Friday, November 7, 2014

fall pantry-clean-out top ten, y'all

     My husband was called out of town on business... a trip slated to last three days, tops. He was in sunny California for six. Subsequently, I had some free time on my hands... you know, since husbands require quite a bit of upkeep.
     Bright and early one morning, I began the arduous task of cleaning out my pantry and food cupboards. I was inspired by a recent cleansing at work... in our commercial pantry-room.
     I'm a bit more lax in my own kitchen. I don't purge as often as I should. I've compiled a silly little list of things I discovered while cleaning. More serious organizational stuff might be useful another time, but for now, in my delirious, I-have-a-hoarding-favorite-dry-goods state, hilarity is the order of the day. (If you need REAL help organizing your pantry, look here.)
Here's the top ten:
1. I own enough dry pasta to feed Italy. The country.
2. There are nine varieties of rice in the Rice basket and not one is long-grain white. I heart: short-grain brown, long-grain black, Camargue red rice, Valencia pearl, saffron yellow, Caribbean pineapple-coconut rice mix, organic five-grain and two types of arborrio risotto rice, (Campanini and Nano.)
3. I was horrified to learn that I'm nearly out of mustard. I only found six bottles. (Read the mustard-hoarding story here.)
4. The winner of the longevity-in-the-pantry/ most-outdated item award goes to a small box of Jello brand Cook-and-Serve Banana pudding mix, dated November of 2006... An entire year before we even moved into this house. Ugh, smh.
5. If you ignore mini marshmallows long enough, they form a solid mass, taking the shape of the container they're in. Once they've assumed this shape, marshmallows are reticent to give up their new lodgings. I'm sure given a large enough quantity, you could use them as foam insulation.
6. An old, forgotten potato will eat the paint right off a pantry shelf.
7. I have a slight obsession with anything saucy and anything used to make something saucy... but I don't stop with one type of anything. Variety is the SAUCE of life. In my arsenal are several types of each: barbecue sauce, chutney, jam, relish, mustard, salsa, vinegars, oils, syrup, oriental sauces, hot sauce, flavorings and extracts. I also like things that are pickled and brined.
8. I never think to myself, "Let's bake something!" The baking section is sorely neglected. The new can of baking powder is two years old.
9. I have a lot of canned pumpkin... it's a good thing that Autumn is here! Time for Pumpkin-Apple Muffins!
10. I have more than enough, am so blessed with abundance. I'm pledging to buy less, use everything I purchase and try not to buy out every sale on imported pasta or French mustard I happen to stumble upon... (Okay, okay. I did say, TRY.)
Psalm 65: 5-11
 "You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our Savior.
You are the hope of everyone on earth, even those who sail on distant seas.
You formed the mountains by your power
    and armed yourself with mighty strength.
You quieted the raging oceans
    with their pounding waves
    and silenced the shouting of the nations.
Those who live at the ends of the earth
    stand in awe of your wonders.
From where the sun rises to where it sets,
    you inspire shouts of joy.
You take care of the earth and water it,
    making it rich and fertile.
The river of God has plenty of water;
    it provides a bountiful harvest of grain,
    for you have ordered it so.
10 You drench the plowed ground with rain,
    melting the clods and leveling the ridges.
You soften the earth with showers
    and bless its abundant crops.
11 You crown the year with a bountiful harvest;
    even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.
I Peter 1: 2, 3 "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.  His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness."   

stir fry: a tale of the farmers' market bounty

     You never know what will turn up at your local Farmers' Market from week to week. It's very exciting in a what-the-heck-am-I-cooking?  sort of way! If your pantry is well-stocked with basic ingredients, you can whip up a healthy, satisfying meal in minutes!
     So, what do you do when you've gotten carried away again at the farmers' market? Get creative!
      Refrigerator foraging expedition produced the following: Three cups of cooked short-grain brown rice, roasted chicken carcass still plump with meat and a few whole carrots, plus oils and seasonings from the pantry.
     Occasionally, when they're on sale, I buy those tubes of spice blend or paste to keep on hand. They have a longer shelf life than fresh, seldom used items. Today, I have lemongrass and ginger pastes.   
     Locally grown goodies from the farmers' market are: Spring onions, Brussels sprout greens and mung bean sprouts. Let's stir-fry!
Ingredients
2 t. coconut oil
1/2 t. sesame oil
2 carrots, sliced on the bias
a few spring onions, sliced on the bias
1 garlic clove, minced
3 c. cold, cooked rice
1 c. cooked chicken, shredded or chopped
a handful of sprout greens, cut into strips
1 c. bean sprouts
1/2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1/4 t. lemongrass paste
1 t. ginger paste
1 T. hoisin sauce
Directions
Prepare all recipe components before beginning the cooking process. Stir-frying is quite fast! The goal is for the veggies to retain their bright, fresh appearance and to still be crisp-tender to the bite.
Heat oils in bottom of wok on medium-high heat. Add carrots and cook for a minute or two, then add spring onions and minced garlic. When veggies are a little soft, turn up the heat, add rice and stir-fry rice until it begins to brown. Add chicken to heat through. Toss in sprout greens and beans sprouts. Stir food around in wok to insure even browning.
Salt and pepper everything to taste... but be very conservative with the salt at this point. We're not done seasoning and hoisin is rather salty. You can add to your dish, but never take it away once it is too salty.
Stir together lemongrass and ginger pastes and hoisin. Mix into wok ingredients and simmer for a minute or two. Taste once again for seasoning, then eat immediately.
Whether it's lunch or dinner... You're done in a snap! And look how crisp and bright those veggies look! Sigh.... I heart the Farmers' Market.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

how much is that baby in the window and how often do you have to express the anal glands?

     You know how when you lay down to sleep, your mind has other ideas? Well my mind occasionally spits out entire letters, blog posts, three-act plays, witty banter and snappy retorts. They appear fully formed. No, I really don't understand it either. Here is last night's insomniac installment:

     My daughter is thinking about becoming a dog mom. She is currently a twenty-something career girl who lives with a roommate in a large southern city. She has freedom to come and go as she pleases and boy, she surely does! She could rarely be called a house mouse.
daughter with baby annie
     We chatted about the puppy in question, how hashtagtotesadorbs it is, the size it will become and how it will go nicely with her decor. (It is silvery-gray.) After we talked, I laid in bed waiting for slumber to overtake my buzzing brain, but continued to think about raising a puppy and the experiences we've had, raising four in recent years... the good, the bad and the smelly.
     We all know the absolute joy of having something that idolizes you, gives unlimited kisses and never tires of snuggling. This advice may come across as negative, but if you are well acquainted with me, you'll know that's not the case. If it weren't for my sensible husband, I'd be either an animal hoarder or a crazy canine-rescue person.
     So here is my advice to my darling daughter and everyone like her thinking of taking on a pet:

1. It is very much like giving birth to a human baby. The main difference is that you are allowed by society and the law to lock a puppy in a kennel for a few hours without being arrested. What I mean by comparison is the YOU part of your life comes to a complete standstill, (or end) as you attempt to keep another living organism alive. And that is all it will be for several months. Or forever.
2. The first few weeks are fraught with lack of sleep, as you get up two or three times at night, or actually in the wee morning hours to take it outside in every sort of weather to potty. Also, it is the first time the baby has been away from its mom and siblings, so the high-pitched crying is frequent and LOUD as you try to sleep. Putting her in bed with you helps with the crying and will work, as long as it doesn't WET your bed. Yuck. AND, you still have to rise, attend to morning puppy duty and groom yourself before arriving bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at your real job that pays for your fabulous life.
3. If you leave home for work, plan to rush back at least once a day to rescue puppy from the kennel. (You don't want another case like Lulu, our aged dachshund on your hands... thinking that the kennel is the place to relieve oneself.) The minute you get off work, you'll have to make a beeline back home... no stopping, no shopping, no aimless wandering through Super Target, dining out, etc. You are a mom. Your baby needs you.
4. On Fridays and weekends, no working all day, then meeting friends after work or staying out all night, then expecting to catch up on sleep. If puppy has been napping or incarcerated for a few hours, she'll want to socialize and play. No excuses. No sleep. For either of you.
5. Puppies eat your favorite sweater and poo in the kitchen, where your roommate will step on it in the dark. It will pee on the rental apartment carpet and chew the heel off just one of several pairs of your favorite shoes and rip the crotch out of your underwear you left on the floor of the bathroom. Puppies and dogs will consume poo if they discover it. They will tump over the garbage can. Repeatedly. They will eat that muffin you were saving for breakfast that you left on the floor in your tote bag. Then they will vomit chunky muffin-slime into the carpet.
6. They have to have regular shots like a baby. They must be carried to the vet every few months in the first year of life and a couple times a year after that... IF they're healthy. (Think Riley, poor little Hallie, dear sweet Sophie and Bridget. Sniff. A moment of silence.) You won't spend money on pet insurance because it sounds sketchy. Plan for BIG bucks in vet costs... unless you meet and marry a vet. (Which is actually not a bad idea.)
7. Everyday maintenance costs are staggering as well: Food isn't cheap. You will replace their beds and toys containing squeakies when they gut them. Nails must be clipped, anal glands expressed & teeth brushed... just like a kid. Except for the anal glands. 
8. When you go on that FAB international vacay you've saved three years for, who will mind the baby? Don't count on the roommate. They can't even remember to take the keys out of the front door when they come home.
9. The hair. Enough said.
10. All things die. Dogs get sick. When they feel bad, they can't tell the vet what hurts... so the well-meaning Doc, who is like a member of your Fam basically runs experiments to see what works. At your expense, of course. And you will pay. This is bone-of-your-bone and flesh-of-your-flesh... even if it only looks like a dog.

     So, what will you decide? Are you utterly bereft after reading these words? NOT my intention at all. Dog or pet ownership, just like parenting is not for the faint of heart. Many haven't had the guts to take the plunge because of things like the above ten... and I could've kept going, but I was becoming depressed. As stated before, I'd rescue them all.
     Take a deep breath. Weigh the pros and cons. Check your finances and rental agreement. Look at the calendar. Truthfully and honestly, without those rose-colored glasses and without gazing fondly at irresistible puppy photos, think about how your world would change and if you can manage that much change at this point in your life. If you proceed, there's only one more thing to say...
Congratulations! Your life now belongs to a dog

Friday, July 4, 2014

heirloom tomato, grilled corn and black bean salad

     After being out of town for over a week, I was anxious to return to some form of familiar routine. I adore the excitement and discovery of traveling, but there really is no place so sweet as your very own homestead. So as luck would have it, we returned home the evening before our weekly farmers' market.
     One of my FAB market finds was four plump heirloom tomatoes... locally grown, vine-ripened and full of promise. My brother-in-law stopped by with a sack overflowing with sweet bi-color corn and a bunch of cilantro. We grilled the corn for dinner last night, seasoned simply with butter, salt, pepper, garlic powder and fresh chopped cilantro. Five ears remained. Armed with an abundance of lovely veggies, I came up with this salad.
     Patriotic red tomatoes, vivid green cilantro, soft, buttery yellow corn, coal-colored beans and whitish-pink onions with charred tips show off the bold colors of summer produce. Grilled and raw veggies tossed together in the simplest of vinaigrettes allows all textures and flavors to shine.
Ingredients
5 ears fresh corn, still in husk
butter
garlic powder
1 medium onion, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
1 t. olive oil
a few pinches of salt
a few pinches of pepper
4 large heirloom tomatoes, cut into large chunks
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
juice of half a lime
juice of half an orange
1 t. sweet wine vinegar, such as balsamic
1 t. red wine vinegar
1 t. sugar
3 T. good, rich olive oil
Directions
Preheat charcoal or gas grill.
An easy way to speed up cooking your corn on the cob and make it easier to shuck, is to place an un-shucked ear in the microwave and cook it for one to one and a half minutes, depending on the size. Do this with all five ears. Allow to cool for a minute, so you can handle them, then slide the husk and silks right off. Now, wasn't that easy?
Next, cut five small pieces of aluminum foil, just large enough to securely wrap each ear. Smear a thin stripe of softened butter down the center of each piece of foil, then generously sprinkle the butter stripe with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Place an ear of corn on each and roll up tightly. Place corn on grill over low heat. If using charcoal, you can push the coals to one side and place the corn over the opposite side, creating an indirect heat source. When corn has been on grill for around 20 minutes, pull one off and check to see it it is beginning to char. If so, remove them all and cool. Otherwise leave it a few minutes longer.
Toss onion and shallot with oil, salt and pepper. Grill over direct heat until softened and charred. (I do this to intensify the flavors and reduce the gassy effects of raw onion.) Remove and allow to cool.
While the corn and onions are on the grill, cut the four large tomatoes and place into a large salad bowl. Drain and rinse the beans. Add them and the chopped cilantro to the tomatoes. Salt and pepper everything well, then toss about with a large spoon.
Mix the two fruit juices, vinegars, oil, sugar and a couple pinches of salt and pepper in a small bowl & whisk to blend. After tasting to correct seasonings, pour over tomato bean mixture.
When corn is cool enough to handle, stand an ear over a cutting board and run a sharp knife down one side to remove the kernels. Repeat, moving cob in a circular fashion until it is completely stripped. Repeat with remaining ears. Add corn and cooled onion/ shallots to salad bowl. Taste again for seasoning. Add more olive oil, salt, pepper or sugar if needed. Allow to chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. Can be served at room temperature.
     We thoroughly enjoyed it for lunch today, served it with a bit of leftover grilled chicken, thinly sliced and perched on top. Since the recipe made enough to feed the entire neighborhood, we will probably get a few more meals out of it. I'm okay with that. Burgers, steaks, grilled fish or even ribs... All would be just fine to pair with the leftovers.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

daddy's girl

     Tomorrow is Fathers' Day. My dad is having a much better day than the rest of us. He gets to celebrate with our Heavenly Father... The Number One Dad Himself! Daddy has spent the past twelve years that way. He passed away one June day, just before Fathers' Day. (That kind of ruined it for me.)
     In the grand scheme of things, I think God's plan was for a dad to be a child's first glimpse of the unconditional love God has for each of us. Some guys are a really good example and others, not so much. My dad did a fine job of mirroring His characteristics. The four of us were SO blessed. 
     Daddy was my mom's one true love. He and Mommy were kind of like a fifties sitcom couple, always holding hands... right up to the very last moment. My parents, both with a great sense of humor, kept us laughing. It taught me not to take myself too seriously and always look on the bright side.
     He took us to church every Sunday. He modeled by example how to make a commitment to a group of people with similar beliefs. I learned to keep my eyes fixed on God, since other flawed humans, (like ourselves,) can let you down. He showed me what having integrity looks like.
     He encouraged me to start over and try again when I completely messed things up. He believed in endless second chances for people, cars and houses. He was never too busy to help someone out and never met a stranger. I learned that there always is someone out there who has it much worse, so don't whine. Get up, look around and do what you can for another.
     He taught me to fish. He often burned whatever he put on the grill. He had no use for cats. He loved telling really corny jokes. He could fix, make or build just about anything. I learned not to be in a hurry to toss something aside and that learning never, ever ends.
     I am forever grateful that the Lord saw fit to send him my way. I am thankful I got to call him Daddy. And each Fathers' Day, I will miss him forever... until we meet on that beautiful shore.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

there's no place like home

     I sort of feel like I haven't been home for two years. Not really. Not fully, mentally and physically  HERE. Sure, I've slept here. And cooked here. I practiced a hit-and-miss type of housecleaning and laundry. My obsession with seasonal decorating is a faded recollection. Sniff.
     Working a so-called part-time job and caring for ailing in-laws had turned my normal on it's head. I've desperately missed our little homestead.
     Metaphorically, I clicked my ruby slippers together about a week ago, when I underwent gall bladder surgery. Manditory relaxation. Doctor prescribed vacay.
     No heavy lifting for a month. My faithful staff is running the church kitchen like a well-oiled machine.
     I'm recovering nicely and feel like I belong here again. I may never leave. In case you're wondering what I've been up to during my recuperation, here's a little sampling of my activities. I've been quite productive in a moving-slow-as-a-turtle sort of way:

*After sleeping most of the first day, I've finally caught up on everything I recorded on the DVR. Let the deleting begin.

*Corrected a few grammar faux pas of FB friends.

*Commented online on a hotly contested current event... something I rarely due, since I really don't want to reply to anyone with a viewpoint different than mine. I like to avoid arguing. Especially with idiots.

*Researched how to renew my passport. The government website doesn't make it easy. No one is a bit surprised by that.

*All of the laundry is done. No really... all of it. My mom would be SO proud. (Disclaimer: this is due to the fact that I'm mainly wearing stretchy, non-binding pajama-type stuff and my husband is out of town on business. Hannah does all of her own laundry. Currently, our elderly, semi-incontinent dachshund, Lulu is creating the bulk of the wash. She's too short to reach the control panel.)

*Pioneer Woman's iced coffee syrup is cold-brewing on the counter. I'm so excited! By tomorrow, I will be enjoying a tall glass of icy, coffee goodness. Don't be jealous... make your own!

*Yesterday, since it's been a week and the groceries were dwindling and I had a slight case of cabin fever, I bravely ventured out to the Farmers' Market in town. After about forty-five minutes, I wanted someone to drive me home.
     I took a rolling shopper so I didn't have to carry anything heavy. I scored lots of amazing local produce. But... as we all know, hindsight is twenty-twenty. What the heck am I going to do with all of this stuff? I guess I'll be right here, cooking. Slowly. For short periods of time.

*This morning, I fed the porch and herb garden plants with liquid fertilizer, then noticing the herb garden's unruly, neglected appearance, attacked the thyme and Greek oregano with the garden shears.
     Using Michelle @ Restoration Spring's recipe, I will sort, clean and dry the leaves for homemade, dried Italian seasoning.
     I have a six-gallon bucket to go through. Have you ever stripped the leaves off of a thyme branch? I may be at this a while... good thing I'm not going anywhere. And I can sit down while doing it.

*Tomorrow, I'm beginning the daunting task of typing up Salt Food Ministry's (the church kitchen) recipes, in a sane and legible manner. When I cook, some would describe me as crazed... a wild look in my eyes and food in my hair. Tricia sports a pensive stare and subscribes to a cream-cheese-icing facial regime. I usually explain our manic style away by saying, We're fine. We're in the cooking zone.
     Fabulous meals are created without formal recipes, mainly using three of our five senses... taste, smell and feel. The cook and the baker... That's how we roll around here. 
     The overstuffed recipe file from my office is bordering on hilarious... stained with food, written on all manner of paper scraps including old invoices, bottoms of old emails and even a church bulletin or two. Ingredients are crossed out and recipes revised many times over. It will be fun to decode these schizophrenic cooking notes.
     It could be very important to write some of this stuff down. Someone may need it some day. We may lose our minds completely and forget how we've done it in the past. (That's actually already happened. We just re-invented the dish and moved on... hence all the scribble and hen-scratch.)

*Best thing of all... I've returned to the blog and my love of writing after a super-long hiatus. I've been working behind the scenes to clean up some messy older posts, fact checking a few of the recipes and mulling over new stuff. Yay!

There's NO place like home and a little down time!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

when life throws a curveball, squeeze it till the lemonade flows

     As I wait quietly in a nursing facility room watching my mother-in-law doze, I read. Today's selection is a delightful memoir by author and chef Marlena di Blasi recounting her time in beautiful Venice. Here is the paragraph I'm taken with at the moment. She is speaking of her husband's plan to grow olives in Tuscany when they relocate:
     “He has planted in little plastic pots twelve eight-inch-high olive trees that he plans to transplant down the western slope of the garden. He’s calculating that his first harvest will happen, if all goes reasonably well, in twenty-five years and will yield a cup and a third of oil.”  An excerpt From: Marlena de Blasi. “A Thousand Days in Venice.” Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013-05-21. iBooks.
     Marlena, you're killing me, girl!  Just the notion of starting over is massively appealing. Her reasoning makes me laugh, as she and her husband are past middle age. Feelings of wanderlust swell somewhere deep inside, stirring envy mixed with the desire to just jump up and go... But here I sit.
     Life boldly throws curve balls whenever it chooses. It's rude like that. Life shouts at me, Hey, don't get too comfy. You don't really think you're in control, do you?
     Head and heart know only Jehovah Jireh, the Living God Who Provides, is truly in charge. He's not only large and in charge, but He totally understands my traveler's heart. (After all, He made all the magnificent things I want to see.)
     He also knows how impulsive I would choose to be.... you know, if I were in charge of the world. (Hey, isn't that a Dr. Seuss title?) I want to go, to explore, to learn more and to be someplace new. Every single day.
Lovely 'Lita, in better days. Easter Sunday 2012
     The past two years has seen drastic change. My husband's little 86- year old mother is declining in health and bed-bound. Specifically, the last seven months has seen our entire family taking turns sitting by Lita's bedside, caring for her every need, attending doctor visits and hospital stays... waiting, waiting and waiting.
      A while back, she and I reminisced about better days, discussed family history and laughed at our attempts to get her legs to work again... (a very long story.) Now she struggles to even speak. I feel her frustration... Her sharp mind and strong will crave control, but that frail, little body isn't cooperating at all. We spoke of irony... Lita's 93-year old brother, my husband's Tio Miguel is physically healthy as a horse, but Alzheimer's disease has slowly purged his mind.
Our girlies with their Abuelita. Easter 2013
     Recently, I've missed quite a few work days. I only managed fourty-two posts in 2013  and thirty-seven the year before. Ouch!  And I've read. Oh boy, have I read! My literary choices have ranged from non-fiction, cooking essays and fiction to memoirs, travel essays and Scripture.
     I've also played countless word search games. Efforts to keep my sanity while increasing my vocabulary are progressing quite nicely. Ha.
     When life comes at you with alternate plans you hoped were years away, all you can do is hold on tight and shout, WHEEEEEEEEEEE! A good attitude, hopeful spirit, compassionate nature and stubborn perseverance is what's required. And lots of prayer. And a second-hand iPad.
The Fam with 'Lita and Uncle Greg. Easter 2013
"1 The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I {ever} need.
He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength, {
every single day.} He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. {
Right in front of them!} You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. {Better blessings than I could ever think up and way more than I deserve.}
Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever." 
{Amen and amen}
Psalm 23. New Living Translation, {with bracketed emphasis added my moi:}

Lita with Claire, 2012