Thursday, September 30, 2010

Genevieve Chops Mushrooms

She loves helping in the kitchen.  We'd have to get to the breakable dishes and the sharp knives sooner or later (I recall, cringing, that I once broke FIVE of my mother's serving dishes at the same time when I was on dish drying duty).

This is the second time I allowed her to cut mushrooms with a paring knife and a cutting board.  Except for her snail pace, she's an ideal helper.

The mushrooms went into chicken pie, which I adapted loosely from Country Living.  Essentially, you make creamed chicken in an iron skillet and then lay a disc of pie dough on top.  Bake for about a half hour.  I really liked the ratio of crust to filling - sometimes a full crust pie for an entree is too rich.

Updated for Beth:
This really is a plan, not a recipe.  Hopefully easy to tweak.

In a 10 or 12 inch iron skillet, saute an onion and 1-2 sliced carrots and something like celery or green pepper.  Maybe some mushrooms. 

Sprinkle with 2 Tbs. flour.  Allow to brown a bit - a few minutes, stirring. 

Pour in, while stirring, 2 cups chicken stock and something dairy:  a glug of cream or milk or some dry milk powder.  Cook, stirring, until thick and bubbly (you've just made a white sauce). 

Add 1-2 cups diced cooked chicken (you've just made creamed chicken).  Check seasonings and add salt, pepper, sage, parsley, etc.  You could stop here and eat this creamed chicken over toast, cornbread dressing, or mashed potatoes. 

To make a chicken pie, just make one recipe of pie dough (I use one 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1/3 c. shortening, salt, and ice water).  Roll out to the diameter of the iron skillet.  Lay the dough gently over the creamed chicken, cut some vents in the dough and optionally brush with 1 beaten egg for a nice shiny crust.

Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes, until you see some bubbling action at the sides and vents.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How to Store Winter Squash Attractively

Decorate with it!

The ledge over my front door never gets direct sun and, as the weather turns colder, is well protected by our porch.  As I need a squash, I bring my stepladder out to the front porch (we have a tall house) and fetch one.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Corralling the Beads

Once upon a time we had two boxes of Melissa & Doug beads to string.  Couldn't I free those lovely lidded boxes and combine the beads?

I rummaged in my collection of containers and found the empty oatmeal box from the beach vacation when I indulged my mother's request to eat granola.  I saved the cardboard cylinder with no clear plan, but actually lugged it home and tucked it into my collection.

The beads at last are combined.

The boxes at last are free.  . . to join my container collection for now.  I think they would make nice drawer compartments.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Buying Local Veggies and Fruit is Cheap

Some people have this perception that buying local fruits and vegetables is more expensive than buying stuff on sale at the grocery store or buying frozen.  But I have years of informal research into this topic now and I can say unequivocally, in my area, buying local fruits and vegetables in season is the cheapest option.  As I have kept my preservation notebook, I have started to be more in tune with the height of a particular produce season, so I plan my preserving around those times. 

Furthermore, I would argue that eating fresh food is a way to stay healthy and avoid expensive health problems and doctor visits.  When I was at the eye doctor recently, he commented on my healthy eyes and I joked that I eat my carrots.  My optometrist very seriously launched a speech about vitamins and vegetables and said kale, spinach, and broccoli are also very important for eyes.  Yes, my family eats a lot of those leafy greens because the farmers grow and sell those things around here.  And they're cheap.

My latest case in point when we stopped by an Amish farm on our way to a train ride and picnic:

1 bushel IPM  Ginger Gold and Old Smokehouse apples, $9.95

big broccoli heads, $.95 apiece

Then my family played very hard.

And rode the train back in the dusk with an apricot full moon over the fields. . .the air had softened and the train whistle floated back to us so winsomely. . .it was a lovely evening.

Now, let's discuss your informal research on the topic of cheap local veggies and fruits. I know my area is rich in farmers, so maybe other areas have to rely more on shipped produce.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fruit Fly Success! and Gloating

All of a sudden, fruit flies appeared in my kitchen two weeks ago, even though I was still washing dishes and keeping my summer fruit in paper bags.  My friend A called me about her fruit flies and I described what I had done in the past, but I didn't think it would work.  Put some cider vinegar and a drop of dish soap in a jar with tiny holes punched in the lid.

She did it and called back with glee to tell me they were gone.  So I set my trap too, and in a matter of a few days, the fruit flies were gone.

And we developed a sick favorite activity of holding the jar up to the light and swirling it around to see all the dead fruit flies.  I tell you, compared to other things going on in my life right now, this was so satisfying to solve.  A problem observed, solution proposed, materials obtained, a bit of waiting, BAM! all fixed and gloating.

Let's finish on a prettier note:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Recipes Are For Ideas: Chicken Cacciatore

One morning, in the preschool rush, I forgot to assemble the chicken cacciatore in the crockpot.  In the afternoon, I compared three recipes for chicken cacciatore and did my own thing. 

I looked at Simply in Season - and doubled the herbs, added peppers, and used fresh tomatoes.

I looked at Joy of Cooking - browned the legs and thighs, and put the whole business to simmer on the stovetop.

I looked at Fix It and Forget It - and added mushrooms.

From my friend Rebecca's experience, I knew I wanted to reduce the liquid a bit, so I took the lid off for 20 minutes at the end.  From my own experience, I added the garlic near the end to preserve its flavor.

We ate the chicken cacciatore with spaghetti and green salad with fennel, raisins, cucumbers and this French dressing.  It was great!  I deboned the leftover chicken and we ate it the next day as stew with bread and cheese on the side.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Surviving Summer with No Air Conditioning

Autumn is breathing cool air down my neck.  I'm ready to say good bye to summer.

My family lived largely without air conditioning this summer in our old, high-ceilinged city rowhouse.  Unfortunately, our neighbors have chopped down two big trees recently; I bet I will notice that missing shade next year.

  My survival tips For the Record so I can remember how to do this next year:

1.  Don't heat up the kitchen if possible:  use the grill, crockpot outside, or eat raw or cold stuff. 

2.  Set hot vats of water (canning, corn on the cob) outside to cool.  Set hot canned jars outside to cool.

3.  If I must use the oven, cram as many things in there as possible.
(left to right, potatoes, beets, hot fudge sundae cake)

4.  Get in cold water as much as possible:  shower, county pool, backyard baby pool, fountain. 

5.  Put on a caftan (nothing else) as soon as the children are in bed and hope nobody stops by.  Wear skirts, not capris or shorts.
 (my 1970s inspired caftan, made one night in a blurry desperation, using no pattern and an old sheet; unflattering, but it makes its own breeze!)

4.  Keep the blinds shut during the day.
(We originally wanted to replace the missing stained glass in our buffet window, but alas, we caved to the blinding sunshine this summer and got a wood blind to match the rest - 70% off at JCPenney!)

5.  Watch the weather station (Christmas present from my husband!) obsessively to know when to open and close windows.

6.   My body took one heat wave to adjust; after that, I was not so affected by the heat.  But I still allowed myself to be languorous in the heat - this is how our bodies cope. 

Hello, autumn, you beautiful girl.  So nice to see you again.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gummy Pans Experiment

Exhibit A:
Gummy cruddy pan.  Ammonia.  Plastic bag.  Fresh air.

Exibit B:
Bagged up pan with a slosh of ammonia.  (Overnight)

Exhibit C:
Pretty clean pan (except where I got tired of scrubbing the corners).

I plan to repeat this method with my bigger, nicer baking pans.  I  did think the overnight ammonia soak would remove the dirt like magic, but I still scrubbed at the gunk with Barkeeper's Friend and a scratchy pad.  Still and all, the results are fine.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

First Time with the Potholder Loom

Recently Geneveive was asking me where fabric comes from and I ended up explaining the whole thing.  Then she told me she wanted to make some; I thought back to our dubious knitting lesson; then I thought back to the potholder loom that Aunt Shana gave her for Christmas. 

I was as excited as she was because I love these potholders, but neither of us had ever used the loom.  She may still be a bit young for it.

She couldn't quite manage the weaving by herself, but we talked about what it's like to learn a new skill and she plugged away.

Finished!  A birthday gift for Grandma.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Red Pepper Marmalade

Last week as I was getting ready to go to the beach, I realized that my bell peppers accumulated from our friend's CSA had reached critical mass.  They were going to start spoiling unless I preserved them somehow.  I could have just chopped them up and froze them, but instead, I made red pepper marmalade using the recipe in Simply in Season

It's a jam made with ground up bell peppers and hot peppers, some sugar and vinegar.  PA Dutchy people like to spread it on crackers with cream cheese.  What do you do with it, if you've heard of it?

I didn't wear gloves when I handled the little hot peppers from our yard because I thought, oh, I'm just topping them to throw them in the food processor.  Hours later, I finally realized why the skin under my fingernails was stinging and raw.  Good grief!  Lesson learned.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Stars Aligned

I cook three meals a day quite often, and usually there is something that needs salt or a longer cooking or something.  But not this time:  we had a perfect meal with my parents and sister last week.  I almost feel like I can't take credit for that meal because I'm not sure I could make it perfectly again.  How nice to preserve that lovely evening here on my blog!

We ate:
white sauce chicken, grilled to dark gold
baked potatoes - fluffy and creamy in the way of good potatoes
tender roma green beans with brown butter
cucumber salad with onions, rice vinegar and mint
fresh peach and blackberry pie

I'm not sure exactly how the stars did align, but each dish was perfect in its own right.  I felt really proud of myself, like I had somehow achieved "good cook" status, although unsure how I actually pulled it off (and on time, I might add).

And then my husband wisely brought out the homemade raspberry cordial with the coffee and pie.  It's there in the large bottle, next to Ben's "flower" centerpieces, which he likes to arrange and set on the table for every dinner.

White Sauce Chicken - recipe from Bill Clark in our local newspaper a few years back

3/4 c. mayo
1/4 c. cider vinegar
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. black pepper
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt

Whisk together.  Marinate 8 legs/thighs in the mixture overnight. 
To grill, heat one side of the grill to medium and place the chicken, skin side up, on the side with no heat.  Cook for 2 hours without turning; the key to this chicken is looooooong (cooking) and slooooooow (heat).  The chicken will be beautifully deep gold and falling off the bones.

Updated, at Jeanie's request:

Raspberry Cordial
1/3 bottle white rum
1 1/2 pint red raspberries, washed
1 c. sugar

Combine the ingredients in a glass bottle, cap tightly and allow to sit for one year.  Great for sipping with dessert, especially chocolate.  A little cough syrupy tasting on its own.  We got this method from our friend Daryl, but all the other methods I've seen online and in cookbooks are more involved. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Summer Clearance

I stopped by CVS with Ben and after grabbing toothpaste and whatnot, we took a pass through the summer clearance section.

Buckets!  With shovels!  For FORTY NINE CENTS each.  I was so elated I splurged on some bubbles (marked down 75%, you know).

In the first photo, you can also see a little red bike in the distance.  That was spotted by my friend Kim with the trash at curbside one evening as we walked to get coffee with another friend.  It's a perfect little bike, so we happily trashpicked it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Full British Breakfast

When my husband was a student in Cheltenham, England, he often ate "a full British breakfast" at restaurants.  I bet this is not what the average Brit eats at home.

baked beans
blood sausage (we skip this!)

My husband: "not exactly a healthy breakfast."
Me:  "but one that you could get a lot of work done on."

Somehow this has become our vacation breakfast.  We slipped away to the beach cottage this past weekend to enjoy the last bit of summer and a clear, warm ocean (a rarity on the northeastern coast).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Recycling Paper

Our curbside recycling takes only newspaper (plus bottles and cans), but fortunately, I can take regular and shiny paper to a center in town.  I have a box downstairs and one upstairs to collect that paper.  Under the downstairs box, I also slide flattened thin cardboard boxes such as the ones butter, pasta, and cereal come in.  In the basement I collect corrugated cardboard and styrofoam. 

About once a month, I collect all the paper and cardboard and take it down to the center. I want to emulate my friends that loaded their wagon and walked their recyclables down, but I'm not there yet.

Instead of recycling sensitive personal papers, we collect them separately and then shred those about oh, once or twice a year; I then mix the shreds into the compost pile, supplying much-needed carbon to all the nitrogen of the kitchen scraps.  Genevieve is now old enough to do this job largely without supervision.

Pictured below is our newly turned compost pile, one of the ways my husband and I celebrated our anniversary (our anniversary fell on a Saturday, ok? We also went out to a great Thai restaurant, without the children, lest you worry.)

My brother recently told me that their economically depressed little town does not have recycling facilities and barely curbside recycling.  I was surprised and then embarrassed to realize that not everyone does have such great opportunities to recycle; my brother thinks people in our city must have known the right strings to pull or grants to apply for. 

My little vein of cynicism just can't believe that all the stuff I'm collecting and dropping off is actually being recycled. . . but my hopeful side usually wins out and I keep collecting and dropping off, collecting and dropping off.  I wake up too early sometimes and fret over the future of the earth. I want to be able to look my children and grandchildren in the eye and say yes, I did my best to help. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Labor Day Limas

My uncle who has the family farm called my parents and asked them if they wanted to pick limas, which have finally matured (they take three months!).  And my mother called me and asked me if I wanted to join them at 6am on Labor Day morning.  Yes!  Just my kind of Pioneering-Adventure-Lite.

I have picked beans before, but never limas.  You have to throw the plants over and pick the plump ones which start near the bottom.  I never got a rhythm, but I got soaked by the dewy plants in the process; in fact, I got so cold (the sun didn't rise until 6:37am) that my fingers started getting numb.

We each had a bucket, but my parents used to have big gardens and they filled their buckets speedily.  I even started to complain:  cold! wet! hungry! unripe limas!  But actually, I was having fun, shooting the breeze with my parents while we picked and hollering at my dad when he stopped picking to talk tractors with my uncle.

I came home with a bucket of unshelled limas - put them in the fridge to make them easier to shell, on my uncle's advice.  I heard that maybe the limas cost $18 a bucket, but my dear dad did not let me pay for mine. 

The children helped me shell them the next day. 

I finally finished shelling them in front of this excellent movie and finished blanching and bagging at 11:45pm.  Yield: 9 two-cup bags, 1 three cup bag. 

Ordinarily I would find a way to go to bed earlier, but I was inspired by my mother's stories as we picked limas.  She told me she stayed up late many nights finishing preserving projects, and actually I do remember my father frenching green beans at the kitchen island while my mother went back and forth at the stove, blanching them.