Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Final Black Walnut Wrap-Up

Many of you have e-mailed me asking for the recipe for the black walnut cake. The recipe is from the Simply-in-Season cookbook put out by the Mennonite Central Committee. Here it is:

2 and 1/4 cups flour
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
3 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Blend together in a large bowl.

1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Add and beat with mixer for 2 minutes.

4 egg whites
Add and beat two minutes.

1 cup black walnuts, chopped
Fold in nuts. Pour into 2 greased and floured 9-inch round pans. Bake in preheated oven at 350 for 35 minutes.

For the icing, I used a simple whipped cream icing, but this would be delicious with just about anything, even chocolate.

Someone asked if they could use regular walnuts and black walnut flavored extract. I don't see why not, though my whole purpose in making this cake was to use the nuts we carefully gathered from our black walnut tree. If you don't have access to a tree, look around- some parks have them. And if you do not want to buy the prohibitively expensive black walnut, then give the extract a try. Just let us know how it worked!

Some of you have written to ask about the whole black walnut harvesting process. It is shown with pictures on my old blog here and an update on the cracking process here.

Some things to consider:
  • It's hard, messy work.
  • You need to invest in a black walnut cracker (between $40-$50) which is a long device that you attach to a board. Even then, the bw's are still too difficult to crack so plan on enlisting help from your husband or another strong young man. Other than that, you just need some rubber gloves, netting, and a cool dark place to cure them.
  • It is time consuming. With two people, it takes about 2 hours to crack a hundred nuts, which equals about a cup and a half of nut meat. Doesn't sound like much reward, does it?
  • It's not exactly a child-friendly activity, so don't have any ideas about enlisting the whole family. You don't want children around while you are running over the husks with your car, you don't want the children to get any of the juice on their hands or clothes because it doesn't just stain, it is a stain. Finally, you need a keen eye to separate the shells from the meat in the painstaking separating process.
  • But it sure does taste good!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

A couple weeks ago, one of my husband's coworkers brought in corned beef and cabbage to share. Shortly thereafter, he mentioned to me how much he enjoyed it and would like to have it at home. As I am appalled by corned beef, I did not know what to say except, "Uh, sure, maybe could do that." Then I gave a reinterpreted history lesson in which thousands of people left Ireland because they wanted to come to America and eat better food. They had eaten all of the potatoes in their home country, and had been forced to sustain themselves on corned beef and boiled cabbage which they just could not stand anymore. The Mister explained to me in a somewhat serious manner that that is not what happened (because he knows my grasp of history is shaky, and for all he knows, this could actually be what I truly believe) and sums it up with something he heard about corned beef and cabbage being a dish that was developed by the Irish after they arrived in America. Well, who knew?

Sunday: Shrimp Enchiladas Verde (A favorite in my permanent collection. (I just wish it was summer so I could pick the cilantro out of the garden.)
Monday: leftovers
Tuesday: Corned Beef and Cabbage in the crock pot (I'm trying this recipe)
Wednesday: leftovers
Thursday: Spanish Noodle Skillet (recipe below)
Friday: leftovers
Saturday: Yumasetti

A couple weeks ago I mentioned the skillet supper we sometimes like. This is a different version, but just as easy to make:

4 slices of bacon, cut into one inch pieces and fry until crisp. (optional)

In the bacon drippings or oil, sautee:

1 chopped onion
1 chopped green pepper
1 lb. ground beef

Pour off excess fat and add:
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. oregano
4 cups pureed tomatoes
1 and 1/4 cup water
Cover and simmer ten minutes. Bring to a boil and add 3 cups egg noodles, a few at a time. Reduce heat, cover and simmer ten more minutes. Stir occasioanally. Add the rest of the bacon and serve. You can also stir in or top this with cheese.

Yumasetti was a favorite casserole growing up. It's a traditional Amish/Mennonite dish. It's in every cookbook that I own, but there were hardly any links to it online. When people ask me what my favorite comfort food is, I think of Yumasetti. The few recipes I saw didn't look quite right. Here's my version. Serves 6.

16 ounces of egg noddles, cooked in salt water.

3 pounds hamburger with chopped onion, fried.

1 pint peas (I use frozen)

2 cans cream of mushroom soup

1 cup sour cream

3 cups favorite shredded cheese

10 slices of toasted bread cut into cubes (Although you can use plain bread, this is so much nicer with something herbed for the seasoning effect. We like a rosemary-olive oil bread.)

Mix together, put into a casserole dish, and top with cheese. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Dog Ate My Mouthguard and Other Stories

One more day for giveaway entries...scroll down to enter!

Here's something I know none of you have ever done before, because you are all much more organized than I am. You go to the grocery store and you are standing at the register congratulating yourself on how little you spent on food for the next x-number of days or weeks, and just as you slide your debit card through, you suddenly remember that there is no plan for supper that very night.

How could this happen? I wrote everything out! There must be something! What's in the freezer? Oh, right, nothing, that's why I'm here at the store. Okay, uh (visually scanning pantry shelves in your head) I could make-- No I can't that would use up the half the ingredients for Thursday's meal....How about- No, we already ate that....uh-oh.

You take the groceries out to the car and then run back inside the store for a chicken and side dish that will go with the already opened corn relish in the fridge, food you don't have to fuss over because when you get home, there are plants that have to go in the ground. Yes, your crisper is full of berry starters that you have been spraying with water to keep moist, and you need to get them out and into the garden so you can put food in your fridge and not plants. Mercifully, your husband comes home from his errand just as you start planting and he comes out to the patch to help. And then you serve supper, send him off to work, and congratulate yourself for getting those berries planted. But then you suddenly remember that there are early spring seeds that have to go in the ground too, so you are back out there trying to make a straight row for spinach and peas. When that's all done, you make a black walnut cake that sinks in the middle (wrong sized pan, too much flour, maybe both) but are relieved to discover that it is delicious anyway, and possibly worth all those hours of gathering, curing and cracking.

Finally, as you get ready for bed, you remember that in your travels, you forgot to spend another $15 on a mouth guard. The one that the dentist told you to get to protect your teeth from clenching and wearing down as you sleep. The one you had been using was devoured by the dog. It's your own fault for not putting it in the protective case. A wave of relief washed over you when he vomited it up at five in the morning. And this may be the only time you were glad to hear your dog vomit.

And then when you return to work, you find this in your in box:
"Do you think their should be higher standards of graduation for high schools to prevent the number of illiterates?" (e-mail message from a high school senior who is writing an article on the topic of adult literacy.)

The long-awaited black walnut cake. A piece from the more mountainous region.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Menu Plan Monday


As some of my longtime readers may recall, my husband is what you would call a "volume eater." He has no interest in eating breakfast, hasn't eaten lunch in years, and basically consumes an entire days worth of calories in one sitting that we call supper. That means, salad, entree, pickles, relish, hooves, antlers, and anything else that gets in the way. It is all topped off with dessert. I point this out so my MPM regulars know that most of my recipes (or links) are designed to feed 4-6 people, minimum. Yes, despite that it is just he and I at the table, I've been cooking for five since day one. Also, he doesn't mind leftovers and I rely on them.

Sunday:Corn & scallop chowder, salad, bread or BLT's. This is the exact recipe I use for the chowder. It is easy and very tasty!

Monday: leftovers

Tuesday: Fast and delicious spaghetti from this very recipe, salad, garlic bread. I omit the olives for myself, but this is still good and it uses some of our home canned tomatoes.

Wednesday: leftovers

Thursday: Sausage and Sauerkraut in the crock pot. An old recipe with sliced turkey sausage, sauteed onions & peppers, sauerkraut, some water and just a hint of brown sugar. Easy!

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: Brown sugar salmon, rice, spinach

Please scroll down for my giveaway!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Homemaking

Sorry to my MPM regulars, but I only have meal planning done until about the middle of the week. It's been a busy weekend!

This morning the truck came and dumped a load of mushroom soil near our garden. Unfortunately, the truck can't dump it right on our garden since our septic system is in the way, so for the second year in a row we have them dump it on a nearby tarp. The Mister shovels it and wheelbarrows it over to the garden. I spread it out with a rake. It's kind of a nice thing for us to do together, as we discuss some articles we've read in the recent issue of Family Life or what ever, joke around, and get the soil spread out nicely. Then I load our mucky, manure-smelling clothes in the washer and water the seedlings.

If you look closely, you can see the first seeds sprouting. They are sprouting quick this year from the heat of our stove. Outside in the front flower bed, the four tulips from last year are standing proud and ready, and I can spot returning daffodil stems, irises, and other spring bulbs that were planted in places I forgot about. There's so much hope in spring.

Oh, that reminds me. On Friday I'll announce my Spring Thing Giveaway which will run for a week. Don't forget to come back and enter!

In the Kitchen: Wasn't it about time that I finally ground those cayenne peppers we grew last year? Some were dried to perfection, others a moldy mess inside. I'll know better this year what to do about it. Still, with minimal coughing and sneezing they have been ground to spice. Truly, the final harvest from last year's bounty.

Around the Home: With spring sewing in full bloom, I'm also trying to create some sewing projects as gifts (I'll post pictures as soon as I'm done) and am finding the notions section of the fabric store I use to be terribly lacking. Are so many more people sewing that the selection is depleted? Or so few that they just don't bother to stock as much anymore? Anyway, my to-do list includes a table runner for my mother, some adorable pin-cushions for various deserving friends, and one dress that is cut and ready to go.

Thinking About: I had been thinking about sin a lot. Not the sins of others, but my own. How do you know if a sin is alive or dead? If it's alive, how can you kill it? It wondered me something fierce. And in the back of my mind, I knew the whole time that there is something on this teaching that I already knew and just couldn't seem to recall the information. I already knew part of the answer, but the puzzle wouldn't come together. I asked God for help and clarity. About a day later, my Minister shared a devotion in which Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like yeast (Luke 13:20-21). Yeast grows when it is alive. In other places in the Bible, sin is also compared to yeast. It has to be alive to grow and permeate, and to keep yeast alive, you have to feed it. That was part of my answer. Suddenly, it came back to me- that missing piece of the puzzle. A wise man once said that if you are focusing on sin more than you are focusing on Jesus, and it interferes with your prayer life, then stop thinking about that sin and refocus. He was right- the focus on sin can be a rabbit trail that will take you away from what is important. What is important is growing the kingdom of God and having a personal relationship with Jesus.

Just For Fun: "People tend to do there best when they feel that there appreciated." -an actual slide from a government ethics training session all employees are acquired to attend. Yes, we found the double spelling error funny. Call me petty.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Our Day at the Philadelphia Flower Show with Pictures

So this past weekend, my mother and I went to the Philadelphia Flower Show. She had this great deal on tickets and we had only ever gone once before. It's the largest flower show on the East coast. It's good to go into Philadelphia a couple times a year to remind myself of why I never go there. It's dirty for one, you feel like you need a shower upon immediately returning home. It's also crowded as crazy, and there's no place to park if you want to drive there yourself. I was surprised to find the bridge toll to get into the city had increased to $4, which is just insane. The way I see it, Philadelphia should pay people to come to their city. Really, they should have a man with a pocketful of cash at all city entrance points and he should be doling it out to visitors courageous enough to deal with the inconvenience of entering the city.

Anyway, the one other time I had gone to the flower show was some years back when I was in college, and I bought a Plumeria plant from a vendor who sold tropical Hawaiian flora. Plumerias are those pretty, flat flowers that they use to make Hawaiian leis. I purchased the plumeria stalks, some special plant food to give it, and set it up in my window at home. I know you'll all be shocked to hear that the plant never bloomed and instead died a slow death by dry-rot. So I steered clear of any tropicl plant delusions this past weekend.

As far as the vendors went, there wasn't anything there that really stood out. A lot of people specializing in orchids. I bought some garden shears which were a good value, and my mother bought a small watering can. The flower displays were truly magnificent. Have a look...

An Italian garden

Lots of spring bulb action...and signs asking you not to touch.


An Irish country cottage (nice detail with the bicycle.)

A perfectly sensible hat. Which just happens to be made entirely of rose petals.

These flower-encrusted shoes look painful.

Afterwards, we strolled Reading Terminal Market, but the crowds were stifling. We went elsewhere for lunch, but really did enjoy the flower show. Even more, I enjoyed the day spent with Mom.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

As usual, we start the week with leftovers...because planning for leftovers is always smart.

Monday: Leftovers
Tuesday: Grilled Veggie Sandwiches (Actually made under the broiler in the oven, not on the grill as it is still too cold for that. Also, I do use the portobello mushroom caps since our market sells them in bulk and they are nice and economical that way. Also, very hearty, but heart conscious too.)
Wednesday: One Pot Chili Casserole (I thought this recipe was my secret, but since I discovered it a couple years ago, it's made the rounds from here to the end's of the earth. Make it your fast, easy supper secret!)
Thursday: Fried Chicken, Greens, Corn
Friday: Everyday Lasagna (Like in this video)
Saturday: Family Event- Eating Out. But if you are not, that lasagna may carry you through.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

More on Amish Reading

For all of you Amish book enthusiasts who greatly encouraged me to put together an Amish reading list for you last year, you may also be interested in the latest post on Amish America. Fellow researcher Erik is hosting a feature called "Ask An Amishman" and I was delighted to see that the first question was about Amish reading habits. I mean, really, such an obscure and narrow topic, and one that is close to my heart.

It was even more exciting to learn that the Amishman (Mr. X) was aware of my research on this topic and had been in the audience at a presentation I did a couple years ago. What a small Amish world.

On an unrelated note, I do plan on having a giveaway here soon to kick off Spring. No details yet, but it will likely be on the first day of Spring, and as usual, will include books and other assorted goodies. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

This was a tough week to come up with a menu for, since it just works out that The Mister and I have completely opposite schedules this week and there are a few weird quirks. There is one night I have to go speak to a Methodist church ladies group on behalf of the library, and then there is also this big snow storm we are supposed to get. So it's starting to look like:

Sunday: Beef Noodle Skillet Supper*
Monday: Our Favorite Burrito Pie (always lots of leftovers!)
Tuesday: leftovers
Wednesday: Cheeseburgers, baked beans
Thursday: Three Cheese Baked Ziti
Friday: leftovers
Saturday: Shrimp Creole in the crock pot
As always, served with a green salad and/or pickle relish

*The skillet supper is one of my easy go-to meals for a cold day. I just put some olive oil in the pan and layer some ground beef, seasoning, thinly sliced potatoes, small or medium (uncooked) pasta shells, peas, and top it off with some cheese. I pour in about a cup of milk, put on the cover, and let it simmer for an hour. The little shells cook during the simmer and everything is delightfully moist and delicious. Yay for skillet suppers!

My scrumptious three-cheese baked Ziti is as follows:

1 pound pasta

1 quart Pasta Sauce
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Preheat oven to 350. Cook pasta and allow to cool. Combine 1 and 1/2 cups pasta sauce with ricotta, parmesan, and fresh basil in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper. Toss the pasta with the cheese and sauce mixture. Spread 1/2 cup pasta on the bottom of the baking dish. Pour the pasta mixture into the dish and drizzle the remainig sauce over the top. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and bake uncovered for about 30 minutes. Easy and delicious.

There are dozens of recipes online that mirror my crock pot shrimp creole, but my version has two exceptions. The first, I add okra, usually frozen. The other exception is that I cook the shrimp separate and stir it in at the very end. That way you won't take a chance on getting over-cooked rubbery shrimp. Serve it over rice, and it's an easy meal that my husband loves.

On Saturday I made baked oatmeal for breakfast, started the laundry, played with the dogs, baked a cherry pie, cleaned off my desk, ran two errands, came home and cooked supper, sent the Mister off to work, kept the laundry going, ironed, tackled the mending pile, started on Sunday's dinner, did some minor scrapbooking, folded some laundry, filled up all the bird feeders. and then finally started some of our garden seeds. Somewhere in there I managed some phone calls. Yes, I was tired. Can you say day of rest? Sunday never felt so good.


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