The Home Artiste and Mother’s Day

LAST WEEK THE RAIN AND FOG AND THE CHILL CAME IN – AND THE BARELY GREEN ASPEN TREES WERE SHROUDED IN CLOUD.  MY DAUGHTER REBEKAH RIGHTLY DISCERNED IT WAS THE PERFECT TIME FOR A TEA PARTY AND SOME GOOD CONVERSATION, WITH SOME LOVELY MUSIC.  I HAD BEEN PLANNING TO DO SOME PAINT PREPPING, BUT IT WOULD KEEP.

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WEDNESDAY MORNING WAS MUCH THE SAME AND WHEN I ASKED JOHN IF HE WAS STILL SURE HE WANTED A SMOOTHIE FOR BREAKFAST IN THE INTEREST OF TIME, HE WASN’T SO SURE.

SO HERE’S WHAT WENT DOWN:

I PUT SPROUTED AND BUTTERED BREAD IN THE OVEN ON LOW, AND THE SERVING BOWLS AS WELL – PUT COLD BOWLS INTO THE OVEN BEFORE TURNING IT ON, NOT AFTER IT’S HOT. (IF I HAD BEEN GOING TO SERVE FRIED EGGS, I WOULD HAVE ALSO HEATED THE PLATES – FOR FOUR PEOPLE I HEAT SIX PLATES, THEN I HAVE ONE EXTRA ON TOP AND ON BOTTOM, AND WRAP IN DISH TOWELS WHEN I TAKE THEM OUT AND THERE’S NO STRESS ABOUT THE HORROR COLD EGGS!).

THEN THERE’S ALSO A PLATE TO PUT THE EGGS ON AS THEY’RE FINISHED FRYING, WITH A LID OR COVERING OF SOME SORT TO KEEP THEM WARM UNTIL SERVING.  WE CALL THESE EGGS “DIPPIES”, AS YOU HAVE DONE WHITES, BUT YOLKS NICELY RUNNY AND GOLDEN FOR DIPPING TOAST INTO!  (I LEARNED TO CALL THEM “DIPPIES” FROM JANE BROCKET IN “THE GENTLE ART OF DOMESTICITY – EXCELLENT, JANE IS!)

I DUMPED HALF A JAR OF CHUNKY CINNAMON APPLESAUCE INTO A PAN AND ADDED WALNUTS AND RAISINS AND BEGAN HEATING. THE TEA KETTLE WAS FILLED AND HEATING AS REBEKAH SET THE TABLE WITH MILK IN A CREAM PITCHER, HONEY, ETC.

I HEATED THE TEAPOT WITH HOT WATER THEN EMPTIED IT AND SET IT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STOVE ON THE WARMING ZONE, ADDED FOUR BAGS OF ROOIBOS TEA AND COVERED IT WITH A TEA COZY ( I WOULD MUCH PREFER A NICE ENGLISH BLACK TEA, ACTUALLY) – ALL READY FOR BREWING. ANOTHER THING I WOULD HAVE DONE IF IT WERE REALLY A COLD DAY IS USE STURDY THICK MUGS AND RUN HOT WATER INTO THEM FOR A BIT BEFORE SERVING TIME.

A PACKAGE OF THIN PORK CHOPS CAME OUT OF THE FREEZER AND WENT INTO A SKILLET WITH WATER TO BEGIN STEAMING APART AND COOKING (I COOKED THEM UNTIL THEY CARMELIZED AND MADE LOVELY BROWN GRAVY, OR AU JUS).

WE HAD LEFTOVER MASHED POTATOES SO I MADE THEM INTO BALLS AND PUT THEM IN THAT SAME SKILLET AFTER REMOVING THE PORK CHOPS INTO A SMALL SKILLET AND PUTTING ON A BACK BURNER ON LOW. ONCE THE POTATO BALLS WERE BROWN ON BOTH SIDES, I PLACED THE PAN ATOP THE PORK CHOP PAN AND PUT A LID ON TOP.

WHEN THINGS LOOKED TO BE NEARLY READY, I DUMPED LEFTOVER HOMEMADE SOURCREAM DIP AND A CUP OF LEFTOVER CHOPPED ONIONS AND SAUTEED THEM GENTLY IN A MIXTURE OF BUTTER AND OLIVE AND COCONUT OILS.

I WHIPPED UP SCRAMBLED EGGS WITH PEPPER AND SEA SALT, POURED THE STEAMING WATER INTO THE TEA POT.

NOTE:  I HAVE A SAUCER READY TO DUMP THE TEA BAGS ONTO BEFORE SERVING, AND A SAUCER OR POT HOLDER TO PLACE THE TEA POT ONTO FOR TABLE PROTECTION (THIS IS ALSO A POSSIBLE ISSUE WITH HOT PLATES, IN WHICH CASE THE TABLE SETTER PUTS A NAPKIN OR A PLACEMAT AT EACH SETTING.

YOU MAY THINK THIS SOUNDS COMPLICATED, BUT IT’S SIMPLY A MATTER OF DOING THINGS IN ORDER, AND GETTING INTO GOOD HABITS.

HAVING A LITTLE HELP IS NICE, TOO. IF YOU DON’T HAVE HELP, THOUGH, YOU JUST PREP AHEAD OF TIME AND THINK THINGS THROUGH.  SET THE TABLE, FILL THE CREAM PITCHER, PUT THE HONEY AND STRAWBERRY JAM ON THE TABLE (NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP IN THAT JAM!), WHIP YOUR EGGS AHEAD OF TIME, AND THAW THAT MEAT AHEAD OF TIME!

WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE IS READY OR JUST ABOUT, POUR THE EGGS IN TO SCRAMBLE AND WHEN THEY’RE NEARLY DONE RING THE BREAKFAST BELL (YES, I DO HAVE ONE!)

OH, AND IF YOUR LOVELY DAUGHTER PUT ON MUSIC FOR YOU, AS DID REBEKAH WITH COLD PLAY’S “SOMETHING LIKE THIS” BE SURE TO DANCE ABOUT AND SING A BIT. WHAT A GIFT TO YOUR FAMILY:  A HOT, DELICOUS BREAKFAST WITH A DANCING, SINGING, SMILING MUM.

HMMM.  MIGHT THIS BEAR PONDERING WITH REGARD TO MOTHER’S DAY, AND ALL MY FAMILY’S SO HOPING I LIKE THIER GIFTS, AND THAT MY DAY IS TRULY SPECIAL?  COULD IT BE THAT I SHOULD SIMPLY FOCUS ON REJOICING IN GOD FOR MOTHER’S DAY AND ALL IT MEANS?

I AM INCAPABLE OF PUTTING WORDS TO WHAT’S IN MY HEART, BUT I ASK GOD DAILY TO CLEANSE IT FROM ALL SELFISHNESS, SO THAT IT MAY BE FULL OF PRAISE AND SONG.  YES, THAT’S IT, OR AT LEAST A GLIMMER – I WANT MY FAMILY TO HAVE EVEN THE SLIGHTEST INKLING OF THEIR WORTH AND VALUE TO ME.  AND I WANT THEM TO SEE ME SMILE.  AND HEAR ME SING.  AND DANCE WITH ME.

THIS MOTHER’S DAY DON’T LAMENT A SINGLE THING. JUST ENJOY, AND GIVE, AND RECEIVE!

Putting the Fun Back in Food

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Overthinking meals takes all the fun out of food.  Trying to cook in a drab kitchen takes all the fun out of it.  A messy kitchen is frightening and anything but fun.  Buying in bulk takes the fun out of it.  Trying to buy enough for two weeks (I live a long way from the store) is not fun.  Buying produce picked from a vine six weeks ago in a foreign country that is basically tasteless is not anyone’s idea of fun.  Extreme carb consideration is SO boring and un-fun.  And not buying any “fun” food takes – you guessed it – the fun out of food.

One at a time, beginning with overthinking it.  “We can’t have spaghetti because:  too many carbs; don’t have parmesan; out of basil, need Italian sausage to go with the beef, have to have salad with it, and only have two leaves of romaine left and no dressing . . .”  Forget about carbs and think more about not eating like a horse.  There is absolutely no law that says you must have parmesan (except the one in your kids’ heads).  No basil is a thing, but you can use other herbs – do some research.  If you must, turn this idea into a kid-friendly dish, which usually means fewer herbs.  You can turn any ground meat into an Italian sausage of sorts with the addition of Italian herbs, or just use whatever sausage you have on hand and see what happens!  As for salad, it’s nice, but the main thing is a happy atmosphere, and spaghetti of any kind lends itself nicely thereto.  Or, take those two romaine leaves and add whatever you have – a few grapes, radishes, the last carrot, a bit of cauliflower, fresh herbs, scallions, and just have a salad small in size but large in taste.  The easy and delicious dressing for this salad is simply olive oil and either vinegar or lemon juice, with a bit of sea salt, pepper, and a touch of honey.  It’s all fun!

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The Drab KitchenI have noticed that the more sophisticated, granite-laden, ultra-modern and clean a kitchen is, the less the cooking going on.  The more brown, beige, and blah, the more drab and dull, the more the cook stays away.  Paint that baby!  Go garage and estate sale-ing, antique store browsing, and best of all, go looking into your own closets and cupboards and see what’s right under your nose to brighten things up.  You can get 10 daffodil stems for less than $1.50 at Trader Joe’s right now.  Instant bright cheer!

The Messy Kitchen. I have entirely changed my mind about tackling a messy kitchen.  Rather, I look at it as one of the best time investments ever.  That is, there is a huge return on satisfaction for not that much time and effort.  And one of the ways I’ve changed my attitude is by doing lots of dishes by hand.  Get an organic dish soap (or not, as you like) which smells lovely, and splash away!  Fill the sink up nice and hot with plenty of soap and stack as many dishes as possible to be soaking as you’re doing other things – clearing the counters, washing the stove top, perhaps putting those daffodils right under your nose, or on the breakfast table.

Once I get going (and my fingers do fly when I do dishes by hand), I pause long enough to put something in the crock pot and something in the clay pot.  I got my clay pot at an estate sale and it’s one of my favorite cooking utensils.  Everything I’ve ever cooked in it has been wonderful (do some research on this if this intrigues you).  If the kitchen is especially messy, with lots of dirty dishes (I use the dishwasher as well in such times) I let out the dirty water and run nice, clean, hot and sudsy water so I can soak and clean as I cook.  I could go on about cooking in one afternoon enough for an army for a week, when it looked like there wasn’t that much to work with, but let’s stay with formulating fun.

Buying in BulkBuying in bulk is only fun, and only works if:  it’s groceries that don’t go bad; if you don’t eat much more than normal because, again, it may go bad, or simply because it’s there; you really are getting a great deal buying things you would buy and use regardless.  If it’s fun for you go have enough Pace Picante Sauce to feed your teenage boys for the next six months (that actually sounds wonderful to me) and the bulk prices were worth finding the storage for the Pace, then by all means, buy in bulk.  I’m just saying, believe it or not, grocery shopping can be fun, and buying in bulk is usually not.

Shopping so you don’t have to go back to the store for two weeks is also not my favorite fun thing, and not really cost-effective.  It’s better to buy only two or three organic on-sale red bell peppers, and just run out and do without for the second week, than to try to buy enough for any and all eventualities, ignoring that certainty that they’re not likely to last two full weeks.  A stuffed-to-the-gills fridge, with crispers crammed to the max is a recipe for stress – there’s the rush to cook things and the regret over wasting and the inability to even see what’s available.

It’s much more fun to have a few truly delicious, in-season and hopefully even locally grown items in the fridge, just waiting to be creatively combined into something wonderful.

The Low-Carb DragIf your something wonderful happens to also be low-carb, so much the better.  But always focusing on carbs can really be a drag.  Better to focus on simply cooking something nutritious and delicious, and perhaps, if needed, to cut back on carbs, rather than totally trying to eliminate them.

For example, for breakfast have omelets and sliced tomatoes, or a protein shake some days, and on other days make pumpkin/walnut pancakes, sausages, scrambled eggs with cream cheese and a nice pot or two of tea.  Then let that be the end of the bread and sugar for the day.

No Fun Foods, No Fun.  And then for not ever buying fun foods – bad idea for me.  I’ll just end up eating out because I’m bored to death.  Fun foods include spices, especially those we grind at home.  There is such a lovely difference in freshly ground nutmeg and black pepper, both in taste and in health, from the pre-ground versions.  Having some good seasonings, such as a dried veggie soup mix (no MSG or MSG equivalents needed for great soup), or a taco blend, or simply buying everything in the blend plus some variations of chili powders makes it fun to put together a deliciously seasoned meal.

For me fun foods include raiding not only the bulk spices, teas, and seasonings, but also the bulk foods.  It’s so much fun to have three colors of lentils, wild rice, black eye peas, chick peas (don’t buy someone else’s hummus!) Anasazi, black, pinto and navy beans, split peas, giant golden raisins, dried apricots, pecans (apricot/pecan scones and a tea party, anyone?), macadamias (white chocolate macadamia cookies, perhaps, to go with the mango black tea I found in the bulk teas?).  Cooking with homemade vanilla (beans found in the bulk spice section) is more than fun, it’s fabulous.

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I want to make homemade mustards, too, because I have never met a mustard I didn’t like.  But until then, having a variety of mustards on hand is a cheap and real thrill.  Fun food, already done.  Trader Joe’s is my favorite place for these kinds of foods.  Mocha Joe Joe’s, Almond Windmill Cookies, Truffle Pizza, SO good bacon ends and pieces, Virgil’s Root Beer, Rooibos and Honeybush Tea, and Cherry Cider are among our family favorite fun foods from Trader Joe’s, and here’s the thing:  all of these are remarkably inexpensive.  Fun atop fun!

This fun quest is not frivolity.  My hope is that these ideas will spark more ideas for you, the goal being we make the most of the gift of cooking at home, where the real fun begins.

 

 

 

Percolator Parties and Other Fall Bequeaths

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I’d been thinking I wanted an old time percolator for some time and just couldn’t find the very thing.  And when a dear friend spotted this one in an antique shop, she said she saw my name on it.  Yay for the Holy Spirit working through dear friends!

This same friend has given me a very fine and perfect old-time picnic basket, egg coddlers, and more.  But for today I want to talk about my percolator.

After brewing up a few fine pots of coffee and tea, it quit.  I was sad, to say the least.  Oh, well, I thought, it still looks lovely on my kitchen counter, and I’m all about making the kitchen beautiful.

But my dear husband fixed it!!!  It simply needed a new resistor in the cord, and it’s off to the races again (the sound and sight of the brew gurgling up into the glass cap is the sound of joy).  Actually, it’s been off to the balcony in the chilly Rocky Mountain mornings for what we now call Percolator Parties.

Monday’s coffee Percolator Party was simply a Welcome-the-Morning, and Glory-in-Fall party.  Tuesday dawned bright and chilly and my daughter Hannah and son Seth joined me for chicory coffee in heated mugs with heavy cream, and to solve the little conundrums that make up our world.

On Wednesday the day sneaked up without early morning Percolator Party time, so we were ready on Thursday and chose to try a specialty Chai-with-chocolate tea, about which I had reservations.  But there are those special times when the first sip of an excellent tea changes things, sets them aright.  As I sat in the early morning chill, wrapped in a quilt and watching the golden apricot aspen leaves quake, I took one of those rare and wonderful universe altering sips of tea.

One after another, members of our household came out onto the balcony to savor the morning, to partake of our new and beloved delight, Percolator Partying.

In the Fall.

How far is Heaven?  Some days, not that far.

Tea Cozy?

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You may think a tea cozy is a quilted teapot cover, and if so, may I recommend the knitted pineapple cozy found in Jane Brocket’s inimitable The Gentle Art of DomesticityBut I’d like to introduce the idea that a tea cozy is also a gathering of bliss wherein tea plays a part.
My first tea party was at friend’s house, and it was given in honor of our dolls, with a tiny painted metal tea set.  The dolls had tea (water) and raisins, and were quite happy with their fare.  After all, they got to sit at a little red wooden table in matching chairs, and be served. To this day, that is one of my all-time favorite teas cozies.
Such cozies may occur on quilts in the backyard with toddlers, peanut butter and crackers, a great book(s), and of course, tea.  Tea may be nice and hot in a thermos if fall is hinting at winter, or it may be iced to be enjoyed with berries picked alongside the road as you hike to a clearing under a nice big oak tree.

Other lovely tea cozy ideas include but are not limited to::  making breakfast special with tea, history teas, tea parties on a budget, literary teas, dress-up teas, teas on the balcony amid falling snow, slumber party teas, If-I-Could-Travel-Anywhere teas, Christmas teas, and tea parties for no particular reason (I think of these as conversation teas).

The only rule for a tea party is:  Conversation must be kind and intelligent.  Tea is a most excellent place to teach etiquette, and in fact when the kids were small I often brought a favorite etiquette book to our gatherings, Manners Matter by Hermine Hartley.

Now if you don’t have etiquette books, tea sets, knitted tea cozies, and a variety of gourmet teas, don’t be discouraged.  Have a coffee cozy (I use swiss water decaf mostly when having coffee with kids), or serve milk and cookies and call it a milk.  A milk?  Maybe a milk cozy.  If it’s cool outside, heat the milk and add honey and maybe some cinnamon and nutmeg.

There are endless possibilities, but the bottom line is simply this:  always be on the lookout for a tea cozy opportunity.  Bliss!