Progress in healing

Yet another cabinet member has been announced to a fanfare of “Oh, no!” Amigo didn’t remember the name, but he remembered enough to inform me that the new Secretary of Education will be a “billionaire school choice advocate.” I can only take so many of these announcements. They’re bad for my blood pressure. In the interest of my own health, let’s look for some silver linings.

The next time a woman runs for president, she will not have to jump the same hoops that Hillary did. Trailblazers, Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton included, blazed a trail so that others can follow.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. We’re bringing mashed potatoes, butternut squash, Packer veggies (peas and corn), and cranberry sauce. Have I forgotten anything? La Petite will bring the wine. The potatoes are in the crock pot as I type. Oh, pies! I bought pies from a local bakery this morning.

The nearby meat market (I love that place) was hopping. In fact, I changed my route to avoid the traffic on their corner as I was on the way to the bakery, another small business I love. I walked in, paused to inhale, and then picked up a box of cookies while I waited for my turn. The problem with shopping at a local bakery is simple; I always come out with more than I planned to buy. Problem? Maybe that’s not a problem. Small Business Saturday is coming up, and I saw two small businesses that were doing well already today.

Amigo has already found Internet radio stations that are playing 100% Christmas music. I’ll make a list, check it twice, and bookmark a few to listen to at work. Now if I can stop myself from singing along…

I predict January will bring another down period. This inauguration will be hard to take. But for now, let’s look at positives. For those who celebrate, enjoy your Thanksgiving.

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A Way With Words – not.

It’s all in the presentation, I guess. I emailed Chuck to tell him we were having chicken soup for supper, and I included a few details. I felt rather proud that this soup came from ingredients we had in the house: a pretty darn good pantry raid, that is. However, my email ended up sounding…well, er…not so appetizing.

Tonight’s chicken soup includes a broth from the basement, last night’s waste water from the steamer, and some small turnips and parsnips from out back. It smells good.

I meant well. I really did. The broth was a homemade broth from the freezer downstairs. I keep a pretty good stock of various broths (haha, pun intended) to make cooking quicker and easier when school starts for me and Chuck is tied up in NFL football season shows. So for the broth, it came from the freezer. It was thick and delicious.

I also added the leftover water from the previous night’s vegetables. When I cook vegetables in the steamer, I like to include that water in a broth. It just adds another element of flavor and conserves water, too. Leftover water – that’s a better term than “waste.” Okay, two revisions made.

Turnips and parsnips came from the garden. The bunnies have been nibbling on the carrot greens as soon as they emerge above ground. I suppose the parsnips and turnips must have not-so-tasty greens from the wild rabbit perspective. I’m planning to add replant that section of the garden soon, so I pulled what was there: 2 turnips and 2 parsnips, all rather small. I cleaned them up, diced them, and added the vegetables to the soup.

Also from my backyard, I added two green onions. I planted these in a container on the deck last spring, and they just keep coming up. Yum. If I can provide enough light, I’ll bring the pot of onions inside for the winter.

As for chicken, there were two chicken breasts left in a bag in the freezer. Thighs are my favorite for soup, but breasts will work. I browned them in a skillet and then dropped both chicken breasts whole into the soup to simmer all day.

A couple hours before serving time, I added some little star noodles (memories of chicken and stars soups in a can, anyone?) and shredded both chicken breasts with two forks.

The end verdict: not Dickensian, as Chuck suggested, but delicious. Please, sir, may I have some more?

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Winter – and Prepping for Winter

I am a public school teacher. My work schedule coincides with the (arguably outdated) agrarian calendar. I start my school year at the end of August, and I end that school year in the beginning of June. I have my Summer “Off” in between.

In an earlier post, I mentioned a quote I’d heard on a fascinating television show called Unplugged Nation. The expert told the people starting their off-grid trial period that “Off the grid, there are two seasons: winter and preparing for winter.” I’m not off grid, but I can see the sense in this statement. Here at the O.K. Chorale, I spend a great deal of my summer prepping for winter, too.

I prep for winter to make my school year easier on me and the family. My workload, like that of teachers everywhere, is much more than the calendar might suggest. By canning and freezing foodstuffs all summer long, I save money, save time, and provide a better quality product for my family. Here’s an example: rhubarb.

Eating in season and eating locally means harvesting and cooking while it’s ripe. I make rhubarb desserts and rhubarb jams and rhubarb barbecue sauce each and every June. Any rhubarb left after that gets diced and stashed in the freezer. If you have a source of rhubarb growing like a weed in or near your home, here’s the rhubarb barbecue sauce recipe with a few Daisy twists.

Ingredients

8-9 cups of chopped rhubarb (approximately 9 pounds)

1 cup chopped sweet onion

1 medium jalapeno pepper, diced and seeded

2 cups brown sugar

3/4 cup honey (local, of course)

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground or crystallized ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a large pan and cook over low-medium heat until mixture comes to a gentle boil. Allow mixture to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking and burning. Blend gently with an immersion blender until mixture is smooth.

Ladle sauce into clean, hot pint jars, leaving at least 1/2 inch head space. Add lides and rings on pint jars. Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the jars to rest in the boiling water bath canner for 5 minutes. Remove the jars to a safe place (for example, on a towel at the back of the counter) to cool. Label and store after 12 hours.

To use rhubarb barbecue sauce: pour over a pork or beef roast in a slow cooker. Simmer all day until meat can be shredded with a fork. Serve on buns. Heck, serve any way you wish!

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Influenza – I spoke too soon.

It’s my turn. I cared for the boys, washed my hands frequently, stayed out of range of their coughing as much as I could — and it wasn’t enough. I’m on my second day home today. Chuck is back at work, but Amigo is still suffering.

In the category of Simple Pleasures, also known as For What it’s Worth, there are some reasons to feel (almost) good these days.

We have a new couch – with dual recliners on the ends. With this set-up, two of us can lean back and relax with the tissue box between us. No one fights over the couch because we can both stretch out.

Spring weather might return late in the week. Right now, none of us want to step outside into the cold air for fear of setting off a coughing fit.

I did the shopping last weekend, and I stocked up on chicken noodle soup. I’ve also thrown together crock pot meals to tempt our meager appetites while not spending precious energy in the kitchen.

Positives aside, I need a nap. After that, I need chicken soup.

 

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And Still More Adventures in Slow Cooking

It was one of Those Days. Around 3:00, I suddenly wondered if I’d actually plugged in the crock pot that morning. I’d been tired, really dragging, and thought I’d better throw something in the crock pot because I had plenty of food in the house and no excuse to order pizza. Uh-huh, that was my rationale.

I threw a few chicken breasts, a large jalapeno pepper, and a handful of cherry tomatoes – all frozen – with a little veggie broth (it was handy). I turned the switch to low and got ready to leave for the day. The plan was chicken fajitas. Upon arriving home, I would only need to shred the cooked chicken, add taco seasoning, and cook a few veggies in the steamer. That is, I would only need to do all of that if I’d remembered to plug in the crock that morning.

Everything but the broth was frozen when it landed in the pot that morning. If I hadn’t plugged it in, I rationalized, the food would be thawed, but probably still edible. Pizza would be fine. The boys would not object, I was sure.

Well? What do you think, readers? Did I have enough wits about me to plug in the crock pot and get it going in my sleep dazed pre-coffee condition?

Yes. Yes, I’d plugged it in, probably on autopilot. We had fajitas for supper, and I made ice cream later that night. Oh, and I made a vegetable broth, too, with the carrot peelings and few other random scraps. After all was said and done, I felt motivated to spend some quality time in the kitchen.

Readers, have you had moments like this? Moments when you really questioned your own actions or lack thereof, and the result could have ended up in the hands of delivery pizza?

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Slow Cookin’ Again

That could be a country song title, I believe. “Slow cookin’, just slow cookin’ my life away.” Work with it, folks, and when you win your Grammy, make sure you tell the world that you got the idea from Daisy at Compost Happens.

But anyway, back to business. I may have set a new record last week: four days out of seven, I used a crock pot.  Monday: brunch casserole for supper. This dish of eggs, milk, herbs, and whatever strikes my fancy simmered all day on a low heat. When I got home after school, it was almost done. I cooked up maple sausages on the side, and we were ready to eat.

Tuesday: butternut squash. Or did I make that on Sunday? It was a rather large squash I’d bought at a September farm market. I skinned and chopped a little more than half of it, added a little broth and butter, and let it cook all day on low. Yum. It was a little heavy on the liquid, so I drained it through a colander before mashing it all. Delicious.

Wednesday: I had a staff meeting after school, so I knew I wouldn’t have much time to cook. Out came the big crock, and in went the chili. Amigo added noodles and stirred the mix late in the afternoon for a good Wisconsin chili mac, and it was ready when I walked in after my meeting.

Then Saturday rolled around. Chuck was out of town, so I made something Amigo and I like that Chuck can’t stand: lamb stew. I had a container in the freezer, so I dumped it into a small crock on low. Amigo and I had it with leftover rice. It was very good, I must say, and very low maintenance.

This week promises to be busy, but not quite as busy as last week was. The crocks might stay in the cupboard. Then again, maybe they won’t.

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Season of Slow Cooking Continues

Last week Monday: 1 quart crock, a bargain picked up for almost nothing second hand, the crock with a lid that doesn’t match because I picked it up for almost nothing…I already said that. Anyway, Monday’s crock pot task was to thaw and heat a soup from the freezer. This worked famously. This small crock is like a Little Dipper, just twice the size. It has two settings: on or off. Plug it in, it’s on. Unplug it, the crock’s off. Bean soup just sounded like a perfect addition to a new flavor from the local meat market: bacon bratwurst.

Last week Wednesday: Eating the Opponent, Arizona! We normally do this on the weekend, but we may be traveling as the weekend arrives. I modified a recipe from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and let the flavors simmer in the crock pot all day. My Packers didn’t win, but they really invested a phenomenal effort in a dramatic and close game.

We were out of town over the weekend, so the crocks sat unused. Heck, the whole kitchen sat unused. But now, back in the bitter cold realm we call home, the slow cooker again fills the house with its flavor-filled aromas. Oh, did that sound too contrived? Sorry. 

On our way home from Illinois, we stopped at one of our favorite specialty stores near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. We stocked up with the best pot pies on the market and a number of soup mixes. I’m making the lentil and Italian sausage mix today. We had Italian sausage in the freezer (a frequent stock-up item from the Nearby Meat Market), and I knew I’d be home working on progress reports all day. A soup that cooks slowly is the perfect menu item.

To summarize: Today, Monday, there’s a soup in the biggest crock pot. Lentils, Italian sausage, homemade beef stock, and a tiny package of dried veggies are simmering together. By supper, I expect this will be exactly what we need.

So, readers, do you have any favorite soups for cold winter weather? I’d love to hear suggestions.

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Season of Slow Cooking

Summary of the first week in my Season of Slow cooking:

Sunday’s multi-task:

  • Eating the Opponent – Minnesota, Chili with elk meat
  • New Crock Pot!

I learned how to set the new crock and found a valuable feature: when the time I’ve set for High or Low is done, the unit automatically switches to Warm. I know I’m going to like this.

Ground elk is easy to cook and resembles ground beef enough that it was a direct replacement in my chili recipe. My research showed that game meats are popular in Viking country, much like they are in Packerland. I wasn’t sure if Minnesot’ns add noodles to their chili the way we do in Wisconsin, so I stuck with basic chili instead of chili mac.

Results: Delicious. Game results: we won’t talk about it. Deep sigh.

During the first week back to school, I didn’t use the crock port very much. Instead, I put together suppers that were easy to make in the hour or two after I come home from school. In fact, on Friday I gave in to the exhaustion of the first week of January and went to a local pub for supper. Fish fry, lobster bisque soup (is that redundant?), and a tall margarita to quench my thirst – a perfect way to end the week. Next week, it’s back to normal mealtimes; the crock pot will be in the cooking cycle again.

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Crock Pot Experiments – the beginning

Why attempt crock pot experiments? Because I can. Because being on break for a week lets me monitor recipes as they cook. Because I teach full time and need to provide a decent supper without much prep time (pun intended). And really, why not?

Sunday’s experiment: Overnight Oatmeal from the cookbook Fix it and Forget it

  • Crock pot size: 3 quart, overnight, on low
  • Results: a little mushy. Next time I try this I’ll either use old-fashioned oats or steel cut oats for a sturdier texture. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll do this on a day that we won’t be sleeping in. That might prevent overcooking.
  • Modifications: since I’m only feeding three, I cut the cookbook recipe in half. If I make the full quantity, I could use a slightly larger crock and set it on Warm. The 3 quart only has low or high settings.

Monday’s experiment: Breakfast Bake from the cookbook Fix it and Forget it

Crock pot size: 3 quart, 5-6 hours on low

Results: delicious. I cut the recipe in half. A full batch might require a larger crock. The full batch might take longer. This has potential for an overnight bake.

Modifications: I might stretch this with a little more milk and a diced slice of bread. A handful of diced bacon was a good addition. I added thyme and oregano – maybe a little too much oregano.

Wednesday’s experiment: thaw and warm a soup from the freezer.

Crock pot size: I started with the 3 quart and then realized I only needed the smaller size, slightly more than one quart. Details below.

Results: about an hour into the process, I realized I’d overestimated the volume and moved the soup into a smaller crock. The smaller crock is more like the Little Dipper: no heat settings, just plugged in (on) or unplugged (off). Since the soup was already fully cooked, low heat and small crock were enough.

Modifications, general thoughts: I have a freezer full of soups and broths. This is an option that could carry us through a winter, including staff meetings, conference nights, and even help the family cope when I have to travel for standardized testing.

Readers, beyond the standard soups and chilis, how do you use your slow cooker? Do you own more than one?

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