Thursday, September 4, 2014

Late Summer Love

Have you ever had one of those days where it felt like you got nothing done? It was the most unproductive day, ever. Maybe you had a headache and every time you thought to start a project, calamity broke out, followed by organized chaos and a complete memory loss of what it was you were trying to start ten minutes ago. 

Then, at the end of the day you realized that although you did nothing, someone managed to do two loads of laundry, served three meals, answered the phone, changed the dead batteries in two toys, volunteered for the church bake sale, cleaned up the kitchen, and gave the dog a bath? I guess someone might have done something after all. Sometimes summer feels like that. It flies by and you think it went so fast and didn't get a chance to do it all, but you find that somehow, you did even more.

 I've been blessed with some lovely summer moments these past few weeks. The freezer corn is all in, the last pickle has been picked, and we were able to enjoy a few days in PA visiting and enjoying some family time together. One day I even got to fly solo and do a little shopping. It felt a little decadent to take my time browsing in a bookstore while, all around me, women were pulling wagons of empty jars and peach bushels.

 I adore windmills and don't see them very often anymore. There are other ways of pumping water now, but I hope they don't disappear altogether. 

One of these things is not like the other...

We enjoyed a day with some extended family at one of our favorite antique tractor events in mid-August. Last year, Little Mister fell asleep in his stroller and I dashed out for a quick trip to the fruit farm. No such luck this year! His plan was to start his own parade of power while the others fell asleep at the wheel.

The field corn is starting to brown a little bit on the edges now, but did you know it is still fun to run through and hide while mom chases you and visions of helicopters and search teams dance in her head? True story. Someone save me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recipe: Spaghetti Pie

The Mister actually spotted this recipe while reading one of his farm newspapers. I was skeptical because we've eaten baked spaghetti ten different ways, but this one looked a little different than my other stand-by pizza casserole dishes. I think it's the layer of herbed cream cheese that  makes it extra delicious. As an added bonus, there was plenty left over for a second meal.

I like that anything right now that's easy to put together because, most days, I'm all about just getting some kind of nutritious food on the table. 

It was definitely a winner.

12 oz. cooked spaghetti
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt (I just sprinkled)
2 T. butter 

Combine crust ingredients and spread into a 9x13-inch pan. 

Herb layer:
8 oz. softened cream cheese
1/2 tsp. salt (Again, I just gave it a few shakes)
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
1/3 tsp. pepper
1 cup sour cream

Combine herb layer ingredients and spread over crust.

Meat layer:
1 pound ground beef
24 oz. spaghetti sauce

Brown and drain ground beef and combine with spaghetti sauce; pour over herb layer. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Top with:

Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese (I omitted the extra parm and it was still delicious)

Heat until melted.

Picnic, anyone?    

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Summer Delights

So far this summer I've encountered  more than one blessing in disguise, and I sure needed some. 

For one thing, I just could not keep up with our garden this year. As Little Mister's therapy schedule grew more demanding in June, I had to make a calculated decision to just focus on saving a few of our crops that we really count on and enjoy. That meant corn, pickles, berries, and a tiny watermelon patch. I had to say good bye to beans and peppers. It was a sound strategy. As I'm fond of saying, I can't do everything, I'm already doing too much.

Here are five little unexpected delights:

Free tomatoes! 
I only planted three tomato plants this year, and planned to buy tomatoes for canning projects. As it turned out, I didn't have to buy anything! This bushel came from my brother-in-law, and a neighbor gave us a box for free.

Help in the garden. Little Mister is a champion berry picker. Just forget that he sometimes eats them all before they ever make it into the house. 

Mystery flowers! I must have thoughtfully scattered a pack of flower seeds and then promptly forgot about it.  A  row of these tall flowers  prompted me to wonder if they were wildflowers or what? I honestly don't recall planting them, but I have a whole row.

Butterflies! This year I planned on doing several batches of pickles and was a little worried when I saw these bugs systematically eating every ounce of my dill.  It turns out they become eastern swallowtail butterflies, and now we have butterflies everywhere. Oh, and the dill recovered. So far I've done three kinds of pickles and am planning for one more batch.

Oh, the view! I love when the farmer who works the land around us plants field corn. More often it's soybean, but I think this is so much nicer.

 And to think it's not over yet. How I love summer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Smooth and Sweet Black Raspberry Jam

It's black raspberry season, my favorite harvest of the year. 

 A few years ago when we were visiting a friend in Ohio, she served the smoothest, most flavorful pie made from black raspberries. It was love at first bite. On that same trip I also found a delicious black raspberry jam, silky and seedless, a rarity in that type of jam. I started growing our own soon after that, but was never able to find good instructions on how to make a jam like the one I remember from a few years ago. Most of the recipes I found were either jellies, or they had instructions but no actual measurements. I read about a dozen recipes and created this one. If you have access to these delicious berries, this is a great way to stretch and preserve them so you can still enjoy them after the season is over.

This jam is equally delicious on breads or stirred into plain yogurt. It makes my morning!

There is one thing you can do to make this an even easier project: Cook the berries the night before, strain out the seeds by pressing the berries into a mesh strainer over a bowl with the back of a spoon, and let it the strainer continue to drip into the bowl overnight. The next day, you'll have your juice for jam making and can either freeze it for another day, or go ahead and cook your jam.

You will need 3 liquid cups of berry juice, which equals about 6 pints of berries.

1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. butter
5 cups sugar
1/4 cup plus 1/2 Tablespoon pectin

Combine berry juice, lemon juice, and sugar in a stockpot. Add 1/2 tsp. butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat that cannot be stirred down, while stirring frequently. Add pectin. Continue hard boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if needed.

Ladle into hot half pint jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in water bath canner for ten minutes.

Makes 6-7 half pints.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Strawberry Ministry

While the world stands in awe of box office beauties and other spotlight seekers, my intense admiration is aimed at two unlikely women. We shall call them Mary and Anna, and I came to know of them came from hastily digested news blurbs that I read late at night. Both in the ninth decade of their lives, Mary sewed something like ten dresses a week for the purpose of having them sent overseas for women who had little or none. Anna, in her lifetime, has sewn over 23,000  cloth bags which are then filled with donated school supplies or hygiene items and again, shipped out for relief efforts. I've actually sewn a few of those bags in my time, a very few, and if you had to sew even one thousand of them you would go mad.

Anna said something like, "Well, I'm home all day with a sewing machine, and people donate the fabric for free so it seemed like something to do...around here they call it my ministry."

And I was in awe, this time at her combined humility and sense of duty. She might have just as well declared that there was air, so she figured she better breathe it.

I find personal ministries fascinating, and am always interested in finding out what people consider to be their ministry. There's a lot of talk among wives and mothers about how our families are our ministries, and yes, a home ministry is important, too. Yet, it's always the unrecognized workers toiling in the fields that get really pique my interest. It's also a little frustrating. My imagination holds a hundred ministry ideas, everything from giving breaks to young mothers so they can get much needed showers, to animal therapy and organic farm co-op ideas. There can never be enough time on earth for all of my wonderfully under developed ministry concepts. 

The past two weeks have found me buried in berries. We had an enormous strawberry harvest this year. Every time I turned around, stainless steel bowls glimmered at me with juicy red jewels in need of processing. I did all my jams, and a pie, some strawberry bread, and stuck boxes in the freezer. I actually got tired of them pretty fast, and found joy in passing out quarts to friends and neighbors. That joy was multiplied when I found out the local berry farm was charging a whopping six dollars a quart this year. For about a week, it was fun to surprise our friends and family with strawberries, and while putting my bigger dreams of grand endowments for the greater good on hold, it was somewhat fulfilling to have a brief strawberry ministry. After all, there they were and we couldn't eat them all. It's comforting that I might have another fifty years to find my footing as a Marry or Anna. Until I do, I'll keep looking for more opportunities in small benevolence.

Do you have a ministry? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Recipe Box

Some years ago, I inherited a wild and wonderful thing. It was a well loved recipe box from an aunt, and it contained a wealth of information on 3X5 inch index cards. The box was in ill repair, with a broken hinge and made of unknown wood. The cards weren't in much better shape, and the ink was fading fast. Some of the cards had yellowed bits of recipes clipped from The Budget pasted on to them, while others had scrawled canning recipes that were only five sentences long. It was fun reading, but a real mess and almost a loss. Some of the cards were so worn from age that the ink was disappearing. I knew it was worth saving.

First, I bought a new box. A sturdy wooden one with a folksy scene hand-painted on it. Then I found a free online program that would allow me to type in the recipes and print them out on  card stock paper. I often did this in my free time when I worked at the library. Then I carefully hand cut the cards and filed them in my new box.

It was fun to type up many years worth of concoctions and tips, everything from a sour milk cake to a homemade fly repellant. An older cousin found out about my project and sent me a few of my great grandmother's specialties, which included an extremely simple pickle recipe and a instructions for bread stuffing that contained some suspicious store bought ingredients. Let's not look too closely at that one. Heirloom, indeed.

Over the years I've added some of my own favorites to the collection. Ten years later, there are still an awful lot of the original recipes I have never tried, while some have gone on to become family favorites. A few have been tweaked into something a little more special, but they all retain the basic, economical and no-fuss qualities that you would expect from a woman who wouldn't have had time to mess around in the kitchen.

One of my hands-down favorites is this hearty and easy to make skillet supper. You simply slice and layer the wholesome ingredients in a covered pan and let it simmer for an hour. It is often my go-to recipe when I don't know what else to make, or just need to throw something together. A lot of my cooking these days falls into the simpler-the-better category. One day, I thought to myself, I really need to share this recipe with the world. Surely, someone else might need it, too.

3/4-1 pound ground beef
3/4 cup medium shell pasta (white pasta works better than whole wheat)
1 cup sweet corn or peas
4 medium potatoes
3 Tbsp. diced onion
2 Tbsp. diced bell pepper
1/2 cup milk
cheese of your choice (cheddar is my favorite)
salt and all purpose seasoning

Heat a lightly greased skillet. Evenly spread hamburger (or sausage) in hot skillet. If using hamburger, I like to sprinkle it with some all purpose seasoning. Slice potatoes over the meat. Add onions, peppers, shell pasta, and corn or peas in layers. Sprinkle with salt. Add milk and top with cheese. Cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

More Like This

Every day is different, and that's a blessing. I sure hope no one thought my last post is what an average day is like around here. To be sure, there are good days, too. Not every day is a whirlwind, most days are more like this...

It's seven in the morning and someone is stirring. It sure isn't me. This still qualifies as the middle of the night, by my standards. Are those little feet padding around? What's that noise? It must be the battery powered mini-quad that I brought inside to recharge last night. At least, I hope it is that, and not an appliance. Please don't let that be the blender.Whatever it is, it has got to be better than the morning I found a dozen eggs smashed in an empty laundry basket. Yup, see, this day is already off to a good start if the eggs are still intact.

At 7:05 a.m. he is bringing me a book in bed. My shift has begun.

 Little Mister nibbling on a waffle while I try to actually pour my first cup of coffee. I'm also folding bath towels and sorting through a bag of hand-me-down clothing from a lady at church. To be honest, I don't have a lot of luck with hand-me-downs, but this bag is a winner. There's a nearly new winter coat that Little Mister should fit into by next year, a pair of barely worn boots, and several tops and bottoms. Even a four piece suit set with the tags still attached to it. Wow!

The Mister should be arriving home from work soon. He works the night shift at a hospital three days a week. It's an unhurried morning because Little Mister does not have therapy today. It's nice not to rush to get the house in order before a therapist arrives. I'm checking my e-mail quickly, and trying to plan our day.

Also, I've been proof-reading a manuscript for a friend who is writing a memoir, and I send her a quick pm to let her know I'm definitely reading it and taking notes. There are also a couple e-mails regarding Little Mister's therapy program, one of which is about his upcoming annual review which will consist of several meetings and an astounding number of people. I feel like we need parking arrangements and a hall rental, and maybe goody bags. It's overwhelming to think about right now.

By mid-morning The Mister is home and I am trying to get Little Mister dressed in pants and a shirt. It is not going well. When will society recognize the plight of clothing-resistant toddlers and the moms who love them? We need an awareness campaign. There is much fussing. Dad is getting involved.

Another pressing concern: There is no interest in the hummingbird feeder I set out last night. I wonder if I did it right? I'm not much of a birder and this is my first attempt at attracting hummingbirds.

 We're on the road and driving behind a VW Jetta that has strong convictions about doing the speed limit, which fluctuates between 35 and 55, due to the presence of a state park. It's an exercise in patience, if not good exercise for the brakes. We're on the way to the local Humane Society to donate some paper towels and dish detergent. These are all things I get for almost free these days, and we have far more than we need, so I'm thrilled that animal shelters can use these items. I wonder if they take laundry detergent? I get a lot of free laundry soap, also.
Someone is having a blast pointing out tractors, animals and huge irrigation structures. It's a nice day and a lot of field work is happening today.

Someone is asleep. I make the drop off to a thankful shelter volunteer. Oh, and they take laundry detergent, too. I also need to find a local food pantry to work with, as I often come across free food items that someone could use.

At the farmer's market, I only have a little bit of cash and forgot to bring along the glass milk jug that I return for deposit for organic milk. My planning for this errand wasn't great. We'll just grab a few things and go, so it's still not a waste. The lunch crowd isn't here yet, so it's easy to get around with the stroller and there are no lines for anything. We're getting hungry. The man selling pickles asks if the Little Mister likes pickles and offers a pickle. Yes, and he also likes cheese, bread, and all kinds of salads. I wish someone would offer a sandwich.

Fuss attack in the parking lot. Here, have a doughnut. Poor lunch planning on my part.

It's early afternoon and a beautiful day. I'm negotiating to get Little Mister into the backyard for some outdoor playtime. I wonder if I should weed some of the garden today? The berry patch is a mess. The strawberries have flowers, and I'm betting on a lot of strawberries this year. Daunted by the weedy mess, I opt to put in a load of laundry.

Little Mister is having fun on his slide and is blowing raspberries at me. He indicates that he wants to to go for a walk in the back field where we can hear construction being done on an engine repair business not far from our house. Little Mister loves the sounds, and ultimately can't resist heading in that direction. Especially when he spots an excavator at the construction site.

 Visitor at the hummingbird feeder!


By late afternoon I need to think about getting back into the house. Whatever became of that laundry I put in? I also need to wake The Mister soon, as he has an appointment before supper.

The Mister and I are sorting through the mail. There's a huge tantrum happening, but it doesn't last long. A new book catalog has arrived, and even though I don't have much time for reading these days, I like to see what's new. I'm enjoying some iced coffee while looking through the catalog.

As The Mister is getting ready to leave for his appointment, I'm starting to prepare our meal. I know the little one will be hungry soon. Right now he's snacking on yogurt while I get ready to cook some fish. We have enough leftovers for sides, so it's an easy supper. I'm hungry but our youngest diner has just eaten one bite off of my plate and picked a few chickpeas out of his salad.

 Looks like dessert is going okay.

After our meal, The Mister begins the bath routine while I start washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen.

Our son has some pretty heavy sleep issues, and it can take anywhere from ten minutes to even as much as four hours to get him to bed. This is shaping up to be a tough night. We read some of his favorites, Good Night Construction Site, Corduroy, and some Little Golden Books.

Twelve hours after waking up, I'm cleaning the kitchen while The Mister and I switch off childcare/sleep routine duties. "Supper: The Sequel" is now playing at the table, and leftovers are being served.

8:16 p.m. Sunset

9:00 I'm finally folding that load of laundry I did almost nine hours ago.

10:00 Now I can finally get cleaned up. It's time for my hot shower, or as The Mister calls it, my "boiling".

11:10 It feels like I've been trying to go somewhere all day, but where? Oh, right here! Tucked in to my cozy, soft bed. It's like a cloud resting on a marshmallow, if marshmallows were made of feathers.

It wasn't an exciting day, it was just moderately productive, and not very memorable. But the next time the whirlwind flies through our house, I'll remark that we could stand to have a day that is more like this.

As an aside, let me express my regret for not accompanying this post with a lot of riveting photographs. I envy people who have posts full of cute pictures of themselves baking in the kitchen and reading to their children. How do they do it? Camera crew? Walking tripod? Sorcery? I want to know. Since I take all of my own pictures, I'm never in any of them. It's hard to believe that no one is following me with a camera, but my guess is 99% of you can identify with that.


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