Sunday, September 27, 2020

Let's Back Up

 

I just realized that this post from last week about what I'm reading right now was post number 3,000 published here.

Yes. Three thousand posts. If I may state the very obvious, that is a LOT of posts.

It's appropriate that a milestone post like that should be about something so utterly random, because that's been the main theme of this blog from the very beginning: random.

So, here's to carrying on. And here's to all of you for reading my personal randomness 3,000 times. Thanks for being here.


Friday, September 25, 2020

Friday Food: Pork, Chicken, and an Old Photo

 

Friday

Short version: Meatballs in marinara sauce, garlic bread, roasted squash/green beans/onions

Long version: My parents arrived for a two-day visit this day, so I guess this is what I consider company food now. Or maybe I'll just say all company is family when they come to our house, so they eat what we usually eat. Or whatever.

I made the meatballs earlier in the day, along with some of Finny's tomato sauce and some extra marinara sauce for the meatballs. Since I didn't make pasta and the meatballs had enough sauce, I didn't end up needing Finny's sauce. 

The squash was a particularly good one from the garden. You know we saved the seeds.

Saturday

Short version: Pork carnitas, leftover rice, tomato and cucumber salad, mashed squash

Long version: I punked out on making tortillas in the tortilla press my dad made me, so I just went with the meat by itself, fried in the rendered lard with salt, paprika, and garlic powder. Way better than it should be. Must be the lard.

Sunday

Short version: Tuna salad sandwiches, tomato salad

Long version: Since my parents were leaving right around noon, we had an early big Sunday dinner in the old-fashioned sense of the word: a roast chicken and onions, baked carrots, pasta with Finny's sauce, cucumbers with ranch dressing. 

That's why we essentially had our lunch for dinner, i.e., tuna salad sandwiches.

Monday

Short version: Leftover carnitas pork, leftover pasta, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: Good leftovers make dinner after a work day much easier. Also tastier.

And now, since I no longer have my phone handy and therefore don't have any current photos, here's an old one of Poppy double-spooning some buckwheat cereal:

My, what round cheeks you have.

Tuesday

Short version: Pork country ribs, mashed potatoes, tomato salad, garlic green beans

Long version: These "ribs" are cut more or less from pork shoulder, which means they do well cooked slowly until tender. So that's what I did in the morning. Then at dinnertime, I just stuck them under the broiler with barbecue sauce.

The tomato salad had asadero cheese in it, which always makes it better. It also had fresh basil in it. I thought the basil was dead after our cold spell, but it turned out it was just very dehydrated. After a flooding, it perked right up and I have fresh basil again. Yay!

Wednesday

Short version: Leftover pork and rice for the adults, chicken patties and leftover mashed potatoes with cheese for the children, cucumbers with ranch dressing

Long version: Another work day, another opportunity to clear out the refrigerator.

Thursday

Short version: Oven-fried chicken, rice with butter, tomato salad, green peas, cookies

Long version: Charlie's teacher is moving at the end of the semester, and until then, she is solo parenting her three kids while teaching, coaching volleyball, and living in a mostly-packed-up house. My immediate response to such a stressful situation is to feed the person. So the four of them came for dinner.

One nice thing about not having easy access to a grocery store is that there's never really any question about what I might serve guests, because I can only cook what I have already. The only meat I had in enough quantity for ten people was chicken. I was out of bread and potatoes, which left me with either pasta or rice for a starch. My vegetable choices were frozen peas, tomatoes, or carrots.

Makes it easy to plan a menu. 

It was far from fancy, but it was tasty, everyone ate it and took seconds, and that poor, exhausted woman did not have to get home at 6:30 p.m. after working all day and be faced with cooking and cleaning up dinner.

The cookies I actually baked for school the next day. This is the only five-day week we have all year, because it's the week that the traveling Missoula theater people come to rehearse and perform a play with the kids. Obviously, that is not happening this year, but we still have to have the Friday school day because it's built into our required number of days in the school year.

Charlie's teacher (the same one who came for dinner) decided to have her class do a very short and simple play of "The Three Pigs" for the other two elementary classes. And I decided that since there was to be a play, however simple, there must be a treat. The Missoula play always involves cookies and punch after the play, so I figured I could at least provide the cookies.

Poppy and I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and I forgot to add the salt. 

Yup. Seventy cookies, no salt*.

I remembered I hadn't added it after I took the first batch out of the oven, so I just sprinkled the hot cookies with a bit of salt, and then sprinkled salt over the rest of the cookies after they were in the oven and had spread out, but hadn't set yet. They came out very well, actually. I let our guests preview them for me before I brought them to school. No complaints.

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

* Well, to be precise, I always use salted butter, so there was a minor amount of salt, but definitely not enough.


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

It's a Going Country Book Club!

 

Okay, not really. Unless any of you are currently reading the same book I am reading. But it's possible! And it's more possible than it normally would be, because I am currently in the middle of three books.

This is very unusual for me. I don't like reading more than one book at a time; it makes me feel too scattered. However, I was given a book by a friend who was interested to hear my reaction to it. That book is The Winner Stands Alone, by Paulo Coelho. He also wrote The Alchemist, which I have not read.

I'm about a quarter of the way through, and so far, my reaction is that I don't love it. It's readable, but the first part of the book definitely reads to me as the author standing on his soapbox (thinly veiled as a fiction novel) and lecturing the reader about the Evils of the Modern World. However, I feel compelled to finish it so I can discuss it with her, and so I plow ahead.

Because I don't really love that book, I am not really too motivated to pick it up consistently. Which is why I'm also reading another book at home. That one is the sixth Anne of Green Gables book, Anne of Ingleside. I think the last time I read the entire series I was about eleven years old, so I don't really remember them. They are relaxing to read. Occasionally boring, but definitely soothing. And that is much appreciated at this particular crazy point in history.

And lastly, I borrowed a book from the library at school to read on my lunch break: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. I remember this one being very popular several years back, and so far I'm enjoying it well enough to continue. I'm just getting to the Big Event of the book for the narrator--or rather, the first Big Event--so it's so far been all lead-up, but I'm more of a captive audience at work, so I'll read things I wouldn't necessarily choose to read at home. 

Also, I tend to have more of a solid, uninterrupted block of time to read at work, so I can read things that require a bit more concentration. Forty-five minutes to read with no interruptions at home doesn't happen very often. 

So tell me! What are you reading these days? Any recommendations?


Friday, September 18, 2020

Friday Food: The Elk's Last Hurrah


Friday

Short version: Skillet food of leftover taco meat+rice+cheese. And some tomatoes.

Long version: We had school this day to make up for having Monday off for Labor Day--otherwise, it would have been a three-day week because we usually have Fridays off--so I had to work. But I bet you could have guessed that from the skillet meal.

Saturday

Short version: Elk bites, disappointing macaroni and cheese, frozen peas

Long version: Yes! It's the return of the elk! But this was the last bag in the freezer, so it is also the curtain call for the elk.

So I used the cleanest pieces for the elk bites, which were just small slices that I marinated (vinegar, salt, garlic powder, olive oil), then fried in bacon grease with paprika, salt, pepper, and more garlic powder. It had been long enough since we had had elk that all the children were appreciative of it and had second servings.

Absence really does make the heart grow fonder of elk. Or makes the palate grow fonder. Or whatever.

I made the macaroni and cheese with Cubby, using a recipe in a Christopher Kimball cookbook I have. I didn't have the right cheese--only cheap mild cheddar and more of the Velveeta someone gave us. Also, I misread the recipe, resulting in twice as much flour and half as much butter as there should have been.

I am obviously the best person to be teaching Cubby how to cook. Ahem.

The resulting macaroni and cheese was bland and gluey and not particularly appealing, but we had a lot of it. I salvaged most of it for the kids' lunch the next day by frying it in bacon grease and butter and adding more salt and some garlic powder. That made it much more palatable. As you might imagine.

Sunday

Short version: Elk chili, rice, chocolate cake

Long version: Usually when I make chili, I use dried chili powder. This time, however, as I was adding the onions to saute, I decided to chop up the half dozen or so peppers I harvested before our cold snap. I don't actually know what kind of peppers they are. A. bought the plants at a nursery, and they were just labeled "mild chilis." So maybe like Hatch chilis? I don't know.

Anyway, when I tasted them raw, they tasted like green peppers with just a tiny bit of heat. So I chopped them all and put them in the pot. Luckily, I tasted the chili before adding anymore varieties of chili, which is when I discovered that those chilis got pretty spicy when they were cooked. And by the time the elk was done simmering, I was VERY glad I hadn't adding any more heat to it. It was pretty spicy. Enough that some of the kids needed sour cream to tone it down.

A. loved it, though, and declared that I should make it this way from now on. 

Poppy requested the chocolate cake, which Cubby was happy to make. We used (great-great) Grandma Bishop's recipe, which is particularly fun for kids to make because of the step where the buttermilk (we use yogurt) and baking soda are combined. FOAM! It's like those baking soda and vinegar volcanoes.

Anyway, the cake was delicious as always. The kids went to Rafael's ranch in the late afternoon with A. to get Rafael's chickens that he wanted us to take, so Cubby wasn't around to make any frosting. Instead I just dusted it with powdered sugar, which somehow makes it a bit more wholesome. 

Or maybe that's just wishful thinking. It was good, though.

And speaking of Cubby! Check out this extremely old photo I found of Cubby when he was a bit younger than Poppy:


Digging ramps in New York. He was into food even then. (Also: Wookit da widdle FACE!)

Monday

Short version: Chili mac, cocoa

Long version: I've read about chili mac before, which is made with macaroni, cheese, and chili. I had both leftover chili and leftover macaroni and cheese, so I decided to combine them. I thought it tasted pretty good, but the children did not approve of this combination. None of them finished their servings, so I made the cocoa, too, to fill things in a little.

Also because I wanted some cocoa myself. Kids are a convenient excuse for making cocoa. (Equal amounts cocoa powder and sugar, a pinch of salt, milk, and a bit of heavy cream.)

Tuesday

Short version: Elk and ground beef tacos

Long version: I took out some ground beef, which I mixed with the remainder of the elk chili, plus some extra green chili and tomatoes, to make taco meat. I did this early in the afternoon because I had a meeting at 4 p.m. 

Good thing I made it earlier, because when I came in the door at 5:30 p.m., the children were past ready to eat. Meat in storebought corn tortillas with cheese, lettuce, and sour cream, and everyone's fed.

I did not give them a vegetable, other than the lettuce. They'll survive.

Wednesday

Short version: Skillet food, carrot sticks

Long version: Wednesday workday means a skillet meal! Leftover taco meat+rice+cheese. 

And with the consumption of this skillet meal, we are officially done with the elk.

It was a big moment. I announced it to the family at large. I feel it was a significant endeavor to cook my way through two hundred pounds of strongly flavored game meat over the course of almost a full year.

I WIN, ELK.

Cubby's next elk tag for his hunt in December is for an antler-less animal, which means if he gets one, it will almost certainly be milder in taste than a bull elk in full rut. Here's hoping.

Thursday

Short version: Pork stir-fry, rice

Long version: This was some of the pork loin that Miss Amelia gave us. When I cut up the steaks a couple of weeks ago, I also chunked some of it up and froze it with a stir-fry marinade (soy sauce, vinegar, garlic powder, ginger powder). That was the meat in it, and then for the vegetables I had all the banana peppers I had harvested before the freezer that didn't quite freeze, plus a couple of not-quite red bell peppers I harvested for the same reason. Also carrots, onions, and a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables that included broccoli, green beans, and mushrooms, but really seemed to mostly be chunks of broccoli stems.

In any case, it was good, and everyone was happy with it.

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


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

In the Wee Hours

 

Is there anything more tedious than listening to other people talk about how tired they are? Not really. 

But I am, indeed, very tired this morning and I'm going to talk about it. Because the reasons are actually pretty funny.

The plan was to go to sleep early last night. The toddler, however, had other plans. At 8:30 p.m., she was still calling to me from her room to tell me this very important information: "Mommy! 'Rain' and 'Rainbow'! They rhyme!" It wasn't really the time to get into the difference between rhyming and compound words, so I just replied, "Well, no. But rain is the first word in rainbow. Now go to sleep."

So I didn't go to bed until around 9 p.m. Still okay, though, if I could just sleep uninterrupted until at least 5 a.m.

Ah, the optimistically wishful thinking of the tired mother.

At 3 a.m., the same toddler was calling to me from her bed so I could fix her covers.

At 3:45 a.m., that very same toddler was crying in her room. Presumably this was a nightmare because she didn't actually wake up, but did quiet down when I went into her room.

At 4:45 a.m., the five-year-old was demanding to know who put water in his bed. As if one of his brothers would rise from their sound sleep to splash water in his bed while he was sleeping.

Well, actually, I wouldn't put it past them, but this time they were innocent. Turns out, he was just sleeping very heavily with his mouth open and just woke himself up with his own drool.

But that was it for me. I gave up at that point and just got in the shower.

And so now, I am tired. But at least I have plenty of time to drink my coffee before we get on the school bus. 

Plus, I used to get a lot less sleep. Like during this crazy time:


So cute. So exhausting.

Even though I'm tired today, at least I have a reasonable chance of sleeping tonight, which was definitely not the case in the previous decade of my life with newborns and toddlers. So, you know, silver linings.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Friday Food: Obscene Squash, Abundant Ribs, and Triumphant Watermelon

 

Friday

Short version: Curried chicken and potatoes, frozen green peas

Long version: I had made some curried squash soup earlier in the week with the last of the mashed squash and the chicken stock from poaching chicken. It was tasty soup, but too thin. So I used it as a sauce for chicken pieces and potatoes, instead of eating it as soup.

All I did was brown the chicken, then dump the soup over the pieces in a big skillet, along with some chunks of potato, and cook it covered until everything was done. I stirred in sour cream at the end, too, and the result was very much appreciated by the family.

Even Charlie, who rarely deigns to comment favorably on his food, asked me, "What is this sauce? It's really good."

I win!

Saturday

Short version: Beef pot roast, pasta, green salad with ranch dressing, custard

Long version: The pot roast cooked in the morning with just some salt and tomatoes, then I pulled it apart at dinner time and heated it up with a cube of garlic scape pesto. Yum.

The children were pleased with the pasta, which was my childhood comfort food of pasta with butter, cream cheese, garlic powder, and pepper. I could eat a whole pot of that by myself. It wouldn't be good for me, but I could do it.

I made the custard only because I had some milk that needed to be used up and the oven was on already for a long time for the beef. I intended to save it for our Sunday dessert, but I decided to be indulgent and let everyone have it after dinner Saturday instead.

Custard is really hard to judge for doneness. At least, it's really hard for me. Especially because I always make a double batch, which does not necessarily translate to double the baking time. I slightly overcooked this one, which results in a bit of separation and makes it not as silky in texture as it should be, but it was still good.

Sunday

Short version: Pork spareribs, bashed potatoes, mashed squash, green salad with ranch dressing, ice cream sandwiches

Long version: One of the packages of meat A. came home with a couple of months ago contained two entire racks of ribs. It was a LOT of ribs. And it was already frozen, so I couldn't easily separate them. I just chucked the whole thing in the freezer, figuring I'd deal with it later.

Later was Saturday, when I took them out to thaw. A. put a spice rub on them that night and I swathed the pan in aluminum foil and left it in the refrigerator overnight. Then in the morning--at 6 a.m., to be precise--I put them in a 300 degree oven and left them there until they were all the way done, around noon. 

While the oven was on, I also baked some potatoes. Then, at dinner time, I scooped out the now-cold potato from the skins, heated them up, and mashed in some chicken stock that was in the refrigerator, plus butter, milk, and sour cream. You might notice I cleverly called the resulting roughly-mashed potatoes "bashed potatoes." Get it? Baked+mashed? Yeah. 

Also while the oven was on, I put in a squash. A. did his own preemptive harvesting this day, which included all of the squash.

It was, um, a lot of squash.


Toddler for scale.

Perhaps you need a close-up of that yellow squash next to Poppy that looks like it's half her height? Surely, a squash couldn't be that big?


Oh yes, it could. And don't call me Shirley. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

That, my friends, is how big a calabaza can get if it's assiduously watered. It's a bit obscene. Cooking it should be interesting.


A. had finished the rest of the custard in the morning for breakfast, so I just bought some ice cream sandwiches at the tiny store in the village we always stop in after church. It was hot. I was not into baking.

Monday

Short version: Leftover ribs, rice, carrots

Long version: I harvested the carrots during the preemptive harvesting I was doing ahead of our cold snap. It was a pretty small patch in the pasture, but I'm always surprised at how many carrots come out of even a small patch. At least a big grocery store bag's worth.

A. took the kids to a lake about an hour away to fish in the morning. 


They didn't catch any fish, but a good time was had by all nevertheless, because they did get to swim. Hooray for 95 degrees in September. I guess.


I stayed home and harvested tomatoes, carrots, and green beans in anticipation of the cold weather to come.

Tuesday

Short version: Leftover ribs (again), pizza, roasted green beans, roasted tomatoes, leftover mashed squash, triumphant watermelon

Long version: I was baking bread, which means I usually make garlic bread, but I decided to give the kids a break from the never ending ribs and make pizza instead. I had some roasted tomatoes and roasted garlic that I had cooked when the oven was on a few days before to make the pot roast, so I just mashed those together for the pizza sauce. 

It was just a cheese pizza, and only one, but it came out well and was appreciated.

The watermelon was triumphant because it was one that volunteered in the backyard garden near the asparagus bed. It turned out to be a proper big watermelon. 


Watermelon, with photo-bombing bread.


We harvested it so it wouldn't freeze, and it was very, very good. Definitely better than the Moon and Stars watermelons, which never tasted any better than your average store seedless watermelon.

As you know, we have much higher standards for watermelons than that.

Needless to say, we saved the seeds and there will be many more of these mystery melons planted last year. Because anything that has the vigor to grow by itself here is definitely a keeper.

Wednesday

Short version: Quick ground beef tacos, pinto beans

Long version: A work day, which is why I did the quick version of ground beef taco meat. That is, browned ground beef, some already-cooked onion slices I chopped up with kitchen shears, salsa, chili powder, cumin, vinegar, done. And definitely no homemade tortillas on work days.

I had made the pinto beans the day before, when it was cold and cooking a pot of beans on the stove all day made for some welcome warmth. It's been awhile since I've wanted more heat in my kitchen, so that was nice.

Thursday

Short version: Fried eggs, curried split peas, rice, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: I used the other jar of too-thin curried squash soup for the split peas. It's nice that three of the four children really like curry, as I also really like curry, but really do not like cooking anything extra if I'm the only one eating it.

The fourth child ate eggs, and everyone was happy.

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


Thursday, September 10, 2020

What Stalks in the Night

 

Good news! It didn't freeze Tuesday night! We squeaked by with 33 degrees, which means all the battling I did with covers in the howling wind to protect my tomato plants was unnecessary. That's okay by me, though. It's going to get warm again, and I anticipate some good harvests of green beans and tomatoes. I'm very glad none of the plants died.

Something else did die that night, though: a sheep. And that is definitely a story you don't hear every day. I will tell it, with fair warning that it involves nature in a somewhat grisly form. 

Although we didn't know it, the drama actually began late in the afternoon. The sheep and the horse were together in the field adjoining our next-door "new" house, which is visible from our kitchen windows. We were eating dinner when Cubby jumped up from the table, saying, "What are the sheep doing? They're running. And the horse is going crazy!"

The sheep were bunched up in the way that they do when they feel threatened, and the horse was galloping around, which is not something he does unless greatly agitated. We thought maybe there had been a rattlesnake or something, so Cubby and A. went out and looked around a bit. They didn't see anything, so A. wrote it off as a nervous reaction to the incredibly high winds and changing weather.

When night fell, the horse was back in his pen near the house, and the sheep were in the vineyard pasture that A. had fenced off for them to eat all the weeds in it. The vineyard pasture is right behind the house, and it adjoins the same pasture the sheep had been in earlier. I was just about to go to bed when Cubby came running out of his room, saying there was a commotion in the pasture. 

His window looks out on the vineyard pasture and the horse pen, and he heard the two dogs going nuts and the horse whinnying and galloping around. A. took his spotlight out to investigate. He found the dogs in with the sheep. They had the flock all rounded up in a bunch in a corner of the pasture. 

These dogs come from cattle-working breeds and are instinctual herders, so A. figured they were just having a little fun and scolded them before putting the sheep back into the next-door pasture and closing the gate so the dogs couldn't get at them. He shut the dogs in the porch for good measure, to ensure no more unauthorized activity.

The horse was hysterical, A. assumed in reaction to the sheep's nervousness and running around, so A. went in with Samson and patted and soothed him a little.

The next morning, just as we were about to all get on the bus for school, A. came in to tell us there was a sheep dead only about six feet from the house, practically under Cubby's bedroom window. It's throat had been ripped out and a few bites taken from its udder. 

It was clearly not a natural death. The question was, what killed it?

Here's what A. thinks happened. A mountain lion was passing through when it smelled the sheep and stopped to investigate. It was probably hiding somewhere around all the old sheds and things by the next-door pasture when the sheep and horse got so agitated in the late afternoon. Then it jumped the fence and took down the sheep when night fell. It only got a few bites before the dogs chased it off, though, and shortly after that, A. went outside. He didn't see the dead sheep in the dark.

Mountain lions generally live in the canyons here, where the larger game animals live and where there is plenty of cover for the lions' preferred stalking method of hunting. They do sometimes travel on the plateau where we live, particularly when the weather is changing. They are very large--males are over 100 pounds--almost completely fearless, and undaunted by fences. 

They will also kill small women and children, so it's definitely not something you want to have around your house. And I was not too easy in my mind when I considered Cubby tromping around the pasture in the afternoon while a mountain lion watched him from its hiding place.

A. made sure his spotlight and gun were ready last night, but everything remained quiet, so it's most likely that the animal has moved on. The ewe that was killed was a very old one we were going to cull anyway. She was already bloated and inedible by the time A. found her, but there wasn't much meat on her anyway, so it wasn't a great loss.

The real heroes here are Jasper and Odin, who chased off a predator that outweighs them by fifty pounds or more. Those dogs are apparently entirely unafraid of any animal, and those are definitely the kind of dogs we need to have.

As A. said, we had gotten accustomed to living here, considering it just like anywhere. And then we get a reminder like this that we do indeed live in a remote and wild place, where mountain lions might appear at any time.