Friday, September 30, 2022

Friday Food: Solar Cooking and Lettuce


Short version: All over the place

Long version: Crazy day, with all kinds of things happening. Poppy, A., and I--along with my parents--were at Cubby's football game until 5:15 p.m. We went right from there to the school play. Calvin and Jack were in the play, and Cubby was helping backstage.

Jack and Calvin were given dinner at school before the play. I ate some eggs before we left for the football game. Poppy had a hotdog and A. had a double cheeseburger (minus the bun) with red chile from the concession stand at the game. A. also got Cubby a Frito pie from the concession stand before they left, and he ate that in the car on the way to the play.

After the play there were cookies, brownies, and lemonade. And then everyone was starving when we got home around 8 p.m., so they all had tortillas and cheese before collapsing into their beds.


Short version: Brisket, mashed potatoes, green salad with vinaigrette, strawberry/rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream

Long version: I cooked the brisket overnight (with salt, tomatoes, onion, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and a little maple syrup) at the lowest temperature my oven will go, which I think is about 250 degrees. It was in there for about nine hours. I strained off the liquid (and reduced it on the stove) and stuck the meat in the refrigerator until about 3 p.m. Then I sliced it, poured the liquid over it, and put it in a 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes, after which I turned it off and left it in there to keep warm while we were at our monthly Saturday Mass.

I also peeled and cut up the potatoes and left them in the pot covered with water, so when we got home at 5 p.m., all I had to do was boil the potatoes, mash them, and make a salad from the garden lettuce I had washed earlier.

I had baked the pie earlier, too. It was the one my parents always get from the lady who owns the house they rent. It's good pie.


Short version: Beef and lamb stew, garlic bread, sauteed calabacitas and tomatoes, green salad with ranch dressing, brownies with vanilla ice cream

Long version: My dad made me a solar oven (yay!) and I was so looking forward to trying it out this day. Solar ovens function more or less like a slow cooker, so I took out some stew meat--some lamb from the last ram lamb we butchered, and some beef--to put in there.

And then it was too windy. I didn't want the reflector part of the solar oven to blow over. Boo.

It was, however, quite chilly in the house, so turning on the oven actually was a good idea. I baked some banana bread and muffins at the same time too, to use some overly brown bananas, and raised the temperature of the kitchen from 64 degrees to 71 degrees, which everyone appreciated.

In addition to the meat, the stew was just onion, garlic, tomatoes, vinegar, parsley, and the remaining liquid from the brisket. It was very good. I was going to add some carrots, but it was already slightly sweet from the maple syrup that had been in with the brisket, so I didn't want to sweeten it any more.

Unintentional photo op with some of the ingredients.

I had made the calabacitas separately, and I added them right to my bowl and A.'s, The children had the salad.

And I made the brownies because there wasn't enough ice cream for everyone to have another whole serving, but there was enough for everyone to have a small scoop on a brownie.


Short version: Leftovers

Long version: A. had the rest of the leftover stew with calabacitas and some leftover rice. The kids had leftover brisket, rice, and raw tomatoes. I had a salad with some brisket in it.


Short version: Rib steaks, spaghetti with roasted tomato sauce, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: A couple of months ago when A. dug up the beds for the fall cabbages and kohlrabi, he pulled out a few lettuce plants that had gone to seed and shook the seeds out in the beds. The result is lettuce that has formed almost a carpet of greenery around the cabbages. 

I can't really express to you how much lettuce there is in my garden right now. More than I have ever had at one time. It's insane. And fun. 

It makes it really easy to have a salad every night, which is fine with me. It also made it easy for me to bring in huge quantities of lettuce for the school salad bar when the cook mentioned to me on Monday that she wasn't going to have enough lettuce for the week.

This is an old picture A. took. The lettuce now covers all the bare ground in these beds, and I was so happy to be able to pull a bunch up to bring for the salad bar.


Short version: Leftover steak and brisket, solar oven curried split peas and rice, raw radishes

Long version: At my request, my dad made me a solar oven. I've wanted a solar oven since before we even moved to New Mexico. I mean, if ever there was a place with strong enough UV to cook food, the high-altitude west is it. And I figured if I could harness the power of the relentless sun to cook my dinner in the summer, I wouldn't be sweating my life away in an 85-degree kitchen in July.

So I sent a YouTube video to my dad showing how one was made that I thought looked useful, and then my dad made his own version.

He just brought it to me this past weekend, and we've juuuuust gotten past the weather for optimum solar cooking. It's cooling down a little and the wind is picking up, plus the daylight hours are definitely waning.

But I really wanted to try out the solar oven before winter really came, and this day was about 80 degrees with clear skies and not too much wind. 

I decided to cook rice and curried split peas first, figuring if it didn't get really hot, I wouldn't have to worry about meat in there.

My dad said the oven got to 275 degrees when he tested it in their driveway in Tucson. I don't have an oven thermometer, but the rice cooked in it in 90 minutes, which is how long it's supposed to take in a slow cooker on low. That's about 200 degrees, so I figured that was about where it was. Not bad, considering it was in the seventies and breezy all day.

I did take the split peas out around 3 p.m. and finished simmering them on the stove, but I think if I had left them another couple of hours, they would have been done. And I do think the oven will work just as I want it to in the heat of summer.

My idea of fun. (You can see Poppy covering her eyes in the reflection. I told her she could burn them if she looked right at the reflector. She obviously took that warning to heart.)

Anyway. I did all of this on Tuesday, but we didn't eat it until the next day. Because it was a work day, and leftovers are the way to go on work days.


Short version: Disappointing sausages, pesto bread, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: The commodities lady stopped by with some extra things on Tuesday, including some chicken sausages. They were mozzarella and roasted garlic, and they didn't have any weird ingredients in them, but they were still . . . chicken sausages. As A. said, they weren't really bad, they just would have been way better made with pork.

A. and Jack were the only ones who really ate them. So there was also some leftover curry and spaghetti for those who didn't want the sausage.

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

T.T.: How To Pickle a Toilet

Just kidding. I don't know how you might pickle a toilet, but I do know that vinegar is an excellent option for cleaning one.

I've used vinegar in a spray bottle for cleaning bathrooms for a long time, but I still bought toilet bowl cleaner. We've always lived in places with hard water, so the toilet bowls would get that annoying mineral ring on the inside and would need to be soaked in toilet bowl cleaner before being scrubbed.

Or so I thought.

I was never a big fan of the smell of the toilet bowl cleaner. It was pretty much just a chemical concentrate. And then, I started to notice that even the kind that I had been buying for years was all of a sudden this very virulent blue color. And it stained my toilet bowl.

I tried another brand. It was a violent green color that also stained my toilet bowl.

My sister the veterinarian told me they started making the cleaners that way so you can tell if there's still any of the chemical in the bowl. Presumably so you don't poison any pets that might be drinking from your toilet bowl? 

I don't know. All I know is that it seemed counter-productive to try to clean my toilet only to end up with a stained toilet bowl.

So I tried vinegar. And it worked.

All I do is pour a few glugs of white vinegar in the toilet bowl and let it sit for awhile. Sometimes I only let it sit as long as it takes me to clean the tub, sink, and floor. Sometimes I leave it in there for a couple of hours. The longer it sits, the better it works, obviously. After it sits for however long, I scrub with the toilet bowl brush.

And then my bathroom smells like pickles for a little while. It goes away quickly, though, and it does work. 

I don't know if it would have worked in northern New York, where we had the hardest water of all. But it works here, and that's all I care about.

I don't have a picture of my toilet (you're welcome), but here's one of Cubby standing on top of the toilet in the kids' bathroom.

He was re-positioning a towel rack for me. I knew encouraging his early love of tools would pay off in the end.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Snapshots: An Old-Fashioned Tally

Years ago, when we still lived at Blackrock with its huge garden and I had more time, I used to can a lot. And when the canning season was done, I used to post the tally of all the things I had preserved, along with photos of the shelves full of jars.

It was fun. For me, anyway.

This year, for the first time in many years, I have had both the time and the produce to can again. So I thought it was time to revive the traditional end-of-season tally. It's still not as much as I used to do, but it's really quite a bit when considered all together.

I will probably be adding to this a bit, as I'm still processing tomatoes. But I organized and moved all the full jars into A.'s office, so while they were in transit, I took a photo of them all. 

Here we go . . .


4 gallon bags of peeled and sliced peaches

3 gallon bags of unpeeled peach halves

1 gallon bag of pesto cubes

1 gallon bag of green beans

7 quart bags of shredded calabacita

7 quart bags of roasted tomato sauce


18 quarts peaches in syrup

7 quarts applesauce

5.5 quarts dilly beans (pickled green beans)

10 pints apricot jam

5.5 pints peach jam (I made a lot more than this, but most of it went to the guy who gave us the peaches)

7 pints tomato puree

8.5 pints sauerkraut

4 pints pickled beets

And now for the photo!

Fruit to the left, vegetables to the right. A total of 64 jars*.

There you have it! My canning season, snapshotted.

* If you actually count the jars in this photo, there are 63. That's because one of the jars of peaches already got eaten. They go fast.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Friday Food: Leftovers and Lettuce


Short version: Steak, mashed potatoes, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: Did I make an herb butter with parsley and basil for the steak? Why yes, I did. Because I am something of a broken record in the kitchen. And we still have fresh herbs.

I made the mashed potatoes in case there were any children still complaining of a sore throat who didn't want to eat the steak. Sure enough, one child had nothing but mashed potatoes and cheese for dinner. 


Short version: Pizza, cucumber spears with ranch dip

Long version: Baking bread and making roasted tomato sauce while the oven was on, so, pizza. We still don't have any asadero cheese (our mozzarella substitute), but I did have the last of A.'s salvage ricotta in the freezer. So we had a three-cheese blend: ricotta, cheddar, and Parmesan. 

The asadero is better, but no one complained.

Oh, and regarding the ranch dip: It's a dressing when I put it over salad, and a dip when there's a little puddle on everyone's plate. Same thing, though. Just so you know.


Short version: Fried pork, spaghetti, green salad with vinaigrette, maple custard

Short version: More commodities pork (fried in butter), more spaghetti with more roasted tomato and garlic sauce. And you're going to see a lot more lettuce in the near future because there is a veritable carpet of lettuce out there, thanks to A. shaking out the lettuce plants gone to seed when he was digging up the fall garden beds. Lettuce EVERYWHERE. So exciting.

I way overbaked the maple custard, and it separated. Boo. That is definitely my most frequent kitchen failure.


Short version: Leftovers, raw tomatoes

Long version: There was enough leftover steak for everyone, which I re-heated in a skillet with the rest of the herb butter. Also leftover rice. 

It's a workday dinner, for sure.


Short version: Odd meatloaf, baked potatoes, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: The meatloaf was odd because I didn't have enough bread crumbs and didn't want to haul out the food processor to make more, so I used some quick oats. This definitely does not have the adhesive power of bread crumbs. It was pretty crumbly.

I also forgot to add extra fat to the very lean ground beef. And I didn't add enough salt. So, while it was fine, it was certainly not the best meatloaf I've ever made.

I was very happy with the salad, though.

I've been growing vegetables for almost 20 years now, and I still get great satisfaction when I'm able to say, "I grew all of this myself." (Here lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers.)


Short version: Leftovers, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: The leftovers this time were the fried pork and extra baked potatoes, which I diced and fried in butter.

The salad this time was only the lettuce and tomato. One of the cucumber vines is staging a comeback, but still doesn't have any cucumbers on it big enough to eat yet.


Short version: Leftover meatloaf, tuna salad, rice, raw tomatoes, chocolate chip cookie bar rejects

Long version: I thought I had a lot more meatloaf than I did. I suspect a little mouse named Cubby had been nibbling on it before bed, as is his habit. 

In any case, there was enough for A. and me. The children had the tuna salad.

They also had the chocolate chip cookie bars, which were my contribution to the silent auction bake sale that happens during the school play today. One edge of the pan got a bit overdone, so I cut that off and the kids had that. No complaints from them.

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

T.T.: Non-Medicinal Comfort

We just went through the first illness of the school year. It was just a cold, and everyone had it with varying degrees of sore throat and congestion.

It was nothing major, but it always feels major to a child. They don't really get the concept of stoicism. The younger they are, the less stoic they are, and the more insistent they are that I should just fix it. I should do something. Even though, in the case of a cold, there really isn't much to do other than wait for it to go away.

However, over the past decade or so of dealing with ill children, I have discovered a bunch of things I can do to make them feel better, at least temporarily. 

1) A hot bath. Are you congested? Have a hot bath. Do you have a headache? Have a hot bath. Have you had a hard day and are feeling a little emotionally delicate? Have a hot bath. Have you been doing mad dog drills (don't ask--I didn't) at football practice every day and every single part of your body is sore? Have a hot bath with Epsom salts.

2) The heated sheep. This is one of those microwaveable heated bags filled with rice or something. We got ours many years ago from my sister-in-law. She got it for us because it is in the shape of a sheep, but let me tell you, that thing is invaluable. 

A well-loved heatable sheep is a wonderful thing.

Any child with a sore neck or an upset stomach gets the sheep to curl up with. An actual heating pad works, too, but the sheep has the advantage of not having a cord. Plus, it's fuzzy and in the shape of a pillow, and is therefore much more comforting than a hard, flat, plastic bundle of wires.

3) Honey water. For sore throats. This is the lazy mom's answer to tea. Kids don't really want to drink actual tea, anyway, so why bother. They just want the honey. So I just put hot water in with a spoonful of honey, stir around to dissolve the honey, add a few drops of lemon juice to cut the sweetness just a little, then top off with a bit of cold water so they don't burn their mouths. I make SO much honey water when there is sickness in our house. It's one of the reasons I bought a 12-pound bucket of honey.

4) A steam tent. For those awful, dry, barking coughs. Also sometimes for congestion. All you need is a bowl of hot water on the table, scoot the sickling up to the table in a chair, and drape a thin blanket over the top to trap the steam. A couple of my children hate this, but a couple of others request it when they don't feel well. A really hot shower would do the same thing, but young children do not enjoy scalding hot showers. 

5) Soft foods. When you've got a sore throat and you're so congested that chewing interferes with breathing, soft foods are the way to go. Custard requires no chewing at all. Rice pudding doesn't really, either. My children's favorite sick soup is a potato soup, which I usually make with bacon, onion, carrots, potatoes, and rooster stock, cooked and pureed and finished with sour cream. Even easier is mashed potatoes with grated cheese stirred in. A lot of soft food tends to be sweet, so potatoes are a good option for a soft but more substantial food that feels more like a meal. Scrambled eggs with cheese are good, too.

What non-medicinal options do you use when you're feeling poorly?

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Snapshots: Fruit and an Owl

Last week was a whole lotta fruit processing.

Two and half gallons of apple/pear sauce.

Peach/pear fruit leather, phase one.

I did all of this canning in one day. One long, completely exhausting day. (16 pints peach jam, 7 quarts applesauce, 7 quarts peach halves in syrup, and a half-gallon jar of extra peaches in syrup that didn't go into the canner because my canner only fits a maximum of 7 quarts.)

Poppy made an owl mask at school, and supplemented it with wings when she got home.

I was, of course, reminded of Cubby's infamous Owl Game. Man, that was a long time ago.

I haven't had any sunrise photos lately because I haven't been taking morning walks lately. A combination of my wonky ankle, school mornings, and later sunrises all mean that I got out of the habit. But here's a sunset photo.

Night falls on the high plains.

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Friday Food: Soup in Summer


Short version: Cafeteria spaghetti and meat sauce, improvised soup, raw green beans

Long version: Because I was at work on the last day of the school week, the school cook sent me home with a bunch of stuff that was otherwise going to be thrown out. That included a couple of bags of meat sauce. I still had spaghetti in the refrigerator from Wednesday's school lunch, so I just put the sauce over the spaghetti and that was for the kids.

For A. and me, I made a soup by adding a bunch of things to the last of the leftover rice, including the rest of the sauteed calabacitas, tomato, and mushroom; some of the meat sauce; onion powder; and some of A.'s wine that I was leaving out to see if it would turn into vinegar. 

It made a surprisingly tasty soup. 


Short version: Fried bull meat, fried potatoes, carrot sticks with ranch dressing, custard

Long version: I had half a dozen potatoes left from the ones I had boiled whole earlier in the week for potato salad. So I peeled those, diced them, and fried them in tallow and butter.

All of the children elected to have the ranch dressing drizzled over their bull meat. It adds to the flavor, but nothing can make the bull meat really tender. Oh well. Only ten pounds or so to go.

I made the custard for two reasons. One was that I had three gallons of milk in the refrigerator that were already a day past their best buy date. The other was that I didn't have enough cereal for everyone to have their customary bowl of cereal before church on Sunday morning.

So I made a double batch of custard. They ate half this night, and half it the next morning before church.


Short version: Chuck eye steaks, mashed potatoes, raw tomatoes, chicken noodle soup, rice pudding

Long version: I had never cooked chuck eye steaks, but the Internet told me to be careful not to overcook them. I was careful, and they were good. Very flavorful. I served them with the same basil/parsley butter I made for the steaks last week.

The chicken noodle soup was mostly for Cubby, who was sick and had a sore throat, but then two other children elected to have it for dinner as well. I had several quarts of rooster stock on hand, as well as a gallon bag of frozen chicken pulled off the carcass of the last rooster we got from a neighbor after I made stock with it. Makes it easy to make soup. 

Bonus of the soup was that it provided a good use for the greens from the two beets I thinned awhile ago. My children are not enthused about cooked greens in general, but chopped fine and added to soup is not so objectionable.

Unfortunately, I managed to slice the top of my thumb pretty good while I was chopping the greens, which resulted in me having this on my finger for the rest of my many kitchen tasks.

Awkward. And painful.

Rice pudding because it uses a lot of milk, and it was only in the high sixties most of the day, so having the oven on for four hours was actually welcome rather than punishing. Plus, it's Calvin's favorite dessert.


Short version: Leftovers and quesadillas, carrot sticks with ranch dressing

Long version: Steak and mashed potatoes with cheese for A. and Cubby, who was feeling somewhat better and was of course famished since he hadn't eaten anything but applesauce and soup the day before.

The other three children had quesadillas made with flour tortillas someone at school was giving away, cheese, and some of the fried bull meat.


Short version: Leftovers, ham, green salad with ranch dressing, chocolate pudding

Long version: The days I'm not at the school are usually the days I cook extra to have for the days I am at the school. But I spent literally all day in the kitchen canning applesauce, and preparing and canning peach jam, peaches in syrup, and peach fruit leather.

Halfway through peeling the peaches given to me by the same guy we got them from over Labor Day weekend. He has three peach trees. This should be it, though.

Thus, leftovers.

I had some ham slices I had brought home from the cafeteria the day before, so I diced those and fried them in butter.

Three children had the chicken soup with some added ham. One child was sick with the same cold Cubby had and disappeared to lie down during dinner, only to miraculously re-appear when I was dishing up the pudding. So that's what he had. A. had the ham, plus mashed potatoes and cheese. I had a salad with ham.

The only reason I made the pudding was because I still had a lot of milk to use up, so after I used a gallon to make yogurt, I used the last half gallon or so to make a double batch of chocolate pudding. It was much appreciated.


Short version: Fried bull, rice, raw tomatoes, peaches in syrup

Long version: I fried the rest of the bag of bull meat in tallow with spices, and then added some shredded cheese. It was serviceable, at best. I just can't get into that bull meat.

I had half a gallon of peaches and syrup that didn't fit in the full canner, so I just put it in the refrigerator, figuring it would get eaten.

It did. Almost all in one day. Prepared fruit in sugar syrup disappears like magic.


Short version: Pot roast, leftover rice, sauteed calabacitas, raw tomatoes, potato soup, Otter Pops

Long version: A rather small rump roast for the pot roast. Luckily, the older two boys stayed at school to watch the volleyball game and ate at the concessions stand there, so there was enough meat.

The younger two were the latest victims of the cold, so they had to stay home. I had stuck a few potatoes and carrots into the casserole with the pot roast, so I added those to a quart of canned beef stock, plus some of the calabacita mixture (mostly because that had onion and garlic in it) and sour cream, then pureed it with my immersion blender. The sicklings ate that, some buttered rice, and the Otter Pops.

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