Scrappy Cooking – Cooking with Scraps

There once was a TV show “Scraps.” I tried to follow it, but they’d only made a few episodes. When I saw that the head chef from “Scraps” had published a cookbook, I ordered it right away. 

Once upon a time, during a summer when I had access to my kitchen for canning, I made a very scrappy tomato vegetable soup. I’d been canning tomatoes a few days earlier. The process of peeling tomatoes, while not like herding cats, is time consuming and yields an interesting leftover. To peel tomatoes, I drop several into hot water for a few minutes and then into ice water. The peels slide off (almost) effortlessly. Almost. The results: a lot of tomatoes without skins, and a big bowl of water laced with tomato remains. I decided this tomato water was too good to throw away. On the theme of a Pantry Raid, I used only ingredients that were readily available in my freezer, refrigerator, or pantry. Nothing fancy!

Step one: we skimmed off some of the water floating on top. The tomato content kept sinking to the bottom, so why not?
Step two: poured the tomato water into a large slow cooker and let it simmer on high overnight.
Step three: added herbs. A few green onions, a clove of garlic, some minced basil – all simmered in the soupy mix for several hours.
Step four: Store the boiled down mixture in refrigerator overnight.

To make soup for supper, I added a few simple ingredients along with salt and pepper, thickened with arrowroot starch (Penzey’s is the best), and served with crackers.

Simple ingredients added (but not measured precisely): a dash of Worcestershire Sauce, a small can of commercial tomato paste (to mitigate the sweetness of the fresh tomato remains), salt and pepper, frozen peas & corn & shredded fresh zucchini.

This tomato soup, whether you call it a Scraps menu or a Pantry Raid, is a winner. By the way, those tomato skins were dried in the oven on a low heat and then eventually frozen. We used them often. Scraps? They’re tasty and priceless.

What (not?) to Wear

It was Friday. Friday! Casual Friday! Jeans abounding in the office! Green Bay Packers colors! Or Brewers? The Brewers were playing at 3:15 that afternoon. My kindergarten and first grade teacher friend was torn: Packer or Brewer gear? Or pink, for Breast Cancer Awareness month? She’s a Packers fan, Brewers fan, and a breast cancer survivor. Oh, the dilemma of what to wear! 

Sunday, I was thinking along similar lines. I have a new Brewers tee shirt. Should I wear it today? They play at 3:30 against the Rockies. Maybe I could wear it to school tomorrow. The boss has been lenient when there’s a game on. But wait – I want the Brewers to win today! If I’m lucky and they play well, I won’t need to wear the colors on Monday. I can wear them later in the week as the playoffs continue! 

Oh, teachers. We dress like geeks at times – think holiday “Ugly” sweaters. But in October, who can choose? Readers, what are you wearing – baseball colors, football colors, or breast cancer pink?

And More Apples!

You’ve heard about the apple-gathering run. I had a boatload of apples in my minivan for about a week. I’d covered the whole batch, boxes and buckets, with a tarp to discourage the fruit flies. Sunday, we started the cider making day. 

The Cortland apples in the beer boxes came from the second orchard. “Someone drinks a lot of Busch Light beer,” Husband announced to nobody in particular as he saw a pile of boxes along one wall. “The bar down the road drinks a lot of Busch Light,” the orchard woman told us. The boxes are sturdy, and the bar hands them over free of charge, and it works for everyone. I lined the boxes with plastic bags because…well, see for yourself.

The beer boxes and the first four buckets were bargains because they were “seconds.” Imperfect. Scratch and dent. Whatever term you want to use, we got a deal on the apples because of it. Some, maybe most, had been windfalls – apples that fell on the ground before they were picked. Maybe that’s why I found so many apples that looked great to me, but were included in the bargain boxes. 

The finished product!

Does it look like a lot? It is. This batch got squeezed into the space remaining in the refrigerator and freezers. I brought a gallon to work; it was a hit! Crock pot, no spices, just warm and delicious cider on a cool and rainy day. It’s extra special because some of the apples came from the tree in front of the office. 

In other words, perfect. 

Apples, Apples, Everywhere

My minivan is full of apples. I do mean full. We made last weekend into a Procure the Apples weekend, and oh, were we ever successful! (Pictures later. Really.) 

For our first trick, er, trip, I led Chuck to two small orchards in the not-really-a-town of Darboy. The owner/operator at the first orchard sold us four pails of “seconds” only after he was convinced that we knew what we were doing. He was suitably impressed that we own a cider press, and he showed us a few of the varieties (honey crisp! Sweet!) in the scratch and dent collection. This is going to be good cider.

The second orchard had two boxes that had been cases of Bud Light filled with imperfect Cortland apples. They had a wall of empty Bud Light cases donated by the bar down the street. Bud Light, according to Chuck, is to beer what Velveeta is to cheese. But back to the topic at hand, Cortlands are a lot like Macintosh; they are good for eating or cooking and go with just about anything. Mixed with the Honey Crisp and Macintosh and who knows what else, their tartness will keep the cider from being too sweet. This is going to be really good cider.

The next day we gave up on the officiating at the Green Bay Packers game – we would never give up on the Packers themselves – and we picked from the tree in front of my office. A few buckets and too many mosquito bites later, we loaded up three buckets at no cost and brought them all home. All the buckets and boxes from the weekend are still in my minivan. It’s a very safe storage space. No chipmunks or other critters can get at those apples before it becomes that good, good cider.

One exception exists, unfortunately. Fruit flies. It was Tuesday night when I decided the fruit flies were distracting the driver (me) all too much. What to do about it? I didn’t want to leave the buckets in the garage where they might attract little furry creatures and stinging critters as well. If I moved the overflowing apple buckets to the house, I’d just be moving the fruit flies to a new home where they’d still drive me crazy. 

The solution: cover the buckets. I only had two covers for the big five gallon buckets, and the Bud Light boxes didn’t come with lids. I covered the two buckets that I could, and then found a tarp to throw over the rest. It worked. The apples are still exposed to enough air that they won’t rot, my van smells heavenly, and there are far fewer fruit flies. 

Alliteration. That’s where it’s at, people. When we hit the cider press on Sunday, I’ll do my best to chronicle the process on film. Er, on digital. On the blog. 

Curiouser and Curiouser – and apple cider, too

Brother and family came to visit yesterday. 8-year-old niece, we’ll call her “Rainbow,” was curious about Chuck’s cooking techniques. He cooked boneless chicken thighs in barbecue sauce on the stove in a cast iron pan. The original plan was to grill the chicken, but Mother Nature delivered steady rain that made the grill less attractive. 

Rainbow decorated the chalkboard on the drop-down table. That’s her job when she visits. We hand her the chalk, and she knows what to do. 

Rainbow was curious about the barbecue sauce that Chuck had made from my homemade ketchup, which started as leftover liquid from canning salsa. The concept of making something from scratch that might be available in a jar or bottle caught her attention. Her mother is an excellent scratch cook; she must not have made her own barbecue sauce recently. 

After supper the fun began. We set ourselves up in the garage (still raining) and began chopping apples for cider. Rainbow was, shall we say, excited? She took part in every step of the process: chopping, crushing, pressing, and of course, tasting. She came inside with me to watch the pasteurizing step. She ended up leaving before the cider cooled, so she didn’t take any home. Yet. We’ll definitely find a way to get some of the finished product to her family sometime soon. 

Back to the Blog

I’ve been off-blog for quite a while. I realized that a lot of the short incidents, like what I’ve bought at the Farmers’ Market, are getting shared on Facebook these days. I haven’t done much on Twitter, and I’m not on Instagram, so I can’t use those two as an excuse. 

Lately I’ve run into situations that made me think, “I should blog this.” Sometimes it’s Amigo who tells me, “Mom, you should blog this. Really.” And I realize that the Pharmacy that Shall Not Be Named has improved to the point that they don’t make the blog anymore, but the Clinic that Shall Not Be Named still rates a post now and then. The worst offender lately was my employer-provided health insurance. I’m still very angry with the folks at charge there, so I’m not ready to post. I might be ready to write it, but I’m not quite ready to post. And the “Smart” MRI place? I’m not sure whether to christen them “Stupid” MRI or “Dollar Store Variety MRI.” Frankly, either would fit. 

I don’t want to blog my Packers. At the moment, their record is the same as the Cleveland Browns. At least the Browns inspired Budweiser to Open the Refrigerators – Clay Matthews is only inspiring yellow flags at the moment, deserved or not. 

The Pirate’s Booty (current nickname; this may change)

I’m in this boot for six weeks – one down, five to go. Updates to come.  for the Boot and its progress, I’ll need a full post – or two.

Safe to say, Daisy will be back. Besides, there’s an election coming up. I’ll have all kinds of plenty to say.

Communication and Health Care – not

Dear Clinic that Shall not be Named: 

I get it. I do. I understand that I had my last mammogram in August of 2017. I know that I cancelled my August appointment this year. Really, though, you could have saved the postage on that little reminder letter. You know the one: the letter reminding me that a full year has gone by and I haven’t had my next mammogram yet. 

You see, Clinic that Shall not be Named, I have already rescheduled the mammogram for mid-September. If your computer system had been programmed to make one more step, perhaps a search for an upcoming appointment, there would have been no need to send a reminder letter by way of the USPS. 

I suppose it could have been worse. If Clinic that Shall not be Named made robo-calls instead of sending reminder letters, then I would have gotten very irritated and perhaps my blood pressure would have escalated. At least with the silly letter, I just laughed and ripped it up. 

In conclusion, Clinic that Shall not be Named, once again your right hand doesn’t know what your left hand is doing. Get with it, okay? Okay. 

On the First Day for Teachers

Sorry, no partridge in a pear tree. I’ll share a few other numbers with you, though. 

On the first day back to school for teachers, the district gave to me: 

Two shopping bags (with credit union logos);

One box of tissue

One inspirational motto-du-jour tee-shirt

Forty Welcome postcards (for my homeroom)

Five leading questions (for a getting-to-know-you video)

And my first ride on Uber! 

Well, in all honesty, the school district didn’t give me the Uber ride. With several hundred teachers and other school peoples converging on my fair downtown’s new Exposition Center, I knew parking would be crazy. With my recent surgery, I’m still not up to strength – at least enough strength to walk from a city bus stop or downtown parking venues.  I decided to try out Uber. We established a family account so Amigo could use it when he needs to get somewhere, so I thought, why not? It’ll cost me a few bucks, but I’ll get dropped off right at the door, no parking problems, no need to walk any distance. It was worth the cost of the ride to get me to the door and drop me (I am not making this up) right in front of the school superintendent as she walked up the steps. 

So on we go, boats against the current – oh, wait, that was the incredible downpour later in the day. Never mind! 

Garden Stages; moving on

Carrots. Once again, the carrots struggled. Maybe something feathered ate the seeds. Maybe something furry nibbled the greens as they emerged. In the end, I picked six. Six carrots. I had planted a smaller variety to give them a fighting chance at getting through the topsoil without fighting the clay below, and I think the few that actually grew did pretty well. Buttercup had three, including greens, for her supper tonight. She liked them well enough. 

Lettuce is done. Buttercup is nibbling the last few leaves of yellow/green lettuce tonight, too. Such a lucky bunny! 

I turned the soil with my as-seen-on-tv Garden Claw that I bought from a rummage sale a few years ago. I felt a little sad when I overheard the teenagers at the sale saying, “Oh, Grandma always loved using that in her garden!” I don’t know if Grandma passed away or moved to an apartment, but I hope she knows her as-seen-on-tv Garden Claw is in good hands. I use it often. 

Next: the decisions. I could start spreading compost now to let it settle in sooner rather than later. I could plant peas again; chances are good they’ll come up before the big frosts in October or November. Climate Change has stretched the fall gardening season a bit; planting again might be worth the effort. 

And that’s only half the plot, really. Tomatoes are growing and producing well. Broccoli and cauliflower are starting to smell like broccoli and cauliflower. They’re not big enough to pick yet, but I predict they’ll be delicious. Zucchini, of course, is thriving. We’ll have zucchini bread at least once this week. 

And then there’s the random corner, the area full of volunteer and mystery flowers and others. This might require pictures to do it justice. Before I plant any peas or spread any compost, I’ll share the odd corner with you. And readers? Yes, you? Teachers go back to school this week. There will be limited time for gardening. Limited, I said, not no time at all. Playing in the dirt is an after school sanity saver, after all.

Hospital Food: the Next Generation

Long, long ago, when I was a teenager, I had a part time job in the food service of the local hospital. I learned about nutrition, and I learned about hard work. I learned about balancing school and work, saving money, and getting homework done – well, most of the time. 

I learned that hospital food wasn’t as bad as it was reputed to be. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible, either. I’m sure I gained a few pounds sampling extra desserts with my coworkers. 

The local hospital system (let’s just call is Local Hospital System) doesn’t use the tray line and simple choices that we used when I was a teen and even when my babies (now 26 and 30) were born. Local Hospital System has a menu, almost restaurant style, in place. The patient calls the kitchen to order a meal, and someone brings it up in 30 to 45 minutes. 

I have to admit, I’m impressed. 

Vegetable Stir Fry with Rice and Chicken

These beans were good – so good that I asked the nurse if they were locally choice. Surprise! She knew, and the answer was yes! Local Hospital System owns and operates a garden. 

Pot Roast with Vegetables

I didn’t ask – the floor was pretty busy when I had my lunch – but my prediction is: carrots, fresh and local; peas, very possibly local; potatoes; hard to tell. But in any case, it was delicious. That little container in the upper left corner was my dessert: angel food cake and strawberries with whipped cream. Simple and perfect for my healing body and tired tummy. 

I don’t plan on another hospital visit soon, but if I have to stay overnight, I know I’ll be well fed.