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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Free Food!

If you have never made soup from your Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey bones, you owe it to yourself to do it. I am an advocate of free food and when it is easy and delicious too, all the better.

The first time I saw this miracle was the year we had Thanksgiving dinner with a friend. As soon as we finished eating and had relaxed briefly, we cleared the table. She went into action, tearing all the meat off the bones and tossing the bones (along with any bits of fat or skin) into a large soup pot. Scrapings left in the roasting pan that did not make it into the gravy went in too, along with any juices from cooking the giblets or from the carving platter.

This was turned on to simmer for hours and eventually became a delicious turkey soup. I have been a convert ever since. One of the best soups I ever made was from the carcass of a turkey cooked on the grill and begged from the hostess, who was going to throw it away, from another Thanksgiving with friends. I have even brought home the carcass from Thanksgiving dinner at the in-laws for making soup without having first made a turkey. Free food!

I now make soup stock from any kind of bones including those from beef or pork roasts and chicken bones - either from chicken cooked at home or fried chicken from the take out place. Sometimes I save them in the freezer until I have a large potful, sometimes I just cook up what I have and then I have enough stock to make gravy or a sauce. Here is how I do it.

After removing all the meat from the bones, toss the bones into your largest pot (break some of them to fit, if you have to, with a meat cleaver or a meat tenderizer hammer). Also add any bits of fat or skin and scrape any juices or drippings from the pan or the platter. I also add things like onion skins and peelings from the scrubbed vegetables I might have cooked with the meal - anything except those from the cabbage family like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, which will give the stock a strong, unpleasant flavor. The vegetable trimmings - everything from onion skins to carrot scrapings to celery trimmings - will add flavor and color to the stock.

Cover the stuff in the pot with water to cover, even filling it to within an inch of the brim. Add a few bay leaves and several pepper corns and turn the heat on to low. Allow the stock to simmer at the very lowest heat, hardly even shimmering. This will ensure a clear stock. Heavier boiling will cause it to be darker and cloudy. The low simmer extracts all the flavor and goodness from the bones. Allow it to cook several hours or all day long but leave enough time to cool it and to discard the bones and strain the stock.

Strain through cheesecloth lined colander for the clearest stock, and portion into tall narrow containers. The kind that Chinese take-out soup comes in. This allows the fat to congeal in a thicker layer that is easily removed. Chill the stock overnight in the fridge. If you plan to freeze it, remove the fat first. Otherwise, leave the fat layer on until you use the stock for soup or sauces.

I also save the fat for cooking things like hash brown, turkey hash or fried potatoes. It adds flavor and it's free! The stock and the fat will keep a day or two in the fridge and much longer in the freezer.

To make gravy, heat a couple tablespoons of the fat (or butter or olive oil) with an equal amount of flour over medium low heat. Cook, stirring with a whisk, for a minute or so. Add a cup or so of your stock, stirring with the whisk to avoid any lumps. Continue whisking and cooking until the gravy thickens and boils. Season with a little salt and pepper and dried herbs. You can also add a little milk for cream for a "country" gravy to serve over noodles, mashed potatoes or biscuits.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Talk Is Cheap!

"I live on good soup, not on fine words."

Moliere

Saturday, December 20, 2008

O I Love Hash!

Anyone who watched Sesame Street In the early days (1970s PBS) will remember that each character had their own song - Kermit and "Being Green", Ernie and "Rubber Duckie" and the curmudgeonly Oscar The Grouch and "I Love Trash". To paraphrase Oscar, I Love Hash!

You can make hash out of anything - corned beef, roast beef, roast pork, ham, turkey, chicken or just vegetables even. Hash is a great way to use up leftover ingredients and have something warm and comforting to sustain you.

My mom used to make hash from the leftover roast beef that was too small to become a French dip sandwich (if there was not enough for hash, it went into a pot of soup). When mom made corned beef hash it was always for breakfast and always from a can. Roast beef hash was supper. I am not sure if dad liked or hated roast beef hash - he had a penchant for meat and potatoes but generally in their own separate and distinct places on the plate, not all mixed together, and he detested anything he called "slop".

We never had, for instance, creamed chipped beef on toast or chicken ala king - dishes my husband grew up on, loved, and craves even to this day. Unfortunately, I did not learn how to make these so they are not a part of my culinary repertoire. Consequently, he only gets them on rare occasions or when we eat at this mothers house. And since she does not generally cook this way any more, those occasions are becoming rarer and, I hope, more special.

But it seems to me roast beef and less often, turkey hash, were not so rare at home. We had roast beef quite often. Of course, it was bought on special, and keep in mind there was a lot of food in a good sized roast. Dinner for the family with leftovers for sandwiches, hash and soup at subsequent meals.

One of the best hash dishes I had was ham hash at a diner. Chunks of ham carved from the bone, potatoes and onions, crisped in the skillet or on the grill and served with the requisite ketchup. Delicious.

I make hash from anything, even leftover lunch meat. The routine is pretty much the same. Dice an onion and toss it in the pan with a little butter, olive oil or bacon grease if you have any. Dice up the leftover potatoes and other vegetables, or a raw potato if there are no leftovers. Finally, dice up the leftover meat and toss it in at the end to finish and heat through. Serve with or without a poached egg and toast and don't forget the ketchup.

If I am using a raw potato I will add it soon after the onion and cover the pan, giving it a stir every few minutes, and letting it cook about 15 minutes until the potato is cooked through. A leftover potato requires just enough time to get it hot and a little crispy before adding the meat.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and a little crushed red pepper flakes, if you like it spicy. A dash of Worcestershire or Tabasco is a good thing.

Enjoy your hash and know that meals like this can feed your soul as well as your tummy. Lets see if I can add a verse to Oscar's song - sing along with me!

I have an old skillet of leftover meat,
potatoes and onions that cannot be beat.
I'll cook it all up over plenty of heat.
I love it because it's hash!

Quotable Quotes; in the category But Gimme The Good Stuff!

"There is nothing worse for the health, or for the palate, than a poor hash, while a good hash is not only a favorite dish in most families, but an essential article of economy and convenience."

Catharine E. Beecher
'Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book' (1846)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

But What About Those Shoes?

I received this picture in the mail a few weeks ago. It was sent by a friend, tucked into a Christmas card even though it was September. On the envelope, with an arrow pointing to the picture of the shepherds, was written "not yet" and in the card was a message that she was packing to move and this was the only thing she could find in which to mail the picture.

If you go to my sister's blog, you will see the companion picture to this one. Mary is standing in profile, probably to show off the huge bow (no doubt the precursor to the 1980s butt-bow bridal gown). I hope you will agree that these photos epitomize the beauty and innocence of a major childhood event. As Mary said, "Jesus clearly loved us that day, you can tell because our socks aren’t all scrunched down in our shoes like they are in every single other picture that was ever taken of us."

Mary looks beautiful and innocent, as she should. I look like I am about to skin my knee. I think this is the only picture of me as a kid without a band-aid on my leg.

The picture was taken years and years ago in front of the friend's house, maybe by her mom or her dad. The occasion was my sister's first communion. Big sister like, I have my arm around her - either through a protective urge or, more likely, because the photographer told me to!

Click on the picture and enlarge it. I want you to see the beatific expressions on our faces. And the fact that our socks are not all scrunched and falling down. And the fact that I am wearing black shoes.

They are probably not the same shoes I wore for my own first communion two years earlier. As I recall my feet grew rapidly and a few years after this picture was taken I was probably wearing my mom's shoes.

I did wear black shoes at my first communion (see how I make this all about me?) and I suffered because of it. One of my darling little classmates had told me that my black shoes were a sign that my soul was not pure. Of course, I accepted this as gospel. Even though my mother told me my classmate was wrong, I still walked up the communion aisle with a wormy feeling in my tummy, hoping God could not see my black shoes. Luckily they were not black patent leather - that would have been a whole other ball of wax.

Take a good look at the picture. I'll tell you about that coat another time!

Quotable Quotes; in the category This Is What I Should Have Told Her!

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”
Mark Twain

Saturday, December 6, 2008

It's Almost Like Famous!

I occasionally clean out my "cookies" and perform other routine maintenance on my computer. Then I have to google everything because it's no longer stored in my web browser memory banks. Last time I did this, I had to google my blog and to my surprise, I found returns to sites other than my own blog. People had actually blogged about my blog in their own blog posts! Unbelievable!

It was a strange feeling to know that others had not only read my blog but had posted links to it in their blog posts. I felt suddenly revealed and vulnerable. But after reading the blog posts, I felt really, really good. Somebody had found something in my writing that was worthy of commenting on and passing on to others.

This particular post was about the pink turnip pickles from a few posts back. And there were comments about the recipe and the success others had with it. Great feeling!

I contacted the blogger, thanked her for linking to my posting and asked if I could link to her blog. If you look in my blog headings for You May Also Like . . . , you will notice a new link to this blog, the one that highlighted the pickle recipe. I hope you will follow the link to wherever it may take you. I guarantee if you keep going, you will find a lot more than pickled turnips.

Quotable Quotes; in the category I Thought There Was More To It Than This!
“It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.”

Albert Einstein

Saturday, November 29, 2008

This Is Just Too Easy!

I am morally opposed to most "convenience" food products. Things like Spam, Rice-a-roni, instant ramen noodles and, most especially, Hamburger Helper. The problem with many of these "convenience" foods is that they are more expensive than they are convenient, and they contain more sodium and chemicals than they do food and nutrition.

Then there are the REALLY convenient foods. Shelf stable TV dinners, individual servings of soup, stew, and other things that used to come in a can or live in the freezer. I don't like these because of the extraneous packaging and extra pollution they cause, not to mention they usually taste like $#!+, at least to me.

But there are some convenience foods I cannot do without. Namely, potato chips, spaghetti sauce and frozen puff pastry.

Don't think potato chips are a convenience food? You don't know Oprah, do you? A bag of chips and a stiff martini contain all the major food groups (salt, grease, cold, wet) with a double helping of vegetables. Hey, potatoes are a vegetable, and so are olives. If they are pimento stuffed olives, that's another helping of vegetables. And if they are blue cheese stuffed, you now have your dairy. I am telling you, this is a balanced meal.

Spaghetti sauce, what can I tell you. I used to use Ragu. Then I started making it from scratch. Now I use one of those "fancy" brands, sometimes adding cooked ground beef or Italian sausage. I use it on pizza, on pasta, in lasagna and in making stuffed peppers and other recipes. Yeah, it probably has too much sodium but you are talking to someone who eats potato chips for dinner. Salt is a dietary requirement for me.

That brings me to the frozen puff pastry. You need to get to know this secret ingredient. There is practically no end to what you can make - savory, sweet, and everything in between. And if you have never thought about how this product is made from scratch, all I can say is DON'T!

First you have to make the dough. Then you wrap it around a block of cold butter. Whack it for a while with a rolling pin. When it's sort of flat you start folding it, like a letter, and rolling it, again and again and again. Eventually you end up with a thin sheet of dough that is actually infinitesimal layers of dough and butter. When it bakes, the liquid in the butter heats up and expands, causing the layers to separate and the dough to puff up. Then the liquid evaporates, leaving behind shatteringly flaky layers of buttery pastry. Mmmmmm!

What can you make with this miracle food? Anything! Topping for pot pie; turnovers; cheese puffs; angel cookies (I can't remember the real name - some people call them elephant ears) just to name a few. My favorite is a fruit tart. Couldn't be easier and boy is it tasty! Another one of those "too easy" recipes. Don't blink or you'll miss it.

Place the pastry, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator to thaw for a day or two. Don't try to hurry this step along. The pastry is going to crack anyway but the longer it takes to thaw, the easier it is to work with. Re-wrap the other piece (usually comes two to a box) and return it to the freezer.

Peel and slice an apple. Or a pear. Or two. Use any fruit you like. Pitted cherries, sliced peaches or nectarines, plums or apricots. Whatever you like, have on hand, or don't want to eat raw.

Unfold the pastry and roll gently on a lightly floured board. If you are fussy you can trim the edges to be square and neat again. This is supposed to make it puff better. Or just leave it as is. You may also have to sort of pinch the creases back together where they broke apart. This area won't rise much but it will be okay.

For individual tarts, cut into equal size pieces about four or six inches square. For family style just leave it whole. Take a sharp paring knife and score the edge of the pastry all around, making about 1/2 to 3/4 inch border. Transfer to a baking sheet. It's best to line the sheet with baking parchment. Don't scoff, you'll be glad later when you don't have anything to clean up.

Now lay your fruit slices all over the pastry, layering them or overlapping them or just jumbling them all over. Be as neat or as messy as you like. Take a spoonful or so of sugar and sprinkle it all over the fruit and the edges of the pastry. Likewise a little ground cinnamon, nutmeg, mace or cloves, whatever you prefer or have on hand.

Pop the tart(s) into a preheated 400 degree oven and bake about 15 minutes or so. The pastry will puff dramatically around the edges, the fruit will cook and the juices and sugar will make their own "sauce". But don't let that deter you from serving the tarts with a dollop of whipped cream.

Luckily, the pastry sheets are kind of small so this makes just enough dessert for two for a day or two, or a nice presentation to take with you to a brunch or your book club meeting. I kid you not, they will think you bought this at Le Patisserie Expensive or that you are a Cordon Bleu chef.

Make this often, using the sheet of pastry left in the freezer. Once you open the package, you don't want to keep this around for too long. Besides, you need the fiber.

Quotable Quotes; in the category What The Heck Is A Runcible Spoon?
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart.
Edward Lear

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hawk Sighting

Yesterday Bill and I went to his favorite store for big & tall jeans and shirts to see if I could find a hooded zipper sweatshirt. They did not have any that I liked (and I secretly don't really want one anyway, I guess) so we left.

This shop is located in a place that is pretty easy to get to, but quite a challenge to get home, as are many places in Chicago. We turned the corner and there in the middle of the block was a red tailed hawk plucking its catch - a pigeon - in preparation for its Sunday meal.

Bill and I see hawks when driving on the expressway and we have seen a variety of wildlife in our little urban wilderness - deer, skunks, opossums, raccoons, chipmunks and yes, even hawks. But this is the first time we have seen one in somebodies front yard!

Earlier this spring Bill watched a hawk building the beginnings of its aerie in the top of a tall tree on someones yard, but the nest was never occupied and he never saw the raptor after the initial sighting.

This bird was apparently at ease and intent on its pending supper, in spite of a row of cars trundling up the street past its dining spot. We resisted the urge to go "around the corner" since in reality it would mean going around several corners, and contented ourselves with this rare and rewarding sighting.

So I didn't get a sweatshirt - I got something better, a happy memory!

Quotable Quotes; in the category I'm Sorry, I Guess I Wasn't Paying Attention.

“The bird hunting a locust is unaware of the hawk hunting him”

Old Proverb

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Patches

Once again, the recent postings about Chris have resurrected yet another memory - patchwork quilts.

Sometime around fourth grade, Chris and her sisters invited friends over to her grandmother's house in Ferndale after school for quilting "bees". We would learn to piece patchwork quilts, have an after school snack and a good time, and make new friends.

Actually, the most fun was hearing Chris' grandmother ream out one of the girls for cutting her material in mid-air instead of laying it down on the table. She cut crooked and wasted fabric. A big no-no in the thrift centered world of patchwork quilts.

Chris' grandmother would pick us up in her car (a sedan, not the requisite station wagon that everybody else drove) and drive us to her house. Down to the basement we went to learn to draw and cut out our four-inch-square cardboard template; how to trace it onto fabric (placing it just so to get the greatest benefit from the design of the material and making sure not to waste any); how to stitch the patches together to create our four patch design (Cathy was making a nine-patch - a more advanced pattern that we novices were not yet ready to tackle).

There was some kind of snack of the cookies-and-juice variety and probably some form of gossip, although in the 1960s fourth graders were a bit less worldly than they seem today and we probably did not have a whole lot to gossip about. What was happening at the next Girl Scout meeting, who had a new pair of shoes, who had seen Sister Mary Cool Nun at the dime store the previous Saturday. Still, it made for an enjoyable afternoon, and there was the excitement of the ride home and the beautiful scraps of fabric from somebody else's scrap bag to tide us over until next week.

I don't think many of us ever finished a quilt. I know Chris has made countless quilts and her sister Cathy did as well. At least, I'm sure she finished the nine-patch, I'm not sure about any further progress.

I have made exactly five quilts in my lifetime, including the four-patch I started that year. I first sewed the whole thing together, but later learned that if I pieced out my meager stash of quilt blocks with solid fabric blocks, I would not only have enough for a bed size coverlet, I would have a more interesting design as well. I think I took it apart and finally put it together when I was around 18 years old - a mere nine years after its genesis.

That original quilt lived on my bed for years and went with me to Chicago when I married. Eventually, the backing fell apart and the stuffing disintegrated. I did not replace it but instead cut down an old blanket for a new lining, and added a new backing of fabric that I had purchased for another purpose, then decided I did not like. When that second generation also went the way of all quilts, the remainder became a sort of slip cover for the couch, then for the front porch glider and eventually a sort of de facto picnic blanket. I think we last used it as a moving pad some 14 years ago.

If you want to make a similar quilt, cut a pattern of stiff card four inches square. Using this pattern, cut two patches from solid color fabric, and two more from a coordinating or contrasting print. Mix and match your fabrics for the most whimsical look.

Sew a solid and a print square together with a 1/4 inch seam by hand or by machine. Repeat with the other two patches. Now sew these two together, flipping them so that the two solid squares are next to the two two print squares, with all four corners meeting in the center. Your finished block will be about seven inches square.

Once you have a supply of these "blocks" you can lay them out on the floor with space in between. Twist and turn them and move them around until you like the arrangement. Now, buy some material to coordinate or contrast with your quilt blocks. Chris usually favored small gingham check, the one with the 1/4 inch square checks. This fabric comes in many primary and pastel colors and makes a good background for your quilt.

Cut squares from the gingham the same size as your finished quilt blocks. You will need at least as many as you have pieced blocks. Once again, lay them out alternating the plain and the pieced blocks. Begin sewing the blocks together in strips, then sew the strips together until you have one solid piece. This is your quilt top.

Measure the top and purchase sufficient material for the back. Most material comes 44 inches wide. Your quilt top will be wider. You can sew a seam down the center, but it will look better if you have one 44 inch wide piece down the center, and cut another length of fabric in half, sewing the narrower pieces to each side of the center strip to make your quilt backing. The backing and the top must be the same size.

You will also need a quilt batt. These are sold in standard sizes for single or double beds. You may have to fudge a bit to get your quilt top and your batting the same size. If you trim the batting, you can use leftovers to make pillows, mini quilts, or for other craft projects.

Lay the backing down on the floor, face down. Lay the batting on top of this, then lay the top over all, face up. Line up all the edges and safety pin the whole thing together, all over. There should be a pin every 4 or 6 inches or so. You will need a lot of pins.

Now, thread a heavy darning needle with a length of knitting yarn or embroidery floss. You will want to use this doubled. In the center of every pieced block, where the four points come together, you want to take a double stitch with the needle. The needle goes in one corner and comes out another, then goes in and out the other two corners. Keep your stitches close. Leave a tail of yarn and tie in a double knot. Snip the yarn, leaving tails about 1 - 1/2 inches long.

Repeat this in the center of every pieced block and in the center of every plain block. Repeat also at the corner of every plain block. Eventually, you will have knots all over the quilt about 3 - 1/2 inches apart. This holds the whole thing together.

To be fair, this type of quilt is often called a knotted coverlet to differentiate from a quilt which has been quilted all over with millions of tiny, tiny stitches. I have a quilt I have been working on for 31 years - a wedding gift to my husband, Bill. The pattern is called "Nelson's Victory" and resembles a series of naval flags. It is named for Lord Nelson's battleship, The Victory. It was originally knotted, then I decide to quilt it about 15 years ago. So far, I have not been victorious.

To bind the edges, you can buy quilt binding or make it from strips of leftover fabric. Or you can simply fold the back of the quilt up over the top of the quilt and hem this down, using stout thread and firm stitches. Be sure to leave your backing a few inches larger than the top to allow extra for the hems.

Your quilt is finished, ready to place on the bed or on the wall, or folded over one of those cute little quilt racks at the foot of the bed. Be sure to make a label to sew on the back of your quilt. Or just embroider your name, the date, and the name of the person the quilt was made for on the back. This is important - it gives your quilt "provenance" so that when it shows up on Antiques Roadshow in a few years, they will know it is incredibly valuable and will appraise it for thousands of dollars.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Couldn't I Just Have Some Lemonade?

“When life gives you scraps make quilts” Anonymous

Saturday, November 15, 2008

SPAM!

For some reason Mary and I were talking about spam. Probably because the spam blocker on my email has a "spam of the day" recipe. Unfortunately, they are pretty bad recipes and they recycle often - there are probably only about six or seven different recipes - but it's fun to mock them and it brings us together. What can I say.

Just to scare you, you can google many recipes for spam sushi, among others, and lots has been written about the peoples of the world who favor the taste of spam for reasons I will not divulge here. Spam was never a regular at our house. Either it was too expensive or my dad did not like it - seemingly the most common reasons food was or was not purchased by my family. But once in awhile we got to have a taste of it, and Chris often had a spam sandwich in her school lunch. IMHO, spam is nearly inedible unless heated in a skillet or, better, over a charcoal grill or campfire.

Years and years ago, I went camping with Chris and her dad. I think one of her younger sisters came too. It was the most amazing camping trip I've ever been on. Understand that we went camping every summer as a family from the time I was a toddler until I was almost through high school. Dad brought everything including the kitchen sink. A veteran scoutmaster, he was skilled at turning a campsite into a three bedroom suite complete with kitchen, dining room, lounge, and all without electricity or an RV.

On the trip with Chris, we brought next to nothing. A tent for the girls to sleep in, a little grill to put over the fire to cook on, a large spoon, fork, knife and can opener. Instead of a giant cooler and cabinets full of food, Chris' dad brought a grocery bag of goodies. He was amazing. He urged us to drink a whole can of Hi-C right off the bat so we would have a large "pot" to cook in and, later, to wash up the few utensils.

He placed an open can of Dinty Moore beef stew right on the fire grate to heat up, configuring an ingenious method of turning the hot can with the tongs and serving up with the big spoon. Did I mention there were potato chips and Hydrox cookies, delicacies unknown in my world? I told you everything was better at Chris' house.

Chris' dad slept in the car. To stay cool and keep out the bugs, he rigged some kind of mosquito netting into the windows and slept on the back seat of the station wagon (everyone we knew drove a station wagon in the 1960s. That was the law, I guess).

For breakfast the next morning, we had grilled spam sandwiches. The spam was sliced and laid on the grill to brown. Hot dog buns were set there too, to toast. We spread them with mustard and ate them just like that. The most succulent breakfast I ever had the pleasure of eating.

I thought Chris' dad was awesome, and I was floored that he was able to camp, have a great time and get everything done with the barest minimum of fuss, equipment and (need I mention) clean up! It was only years later, when I mentioned this trip-of-a-lifetime to Chris, that she exclaimed that it was the most horrible trip ever because her dad forgot to bring any of the camping gear.

Once again I was stunned. But I learned that not only beauty, but most things, are truly in the eye of the beholder!

Quotable Quotes; in the category I Know It's The Obvious Choice, But This Was All I Could Find

"Shut up! Bloody Vikings! You can't have egg bacon spam and sausage without the spam." Monty Python's Flying Circus - the Spam Skit

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Autumn Annual

Last year around this time we went to the Hesston Steam Museum, as we do every year, to ride the steam trains and enjoy the fall weather (there was none) the apple cider (there was none) and Joe Jackson's Fruit Stand (there was none).

The weather was in the 80s. Not bad in and of itself but not appropriate for a "crisp, fall day".

The cider shed was closed. It was closed the year before, too. There are other places to get cider but unfortunately the only cider you can get around here has been pasteurized AND costs about $5 a half gallon.

The cider shed presses the cider on the spot, charges $2.50 a gallon (maybe it's $3) and the cider is guaranteed to get "hard" in a couple days. Anybody who knows their cider knows that that's the whole point.

Joe Jackson's moved sometime in the past couple years. On the old site they are building a condo development called "The Cornerstone". Joe Jackson's was the farm market in New Buffalo, MI, that carried produce from local farmers. Apples, melons, squash, onions, potatoes, just about anything you could want. Louise was good for at least an hour, comparing the relative merits of carnival squash against delicata, ambercup against acorn, and did she need three bags of apples or four?

That's all in the past. The new Joe Jackson's is just not the same. It's farther up the road, well away from traffic and the parking lot has lost its chaotic dodge-em-cars charm.

We go to Hesston every year at this time. Several years ago we celebrated our 25th anniversary there with train rides, stops at the apple barn and the sausage shop, and dinner at Hannah's in New Buffalo. It was a great party.

Last year, only Bill's folks made the trip to join us. What the party lacked in numbers it made up for in grim humor. We rode the "ghost train" and took delight in making sure the wussy kids in our car were genuinely scared by the lame witches, ghosts, goblins and silly "scary" story told by the conductor as we chugged along.

But the creepy guy with the chain saw - - - THAT scared the kids, even the ones that were too big and too cool to be scared by ghost stories. I guess there's something about crackly autumn leaves and the smell of burning coal, the chug, smoke and hiss of a vintage steam locomotive, that really sets the mood for an insane lumberjack to emerge from an abandoned sawmill, chain saw growling, as he rushes at the passing train. I think some of the littler kids had to change their costumes before trick-or-treat.

We did not make it to Hesston this year. Beth asked me about it. Our friends were not able to go and Bill and I did not have the heart to go alone. As more of the "attractions" disappear, the disappointment increases. Maybe we'll have to find a new autumn destination - or maybe a year off will put new allure into the outing. We'll let you know next year whether we resume the annual tradition. Maybe you can join us.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Well That's The Way I Remember It!

"It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life." P.D. James

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Gettin' Plastered

Writing about the paper dolls reminded me of something from Kindergarten, or possibly first grade - the plaster birthday cake.

Can you imagine anything more torturous to a five or six year old than a beautiful birthday cake, iced in white frosting and decorated with sugar roses, and completely inedible?

At school, this cake was brought out to celebrate each birthday. There was one of those birthday candles in the shape of a number 5 or number 6, depending on the birthday child's age, stuck in a hole in the top of the cake. The candle was lit and the class sang happy birthday to the lucky celebrant. All those eager young eyes gazed at the sugar white frosting, the pastel tinted icing roses, the burning candle, as they anticipated the deliciousness of birthday cake.

The birthday child took a deep breath and blew out the candle. Now was the time when the cake would normally be cut. But no, the candle was removed and allowed to cool and the cake, that beautiful, sumptuous looking cake, was slid back into the cupboard to wait for the next birthday.

Unfortunately, they did not wrap the cake with tissue or anything and eventually, it became encrusted with dust. But to the eyes of a five-going-on-six year old it always appeared magically delicious.

Years later my sis made an awesome assemblage (that's artist talk for a sort of sculpture). It consisted of a doll house, the attic ceiling painted blue, with clouds to resemble the sky. Inexplicably, a plane was flying through the attic.

In one of the downstairs rooms (the dining room, no doubt) was a circle of little girl figures, cast in plaster, sitting in chairs and wearing party dresses. The circle of plaster girls surrounded one of those magical plaster birthday cakes, complete with plaster icing roses and a few unexplained finger prints, as though some disbelieving six year old boy had attempted, a little too aggressively, to taste the icing.

The cake was monstrously large in proportion to the party girls. In fact, it filled the room floor to ceiling. The piece evoked the childish wonder inherent in all birthday and other celebrations - the eager anticipation, the feverish excitement of reality, and even the disappointing letdown when the event did not quite live up to its initial promise. In all, a remarkable and inspired work of art.

Imagine my delight when my sis bequeathed this wonderful childhood reminder to me. Now I can have my cake and . . . not . . . eat it . . . just like in the old days.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Enough Is As Good As A Feast.

"All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece, but not too much."
George Harrison

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I'll Trade You Two Whistlers For A Piccaso

I have a knack for getting into trends only after they are passe.

I recently heard about Artist Trading Cards. If you remember baseball cards as a kid you have a good idea what these are. They are cards the same size as baseball cards only they are created by artists. As near as I can figure out, it seems way, way back in the late 1990s someone made a bunch of these cards and gave them away. Other artists got in on the trend and the only stipulation was that the cards be given or traded, never sold.

As was inevitable the cards moved from the realm of art to the area of scrapbookers and rubber stampers. Which is not to say the cards aren't still lovely little things to have, they have just evolved from what they were.
I discovered them through some random google search and decided to try making some. The results were not bad so I decided to see if I could get in on a "swap".

Groups would host swaps sometimes as part of a quilter's convention or some other auxilliary activity. Artists or crafters would bring a supply of their cards, often linked by a theme, and trade them for other cards. There are on-line swaps where the crafter must send their supply of cards (enough to swap and one for the "pot") before the swap deadline. The swap organizer would then randomly sort the cards and everyone would get back a selection of cards from the other artists.

It seemed the cards were hotter than Matchbox cars and that crafters and artists everywhere were creating and collecting them. I decided I had to get into a swap but first I had to find one and then I had to make my cards.
Cards are made by several methods including rubber stamping, collage, paint and just about any other technique. Some are even made by computerized graphics. Cards can be made individually or a whole sheet of paper can be made into one design and then cut apart into the individual cards.

I found a swap organized by a beading shop not far from me. It was handled by mail. As directed I made my selection of cards - enough for the swap and one for the shop - based on the theme announced on the web site. I didn't cheat. I even tossed the "not good enough" cards and made extras that were up to my standards.

I sent off my cards as directed in the appropriate sized envelope with sufficient postage and a postage paid self addressed envelope enclosed. And I waited. I waited. Waited.

I never got my cards. I called the shop and was told they had never received them. I did check the web site a few times to see if any of my cards appeared in the postings but I never saw them.

That was my first and only attempt to swap them. Too bad because I made enough cards, according the the posted themes, for the next few monthly swaps as well. But I couldn't bring myself to send them. That's a lot of postage to let your precious works of art disappear into post office oblivion.

So I kept the cards and showed them to a few people. The best one, Turkey Girl, I gave to my sister. She loved it, of course, as I knew she would.

Maybe I'll make some more cards some day. They are fairly easy and quite a bit of fun. But I don't think I'll try swapping them unless I find a live swap, which isn't likely since nobody seems to be doing the swaps anymore. They seem to have faded away. Too bad. From the examples I have seen on the web sites, I would really like to have a collection of these cards, just for fun.

If you are reading this and would like to swap cards with me let me know. Maybe we can work something out. In the meantime, google Artist Trading Cards and marvel at the images.

Quotable Quotes; in the category I Don't Know Much About Art But . . .

"I've never believed in God, but I believe in Picasso."
Diego Rivera

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Say It's Only A Paper Doll!

When I was a kid we played with paper dolls. Didn't everybody? The kind we liked best were the kind you could buy at Kresge's. They probably cost less than a dollar or we wouldn't have been able to buy them. They were on the same rack as the coloring books. Whitman made those coloring books. They probably made the paper dolls too. I think the Little Golden Books were on the same rack.

The paper dolls were the punch out kind. I think you had to cut the clothes out with scissors, though. The clothes had those obnoxious tabs all around, the dolls had a half-moon thing that you had to insert into the feet to make the dolls stand up. The deluxe models even had a pocket in the back of the book to stick all the clothes so they wouldn't get lost. Right.

In Kindergarten and possibly first grade, there was a very high tech "paper" doll that had a velour surface. Her clothes were felt and would just stick to her without tabs. I think there was a wooden "paper" doll too. her clothes were like folded cards, joined at the shoulder, and slipped over her head. Look, Ma! No tabs! Those dolls were awesome.

I also liked the paper dolls that were published by Dover. Jackie Onassis paper dolls, Marilyn Monroe paper dolls, Princess Di paper dolls. Complete with replicas of famous clothing by Oleg Cassini and other designers. Awesome.

I went over to Chris's house to play sometimes. Playing at her house was like going to Disney World (I've never been to an amusement park, not even Edgewater in Detroit. I don't think Bob-lo Island counts). She had books that did not exist in my world - An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield. Her dad painted pictures and these were stacked up against the walls in the basement. She played different games than we did in my neighborhood.

One day, Chris said we could play with her paper dolls. Fine, I love paper dolls. But I had never seen paper dolls like these. They didn't come from any book or any store. Chris and her sisters drew them themselves. These were charming dolls, hand drawn and hand tinted with colored pencils. Rosy cheeks, rosebud lips, flirtatious eyes, hair bows and clothes drawn on (no tabs). Chris and her sisters drew dolls in nightgowns, dolls in school clothes, dolls in play clothes, dolls in their Sunday best.

Then Chris showed me her doll house. Imagine if you will a Montgomery Ward catalog. Flip to the furniture section - beds, sofas, tables and chairs, desks, etc. Imagine a slit cut in each page. On the beds, a slit under the pillows. On the sofas and chairs, a slit where the seat joins the back. Chris would slip the paper doll into the slit and voila! Paper doll in bed; paper doll sitting in a chair; paper doll working at a desk. I was intrigued and amazed, as I was at just about anything Chris did.

Chris's mom's cookies were better than ours. Her school lunches were better than ours. Her bedroom was better than ours. Her books and even her paper dolls were betters than ours. Was I jealous? I was not! I went home and immediately tried to create exact replicas of Chris's paper dolls. Did I succeed? I did not!

I contented myself with my crummy 79 cent Whitman paper dolls and my "Portrait of Skipper" story book. Cuz I knew that next time I went over to Chris's house, I would get to see her awesome paper dolls again, and all her other awesome stuff. Life is good sometimes.

Quotable Quotes; in the category What She Said . . .

"I enjoy getting dressed as a Barbie doll."
Vanna White

Saturday, October 11, 2008

My Favorite Vegetables

I love to do green beans this way. I don't recall where I first found the recipe but as is usual I added the things I like, omitted the things I don't, and changed the rest. Now, it's mine.

I like to do most vegetables this way - green beans, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, just about any green (or cabbage-y) veg.

The first time I tried this recipe it was with a bunch of purple colored beans I had bought at the Farmer's Market. Remarkably, the beans turned bright green as they cooked. Could these be Jack's magic beans from the fairy tale?

Try these. I bet you'll like them.

Green Beans
(or asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, etc).
minced garlic - a clove or two
crushed red pepper flakes - shake some into the pan
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
Optional - hazel nuts, walnuts, pecans or pine nuts (the original recipe called for pine nuts and I found another that called for hazel nuts with walnuts as a substitute. I only use the nuts if it's green beans).

Usually, I just put everything in a skillet just big enough to hold it all, drizzle the oil over and let it sit there until I'm ready to start cooking. I get it ready in advance, have a martini or six, and then I just have to turn on the stove and watch the house burn down. No muss, no fuss.

Or you can heat the oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and red pepper flakes, being careful not to let them burn. Add the beans (or other veg) and saute over medium-high heat until the veg starts to brown and carmelize and become nicely glazed with the oil. Add the nuts about this time and stir and toss just until they toast - don't let them burn. Finish with salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.

When I'm doing Brussels sprouts I usually cut them in half so they cook through. I like it when the veg get really brown, even scorched in spots. For tougher veg like the sprouts, broccoli or cauliflower I might add a little water to the pan to help them steam and cook through.

These are delish. Enjoy them often. And for a real treat, do the beans with slivered almonds and serve alongside a pair of rainbow trout, dredged with seasoned flour and cooked in butter until done. Mmmmm.

Quotable Quotes; in the category You Must Remember This!

"It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't add up to a hill of beans in this crazy world."

from the film Casablanca

Saturday, October 4, 2008

More Salad

Ann read the post about the grape tomato salad and gave me a "recipe" for another one. I love how something simple using two, maybe three ingredients and only common sense to prepare can be called a "recipe" but there you go.

This one uses bocconcini (those tiny little balls of mozzarella cheese) grape tomatoes and pesto. Make the pesto if you want or just buy a jar of it at the store.

Combine approximately equal amounts of the grape tomatoes and the bocconcini. Use cherry tomatoes if that's what you have and cut the tomatoes in half if you wish.

Dress with a goodly amount of the pesto, toss and pop this in the fridge. You want the flavors to meld so everything will be yummy and tasty.

This is one of those dishes that I love to take to a fancy potluck dinner or party. Everybody thinks you worked for hours to make it, or else that you spent gobs of money to buy it at one of those gourmet take out places. In reality, it could not be easier and is not too expensive (like the shrubbery in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail). There, I've given you something to think about while you slice your tomatoes and toss the salad.

Quotable Quotes; in the category How Do You Make That Again?

"Recipe: A series of step-by-step instructions for preparing with ingredients you forgot to buy, using utensils you don't own, to make a dish even the dog won't eat." Author unknown

Saturday, September 27, 2008

You Want Fries With That?

There is a Swedish restaurant near us where we used to go for lunch all the time. Their menu is not huge but there seems to be something for everyone - except Bill. He does not like this restaurant for lunch, although he loves to go there for Dinner.

This restaurant is across the street from the Swedish Covenant university in Chicago. Consequently, one is likely to see whole families dining there on days they came to town to visit their grandson or nephew at college.

The place looks like a typical tea room or lunch room. Small tables that can just barely accommodate four and which can be shoved together for larger parties. Only the absolute minimum amount of space for navigating. Patrons are encouraged to pay their checks at their tables. It's a good thing.

The tablecloths are blue, the napkins are paper, and the wall art is a mural of creepily frolicking pointy-eared gnomes. But there is a blackboard featuring the specials of the day in colored chalk and once you're seated there is little need to get up and walk around (woe the winter day when coats take us as much space as diners).

During the day the menu has a page of breakfast choices and a page of lunch items. These include Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, Orange scented French Toast, assorted pastries, various omelets, quiche of the day, sandwiches and delicious soups - French Onion, Lentil, Carrot. Sandwiches include tuna or chicken salad served on a toasted croissant, the ubiquitous Swedish meatball sandwich, and one time an odd concoction that consisted of a hot dog and mashed potatoes served in a bun with mustard.

Lunch dishes are accompanied by your choice of potatoes or cucumber salad. The salad is sliced cucumbers in a thin sour cream dressing. The potatoes are cubed and fried, not unlike home fries. It is these potatoes that trigger Bill's dislike. I think they're delicious.

My favorite sandwich is the Rubenssen, their take on the classic Reuben sandwich. Corned Beef on Swedish Limpa Rye bread, topped with Jarlsberg cheese and a bit of dressing that might be Thousand Islands but I'm not sure.

Limpa bread is in a class by itself. Sometimes called Swedish Rye, it does not resemble any rye bread that I know and I believe it contains orange essence, cardamom and fennel, which gives it a sweetness and a slight licorice flavor. Limpa toast with your eggs and potatoes is delicious.

Service is attentive if sometimes a little slow. The kitchen seems to be about the size of a large broom closet and the chef and assistant probably have to like each other a whole lot to work together in such a small space. But they turn out delicious and imaginative dishes, well prepared and freshly made.

We had one of those coupon books that included a coupon for this restaurant. Buy one dinner, get one free. I urged Bill to try it with me. After much hemming and hawing he finally gave in. We called to verify they were open, then drove to the place. All appeared dark within. How could this be? We just spoke to them minutes ago!

We parked the car and walked to the door. Then we saw that although the lights were out, each table was lit by a tea light candle. Tres romantique! Apparently this is the nightly ritual. Tables that held four, six, eight or more at lunch now held mostly couples. The effect was quiet, serene, romantic and intriguing.

We took a table and scanned the menu. Prices were reasonable and choices, though modest, were varied. Chicken breast with ham and Jarlsberg cheese; salmon with dill; roast pork loin with apples and prunes; each entree accompanied by homemade mashed potato and nicely done green beans. Specials included veal shank, hearty stew, and usually another choice or two.

The wait staff obviously guessed this was our first visit and brought a complimentary appetizer - a light tuna salad dabbed onto small squares of toasted bread. We ordered, we unwrapped our flatware from the cloth napkin, tied with a bit of ribbon, we enjoyed our delicious entrees. Since one of us was eating free we sprang for dessert. As I recall, this was a sort of bread pudding with blueberries and custard sauce, served in a teacup. Charming and tasty.

We were so impressed we added this restaurant to our list of "places to take my mother-in-law and friends that we really like". Breakfast and lunch notwithstanding, Bill likes this place a lot. The in-laws liked it, Don & Louise liked it, everyone who has gone there with us has liked it. I bet you will like it too.

If you are in Chicago, look for the Tre Kronor (Three Crowns) Swedish restaurant on Foster Ave. near Kimball, just across the street from North Park University. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, it's all good. Call first to be sure they are open and to inquire about the wait for a table. Summers, the patio is open too.

Quotable Quotes; in the category how can I still be hungry?

"When it rains soup, the poor man has no spoon."
Swedish Proverb

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Well, It Worked!

Well, It Worked!

Remember that "thing" a few posts ago that was supposed to make a little bag and did not work out?

Well I tried again, actually following the instructions and using the original pattern piece this time and whaddaya know, it worked!

Of course, I did have to make a couple of tiny tweaks that did not come out just exactly as I expected - - - but all in all, success! I now have a tiny little bag on a long strap just the right size to hold a cell phone, drivers license, insurance and credit card a small bit of folding cash.

It's really cute and handy and would make a great gift. And I bet I can even make another one using the pattern I drafted from the instructions.

What would I do different next time? Well, I used scraps of fabric to create the long strip to make the bag. Unfortunately, some of the more interesting fabrics ended up inside the bag after the folding process. Next time I will do the piecing only on the outside end and leave the "business" end plain.

And I used a ready made pocket with a button, thinking I would get an extra pocket and a built in button. It worked great except that the button is coming loose from repeated buttoning and unbuttoning, and it's not really convenient to have to unbutton it when the phone rings. Velcro or a big snap next time!

All in all, it was a success and I am glad I gave it another go. Here is a link to the pouch kit in case you want to try it yourself.

Quotable Quotes; in the category you're sewing again?

"Sewing fills my days,not to mention the living room, bedroom, and closets."
Author Unknown

Well, It Worked!

Remember that "thing" a few posts ago that was supposed to make a little bag and did not work out?

Well I tried again, actually following the instructions and using the original pattern piece this time and whaddaya know, it worked!

Of course, I did have to make a couple of tiny tweaks that did not come out just exactly as I expected - - - but all in all, success! I now have a tiny little bag on a long strap just the right size to hold a cell phone, drivers license, insurance and credit card a small bit of folding cash.

It's really cute and handy and would make a great gift. And I bet I can even make another one using the pattern I drafted from the instructions.

What would I do different next time? Well, I used scraps of fabric to create the long strip to make the bag. Unfortunately, some of the more interesting fabrics ended up inside the bag after the folding process. Next time I will do the piecing only on the outside end and leave the "business" end plain.

And I used a ready made pocket with a button, thinking I would get an extra pocket and a built in button. It worked great except that the button is coming loose from repeated buttoning and unbuttoning, and it's not really convenient to have to unbutton it when the phone rings. Velcro or a big snap next time!

All in all, it was a success and I am glad I gave it another go. Here is a link to the pouch kit in case you want to try it yourself.

Quotable Quotes; in the category You're Sewing Again?

"Sewing fills my days,not to mention the living room, bedroom, and closets." Author Unknown

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Not So Lazy Circles In The Sky

My office is on the 6th (top) floor. Today about 5 pm I noticed the crows flying around in an agitated way. The reason? A group of falcons were dive bombing them. At first they were near the trees, whose tops came up to the 4th or 5th floor, then they gravitated over to the 4 story building a little ways away.

I believe I counted four falcons. I think they're the type known as Sparrow Hawk or American Kestrel. Most likely it is a family out for a fly with mom and dad and the folks just want to keep the big birds away.

Watching them is not unlike watching otters on a mission. At times playful, at times all business, they swoop and dive, soar and roll, coming to light on the building ridges or tree tops before taking off again.

I usually don't work this late. Makes me wonder what else I may be missing.

I know hawks are becoming more prevalent in this area. Bill and I watch for them when driving on the expressway. There are at least four different hawks that live about a quarter mile away from each other and that we often see perched on the tall light posts at the expressway exits. Bill has named them. I just like to watch.

We have seen Sparrow Hawks in the alley while sitting in the backyard. At the old house, I once saw one land on the bird feeder, sending a few dozen sparrows in all directions, as I sat on the back porch.

Of all the beautiful birds, we like the raptors best, especially the hawks. Dunno why. Maybe because when I was taking flamenco dancing lessons, our teacher told us our arms were meant to mimic the wings of a hawk. Or because, as cartoonist Gary Larson of The Far Side said, they know they're cool!

Quotable Quotes; in the category What He Said.

"The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim."
Sun Tzu

Monday, July 14, 2008

What Are "Salad Days" Anyway?

Some things are just stupid easy. You know, things you almost have to be stupid to be able to do.

I'm talking about recipes (again). I have a few that I either found or made up that make a dish that is totally delish, but that require so little thought or effort to prepare, it's like cheating.

I fell in love with grape tomatoes the minute I saw them. They're tasty and they're cuter than regular cherry tomatoes. At least I think so. Trouble is around here they go on sale where you have to buy two containers and I sometimes can't eat them fast enough. Sharing is one option. Long lasting salads is another.

I don't know where I got the idea for this salad or if I just made it up. But it's really good, with or without the vodka, and it lasts a long time. I think the dressing preserves the tomatoes. I mean, hey, they're soaking in BOOZE! Stupid!

Grape Tomato Salad

Slice one container of grape tomatoes in half on the diagonal (looks prettier).
Slice a medium sweet onion thinly. Cut it in half first so the slices will be bite sized.

Toss these together in a bowl with a good splash of balsamic or wine vinegar, hefty pinches of salt and pepper, basil and oregano and any other herbs of your choice, and a good glug of olive oil. Optional, add a splash of vodka just for fun. You can add a tiny bit of sugar for a little extra sweetness. Let this marinate overnight in the fridge and serve cold or at room temperature.

I take this with me in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid. It's tasty with a sandwich or just about anything and the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar complements the sweetness of the tomatoes. The vodka is just cuz' I like it.

Here's another salad that was inspired by seeing Alice Waters on a cooking show with Julia Child. They included sliced raw mushrooms in their salad but I left them out because I don't like them. I also altered the recipe radically because I did not write it down and by now I make it quite different from the way I first saw it. If you like fennel, you will like this. And it stays fresh and crunchy for a long time. Just as easy, but you need an extra piece of equipment for this one.

Fennel Onion Salad

Shred paper thin with a mandolin or food processor one bulb of fennel and one good sized sweet onion. Optional - add carrots also sliced paper thin, and sliced mushrooms.

Whisk in a bowl balsamic or wine vinegar, salt and pepper, a dab of spicy mustard and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice (or even orange or grapefruit). Add hefty pinches of herbs of your choice (herbes de Provence would be good) and some ground cumin. A little good quality olive oil and that's it. Add the sliced veg, toss well and serve.

I don't have a mandolin although I would like one. Instead I have this silly thing that came free with something I bought from a catalog. You must have seen one somewhere. It's a long, narrow plastic box, about 3 1/2 by 10 inches. It has a top that will accept an assortment of slicing blades. The one I use most often is the regular slicer (sometimes I use the grater for grating a lot of cheese). This slicing blade makes slices of carrot, fennel, onion and potato that you can almost read through.

When you're done, you just pile all the blades back into the box and pop on the top. It was free and it works. What's not to like?

Anyway, I like these two salads because I can practically make them in my sleep and except for the mandolin, I only have to wash a knife and a bowl. And if I make them in the plastic storage bowl, I don't even have to wash that until the salad is gone.

Easy. Stupid easy!

Quotable Quotes; in the category Wait . . . What?

“We became vegetarian. But that didn't last very long, because, um, I don't like vegetables. Or salad, nothing like that!”
Dakota Fanning

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I Scream, You Scream, You Know Where This Is Going, Right?

Like most fads, recipes make the rounds. Foods and recipes come in and go out of style, recipes are traded, and old, passe recipes come back in style years later, like the Martini, for instance.

Or take a look at one of those "church lady" type cookbooks, the kind where everybody contributes their favorite recipes for Layered Nacho Salad or Cream Cheese & Clam Dip, or Cookies Made From A Cake Mix. Depending on when the cookbook was put together, and the ages of the recipe contributors, you will find recipes for Veggies & Dill Dip, Sweet Pickles Made From Dill Pickles, Hummos & Pita Chips or Cream Cheese Brownies.

Have you ever seen a recipe for Amish Friendship Bread? Popular during the 1970s, a friend would give you a Cool Whip container full of bubbly, yeasty goo and the instructions to keep the starter going and a recipe to bake the bread. Amish Friendship Bread was a sort of coffee cake with cinnamon crumb topping (as I recall) and was quite good.

One of the catches was that you had to "double" the starter you received and give the extra to another friend. This generated a round of starter swapping, similar to what occurs when a friend invites you to a Tupperware party. Every guest ends up having their own party and you end up attending a dozen parties and buying enough Tupperware to become a Tupperware saleswoman yourself. It's fun, but soon the novelty wears off and the responsibility of keeping that "starter" going gets to be too much and eventually, it is allowed to die.

No problem, cookbooks and websites abound with the recipe. Unless you are superstitious, it's not problem to whip up your own starter. And while you are at it, give the extra to a friend and start a new round of Friendship Bread!

One recipe I remember, that became quite popular and then faded away, was for "ice cream". What made it unusual was that you did not need an ice cream maker nor did you need to cook and chill a concoction containing cream, eggs, vanilla and other expensive ingredients. Basically, jam was mixed with buttermilk and frozen to make a dish reminiscent of frozen yogurt, or Frogurt, as it was often called, and which was also gaining popularity at the time. The bonus was, if you used low fat buttermilk this was a low fat recipe!

The recipe ran in a popular women's magazine and in my recollection, I and my friends traded the recipe and announced our successes or failures using different kinds of jam. If I recall correctly, I probably only made this once or possibly twice. But it was good. And it couldn't be easier!

If you have an ice cream maker, the kind that requires a mixing bowl to be left in your freezer, or the kind that requires ice and rock salt, or the kind that costs hundreds of dollars and requires neither, go ahead and give this recipe a try.

And if you don't have any sort of ice cream maker, try it anyway. All you need is a little room in your freezer for the container of ice cream. It won't be there very long because if it's good, you'll eat it all up and if it's not, you'll toss it. Give it a try!

Strawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream
Serves: 8

2 cups nonfat buttermilk
1 1/2 cups strawberry jam

Stir buttermilk and strawberry jam together until well combined and pour into a freezer proof pan or bowl. Freeze firm, removing from the freezer to scrape with a spoon every 15 or 20 minutes. You may cut up pieces of frozen mixture and place in chilled mixer bowl, whip with electric mixer until fluffy, and return mixture to freezer pan until firm. Or, freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturers directions. Try other jam flavors.

Quotable Quotes; In the category I'll Have Some Anyway.

"The Frogurt is also cursed . . . That's bad."

From The Simpson's Treehouse of Terror III; Clown Without Pity

Monday, June 16, 2008

Don't Laugh!

I bought this "thing" from a sewing catalog - it's a piece of interfacing that you are supposed to iron onto a long strip of material (or one that you pieced together from scraps). The interfacing is marked out in sections so that all you do is iron it on, attach straps and Velcro, fold according to the markings and sew around the edges. When you turn it right side out it magically becomes a little pouch for your cell phone with an extra pocket for change, your licence, etc. and a long strap.

So being me, I decided before I used up the interfacing I would trace it onto a paper pattern so I could continue to make pouches after the interfacing was gone. All I would have to do is use a piece of regular interfacing and transfer the markings to it. Easy? Simple? Don't bet on it!

I decided to use two layers of lightweight material since I did not have any extra interfacing laying around (and I didn't feel like digging through piles of stashed scraps and fabrics to find some).

I decided to embroider a design on the material first and followed my homemade pattern for the placement of the embroidered design. Who knew the placement would be off just enough to throw my carefully placed design way off kilter?

I decided to use a button loop and button instead of Velcro. Who knew the placement would be off just enough to leave the loop off center and the button INSIDE the finished pouch!

Because I used two layers of material (I thought it would be the same as one layer of fabric and one layer of interfacing) the thing was so bulky that I couldn't turn it right side out without tearing out the side seam.

Once I had the thing turned right side out the button loop was off center, the button was inside the pocket, the flap was too loose to close anyway and for some reason, the shoulder strap wound up sewn INSIDE the finished pouch. Too bad, this had the potential of being a really cute little thingy. I had plans to make several for gifts.

Actually, like most things, I could see the cause of my errors as I went along and I think I can fix them all. I just have to get over the waste of the time and material and get in the mood to try again. This time I will definitely use interfacing and will probably even use the preprinted piece that came with the kit. Then if that works I'll know it was just "beginner's luck" that caused my first failure.

Anyway, you probably will NOT be getting a personalized cell phone pouch for your birthday. But keep your eyes open - - - maybe around Christmas? Who knows?

Quotable Quotes; in the category Not AGAIN, I just FIXED that!

As ye sew, so shall ye rip. ~Author Unknown

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Coke Is It!

There is a story that occasionally makes the rounds of Internet and has probably landed in your email from time to time. It claims that Coca Cola is so highly acidic that it has been used for everything from removing rust from chrome, corrosion from battery terminals and stains from toilets.

Believe.

Bill and I are incurable pack rats. I am thoroughly convinced we suffer from the hoarding disorder. I offer the following as proof.

There was a time when Coke (and Squirt, and Vernor's and Root Beer) was on sale for real cheap - like a case for less than $4. We would buy it like it was going out of style. Then after awhile we either got tired of it or "forgot" it was there. At any rate, it went undrunk and remained stacked under the laundry tubs in the basement.

Eventually, we noticed that some of the cans had leaked. Not sure if they were punctured or if the seal at the pop-top had failed. But we found half filled cans and leakage on the floor under the laundry tubs. One glance told us that the beverage was far past its prime. Time to throw out the old coke.

Bill decided to empty the cans into the laundry tub on laundry day so that the water from the washing machine would wash the sticky residue down the drain. He spent quite some time emptying cans until he got tired or until he got a blister on his thumb (we had bought a LOT of soda). It worked like a charm and the only mess to clean up was the one under the laundry tubs.

Well, there was still quite a bit of old soda yet to dispose of and Bill decided yesterday was the day. I told him I was ready to do laundry and he proceeded to empty cans of soda into the laundry tub. He piled the empties in a laundry basket, lined with a heavy duty plastic bag. When the basket was full Bill asked me to unfold the plastic bag and pull it up high so he could add more cans to the bag.

Then he showed me something interesting. Many of the cans had reacted with the acidic soda they contained. The soda had eaten right through the aluminum cans and leaked all over. I can't tell you how long this took, but I can tell you it was an awesome sight, and an awesome phenomenon to ponder.

Behold the power or Coke. I don't know if it will rot your stomach, remove road tar or clean your car battery. But I do know that it will eat right through the can in which it is packaged.

Not that I intend to stop drinking it. Coke is still my favorite soft drink. And did you know, you can buy Kosher Coke or Coke bottled in Mexico that is still made with cane sugar (nowadays soda is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, like everything else). Some people claim they can taste the difference. I'm afraid all those years of drinking this corrosive beverage may have eroded my taste buds. Just tastes like Coke to me. But it might be worth a try if you have a sensitive palate. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

And remember, things go better with Coke 'cuz it's the real thing, so have a Coke and a smile!

Quotable Quotes; In the category No, Wait, That's Not Quite What I Meant.

"It is like comparing champagne with cognac. No-with Coca-Cola."
Opera Diva Maria Callas

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

'Bout Time For A New Post

Sorry 'bout that. I thought it was still Mardi Gras!

But seriously, I have been so busy I have not had time to update. This one will be quick.

What have I been doing? Trying to knit 2 socks at the same time on circular knitting needles.

Non-knitters won't know what I'm talking about, nor will they likely care. But anyone who has ever knit (or contemplated knitting) a pair of socks will have at least an inkling.

Apparently there has been a quiet movement afoot (pun definitely intended) in the world of sock knitters. Apparently many knitters find double pointed needles, the usual means of knitting socks, mittens or other small, tubular, seamless items, difficult to work with. Apparently many knitters find it bothersome, once they have completed the first sock or mitten, to have to turn around and knit another one to match. Apparently this has become quite a big deal. Or maybe they are just looking for new worlds to conquer, Alexander the Great notwithstanding.

For your enjoyment, here is an illustration from Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. It is by John Tenniel, the quintessential Alice illustrator, and purportedly shows a sheep knitting on multiple needles. Throughout the chapter, the sheep continues to add more and more needles causing Alice to ponder how she can knit with so many. From Chapter V, Wool and Water.

At any rate, a number of books, articles and websites have sprung up on the topic of knitting small tubular seamless items on circular needles rather than on a set of 4 or 5 double pointed needles. One faction prefers the use of two circular needles while another advocates the use of a single long needle and the employment of the "magic loop".

I really can't say much about these techniques in any way that would allow you to envision them. There are a number of web sites that have excellent pictures and good instructions (although better than pictures, which only speak a thousand words, is a real live person showing you how. Suddenly, few words are needed). Try googling "socks circular needles" for the web sites that show this technique if you're interested or otherwise have too much time.

The upshot is I have tried knitting small tubes with one and with two circular needles and I favor the two needle method. Not that I have any real problem with the set of double pointed needles, unless maybe minor irritation at having to knit a second sock. The trouble seems to be that the second is not exactly identical to the first, perhaps having a few extra stitches or a few missing rows. I guess there's something about striving for exactness (let's not say perfection) that prompts such efforts.

I now have a pair of experimental socks hanging from my pair of circular needles. I have been working on them about a week and have knitted about 3 inches on each one. I can see already that it's going to take a bit longer to knit two socks than it would to knit one at a time. It may even take longer to knit two socks at once than it would to knit two socks one at a time. But even I can see that once those buggers are finished, they will be finished and I won't have to go back and knit a mate for an orphan sock - they'll be born as twins. I can wear them home!

Quotable quotes; In the category Honey, hand me that long skinny thing there.

"A #6 aluminum needle has been known to furnish an excellent emergency shearpin for an outboard motor." Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitter/Author Extraordinaire

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Mardi Gras!

Today is mardi gras.

I never celebrated this particular event as a kid and is seems it's not widely celebrated "up north" where I live. But a few years ago some friends became involved in a "krewe" whose main purpose was to promote the celebration of mardi gras and to throw a blast of a mardi gras party each year.

The first year I went to that party I was asked to come as a guest and video-tape the set-up and the main events of the party so the krewe could have a record of their event. I was an invited guest again for the next couple years and always had a blast at this party. They serve lots of jambalaya, dirty rice and corn bread and the hurricanes (rum punch) flow freely. The music is a gas and the costumes, formal wear and masks make it a great party. Plus the group is filled with really great people.

Consequently, I love mardi gras beads, masks, and music. Today, I am tuned in to WWOZ and am listening to mardi gras tunes, wearing my beads, and have decorated my cubicle with impromptu masks. I wish I knew where I could score a piece of King cake (actually, the cafeteria probably has some as they are serving a mardi gras buffet lunch today).

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Lenten season and the end of fun, carnival, excess, sweets and partying. So for today I say to you all "Laissez les bon temps roulez"!!!

Quotable quotes; In the category Why? Because we like to!

"On Mardi Gras we dance 'cause we want to"! All on Mardi Gras Day: Episodes in the History of New Orleans Carnival,
by Reid Mitchell

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Roast Beef

We had roast beef this week. A rare enough occurrence given that I'm not really fond of rare beef and apparently rare is the only way to cook roast beef. But they had the "Boston Roast" on sale and this is usually a small roast easily consumed by two. The cookbooks say this cut is meant to be pot-roasted (braised in liquid) but while it can be tough when roasted, we have usually had good luck with roasting. It was over 4 pounds. Just big enough for roast beef one night and leftovers for a couple meals.

Roasting beef couldn't be easier. Bring the meat to room temperature by letting it sit out for an hour or so. Heat the oven to a blasting 550 f. Put the roast in the oven in a pan with no rack, no liquid, no nothing and immediately turn the heat down to 350 and let it go for about 20 - 30 minutes per pound (the longer time if it's been rolled and tied) for medium, a little less for rare.

Let the roast stand, covered loosely with foil, for 10 minutes or so before carving to let the juices settle and there you are. I get the outside cuts as they are generally less rare than the later slices, which Bill adores.

You can mix about 1/4 cup flour with salt and pepper and your favorite herbs and rub the roast with this, before cooking, for a crusty exterior. You can slice potatoes, onions and carrots and scatter them in the pan. You can pour some beer or wine in the pan to help those veg cook a little (or parboil them first) and to help the pan drippings along.

If you want Yorkshire Pudding with your roast, and who doesn't, here's how. Mix an egg with about a cup each of milk and flour with a pinch of salt. Whisk until lump free. Then let it sit there while the roast cooks and whisk it a couple more times. It should resemble a thin pancake batter, a little thicker than for crepes.

When you take the roast out to rest, turn the oven up to 450 and if there's not a lot of grease in the pan add a little oil, butter, margarine or bacon fat. Let it get ripping hot and then pour the batter in all at once. Put it back in the oven for about 10 - 20 minutes, then turn the heat back down to 350 and let it cook until done, brown and shiny, about 10 - 20 minutes more. It will puff up and get a shiny crust and is delicious cut or torn into serving pieces and served with the beef and veg.

I know some people make gravy to accompany roast beef but mom never did this and so I don't either. I just pour any of the pan drippings over the meat and let it go at that. Roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding is great with brussels sprouts or cauliflower. Serve tea after the meal for a very English touch.

I like to use the leftovers to make roast beef hash, roast beef sandwiches or fake Stroganoff. Chill the leftover meat and then slice it as thin as you can get it for sandwiches or Stroganoff. Use the bits and chunks for hash.

Hash - chop the beef and any leftover veg fairly fine. Heat some oil or bacon grease in a skillet and add a minced onion if you didn't have any leftover, and then a diced potato. Finally add the chopped beef and veg and heat through. You can let it get pan-crispy if you wish but you probably don't want to cook the beef too long. Salt and pepper, a little cayenne, tobasco or worcestershire sauce and it's ready to serve, with or without an egg.

Sandwiches - Reheat the thinly sliced beef in beef bullion or consomme with any of the juices. You can slice and saute an onion and a red or green pepper first if you wish, and add some herbs and seasonings. Not too much liquid - just enough to keep it moist. Pile the meat and veg onto buns that you have split and toasted and dressed with mayo or mustard and top with some Provolone or Swiss cheese.

Stroganoff - my favorite - Heat a little oil and saute some fresh mushrooms (or use canned) along with a bit of onion or garlic if you like. Add a package of instant beef or brown gravy mix and the water called for on the package. Stir to combine, then add the sliced meat and heat until the gravy has thickened and the meat is heated through. Stir in a few spoonfuls of sour cream and serve over rice or noodles. Couldn't be easier! And as Lucy says, "It's so tasty, too"!

Quotable Quotes; In the category Spread Out!

Mustard's no good without roast beef". Chico Marx, from the film Monkey Business

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Please, Sir, I want some more!

Yep, soup again. Chicken this time. I roasted a chicken this past weekend. I only buy chickens when they are on sale and this one was 69 cents a pound. Gone are the days when the Jewel had them for 29 cents or even less - a 3 or 4 pound chicken could cost less than a dollar! Of course they were those scrawny "fryers" but they were still good, and just the right size for two!

This chicken was a "roaster" with a fat breast and thighs, quite plump and just itching to make us happy. I like to cut the chicken down the backbone, spread it out and flatten it by pressing on the breast bone. Tuck the wings up and around and roast it that way. Some recipes call this butterflying, others call it spatchcocking. I don't care what you call it, I do it cuz it's easy and cuz the whole chicken cooks evenly without the breast meat drying out AND the entire thing ends up with crisp, crackly skin all over!

I cut up carrots, onion, celery and potatoes into chunks and scatter them in the roasting pan, then lay the seasoned chicken over them, skin side up. Season with salt and pepper, seasoned salt or your favorite rub. I kind of nudge the veggies back under the chicken so they'll cook through. Be sure to leave some peeking out - they'll get deliciously browned and caramelized.

The neck, giblets and extra bits go into a small pan of water to simmer. Halfway through the cooking time I use this broth to start basting the bird to keep it moist and help it brown evenly. I cook it at 400 to 450 f for about an hour or so. It's done when the leg moves freely or when the juices run clear or when a thermometer registers - I don't know, check your cookbook. Let it rest a few minutes before carving and serve with some of the pan juices and the veg.

As Bill said, "that was absolutely delicious".

Now comes the free food. When the chicken is cool remove all the meat from the bones. Set it aside for chicken salad, pot pie, chicken and dumplings or what have you. Also set aside the leftover veg. Take all the bones and any bits of fat, skin, or anything the cat didn't steal and put it in a sauce pan. Rinse the roasting pan several times with water to remove all the baked on goodness and pour that into the pot with the bones. Scrape up any burned bits and get them in there too. You might also want to add the trimmings from the carrots and onions and anything left from simmering the giblets earlier. A couple of bay leaves and peppercorns would not be out of place.

Bring this to a simmer and let it go for a couple hours while you do the dishes, snack on chicken bits and make sandwiches for lunch the next day. When the broth is good and rich, turn it off and let it cool a bit. Remove and discard the bones and strain the broth through a sieve. I just pile all the bones and stuff in a sieve and pour the broth through, letting it drain completely. When this has cooled a bit more pour it into tall narrow containers (the ones that large size won ton soup come in are just right). Put in the fridge. The fat rises to the top and you can scrape it off to discard or use next time you make chopped liver.

Turn this into soup by dicing and browning some onion, carrot, celery and garlic in olive oil. Add the de-fatted stock and bring to a simmer. Taste and add some chicken bullion, if necessary, or thin with a little water or extra canned chicken broth.

Now you get to add whatever you like. Barley, noodles, orzo or rice are all good. Some of the leftover chicken is excellent. Add any other vegetables you desire such as peas, green beans or corn. Season with herbs, spices, a splash of wine, beer or lemon juice to perk it up. Add some chopped spinach, Swiss chard, kale or other greens at the end and let them get tender. When it's hot and the pasta has cooked through it's ready to serve.

If you have been saving your leftover vegetables in the freezer, this is practically free food. And remember, soup loves you.

Quotable Quotes; In the category You Said A Mouthful!

"Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup? Who soothes you when you are ill? Who refuses to leave you when you are impoverished and stretches its resources to give a hearty sustenance and cheer? Who warms you in the winter and cools you in the summer? Yet who also is capable of doing honor to your richest table and impressing your most demanding guests? Soup does its loyal best, no matter what undignified conditions are imposed upon it. You don't catch steak hanging around when you're poor and sick, do you?" Judith Martin (Miss Manners)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Poetry Hour

Every once in awhile someone sends me an email filled with cat haikus. In case you don't know a haiku (sometimes spelled hokku) is a 17 syllable poem usually (at least as far as I know) in three lines - 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables - something like this:

Look, the little mouse
sleeps and thinks I do not see.
I pounce, no more mouse!

The fun part is every time I see an email or a reference to cat haiku, I'm reminded of a poem that my sister sent me. I don't remember the title but it was probably something deep and meaningful, like "dog". Here's the poem.

You gonna eat that?
You gonna eat that?
You gonna eat that?
I'll eat that!

I liked the poem and thought it fit the personality of most dogs perfectly. However, being a person who understands cats infinitely better than I do dogs, I was immediately inspired with the cat version of this poem. It goes like this.

You gonna eat that?
GIMME that!

Anyone who knows cats will fully understand the implications.

Quotable Quotes; In the category I Heard You The First Time!

"Dogs come when they're called; cats take a message and get back to you later". Mary Bly