Sunday, September 29, 2013

Batch Cooking For the 6pm Days

My schedule changed overnight (okay, one week from job offer to start date).  Suddenly, two days a week, we all screeched home at 6pm, supperless.  And typically, we start the bedtime drag at 7pm, with the schoolkids in bed by 8pm.  So, it didn't make sense to start dinner preparations at 6pm. We needed something to - poof - appear on the table at 6pm, ready to eat.

So what I do is cook double the amount of food I normally cook on the days I'm home.  Some of it hangs out in the fridge for the 6pm days, to be reheated in the microwave, and the rest is packaged into the freezer to be defrosted for other 6pm days.

I've read where some people do an enormous batch cook on one day a month and make their meals for the rest of the month.  That alternately overwhelms me and bores me.

Here, I am making a double batch of BBQ (as it's called around here - the rest of the world calls it sloppy joe).  I subbed in cooked lentils for the fourth pound of ground beef.  I also experimented with putting all the ingredients in the slow cooker, not pre-cooking or frying anything first, and cooking it on high for about 5 hours.  The texture was very soft and soupy.  Not terrible, but I now know I prefer the stovetop method.

Mennonite Community Cookbook

I split it into four portions, and we had one for supper. The other three went in the freezer.

All the schedule pieces that flew up into the air in August are slowly settling into place.  We are happy.  We generally have homemade, hot suppers that almost appear on the table at 6pm.  There is generally clean laundry. The house generally gets vacuumed. I get time at home alone while the rest of the family is out in the world learning and working (bonus:  with everyone away more, the house is less dirty!).

But I'll take any 6pm supper tips you want to offer. . .

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The New Piano

If you have ever moved an old piano, you know it is an ordeal.  That's why most old pianos are free to whomever has the brawn to handle them.  Our new piano came to us as an offer we couldn't refuse, but the whole process was fraught with problems.

My husband and I bought our gorgeous old Schiller cabinet grand piano for $25 early in our marriage.  It had to be tuned to itself which wasn't a problem until we cajoled the renters after us into keeping the piano for six months until we could move it into the house we'd bought.  The guy was a guitarist, so it was very annoying to him that the piano was a whole step flat. Oh.

  When it was time to move the Schiller, it had to be turned on end to get it through the front door of our new house.  Then, my husband's best friend, a professional musician, warned us that we were ruining our children's pitch, and the piano tuner said it couldn't be tuned again. 

So, when my uncle called in August and said he was getting rid of his piano, we gritted our teeth and said yes.

The Schiller being turned on end to leave.

We had to off-load our beautiful, but not very musical, old Schiller piano.  We tried in various ways (and my husband discovered that our piano, restored, was valued around $9000).  Finally, the night before the new piano was coming, he disassembled the Schiller into its parts for wood, metal, and beautiful bric-a-brac.  I helpfully stayed out of the dining room.

The new piano is now here - less majestic, less mellifluous, but eminently paintable when we have the time.  And yes, it can be tuned.  Notice how I skipped the trying details of the move? I fed everybody pancakes, bacon, and coffee. That was helpful.

 Piano lessons got scrambled in the process (this was the beginning of August - I'm trying to catch up with my life), but Genevieve and I got started again once we got the homework-beast tamed.

Now, the problem is that Genevieve is struggling with this phase of piano lessons and I can't work out a new way to explain things, so she's very reluctant to practice her songs.  She is still at the pinao, though, because she has just figured out all by herself how to sound out some simple melodies she loves.  So I'm taking that as a sign of progress, and hoping we creep along with our thin patience until she can actually read music.

 I proposed to my husband that we paint the piano dark, deep, bottle-green.  But I'm not looking for projects right now, so I think the piano looks just fine.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hot Pepper "Jam"

It didn't "jam" (gel).  I was annoyed, but I knew how to fix it from Marisa's instructions.  Last year, I had a batch of blackberry jam that didn't gel, and I successfully fixed it with Marisa's method.

But this jam did not respond to the treatment.

Plus, it is fiery due to some unholy hot peppers friends gave us. These peppers have burned my lungs and mouth badly, but I refuse to compost them.  I stuffed their butts in a jar with brine and I'm fermenting them in the basement to see if I can make a useable (read: not lethal) hot sauce.
(Change the topic for a minute to contemplate the tarnished silver tray of pumpkins we currently have on our table; charming, until I recall that this is the total grand harvest of our backyard vines.  Pfft.)

I have other projects on the go, so I simply stuffed the spicy, runny jam (the recipe is here) in my canning storage and moved on.  Perhaps you have some ideas of what I can do with it. . .

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Rick Rack Hotpads

Chalk this one up to Pinterest.  I saw a vintage hotpad on there that never left my mind.

I re-created it with my vintage cutter quilt, brown rick rack, and brown embroidery floss.  This might be my most-favorite use of rick rack yet.

This pair is in the shop.  But I might have to make a set for myself!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lunch Today

There is so much more to say, but as we get into gear in this school year and my husband's job, I focus on keeping food in the house, keeping clean clothes, keeping the house clean-ish, and getting enough sleep.  Everything else is a bonus at this point.

I ate plain yogurt, granola, and raspberries for lunch today. I like each element to stay distinct because I like their contrast.

 My usual lunch fare is last night's dinner, but I've been fighting a lingering virus and my appetite is unpredictable - and those red raspberries!  Jewels.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Genevieve's Pale Blue Dress

Now, this project makes it onto the blog by the coat tails of thrift:  I did not make this dress.  My mother-in-law made it.  However, I explained in this post (flop #3) how there was leftover fabric from the bridesmaids' dresses at my wedding and how I attempted a dress with deplorable results.

Genevieve's dress is made from the horrible remnants of the dress I attempted. It is exquisite.  My mother-in-law is the real deal when it comes to sewing.


I, however, am faking the knowledge of altering the remaining, whole bridesmaid's dress that my mother-in-law saved and gave to me. Maybe next summer, chickies, when I feel daring enough.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Everyday Details

Here is a collection of details from my life, organized after Leila and Rosie's method of pretty/happy/funny/real

These old fabric patches are pretty.  They came to me from my cousin via my aunt.  My cousin and his household started a quilt and then gave it up.  I am thrilled to get the patches - beautiful calicos, feedsack, and seventies prints.  My plan is to make a patchwork picnic quilt, but I'm already chewing on the idea that I might like this fabric too much to allow it to be slung on the ground or tossed in the trunk. . .

Here are my happy children, washing the front porch.  If a chore involves water, my children are all over it.  Our porch gets incredibly grimy from the traffic and, this summer, road construction.  That does not mean we wash it more often (this was the first time this summer), just that the water is blacker when we do.

We used about 20 minutes before bedtime one night - I was so pleased at how fast it went and then they washed their feet, put their dirty clothes in the hamper, and put on their pajamas.

I thought it was funny when I blazed around the house making the cord tacos that my children came along in my wake, crafting and creating, too.  Genevieve's crafting spurt also happened after I allowed her to hang over my shoulder as I looked at my Pinterest feed.  She put a flashlight in a mason jar that she covered with fabric.  I don't know what Ben is making - probably some paper food for the dollies.

Here is my real confession:  I made adorable little yogurt panna cotta cups for packed lunches.  I had made them once before and thought them a little flavorless, but this time, they really were, despite the extra honey and nutmeg I added and the pretty blackberries on top.  Furthermore, the panna cotta separated into odd layers after a few days and the children refused to eat them.  Not to be outdone by them and the compost pile, I blendered the panna cotta into breakfast smoothies one morning. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sunday Dinner: Crunchy Ham Balls and a Delicious Salad

I was pleased with the textures and flavors of this Sunday dinner.  The ham balls are amazingly good, but I'm not always sure what to serve them with. 


Here, their richness is complemented by a unique salad that our friend Danene concocted and served us recently.  She took about 2 cups each sliced cucumber and cantaloupe (in the pictures here, I used canary melon, but the cantaloupe is prettier), added a little chopped fresh mint, and dressed it with the juice of half a lime, a splash of rice vinegar, and salt.  I've made it several times since then and we love how light and refreshing it is.  I might experiment with it by adding a little feta cheese or some proscuitto.  I could see this salad served as part of the main course, or served more like a fruit salad at a brunch or with dessert. 

Then, for just a little more bulk in my Sunday menu, I added the small patty pan squashes, which take about 10 minutes on a hot grill.  However, you could use any summer squash and simply roast it or saute it in butter if you're not the grilling type.

mix up ham balls

Sunday morning:
roll the ham balls, place in oven on timed bake
make melon salad
set the patty pans out

Sunday noon:
set table
grill patty pans

Crunchy Ham Balls (from Rebecca from somewhere)

2 c. very stiff mashed potatoes (use leftover if you can plan ahead!)
1 c. shredded Swiss cheese or other cheese that you love
2 c. finely diced/shredded ham
1/3 c. finely chopped onion
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. prepared mustard
1/4-1/3 c. mayonnaise
1/4 tsp. pepper
2-3 c. crushed cornflakes

I use the food processor for the ham and onion. You could probably grate the cheese there, too. In a bowl, combine ingredients except for cornflakes.  Start with the lesser amount of mayo.  You're aiming for stiff, moldable texture.  You can refrigerate the mixture at this point - to stiffen up, to fit your schedule.  Roll the mixture into balls - tennis ball size is usually what mine end up.  Roll each ball in the crushed cornflakes and place on a greased baking sheet.  I usually get 9-12 balls (I think). Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.  Serve hot or hide them in the back of the fridge as the most desirable leftover and sneak them cold when no one's looking - cook's privilege.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cord Tacos

I saw these leather cord tacos in Real Simple as I lazed through my Sunday afternoon. Lightbulb!  I got up from the sofa and promptly sewed three of them, and yes, they solved annoying cord tangles. 

The cord taco is simply a disc of firm fabric with a closure, so that it can fold around the cord like a taco shell and fasten closed. I used a button and loop, but I'm sure a snap, velcro, or even two ties would work, too.

My hand mixer came with a plastic cord-tie, which broke (of course) after a few months.  I used a rubber band to keep the cord corralled, but it wasn't easy to get on and off.  I love this cord taco!  I also made one (not shown) for the extension cord I keep in the kitchen for popping the slow cooker out the kitchen window to cook outside.

This is the children's night light, a vintage conch shell from my childhood which used to have its cord sprawled around it.  It has a little flower cut-out appliqued on it, but I was in a rush when I took the picture.

And then, in the zone, I solved another pesky problem and made an envelope for my cell phone charger.  To keep the envelope from being clutter or getting lost when the charger was in use, I carefully sewed the charger cord into a channel in the bottom of the envelope.  I'm very pleased with it, although I could have made the envelope a little larger.

I used the letter look from the needle case.  And yes, the lining of the envelope is a scrap left over from my shirt dress. 

I do so love these little solutions, these little comforts of a well-tended home.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Other Half-Bushel of Tomatoes

Rebecca found a great recipe for homemade ketchup in The Homemade Pantry and she also talked so convincingly about her tomato soup that I bought another half-bushel of tomatoes.

I made a double batch of ketchup (12 lbs. of tomatoes), and the rest of the tomatoes went into tomato soup.

I am afraid that neither ketchup nor soup is as thick as Rebecca's, so my idea is to open up a jar in winter as I need it and let it cook down on the stove as I putter around the kitchen.  I do really love a warm kitchen full of good smells.  I look forward to that aspect of my winter kitchen.

the ketchup

The tomatoes that I bought were definitely what is called "canning tomatoes" around here, or "seconds" elsewhere.  They had some rotten spots.  I cut away anything obviously black or seeping, and then I sniffed the tomato to see if I'd gotten all the smelly, bad flesh. I've found that tomatoes can be very tricky to see where the good leaves off from the bad, so I depend on my nose to sniff out the difference.  My mom taught me to do this.

the bad spots (ewwww)

I've been slowed down this week by a bad cold and fever, but I'm on my feet again and tomorrow is pimento-canning day!

left to right:  tile saw with box, kids' paper detritus, cooling jars of tomato soup,
a few jars of pickled peppers, canning notebook, and pressure canner;
busy place around here

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Summer Braid

In June, I was at a publishing convention in New York.  I saw an elegant woman with silver hair and I did not forget her braid.  She had her hair pulled up high on the side of her head, braided, and laid across the top of her head.

This has become my go-to hairstyle this summer.  It is simpler than the Heidi look (which I want to stop calling Heidi braids because it makes them sound quaint, costume-y, or childish). I've seen them called rainbow braids. I can do these braids (see the photos on this post), but it takes some energy and futzing.

This summer braid, however, is a snap.  I pull back the front part of my hair into a barrette to help anchor the braid, then I make the braid, secure its end with a tiny, clear elastic, and pin it in place with several bobby pins. (That's as close to a tutorial as I'm getting).  My hair is several inches below my shoulders, as a point of reference.  I love it off my neck in the summer, and this braid is my favorite way to do that.