Something to Make

We are in rainy season here in south central PA, days and days of drenching with no sunshine in sight on the forecast for 10 days. It’s incredible, a little disconcerting, and cozy as midwinter. I turned on the heat today to cut through the damp and we sip hot drinks just like midwinter. There is muddy water streaming across the roads where the creeks can’t drain the mountains fast enough, and the happiest creatures on this farmlet are the ducks. The cats hate it, because they can’t sit outside the windows, looking in covetously. They are stuck in the barn. Maybe they will finally catch on that they should be catching rats.

M garden is reduced to some watermelons, a patch of broccoli and sweet potatoes, and small tomatoes that hang onto the blighted stems and ripen slowly in the cooler weather. Recently I had a bite of a stuffed tomato appetizer at a restaurant when a friend kindly shared hers. I became mildly obsessed with replicating that flavor at home, and googled for recipes, trying for the flavor until I think I nailed it pretty close. This is a mash-up of many different recipes and my own trial and error. If you want to hang on tenaciously to summer for a bit, to its tastes and textures, you will want to try Basil Stuffed Tomatoes. You need:

  • 8 to 10 small tomatoes
  • 8 ounces Neufchatel cheese
  • 3 T. pesto
  • 2 cups Italian bread crumbs
  • a few sprigs of fresh basil
  • 4 T. butter

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  1.  Cut out the core/stem area of the tomatoes and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and wetness from the center of each.
  2. Set them upside down to drain a bit more while you mix up the other ingredients.
  3. Soften the cream cheese in the microwave if you’re like me and forgot to get it out 2 hours ago. Mix in the pesto. This amount is variable. I could roll in basil everyday and feel happy with the flavor, but not everybody is like that. I add enough pesto to turn the cream cheese quite green.
  4. Melt the butter and toss it into 1 1/2  cups bread crumbs. Save 1/2 cup of crumbs out dry.
  5. Turn the tomatoes right side up in a baking dish and spoon about 2 tsp. of dry crumbs into each one. This is to help soak up the damp in the tomato.
  6. Spoon 1 T. of cream cheese mixture into each tomato, squooshing it down on top of the crumbs pretty solidly.
  7. Stick a layer of basil leaves on top. In fact you can put basil in layers wherever you please during this process.
  8. Top each tomato with buttered bread crumbs. I used a cookie scoop and pressed them down firmly, then topped them with a scoop of looser crumbs for a prettier presentation.
  9. Bake, uncovered, 350, for 30 minutes.

This may sound fiddly, but it is oh, so worth it! It made me feel so happy to figure it out. If you don’t have fancy bread crumbs, you can just blend some toasted rustic bread and add extra Italian spices or you can pulverize up salad croutons like I did one day. The parmesan garlic was really good! You can use regular cream cheese, of course, or even ricotta. I tried fresh mozzarella once, but it got too rubbery. At any rate, you owe it to summer to give it one last hurrah!

As I write, my girls are playing Great British Baking Show, accents and all. They are using Silly Slime for all their bakes, trying for the “perfect icing drip” on their cakes, sitting on the floor beside the “oven” while they wait for their bakes and having all the calm drama of any of the baking challenges. “I love that bubble on the side…”

I spent an hour writing out assignments for the middle schoolers this next week, and now that I have that handle on Monday morning, I feel like maybe another cup of tea would be in order.

Have a great week! And don’t neglect your tomatoes while you have them.

 

 

 

 

My Suburban Smells Funny

and other tales of August worth.

“May I have an apple in bed?” Addy asked, since she knows that there isn’t much chance of me saying yes to anything that could rot her teeth after she brushed them, and apples are practically toothbrushes anyway. There were no apples in the fridge, so the next up was, “Or how about some pieces of dried chicken?” I was startled out of my absent-minded washing of yesterday’s dishes that had stayed on the counter all day because we got home late last night and went to church this morning. Sure enough, she had found a baggie of very dry chicken bits, saved from our roasting/canning operation of 20 old hens last week. “Maybe a pepper. I could eat a pepper,” she hedged when she saw that I wasn’t excited about her choices. My two little girls make up for any vegetable deficit in the older children. Same parents, same parenting style, only less “now eat your broccoli” fuss, and here they are, regular veggie devourers. It does make you wonder. This is Rita with a legit bedtime snack that makes her just as happy as milk and cookies.

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I wasn’t going to plant regular tomatoes this year because I have a good source where I can buy a couple boxes of Romas and make a big batch of sauce all in one day instead of having them trickle in over the course of a month. When my neighbor gave me plants he had nurtured in his sunny windows, I had to plant them, so I am hauling in a bumper crop all month. The vines are blighted and ugly, and still the babies swell and turn scarlet. It’s astounding! I planted some pineapple tomato plants that are luscious for sandwiches, and shiny purple “Dancing With Smurfs” cherry tomatoes that aren’t good until they turn red, which I think is a little bit of false advertising.

August is all about harvesting and preserving bushels of stuff for winter. Have you ever had tiny, tender green beans that you just picked an hour ago and lightly sauteed with a bit of garlic and olive oil? If you did, then you know why I garden. Or a slice of tomato so huge that it hangs out over your toast, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper? How about crisp cucumbers sliced into a vinaigrette? There is no farmer’s market that can yield that sort of freshness, although it’s better than vegetables shipped across the country, for sure! August turns me into a food snob, because I can. It’s when all the endless hovering and ministering to the plants yields fruit, and does it taste good! So that is what we are currently eating. (Too many melons, a funny problem to have.)

Tomorrow starts our third week of school. Olivia was looking at old pictures and said, “Mama, you used to play more.” It’s true. Somewhere things got too heavy and much. I quit going outside for recess and impromptu soccer games in favor of throwing some laundry into the washer or starting dinner. I am working to change that. We bought some new games and are back to starting each day with a read-aloud before we hit the math books. My Consumer Math guy is still working his summer job, so he is not included in this picture.

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I don’t buy reading curriculum. We just read and read and read. If you ever wonder who really funds the libraries, it’s people like me who suddenly realize that August 23 is past and I have a humongous pile of books overdue. Hey, at least it goes to a good cause. Each year the children also get books as gifts when school starts and again when we celebrate our finish. I buy them second hand, at library sales, on Thriftbooks, or Ollies. Making sure my children love to read is the ace up my sleeve for success in education.

Last week we finished Kate Seredy’s The White Staga fascinating tale of the Huns in the days when they were sweeping across the world after their ancestor Nimrod died. It’s historical fiction/fantasy, so we did web searches and verified Gregory’s trivia bit about Attila the Hun dying of a nosebleed. The thing about reading aloud is that the children really don’t suspect that they are learning, but I am guessing they will always remember that choice bit.

Addy’s book, Poppy is by one of our favorite authors, Avi. It is the story of a very brave mouse. The book I got for Rita is one of Cynthia Rylant’s stories, Gooseberry Park.  It has been a great success because Rita is not an avid reader yet, and she says this is the best book ever. I personally have not found a Cynthia Rylant book I didn’t like. Of course, there are over a hundred of them, and I haven’t read them all. Olivia reads all the time, and fast. Thimble Summer didn’t last more then a few days before she was whining about not having anything to read. We agree that Elizabeth Enright’s stories about Gone Away Lake are actually better than this one, but she is another solid author.

The boys are more into non-fiction. Alex is reading Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff.  I might just mention that the title describes the appeal of the book for him. I stood in Barnes and Noble, staring at the $25 price tag, then I looked up a used copy without a dust jacket on the web for 3.99 and left the store empty handed because I am cheap like that. Gregory received a copy of Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage He and I shared story grip on this book and had to keep swapping out turns to read it. Then we discovered all the youtube videos about Shackleton and were astonished anew. We are also working our way through the New Testament during the summer months. Our favorite way to do this is listening to Max McLean on audioBible. And that is what we are currently reading.

The animal population here on the farmlet thinned out briefly. We sold Lamb, who was now big enough for Mutton. Rita worked her charm on him and got him into a pet carrier for the ride to join a herd of other sheep going to market that day.

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We also hauled 20 chickens to the chop. They were old and no longer laying eggs except on good days, when they felt like it, if the light was mellow and the grain fine. I was grateful I didn’t have to butcher them; all I did was roast them, pick the meat from the bones for canning, and then make bone broth. I feel quite happily fortified for soups and stews this winter. Yes to collegen! No to leaky gut! (I just googled that.) We also sold a bunch of fat leetle rabbits, which makes me feel like my name should be Mrs. McGregor, because I know they get eaten, but at least not by me. I thought it was a good thing, emptying a few of the gobbling horde out of the barn, but my husband came home from the salebarn with a flock of ducks and my son bought different rabbits and more chickens.

My mom used to say I shouldn’t get married until I could butcher a chicken and bake a pie. I couldn’t do either when we set up housekeeping, but it seems to have worked out all right. I can bake a pie now, but I have to admit to a secret feeling that someone should commend me every time I do. “Come on,” I chide myself. “You’re a forty-something Mennonite housewife. You’re supposed to be able to bake a pie.” Here’s a really good thing to do with peaches, super easy, super un-fussy, without a ton of prep and dishes.

  • Buy or make a pie shell, with enough pastry to put a lid on it.
  • Peel peaches until you have 4-5 cups of slices.
  • Gently toss them with 1/2 cup sugar, 1 T lemon juice, 4 T minute tapioca.
  • Pour the peaches into the pie shell and top with pastry.
  • Seal the edges, cut a few decorative slits in the top, give it a wash with milk and then dust with sugar for a pretty sparkle.
  • Bake at 350 for 45 minutes

The tapioca does all the work of thickening the juices and holding the peach slices together when you cut the pie. It tastes fresher than cooked peach filling because it wasn’t cooked, obviously, until it went into the oven. Mom had minute tapioca variations for apple pies (2T tapioca and some cinnamon) and other fruits too. We children loved these the best of all the pies she made and that was a lot!

In my spare time, hahaha…. goes off in fits of giggles…

When I have some minutes or an hour, I play with clay. Since I have a kiln, I find my mind constantly veering toward what I could make next. My first firing was full of wobbly pieces that took me 6 months to accumulate. When I saw how the glazes made even lowly pinch pots pretty, I got down to it and filled the kiln again in a month. I had a few big bowls that made my heart sing proudly, but then I had some issues with firing too hot, too quickly and the moisture in the bowls shattered them into thousands of worthless shards. This sight was what greeted my eyes when I opened the lid. I learned a valuable lesson about patience in letting my pieces thoroughly dry out before doing the first firing, as well as double checking the switches when I turn on the kiln.

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This shattered mess happened the morning before I went to the funeral of a dear family friend, the person who actually first introduced me to a love of pottery. It felt like an underscoring of the sadness of losing Karen.

Thankfully most of the pieces were fine, but they were all small bowls and mugs. The next kiln load only took 2 weeks to fill. I must be getting better! Sometimes I watch potters on Instagram and see that they could easily throw enough pieces in a day to fill what looks to me like a cavernous kiln. Then I don’t know whether to power on or laugh at my struggle, so I do both. That would be the current events on the creative stage.

What I haven’t been doing is writing, and this bothers me. I feel the urge to not forget all this wonderful mix of stories in the mad whirl that is August, which is really too much and just right. One steamy day I got into the Suburban to run errands and was greeted by a rush of super-concentrated air. It was the weirdest blend, like dirty socks (there actually were some under the seat) and fishing tackle mingled with wool and a cloying overtone that I couldn’t place, like very ripe peaches. “Oh, that’s Rita’s air-freshener. She put clove oil on a tissue to smell good.” That’s August in a nutshell here.

My letterboard pep talk to myself goes like this:

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Parting shot: I like my Gregory’s pinch pot better than most of my attempts at symmetry, but I do really like this mug. I get a lot more than coffee out of it. It feels exactly like a smooth egg in my hands, and try as I might, I haven’t been able to make another just like it. Yet.

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Homemade Ice Cream in 15 Minutes

I started hankering after an easy ice cream maker a few years ago. We have a large churn type that takes ice and a few hours and makes phenomenal ice cream. It is great for a crowd, but not for a quick summertime treat. The thing I needed was a countertop version. I also needed something compact, and when I discovered that Kitchenaid makes a bowl that simply attaches to the stand mixer, I was hooked. I just needed an excuse to get one, and Father’s Day last year was perfect. It wasn’t any more lame to get my husband something I wanted than it would have been to get him something he didn’t want or need. 🙂 I figured he would be benefiting from this insight pretty often.

This is what I got:

 

It attaches by a twisting motion onto my mixer but is also fitted for the bigger models that have a lifting lever for the bowl. The whisk attachment has two sizes as well, so that it is interchangeable with sizes. Just do your research if your mixer is very tiny or very huge.

Here’s how it works. You store the bowl in the freezer. When you want ice cream, you get it out, pour in a quart of ice cream mix, and start it up. Typically it takes about 15 minutes to freeze and do that amazing expand-y thing that ice cream does when it is just about finished. It is a good practice to stand there at the bowl with a spoon so that it doesn’t expand too far out over the edge of the bowl or anything like that.

I have tried many recipes and simplified one way down to 5 ingredients and no cooking. That way I can take a sudden notion to make ice cream on a Sunday evening and it is no hassle. I will put in a disclaimer here: if you cannot stomach raw eggs, you should just skip on to the cooked custard recipes on Pinterest. I got this blender ice cream mix idea from a mom who raised a dozen children on it and nobody ever got an e.coli infection. Just be sure you use fresh eggs without any cracks.

I prefer the ice cream made with a cooked custard mix when I have had the foresight to get it ready 12 hours before we want ice cream. For a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-skirt person, that doesn’t happen very often.

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The ingredients list is simple:

  • 3 1/2 cups of milk/cream/almond milk, etc.  …We are looking for milky liquid. You can be as health conscious or as fatty as you want. I used 1 1/2 cups half and half (because cream can form little butter lumps if it hasn’t been cooked into custard) and 1 1/2  cups milk.
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar  …Again, you can do whatever sweetener you want. This is not sweet compared to regular ice cream. It is just how I like it, a hint of sweet decadence without the brain numbing sugar high. Sometimes I use part maple syrup, or even alternative sweeteners.
  • a pinch of salt …Trust me on this. You want a little bit of salt in there.
  • flavoring   …I used a TB of instant coffee dissolved in a TB of water. Sometimes I use vanilla or caramel flavoring with flakes of salt at the end for you know what!

Put all ingredients into your blender, or if it is broken like mine, into a deep bowl for the immersion blender treatment. (I have tried many and varied  immersion blenders. This one isn’t expensive, but it is by far the most powerful one I have owned. Bonus: it comes with a mini food processor. Make sure to keep the stick blender down against the bottom of the bowl! You have been warned. Whip up the mix until it is thoroughly blended, but not so long that it gets warm. You want the mix to be as chilled as possible. If at this point you don’t quite have a quart of mix, just add milk until you do. You can also add a bit of xanthan gum. It helps thicken and smooth the finished product.

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This is how the beater attaches to the mixer. (Just pretend you don’t see that flour that I should have wiped off the mixer.) You pop it on, then put the whisk part down into the bowl, start the blender on low and pour in your mix. Go cook the hamburgers and toast the buns while this mixing is going on. The ice cream will be ready by the time you have the supper made. 😀IMG_20180623_182136316

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Riddle: What is better than dessert?  Answer: Dessert that is coffee flavored.

How to Beat the Flu: Elderberry Syrup

It’s my repost day, and I would like to make a public service announcement:  The flu is really bad this year. Have you noticed? My husband keeps telling me what an awful strain of flu this year is packing. This is not to be confused with stomach bugs, which are bad enough. It is the aching, please-let-me-just-die-now flu, and sadly, many immuno-compromised people are dying. By the grace of God our family has not experienced anything worse than common colds this entire winter. We have two people who are supposed to be extra susceptible to germs in our house. Aside from trying to stay away from germy situations, I keep waiting for it with my weapon that I stock in my fridge all winter long. I often get asked for this recipe, and I suppose you could always search for it in the archives where I posted it four years ago, but here it is, with love and a few edits.

(edit: My husband is extremely skeptical of potions, home-remedy-cure-alls, etc, but he swigs elderberry syrup as soon as he feels a little bit ill. He works with sick people all the time, and he has not had to take a sick day in five years. We credit the mercy of God above all, these amazing little berries that are a part of His mercies too, and maybe the fact that those in healthcare have mandatory flu shots. You can pick your chin off the floor now. )

 

Here’s our recipe for Elderberry Syrup

  • 1 Cup fresh elderberries or 1/2 cup dried
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup raw honey
  • Bring first 5 ingredients to boil in a saucepan: simmer until reduced to half, about 20 minutes. Squash berries and strain mixture. Add honey to strained liquid: pour in a glass jar and store in refrigerator. Take 1 tsp or more when cold or flu symptoms start, up to 3 Tbsp a day. This is safe for children, but because of bacteria concerns in the raw honey, it is not recommended for children under 1 year of age.

There it is! My go-to potion when anybody in our house sneezes or sniffles/pukes or flus. I got this recipe from my sister-in-law, Rhonda, who got it from a friend… I don’t know who really gets credit for the original, but it is really good. I tweaked it a bit, and sometimes I stir in 1 TBS of bee pollen. The ginger soothes upset stomach, and we find it too cloying with over-much honey, even though raw honey has many healing properties. It also preserves the syrup for a long time in the fridge. I have seen other recipes where people add lemon juice, and the product you buy from Beeyoutiful contains apple cider vinegar. My children struggle a bit with the sourness of the flavor, so I haven’t added it. Yet. As you can see, the recipe is quite open to interpretation, made as pleasant or unpleasant as you like.

Edit: The cloves are the spice cloves, whole ones. Somebody I love dearly thought it was garlic cloves, which probably would also help the immune system, just not too tastefully in this preparation. She was ready to cook her concoction when it dawned on her that something was not quite right.

The star is elderberry, lovely elderberry.

Elderberries are effective against both bacteria and viruses, and act to prevent viruses from entering cells. Taking elderberry syrup, extract or juice can lessen the duration of flu symptoms. Elderberries contain anthocyanins, potent antioxidants that protect cells from damage. Anthocyanins also boost the immune system by inducing the production of cytokines, small proteins that play a role in regulating immune response.

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Photo credits here, along with another informative article on flu-fighting elderberry studies. Listen to what they say, “A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine…found that elderberry decreased the symptoms of influenza (including fever) within 2 days and achieved a cure of influenza in 2 days in 90% of the group receiving elderberry, compared to 6 days with placebo.  The most interesting thing about this study is that it was looking at Influenza type B – a type of influenza that Tamiflu and Amantadine are not effective in treating.” I would so prefer to feed my family a medicinal berry made by God than a drug with dubious side effects, which might make you feel even worse than you did before you took it.

I want an elderberry bush. Actually, I would like a whole thicket of elderberries, so I could share with all my friends. I bought my freeze dried berries at Sunburst Superfoods. The price for one pound is less than the price for one (smallish) bottle of elderberry syrup, already prepared, which is why I bought them, of course.

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edit: I now have two elderberry bushes. The dog loves to chew on the stems, for some odd reason, and the birds have a way of robbing all the berries before they are quite ripe. Also, they are very tiny and labor intensive; the stems are toxic; it takes a lot of berries to make a pound of dried ones! It made me feel good to try raising them, but my best sources are still the bulk herb stores.

There is a source for already made syrup, which is what I always bought before I started making my own. I can heartily endorse the products from Beeyoutiful. See link above.

Does this actually work? Yes, it really does. I stay on the ball with dosing someone who is starting with flu like symptoms, and we rarely have any sickness that lasts longer than 2 days. I keep them dosed every couple of hours. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

Stay well, my friends!

In Which I Feed Macaronis to the Multitude

I was scheduled to take a hot lunch in for the children at our church school today. If you, like some others, feel a bit blank about the logic of that, it’s okay. Everybody in church participates in the meal list, whether their children attend school or not. I have considered putting up a meal list for once a month “homeschool mom relief” but of course, that would be silly, because we would have to make sure our students are properly dressed for the event. 😀 And there are always hotdogs.

Anyhow, I decided to do a chicken casserole, because these were children I was cooking for. I found what I was looking for at allrecipes: Chicken Casserole Del Sol.  I have no idea why this is considered the casserole of the sun, but we all need the sun on a day like this, so that clinched it. Then I went on to “Aunt Ruth” the entire recipe, which is what we call it when I substitute more ingredients than not. (You can find her story here.)

Instead of rigatoni, I used macaronis, 4 pounds of them. As I was cooking them, I had a flash back to the Worst Casserole I Ever Made when I was 16 and my mom was away. We had decided to have some friends over for Sunday lunch and I called Mom for advice. She suggested I do this really easy macaroni dish. I did not have the confidence to Aunt Ruth recipes back then, but something went horribly wrong with the amount of time I baked the dish in relation to how often I stirred it. When it was time to eat, there was one solid mass of pasta disintegrated into flour with some bits of chicken and I think peas were in it too. It was inedible and so embarrassing I never forgot it. All that to say I have a phobia of overcooking pasta, stemming from a pool of pain when I was 16. I did not cook these maccies very long, and I shocked them in cold water to avoid the flour mass.

Then I got my son to grill 5 pounds of chicken breasts. Easy peasy. When a recipe says 2 chicken breasts, I feel perplexed because I have bought some that were the size of an entire chicken all by themselves. I figured I would eye it for when there was the proper ration of meat to starch and just went with the 5 pounds.

I no longer buy cream of chicken soup except under duress, so I made a roux with a half cup of butter, about a cup of finely chopped onions and flour. To make my soup, I used chicken broth that I had cooked off the carcass of a whole chicken last week, then I added a cup of shredded cheddar, 1/2 of the mayo called for in the recipe, some milk, and a pound of Velveeta queso blanco. I probably had five quarts of chicken soup/sauce by the time I was done. I wanted light soup, not heavy. So far so good.

The recipe said to add mushrooms and green beans. I pretended I didn’t see the mushroom bit and the green beans were going to be cooked as the side dish. I do love to throw a little whole kernel corn into my chicken noodle soups, and this was a similar situation, so I did that. You hardly notice it, but it is just a really nice surprise, unlike mushrooms from a can. Once I had all the seasonings (Morton’s Nature’s Seasons instead of salt, lots of parsley, black pepper, red pepper for zing) mixed into the sauce, the chicken chopped up, and all of it mixed together, I found that doing times four on the recipe was a prodigious amount of food.

I stepped back and just looked. Wow. A roasting pan and a deep lasagna pan full of Chicken Casserole of the Sun. Then I made another digression from the recipe. I did not put the crushed cornflakes on top. Instead I grated cheddar to sprinkle on top just as it was ready to serve.

That’s it folks. And I find myself a little surprised to now be one of those women who can wing it on a recipe for a crowd, and it actually tasted pretty good, wasn’t gloppy (you have to shock those maccies) or goopy.  I guess all those thousands of meals between 16 and the current time must have taught me a few things.

The extra lasagna pan full of casserole turned out to be providential, because my parents-in-law were in town and they stopped by after an appointment to have supper with us. I cut up some vegetable to eat with Ranch, got out a jar of applesauce and served an easy frozen strawberry dessert.

Today was the day I fed macaronis to the multitudes. Well, maybe about 50 people, so not that many. What did you do?

Putting August in the Freezer

Just in case you have been given a box of peaches, like I was, here is a wonderful way to put them away for winter that does not involve canners and jars.

One of my sisters-in-law introduced us to peach slush, which is basically sliced peaches frozen with some extra stuff for flavor. When you serve them, partially thawed but still icy, they taste just like a burst of sunshine in the wintertime.

I had a daughter running the camera and two daughters on rotation with the peach operation, so this post will treat you to some inexpert, but authentic photos of the process.

  1. Wash the peaches.
  2. Split and remove pits.
  3. Peel.
  4. Slice. If you use an egg slicer for this, it makes them nice and uniform.

 

 

5. Keep at it until you have about 6-8 quarts of slices

6. Add 1 can of crushed pineapple (You can add this right away, juice and all, and stir             occasionally while you peel. It keeps the peaches from turning brown.)  and 1/2 can           of thawed orange juice concentrate.

7. Stir gently and do a taste test to see if the peaches are sweet enough for your taste.             Ours were just a little too tart, so we added a cup of sugar.

8. Fill freezer bags or containers and tuck them away for the middle of winter when               you need a happy pick-up of summer flavor.

Serve these peaches while they are still slushy. That is when they are best.                   Sometimes when we have unexpected company, we stir up a brownie mix and serve plain brownies and peach slush for dessert. Easy peasy.

Any other good ideas out there for quick ways to store up August? I would love to hear from you. Feel free to put links in the comments.

 

 

Efficiency Tips for Martha

We all need more white space to ponder and pray and take care of the really important things, right? And how, we ask, do we make this space to be like Mary? The stuff to do keeps coming at us and it isn’t going to quit anytime soon. I have compiled a list of things I have learned about keeping house. These are tips for homemakers, okay? Don’t laugh if you have never been one and maybe you think we just sit and drink tea. You. have. no. idea.

  • Never go up or down steps without checking if there is something that needs to be carried up or down. The same goes for room to room. Don’t step over the brush in the hallway 11 times. Scoop it up and put it into the bathroom while you are walking that direction anyway. It’s a lot easier than mounting a full scale search party when it’s time to brush your child’s hair before church.
  • Throw away ALL junk mail immediately. If it’s a company with a website, don’t keep the catalogs. If it’s a Lego or American Girl catalog, let the children look at it until it is soggy with drool, then immediately bury it deep under the eggshells in the trashcan.
  • If there’s a load of laundry, just do it. Don’t ever worry about running out of laundry. Keep your used towels and washcloths in a separate basket/hamper so you can do them often and avoid that stinky, musty smell.
  • Do not put stacks of folded laundry on beds or on top of dressers. It might take 20 seconds to open the drawers and put them away. The same 20 second rule applies to hanging up coats instead of draping them over the nearest chair. Buy hooks until every piece of outerwear has a place to hang out when you aren’t wearing it.
  • Do not store stuff you don’t need or have no sentimental attachment to. If your cupboards or closets are stuffed, sort through them and donate anything you haven’t used for a year to someone who will be grateful for it. (Or put it in storage out of sight.) Stuff can seriously bog you down, did you know that? If you have stuff that nobody would want, well… what are you doing with it?
  • Buy a tote for each child to store their sentimental keepsakes in. Help them decide what they want to keep when you are deep cleaning their room. (Within reason. Some children cannot seem to part with anything! But they probably won’t ever look at those Sunday school papers from 10 years of childhood. Sometimes you just have to disappear things. Unless, of course, you have access to unlimited space for totes.)
  • Keep your fridge organized. It is so much easier to find the ketchup if the ketchup has a spot to live in the fridge. This is not to say that the absent-minded child won’t stand there and gape for the longest time before they find the ketchup. Also, it is much easier to use up food before it spoils if it is visible in the fridge. Buy clear storage dishes. Odds are pretty high that leftovers stored in old cottage cheese containers will grow mold.
  • Avoid ironing clothes if at all possible. Learn how to tumble-dry the permanent press clothes and hang them on hangers while they are still damp. If you forget to get them out of the dryer and they get sadly wrinkly in there, just give them a quick rinse cycle and try again. Life is too short to spend hours ironing.
  • Mulch your garden heavily. And your flowerbeds. Mulch everything. Put newspapers under the mulch. Do not let those weeds come up and spread their noxious seeds.
  • Invest in cleaning tools that your children can use, preferably tools they fight for the privilege of using! That mop with the little water tank that squirts out when you press the trigger?.. Those microfiber window cleaning cloths?..The fun feather duster? Even the Lysol wipes… All these things will make your life much easier than just scrubbing away with a rag cut out of old shorts. Seriously.
  • Delegate. If a child can do it, then let them do it. See above. ^^^Learn to be okay with imperfection.
  • Have a pair of scissors/gluestick/tape roller/sharpie that is verboten to all but yourself. So many motions are wasted while we scurry hither and yon, tracking down the missing household item that someone carted off to make a kite in the garden. I know this.
  • Whenever it is practical, double up your meal prep and freeze the extra. If you are frying a pound of burger, you might as well fry 5 pounds and freeze 4 of them for later use. When you have chicken, make bone broth in the crock pot overnight and serve it with the leftover bits of chicken in a nourishing soup the next day. Make friends with one-dish meals.
  • Keep a schedule, as loose or tight as you need to feel happy. If you know that Thursday is downstairs cleaning day, you can calm down about the mess on Wednesday because you know it will get hit the next day.

Of course, these things do not mean you don’t have to work hard to keep your home free of chaos. The goal is to work smarter, not harder. Ever heard that one? You can then discover a little pool of white space and just enjoy it. Maybe you can find a piece of paper, or if you are artsy, you can get some paint and a board and make yourself a motto:

“Smile! It’s life and you’re living it!”

And now, do tell, what are the ways you have learned to simplify your homemaking?

May to Date

What in the world have I been doing, I asked myself when the children wanted to know the date for the Sunday school lesson to study. I couldn’t quite believe it’s May 22, but there it was, on my phone which doesn’t lie. I made a list, just for clarification that I haven’t been dawdling. *Insert sounds of guffaws*

 

  • We started with this line-up on May Day. It looked pretty promising.

spring florals, May 1

  • I employed myself to a program of outdoor maintenance at my dad’s decking/vinyl railing business. This included about 4 trips to the greenhouse to get everything looking gorgeous for their annual open house. Then it rained most of the day and people didn’t even walk around the grounds. And then we had a surprise frost that nipped the pretties right back to square one.
  • I turned 39. Yep, I did. That morning I determined to make myself a luscious London Fog cake but I forgot to take it out of the oven and I left for a solitary stroll at a nearby park. Halfway around the lakeside trail, I remembered and sent a frantic text home, but the vanilla cake was quite dry and sawdusty by then. When you are 39, you should know better than that, but at least you have learned not to give up too easily. I already had the Earl Grey infused cream for the icing, so I mixed another batch of batter and made cupcakes after I got home.   I also picked up pizza for supper. With spinach and sriracha sauce because it was my birthday, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it!

Burnt cakebirthday cupcake

 

  • I got to visit with our friends, Motz and Paige, he being a sort of unofficial little brother from way back when. At the same time, my actual little brother and his family were in the area, so we had a grand catching up time. Unfortunately it was an evening that Gabe had to work, so he missed out on the reminiscing. (Thank a nurse today.)
  • I celebrated Mother’s Day with five of the most dearling  (Addy’s new word) children, again a day when their father had to work, and yes, I feel a tad bitter about nurse shifts on these occasions. (Thank a nurse’s spouse today.) However, I do not believe that it is in anyone’s best interests to marinate in the inconveniences of hospital employ, so we went on a hike that day and found a bunch of wildflowers. (Don’t they look like little rascals? But I wouldn’t trade them for anything!)

Mother's day, 2016

  • We all 7 had dentist appointments in one forenoon, with one orthodontist appointment to make, 2 follow-ups for fillings and 1 in six months for sealing of molars. I could happily forgo dental appointments all my life, for real. I HATE it. The hygienist always compliments me that I have no plaque, but I end up being the one who needs fillings. I blame it on gestating and lactating and freely offering up my calcium to others for all those years. It can’t be eating gummy candies, in any case.
  • There was a doctor’s appointment in Pittsburgh; I took three little girls along for the ride on west to Ohio to my sister’s house where a gorgeous tea awaited us on arrival. I had carefully selected my favorite scented jar candle from my stash because Rachel had told me that she always ends up giving away as gifts the ones she likes best. When I handed my hostess gift to her, she got a funny look and said, “I gave you that candle at Christmas.” I thought I remembered picking it out at TJ Maxx, but who knows who is right? After all, she is pregnant and I am 39. At any rate, we each gave our best. 🙂 The ride to Ohio included picking up freezer beef for us. Have you ever driven four hours with styrofoam coolers squeaking against each other at every bump in the road? It does help to listen to “The Boxcar Children” on audio really loudly, but I don’t recommend it.
  • I prepared, if I calculated correctly, about 462 individual meals, plus a few extra on the day that Gabe had friends over to help him with a barn raising project. It was my pleasure, and especially once I had a freezer full of beef to work with. Approximately every 3 days a meal includes asparagus, which is of itself an item of great cheer. Just occasionally I would give up my French press for an in-house cook though.

Barn raising

  • I got to try my hand at messing with clay on a real potter’s wheel, compliments of my sister-in-law Ruby, who set up a training session for my birthday. It took us two hours to drive to the studio, but we had so much fun and I have been dreaming of a way to set up my own operation. Rather many $$$ would be involved. And a lot of time and more strength than I had any idea. It looks so effortless when you watch an artist draw that pot out of the lump of clay, but my shoulders were sore for days. Here is another sister-in-law, Rhonda, who will be having a birthday soon too, and who also had fun because someday her luck with finding pottery at thrift stores may run out and this would be a valuable skill. (I might add here that I went through three towels on my lap and still had clay water smeared down my skirt. The other two came out fresh as daisies. How do they do that?)

pottery making

  • Last, but definitely not least, we finished school, as in all wrapped up, portfolios, achievement tests, evaluations, and a party with the pretty dishes on the lace tablecloth! A field trip to the Lincoln Caverns and a very soggy picnic later, we are done!

I feel a bit like someone put me into a salad spinner and wrung all the moisture out, and that is why I intend to actually dawdle as much as I can in the next week.

Here is one final photo of the barn project as it stands, startling me when I look out the kitchen window because I am not used to it yet. Isn’t the timber framing elegant? One of these days I will look out and be startled by sunshine instead of this grey sky. I believe it! Oh yeah, and one of these days I will be picking 12 rows of peas. Dawdling will be a distant memory. Also one of these days the front of the garden will be bordered by callas and dahlias and zinnias. I can hardly wait!

barn skeleton

Jaunting About

Jaunt: v.

  1. an excursion undertaken especially for pleasure

  2. archaic :  a tiring trip

We are jaunting about like everything these days and it is so much fun. It is a fast way to wear out, but it is great way “to blow through life without a budget,” as Rachel Jancovik says.

I am taking walks every day except when it rains, just noticing how things bud and burst open and it changes in every 24 hour stretch. I applaud the skunk cabbages along the roadside ditches from the first purple spears to the brilliant unfolding green leaves. I cheer the forsythias across the road, now very nearly at their peak of screaming hilarious yellow. And I got out the vases because my children are bringing me any and all blooms they find. There are no more daffodils or hyacinths outside because they all came into my kitchen.  I have plum blossoms and pansies on the window sill and baby broccoli too.

Yesterday I couldn’t resist and pulled out two baby evergreens that were growing beside the road on a deserted stretch. I wanted to plant them by the pond, and rationalized that the road crew comes along and whacks everything off for visibility purposes anyway. Gabe thinks I poached them off someone’s property, so now I feel conflicted about my baby trees, even though the state owns the road frontage: 20 feet from the middle of the road puts state property boundaries right at the edge of our front porch. So my trees come from state property, which they routinely deface with chain saws and whackers of various sorts. (I am making excuses here, I know! A preacher I know stops and picks up nice rocks beside the road to build chimneys. Is this different? :/ ) I did plant my tiny trees. If they die, I will know I shouldn’t have pulled them. My defense in court would be, “Spring made me do it.”

Last week I spent a sunny afternoon digging dandelions out of the asparagus bed. It was very satisfying. They are the most persistent things! Every year I do this, and every year they gird up their roots and try again. Now I am willing the asparagus to appear!

Spring means lemony desserts to me. I just got done lovingly assembling a Greek Yogurt Cream Cheese Lemon Cake for guests. It is a rite of April. I am pretty sure I posted about this before, but for your benefit, this is what it looks like:

Greek-Yogurt-Cream-Cheese-Lemon-Coffe-Cake-7

And here is my recommendation that you go show Lovely Little Kitchen some love and make this cake today.

Grating lemon peel always makes me feel happy. This morning I was busily mixing and pouring and was surprised to find myself feeling annoyed. It certainly wasn’t the gorgeous citrusy aroma or the cream cheese. I isolated the cause to a Pandora music station that I had playing with popular worship songs. I had chosen it because I wanted to hear one song in particular and here I was, listening to the next ones in the queue and getting really irritated. This is not to minimize anyone’s taste in music, but as a lover of language, after the 47th time of “I could sing of your love forever…” I want to say, “USE YOUR WORDS, HONEY!”

I was raised with the grand hymns of the church and am well aware of the “outmoded, outdated, outgrown” arguments concerning church music of the past. However, after something truly beautiful like:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

I simply can’t get into the modern worship songs with their overwhelming emphasis on how I feel and the music that croons to God like I used to croon to my babies. I love the substance of the old hymns, the descriptions, the grasping to know a glorious God who is so amazing that our best language cannot describe Him. I need music to remind me that God is so much bigger than I am.

*that creaking sound of a person gingerly stepping off a soapbox*

Anyway, the cake is now baked to perfection and the house awaits the weekly clearing away of stuff that didn’t get put into its proper home this week. I scored a great victory last week. I actually threw away the sweater vest from the ’90’s. And I replaced the beloved pair of shoes I bought when I was expecting Gregory (He is 11. You can do the math.) and couldn’t fit my swollen feet into any of my regular ones. I loved those shoes, even though they flopped when I wasn’t pregnant, but it was time to let them go.

I have a goal this spring that I am almost afraid to verbalize. I want to assign everything a place in this house, and if it doesn’t have one, it needs to go. This could be both cathartic and painful! My small treasure hoarders will need to be out of the house when I do their room, but they have a whole playhouse where they have free rein and can decorate their little hearts out. Now that it is warm, I am shooing them out there every afternoon after school. They have beds with old blankets and books and a plastic table with squatty little plastic chairs. It’s the perfect way to learn cause and effect in housekeeping. 🙂

Gabe has PTO for 8 days! We are working on building the critter barn and sandwiching in a field trip to DC with my big brother and his family. More jaunting. Hurray!

 

 

 

Easy Peasy Camp Food

When we camp it seems that much activity centers around the food. The Pinterest search I did for great camp food brought up grills and skewers and lots of men standing around drooling while meat juices drip. I veered off on a completely different tack, since I had no desire to coddle a charcoal grill in 20 degree weather. I could have happily lived with cereal or protein bars for the duration, but I don’t like when people talk about how much their stomachs are groaning (Addy’s words) and it is equally disturbing when the polite child sidles up and whispers,  “Is there anything to eat?”

My game plan for this trip was to make a menu of Sustaining Foods, carefully think of portions, cook the dishes ahead of time, and not have any leftovers to bring home. At the last minute I threw in a bag of tater tots and a few packs of hotdogs with a bottle of ketchup just for a bit of  a buffer.  This turned out to be a smart move, because there were no restaurants close to the park and we were much too eager to get to our rental to spend time casting around for one. So the arrival banquet was just that. Hotdogs and tater tots. Yummy.

Here’s my Easy Peasy Camping Menu:

  • Breakfast One- Pancakes (just add water, thanks to Aunt Jemima) with some extra toppings like nutella and peanut butter, sausage patties, hot chocolate or coffee (Gabe cooked this meal. Gregory did the dishes. Win for me.)
  • Supper One- Baked potatoes with hamburger topping, lettuce, sour cream, fresh veggies-plain, because I forgot the Ranch dip. (I cooked. I mean I wrapped the potatoes in foil. The rest was precooked at home. Alex washed the dishes.) For a dessert/bedtime snack we made monkey bread, very dry because I forgot the extra sugar sauce, but tolerable when dipped in hot chocolate.
  • Breakfast Two- Scrambled eggs with cheese, cinnamon raisin toast, coffee, oranges
  • Supper Two- Taco soup with tortilla chips and shredded cheddar, assorted store-bought confections for dessert. (Is a double-stuffed oreo a confection?)
  • Breakfast Three- cereal and milk so that cleanup would be quick and easy before we had to check out.
  • Supper Three- a restaurant on the way home.

Maybe someone is interested in the snack list. Because we all know what happens with growing children. (What? You can’t be. We JUST ATE.) To minimize this frustration I took along a bag of apples, a bag of clementines, a jar of peanut butter, a hunk of cheese, some lunchmeat, extra bread and butter, and a few packs of Ramen. After we made the pretzel cabins, there were those to nibble on as well. If you didn’t like the selection, you weren’t hungry, and I heartlessly stuck to that.

This plan worked pretty well. I didn’t have to take any seasonings except salt and pepper because I had taste-tested everything in my home kitchen. Even so it seemed that we ended up with a ridiculous pile of supplies. There were just a few leftovers in the fridge after each meal, enough to drop into the cracks of the hungriest children. 🙂 Gabe thought to casually mention to me during our drive that he had invited his sister and her family for Friday night. She would bring extra food he said. That was great, only there was no cell service unless you hiked a few miles, so Ruby and I were not in touch. She brought whatever worked for her, and I heated the leftover potatoes and toppings and then she cooked our Saturday breakfast so that we were fortified with more than cereal on the drive home.

The drive home ended up being through Jonas the Storm. The restaurant meal plan was flawed, alas. “Oh well,” I told the children, “we won’t starve. We still have our cheeks.”

af0885bb-6313-4a31-95cb-2a58a29ebfe3

And that is how it ended, our vehicle just barely off the road and a snowed-in weekend. 🙂

I have one more camping post, all about ways to make it doable with a family. Until tomorrow!