Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Applesauce and memories...

This post is less a recipe and more a walk down memory lane. I made applesauce this week and it brought back a lot of fall memories from my childhood, especially of making applesauce with my mom. It was probably more like my mother making applesauce for us, as I'm pretty sure I was about as helpful as Seth currently is for me: moral support rather than actual knife work. Seth was perched up at the counter working on his homework, then over at the computer fiddling around; he came over for a few taste tests, but his interest in my "old style" way of making applesauce was minimal. Ah well. Such reminiscing is lost on the young...

My fondness for homemade applesauce is in no way related to how often I make it--I think this is the first time I've put it up in jars in probably a decade. Sad but true. But this year I knew I wanted to make some, being on the preserving path as I've been for the past month or more. So on a recent trek through the area of the valley where the apple orchards are, I stopped in and got a couple of boxes.

I told the lady at the stand that I was making applesauce and she thought my choice of a mixture of fuji and honeycrisp was a good one... I didn't explain to her, though, that I was planning on making "chunky" applesauce--what we called the kind my mom made, with the skins on, and the apples cooked through but not to complete mush. Well, the fujis went right to mush--I could tell they were going to as I was cutting them up. The honeycrisp stayed true to their name for a very long time!

Thus, I gave up on the chunky idea. I pulled out the old reamer that my Grandma Goerlitz used and got it set up, and churned away. Just using that old "machine" brought back so many memories... I was thrilled with how sweet the apples were all on their own, and barely added any sugar and just a hint of cinnamon before I packed it all in jars that pop, pop, popped throughout the evening. It was dark out by the time I finished, and chilly, too--it really felt like fall!

My chunky pot of sauce, prior to reaming.

Beautiful color, lovely applesauce! Doesn't that contraption look like something from outer space--or at the very least, the thing that launched the space capsule in Contact?

Look at this gorgeous piece of wood. It's so beautiful and sturdy--really gets the job done!

Seeing Grandma's reamer out again reminded me of a few other things I have of hers that I rarely use--like this grape trivet. The grapes are made up of bottle caps that have crocheted covers. How cool is that?

And this little covered pot is so sweet and little--about six inches long. I never use it, but I love having it around to remind me of her.

Grandma Goerlitz died in the fall of 1999, before Seth was able to remember her, but I try to tell him little stories every so often to keep her alive for us both--what she was like, things she was interested in. Like me at his age, Seth isn't so compelled by these stories, but I also know that over time he'll be more curious about these people who came before him, how they did things, what they might have in common with him.

Thinking about my grandparents who have passed brings some regret for being such a young and flighty thing that had little time for them in their old age... It's a good reminder to do that now, with those who are still with us.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fig alert! The season is NOT over!

You know the saying about laying down your life for a friend? That works, I suppose, but how often does it really come up? But alerting a friend to the nearest location for figs? Oh yes. I have such friends, and they are dear to my heart.

On my phone this very afternoon: "Fig alert! I'm standing in front of figs. Do you want me to get them for you?"

I happened to be nearby so zoomed on over and picked myself up four little pints of the sweetest and loveliest figs I've had this year. They were picked "closer to ripe" than the flats at Costco, so while they are more fragile, they are definitely more flavorful.

I ran right home and whipped up a late lunch salad of arugula, figs, chevre and pumpkin seeds (a nod to fall, of course), with a balsamic reduction. It was heaven. I cut the figs in half and sauteed them cut-side down in a pan with some balsamic reduction and then laid them over the arugula and sprinkled the goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and little more of the reduction over the top. Very lovely.

Tonight I made a panini with figs, pesto and fresh mozzarella, which was also it's own slice of bliss.

Here I thought fig season had passed. Apparently not. Stay tuned. Two pints down, two to go. (No judgment on how fast or how many I eat, please.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Chicken and veggie pesto salad

I did a photo shoot on Thursday morning of chicken and veggies skewers on the grill. Yummy and very summery, and then I ran off to have lunch out, thinking, when am I going to get those skewers eaten up?! But I had plans on Friday to have lunch as well (yes, husband's away, Sher does play!) and so this time we ate in and I turned the veggie skewers into a salad of sorts. My friend brought along some locally grown orange honeydew, which I don't remember eating before, and it was delicious. It was a perfect end-of-summer lunch, complete with great conversation!
Veggies I used:
Green, red, yellow and orange pepper
Baby red potatoes
Summer squash
I pulled the veggies and chicken off the skewers (and cut the corn off the cob) and chopped them up into about 1/2 inch bite-size pieces. I then added about 1/2 cup fresh pesto--I think I have finally used up the basil!--and a handful of pine nuts and parmesan. I tossed it all until it was well coated, and it made for a delightful lunch--in fact, I'm off to have leftovers now!

No-bake granola bars

With husband gone on business, my morning routine fell to shambles almost immediately. Breakfast smoothie, what breakfast smoothie? That's completely UNindicative of how much I dearly adore our smoothie... but it's hard to make just for one and I really shouldn't drink the WHOLE thing.

Frankly, cereal doesn't excite me much any more. I did a couple of days of cereal and yogurt and one morning I had with oatmeal and apples. But I knew something with a bit more heft (and something yummy with my coffee) would help see me through my busy mornings. I had some almost-made granola in the freezer (all the dry ingredients mixed together) but hadn't gotten around to making it, because every time I make granola I seem to mess it up and wasn't in the mood for messed up granola. So I landed on the idea of granola bars.

Granola bars! I do love homemade ones, usually, and have a real freaky addiction to those granola chunks that Costco sells in their bakery section (which are also not so healthy...) so I thought I'd make up a pan to see me through the coming week. And maybe, just maybe, Seth would like them too...

I went straight to the Bittman, but was disappointed that his recipe called for using already-made granola and basically wetting it to make bars. Turns out a lot of online granola bar recipes start out with granola... who knew? Not for me. But luckily a few other food blogger types had figured that out and wanted a recipe that really is From Scratch, so I was able to cobble together a workable solution from a few of their successes.

I made a big-ole pan, but have scaled back the recipe to fit a 9x9 pan for normal people. I think I will be a freezin' some of mine that don't get eaten this week.

No-bake granola bars
2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup grated coconut
2/3 cup chopped nuts--I used a combination of almonds, walnuts and cashews
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup oil--I used canola
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. No, this is not for baking the granola bars. This is for toasting the dry ingredients. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Pour onto a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the toasted oat smell starts to waft through the house. Take out of the oven and let cool. Pour back into mixing bowl.

Mix the honey and oil together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil over medium high heat. Take off the heat and stir in the peanut butter and vanilla. Pour wet mixture over the dry and mix well. Line your 9x9 pan with plastic wrap--so much easier to get the bars out later--and put the granola mixture into the pan, pressing down hard on the surface; I wet my fingers a bit as I was doing this so they wouldn't stick.

Cool for a bit, then cut into bars. Finish cooling in the refrigerator until bars are hard. Store them in a airtight containter in the fridge.

I just finished my breakfast of granola bars, a honey crisp apple and coffee. Ah, let the weekend begin!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

As I look at the blog and see such little action HERE since last weekend, it's good to know there's been action SOMEwhere... picture me like one of those little cars in the Zoom Zoom Zoom ads, here... there... and everywhere. That's been my week. Except today. Today was home. Ah.

Here's what I'm grateful for tonight:
*That husband is safe and sound on his extended business trip. Granted, I'd prefer he was here. But if he has to be somewhere else, I am glad that he's with his aunt and uncle, visiting for the weekend between a conference this week in DC and one next week in Orlando. He's his own kind of Zoom Zoom Zoom right now--just with planes instead of me and my zippy little car.

*So grateful that the not-so-little guy is with me this week and next, and that we enjoy spending time together, since it's a rather concentrated dose of Mom-time this weekend! We have plans. Maybe a little Bennington Lake with the kayak, maybe a picnic. Maybe some church. And probably Fame. (Remember... remember... baby, remember my name. Sorry, while they've updated it, undoubtedly, this is going to be such a blast from the past for me. Fame was the first "album" I ever bought--on tape, actually--and I think my parents were convinced I was going straight south to Hades for that one. I listened to it over and over. And for the SYTYCD followers out there, Karrington is in the movie! How fun is that?)

*Grateful for our bucolic setting. I wake up every morning in the most beautiful place in the Northwest, I'm sure of it. It's peaceful and other than a few barking dogs (mine and a few around the neighborhood), it's quiet and lovely. The hawks have been making a lot of noise lately, but I don't mind them--the fields are all harvested, so they have been in feast-land, swooping down for mice and gophers, calling out to each other and fighting over supper. Everything right this instant (sunset) has the most gorgeous wheat-filled glow, it's just lovely.

*Grateful for friendship. In all its many forms and vintages, it is something I don't take for granted. From sisters-in-law to new friends to old old old friends who you don't have to filter with, I am so thankful to know and be known.

*Grateful for fall flavors. I had a bite of pumpkin bread this week--Starbucks was looking to get everybody primed for fall, and oh did it speak to me! Ready to make a big old loaf of that! And take a look below at the pomegranates, which just showed up in the stores this week... sweet. Ready for a great big salad with those on top, yes I am.

*Grateful for the spark of creativity, for ideas that percolate and grow and become something real. It's what separates us from the animals, right? That, and accessories, as the ladies on Steel Magnolias said. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have a gobzillion ideas rolling around in my head. Oh, right. I might actually get something done! Ha.
Here's a funny little creative thing I did this week... not ALL creative urges turn out well, and this is an example of that. I had this giant zucchini sitting around and thought, what would be fun to put in the middle of the zucchini? And then thought of that old breakfast where you cut a hole out of the bread and put an egg in and fry it up... so proceeded to make a zucchini version of that. And all I have to say is: not so much. The eggs were fine and yummy, and the zucchini was just so-so and the two didn't go together very well. So put that in the "never again" files...

Here's a take on creativity I listened to a while ago, and thought I'd share it here. I am addicted to the TED talks on YouTube. Well worth checking out. This guy is very interesting, to me. Whether you agree with his take on things, it's certainly thought-provoking.

*I'm grateful that someone else had the baby but I get to hold him and cuddle him and then hand him back. Oh, such a doll is that little Blaise. Thank you for letting me have my weekly baby time, parents of Blaise!

*Grateful that Seth is sticking with cross-country and giving it an honest go. He had his second meet this week and shaved a minute off his overall time! He still tries to work the mom-angle and wiggle out of practice a bit when he's with me (not working, though my heart kind of melts and wants to let him out of it), but by and large I think he's learning more than a bit about gutting it out. For his sake I wish is would cool down a bit--this feels like the warmest fall EVER, but I'm sure it's just because I'm paying attention to the temperature at 3:30 every day, when he's out running, and wishing it wasn't 89.

*Grateful for the seasons, even as they come gradually. This change of season seems to have hit me hard, with the darkness descending so early and sun rising so late, especially in the sleep department--I've been waking up too early and not able to fall back asleep. Does that make sense? Seems I should sleep if it's dark, but that's not the trend. But other than for Seth's sake, I'm loving the warm days and cool nights, and the need to water everything a lot less.

*Grateful for the prolific butternut squash plant! I bet I have enough to see me through the winter, off one plant. How cool is that? And this week I picked all the peppers and tomatillos and made a roasted green sauce that I froze (having a real mental block where the canning processor is concerned, still) and will use for enchiladas and tortilla soup.

*Grateful for prayer and meditation and the centering aspect they bring. Can't imagine life without them.
*Grateful for family. Had a fascinating talk with a girlfriend today about families--hers, mine, other families we know, and the dynamics that differ and yet can be similar between them. And, naturally, it made me feel glad and grateful for my family. Near, far, wherever you are. Grateful to have been raised with love, that innate knowledge that I'm a person of worth. When you think about how many kids don't get that, your heart can kind of break a bit...
Here's to the weekend! Make it a good one.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday movie mania!

I went with a good friend to The Time Traveler's Wife yesterday and enjoyed it. A few foggy points were cleared up for me (the downsides of listening to a book on audio is that it's hard to go back and reread something if it's unclear), but still had a hard time buying the entire time traveling concept hook, line and sinker, so to speak. But it was a tale full of poignant reminders to savor the present, tell those you love that they are loved, and all those good things.

While there we saw a number of trailers for upcoming films and here's one I really want to see this fall: a based-on-true-life story about a homeless boy becoming a football player, with the help of a well-off family (starring Sandra Bullock). Very heart-warming, sigh.

And then this little trailer fell upon my desk this morning and I am also intrigued--anything with Emma Thompson (however small a role) is a must-see in my book.

Happy Monday! Now off to the garden. It was 46 degrees this morning, brrr. Things need to start getting tidied up out there in that jungle, or it's going to be one frosty mess soon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

Another sunny end-of-summer week. These could go on and on, as far as I'm concerned!

This week the list has some regulars, and some one-offs... that's just how it's rolling around here right now.

I'm so grateful for:
A sense of humor. Mine, and other people's, as well. There are times when things just hit me wrong, and I get all riled up about something. And then I remember to breathe. Other times, the same information can come my way and I just cackle with laughter. Just had one of those today in an email exchange. Could have been annoyed, but why? More funny than not. Truly. I need to remember that more often. Must. Laugh. Every. Day. Especially on the ones that don't seem to have much laughable in them!

The scent of roasting peppers/onions/garlic. The scent of basil. The scent of lavendar. Husband has about had it up to here with the girly smells of basil and lavendar, so I greeted him tonight with the pepper combo, getting ready to make green enchilada sauce over the weekend... It smells like a Mexican restaurant in here!

The gift of time. I have been feeling like I don't have enough time to get things accomplished, but that's all in my head. When I manage to be patient with myself (and others, yes, on occasion...), and get a bit more zen about it, I do realize that the important stuff is getting done, and my important people are getting taken care of, and that's what matters. Om.

The gift of naps. I think I must be fighting a bit of something, because the last two days I've put my head down just after lunch for a few zzzs. Nothing major, but generally revived after 20 minutes or so. Husband looked over at me today and had a little chuckle... Apparently my old-lady ways are humorous?

Husband. He's a gem. Friends. Truly blessed in all areas. Especially thankful for the milestone of birthdays (Yeah, Jen!) and birth days (yeah for a little Blaise baby-holding this week as well!). Life is good. And family. Near and far, I remember you all in my prayers, every day, and am thankful for continued health and general wellness.

Seth's stamina! He competed in his first cross-country track meet this week and was proud of his accomplishment. We're proud of him too!

That I didn't run out of gas when I was mowing the lawn yesterday. Such a little thing, but I was so on the edge and very glad to have made it through the jungle without having to stop, go into town for gas, and then finish... it would have been in the dark by that point!

That one small 50x50 garden can put out so much! I harvested basil, tomatillos and peppers this week by the bushel. Four hours (yes, 4) of plucking basil leaves and I thought my thumb would never un-blacken again!! Picking the peppers and tomatillos took a lot less time, and it's just stunning what those little plants can produce... very grateful for that bounty.

To live in a smallish community. Sometimes that feels like a mixed blessing, but right now I am enjoying the camraderie of my various groups--other moms, other volunteers, Wednesday mornings and just knowing the variety of people who make up our town. This week, that was a good thing.

For all the variety that summer produce has brought our way. It's just been delightful! And I'm even starting to look forward to fall and all its soups and stews and additional distinct flavors.

Water. Try going without a few minutes (let alone hours, days, weeks). We have had some really puzzling issues with our well pump this summer, but are especially grateful for a very responsive local pump expert. As of 11 a.m. this morning, we believe we've solved the issue... (But I did fill the emergency containers today, just in case.)

Pictures. To be able to capture moments in time and be able to look back... such a good thing. Earlier this week, I was going through pictures from the summer and remembering our good times. And started looking back further at Seth, the neices, family... such good "snaps," as my Grandma Goerlitz used to say...

To live in a country that's not at war. (I know some days it may feel there are battles being fought, but my generation really doesn't have a clue what it would be like to be AT war, I don't think...) I watched this video below--take the time, I know 8 minutes is a long time in YouTube-land--and was blown away. By the artist's ability to paint a changing picture, as well as by the reaction of the people watching it. It was easy to see that these images still resonate with them, generations later.

Wishing you a peaceful and joyful weekend.

What to do with all that basil?

I have been asked this summer by many fellow basil lovers, "Do you dry your basil to preserve it for winter?" My answer is always an emphatic, "No! Freeze it!" But then I thought to myself, why am I so emphatic about it? Maybe drying is better, or at least as good?

I did a bit of online research (ie Google) and found that the world seems evenly split between freezing and drying, but those that stand up for freezing do so because they like the flavor better with that method. And it is so much more versatile too--how would you make pesto in February from your dried basil? I don't think so... Since I fall squarely in the "freezing makes for better flavor" camp, I will continue with my freezing ways.

Here's how I do it:
Pick and wash basil. I don't wash basil until just as I'm about to use it, since it tends to deteriorate pretty quickly after washing. Pat it dry with towels or spin it dry in one of those salad spinners.

The next part really does require a food processor, or maybe a very powerful blender. Stuff basil leaves into the bowl of your food processor (not too many at one time, as that can make it difficult to blend properly), put the lid on and start whizzing. Have your olive oil ready, and start drizzling it through the top feeder of the food processor, slowly. Continue to process until you have a basil paste, taking care not to make it too liquidy with the olive oil. If that happens, just add some more basil leaves until you have the desired consistency.

Brighter green color going in to the freezer

How you freeze it from this point is really up to you. I have heard of freezing in ice cube trays, or measuring cups. I recently used a mini muffin tin for 2 Tbsp. portions, and a regular muffin tin for 1/3 cup portions. Whatever you freeze in, I recommend lining it with plastic wrap first so that the cubes will just pop out when frozen.

Darker green color coming out of the freezer!

Cubes, ready for their ziploc home!

Once frozen, the cubes are easily stored in freezer ziplocs and are available for use in soups, to make pesto, or anywhere else you want a little garden-fresh basil flavor. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thursday 13: Thirteen ways I love basil

I just finished plucking basil leaves off my seven basil plants, the final harvest of a very full season. Two kitchen garbage bags came in from the garden and got plucked down to three grocery bags... so there is plenty of basil love to go around. How appropriate for Thursday 13, to list my favorite ways to eat this lovely herb!

1. Pesto. I always need a pot of this in my fridge. Always.

2. Aglio Olio. I will never forget the first time I ate this combination: angel hair pasta with tomatoes, basil, garlic and parmesan. Dear friend Corinne made this for me when she moved to Walla Walla in 1990. She had been living in Vancouver for a while, came back to the small town with her big city cookin' ways and whipped this up for me. I had never had this combination before. I have no idea what culinary rock I'd been hiding under, but whatever. I have made this dozens of times in the intervening decades. And have loved it every single time.

3. Basil and nectarines. This is a great combination. I've sliced nectarines and basil and tossed them together for a quick salad, I've eaten them in a sandwich with cream cheese. Here's a preserve I'm thinking of making this weekend. Sounds delicious to me.

4. Panzanella. Classic Italian bread salad with tomatoes, basil and whatever else you might have lying about the kitchen.

5. Caprese. So simple, so lovely: Tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Drizzle the EVOO and go!

6. Basil and figs. Yes, so shocking that I would want to put these two together! A great bruschetta topping is chopped fresh figs, basil chiffonade and goat cheese. Heaven.

7. Infused/dipping oil. Garlic, basil, rosemary in grapeseed oil... Hand me the crusty bread and let's go!

8. Basil stuffed chicken breast. I have made this many times, most often in a catering scenario, with a sundried tomato and shallot cream sauce. Slice into a chicken breast to create a long pocket, stuff with chopped basil and goat cheese, brown the chicken in a saute pan with some olive oil, then transfer to a baking dish, cover with the sundried tomato cream sauce and bake until done. Easy and a real crowd-pleaser.

9. Basil polenta. A wonderful accompaniment for grilled steak or chicken, and even makes great "noodles" for a unique lasagna. Or, just pile on the cheese and have a bowl by itself. Yum.

10. Basil creamed corn. I have made this recipe a number of times, and have fond memories of serving it for our wedding/Thanksgiving dinner four happy years ago.

11. Sesame noodles with peanuts and Thai basil. I just had to throw this one in there to mitigate the heavy Italian influence on this list. I love a good nutty noodle bowl!

12. Pasta carbonara with basil. Take the classic and throw in basil. Basil makes it better, I swear.
13. Pizza margherita. Classic. Makes me hungry just thinking about it.

Tell me in the comments how you best like your basil!

To find other Thursday 13-ers, click here. Happy TT!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ricotta ravioli with fresh corn cream sauce

Heaven! I'm practically live-blogging this little slice of paradise as I eat... (Side note: I've decided that the shorter the window between cooking and posting, the higher the likelihood that posting actually takes place... I don't know exactly why, but my interest in sharing wanes fairly quickly.) (Quiet on the ADHD comments, Kim. :))

Back to heaven. On a plate. I mentioned the ricotta gnocchi with fresh corn cream sauce I enjoyed while dining out last week, and so wanted to replicate it as closely as possible. This did the trick for me, sauce wise, and since I already had the ricotta filling on hand, it was very easy just to make a few quick ravioli.

Easy ravioli
Serves one
Ricotta filling
Six square wonton wraps

Lay out wonton wraps. Place a tablespoon of ricotta filling in the middle of each wonton wrapper. Dip your finger in a small glass of water and run it around the outside edge of the wonton, and fold over into a triangle, pressing the edges together to seal. Set aside. Repeat with remaining five wontons.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, turn down so it's barely simmering. Gently place the ravioli in the water and simmer for 3-4 minutes, until they rise to the surface. Don't boil too long or they will tear apart. Drain ravioli in a colander and then place on a plate, waiting for the perfect sauce.

Fresh corn cream sauce
Serves one
1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup fresh corn, cut off the cob (I suppose you could use frozen, but it will be a far cry from this farm-fresh delight)
2 tsp butter
1/3 cup cream
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 egg, whisked
Basil and cherry tomatoes for garnish

Melt butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until softened. Add corn and saute until cooked through, about 4 minutes. Turn heat down to low. In a small bowl, crack the egg and whisk. Add the cream and grated parmesan and stir well. Pour cream mixture into the saute pan and stir until the cream is warmed and parmesan has melted. Gently ladle over the ravioli. Garnish with chopped basil and halved cherry tomatoes and enjoy.

The last bite is gone and I'm sad. That was really an end-of-summer treasure. Joyous. Now off to pluck the basil leaves off two garbage bags of basil I harvested tonight... green thumbs (literally!), anyone?!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Italy-inspired stuffed squash blossoms

A friend of mine is touring around Italy right now. She's also a local photographer, and an amazing one; every day she posts new photos on Facebook of her latest adventures, and over the weekend she posted some absolutely amazing photos of a street-side produce stand, replete with lots of little zucchini with their blossoms still attached. So beautiful, and inspiring.

I have enjoyed stuffing squash blossoms for many years, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so this season! I was a tad disappointed at the blossom size in our garden currently, but I was able to find a number of good size ones--enough for a lovely Sunday afternoon lunch!

Ricotta stuffing for squash blossoms (or ravioli, too, fyi)
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 Tbsp. chopped basil
1 Tbsp. chopped parsely
1 Tbsp. chopped chives

Mix all ingredients together thoroughly.

Clean the blossoms by running them under cool water--leave blossoms attached to a few small squash if possible. Gently open the blossoms and stuff with a teaspoon of the ricotta filling. Fill with as much in as you can comfortably fit and still close the petals around the filling.

Warm a skillet over medium-high heat. Coat with a dash of olive oil or nonstick spray.

Crack an egg into a small dish and whisk briefly--add a dash of milk, about 2 tablespoons. Fill another small bowl with flour.

Dip squash blossoms briefly but thoroughly in the egg wash, then roll in flour. Fry in skillet, flipping sides, until browned all around the blossom.

Serve with warmed marinara sauce for dipping. Yum.

There was about half the filling left, so next up is ravioli. Maybe with a fresh corn and basil cream sauce. Oh yes.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

What a week! When the week is kicked off with a day called Labor Day, you know it's going to be full... to the brim. Kind of too full in some ways, but good.

*Thankful for the long weekend, and extra days with my men. It was absolutely delish to be able to be here at home, not on the road to and from somewhere else, and enjoy concentrated time together. Felt special.

Seth ricing potatoes for a special Labor Day steak dinner!

*Thankful for sleep. I napped on the weekend to make up for some less-sleep-filled nights last week, so got caught up... mostly. Looking forward to doing a bit of the same this weekend too.

*Grateful for these cooler nights. To have the slider open and feel cool breezes, rather than still, warm air. Very nice. Probably has something to do with the good sleeps! And the cooler nights have something to do with the garden slowing down as well, I suspect... not quite the deluge, when I was out inspecting for tomatoes at lunch today.

Plums from our tree. Best crop ever this year!

*Grateful for my kitchen. I did a lot of canning and preserving this week, and really utilized my space! I have had many kitchens in my adult life, and this one is by far my favorite. For many reasons, but size and counter space have a lot to do with it too. Room for cookbooks doesn't hurt, either. And Seth can cozy up and do his homework, we can talk and catch up on his day; all those things make it one of my favorite rooms. Now, the dead zone right smack in the middle of the kitchen for my iphone? Doesn't help, but I can deal with that...

Our first cantaloupe of the season. Yummy. Look how thin that rind is--that's the way it's supposed to be, when it's vine-ripened!

*SYTYCD Season 6 is rolling. Happy. Thankful. Grooving.

*Tears. Oddly, I'm often thankful for tears, whether sad, cathartic or joyful. Tears have a real purpose in the world, I think. Other than the workplace. I am not a fan of crying at work, just saying. Take it to the restroom. Or at home over your lunch hour. Ask me how many times I've had a good cry in my car, for instance. Anyway, I heard someone tell a story yesterday and tears came to her eyes. A few came to mine as well--I have a sympathy reflex that often kicks in (unless you're a faker, in which case I can tell, just warning). It was a warm moment, and made me reflect on the universal connections we share, and the desire to impact others and acknowledge their impact on our lives.

*A sweet new life joined our world this week. Well, I'm sure many little bundles joined the world this week, but for our family, there is only one new little bundle that really mattered this week, and he's a sweetie. I had a few moments of nostalgia, thinking back to the joy that surrounded Seth's arrival... sniff... almost 13 (gack, choke, really?) years ago. And then I handed him (the new babe, not Seth!) back. Whew.

*My love for color and texture and fabric and all things associated therewith was reinforced again this week with a visit to the new fabric shop here in Walla Walla... and I signed up for a class in a couple of weeks. So excited to try out some of my hair-brained ideas with my fat quarters... it will take some faith to pull out the scissors and go, but give me a few quiet, rainy days and I'm pretty sure I'll work up the nerve!
*Grateful for yummy local food... I had another Creektown lunch this week with a group for nonprofit colleagues and it was tremendously good. How good? Four-cheese-gnocchi with fresh corn and cream sauce good. Holy gnocchi. Does it surprise anyone that even with multiple cups of coffee I came home and closed my eyes for a bit? Granted, we'd been in meetings all day to that point, and my meeting stamina is greatly reduced from years past, but still... it was heady stuff. Perfect Bite-worthy, really.

*Grateful for words and thoughts and the ability to get them down on "paper." A girlfriend and I have been mulling a small writing group for a while and are going to try and get it together here this fall. I'm really looking forward to a few enforced deadlines and some critical eyes on whatever it is I end up spilling out onto the page.

*Along the words line... a poem came my way this week that really hit me. The poet, Mary Oliver, is one I will explore more. I have been completely out of that realm for too long... looking forward to doing some reading and writing in this genre.

When death comes
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
--Mary Oliver

Powerful stuff. The last three paragraphs... all I can say is, "Amen."

*Today is a day of remembrance... I'm thankful that we're eight years removed from the nightmare of 09-11-01. I am grateful that we haven't had another such attack, and hope and pray we never do. Today I thought back to visiting the Twin Towers in 1997, and enjoying a wonderful farmer's market that was set up just around the base of the buildings. I bought the most amazing rugelach there... I swear, I can bring almost any memory back to food. And then when I was stranded in San Diego on 9/11/2001, dear friend Corinne was there with me and we watched CNN nonstop--and then we went shopping (helping the economy move forward, we told ourselves) and ate at a fabulous restaurant in La Jolla. Again, food; a helpful way through rough times!
I hope that where ever you find yourself this weekend, you're safe and sound and feeling blessed. I know I am. Cheers!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday 13 AND Tuesday Table Topics (The Late Edition): Greatest challenge in the kitchen

Pretend it's Tuesday, would you? That would help me out tremendously. The question I plucked from the Table Topics pile this week is: What is your greatest challenge in the kitchen? And, in the interest of doing double duty, see Thursday 13 below. (I'm nothing if not a multi-tasker.) They do relate, you'll see. It's all about food, so it relates, no?!

It's probably pretty obvious to everyone else right now what my greatest challenge in the kitchen is. It's obvious to me, even, and I can be slowish in self-discovery ways, yes indeed I can. But when I look at all the food I've made over the course of the summer and all the preserving I've done (especially this week) and all the photos I've uploaded to blogger, it begs the question: where are the posts?

Well, they are in my brain. Right along with most of the recipes and cooking tips and tricks. This was my challenge in catering, and will probably haunt me as long as I cook: WRITE IT DOWN, SHER. Good holy grief. There. That's it. That's my biggest challenge: I read recipes, consult the books, but then strike out on my own and think back later, oh, I really should have written it down--was that two garlic cloves or three? A pint of chicken stock or a quart? Who can say? It tastes good, I eat it, feed others and move on.

When attempting to make it again do I think, dang, that would be good to know... I have scraps of paper hither and thither, notes tucked away on my iphone, sort of, but most of it rattles around in my brain and I NEED TO GET IT OUT! Luckily my memory is pretty good, and my taste memory too, so I can usually get it somewhat close. However, I would be a much better cook if I could adhere to this one thing. Definitely a more consistent cook, too.

So for this combo of Thursday 13 and Tuesday Table Topics, I'm going to list the thirteen things that have come out of my kitchen in the past 48 hours. With the hope/promise of posting what I can remember in the near future! And pictures too...

1. Plum chutney.

2. Lavendar scented plum preserves.

3. Roasted tomatoes (oh, the smell!).

4. Roasted eggplant (looks revolting, want to try something new with this... no more need for baba ghanouj... I just don't see my men buying that any time soon...).

5. Enchilada sauce.

6. Marinara sauce.

7. Dried plums.

8. Dried blueberries.

9. Enchilada/tortilla lunch bowl with cilantro, cheese and sour cream (yummy AND cleared my sinuses!).

10. Meaty spaghetti pie with homemade marinara. Men loved that for dinner tonight.

11. Cabbage salsa.

12. Pico de gallo.

13. Very hot tomatillo/pepper sauce.

Love a good list! Actually makes me feel like I accomplished something this week. Now I'm ready to put my canner away and join the rest of the world again.

To see other Thursday 13 participants, go here. Happy TT.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday night grateful moment

What a great week. We are in those gorgeous end-of-summer days that I'd love to see stick around until Thanksgiving...

On this list this Friday night:
*Health. Spent yesterday taking a friend/co-worker to a post-surgery appointment and thus, quite a few hours in a hospital setting. Nothing quite like seeing illness up-close and personal to make one really grateful for good health. Not something I take for granted. And good doctors too--they really help make those tough situations better. I was reminded of my past thyroid situation yesterday and remembered my surgeon with appreciation. He listened and supported me at a time when I really needed it and I'll always remember that fondly.

*The fair. Seth and I spent quite a bit of today at the local fair. Technically, the Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days. It was Kids Day, which meant the place was crawling with creatures between 2 and 20 (more or less), and their parents. Seth met up with a buddy or two and that gave me a happy reprieve from the rides (I've long since decided those are not for me but would have grudgingly gone with him if needed). He had a great time socializing, and showed up at all of our meeting points when he said he would (not that I had my doubts...). We indulged in some fair food--I actually found some decent hummus at a gyros wagon, Seth got the inevitable curly fries, cotton candy and elephant ear, which I nibbled on as well. Good times. It was a blissfully mellow day, heat-wise, and not too crowded. A day to look back on later with fondness for all things Walla Walla.
Doesn't that just yell "Country Fair!" All the canned goods, lined up so pretty. When someone suggested I enter my apricot jam this year, I thought, oh, they do that? And sure enough, they do! Maybe next year.

Check out those cookies! I wouldn't mind being a judge for that section... maybe next year!

Saw an acquaintance in the quilt/crochet section doing a style of lace weaving I had never seen before. It's called bobbin lace and it's incredibly cool and somewhat addicting. I sat down and she gave me a short lesson, I practiced a bit and had a hard time stopping. Just what I need, another hobby involving a thread/yarn and needle/hook/bobbin... yeah, right!

Check out those bobbins! How fun.

All the veggies lined up and judged.

Quilts and afghans.

This quilt just yelled "Country Fair" too!

And Seth, on the mechanical bull. He really enjoyed getting tossed around for a few seconds... and then he was done.

*Family life. Couldn't ask for better times with my men right now. I am blessed.

*Garden full and overflowing. Hoping that doesn't stop any time soon. It was quite cool this morning (low 50s) so, things will slow down soon, sadly.

*Some energy for yard work... maybe next week! Do you like my qualifier: some? Part of me is just done, part of me is ready to roll. It is SO September around here, but alas, there are a few weed patches that look like they've been missing me...

*Fun new projects for fall. Finally made some time to go check out a new fabric/quilting store here in Walla Walla this week. It is fabulous and amazing, I tell you. Makes all those "name brand" craft stores look, well, name brand. So full of color and texture and joy. Yes, joy, I tell you. Time to get the ancient Bernina serviced and ready to roll. Vroom. I am going to sign up for an aplique class in a few weeks... hopefully the first of many I'll take there.

*Good friends, spontaneous coffees, good catch ups on the phone or facebook (or skype, dear C). Even an errant booty-call or two from my iphone (sorry, Jen). I so appreciate my friends and all they add to my life.
Life is good, friends. Which is not to say, of course, that I'm oblivious to the hurt and pain and sorrow that exists in this world. I'm not. I am simply grateful for the many actions and attributes--family, love, support, faith, prayer--that counteract those hurts and pains and sorrows. And believe strongly in the ability of each of us to alter someone else's life each day with a kind word or a smile. Wouldn't the world be a drastically different place if we went out each day with that perspective?
Here's a quote that stood out to me this week, which echoes that thought. Not a new one, but one that bears repeating. Often.
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. --Leo Buscaglia
Happy weekend! Try not to labor too much...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Food related "getting to know me"

Found this fun little meme on a food blog Brownie Points the other day, and thought it would be fun to play... you know me, lovin' to share!

Cutting board: silicon or wood?
Depends on what I'm chopping. I have colored mats for meat and poultry that I can sanitize after use, and a nice big wood board that I use for fruits and veggies. It gets a lot of use right now!

Knife: carbon steel or stainless?
Global, Global, Global. All the way.

Kitchen Aide or hand mixer?
Kitchen Aide. Why mess around with beaters and a tiny little engine when you can go with the big guns?

Cooktop: gas, electric, induction?
I've had gas, I've had electric. Right now I am happy as can be with my electric flat-top, other than it is difficult to keep really clean looking... But I've discovered a few secrets to that too, since I'm a bit of a spiller (understatement of the year).

Side-by-side, freezer on top, fridge on top?
Love love love my fridge on top, double doors, freezer down below. I never have been wild about the side-to-side and this last one just did me in, reaching all the way back in the narrow spaces...

Apron or whoops?
More often than not, it's whoops. But when I'm dressed proper and want to stay that way, I will throw on an apron. Especially for baking, where the flour might be a flyin'.

Mashed potatoes: by hand, ricer, or mixer?
Ricer all the way, with a hand masher finish. Nothing beats the smoothness and texture of a ricer. Can't believe I didn't know that until I was in my 30s. Ah well, it was a great discovery.

Sandwich or wrap?
Not being particularly "bready," I would go wrap. Now if you want to slather it with olive oil and stick it in a panini press, I can be all about the sandwich...

PB & _________ ?
Jam. Strawberry, raspberry, blackberry... any of those. No bananas. No pickles. None of that stuff. Just the basics.

Pancakes: syrup or applesauce?
Maple syrup, please.

Cake: scratch or mix?
Oh dear, confession time. Actually, it depends on the cake. If it's a "birthday cake" kind of cake, I just go with the box. If it's something interesting, different, unique, I'll go from scratch any day. But I'm not going to mess around with making a yellow cake from scratch. Tell me I'm wrong, that's OK. Same thing goes for brownies. I've made so-so from scratch and had rave reviews from the box. Go figure.

Chili: beans or no?
Oh yes. Especially given most of my chilis are going to be semi-vegetarian... what else would be in there besides the beans?

Napkin: cloth or paper?
Depends. I have paper around for everyday, but get the cloth out for guests, special, weekends.

BBQ: takes the whole weekend to make or take out?
Neither. Not a BBQ gal.

Chicken: white or dark?
White. Dark kinda scares me. I know, a bit of a freak when it comes to meat, still.

Ice cream: cone or dish?
Usually a dish. But recently I had a hankering for one of those waffle cones and it was good. There was too much ice cream inside it, but it was very very good... ice cream coma, I think they call it?

Metal or non-stick?
Are we talking fry pans? Baking sheets? Either way, why wouldn't you do the non-stick? Non-stick is good. Very good.

Cast iron or stainless?
I have a love affair with my cast iron. Heavy stuff, but it works so well and is pretty to boot.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these very important items! You can always comment (please) or post at your own blog.

Happy cooking. I'm off to pick more plums. They just keep hanging in there, literally!

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