturday....there would have been some on the table for him.  That would have been a particularly nice gesture on my behalf, thoughtful even, considering he doesn't like roast turkey.

How did I end up with a spouse who doesn't love turkey?  I really enjoy making turkey dinner.  I like the planning, the anticipation, the bird slowly roasting over the afternoon and making its' sudden "I'm done" declaration when the skin is browned just right and the drumsticks fall in surrender to the heat of the oven.  I like the mad rush of getting the gravy done and mashing the potatoes, dishing everything up, keeping things hot and sitting down to a loaded table that groans under the aromas of roasted bird, dill pickles, hot vegetables, cool salads, with some luscious dessert peeking at you from the counter nearby with the teapot ready to dispense a lovely warm blend to finish the night.  Sigh.

Unfortunately, the last turkey I roasted at the end of August was a dud.  A very disappointing dud.  I think I seriously under-seasoned it, but even the texture was just "uck".  Nearly caused me to doubt my ability to cook a decent turkey and it just reassured Dean that turkey is indeed a flawed ingredient.

I have to make a believer out of him yet.

So, this time, I happened to be paging through a magazine that happened to be featuring Pioneer Woman.  I don't love all of her recipes, but I do like a lot of them so I sat up and paid attention when I read the title of the turkey recipe.  Truthfully, I didn't even end up following her recipe, but that's where the inspiration started that sent me on a Google search for a "Turkey Brine" recipe.

Wow, there are a lot of turkey brine recipes!

I remember my cousin, Janet, brining a turkey at a reunion a few years ago but she deep fried that turkey so I don't think I made the connection that a person could brine any old (woops, YOUNG IS BETTER) turkey on any occasion!  By the way, according to Dean, that deep fried turkey is still the best turkey he's ever eaten.  ... and another sigh escapes my lips....someday he'll like my turkey too....  ;)

As I said, there are a lot of brine recipes and some of them take the flavor in a totally different direction than I would have thought of, particularly by using orange juice, apple juice, orange zest/rind, etc., in the brine.  Maybe I'll try going in that direction next time.  For this time, Thanksgiving 2011, this was my recipe:

Turkey Brine

2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp EACH dried rosemary, dried sage and dried thyme
1-2 tbsp black peppercorns

Bring all of the above ingredients to a boil and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved.  Let cool to room temperature.  I did this step the day before I was ready to start the brine process; you could do it the morning of the brine day, or flash cool it in the freezer if you have time to fuss with that.  My work schedule didn't allow me those options so I prepared it on Thursday.

For brining the turkey, you need to allow at least 1 hour per pound of turkey of brining time.  My turkey was a small 10 pound turkey, so I needed to brine the turkey for a minimum of 10 hours.  I started to brine my turkey Friday night in the later evening.  Place your thawed turkey in a pot large enough to hold the turkey in an upright position.  Pour the prepared brine over the turkey.  Now add enough cold water to the brine so that the turkey is completely submerged.  Put it in the fridge until you are ready to start cooking the turkey.

On Saturday when I was ready to start cooking my turkey, I drained all of the brine off (throw it away) and then rinsed the turkey very well.  I've been told that this rinsing step is ultra important.  Once all of the brine is rinsed off, place the turkey in the roaster and don't add any other seasonings.  Let it roast per usual (my little 10 pound turkey took about 3 hours at 350 F).

I found the end results to be far more flavorful than normal.  In fact, even the boys commented that it was more flavorful than usual.  That strikes me as a substantial marker for success.

Here's a couple of things to consider:
1.  I did read that you could brine the turkey in 2 turkey bags (instead of a pot) - one to hold the brine and turkey in, and the second bag for insurance against leakage.  I've never used turkey bags so can't speak from experience on how well they work.
2.  My fridge was full, so I used a large pasta pot to hold the turkey and brine in and then placed that in my camping cooler surrounded by ice.  Worked very well.
3.  Feel free to add to/change the list of seasonings (other than you need to keep the sugar/salt/liquid ratio the same).  If you don't like rosemary, don't use it.  I wasn't sure about the thyme, but I did like it.  Whatever seasonings/herbs you like to use to flavor your turkey with - add them to the brine and be creative!  But, they say that you need to keep the salt content up, enough salt so that a raw egg would float in the water, and that's why it's so important to rinse the brine off.  The turkey was NOT salty, by the way.

I'll be interested to hear if any of you have used this method already and what your results have been!  And if I start talking turkey in the next few months, remind me to re-read my own post!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

From Ordinary to Extraordinary

I have had a lot of things to think about this week and the phrase that keeps crossing my mind is "ordinary to extraordinary".

Yesterday, I had a chance to spend some time in the afternoon with Ben in the back yard.  He asked me to jump on the trampoline and, for once, I decided to join in on the fun instead of be buried in my chores.  The day was sunny and warm, the leaves were (and still are) a beautiful color. The air smells of autumn.  We laid on our backs and tried to imagine what the clouds looked like but, truly, there weren't any clouds to speak of so we really had to use our imagination on the one little wispy puff of cloud that there was in the north east.  We jumped on the trampoline and made up challenges and giggled and laughed our way through the time we spent together.  Lots of hugs later, we had exhausted our imagination and (my) energy and the normal day resumed. 

Yesterday, it seemed rather ordinary to do that.

Today, it seems extraordinary.  The sunny day.  The fresh giggles.  The free time with no other demands gasping for attention.

Yesterday Andrew helped me dig all of the carrots out of the garden so that he could work on his BMX bike trail through my garden (Lord help me).  He worked hard with me and we sat together at supper talking about stuff and sharing some laughs over silly things that neither one of us remembers today.

Yesterday, it seemed rather ordinary to communicate like that with him.

Today, it seems extraordinary.  The easy laughter, the companionship with my maturing 12 year old, as we worked together and talked and shared.

This weekend we celebrated my parent's 50th wedding anniversary.  Many things seemed to jump from ordinary to extraordinary that day.  We prepared an ordinary meal, homemade.  People gave many compliments on the food that seemed ordinary to us and somehow became extraordinary to the guests.  We took an ordinary facility, and with a few golden touches, made it into an extraordinary reception room.  Ordinary people came and filled the ordinary reception room and all of a sudden we were in the midst of a very extraordinary event.

And then there was the ordinary couple that we were there to honor.

I grew up thinking that my life was very ordinary.  Normal.  Maybe we even headed slightly to the left of center, being a simple farming family.  We didn't HAVE much.  We worked hard.  Our parents were home every day - normal, right?  We always had plenty of food, didn't everybody?  We didn't fight but that must be normal, too.  We grew up and left home and maintained very happy, loving relationships with our parents.  We have always wanted to be with them.  They seemed to want to be with us. 

Mom and dad retired and had more time together.  How will they cope with that?, I wondered.  Hmm, they seem to be loving it.  They have a never ending list of things to do together that they enjoy.  They enjoy each other's company.  Last year, when neither one of us could make it "home" for Christmas on Dec. 25, they said "we have each other, we'll be fine!"   Is this normal?

And with a few simple glances back at our humble roots over the course of preparing this celebration, I have realized that this couple of 50 years is rather extraordinary.  I see that they provided me with an extraordinary childhood.  I see that they have exemplified an extraordinary marriage relationship.  I see that they have given me an extraordinary upbringing.  They have instilled in me an extraordinary belief in lengthy, HAPPY, extraordinary marriages. 

It seems that I have been extraordinarily blessed with my heritage - and there's nothing more that an ordinary girl like me can say about that!!  ;)

Ordinary to extraordinary - it's all how you look at it!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

There Was An Old Lady....

All day today I've been thinking of the poem called "There Was An Old Lady".  (This has nothing to do with my work and has everything to do with my home.)  The poem starts innocently enough:

"There was an old lady who swallowed a fly,
I don't know why she swallowed a fly,
I guess she'll die."

Soon, for the old lady, one thing leads to another, and swallowing the fly leads to swallowing a spider, which leads to swallowing a bird....and on and on it goes, until the old lady swallows a host of things:

"There was an old lady who swallowed a cow.
I don't know how she swallowed a cow!
She swallowed the cow to catch the goat...
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog...
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat...
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird ...
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider
That wiggled and wiggled and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I dunno why she swallowed that fly
Perhaps she'll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a horse -
She's dead, of course."
That old lady got carried away!

Today, I am that lady.  I got carried away. 

I tried to write a poem, stealing the poetic form from the old lady, but, hey, this is how the first stanza would have gone.  I got stuck immediately.

"There was a young lady who planted a zucchini,
I don't know WHY she planted a zucchini,
I guess she'll  _____?????????_____________"

Verse 2:

There was a young lady who had an apple tree,
I don't know WHY she had an apple tree.

She planted the apple tree to use the zucchini,
She planted the zucchini to feed the boys,
She had the boys to "_______????????_______".
I don't know WHY - she'll probably cry.

THE END.


Today's task was simply to bake a birthday cake for Dean.  But here, in picture format, is the way the day went down:

1.  Since I am going to do some baking, I should use some of those apples to make applesauce so that I can substitute applesauce for oil, seeing that I'm adding lots of moisture with other ingredients.  Full pot of Applesauce complete - the world is my oyster!  I'm saving money!


2.  Before I get busy with Dean's birthday cake, I've been staring at all of those zucchini and dreaming about a chocolate zucchini cake.  If I make that today, we can eat it tonight with supper and for snack and the boys might eat some, too!!  Chocolate Zucchini Cake done.


3.  Better not forget to get that birthday cake on the go for Mr. Dean.  *Mystery Birthday Cake* done!


4.  You know, there's lots of zucchini left and so many apples to deal with.  How about I make an apple zucchini cake and take it to work on Monday!  That would be fun!  Better Google "apples", "zucchini" and "cake" and see if there is any such thing.  Yup!  Okay, here we go!  Apple Zucchini Cake turned out nice!



5.  Hey, I got a great idea!  Why don't I bake through this 5 gallon pail of apples today?!!!!!!  That is a great challenge!!!!  What else can I make?  Muffins!  Hmm, I wonder if there is such a thing as apple zucchini muffins?  Google search time again.  Yup!  Recipe says it will make 12, seems it made more....  I'll freeze them and take them to work for my coffee break.  22 Apple Zucchini Muffins ready to freeze.


6.  Wow, 5 gallons is a lot of apples.  What else could I make?  That's lots more baking that I need to do... but I have to do it, it's such a good idea.  Hey, I could make a Deep Dish Apple Pie, seeing that I still have one more pie crust left to use up in the fridge.  Bonus, the recipe calls for 10 CUPS of apples!  That should put a dent in the pail of apples.


7.  Leftover scraps of pie crust!  Cinnamon/sugar crusts coming right up!  Darn, wish I could add apples and zucchini to this...


8.  Okay, as a "nod" to my dear brother-in-law, Marc, I wonder if there is such a thing as Apple Scones?  Time for another Google search.  Wow!  Sure enough!  Mixed and ready, wish that would have made a bigger batch....wish I would have doubled the batch.  Only took 2 small apples.  I still have a ways to go with this pail of apples....  Don't think I'll even try adding zucchini to this.  Wow, Andrew has already eaten almost a quarter of the batch. 


9.  Okay, this is IT.  One last recipe.  Do you think there might be a recipe for apple zucchini loaf?  Last Google search.  I'm wiped.  Getting closer to the bottom of the apple pail...  Apple and Zucchini Loaf coming right up.  I'm getting dizzy.  I think I'm a bit nauseous.  I think I have a bit of a headache.  I think I missed lunch...



I went from this......



To this......



I have made an executive decision, that, in spite of the fact that there are a handful of apples left at the bottom of the pail, I REACHED MY GOAL of baking through a 5 gallon pail of apples in a day!

Tomorrow - APPLE JUICE!!!!!!!!




Not.

Want one of those recipes?  Ask me tomorrow.  I'm too tired to post one today, thanks.






Monday, 12 September 2011

Quiet Moments In The Night

The hallway is dark and the place is quiet.  The wakeful moments of existence, looking different for each body here, have come to a quiet close and peaceful sleep pervades the atmosphere.  I quietly attend to the people, one by one, trying to remind myself that the brisk pace of the day shift is not welcome here in the night.  Night time is for rest, for the body, for the soul, for the spirit.  Much courage is required from these old souls to live.  They need their rest.  They need some peace.

The last gentle soul's eyes lit up when she saw me.  We have grown a loving friendship.  She tells me how good it is to see me and how glad she is that I've come back home.  Then she giggles and smiles, realizing that it is not my home that brings us together, but it is her home.  I am, though, for the moment, family to her.  I smile at the little slip up that she's spoken, knowing that someone who loves her, whether family by blood or by bond, will bring comfort to her as the night stretches before her.  And I do love her.

As I tend to the next soul in the next room, I am aware that I've woken her from her rest.  Oh that these medicines that heal and comfort and relieve pain could be given at another time, but the night may become unendurably uncomfortable if that were done.  It seems that being in peaceful rest must be more important.

I stand in the hallway, making my marks in the book, accounting for each step of care that I've taken.  I hear a gentle voice that causes me to stop all my markings and listen.

The room across the hall contains a quiet spirited gentleman who asks for little.  He has spent his life alone.  His days are now spent in his wheelchair, sitting in front of a cd player that plays old country tunes for most of the day.  His smiles are golden, his gratitude always present no matter how small the service.

It is this humble man that is causing me to stop and listen.  I strain to hear clearly, and stand outside his door long enough to hear....

..."thou wilt find a solace there".....

He's been singing to himself, lying in his bed, in the dark.  I heard his voice, gruff, quiet, not missing neither word nor note.

It's like he wanted to sing a blessing over his spirit this night.

Or perhaps he wanted to remind himself that he has a friend in Jesus.

Perhaps he was reminiscing in his spirit, remembering songs, promises, lessons of faith from long ago.

Perhaps these faith things were, even, still ARE the things that bring him peace as he settles to sleep at night.

I am an intruder tonight in his private moment of worship.  But the sound of his gruff voice, as he laid there and sang without fear or hesitation, has stuck with me all through my awake moments today.  I think perhaps I was invited to participate.  I think perhaps I was asked to hear, not only with my ears, but with my soul.  To listen to the assurance he sang with his mortal weakness and eternal strength.

Peace to you tonight.  Peace to him.  Peace to me.  Peace to us all.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

That's Amore, eh?


When the moon hits your eye
Like a big-a pizza pie
That's amore

 
There are a lot of pies happening in this house today, and let me tell you, that's amore.  As in, that's not necessarily the food of love, but definitely a labor of love on my part.

I don't like making pies.

If you were to invite me to a potluck meal and if you asked me to bake a cake, I'd say "sure!"  If you asked me if it would be a bother to make a cheesecake, I'd say "not at ALL!  What kind would you like?"  If you asked for a trifle, or a batch of cookies, or a tiramisu, or a layered jello dessert, or any such similar dessert option, I'd be delighted. 

However, if you asked me to bring a pie, I'd cry for mommy.

I CAN bake pies.  I know HOW to make pies.  I'm even pretty good at pies.  But I don't like making pies.

I think pies are high maintenance, really.  All that "make sure your ingredients are chilled" and "only add enough liquid until it just comes together" and "don't handle the dough too much or it will be tough" - I don't know.  That seems kinda high maintenance to me.  There is no mercy with pie.  No leniency that "if your ingredients aren't chilled it will all work out".  No casual "add about 1 cup of liquid".  Nope.  Just rules, rules, rules, and you never know when you've crossed the line of too much liquid or handling or whatever until it's too late!!!  Yeesh.  I don't mind sticking to the rules in pretty much anything in life, but I don't like crossing that invisible line without knowing it.  It's like the police officer who gives you a speeding ticket and tells you "Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, we changed the speed limit on this road but we didn't put up the sign but you get the ticket even though you didn't know you were speeding."  That's the same notion with pie crust.  "Your pie crust is a complete failure because you added too much liquid and rolled it out too vigorously, but there's really no way to know that you added too much liquid or rolled it out too much until you sit down to taste it."  WOW!  Is that ever a lot of pressure to work under.  And I don't like pressure.

Oh I know, there are some pie crust professionals out there.  You're laughing at me right now, because there probably IS some way of getting the feel for pie crust.  But frankly, I'm not interested because there is only one pie per year that I have to make and that's Peach Pie. 

And that's what got me going on this pie theme today.  The summer cannot pass by without one good feed of Peach Pie.  I stumbled on the recipe quite a few years ago and, I don't know, it beckons to me every summer.  A summer without Peach Pie is an opportunity wasted and that's a pressure I admittedly bow to pretty well every summer.

So, to make a long story longer, I bought my peaches on Friday and determined to make my pie during this week.  Then my parents decided to come and visit me, they'll be here tomorrow.  Then, on Sunday, I cooked a turkey.  A big turkey.  And then the whole pie thing just went silly on me.

My (short) Pie To-Do List This Morning:
1.  Make a Peach Pie sometime.
2.  Make a Peach Pie for Mom and Dad's visit on Wednesday.
3.  Decide what to serve Mom and Dad for dinner on Wednesday.  (think, think, think - leftover turkey...)
4.  Decide that if I'm going to make Peach Pie for Mom and Dad's visit on Wednesday, I could try making a turkey pot pie for their dinner on Wednesday as well.
5.  Realize that I will need to make a full batch of pie crust.
6.  Hmm, if I have to cut up all of that turkey for the turkey pot pie, I may as well cut some up and make something for supper tonight.  Hey how about.....
7.  BBQ chicken (TURKEY) pizza!!!
8.  Make pizza dough and let it rise.
9.  Make big batch of pie crust.  Chill.
10.  Cut up turkey.  Set aside.
11.  Mix up ingredients for turkey pot pie filling.  Set aside.
12.  Peel peaches and mix up filling ingredients, getting it all wrong because I mis-read the instructions.
13.  Go to Wal-Mart with Ben to pick something up.  Oh, never mind, that's got nothing to do with pie.
14.  Roll out pizza dough and finish assembling the toppings, enlisting help from hubby, because, after all, this pie thing is getting demanding.
15.  Put the pizza pie in the oven.  One for adults, one for kids.
16.  Roll out the pie crust and fill it with the now-watery peach pie filling.
17.  Take the pizza out of the oven.  Call the family.
18.  Put the Peach Pie in to the oven which is too hot, and realize that the filling will likely run all over the bottom of the oven, but it's too hot to fiddle with a tin foil "catcher".
19.  Sit down, realizing that I don't feel like eating pizza pie or anything, for that matter.

Darn  pie.

Well, it's too late.  I did it.  I made the pies.  I smell the Peach Pie baking right now, and it smells pretty good.  And I'll survive getting the rest of the turkey pot pie together tomorrow. 

But don't count on getting any pie from me again, until, oh say, about next summer when peaches are in season again.  And if you ever DO get a pie from me, be assured, it is a labor of love.....amore!!   It could be one of my highest expressions of affection for you because there's no way I'd do that pie thing just for fun. 

I close, making the most of this day, having sprinkled my face generously with a dash of flour, singing along with Dean Martin "When the moon hits your eye, like a big-a pizza pie, That's amore!!!"  Can't you picture it?!!  ;)


PEACH PIE

10 fresh peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup flour
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup butter

Pastry for a double crust pie..

1.  Mix flour, sugar and butter into crumb stage.
2.  Place one crust in the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate.  Line the shell with some sliced peaches.  Sprinkle some of the butter mixture on top of the peaches, then put more peaches on top of the crumb mixture.  Continue layering until both the peaches and crumbs are gone.
3.  Top with second layer of pie crust, either in lattice strips, or with a full layer of crust, venting the shell.
4.  Brush small amount of coffee cream on the top crust and sprinkle a small amount of sugar on top.
5.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until crust is golden.  Allow pie to cool before slicing.






Monday, 29 August 2011

Another "First" Under Our Belts

Well, we did it.  We got the kids back to school for another year.  Another "first day" in the new classroom, with the new teacher, with the new grouping of kids. 

Andrew is in Grade 7 this year so he moved to a new wing of the school where he will have a locker and a bit more recess freedom than previously.  A mother can only worry just a bit about that freedom.  I mean, really?  Do we really want to give Jr. High kids more freedom?  I tease.  Andrew is ready for it; hope the other Grade 7's are as well.  And, for heaven sakes, I hope he remembers his combination for his locker.

Ben has moved into Grade 5 and has a teacher that Andrew never had, so it will be a welcome adventure to become acquainted with her.  Two of Ben's most loyal friends are in his classroom; that makes me very happy.

Our family tradition has always been for both Dean and I to go with the boys on their first day of school to find out who their teachers are, who is in their class, etc.  It's been a chance to visit with other parents and to get a wee taste of that first day of school excitement.

This year, we were not invited to come.  Our presence was not desired.  Not even a little bit. 

Yup, they're growing up. 

But we went anyway, we just made it a very quick trip.  Quick glance at Ben's class list, said good-bye, and then moved on.  Went inside to find which classroom Andrew was in (were we truly the only Grade 7/8 parents that did that?  Maybe we ARE geeks), did not even look his way (or at least he didn't catch me). Shook hands with the principal, introduced ourselves to A's teacher, talked about how Andrew is one year away from being the Senior class of the school, shook our heads at that thought....and left.

Okay, just one very, teeny tiny, small lump in my throat.

I always do that.  I feel sad on the first day of school.  It isn't just that I'm having separation issues.  Frankly, this year, I was quite happy to have them return to school.  But it's the marking of another milestone, another year under their belts, one more step away towards adulthood, one more step away from mom.  Those are healthy steps.  I'm glad my boys are capable, well developed kids who can grow up and step away from us.  That is a good thing!  But that doesn't mean it doesn't catch me every now and then.

So, I find myself doing what I love to do on the first day of school - planning what to feed those boys when they get home!  I love to honor this day, this day of "firsts" for them, with familiar smells and tastes of home.  As if they would forget that quickly?!!  I'm thinking about Texas brownies for their after school snack and spaghetti & shrimp for supper.

Our "Spaghetti and Shrimp" supper was Dean's brain child, inspired by some Food Network Show several years ago.  It has become our favorite go-to comfort food meal.  I think it's the smell of the sauteing garlic that draws everyone in.  The following is less a recipe, and more a ? procedure ? directive ? 

Spaghetti and Shrimp a la Dynna

Cook enough spaghetti to feed your family.  Simple enough?

While the spaghetti is cooking, saute 4, 5 (6, 7, 8 ??) cloves of garlic, finely minced, in several tablespoons of olive oil.  Really, several tablespoons.  Don't skimp!

When the garlic is soft, add in a generous handful of bacon pieces (not the crunchy artificial bacon bits, but the bits of real bacon, or else use leftovers of bacon from breakfast, ha ha, like there ever is any) and let them cook together.  Sprinkle in a couple of pinches of crushed red pepper flakes.

Add in a shrimp ring and saute until the shrimp are pink and curled.

To the drained spaghetti, add in the entire contents of the garlic pan (i.e. do NOT drain the olive oil off) and toss.  There is no "sauce" for this pasta - the oil mixture will distribute through the pasta and lightly coat it.  And that's all the sauce you need.  If the pasta looks a bit dry, add a bit more olive oil directly to the pasta and toss some more.

Sprinkle with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese; grate some fresh pepper on top of that and serve it up.  Mmm.  Comfort food at its' best!

I'm willing to bet that this will be a meal that the boys will be cooking for themselves when they get their first apartment.  And I'm willing to bet that there just may be more than one teeny weeny lump in my throat on that occasion.  But maybe they'll invite me for supper?