En-JOY-ment and Breakfast

snow tracks

The root of “enjoy” is the Latin “gaudere” which means “rejoice”.  I believe enjoyment is a responsibility and a choice and a life skill which can be learned.  But first I think it’s worthwhile to understand what enjoyment is NOT.

True enjoyment has no sorrow added to it.  In other words, a movie that I feel “smarmed” from afterward, doesn’t cut the mustard like a long walk in the snow.  Deep wet snow, like today’s, may be a bit difficult to traverse, but there will be no sorrow in this trek.  Rather, there are feelings of accomplishment and invigoration and the righteous earning of homemade hot chocolate, made by yours truly while someone else builds a roaring fire, and we continue discussing whatever came to our stimulated minds as we tried to identify animal tracks in the snow and discussed what we wanted to cook for Easter dinner.

Or I might read a bit and fall asleep on the couch.  Now that’s enjoyment.

cat napping

Yesterday the forecasted 2-4 inches of snow was closer to two feet.  The power went off for many in our area, and because ours was flickering, I cut my quiet time short and began cooking:  a double batch of biscuits, huge pan of scrambled eggs, elk sausages, canned peaches, and two pots of black tea.  What says enjoyment like not just a pot, but TWO pots of tea?

blue teapot

This wasn’t difficult because I prepped almost everything the night before.  I pulled my homemade baking mix out of the freezer, cut in the butter, added cream and milk, rolled out and cut out the biscuits, then put them in a baking dish thickly covered with coconut oil (makes the biscuits nice and crispy/crunchy on the bottom) while the oven was preheating to 450 and baking the sausages (the biscuits will take about 12 minutes at sea level, longer at 8,000 feet).  The kids made tea, set the table, got out the butter, honey, peanut butter, cream pitcher, cinnamon, and peaches, and when the biscuits were five minutes from finished I put the eggs on to scramble.

It takes the stress out of breakfast (where everything needs to be hot) to heat up the plates and serving dishes (it’s more fun if you take your time and serve everything in dishes at the table to be passed around) and to heat the tea pot.  If we’re having coffee (cream cools it) I leave the cream pitcher on the stove and preheat the mugs as well.

coffee pot

HERE’S HOW TO BEGIN:  Put the sausages on (I prefer the oven rather than stove top).  Put the tea kettle on and/or prepare the coffee (another thing to do the night before if you really want to make things nice and easy).  Put the plates (number of eaters plus one to put food on, or simply to stack under or over to help keep the plates hot) in the oven on 175 degrees until you need to preheat for biscuits, or to bake leftover boiled potatoes cut into wedges.  Take the plates out and wrap in dish towels to keep them warm.

Eggs:  We do two eggs per person, add sea salt, pepper, nutmeg and a little cream.  It’s nice if you’ve whipped them up the night before and just have to pull the bowl out of the fridge.  Heat your pan a bit, then right when you’re ready to pour the eggs in, add your oil of choice (I prefer organic lard).

Right after you put the eggs on to scramble (remember this is when the biscuits have about five minutes to go) pour your steaming water into the teapot – I keep my teapot on the warming zone on my new Hallelujah stove (you can also heat by filling with hot water from the sink – then dump the water, put in the tea bags and you’re ready when it’s time to brew).  Stir the eggs, give further instructions to kids (“don’t forget napkins, put milk in the cream pitcher,” etc.),  and give a “5 minutes til breakfast” call, then remove tea bags – this is according to taste, of course.  I don’t usually brew as long as the package says, and I usually use four bags per tea pot, and loose tea I sort of eyeball – about half the tea infuser full usually does it.

tea assortment

If something is awry (say your sausages aren’t ready) just go ahead with everything else – someone pouring tea, passing the eggs, giving thanks, and get the sausage to the table a little late – no problem.  Sausage is welcome whenever it arrives!  If you burned the eggs a bit, just add more pepper and call them Cajun-style.

When you get all this on the table you will  truly be the MVP, the Star of the Snow, the Queen of the Castle.  And no one will say “I’m hungry for a very long while.”

Enjoy!

P.S.  About that baking mix – DO NOT BUY THIS AT THE STORE.  JUST SAY “NO TO YUCK!”

My recipe, which, as all recipes, should be tweaked and personalized by you:

10 cups of various and assorted, or simply one kind of flour – in this particular batch I used 6 cups of unbleached non-GMO wheat flour, three cups of white whole wheat (again non-GMO – I get this at Wal-Mart or Sprouts, and it’s Wheat Montana Farms and Bakery), 1 cup of quick cooking oats.

3 Tablespoons of baking powder (non-aluminum)

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 Tablespoon of sea salt (less if regular salt)

1/2 cup of powdered milk (I still add whole milk and cream, but the biscuits will turn out with water only)

Stir these dry ingredients together very thoroughly and separate into freezer bags according to your preferred outcome.  I made three 3-cup bags and one 2.5-cup bag.  This is a lot for most people.  The 3-cup bag makes 15-18 large biscuits, of which I put back some for leftovers to wrap in foil and heat in the oven for the next day’s breakfast.

For the 3-cup mix I used two sticks of butter (will turn out with just one if you’re butter-conscious) and 1.5 cups of milk/cream (this was mostly milk with about 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream).  I also added about a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to the milk (makes buttermilk of a sort).  If your mix is a little too moist, put flour on your hands, on top of the dough, and extra on the counter (or wherever you roll out your biscuits).  If it’s too dry, add a little more liquid.  No fretting allowed.  ENJOY this.

VARIATION:  Before adding butter and milk, stir in some (maybe two Tablespoons) organic sugar, about a cup (1/2 is fine) of chopped walnuts, pecans, flaked coconut, dried apricots or raisins, or any combination thereof, and call them scones.  Yum for sure.

ALWAYS:  Serve with butter and love, as butter, after all, is love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home Comforts

Room in a historical Bohemian village

Whether or not you homeschool, your children are watching and learning your attitude about homemaking.  If you’re like most moms, things get a bit messy at times, especially in our minds!  We need a bit of decluttering, a little refurbishing, direction, and refreshment.  I give you the beyond-anything book, Home Comforts.

Home Comforts, by Cheryl Mendelson, is one of my two favorite books on making home a haven (the other is Alexandra Stoddard’s Creating a Beautiful Home). Cheryl (she is a friend even though we’ve never met) has done her homework. A former attorney, she’s very diligent and disciplined, and has the intelligence required to make a good job of homemaking.

As this book is over 800 pages long, and covers anything and everything you can think of, I can’t begin to do it justice here. But as an example here’s a quote from the chapter on home cooking: “Good meals at home satisfy emotional hunger as real as hunger in the belly, and nothing else does so in the same way.”

Cheryl goes on to discuss how and why not to use cookbooks–I am vindicated! I believe a recipe is only someone else’s creation, certainly nothing written in stone. Of course, if Julia Child wrote it I will pay attention. But someone telling me to make pumpkin cake without salt, or that you don’t need all those walnuts in your oatmeal raisin cookies? I don’t think so.

As usual, I am loving the sound of my own horn tooting, and it’s time to get back to the marvelous book at hand. Home Comforts covers anything and everything you might ever want to know about homemaking.  You will be sorry when you’ve turned the last page, and if you’re like me, determined to read it again.

And to share it with others, especially family.

Do you want to excel at the high and highly rewarding calling of homemaking?  This book, so aptly named, will inspire and gladden your heart, and perhaps best of all, it will convince you that what you do at home truly matters.

House vs. Home

A house is a place to shelter for the night.  It warms the body, but not the soul.

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A home is a place of refuge, restoration, rest, relaxation, and replenishment.

Do you ever wish someone would come in to your house while you’re gone and clean it, organize it, and best of all, decorate so it feels welcoming when you open the door?

Well, here’s the bad news and the good news.  You’re it.  Yes,  that’s a ton of work and you may feel a little learning-disabled in this area, but the satisfaction gained from cleaning and organizing and making your house a home, a nest, is beyond measure.

Put on some motivational music (Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll should get you going, or Phil Driscoll’s Soldier will work if it’s a real battle you’re facing) and get started.

Put a load of laundry on (if you don’t have a washer begin by gathering up the laundry and putting it by the front door in preparation for a trip to the laundromat) and put the dishes in the dishwasher and/or in the sink to soak as you go on to the next thing.  Now clean the bathroom(s) and then break for fun.  No, I don’t mean bon bons and a TV show (NO daytime TV in a place of refuge).  I mean a break for some decorating.

Rearrange some furniture and hang pictures in places they’ve never been.  Use things in ways you haven’t before.  Maybe even use an entire room in a new way.  Try a different spread on your bed, especially if the one you have is one of those “in-style” atrocities so many of us have, in some fit of insanity, mistakenly purchased (there is a demon grouping in Hell responsible solely for the design of ugly home furnishings).

Now, back to work.  After things are picked up, clean the floors, dust, and wash the baseboards.  Did I say this would be easy?  Anyway, I haven’t said anything about washing windows and screens or cleaning the utility room, have I?  There’s no rest for the best, and as the HOME keeper, you’re the best.

What about your horrid closets and the mess under the kitchen sink?

That’s for another day, a day you need extra therapy.  That’s right.  There’s not a shrink on earth who can clear your mind like a cleaned out and organized closet.

So, now it’s looking lots better, you’re feeling lots better, and the house is feeling more like a home.  What else can you do?

Cook something that smells delicious (bread is always good), or simply put some vanilla and cinnamon in a pan of water and put it in the oven on low heat.  Open the windows and let in the light.  Put out stacks of books that won’t impress anyone with your amazing intellectual tastes.  Include colorful and fun books, crayons and coloring books, easy puzzles, joke books, and especially beautiful children’s picture books.  Don’t have any?  Yay!  You get to go to the library.  Not now!  When you’re finished, or next week, whichever comes first.

Put on beautiful music and be sure there are throws, quilts or blankets on the couches and chairs.  Decorate with Monopoly, Clue, Pictionary and other forgotten board games.  Set one up on an end table, ready for play.

And now, it’s time for tea.  While the water’s heating, go take a quick shower and put on something comfy.  It’s time for a nice cuppa and a not-particularly-memorable but quite easy-to-read book.

If you’re still feeling a little blue after all this (not really likely) change the tea to hot chocolate.  Stir up some raw sugar (or use honey and add after mixture is warm) with a little salt and some cocoa.  Add milk, cream, half-n-half, powdered milk, or evaporated milk (or any combination thereof), vanilla flavoring and/or almond flavoring and heat until almost boiling, stirring often.

Serve in just the right mug with extremely well-buttered toast and don’t even think about calories.  If you think you could use more protein after all that work, go for it – get a second cup of hot chocolate.

P.S.  A little cornstarch will turn this into chocolate pudding – get a recipe – don’t cook like I do with a wing and prayer.

Café Home

 

There is so much more to cooking than following a recipe.  Cooking is about people – what they like, love, and need.  And cooking, like many things, is best done at home by someone who loves those for whom she or he cooks.  Becoming adept in the kitchen is a key to quality living for large families, couples, and for those who live alone.

This is true for trained chefs and for people who loathe the very sight of a kitchen.  Think of it this way:  Just because you live in New York is not to say you need never learn to drive a car.  The ability to drive a car is a handy skill.  Just because you don’t particularly enjoy doing laundry is no excuse for taking everything to the cleaners.  Knowing how to pull and turn a few knobs and separate the whites from the colors is a basic life skill.  Just so being able to feed yourself.

Being unable to scramble eggs, make biscuits from scratch, or whip up a mean spaghetti sauce is just plain dumb.  The idea that it’s fine to go around practically bragging about not cooking is childish.  Not being able to cook is only fine if you are a child.  Let’s all do our friends, parents, kids and their spouses, and our grandkids a great favor:  let’s lead by example and cook!

It doesn’t matter who you are, the time will come when you need to cook.  My mother-in-law, bless her forever and ever, taught my husband to cook, clean, can, and that no job was beneath him.  So, when our last child was born Cesarean and I was a bit under the weather – no sweat.  From the time John brought the older three to the hospital looking ready for portraits, until I no longer needed his help, he took care of things – including the cooking.  When the hospital nurses remarked on the kids’ neatly parted hair, clean fingernails and starched little Levis, I was at a loss.  Did other dads actually drag dirty, unkempt kids to the hospital to see their mother and new sibling?  Apparently so.

At our house it works best for me to be the Kitchen Master.  Because of my proficiency, it’s easier to do most of the cooking myself.  But easier is not always better.  I need breaks, John enjoys weekend cooking, and cooking with the kids (especially if the grill and beef are involved), and the kids need to learn to cook.

So, you’ve taken the first step.  You’re convinced (or almost) you do need to know your way around the kitchen.  Stay with me and you’ll learn so much more than that.

Slow But Sure – Cooking with and for a man

 

“Give me (said she) a well-cooked, well-served meal, a bouquet and a sunset and I can do more for a man’s soul than all the cant ever preached.  I can even do it without a sunset!” – Anne Ellis, in The Life of an Ordinary Woman

 Balance – is anything harder to achieve?  You may think sliced garden tomatoes and fried yellow crookneck squash are the very thing for lunch.  Your husband says, “Where’s the beef?” and your kids just get bug-eyed and wonder what has possessed you to think yellow slimy vegetables are actually edible, and more to the point, why you want to torture them?

When John and I married he was so happy to be free of convenience store burritos three times a day (he still says they saved his sorry single life) that he would eat whatever I put in front of him.  As long as there was a healthy serving of “protein” that is.  Any red-blooded American male worth his salt will tell you red blooded American males need both red-blooded meat and plenty of salt.

John actually wooed me with the very worst of (in my minority opinion – he has since corrupted our children) red meat.  “If a strong wind comes along you’ll regret it,” he’d say, regarding my skinniness and disinclination to eat during lunch in favor of getting more work done (yes, I’ve grown in many ways since those days).  I ignored him, so he took matters into his own hands.  Thinking store-bought burritos weren’t evidence of true love, he made his signature sandwich:

My Own True Love Bologna Sandwich (MOTLBS)

 Two slices of fake wheat bread – you know the stuff – with the split (wow!)  “butter” top

Slathered, and I do mean slathered on both sides with Miracle Whip (John claimed God prefers Miracle Whip – I laughed and it only encouraged him)

THICK sliced bologna – the tasty cheap stuff with all the chicken tongues and pigs feet

Iceberg (what else would God eat?) lettuce and plenty of it

And here’s the best part“pasteurized processed American cheese” (at least they didn’t add ‘food’ to the description).

You, oh discerning reader, have likely determined two things, but you may only be right about one of them.  If you think I loathe every ingredient in MOTLBS you’re quite right.  But if you think it follows I didn’t eat, or certainly didn’t enjoy eating this concoction, you’d be mistaken.  Maybe there was love all over it, maybe it was just the melding (can you say “melding” about such things as iceberg lettuce and American cheese?) of the flavors.  Or, and this is likely, it’s the fact that I was hungry all the time in those days. Whatever the reason, the MOTLBS was delicious.  Simply and utterly delicious.  Healthy, well, no, not so much.  But then, I always say when something is off-the-charts delicious, “Isn’t there health value in food that makes you so very happy?”

Balance, ladies and gentlemen.  That’s the trick.  How does a girl keep herself trim and healthy even as she keeps her husband happy.  She gets tricky.  Once in a blue moon (It didn’t take John long to learn I detested most of what he loved) when I’m way too busy and tired to cook, I bring home MOTLBS ingredients.  Ecstatic John happily makes his own sandwich(es), those for the kids, and lovingly prepares one for me, adding his concession to my healthy ways – lots of sweet onion.  So, rather than thinking he’s dead on his feet and wishing he didn’t have to cook, he’s thinking what a sweet dear wife am I.

Now, just in case you’re wondering why John’s tired feet are more relevant than mine, let me assure you there are number of reasons why it’s better for me to be the Great Kitchen Master.  You’ve already seen what our health might look like if John were in charge, and later we’ll talk about the money savings due to my Kitchen Master-ness.  That’s right, I’m the Kitchen Master.  I’m no lowly slave, nor will you be if you stay with me. You’ll be living in Kitchen Rhythms and Graces, and lovin’ it.

So, back to cooking for a husband (or anyone else with lesser culinary tastes than those possessed by your inimitable self).  Here’s my mantra, regardless of the issue:  “A smart girl like you oughtta be able to figure this out.”

A smart girl knows it is unwise and unkind to say, or to illustrate with your deeds, “Your mama sure raised an idiot child.  I think I’ll slap her next time I see her.  What was she thinking letting you put ketchup on steak?”  That’s right.  True story, ketchup on steak and just about anything else.  (The other side of that is that my mother-in-law taught John to be appreciative and considerate, perhaps moreso than his wife ever learned to be.)

Are you getting the feeling here that my healthy habits might have been as hard for John to take as was his SAD for me?  I began to search for foods we both liked, and ways to make his diet a bit more healthy.  Another key:  I began slowly, improving John’s salads as follows.

John’s Favorite Salad (JFS)

Iceberg lettuce (of course!)

Gobs of shredded cheapo cheese

Fake bacon bits – gobs again

Those stale chemicalish croutons

And why not drown it all in Thousand Island Dressing?

I will not insult your intelligence by attempting to convince you that this salad is, well, edible.

My solution began as follows:

Mix iceberg lettuce half and half with Romaine (now he eats what he calls “weeds” with only an obligatory grumble).

Add sweet yellow or red onion slices (as time went by I added more and more goodies until now he’ll eat anything called salad.)

Use real bacon bits – just put bacon (nitrate and nitrite-free) in the oven all nicely spread out on a cookie sheet, bake nice and crispy, and crumble it up.  Of course, the cook gets samples, and if she wants to be in good with her man, she gives him a slice or two as well.

Buy that ridiculously expensive Thousand Island dressing in the refrigerator section- at least it’s free of the chemical plethora/extravaganza found in most store-bought salad dressings.

Now for John’s New and Improved Salad

Any and all organic salad greens you like

Any and all other veges – I like radishes, sweet green peas, sweet onions, scallions, homemade croutons, home grown tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon bits or ham or turkey, and a homemade white dressing or Thousand Island!  If you prefer an Italian dressing (just use lemon juice or your favorite vinegar, olive oil, a little honey, salt, pepper and additional herbs if you like) add your choice of cheese – I recommend herbed goat or sheep cheese.  John says he hates any and all things sheep or goat, but he likes herbed goat and sheep cheeses if they’re done lightly and in salad.  Parmesan and Feta are more palatable to the unadventurous palate, however.

One easy way to eat with the “sensitive” palate (doesn’t that sound better than “oafish and boorish”?) is to simply separate their food before adding herbs and extra spices and seasonings (extra being those things other than black pepper and salt).  While some dislikes may seem unreasonable and be quite exasperating, in many cases there are physical reasons for such preferences.  While I can never have too much cilantro in my salsa, John is actually nauseated by it.  So, I just separate the salsa into separate containers before adding cilantro.

Mexican food is a great food to make at home for a man, and other unadventurous eaters.  You can hardly go wrong, whether feeding a husband, kids, or company, and it’s easy to make it healthy and delicious for yourself as well.  This is a great recipe for delegation.  Give the kids chopping and cheese shredding assignments, as well as a lesson on proper handling and cooking of raw meat.  We always use colorful and festive dishes witb Mexcian food – green plates and glasses garnished with lemons and graced with bendable straws.  A fruity herbal tea makes an inexpensive and refreshing drink.

You have no need to apologize to guests if you simply serve water.  We all need more of it and it saves the confusion over who likes what when you have a large group.  If your guests insist on contributing something, here’s a great opportunity.  Tell them you’ve got it all covered, unless they need desserts or drinks other than water (or whatever you have planned).  This way they can bring something without getting under your feet.

One of my favorite recipes, which is excellent when company includes kids, is a buffet dish we call Brush Piles.  Basically Brush Piles are simply tacos in a pile.

Brush Piles

 Ground beef, cooked and seasoned ahead, even the day before,

Season beef with dried onion powder (kids often detest cooked onions), garlic both fresh and dried, chili powder of choice, cumin, and cayenne (go easy and consider your guests’ tastes when cooking for a crowd).

Shred cheese ahead of time and set out to reach room temperature.  Raw white cheddar is an excellent choice, but in case of budget constraints I also like Tillamook cheeses.

Chop onions ahead (same day),  cover and refrigerate.

Chop tomatoes and lettuce same day – leave tomatoes out, refrigerate lettuce until about an hour ahead.  The lettuce may wilt if left out too long.  The reason for getting things out is we don’t want to put cold veggies on hot meat and get that not-so-attractive brilliant orange grease effect.

Pace Mild or Medium Picante Sauce (as all other ingredients, put in serving bowl with serving utensil) or make your own salsa with all your favorite salsa ingredients.

Corn chips – I heartily recommend organic, non-gmo chips.

Arrange the above as you want people to put on plates.  We put the chips on first, then the beef (very hot) then the cheese so it melts, then the onions, tomatoes and lettuce, topped by salsa.

Options:  Sour cream, Guacamole, Bean Dip

Easy and Delicious Guacamole

Avocadoes – I like to use one per person – all smashed up.  We’ll pretend you have five diners.

Freshly squeezed lemon juice (the stuff in the plastic lemon will do in a pinch).  Simply cut a lemon in half, then ream it out by squeezing it around a fork as you twist and turn the fork (I put a colander over a bowl to catch the seeds).  One lemon should be about right, but if you’re not a lemon lover, or if the lemon is extra juicy, start with ½ and then taste test.

Lime juice is optional (just a teaspoon for starters).

Garlic powder – I put in a couple of teaspoons, but that’s a bit much for most people.  Again, try one teaspoon and taste test.

Pace Picante sauce – just pour in about half a cup (less if you’re nervous about so much, and as always, taste test).

Now, stir it up and keep the plastic right on top of the guacamole until serving time, and stir if it’s dark on top.  This will be fine left unrefrigerated for a few hours before serving.

Another possibility for guests who are contributing to the meal is suggesting they bring the chips, salsa, bean dip, queso, or guacamole.  But be warned – theirs probably won’t be as good as yours.