Butternut Squash Soup

The storage area that is usually cool and dry is, well, neither. Thanks to an unseasonably warm October and a streak of rainy days, the back hallway is not a good place to store my vegetables. I disposed of two potatoes, a large red onion, and half of a butternut squash this morning.

Then I cleaned the containers and added the little “dryers” that come in packages. Does this do any good? It can’t hurt.

And then I made soup with the remaining half of the butternut squash. I used my standard recipe and cut it down to match the amount of squash I had left. Here it is, folks, without adaptation. This is a lot of soup; use a BIG crock pot if you make the whole thing.

Ingredients:

1 large butternut squash (about 4 lb), peeled, seeded, and cut into pieces(estimated amount: 10 cups)

1 large apple, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch pieces1 medium white onion, diced

1 large carrot, peeled, diced

2 teaspoons curry powder, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1/8 teaspoon white pepper

3 1/2 cups chicken broth or chicken stock

1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

Directions: Spray slow cooker with non-stick spray. In cooker, toss squash, apple, onion, carrot, curry powder, salt, and white pepper. Pour broth over vegetable mixture. Cover; cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. Use immersion blender or remove small amounts of soup (3 cups at a time) into blender to blend until smooth. Add brown sugar (and milk or cream, optional) while blending. Turn heat setting to high. Cover; cook for another 30 minutes. Serve. Enjoy.

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Shortages and Pantry Raids

The latest shortage: certain ink cartridges. Or so we thought – and then we discovered Chuck had “remembered” the wrong number for our printer. We’ll return the wrong one and hope that maybe the office supply store has the right one in black and in color.

I keep seeing blank shelves in the grocery store. Fortunately, we’re fairly well stocked. Chuck teases me a little (more than a little) about my prepper tendencies, but stocking up makes it easy to keep on cooking.

Pantry Raids are easy ways to create a side dish or an entire meal – and tonight it was a side dish. I chopped up two apples leftover from cidering and simmered them on the stove with cinnamon sticks (a bonus included in an auction lot of canning supplies). Simple, delicious: a perfect pantry raid.

I predict more pantry raids, of course, as shortages go on. The unseasonably warm October weather is keeping my tomato and tomatillo plants giving, so we may have more tomato soups or salsa.

And so it goes, readers. I hope your pantries are full and your families are healthy.

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The Black Walnut Project

I have been attempting various foraging projects and no-waste cooking projects. Roasted maple seeds: success! I’ll plan to collect and roast maple seeds every spring from here on out. Saving corn husks to make tamales: nope. I read up on it, browsed recipes and tutorials, and realized it wasn’t going to work in this busy home – mainly because of the time involved. Now for the latest: harvesting black walnuts from the trees in La Petite’s backyard.

Short version: fail. Not going to happen.

Slightly longer version: There were a lot, and I mean a lot, of nuts on the ground after a recent wind storm, so I decided to collect a bucket full and see what I could do. Like I did with the corn husks, I read up on harvesting walnuts, I watched video tutorials, and browsed recipes, too. The first fail: it’s too early. Black walnuts ripen in September and October, and the solid green nuts on the ground were nowhere near ripe. It should have been a clue that not even the squirrels were picking them up.

The next obstacle: time. Most of what I read suggested setting the nuts on a screen to dry for several weeks. After that, I could cut or tear off the outer shell. Then they’d need to dry – again! – for a few weeks.

Details of the process aren’t necessary here. It’s enough to say that despite the vast quantity of black walnuts in La Petite’s backyard, the nuts will never become a food source for her family. The wait time and the work time investment are just too much.

La Petite does, however, have two awesome raised beds and several container plants. She might not get walnuts from her yard, but she grows tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and more.

What should my next foraging experiment entail? Anyone have a suggestion for me?

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Freezers are the New Toilet Paper

First it was toilet paper. Then we went through stages of shortages: baking supplies, yeast, eventually canning lids, and even compost bins.

After a long wait and diligent searches, I now have a pretty good supply of canning lids. I canned chicken broth yesterday, and I didn’t even worry about having enough lids.

I found a compost bin, FREE, on curbside, last summer. Talk about luck! We’ve had to bungie the top down to keep the raccoons out, but heck, that’s a small price to pay to have found an actual replacement bin for the one that broke.

Last weekend, I saw a (cue the ominous music) small puddle under one of our chest freezers. After further review, Chuck and I concurred that the freezer was, in fact, dead. We moved as much as we could into the refrigerator/freezer in the kitchen and the smaller chest freezer. Then, we called Robin. She said yes, of course, we could bring over a few things to keep in her freezer for a little while.

In the meantime, we reflected. We decided an upright freezer might meet our needs better, so we did our homework the way we always did: online. We made notes of stores that claimed to have something we liked in our price range and in stock, and then we hit the road to make our purchase – or so we thought.

The web sites for Lowe’s and Home Depot did not correspond with the inventory. Two other stores had such convoluted and complicated web sites that we said nope, not going to even go there. With aching knees and sore feet and major disappointments, we were close to losing hope. And then the smart phone apps (search for: Upright Freezers Near Me) found a store name we didn’t recognize. Grand Appliance. Non-descript, but if they had the inventory, we were willing to buy. We followed my phone’s navigator to get there, rejoiced that they were still open, and to make a long story short, found what we needed and ordered it!!

We’re expecting a delivery within two weeks, as opposed to September and October as suggested elsewhere. They’ll take the old defunct appliance with them. After that, we’ll relieve Robin’s freezer and repack our new one! And that, my friends, is a relief.

Toilet paper. Yeast. Compost bins. Freezers. What’s next? I don’t really want to know. Readers, any predictions for the next shortage?

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So Many Berries!

The original post title was “Too Many Berries,” but I decided that there can never be too many fresh berries in June or July. Or in August, for that matter. We buy strawberries or blueberries at the farmers’ market, barter for cherries from a neighbor, and pick raspberries in our own backyard. Our backyard isn’t big, but we’ve devoted about 15 square feet behind the garage to a raspberry patch. It’s a good year for my raspberries; we pick almost every night, and we’ve even had enough to share with Petunia and Robin, our mothers.

Most days Chuck and I add berries to our breakfast cereal. Amigo likes yogurt parfaits with vanilla yogurt, berries, and granola. I made vanilla ice cream last week to go with berries and a bit of whipped cream. We’re currently out of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream; that should tell you something about how often we’re eating berries with our dessert.

I froze 3 containers of strawberries. I’ll be able to use those in midwinter when we’re craving the taste of really fresh fruit. I made strawberry jam AND strawberry jelly. The mush left over from the jelly making process is in the freezer; it’ll add a nice pink tint and a hint of strawberry flavor to one batch of our annual applesauce.

I also froze a small container of raspberries. I’ll freeze blueberries when they come into season in Michigan and we’re drowning in delicious U.P. (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, hey) flavor. Meanwhile, we need a few more options.

Despite the heat (88 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit today, ugh), I’m baking angel food cake. With or without whipped cream, that will taste delicious with any kind of berries from the backyard or the neighbors or the market. I plan to make lemonade tomorrow, too. The juice from the bowl of strawberries or raspberries will be an awesome addition to the plain lemon drink.

That’ll take care of a few more berries, but I could use more ideas. Feel free to suggest ideas that also incorporate rhubarb. I gave away two plants, and I still have too much rhubarb. Good thing it’s delicious!

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New Adventures in Vintage Sales – The Booth Opens!

We did it. We took our thoughts, our talk, and our research, and we put down the rent to operate a booth in a Vintage Mall in a Nearby Small City. If this action seems sudden, it’s not; we’ve been pondering and researching this idea for several years.

We’re naming the booth after our mothers, Petunia and Robin, but with their real names (tee hee hee). La Petite is designing a sign and a business card for us. Amigo? Well, he’s tolerating our busy-ness, as long as we don’t disrupt the home routine too much. We took him to Nearby Small City for lunch yesterday when we dropped off boxes of merchandise.

Our focus is, well, eclectic. We’re organizing the booth so customers can find similar items on the same shelf or the same corner. Chuck and I signed the contract on Thursday, and we moved in on Friday, knowing there was a Flea Market in the parking lot on Saturday. In the hopes that a few customers might shop indoors, too, we pushed ourselves to get at least something on the shelves right away.

Day One!

There are a lot of empty spaces, but we’ll fill those later. In the time we had, we did what we could, and we pronounced it good. Now the challenge begins: selling.

Readers, do you enjoy shopping vintage/antique malls? Let me know, and I’ll email you the actual coordinates of our venture.

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Rhubarb-Pineapple Cobbler

The rhubarb is in season, to put it mildly. I put a batch in the freezer today and made a cobbler with rhubarb and a can of pineapple tidbits. It pays to keep a full pantry; I had the pineapple on hand already. Two confessions: I made half the recipe, and I don’t know the source. I had this in a file folder.

4 cups frozen or fresh rhubarb, thawed, drained. 4 cups cubed pineapple (about 2 20 ounce cans). 2 cups sugar, divided. 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or your favorite alternative: mine is whole wheat pastry flour). 1 1/2 cups butter (3 sticks), cubed.

Directions: preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine rhubarb, pineapple, and 1/2 cup sugar in a medium saucepan on medium high heat. Let simmer until juices are released and a syrup forms. Pour into buttered, 2 quart casserole dish. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine flour, remaining sugar, and butter, Mix with hands until the butter forms coarse crumbs. Distribute crumbs evenly over rhubarb mixture. Bake for 40 minutes or until bubbling and browned on top. Serve warm. Excellent with ice cream on top!

My family’s review: awesome! They’re not (quite) tired of rhubarb – yet.

When you strained the pineapple, I hope you saved the juice. I plan to make a sweet and sour sauce that incorporates rhubarb concentrate and pineapple juice, among other ingredients. If it works, I’ll share!

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Retirement Begins.

I could get used to this. I mean, I will get used to this!

I’m getting used to seeing Chuck in the morning hours. When he worked a late shift and I worked a standard teacher day, we only saw each other awake and alert on weekends. I would leave my hearing aids out (to save a little battery power) until he got up. Now I’m putting in my “ears” much earlier!

Grocery shopping is different. I’m not making a lunch to take to work each day. In fact, I might ceremonially throw away my insulated lunch bag. It’s been useful for many years, and now it’s done. No longer needed. Gone.

I set a goal during my last week at the office: no lunch-making all week. My colleague and I examined the goal and deemed it attainable and measurable. Oh, educators. It may take a while for me to lose the jargon. Monday: Memorial Day. No school! Tuesday: convenience store turkey sandwich (I love their cranberry bread) and an apple. Wednesday: $5 sushi day at the nearby grocery – a California roll. Thursday: nearby fast food (drive through), eaten at our outdoor picnic tables. Now that I’ll be living on my pension instead of my salary, I probably won’t buy lunch very often. I can get used to that.

I’ve been already feeling the stress roll off my shoulders. I compared notes with a good friend who is leaving teaching, and we talked about summer commitments. This will be the first year in ages that we don’t have to plan or sign up for many hours of staff development. I used to plan a lot of our summer curriculum sessions and book studies. Now, someone else can step into that role.

The garden needs my attention. That’s a typical summer day, and now it will extend into the fall months. It’ll be nice to have more time to enjoy the fall canning tasks – applesauce, tomatoes, salsa, tomato sauce, cider, and more.

Now I guess I need to get used to sharing the kitchen with Chuck. We can do it! Retirement, here I come.

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One Year Later

All the major news outlets are going into retrospective mode, so I don’t need to share the details. You know how to find the details you need, readers.

What I can do is make it personal. One year ago, we were hearing about the coronavirus, the novel, or new, coronavirus that was trickling into the U.S. I remember reassuring my students (fifth grade) that the virus hadn’t reached Wisconsin yet. We were not at risk. Yet.

Within weeks that shrunk to days, my workplace had closed up and sent us all home. We kept teaching, and teaching online is what we do, but we moved out of our office. I left my big desktop with two monitors behind on its stand-up option desk and set up a Chromebook on a small vintage desk in the corner of my living room. A box of my teacher manuals and a stack of intervention reading books were tucked into a corner nearby, and my notebook and clipboard sat on the file cabinet beside a coaster for my coffee cup.

From the hints of the virus to the major shutdown seemed to come incredibly fast. I exchanged texts with La Petite, learning that none of her colleagues had been in China recently to visit the knitting plants because they didn’t usually travel during the Chinese New Year celebrations.

I messaged a cousin in Utah who had posted pictures of huge trucks loaded with bottled water and toilet paper. Little did I know that the TP shelves would empty in my neck of the woods, too! It became a joke, sort of – March Madness cancelled? They must have run out of toilet paper. Spring training came to a screeching halt? Toilet paper shortage! Our nervousness showed in our attempts at humor.

I remember the mood – the feeling of what’s next, what else can shut down, are we ready, are we ready, are we ready? Well, we didn’t know and certainly couldn’t predict how serious the pandemic would be in the U.S., in Wisconsin, and even in our own city. Tension, stress, and the feeling of simply living each day not knowing what was next on the list.

Now, one year later, we’re getting our vaccines. Chuck and Amigo and La Petite have all had their first shot and scheduled their second. I will get the one-dose vaccine on Saturday. We’re cautiously optimistic – quietly hopeful.

But I still might maintain my stockpile of toilet paper.

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Canning Lids – Still a Shortage

First it was toilet paper. Then flour and yeast were scarce. Seeds! Gardening supplies! And eventually, canning lids.

I don’t need jars – I have more than plenty. I don’t need the rings that hold the lid in place; I reuse those, and I have two heaping boxes full of regular and wide mouth sizes.

But lids. Lids – the one-use-only component of a canning project – I still can’t find those.

Chuck saw a few boxes at the grocery store in November – wide mouth size – so he bought them all and wrapped them up for a Christmas gift. Yay! I use wide mouth for pickles, applesauce, and more.

But regular size? The smaller and more common lid size? The one I’ll need for jellies and jams, apple butter, and just about anything that goes in a half pint jar? I have plenty of jars. Plenty of rings. But I only have a few tiny boxes of lids.

I’ve put the word out. I have friends and extended family members searching their basements in case they might have some to spare. I keep checking all of my main sources: Fleet Farm, all of the hardware stores, grocery store aisles, and more. I’ve stopped making in person trips and started looking online as though I were ordering online to pick up in store. No luck – yet.

I managed to pick up a few odd sets, older or fancy colors, from garage sales last fall. Some sealed; some didn’t. My success ratio was okay – a little more than half were successful. But the rubber ring on a canning lid can dry out over the years, so there’s no guarantee of a good seal.

Now that I’ve vented, I will keep calm and carry on. I’ll keep checking my favorite stores, and I’ll hit the garage sale circuit with a vengeance come summer. Maybe some of last year’s cooks new to canning will have decided it’s too much work, and they’ll sell their supplies.

I can only hope – there must be a source out there somewhere.

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