Sunday, July 17, 2016

Did You Miss Me?

I could write a novel as long as Lord of the Rings about why I haven't posted for the last nine months.

Don't worry, I'm not going to.

I will just suffice it to say that life has been insane, I've been jumping through more hoops than any circus poodle, and it shows no sign of settling down any time soon.

One thing we do know is that we will be moving at the end of this month. We're just not entirely sure where.  That kind of up-in-the-air thing isn't very fun. It might have been when I was twenty years younger, but for someone that has done this over forty times in her life, moving has lost it's novelty value long, long ago.

So, excuses and half-hearted apologies out of the way, I shall "soldier on"!  Because I'm that sort of compassionate, loving, selfless person that knows I must give people something uplifting to read no matter my own personal circumstances and trials... (...and because the fact that I'm living in my mother-in-law's garage for the next three weeks means that I desperately need something to focus on to keep my sanity at least partially intact!!)

I need something to do - after all, a circus poodle without hoops gets very bored.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Old Fashioned Gravy - Not as Complicated as You May Think

With the holidays coming up, I thought I'd post a tutorial on old fashioned gravy. Gravy is another one of those dishes that has a reputation for being difficult and never turning out right. I honestly don't know why - real gravy is one of the easiest things to make once you know the trick.

 Take drippings from whatever meat you cooked. My pictures here are from a beef pot roat, which is why it turns dark, but you can make this with any meat. Just cook in a pan or pot that will catch the drippings (which is really a fancy word for melted fat that cooks off).  You can also use the water from a roast you cook in a slow cooker.

Put drippings into a metal skillet (do not use non stick, because you really want to use a wire whip, which will scratch your pan - opt for stainless or cast iron).  Taste it right now to make sure it has enough salt, pepper or other flavor. What it tastes like right now will be what your finished gravy will taste like, so be sure it's good or add any seasonings at this moment before you go any further.  I like my gravy a little salty.

Put it on to heat on medium/high.

While drippings are heating, fill a mug or 8 oz glass 3/4 full with hot water. Measure a fork full (yes, fork.) with corn starch. This is all you need, don't add more or your gravy will be gummy.

Whisk with the same fork until it's absolutely smooth and watery.

With the whisk in one hand and the corn starch in the other (I know, it doesn't show in the picture, but trust me, be ready to stir!) slowly drizzle the corn starch liquid into the boiling drippings.  Adding it slowly while stirring will prevent any lumps.

Whisk like crazy and do  not stop whisking until the gravy thickens. Make sure you are scraping the whisk on the bottom of the pan, and hitting all areas of the pan.

When your gravy thickens enough so that the bubbles seem like they have to struggle to pop, your gravy is done. 

Take it off the heat IMMEDIATELY.

Pour into a gravy boat and enjoy.

Note: Gravy does not keep. It will turn solid, so unless you're making Bubble&Squeak the next morning, there is no good reason to keep it with leftovers. 

(If you're curious as to what Bubble&Squeak is, tune in the day after Thanksgiving! I'll post a tutorial.
You might be surprised, like I was, to find you've been making it for years without knowing the British had a name for it!)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"In her tongue is the law of kindness..." Proverbs 31: 26

It seems, in this day of social media, that even the most basic manners have been left by the wayside. 

There are time worn phrases, that are time worn for a reason - they are good advice on dealing with our fellowman politely.

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

In the age of Facebook, this has eroded into: If you can't say something nice, add a picture and say it louder. It's so easy, from the comfort and anonymity of our own home and keyboard, to throw in an opinion on any given subject, without necessarily thinking about what we say as much as we would if we were face to face with the person we were saying it to. I've been guilty of this a time or two, I think we all have.  I've striven to do better - to really think before I type - because I don't like the discontent and hard feelings it can cause.

Yesterday, reading a post from my much loved cousin, I was surprised and disappointed to hear her and her friends badmouthing other mothers because of their choice of car-seat for their children. One woman, in the comments, even went so far as to call all mothers in the United Kingdom bad parents because they don't use the same sort of car-seat our government has required. Her words were harsh, in all capital letters, disclaiming that they were neglectful, shouldn't have children if they weren't going to take better care of them, and were not living as God wanted them to - all because of a car-seat! (One, I might add, that is perfectly legal in Britain.)

I was offended on behalf of every other mother, and I said so. Part of my comment was this:

"We should be supporting each other in loving ways, not bickering, name calling, and criticizing. We don't have to agree with everything everyone else does - but the Lord expects us to think, speak and act kindly toward others. Perhaps instead of glaring at others with anger because of a stupid carseat, you should be looking inside and asking yourself - is this what the Lord wants me to worry about, or is there something more Christlike I could do with my time?"

The scriptures have a lot to say about being kind, and careful of how we speak to each other. (italics and bold added for emphasis.)

12 Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
 13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. (Colossians 3)


 16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3)

...and perhaps the most well known of all, where the word charity is sometimes translated as love:

 4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
 8 Charity never faileth:  ( 1st Corinthians 13)

What's remarkable about this is that just before this passage, Paul says (in verse 2):

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

That says a lot about kindness and love, doesn't it - even if you have enough faith to move mountains, if you can't treat others with charity, your faith comes to nothing.

So lets not forget today what the Lord's prophets have said. Even on the internet, in this muddled old world of ours - we can still follow their words and speak (or type, as the case may be) with kindness and patience.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Ultimate Pioneer Home-Made Food - Beef Stew

 This is one of those old recipes that there's never been a written recipe for, at least that I know of. It's passed on from cook to cook, that's the way I learned it, and that's the way I'm passing it on to you!  Once you know how to make it, it's yours for life. Very simple, and very delicious.

Any cut of beef will work for stew. It used to be (back in the dark ages when I was a young wife just starting out) that "stew beef" was the throw-away meat left over from the other, more expensive cuts. You could get it for next to nothing, and it had lots of fat in it. Times have changed, however, and now "stew beef" is considered a cut of it's own and they charge premium prices for it. Don't let them fool you, and don't pay expensive prices for throw-away odds and ends of meat. Buy a cheap cut. It doesn't matter how tough, because the stewing for hours will soften up the toughest meat.

 I cheat a little bit here. An Au Jus gravy mix packet from the store has all the salt and beef bullion you will need. It's much quicker and easier than worrying about bullion, which I never use for anything else anyway, so never have in the pantry.

And that half an onion behind it is the next thing you'll need.

 This is called a mandolin, not to be confused with this one:

One is an instrument you play with your fingers, the other one will take your fingers off in a red hot second if you use it carelessly!

If you have one of these (and use it right) it will slice up that onion in a matter of seconds. If you don't have one, you can do it the old fashioned way, it's not a requirement, just a way to make your job quicker.

Once your beef is diced and your onion is sliced, put them in a skillet and brown them together. You don't want to cook the meat all the way through, you just want to brown the outside.

You don't have to do this step, either, if you're in a hurry. It just seals in the juices and keeps the flavor in the meat a little bit better than if you skip the browning.

That crispy dark brown on the edges is what you're looking for. That's the best, tasty part!

Toss them from the frying pan into the slow cooker.

This is the part where you add your seasonings.  Mix the Au Jus with water till the lumps are gone. Pour over your meat and onions.

Toss in a tablespoon or so of minced garlic, and a heavy sprinkling of ground sage, and maybe a little bit of pepper.  You won't need a lot of salt, because it's already in the Au Jus.

 Pour on three or four cups of water. It should cover everything in the pot. The exact amount will depend on the size of your slow cooker.

Turn your crock pot on high and walk away. That's all there is to do for the next three or four hours.  You can turn it on low and leave it for six to eight hours if you're going to be away from home.

About two hours before you want to eat, cut up four or five red potatos (regular spuds will work just fine, too) and a handful of baby carrots (one or two regular will do, too). Again, this amount will depend on how much your crock pot holds.

Here's a note for you:  Carrots will cook faster and more evenly if you split them down the center lengthwise so the heart is exposed. Cut them in half, then cut into bit size sizes.

Your pot will have cooked down, and the water will be way too low when you add the vegies, so top off the pot with warm water.

Put the lid back on and leave on high for at least two hours.

You can also add other things, like a can of corn or a handful or barley right now, if you'd like.

A few minutes before you want to serve it, mix a tablespoonful of corn starch with a half cup of hot water. Mix till it's smooth and liquid, then pour in. That will thicken it up to make it stew instead of just soup.

Serve with crackers, or with bread and butter. It will warm your tummy up better than anything else on a cold winter evening!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Anything boys can do, GIRLS can do better - AND in a skirt!

This morning while using my favorite procrastination tool (Facebook) I came across this post:

Hi Friends. I have this friend, ***************. And she has two beautiful daughters. Her oldest daughter, Matti, is in first grade this year. Matti is being bullied by others because she likes to wear bow ties and loves super heros. ******* & I are not ok with this. Will you post a selfie of you (or your daughter, grand daughter or girl friends) wearing your favorite super hero gear (or bow tie or anything else that's not "girlie but you love anyway) or doing your favorite non girlie activiy? Help us show Matti that it's ok for girls to like ‪#‎allthingsawesome‬! We love you Matti! You are perfect just the way you are! Thanks friends! Please feel free to share this post!
‪#‎bulliessuck‬ ‪#‎girlscantoo‬ ‪#‎superheros‬ ‪#‎ninjaturtles‬ ‪#‎showsomelove‬‪#‎hunting‬ ‪#‎fishing‬ ‪#‎keepfighting‬ ‪#‎likeagirl‬

So heres mine, Matti!

See this bed?

I built it! Not only that, I designed it!
Here's proof - this next photo is my driveway while we worked on building it.  Notice all the tools in that picture? There's a power sander (Riobi), a circular saw (Skil - the best you can have!), and a power drill and screwdriver (Black & Decker). I put the brand names in there so any guys reading this will know that I'm serious - I know my tools. They're mine, I didn't borrow them from a neighbor or my husband. (I don't think my husband has ever once used them.)

 After it was all built, we sanded, stained and sealed it. You can't see it, but theres a copy of an ancient sailing map that takes up the whole footboard. It's pretty awesome!

So after it was built and stained, we had to take the whole thing apart and drag it piece by piece into the house. Not easy, that headboard probably weighs 150 pounds!  Here's me putting it together in my bedroom. It doesn't really need those carriage bolts, the whole thing fits together like a jigsaw puzzles because I designed it that way - I designed it to be awesome! But the bolts are just extra secure.

Here's the finished bed!

So don't you girls ever let anyone tell you that something you want to do isn't "girly" enough, that it's not "gender appropriate" or that "girls aren't good at that sort of thing". 

We can do anything they can do! AND when we grow up, we can do it in skirts and high heels.  So the next time a boy challenges something you want to do, you just challenge him to walk ten feet in four inch stilletto heels. If he can't, or is too chicken to even try them on, then you just smile, nod and say "I thought so."

Then you go right on being your awesome super-girl self!


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Pioneer-Hippie-June-Cleaver Woman Cooking Show

It's always kind of annoyed me that you find these cooking shows that everyone is crazy and raving about, only to discover that the stuff they're serving up  is actually specialty gourmet food that no one in middle America has the ingredients for in their cabinet.

At no time in the history of the world have I ever gone to my fridge and said "Oh, I have some extra arugula and saffron, what shall I make with these?"

Number one, greens don't last more than a couple of days, and I only grocery shop every two weeks. I don't have a pristine garden in my backyard. Heck, I live in a suburban apartment, so I don't really have a backyard at all. So I can't run out and snip those extra fresh herbs that I don't normally use. Greens don't do well in the freezer or in a can, so they're not something I could stock up on for someday in the future.

And saffron?  Currently going for $48 for a half-ounce - yeah, call me cheap, but I'm never, ever going to cook with that! Ever.

Cooking with Dione Lucas originally aired in 1948. 
Recently, on one of the oldies channels that are so popular on TV now, I came across a cooking show that was more my style.
Ancient and outdated by today's standards, it's still in black and white, and the newest fabulous thing that the cook raves about is a stove where you can actually regulate the heat with that knob on the front. (I kid you not!)  That's more my kind of show. She showed how to make a beautiful cake the other day (the 'other day' being closer to 60+ years ago when it was filmed).

When did we forget that cooking does not require a box?  With all the health conscious "clean eating" things making the rounds right now, its becoming more popular to cook your own food without using anything processed. Which is great - but when did cooking without something-already-prepared-when-you- buy-it become such a novelty? I have a friend who is a grown woman, with grown children and grandkids, who has never made a loaf of bread in her entire life. She's terrified to even try without help, because there's some mystical myth about how the pioneers did it and it was so complicated and difficult. (it's not, trust me.) And that's exactly how I felt about crepes, until I tried making them recently, only to find out they're actually very easy to make (and super yummy to eat!)

yeah, that's me... the pioneer woman
Please don't mistake me - I am not a "foodie", nor am I super health conscious. I just want to feed my family decent food on a lower-middle-class budget.  I know people who look at me like I'm odd, and give me a hard time about being some sort of pioneer-hippie-June Cleaver woman, the Cliff Claven of homemaking because I know how to do these sorts of things. Well, I'll give you a secret - you learn a lot of this sort of thing when you grow up and live most of your life without being rich. Sure, someday I'd like to try cooking with white truffles ($220 an ounce!!) but I doubt it will be any time soon. That doesn't mean we can't eat decently in the meanwhile.

Honestly, folks, I promise you it's not that hard.There's always a learning curve when you first set out to learn how, because it's new. But don't let that get you down, it's worth it in the end.

this would be the hippie half
With this in mind, the recipes and  tutorials I post are for good, honest, old fashioned, home-made, non-processed food - with no boxes in sight! (well, not many of them anyway...) If I post a homemaking tip here, you can believe it's tested and approved by the average, American, working-middle-class girl.

If there's something you'd like a recipe or tip for, please let me know! If it's something I can help with, I will absolutely show how I do it - the old-fashioned-pioneer-hippie-June-Cleaver-woman way.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Surrounded by Boys

I complain (a lot) that I am the only female in our household. Even all our pets are boys. It's just not fair!

I've come to grips with the fact that I will never have pink curtains, or rose floral wallpaper in my bedroom (which is actually okay with me, I'm not a big fan of pink), and that I will only ever buy frilly little dresses for other people's little girls.

I've come to terms with "fair's fair" on the toilet seat issue. What's the point of fighting it when I'm vastly outnumbered.

I've learned that there are some battles worth fighting - but fart humor isn't one of them. Boys are going to be gross no matter how hard I try to teach them otherwise.

I've learned that guys need guy time, and that I really don't like fishing anyway, so I don't need to go on fishing trips with the fellas. It's okay if I get a manicure instead while they're out playing with slimy things like worms and catfish. I will, however, happily cook what they bring home.

And speaking of cooking...

I have learned that trying to sneak a vegetarian meal past male carnivores is tantamount to high treason and sedition.  It could prove the overthrow of the world as we know it if there is a meal without meat involved!  I get away with it once in a while, but not very often.

Cooking bacon, however, proves that you CAN buy love...

So here's my manly-man recipe to share for the day.

(I found this online months ago, and I'll be darned if I can find the original site again. If this is your recipe, please let me know so that I can properly attribute the fabulousness and genius you so richly deserve for coming up with this!)

Moink Rolls

8 to 10 strips of thick cut bacon
1 lb. ground beef -
BBQ seasoning powder
1/2 pound brick cheese - whatever flavor you prefer, we use Colby-Jack
BBQ sauce - your favorite flavor
French's onion straws

It's easiest to roll this if you start it on a sushi-mat or waxed paper.

Lay out the bacon strips side by side, slightly overlapping.  Season the raw meat with the powder (we used teriyaki sauce instead and it was fantastic!) and press a thin layer over 2/3 the length of the bacon, leaving a few inches overlap at one end.

Slice the cheese brick into 1/2" square bricks and lay at the end of the ground beef. Roll up the meat around the cheese, using the overlap ends of bacon to seal it closed (Make sure to seal the ends of the roll, or the cheese will leak out). Put on a baking dish (ends on the bottom) and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Glaze with BBQ sauce (or more teriyaki sauce if that's what you used in the beef) and put back in for another 5-10 minutes.

Top with onion straws. Slice like sushi and serve warm.

I end up with screamin' happy boys every time I make this! Enjoy!