Cooking without a Kitchen – still

Monday was a Planned-overs type of day. Planned overs are like leftovers, but cooked on purpose. In this Era of No Kitchen, we are cooking planned overs at least once a week so we have something decent that can be reheated in the microwave.

So, Monday. Burgers were on the menu. Side dishes, cooked on the coals in foil, were potatoes – diced reds and fingerlings with Scarborough Fair seasoning (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) and green & yellow zucchini squash with onion, salt, and pepper. These turned out very well.

Ah, the planned overs. We had a pound of French Onion bratwurst from the local meat market, and brats are always better on the grill, so I jabbed them with a fork and cooked them on the top rack. Someone recently suggested cooking bacon on the grill, so I tried it. As I pushed the burgers out of the flames so they wouldn’t get charred, I wondered if Someone had cooked bacon on a gas grill, not charcoal. The bacon smelled good, as bacon does, but it had a definite char look to it. I tried a piece on a BLT, and it tasted like bacon. Okay, it was okay, but I don’t think I’ll try that trick again.

Monday, as you see, was an adventure. I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy moving bacon around to prevent total burn-to-a-crisp status. The veggies were a hit, the burgers were delicious (Amigo had two), and the bacon and brats went into the meat drawer for later.

Tuesday, I learned how to bake a pot pie in the toaster oven. Here I am, in my 50s, and I’ve never used a toaster oven. Now I can cross “Toaster Oven Use” off my bucket list.

Tuesday night I decided to do an experiment with the multitude of green onions in my garden. I pulled up several. Okay, if I’m honest about it, I pulled up a lot. I cleaned them up in the bathtub – no sink, remember – and packed the green tops into a crock pot set on low. I left it on Keep Warm overnight. In the morning, I removed the green tops, added the white bulbs sliced small, and seasoned the onion broth with a little salt and pepper and garlic.

Market Day with a Missing Kitchen

it’s Farm Market season again!

Lettuce, spinach, parsley, strawberries, blueberries, peas, kettle corn (for me!), pomegranate lemonade (for me!) – did I miss anything?

It’s Saturday, and it’s the first Saturday of the downtown farmers’ market. It’s also hot. Hot, muggy, steamy, sweaty. I heard several little kiddos complaining that they couldn’t walk anymore or that they were hot and sweaty. I saw even more young ones with beverages in hand. Families were smart and kept themselves and their kids hydrated.

But other than that, it was a normal and pleasant market. I got a good parking space in my usual ramp, there was still time on the meter, and I grabbed my rolling bag and headed out to stock up on good food for the family. I may have come back with more food than planned and a lighter wallet (dropped tips in three buskers’ cases), but it was a good First Market of the Season.

However, prepping is a challenge because we have no kitchen. I have no sink. Half of the colanders and bowls I usually use are stored in the basement. My favorite knife for shelling peas is also stored somewhere – where, I wish I knew. I rinsed the lettuce and spinach in big colanders with the hose – yes, you heard me, the garden hose. The peas were small enough to rinse in the bathroom sink. I had to set aside the strawberries and the asparagus – just no time to figure out how and where to get them cut up and cleaned.

The next few days may be ridiculously hot. I can spend my time inside, prepping strawberries and asparagus.

Coping without a Kitchen

“How do you survive without a kitchen?”

“Are you using paper plates?”

“Do you get delivery and drive through fast food?”

Actually, we’re doing quite well. It’s not easy, but we planned for it and we’re keeping up fairly well. Planning ahead, then and now, is essential to coping while the kitchen is under construction.

Making Chicken Dinner

Rice: Minute white rice and Uncle Ben’s ten minute brown rice, cooked in chicken broth (the freezer is full of good things like this) in the microwave

Chicken breasts: thawed and cooked on grill a few nights ago as “planned-overs.” I diced and reheated the chicken in the microwave.

Beverage: Sun tea, made on the deck on a (what else?) sunny day

Chicken Dinner!

A few pieces of leftover zucchini and onion, and there it is: chicken dinner, all prepared without an actual kitchen.

Not bad! But seriously, I look forward to having a kitchen again – and what a kitchen it will be!

Demo Day!

This kitchen project has been consuming us since…since…oh, at least since December. And finally, finally, it’s happening. The guys were here today. They hung a plastic tarp so the dust didn’t fly all over the house (it only piled up in the dining room), and they did demo. Big time. I can show you better than I can tell you, though.

Here’s one angle.

Here’s another way to look at it.

And that’s that. Nothing left. No sink, no stove, no dishwasher. And that’s where my good old Girl Scout ingenuity came in. We might go to paper plates sooner or later, but Daisy the Compostermom isn’t ready to go there yet. I washed dishes the way I learned at Girl Scout camp, minus the dunk bag.

One bucket with water and dish soap, one with hot water for rinse.

The result?

Air dry for a bit, and then we’re done.

And Chuck was surprised I found the dish soap under the bathroom sink? Hah. I’ve only just started to show my coping skills.

Stop Creating Emergencies.

Sometimes I call it “panicking over nothing.” But then I have to remember that whatever’s causing the panic might not be important to me, but it’s important enough to upset someone else.

In the book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, there’s a chapter that advises the readers not to create their own emergencies. For example, it’s okay to buy cookies from a bakery instead of baking them from scratch. Pick up an already cooked rotisserie chicken instead of prepping and cooking a big meal. It’s not what I’d do every day on normal days, but sometimes it’s wise to step back and avoid creating unnecessary emergencies.

Right now, those emergencies are either kitchen or garden related. The kitchen remodel is coming sooner or later – most likely sooner. We have a lot of clearing and purging and emptying to do before demo day. We had to clear space in the guest room/office so that we could move the computer desk in there, and soon we’ll need to move the computer desk, the shelves on top of it, and the computer itself and all its cords into that room.

Garden! I started tomato seedlings and herb seedlings, and now I need to prep the containers. Yes, that’s right, the tomatoes are going in containers this year. I have the containers, I have the bags of soil, and I’m ready to start making those ready.

In addition to the containers, I have the pallet. It was glorious last year, and I have plans for the pallet garden again. I just haven’t had a moment to pull out the old, dead plants and fill it in with new soil and move it to its new home six feet away from where it is now – you get the picture. I want to do it all, and I want to do it all right now.

So, Daisy, why can’t you get outside and do it all right now? What’s stopping you? Regular readers, friends, and family all know that I’ve been sick lately. It feels like the last three weeks have lasted more like three months. I’ve been spending a lot of time resting, rehydrating, resting, icing or heating a sore back and sore knee, and resting. You get the picture. In between, I’ve visited doctors and pharmacies. Somehow, I managed to teach a few days and grade a lot, and I do mean a lot, of research projects.

It’s when I’m resting that it’s hardest. I might be sitting on the couch with an ice pack on my lower back and a glass of a refreshing beverage by my side, but I’ll be thinking that I really, really want to break up the soil in the main garden plot. It’s common to find me closing my eyes for a bit and then coming back to wakefulness with an Oh, No, I Need To — fill in the blank.

I’ve managed to sidestep cooking emergencies with the help of a crock pot and a well stocked pantry. I even filled the Stamp Out Hunger bag for the Post Office food drive. But as I patted myself on the back for that, I remembered that the spices will need a new, temporary home, along with the taco mix and my favorite sloppy joe mixes.

And then I say Stop. Little by little, all will be well. For now, I’ll rest and recover so I’ll have enough strength to cope when a true emergency comes along. I don’t need to create my own.

Pie Day!

We are a barbershop harmony family. Amigo sings, we drive him to rehearsal, and more. Part of the “more” involves supporting the local Sweet Adelines chorus, the women’s side of barbershop singing.

About a month ago, we attended the Sweetie Pie Social of the local women’s chorus. We bought our entry tickets. Amigo bought raffle tickets, 6 for $5, and I put in a bid on a triple fruit pie in the silent auction.

Then we had our own pie and listened to a wonderful show of fun barbershop music.

And then the announcements came. The winner of the triple fruit pie I’d bid on – the assistant director of Amigo’s chorus. He’s a great guy, and I can’t even be mad that he outbid me. Then they drew the winning ticket for the pie raffle. Amigo! Wow! I didn’t need that triple fruit pie after all! We were going to take home a pie anyway! Or so I thought.

Amigo, the young man who sings lead in the Fox Valleyaires barbershop chorus, the guy who bought tickets to support barbershop, male or female, won the Pie of the Month Club. He will get one homemade pie each month from a Sweet Adeline member for the next entire year.

He’d better share.

Cider Press is a Hit

We’ve learned quite a bit about making our own apple cider in the past few months.

No matter how much we make, it won’t last long.

I looked into recipes and processes for making hard cider. I considered other “flavors” such as cherry and rhubarb infused cider. Hahaha! Fresh apple cider is incredibly delicious. Chuck and Amigo drink it in place of orange juice at breakfast. I heat some up after school instead of an instant cappuccino. We froze a few containers, only to thaw them a few days later.

Nothing is better than fresh apple cider.

See above.

Pasteurizing apple cider on a plain old fashioned kitchen stove is easier than you might think.

Details: I did a lot of surfing on sites like the USDA and the CDC to find information about home pasteurizing for cider. The results were consistent: heat to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and maintain that temperature for 6 seconds. 6 seconds? Is that all? I maintained it for a full minute, just because.

There are more people making their own cider than I thought!

Amigo offered up some of our homemade apple cider for a barbershop chorus celebration, and several of the guys in the chorus let me know that they, too, press their own cider. One or two talked about antique cider presses. Another talked apple varieties; we like ours a little more tart, so Macs are the main apple. That, and the tree outside my office that I pick for free, keep the recipe pretty straightforward. A few buckets of Macintosh apples and a few pounds of something else will make a tasty mix.

Sweetener? Unnecessary.

I found this out by accident when I bottled a batch of cider and then realized I hadn’t added any sugar. Any. Sugar. At. All. And – it was delicious. Maybe it was the Honey Crisps, or maybe I’m just getting used to having my apple flavor straight, no chaser.

Next year, I’ll be more aggressive in foraging for apples earlier and oftener. Er, more often. I learned that orchards keep boxes or buckets of “seconds” or “imperfect” fruit, and that fruit is still delicious. If I can make friends with a few people who have apple trees and don’t pick them – don’t laugh, it could happen, just like the tree outside my office building – I can procure enough for a large batch of cider.

And then there are pears. I know at least three people with pear trees, all of whom seem to have excess pears come September. Pear cider – why not?

Post- Thanksgiving News and Views

Ah, Thanksgiving. In the absence of the fairies, we split the responsibilities and managed to put on a good spread ourselves. We learned a few things in the process, too.

Our kitchen needs more counter space. It’s a little like the commercial with the guy realizing he has enough food for his guests, but doesn’t have enough room in his refrigerator. I thought I was brilliant in the way I plugged in an outlet strip and connected the crock pots to it. There they were, spread out on the kitchen counter, heating the mashed potatoes, curried squash soup, two kinds of stuffing, and mulled apple cider. Then we took the turkey out of the oven and realized there was no room to carve it. Chuck ended up setting a large cutting board across two burners (turned off, of course) on the stove and carefully carving the bird there.

La Petite’s stuffing and mashed potato recipes were delicious. She even made small quantities of plain potatoes and stuffing for those family members known for their preferences toward the traditional versions.

When you’re seven years old, drinking mulled cider from a wine glass is really cool.

A traditional holiday is often a good time to create new traditions. We served the holiday dinner on Friday for suppertime instead of on the calendar’s Thursday. It meant more relaxing travel for those on the road, more sleep time for the late-shift person in the family, and all in all simply worked better. We’ll be open to moving Thanksgiving off the Thursday in the future if needed.

On the same note, my birthday and my sister-in-law’s birthday land near Thanksgiving every year. Chuck’s birthday and La Petite’s are in mid-December, just a few days after our niece’s (she of the apple cider wine glass). We were universally not ready with gifts wrapped, but we exchanged presents anyway. After we were all done, the laughter had died, but the smiles remained, we decided that maybe this No Wrapping was a good idea.

There’s a lot for which to be thankful this time around.  Chuck no longer has to fear getting sent off with the satellite truck. When our Packers played on Thanksgiving, that was a very real possibility. Chuck left the television industry about a year ago, and it was a good move. We were all (relatively) healthy. Everyone traveled safely. Most of all, we enjoyed spending time together.

And that, my friends, is the best tradition of all.

The Fairies Return with Thanksgiving!

Have you wondered what happened to the Fabled Fairies of Thanksgiving? They made an appearance several years ago, along with a Butterball turkey. We’ve been having Thanksgiving over the river and through the woods at Grandma’s apartment for a while, but it’s our turn again. We organized who will bring which dish with a google doc to keep track, and now it’s time to get it all together. It’s time for the Fabled Fairies of Thanksgiving to come out of hiding and help us again!

 Thanksgiving Dinner? No problem! I’ll call in the fairies. They’ll do everything.

The laundry fairy washes, dries, and presses the table linens, including the cloth napkins. If she’s feeling generous, the sheets and towels might get folded, too.
The turkey fairy will practice her specialty and make sure the bird is cooked and carved just in time for dinner. White meat and dark, it’ll all be moist and savory and leave just enough leftovers for sandwiches and a turkey noodle soup.
The baker fairy will take care of pies, pumpkin and otherwise. He’s an expert on flaky crust, selected spices, and the perfect portion of whipped cream. Don’t let that Simple Simon guy get in the way; the kitchen’s too small for anyone who begs to taste the wares.
The brownie — the cunning little house elf — will clean the home thoroughly, put the leaf in the big table, and get the extra chairs out of the basement.
I wouldn’t dream of neglecting the wine fairy: the sommelier so tiny she only recommends, never lifts, a bottle. Her taste is impeccable. Now if we could stop her before she over-imbibes and falls asleep on top of the piano…
Did I mention the decorator fairy? She’ll fix the fireplace mantel with something tasteful and seasonal before she makes sure the couch and rocker are properly arranged for the annual holiday gladiator contests known as NFL football.
The ambiance fairy keeps the wood fire crackling in the fireplace, the aromas wafting deliciously through the home, and the family discussions neutral and apolitical.
The kitchen fairies: really, there must be a whole crew of these talented sprites. One to do the shopping early and avoid the crowds, another to make sure the cranberries are perfect (and local, of course), and a magical maestro with the potato masher. Then we’ll need a feisty fairy, one with attitude — yes, you, Tinkerbell, you can make the coffees.

Mom, you can send the fairies over to my house now that we’re hosting the annual family Thanksgiving dinner. Let them know that I’ll have their room ready and their favorite cookies baked. If they arrive on Sunday there should be enough time to get everything done.

Wait. What do you mean…they’re…not….real?