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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Not since 1814.

It was supposed to be a procedure, a formality, verifying the electoral votes that confirmed the November presidential election. Chuck and I listened to the beginning of the process on the radio on our way home from an appointment. As I headed out the door for a half day of work, he asked, “Should I keep you informed?” I said, “Well, I’ll be in class from 1:00 to 2:30, so only text me if something big happens.”

Little did I know.

I finished my classes, stood up and stretched, and took my phone off its charger. And reacted with uncharacteristic vocabulary. OMG! WTF! Holy C***!

I texted Chuck and asked if he was joking, even as I pulled up online news, Social studies indeed – history, a frightening incident, was unfolding on the monitor that had just shown fifth grade language arts and social studies.

The wheels of democracy sometimes turn slowly, but they do turn. Mr. 45 was wrong to incite violence and invite mobs to Washington today. Those who followed in his dirty footprints (Senator RJ, I’m looking at you) share responsibility for the first breach of the Capitol since the War of 1812.

After working on the Constitution, Ben Franklin was asked, “Well, sir, what kind of government do we now have?” Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Our democracy, after all the mobs and rioting, is once again up and running. It’s up to all of us – Congress, Senate, and voters – to respect the process, to participate in the process and and maintain and keep our republic.

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Touch Typing while Distracted

It started well. I had good intentions, really. A Power Point presentation (I make loads of them for online lessons), with the script in the notes. The “script” gets long at times because I’m working on a lengthy series of reading intervention lessons, and they’re heavily scripted. Rather than read the manual and handle the power point at the same time, transcribing the notes now saves time later.

So imagine this: I’m speeding along, typing a long batch of script, looking at the manual. I finish the paragraph, and turn to look at the slide to find — this.

mocprm/ Imocprms are ,usteropis amd ,agoca; amo,a;s tjat upi read abpit om faoru ta;es/ A imocprm ;ppls ;ole a jprse wotj pme jprm pm ots jead/ Sap;a ;ove om kimg;es amd are extre,e;u rare/ Tjeu arem T rea;;u imocprms. Bit tjeu are ca;;ed Asoam imocprms because tjeu are veru sju/ Frp, the sode. Tjeu ;ppl ;ole tjeu jave pme jprm/ {ep[;e dp

Yep. You guessed it, readers. One hand moved over a key. One hand. A few of the words may be right (are, a, rare), but not enough. If you try hard enough, you might be able to decode parts of the sample. Maybe.

And yes, I hit delete and typed it correctly — after resisting temptation to bang my head on the desk. So readers, what kind of time-wasting mistakes have you made lately? No, on second thought, you don’t have to reminisce and remember those moments. I have enough of my own.

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And then, bananas.

Remember the baked oatmeal with apples? I needed a banana for that recipe – one, count ’em, one banana. While the boys (Chuck and Amigo) were out running other errands, I stopped at the convenience store for a few bananas. As often happens, I found myself at the back of the store mixing up a strawberry lemonade, too, because – why not? Stay hydrated, support local business, and so on. And I had my banana.

When Chuck and Amigo came home from the grocery store, Chuck handed me a bunch of rather-ripe bananas and said, “There’s a story here.” It seems the bananas at the store were “so green they should have still been on the tree.” He’d grabbed a bunch that was mostly yellow, knowing I needed one for my recipe. Well, oops. I already had the necessary banana.

We spent the next few days enjoying bananas. Half a banana with lunch, sliced banana on cereal for breakfast, and eventually banana bread made an appearance. But this weekend, we didn’t buy bananas. Not at the convenience store, not at the grocery. I think we’ll wait a little bit before we dive into bananas again.

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Apples, Apples, everywhere

Subtitle could be Urban Foraging or Scavenger Skills or even Free Food. When my online school moved into a new office, we discovered an apple tree in the front yard. No one seemed to be actively picking the apples, so Chuck and I decided to dive in, er, climb on. We brought big buckets and a stepladder and gathered seven or eight buckets of ripe apples.

The first season, I made applesauce and apple butter and apple pie filling and even apple jelly. Then Chuck got to thinking and bought the me (well, the family) a cider press. We pressed a batch or two of cider and filled the freezer. We took the cider production angle seriously after buying a quart from a farmers’ market and realizing that hey, ours was better.

This year was typical. We picked a little early, so not all the apples were fully ripe, but they were tasty enough for cider. I took to keeping a small box in my car and picking up the windfalls as I left work for the day. These windfall apples added up, and we had apple bread pudding, apple crisp, a Russion apple cake, and even baked oatmeal with apples. We scavenged another bucket of apples in early November, but then I got sick (not Covid!), so the apple pie filling and the strained jelly I’d hoped to make were not likely. After I regained my health and energy, I took the easy way out and made more applesauce.

If I ever retire, will I still have access to that tree and its apples? Technically, it’s on a public school’s property, so anyone could pick. Just to be sure, though, I should stay on good terms with my boss. That’s not a problem. In fact, I could even bribe her with fresh cider. Mmm, cider. From free apples. Works for me!

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TP, Compost Bins; try Canning Lids

The search for a new compost bin was successful in an unexpected way. Instead of spending lots of money to replace my broken tumbler, I got a stationary bin for — free. Free, free, free. Yes, you heard me, free. I was driving home from buying tomatoes for salsa, and I saw a big hulking black thing on curbside. I couldn’t stop then, but I made mental note of the location. The next day, Chuck and I drove the van over to that spot, and found the big hulking black plastic object with a new sign on it: FREE COMPOSTER. I looked it over. It was dirty (um, no problem), but all the parts were there, so we loaded it up in the minivan and brought it home. I’ve hosed it out a few times, and it will replace the collapsing composter of doom. What a deal!

Last time Chuck and Amigo went grocery shopping, I put canning lids, regular size on the list. They came home with two boxes of exactly what I needed. Good thing, too, because now – less than two weeks later – the store shelves are empty of canning lids. Friends elsewhere in the state have complained that they can’t even find jars to buy. I’m lucky; I have a very good supply of jars, and a fair amount of lids. I hope to buy more lids as I dive into the Tomato Crazy and Applesauce Season. I’ll keep my eyes wide open for unusual sources of lids for my canning jars. So far, my online searches have suggested a few I hadn’t considered.

So, readers, if you’re running low on lids for canning, either regular or wide mouth size, where do you go? Brick and mortar or online, I’ll take your suggestions.

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Reminders of Buttercup

I pulled up a dandelion the other day, and I immediately thought of Buttercup the bunny. She loved dandelion greens. When she was younger and more sprightly, she’d meet me at the door when I came inside, hoping I was carrying her favorite fresh treat. More often than not, I was.

I still pull up the dandelions, but they either go in the compost or get diced into a pesto or seasoning of some sort.

I get the same thoughts whenever Amigo is done with a page of Braille – for example, his rehearsal schedules from Tuesday nights’ Zoom chorus gathering. He used to hand the Braille paper, a little stiffer than printer paper but not as thick as cardboard, straight to Buttercup. She would nibble around the edges until we had an odd piece of leftover Braille, and then we’d add it to the compost or recycling.

Today, I harvested kale, Dear darling husband Chuck doesn’t like kale, but it’s so easy to grow! Buttercup liked it, so I planted at least a little kale every year. She died in late May, so there’s no bunny in the house to eat the kale that’s coming up. I picked as much as I could today and dried it in the oven for kale powder. All the nutritional value and none of the taste, as my dear darling sister-in-law would say.

Maybe I could add dandelion greens to the kale powder? Now that’s a thought.

Readers, do you like kale or not? There seems to be no in between on this question.

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(Farm) Market Day?

One loss I’m feeling deeply is the lack of local farm markets. My downtown farm market usually starts at the end of June on Saturdays. The main street of our fair city closes, and the vendors fill several blocks. It’s a wonderful atmosphere; live music, the smell of egg rolls cooking and corn roasting, and all the produce that’s in season. Not this year, thanks to Covid19.

Thanks to Covid19, our downtown farm market will start two weeks later than usual and support about one third of the usual vendors. Live music will not be allowed, and prepared foods will no longer be available. I’ll go, and I’ll buy veggies and fruits to freeze and to can for the winter, but it won’t be the same. Not by a long shot.

Today I drove past Festival Foods, the store that hosts my favorite midweek market in their parking lot on Wednesday mornings. As I got closer, I saw – could it be – a tent! A white canvas top with a point in the middle! Maybe the market was back! Maybe…maybe…nope. Just a fireworks stand. Sigh.

Fortunately, Chuck’s mother, Robin, called and told us of a farmer selling fresh strawberries from the back of his truck. She’d bought some herself, and said they were delicious. I didn’t drive there immediately (it was noon), but I may try tomorrow. Maybe the strawberries will be there again, ready for me. That may be the solution this year: without the usual market, I need to find the independent sellers. It’ll be a little more work, but I can still fill our freezer for the winter.

Readers, is your local farmers’ market still going on this year? If not, what are you doing to get fresh produce for your family?

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