Monday, November 28, 2011

The Turning of the Year: Thoughts about the Holidays
There's been a lot of talk about Christmas round these parts lately.  The reason for the season, Santa Claus, trees, etc.  There's so much conflict over this particular holiday.  It, quite frankly, cracks me up.  People will believe anything at all if enough people tell it to them, or if they are told the same thing over and over enough times.

Why do we think Jesus's birthday is at the end of December?   Well, because the church says so, right?  It's just always been that way, right?  Baaaaa Baaaaaaa  Good sheep.  Now go read your bible and tell me whether or not logic dictates that December 25th is the most reasonable time to plug his birthday into the calendar.  Mary and Joseph were on their way to pay their taxes, right?  Right.  Now, way back when in the days of long ago and far away, when was tax season?  It wouldn't likely have been in the middle of winter.  Taxes were often paid in stuff, not coin.  First harvest, first product of the flocks, or the stuff created after harvesting has been completed, which would mean a spring - early summer time frame.  Midwinter is just illogical.

Do you know why we have "Christmas" in midwinter right around the time of the solstice?  Because that's when the Sun/Son is reborn into the world.  The longest, darkest night of the year.  Traditionally people would stay up all night, with candles lit, yule logs burning in the fire place, singing songs, telling tales, and praying that light would come back to the world so they could have another year of crops and critters.  The earth based wheel of the year is agriculturally based.  The Christian cycle of holidays mirrors the pagan cycle on purpose.  The christians, while attempting to supersede the pagans' beliefs, took over the heathen holidays and made up stuff to justify them.  Michaelmas, Candlemas, Pentacost, Christmas, Easter...

And how about this modern take on midwinter?  What's up with the presents, and the stress, and the rush-rush-rush?  I was told that we give and receive presents on Christmas because the Magi brought presents to baby Jesus.  Mmmkay... I don't buy it.  I think our capitalist culture just wanted another way to goad loads of people into spending more money than they ought to yet another day out of the year.  I have the same skeptical feelings about Valentine's day.

People shouldn't feel like it's required to give presents.  If you like it and it makes you happy, then by all means go for it.  But don't overtax yourself.  Don't break the bank.  Don't feel like it's an absolute necessity just to keep in people's good graces.  If someone wants to be offended that badly because they didn't get a present on some trumped up holiday, then they apparently have ulterior motives for keeping you around.  That includes family.  If someone loves you, then they will love your company, or the knowledge that you were thinking of them.  They'll love a small token (like a letter or a phone call) just as much as they would love a present and possibly even more than some present that you went out and bought just because you felt like you had to because "it's Christmas".

Holidays should be spent doing what you enjoy with people you enjoy being with.  Behaving differently just because it's supposed to be a special day does not fly in my book.  If I don't like you the other 364 days a year, chances are I don't like you on Christmas either.  If I want to give you a present, I can just as easily do it any other day of the year and vice versa.  Yes, I do give Christmas presents, and I like doing it.  But no, I do not go out and rack my brains and my bank account trying to find something for everyone.  I do what I can with what I've got, and assume it will be enough because of the love that goes with it.  Not how big the price tag is.

I do admit to having  a bit of a blind spot when it comes to kids, though.  Christmas is a holiday that can be filled with all kinds of magic and memories for children.  Find ways to make the magic happen and make the memories happen.  That doesn't mean take out a personal loan so that you can afford that state of the art toy that just came out.  Make special treats that only get made once a year.  Sing songs.  Play games.  Make decorations.  They'll remember that a lot longer than they'll remember what presents they got.

Thanksgiving - and a few related recipes

First, just a small aside about the holidays.  I am not a fan of holidays.  No, really, I'm not.  They're too much headache, too much stress, too much running around in circles, and not enough down time, enjoying family and friends, and reconnecting with loved ones.  Thanksgiving is my hands down favorite holiday all year.  They've tried really hard to commercialize it with Black Friday, but the holiday itself is still today what I remember it from being a little kid.  FOOD!!!  Lots and lots of good food shared with good friends and close family.  No greeting cards, no presents, no mandatory decorations, just the good stuff.  

This year was the first year I've really done a lot of cooking for Thanksgiving.  Until this year, the only things I'd made at Thanksgiving were pumpkin pie and pumpkin mousse.  This year, on the other hand, I did a turkey, broccoli casserole, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, buttermilk pie, banana cream pie, pumpkin pie, and sweet potato casserole.  My neighbor made puppy chow, dressing, corn, green bean casserole, and a spaghetti squash, and another friend brought a chocolate pudding cake that was (still is actually, half of the cake is still on my table) excellent!

 Fin cleaning up after our puppy chow adventure.  Who knew that chocolate, peanut butter, powdered sugar, and chex would be quite so awesome?  Messily fabulous lol!

 The turkey!!!   This turkey turned out so good.  I was really happily surprised.  Turkey is usually so dry and bland.  I'd much rather have a goose or a duck.  Even better would be a venison roast.  But, cram a pound of sausage mixed with minced onion, bread crumbs, and spices under the skin (not in the cavity), and wrap that booger with bacon.  It'll be a juicy bird.  Yes, I know, your arteries are hardening just looking at it.  But it's only once a year!

I also discovered that I can make my own powdered sugar.  The only thing I needed powdered sugar for was whipped cream.  I don't like CoolWhip.  The stuff is an abomination.  To make your own whipped cream you just need:
whipping cream
powdered sugar

Use about half as much cream as you want volume of whipped cream, and make sure you use a bowl that is bigger than the amount of whipped cream you hope to have.  Turn on your mixer and watch the cream grow!  Put in however much powdered sugar gets the whipped cream as sweet as you want it, and add a dash of vanilla.  Add the sugar and vanilla while you're whipping the cream.  Ta-da!  Easy peasy.

To make your own powdered sugar, just put it in the blender, food processor, spice grinder, coffee mill, whatever you have that has spinning blades.  1c sugar = 1c powdered sugar.  You can even grind it to your own specifications.

B was excited, lol.  Everyone was excited.  Fin and I were cooking for two straight days.

 After we finished eating, the midgets got turned lose in the yard.  It was close to 80 degrees that day, so we just ate outside.
 Fin is being sad panda because she was so excited to eat, we were all so hungry, she ate less than half her plate and was stuffed.
It's hard to tell, but the expression n B's face is overstuffed misery.  Pup was slightly less miserable, and the kids were just pinging from sugar and disrupted schedules.

It was fun, and I am definitely going to be looking forward to next year, though Fin and I have agreed that we will try to scale the food down some.  We made way too much for our small gathering.
I've already started my turkey carcass boiling for 10 day Turkey Soup, and have a container of leftovers in the freezer that is ear marked for said soup.

10 Day Turkey Soup takes ... you guessed it:  10 days.

This is going to sound gross, but I promise it isn't.  Take the carcass and break it up so it fits in your largest soup pot.  Pour in any leftover stock, drippings, etc., and then cover the carcass with water.  Bring it to a rapid boil for at least 10 minutes, then reduce to a simmer.  Cover and let it simmer all day.  Turn it off before you go to bed.  In the morning, bring the water level back up if necessary, and repeat.  No, I didn't forget to tell you to put it in the fridge.  Who has room for a stock pot in their fridge for 10 days?  Every morning, when you bring it back to a boil for 10 minutes, you're pasteurizing it.  Repeat this for 9 days.  Before you turn the heat back on on day 10, sift out any bones, skin, etc. that might still be solid.  Add in the leftovers that haven't been eaten.  Everything.  Dressing, turkey, veggies, mashed potatoes, (I don't recommend adding sweet potato casserole), even cranberry sauce or jelly.  Bring it to a nice boil, turn it down and let it simmer all day.  Really watch it today (stirring, checking water levels), because the starches sometimes settle to the bottom and want to burn.

And now you have 10 Day Turkey Soup.  Or, if you don't want to throw all the leftovers in, you can freeze the stock in batches.  It's wonderfully rich and flavorful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fall Favorites: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

What goes better with gray, chilly, drizzly weather than a hot bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich?  Not much, other than maybe a hot bowl of homemade tomato soup, and a grilled cheese sandwich with real cheese on it instead of that processed yellow "cheese food" stuff we call American Cheese.  Isn't that just a testament to our times?  The quick processed, unidentifiable ingredients, imitation colored "cheese" is American cheese.  We're too impatient to take the time to actually make cheese.  Instant gratification and everything is disposable.  It irritates the snot out of me.

Anyway, where was I?  Tomato soup and grilled cheese, right.

Even if you are one of those who require instant gratification, you can have this dinner in about 20 to 30 minutes.

The recipe I used called for:

1 tsp dried Basil
3 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
3 c chicken broth
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic (or a tsp minced, or about 1/2 - 3/4 tsp dried)
2 tsp olive oil

Get a pot.
Putt the olive oil in the bottom.
Saute the garlic till it's fragrant.
Throw everything else in the pot, bring it to a boil, turn it down, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.

You can leave it at that, or you can put the soup in a blender and puree it to get a smoother consistency.  Too easy!  If you don't want to use canned, you don't have to.  Stewing tomatoes couldn't be easier.

Get a few tomatoes, put them in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil.  When the skin starts to blister, turn off the heat.  At this point I rinse my tomatoes in cold water.  It seems to encourage blistering, and it'll keep them from continuing to cook from their own internal heat.  The skins peel right off (I personally don't like cooked tomato skins.  They're tough and awkward.), or you can leave them on.  Dice them up, and ta da!  Diced stewed tomatoes.  I recommend doing the dicing in a bowl, otherwise you lose all your juices.

Some changes I plan to make to the recipe -  The soup is bland.  Yes I know, tomato soup isn't exactly a riot of flavors in your mouth.  The store bought stuff honestly tastes about as spectacular as ketchup.  (ick)  But it doesn't have to be boring!  Next time, I am adding some onion  1/4-1/2.  I think a whole onion would be a little much for this size pot of soup.  Or maybe I'll double the amount, use a whole onion, and freeze some for later.  I'd also put in a shake or two of tobasco sauce, or a dash or two of red pepper.  It also needs a touch more salt (for my taste).  A bay leaf would be good, too.

But wait!  I forgot the grilled cheese.  I often make the (inaccurate) assumption that everyone has at least the basics.  I consider grilled cheese a basic.  It's as basic as scrambling eggs.  I was three or four years old when I started learning how to scramble eggs and grill sandwiches, and I often just imagine that's how everyone does it.  I am most often very mistaken, and I have to remind myself of this constantly.

Grilled Cheese:

Butter (you can use margarine, but I don't recommend vegetable oil or shortening.  It just doesn't taste good and seems to leave the sandwich much greasier)
Cheese - any kind of cheese will work.  Have fun with it, combine several cheeses, make a pizza grilled cheese with pepperoni on it.  Shredded cheese doesn't work out as well, though, because it becomes a mess when you try to turn the sandwich over.

Heat a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, drop in a small pat of butter or margarine (just enough to coat the skillet.  You're not trying to deep fry your grilled cheese).

I usually assemble my first sandwich while the skillet is heating up.

Set the sandwich in the skillet and wait.  Patiently.  Don't constantly flip it over and over, because all that does is make your sandwich soggy and greasy, not toasted.  When the bottom of the sandwich is nice and toasty brown, flip it over carefully so you don't end up with your cheese spilled into the skillet.
Wait... patiently.  When the other side of the sandwich is nice and toasty brown, put it on a plate and enjoy! I love to dunk my grilled cheese into my tomato soup.  It's so yummy!!

Grilled sandwiches aren't limited to cheeses (obviously).   If you want to put other stuff in there, go ahead and try it out.  Put a fried egg in there, and have a grilled ham, egg, and cheese.  Try different combinations of cheeses.  Sprinkle your bread with garlic before you grill it, and put mozzarella cheese in it.  It'll be like cheese sticks with marinara sauce when you dunk it in your tomato soup.

I have to stop now.  I am getting hungry, and I just had breakfast.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pålt and Goulash

You're probably thinking ~what the hell is Pålt?  Most people know what goulash is, if not you'll know that by the end of this post as well.

I had the good fortune to be able to take a trip to Sweden back in 2000.  There is a wonderful family there that made me and my friends feel like we were family, too.  We had a wonderful time, with wonderful food, wonderful drinks, and wonderful company.  Pålt is just one of those wonderful memories.  They're yet another dumpling.  Every culture has to have a dumpling.  They're super cheap, very filling, good old fashioned comfort food.  In Sweden they're primarily made with potatoes.

I honestly don't know if my pålt is the same as Mama Lundqvist's, but they tasted good and made me happy.

You will need:
and very salty pork - or other yummy filling that isn't going to put a lot of extra moisture into the dumpling (optional)

a large pot of salted water, boiling

I don't have measurements for this, because... well... that's just how I roll.  Wait till I post my buttermilk biscuit recipe!

Boil the potatoes until they're tender enough to put a fork in easily, but not falling apart.  Pull them out of the water and let them cool enough to handle.  Pull the skins off, then grate them.  Don't use the smallest holes in the grater.  You want fine strands of potato, not mush.  (although you can make these with leftover mashed potatoes, I don't think it tastes the same)

Measure your potatoes now.  However much you wound up with, use half as much flour.  (i.e. if you have two cups of shredded spuds, use a cup of flour.)  This is a rule of thumb, and your experience may differ.  If the dough is too sticky, knead in a little more flour.  If it's too dry and stiff, put a bit of water in it.  You want it to be soft enough to mould, but not so soft it falls apart when you cook it.

If you are using salty pork (this is how Mama made it for us), make sure it's fully cooked, and as you roll the dumplings into balls, poke two fingers in and stuff about a Tbs of salty pork goodness into each dumpling, then roll it tightly closed.  Any type of filling could probably work.  I want to make them with cheese!

If you aren't using filling, just roll the dough into balls.

Drop the dumplings into the boiling water for 20-ish minutes.  They float when they're done.

For goulash you will need:

bell pepper
broth or bullion
seasonings as you like

Goulash is one of those fabulous things like kitchen sink soup.  Every country has a different idea of what goulash should be.  That idea reflects the tastes of the culture.  There are no rules.

The goulash recipe I used was Hungarian.  It called for some spices I happened to not have (I think it was caraway seeds).  *shrugs*  I was completely surprised that my spice cabinet was lacking.  I normally have anything and everything you could possibly want in there.  I'm a spice fiend.  I love the stuff.

Anyway...  So there aren't really any rules.  Do what you love, spice it how you like.

I browned the meat with a little butter, tossed it in a soup pot.
In the drippings, I cooked the onions and bell pepper till they were soft, then tossed in some minced garlic.  That went in the soup pot, too, along with the remaining drippings.
I put a couple of cups of beef broth in there, and let it simmer till the meat was tender.
I seasoned it with salt, turmeric, tarragon, and I think I put some cayenne pepper in there.

The other side you see in the picture is a cauliflower and carrot casserole that was absolutely abysmal.  Totally disgusting (in the opinion of everyone in the house, so I am not being hyper critical here.)  I was able to save it later, with some chicken, cream of mushroom soup, and a lot more time in the oven.  But, I won't be using that recipe ever again.

The pålt and goulash, however, were totally awesome and will be done again.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Late Halloween, and a little update

Remember those coffee cans I turned into canisters?  A bit of an update on those.  First off -- don't spray paint bendy plastic lids.  Bad mojo.  Apparently acrylic paint works just fin, because I used it on an ice cream bucket.  But spray paint is more brittle, and the paint flakes off really fast.  Painting the inner circle of the lid, like where a label would go, would work out perfect.  I also found that with the creative use of a pastry tamper 5 lbs of flour will fit in a 36 oz coffee can.

Fin insisted on carving pumpkins for Halloween.  I've never carved a pumpkin before.  Well, let me amend that.  I attempted to carve a pumpkin once around the age of 14.  It ended with a fountain of blood (literally, I severed an artery), a trip to the ER, several stitches, and a wide berth around the pumpkin patch thereafter.  But, she was all little kid excited, and it was kind of contagious.  She also had a pumpkin carving kit that has these itty bitty little blunt saw blades in it.  I felt like it would be very difficult for me to have a repeat performance with something so harmless.

I was right :-P  The pumpkin on the left is mine, the one on the right is Fin's :-)  It was fun, and I think I might carve a pumpkin next year without prodding LOL.

A side effect of pumpkin carving is pumpkin seeds.  Elise at Simply Recipes has a recipe for Roasted Pumpkin Seeds.  I mostly followed her recipe.  I did the boiling in the salt thing, and the baking thing.  But before I baked them I drizzled lime juice all over them then dusted them with chili powder.  The idea was chili lime flavored nuts.  It didn't work out quite as intended, because the lime juice didn't hold it's flavor after roasting.  They were very good, nonetheless.  B actually LIKES THEM!!!!

He hates pumpkins.  He hates the smell.  He hates the feel.  He hates the taste.  Blah blah blah.  The boy has a serious prejudice against squashes of all varieties.  I have tricked him into eating them several times (squash), and on most of those occasions he has had NO clue.  So I bullied him into tasting the seeds.  He actually eats the whole things.  I insist on shelling them.  The shells take way too much time to chew satisfactorily, but I do like to suck the chili pepper off the outsides first.

All of this was accomplished before Halloween.

Halloween night, we were supposed to go trick-or-treating with Fin, Fin's midget, and the Pup.  That kind of fell through when it took B over 2 hours to paint my face.  But he really did an awesome job with the face painting, and it was fun for both of us.  We ended up finishing up right about the time trick-or-treat ended, so we went to dinner.  Ironically, we went to Red Lobster.  I was tempted to order a can of tuna LOL.

 I think B did a great job with my makeup.  My face is still breaking out from all that grease paint, but it was fun.  The silly grin kind of ruins the effect of the makeup.  It looks better with my mouth closed, but then you couldn't see my super cute vampire fangs turned kitty teeth.

 Fin was a pretty kitty, too.  She had some ballet flats that she painted black and gold tiger stripes, and some adorable kitty ears that she made, but this was post trekking all over housing , so she was pooped.

I bought the dress, but I already had the petticoat.  I made the leggings, mittens, and tail (the tail is actually on my lap there under my paw).  I made an ear, too, but it didn't work right in combination with the hat, so I left the ear off.  I've still got it, as well as all the other bits of my costume.  It may either get worn again, or get reincarnated into a new idea next year.

Feeling like a peon

For anyone who has played Warcraft or World of Warcraft:  Work, Work, Work!

I thought I was about done with that transcript.  Turns out I was right, and wrong.  There are three or four more waiting when I get through with this one.  I'm grateful for the work, really I am, but I'm starting to get that weird, underscored electric wire buzz in my brain lately.  The one that feels like it might be lighting a fuse.  I feel pressure to finish, pressure to take another one, pressure to do something constructive around the house, and less and less motivation of any of the above.  It's like feeling the need to take of running, but feeling like you're too tired to move at the same time.

Yeah, I know:  quit yer bitchin, kid.

I have a job.  That is good.  Happy thoughts, happy thoughts, happy thoughts.

I don't know what's the matter with me.  I've just been so disgruntled lately.  I feel like I need peace and quiet, but when every one is gone, I feel left out.  I feel like I want a quiet night with B, but when it's just us we sit like two lumps and play games on our phones.  I don't know when the last time was we had a an actual two-way conversation just the two of us was.

I want to DO something.  But I can't think of anything that wouldn't require money we really don't have right now.  I want to go hiking.  That's what I really want.  Somewhere pretty.  I think I am feeling homesick, but just not for the "home" we actually left.  I am feeling homesick for my mountains.  I want to go rock hopping.  I wan to smell the autumn leaves.  I want to see a deer, or a rabbit, or a fox in a meadow.  I want crisp air that smells of frost and tingles the inside of my nose.  I want to see my breath when I go outdoors.  I think I'm having an episode of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It's too damned sunny, too damned warm, and it's been that way too damned long.  Where's fall?  Where's winter?  Why is it over 70 outside?

B brought me flowers yesterday, because I've been so irritable.  He said now I have to be in a good mood all weekend.  They have a squirrel in them.  They made me happy.  When I am feeling especially testy, I go smell them.  It helps, but I still feel restless, unsettled, and just generally irritable.  The sounds of Call of Duty:  Modern Warfare are blasting from the living room with almost the volume of an actual battle, I swear.  Pup is down there wearing it out.  Fin is in the back yard reading.  I don't know what B is doing.  I assume he's playing games on his phone.

They went fishing at 0400 this morning, and they're saying they're going back out again tonight.  For some reason that irritates me.  I guess I was hoping that since this was a long weekend, Pup might be going out with some other friends and B and I might spend some time together.  Scratch that idea.  I think my dad was right, and I get to let him tell me "I told you so."  Even though he really doesn't actually *say* I told you so very much.  He really doesn't like to.  He would rather me listen to his warnings, follow his advice, and not have the situation he predicted turn up.  But he warned me that having people over too much would cause B and I not to know how to act when we found ourselves by ourselves.  He's right.  And now I don't know what to do about it.  I think part of it is just my feelings are a little hurt, and I'm feeling very much like a fifth wheel right now.  I shouldn't, because it's not like anyone is intentionally shunting me sideways.  But I think I feel that way because the ideas I had for this long weekend were very different than what is actually playing out.  Since the current activities had no place in my head, I feel out of sorts and out of place.

The next long weekend is Thanksgiving, and while it is my absolute favorite holiday of the whole year, because it is actually something I can agree with, has value to me, and it probably one of the least commercialized of all the holidays, it's a holiday of social gathering and coming together.  Which means that we won't have any more long weekends with the potential for 'Us' time for quite a while.

Anyway, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I guess I need to quit my whining and find some things to be thankful for.
Like my flowers.
My squirrel in my flowers.
The fact that I have a paid job to work on with more transcripts just waiting for me to finish this one.
I got to meet some wonderful people yesterday, and was even honored with the presence of their mother/grandmother who is 93 years old.
I have coffee.
B brought me lunch.
I have friends.
I slept better last night than I have in over a week.
One of the books I ordered is finally on its way.
I'm almost through sorting books, so I can send some to Ms. Terri soon.
I'm gonna get some footie jammies with sock monkey feet.  (just cause... yes, I am juvenile, but they made me giggle, and I'll giggle when I wear them.)
I had apple pie last night, and it was yummy.
There's blueberry pie tonight (Fin baked them both last night with Pup's help.)  I don't like blueberries LOL
Why am I thankful for that?  Because I WON'T eat the pie.  I need to lose 20 lbs (again).

Thursday, November 10, 2011



Woops, I got a bit side tracked the last couple weeks.  I've actually been up to my ears in paying work, so housework, blogging, and all sorts of other stuff have taken a back burner for a bit.  I have blogs that need to be written, pictures that need to be uploaded, recipes that need to be shared, and crafts that are nearly finished.

I've got a backlog all the way since Halloween.  I still haven't uploaded pictures of my very first Jack-o-Lantern.  I promise, I haven't forgotten about the Bon Bon Club.  I finished another transcript today, so as of right now I am free tomorrow.  Well, sort of.  I have a backlog of laundry waiting on me to upload it and run the programs Wash, Dry, and Fold.  Blogging is looking better and better!