Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday Food: Multiple Steak Dinners


Short version: Chicken, leftover rice, frozen peas

Long version: I did three loads of laundry this day, much of it because of the illness that caused Poppy to cough so hard in the night that she threw up all over me and my bed. Three times.

That was awesome.

I was tired. I did not want to cook. I did anyway, because that's how this parenthood gig works.

I had some chicken hanging out in the fridge that had to be cooked, plus half a can of tomatoes. So in the morning while 2/4 kids were sleeping the sleep of the snotty and sick, I made a sauce with the canned tomatoes, some fresh grape tomatoes that were getting wrinkly, a shallot, garlic, oregano, basil, a bay leaf, and some red wine. Plus some fancy pink Himalayan sea salt given to me by the lady we get milk from as a thank you for sharing my sourdough starter with her.

I also separated the chicken leg quarters into drumsticks and thighs and yanked off the skin (GROSS). I salted the chicken and stashed it back in the fridge until later.

During the baby's second nap in the afternoon, I browned the chicken pieces and put them in the pan with the tomato sauce and baked the whole thing covered for an hour. This produced a lot of liquid, so I uncovered it for the last half hour. Still a lot of liquid in there, which I just drained off and saved for making soup.

Leftover rice with butter, frozen peas in the microwave, and everyone was fed.

I got all the laundry done and put away, too, which was significantly more impressive.


Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers, fried cabbage and onions, bread and butter, frozen green beans

Long version: Welcome home, A.! Sorry I didn't make anything more exciting for your welcome home meal, but I was still tired. Fried meat it is. (Hamburgers are actually one of A.'s favorites, so it wasn't quite as pathetic as it sounds.)


Short version: Sirloin steaks, roasted butternut squash and onions, boiled potatoes, frozen peas

Long version: The exhaust fan in this kitchen really sucks. I set off the smoke alarm in the hallway at least once a week while I'm cooking. Frying steaks is almost guaranteed to do it:

Especially if they're so big they hang over the edge of the pan a little bit and drip fat into the flames. Yeah.

Good thing the junior firefighters were on the job:

First they open the back door (being careful that the most junior firefighter doesn't try to make a break for it).

Then they use some empty cereal boxes to fan the smoke away from the smoke alarm. In the absence of trucks and hoses, this works pretty well.

Does it seem that we've been having a lot of frozen vegetables lately? Yes. And why is that? Because I didn't have any fresh vegetables left. None. Not even carrots or cabbage. I was also almost out of milk. Such is life a long way from a grocery store in winter.


Short version: Pot roast, garlic bread, zucchini with tomato sauce, pureed squash

Long version: But wait, wasn't I out of fresh vegetables? Well, yes. Except for Rafael's calabaza and the last of the "ornamental" squashes A. bought at Walmart before Halloween. None of them were labeled with the varieties, but this was the blue-gray one that looked like a Jarrahdale pumpkin. Thankfully, unlike the previous squash I cooked, this one was delicious. Deep orange, not at all watery, and very flavorful. Also, it resulted in about 12 cups of pureed squash, which makes my squash-loathing children fearful.

That's a lot of squash.

When the squash was out of the oven, I put in the roast--an arm roast--with the juice from a can of tomatoes, garlic, oregano, basil, and a bay leaf. 

The tomatoes from the can I roughly chopped and spread in a Pyrex pan with olive oil, whole unpeeled cloves of garlic, and more basil and oregano. That all cooked for an hour or so, then I pureed it in the food processor after I pureed the squash. I didn't really scrape out all the squash, either, so it was a squash/tomato sauce. Sneaky.

The zucchini was a bag of frozen diced zucchini that I thawed in a colander to drain out a bunch of water, then sauteed in olive oil and a spoonful of the tomato sauce. I saved the rest of the tomato sauce for another night.

And, because I was baking bread again (AGAIN), I made a loaf of garlic bread again. This is always a popular menu item. Certainly more popular than the small spoonful of squash and two pieces of zucchini I put on the boys' plates. Probably their two least-favorite vegetables, so I figured rather than make them choose between the two evils, I would just give them a little of each.

I'm fun.


Short version: Bacon and scrambled eggs, leftover potatoes, leftover pureed squash, raw grape tomatoes

Long version: Poppy came down with a fever this day, which meant I had a miserable baby plastered to my front all afternoon. So I handed over the bacon-frying and egg-scrambling duties to A. I managed to get in the kitchen and pass off the clinging monkey-baby to A. so I could heat up the side dishes and plate everyone's food. I also managed to bolt down my own food before taking monkey-baby back and putting us both to bed in my bed.

I felt sorry for Poppy of course, but I must admit that I kind of enjoyed going to bed at 5:45 p.m.* Not that it meant I actually got any sleep, as she was awake many times during the night and when she did sleep, it was either flat on my front or on my shoulder, but at least I got to bed early.

You will note, I am sure, that we had a fresh vegetable. I went to the grocery store with Jack and Poppy in the morning (before Poppy went down) because Jack had an appointment for his four-year vaccinations at the clinic fifty miles away. But then they had no record of his appointment and I had to re-schedule it, which means I have to drive the 100 miles again in two weeks. But at least we had the tomatoes, right?


Short version: Oven-fried chicken thighs, rice, sauteed cauliflower with garlic, green peas, squash

Long version: I don't bother putting the chicken in a pan with butter in it anymore. The pieces I use seem to have enough fat to make that unnecessary. Instead I put the coated chicken on a cooling rack that fits into a half-sheet pan. It gets crispier this way, but it does result in some terrible dishes. Cleaning that cooling rack is a real bitch.

I shouldn't even bother listing the squash. You can just assume that I'm eating it at every meal. That's what happens when you have 12 cups of squash on hand.


Short version: T-bone steaks, mashed potatoes, fried mushrooms and onions, raw grape tomatoes and carrots

Long version: Don't forget the squash. Forever and ever, amen.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

* I did extract myself from monkey-baby's clutches right before 8 p.m. to remind the boys that they had to go to bed; finish loading and start the dishwasher; and sweep up the clumps of mud that were all over the kitchen thanks to the fact that Jack was inexplicably clomping around the house in his filthy boots. That's the sort of thing that happens when I abandon ship for two hours. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

It's a Dirty Job, and We Have To Do It

The very day A. was due home from New York, I had a terrible time keeping the fire going. After all my boasting about my careful fire care during his absence, I figured I had jinxed myself. But then I realized that the handle attached to the damper inside the stove pipe seemed to have come loose and was no longer turning the damper to open it. Which meant that the fire wasn't getting enough draft to burn well.

A. confirmed this when he got home and said there was nothing to be done but let the fire go out and take the pipe apart in the morning to get at the damper.

When we got home from church, he said, "Okay, I'll fix the stove now. It shouldn't take too long."

Those, my friends, are the very definition of famous last words.

He took apart the stove pipe. This is when he saw that there was a rather dangerous build-up of creosote inside the stove pipe. So we had to get that cleaned out lest it cause a chimney fire and burn the house down.

Not exaggeration.

However, we don't have the proper tools to clean the pipe. A bunch of old rags attached to a long, stiff wire did the trick, along with A. basically sticking his entire arm up the stove pipe. Luckily, our house is only one story, so the stove pipe isn't that long and this cleaned out the majority of it.

Now here is where I tell you my main objection to wood heat: It is filthy. Hauling in wood means dirt and bits of bark all over. Loading the stove means smoke and ash sometimes come out. Cleaning out the stove means ash gets everywhere. But the filthiest of all is cleaning out the stove pipe.

This is not what you want to see in your kitchen.

In addition to all the creosote that came out of the pipe and (more or less) into that pan there, the actual pieces of stove pipe that A. took apart fell to the floor and scattered creosote across a large part of the kitchen floor under the table.

I knew we had to do this, but to say I was displeased about the mess was a vast understatement.

A. bore the brunt of the filth in the cleaning of the stove pipe:

Look at that chipper chimney sweep.

But I was tasked with the clean-up of the actual house when the stove had been re-assembled. 

Thanks to Bugs Bunny (for the boys) and a nap (for Poppy), the children at least were out of the way during the part where the stove was in pieces and piles of creosote were all over the kitchen. But just as A. finished up and I was starting to sweep and mop the horrid mess off the floor, the cartoon ended and Poppy woke up.

The boys were whining in the doorway that they wanted lunch, Poppy was crying in her crib, and I was faced with the reality that a mop does very little to actually clean a large quantity of creosote off the floor.

I sort of got the floor cleaned--leaving Poppy to cry in her crib for a few minutes and ignoring the whining for food--but for the rest of the day everyone was going around with gray socks. 

After the kids were all in bed, I got down on my hands and knees with many wet rags and got the floor really clean. Hands and knees was the only way to do it. The mop was just pushing dirty water around, because it got dirty immediately, as did the water in the bucket the first time I dunked the mop in there.

This morning I spent some time with another rag cleaning window sills, cabinets, the top of the microwave . . . basically every flat surface in the kitchen that had collected a layer of fine creosote.

But now the kitchen is finally clean again, and the woodstove won't burn the house down. Hooray.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday Food: A Tale of Two Kitchens

A. left on Sunday for a week in New York. The MiL sent me an e-mail on Wednesday in which she listed everything she had cooked for him so far. So I can tell you what he ate as well as what we ate. Because I am nothing if not thorough (read: totally insane) when it comes to chronicling the food intake of the entire family.


Short version: Beef soup, bread and butter, leftover meat loaf and rice

Long version: This soup I made for Cubby, because he doesn't like the fact that I always make vegetable soups with mushrooms and zucchini in them. He still eats the soup, he just pulls out the mushrooms and zucchini and piles them on his napkin. This is annoying, but I make vegetable soup for me for the most part, so I still add those vegetables.

This soup, I made for him. So besides the beef--the last of the leftover roast beef--I only added celery, carrots, potatoes, and green peas. He ate two helpings and didn't pick anything out. Yay.


Short version: Pasta with meat sauce, garlic bread, roasted mushrooms/bell peppers/onion, frozen green beans

Long version: We went to church in the afternoon this day, so we didn't get home until about 4:45 p.m.

It would have been earlier, except the children LOVE to run laps around this church and have to be forcibly dragged into the car to go home. Fun.

I made the meat sauce and roasted the vegetables earlier in the day, as well as shaped the loaf of dough for the garlic bread. Right before we left, I boiled water in my enameled cast iron pot and then turned it off.

So when we got home, the water was still pretty hot and came to the boil in the same amount of time it took to pre-heat the oven for the bread. The pasta cooked while the bread baked. I re-heated the sauce and vegetables, microwaved the green beans, and we were eating by 5:30 p.m. Yay me.


Short version: Pulled pork sandwiches, Grandma Brown's baked beans, green salad, Rafael's calabaza

Long version: I didn't really plan on having two New York State products with our dinner--Dinosaur BBQ Sauce and the baked beans--on the same night that A. left for a week in New York, but that's what happened. It seemed appropriate.

The boys decided they'd like to keep to our Advent rule of only having a homemade dessert on Sundays, but they lost the privilege of dessert because of bad behavior earlier in the day.

A stellar beginning to our week without Daddy.

However, just as we were finishing dinner, Rafael came by with some pieces of one of his calabazas that he had cooked. He cooks the pieces with butter and brown sugar, so the boys immediately dug into that, and I guess that was their dessert.

I haven't yet cooked the calabaza Rafael gave us in the fall, so I was interested to try it. The texture is actually somewhat similar to spaghetti squash--a bit stringy, rather than smooth like a butternut. It tasted pretty good, although what doesn't when it's covered in butter and brown sugar?

He told me that he smashes it on the ground to break it open, then hacks it into pieces with a hatchet, which sounds remarkably similar to the treatment for opening the dreaded Hubbard squash. So I think I won't be cooking ours until A. can apply his brute strength to the task of cutting it up for me.


Short version: Leftover pasta and meat sauce, sauteed mushrooms/collards/tomato, frozen green beans

Long version: Nope

What A. ate: Braised pork cheeks with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, squash, baked apples, and almond-flour chocolate cookies. Jealous.


Short version: Oven Cornell chicken, baked potatoes, steamed carrots, chocolate chip cookies

Long version: I keep thinking maybe I can find a way to make Cornell chicken good in the oven. I cannot. I'm gonna go ahead and definitively state that Cornell chicken absolutely must be made on a grill to taste right. Otherwise, it's just too wet. Yuck.

Jack doesn't like baked potatoes. How is this possible? I do not know.

I made cookies spur of the moment in the afternoon because Poppy wouldn't sleep and Jack was ping ponging off the walls and . . . well, and I like cookies.

So do these two goobers.

I only made a half recipe, though, because, well, I REALLY like cookies. No sense in tempting myself with four dozen cookies on hand. Because I will eat them. Oh yes, I will. Two dozen is much more reasonable, right? Right.

What A. ate: Ham, leftover mashed potatoes, salad with ranch dressing.


Short version: Leftover pulled pork sandwiches and baked beans, coleslaw

Long version: Cubby and Charlie had their second 4-H meeting right after school. With A. being gone, that meant that all of us had a 4-H meeting. I had a suspicion that I would not be up for much food prep when I rolled in at 5:30 p.m. with all four children. That's why I made the coleslaw in the morning, staged the meat in the pot to re-heat on the stove when I got home, and sliced bread before I left.

My suspicion was correct. Good thing all I had to do was put the pot of pork on the stove and heat the beans in the microwave.

What A. ate: Creamy salt cod on baked potatoes.


Short version: Breakfast sausage links, rice, leftover coleslaw

Long version: You know those small links of breakfast sausage that are like twice the price of loose breakfast sausage? Yeah, my sons LOVE those. And I never buy them. Because they are twice the price of loose sausage, and also, kind of gross. But last time I was at the tiny grocery store, I picked up a couple of packages specifically for a quick and popular dinner while A. was gone.

This was the day. It was quick, and it was popular, even though 3/4 of the children were coughing and running at the nose. Figures they'd all get sick while A. is gone.

I don't know what A. ate. I didn't get a report for this meal from New York. I apologize for the incompleteness of this record, though I think we can all agree that the MiL probably made something way better than breakfast sausage and rice.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Keeping the Home Fires Burnin'

One of A.'s impossibly Dad Things is calling the furnace "the dollar bill burner." As in, "That dollar bill burner is running again; I gotta stoke up the woodstove!"

It's a point of pride with him to keep the fire going hot enough that the furnace doesn't turn on during the day. The first thing he does when he gets up in the morning is squat in front of the woodstove to get the fire going again. He grudgingly concedes that the furnace is a handy back-up, though, so that he doesn't have to get out of his nice warm bed to feed the fire at night*.

But otherwise, he is One With the Woodstove in his quest to minimize our propane use.

However, A. left on Sunday for a week-long trip to Blackrock, leaving the woodstove to my care. Unfortunately, I also have four small children in my care, which makes it significantly more challenging to give the woodstove the attention it requires. Before he left, A. magnanimously told me I could just run the furnace and not worry about the woodstove. I'm sure it hurt him to say that, but I appreciated it.

But! I am proud to announce that I have had the woodstove going--and the furnace not going--every single day he's been gone.

This requires significantly more planning than A. has to do in his woodstove care. For instance, I make sure the night before that I have paper, cardboard, and small pieces of wood so that I can get the fire started in the morning without going in and out of the door, thereby possibly waking up small children.

I can only empty the ashes--which has to be done every other day--when Poppy is safely strapped into her chair at the table and thus can't trip me up on my way out the door with a pan of hot ashes and embers.

I try to get the fire going before she wakes up, too, so that I don't have her standing at my shoulder, staring longingly at the pretty flames while I block her with my body so she doesn't crawl right in there with them.

Nascent morning fire.

Not that she has tried getting too close to the fire, actually. She's pretty cautious, as a matter of fact. And just yesterday, when she had a complete meltdown outside while we were waiting for the school bus that even nursing didn't stop, I brought her with me to stoke up the fire and she calmed right down while she was staring at the flames.

They are quite meditative, I must say. And they've been burning the whole time A. has been gone.

Thus, Ronnie Milsap performs my theme song for the week.

Here's me taking my bow. And washing soot off my hands for the fiftieth time.

* It has occurred to me that since I still get up with Poppy at least twice a night, I could actually shove a piece of wood in there on my way through the kitchen, but . . . no. Shuffling into her room to feed her is challenging enough without adding a live fire and splintery wood into the mix at 2 a.m.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Sucks To Be You

So you decide it's time to take down the Christmas decorations and tree, since Epiphany was actually three days ago. You do not enjoy taking down the Christmas tree, so you get a Chris LeDoux album going on YouTube to make it less painful, haul out the boxes and bags to store the ornaments and lights, and . . . the baby wakes up from a too-short nap.

You decide you're going to put away the Christmas stuff anyway, dammit. You start quickly taking down ornaments and decorations, throwing some of the unbreakable things in the baby's direction to keep her distracted while you put away the breakable things.

This does not work. The baby cries because you will not let her chew on the lights you are untangling from the tree, causing a veritable hailstorm of dry needles to come down, even though there is plenty of water still in the tree bucket. As you discover when you try to lift it.

The baby stops crying when she realizes she can climb on to the small bench the tree was on. She starts crying again when she falls off of it.

You pause for baby comforting, but then grimly soldier on after she calms down. This time, you put her on the big hide-covered bench with a magazine to rip up while you vacuum up the tree needles as fast as you can.

This is when you discover that pinyon needles are so long and stiff that they will clog your vacuum. So you open up every part of the vacuum that will open and dump out the needles into the children's tambourine, as that is the only receptacle to hand.

The baby wants the tambourine full of dirt and needles. She is unhappy when you deny her this treasure.

You then discover that the last remaining part of the vacuum that is clogged up will require a flat-head screwdriver to address. This means a sprint to the shop for the tool and getting back before the baby realizes you aren't in the same room.

Finally, the needles are disposed of and the vacuum is in working order again. You clean up the pieces of ripped-up magazine from the bench, put away the vacuum, and make a mental note to just use the broom or something next year to clean up the tree needles.

(Go ahead and change all instances of "you" to "I," and there you have my morning.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Real Life

You know those people online who only post pictures of their smiling children in perfectly styled clothing? Or only post pictures of their houses when they're perfectly clean and carefully arranged?

I am not one of those people. This is the view from my kitchen most days:

I couldn't have staged this if I tried.

But hey, at least no one is screaming/crying/hitting anyone else! That's as good as it gets around here.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Long-Distance Farewell

Very, very sad news from Blackrock: The MiL's dog Sky was killed on the road in front of the house this weekend. He was chasing a deer on the lakeshore and was hit by a car on his way back across the road. 

The MiL said he was killed instantly and didn't suffer, which I suppose is some comfort. But still. He wasn't even three years old. It was definitely too soon to lose him.

Good-bye to one of the cutest puppies that ever was.